Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Strong, yet weak

May 29, 2020

A couple of months ago, I was planning to start a new series on this blog but since then life has become dominated by coronavirus. We have largely been confined to our house for most of this time. Other parts of life have also faced major disruption – for example our planned Easter holiday was cancelled and we were left to enjoy the beautiful weather in the back garden!

Yet we are very fortunate. I am still able to work full time, we haven’t suffered the financial hardship that many have, and we have stayed healthy. Plenty of people have had a much harder time, while others put their health on the line as they work in the health service or other front line roles.

It seemed strange therefore to not reflect on the current situation with most things locked down and our lives so changed.

There are many things which could be said, but one thing that has struck me is how this crisis has demonstrated both the impressive and good – as well as the disheartening and bad in people. This is nothing new but is probably more visible in the challenging times.

The amazing things that people have and are achieving are easy to spot. Whereas only a decade or two ago we had no choice but to go out to work – so a requirement to socially isolate would have caused the economy to come to a stand still – now many of us can work from home, with good access to online work facilities, and the world’s store of knowledge only a quick search away. Our understanding of the natural world also continues to grow such that scientists around the world can realistically talk of a hope to find and produce a vaccine for this disease within the next year. Kindness and generosity also abounds – with many ordinary people willing to face a higher risk of infection to serve and help others, stories of generous gifts made to health workers, and many examples of everyday offers of help to the vulnerable and those in need.

Yet despite all our scientific and technological prowess, the reality is that the world has been brought to a standstill by a small piece of biological material, a fraction of the size of a cell. It is a reminder that while we have tremendous knowledge and the ability to manipulate matter at both small and large scales, we still often find ourselves powerless against the natural world. Our tendency to often not do the right thing is also easy to see. The news abounds with examples of high profile figures and government officials who have demonstrated that they think they are above following the lockdown rules. A walk around the streets also highlights many ‘ordinary’ people who are not socially distancing – placing their personal desires above maintaining low infection levels and keeping others safe. And there are many examples of those who exploit this health tragedy for their own financial gain.

As well as the strength and brilliance of people, we see their weakness.

The Bible also points out these two sides to human kind. It acknowledges that we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Psalm 139 NIV). Multiple times we are described as made in the image or likeness of God (Genesis 1, 5, James 3 and elsewhere) bestowing a very high view of our nature and value. Yet we fail to live up to who we have been made – we have all ‘fallen short’ (Romans 3) and this failing permeates to the very heart of each of us for ‘the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure’ (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV). This is often exacerbated by our own failure to recognise our limitations – ‘if you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin, but now that your claim your can see, your guilt remains’ (John 9:42 NIV).

It’s important to recognise and keep in tension both of these parallel truths about ourselves (and recognise that they are true for each individual as well as mankind as a whole). When we tend to focus on one and not the other – as we often do! – problems arise. So, for example, some Christians will emphasise our sinfulness, and that even our best actions may be tainted with bad motivation. This may be true but if we say this alone then it doesn’t ring true to many as they receive sacrificial love, deep kindness and generosity from their friends and relatives. But if we only see the good in people and not the bad, we can end up with a foolish optimism and a belief in the upward progress of society. We think that we will be able to sort out everything our ourselves and will most likely end up disappointed and disillusioned. We fail to recognise that we need a saviour.

As C S Lewis put it,

‘You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve’ said Aslan, ‘And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth’

A ‘failing’ country?

October 24, 2019

My country is in a mess. The people are pretty much divided down the middle (although most are getting increasingly fed up with the cause of the division and want it to just be sorted). The government is largely powerless, unable to enact much of what it wants to do, and the political opposition seem almost as divided amongst themselves. If the political system were a school I’m sure it would be pronounced as failing and put into special measures! Who knows what is going to happen over the next few days and weeks.

I am of course mostly talking about the division caused by Brexit. I was (and probably still am) personally in favour of the UK staying in the European Union, but am disappointed with both sides of the argument for the way the debate and ongoing approaches to resolving the ‘issue’ of Brexit have and are being conducted. Both sides have become increasingly polarised, and seem focused on deciding the best strategies to achieve their preferred outcome (or at least as close to it as they can get). Many on both sides are truly passionate about their cause, honestly believing, it seems, that what they advocate is much the best for the country and that the alternative would be a disaster.

But the end result of all this conviction and determination to bring about what they believe in, is a divided and incapacitated country where other important issues get left by the way side. Many politicians seem to not realise that if they get their way, be it a relatively ‘hard’ or even no deal Brexit, or a cancellation of Brexit altogether, this will leave a sizable chunk of the population on the other side of the argument heartily disillusioned and angry at what has been brought about. Instead the country needs a reconciliation between the two sides, seeking to understand and accommodate the concerns of those with another point of view, working together to achieve a compromise which might not be anyone’s preference but at least is something all can live with.

The thing is, that while there are some issues which are too important to compromise on, there are also many issues where maintaining relationships and keeping a concern for other points of view are more important than winning the argument or getting your own way. Few would argue with this, and we could readily identify some matters which we can all agree fall into either the no compromise, or happy to compromise categories. But many issues are less clear, and while less important will nevertheless stir up a sizable minority who see it as a ‘no compromise’ matter, maintaining the fight to the bitter end to the detriment of all. Brexit seems to be one of these.

So how can we decide when to focus on the relationship and compromise for the sake of it, and when it’s imperative that we stand up for what we believe, no matter what? I believe this is something best not left for us to decide ourselves (as we will each come to a different conclusion). It’s better to look outside ourselves to one who is much wiser, to the God who doesn’t stay silent about masters of justice and righteousness but at the same time is in the business of reconciliation!

For God … through Christ … reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. (Colossians 1:20)

Teddy art

January 27, 2019

My son has a reasonable sized collection of small teddies that generally live on the end of his bed. When making his bed in the morning we have got tired of just putting them in a line, and have started arranging them more interestingly – maybe playing a five a side football game, doing some acrobatics, or forming the numbers of that day’s date.

My creative talents are not really in the visual arts, so the arrangements I have made are not full of aesthetic beauty. However when I search for ‘Teddy art’ on Google I only find a selection of drawings and paintings of teddies, and not any artistic arrangements of the teddies themselves. We are surely not the first people to try this with soft toys, and so there must be some more impressive artistic Teddy photos out there. Can anyone point me to some?

Good news … (what is it?)

December 26, 2018

Most days, I get my main news update listening to radio 4’s PM in the car while traveling back from work. Much better, more varied and balanced than some of the other negative news coverage elsewhere that seems to be focused on bringing out disagreement – in my opinion. The main presenter has recently changed to Evan Davis, and on one of his earliest programmes there was a spot looking particularly at “good news” stories, often ignored or forgotten by most news programmes.

But what constitutes Good News? The answer will often depend on your point of view. In the current discord over Brexit the suggestion of a new referendum might be seen as good news by half the population, and a seriously bad idea by the other half. And a no deal scenario would be both welcomed and deplored by different groups.

Christmas is also a time of good news. The angel bought a message to the shepherds in a field near Bethlehem saying

I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.

(Luke 2:10, NLT)

But what is the good news of Christmas? Again you will probably get different answers, depending on who you ask.

The obvious place to start in looking for an answer would be what the angel goes on to say, describing Jesus as “the saviour”. In a similar vane, Simeon a few verses later holds the young Jesus in his arms and praises God saying “I have seen your salvation which you have prepared for all people.” In Matthew’s account we see this explained a bit more when the angel appears to Joseph and says “you are to name him Jesus for he will save people from their sins.” This all tells us about how, through Jesus, we can be saved from our sins – the fact that we mess up, get it wrong, fail to live as we know we should – and that this sin had consequences, most significantly in that it brings a separation, an alienation, between ourselves and God our maker. For all who are weighed down with guilt, an awareness of their failures, or a longing to know God, this is truly good news.

Or we can look at the verses from Isaiah which Jesus quotes as he later talks about his ministry,

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favour has come.

(Luke 4:18-19, NLT)

We see this fulfilled in Jesus’ life – the blind are healed and can see, those captive to evil spirits are freed, Jesus brings the good news of God’s kingdom to the poor and marginalised. God’s concern for the oppressed and marginalised is clear throughout. For those in society who are hard done by or pushed to the margins there is good news as they realise that God sees and does not just stand idly by.

The good news of Jesus Christ encompasses both these messages and more. But really the good news is more than just a good message, more even than a whole set of great messages, some of which will be very relevant to the hearer, and others less obviously so. We go back to the angel’s message, that the Messiah, the Lord had been born. The good news is ultimately tied up in a person, God’s son, Immanuel – God with us.

The greatest news is not a great story, philosophy, message, idea. Is not tied up in a blog post, however well or badly it may try and put across that message. The good news is Jesus.

Woolly thinking …

November 3, 2018


One of the good things about where I work is that – although it is a large business and science park full of buildings – it only takes a few minutes walk before you are out in the countryside. I often go for lunchtime walks and over the last month or so some of the fields through which I walk have been full of sheep.

One lunchtime as I walked a few weeks ago, to my surprise, as well as the sheep I saw a lady standing in a nearby field watching over the sheep. I’m not sure if she was the farmer, a shepherd or some other person caring for the sheep. The sight of a shepherd is now a rarer occurrence than it once was.

I’m not an expert about sheep but they are not renowned for their intelligence and the sheep I’ve met haven’t seemed bothered to improve my opinion of them. Even in a safe field there is usually potential for them to get themselves stuck somewhere and no doubt these seemingly rather stupid animals need some oversight.

We however are different, with the ability to judge wisely, predict the future, anticipate problems, think things out, and generally make our own way safely in the world.
Only I don’t always feel this is true. Life can often be so complex, and dependent on people and circumstances which are so uncertain, that for all my education, time thinking things through, advice sought, and care taken, the right way forward seems impenetrable, the future unpredictable and I can all too readily land in a mess. I wish that I too could have a ‘shepherd’ to watch over me and help me through my scrapes.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep” (John 10:11 NLT)

I’m glad that I do.

Truth, Lies and Brexit

October 8, 2018

The Brexit negotiations have been thrown into disarray following the rejection of the chequers plan by the EU leaders recently.

In the interest of openness and honesty I should say that I voted to remain in the EU in the referendum and would still prefer not to leave it – although I do have misgivings about being part of a group that makes it so difficult to leave! But whatever your view on Brexit, circumstances have shown that neither side in the referendum accurately described what would happen if the UK voted to leave the EU. Many remainers suggested immediate dire economic consequences which have not been born out. Leavers suggested that a good trade deal and the resolution of challenges – such as over the Irish border – would be easy to reach – the reality since then has been very different. The latter view seemed particularly unrealistic – how can you state so confidently that something will happen when this can only be with the agreement of others who have expressed such a different viewpoint.

So did the leaders of the leave and remain camps deliberately lie in order to win our votes? This may be true in some cases, but I am inclined to be more generous. I think many people were so taken up with their own convictions that they failed to see or understand – perhaps were even incapable of seeing – other perspectives on the matter. When we only see our side of an argument, then our ability to grasp the truth is seriously impaired.

This is nothing new. We are all swayed by our own personal experiences, past events or circumstances, friendships, preferences etc, as we look at an issue. No matter how hard we try, we will always look at things from a biased and limited perspective, and disagreements will occur with those who view matters from a different point of view. The more serious issue in my view is that we often fail to acknowledge our own limitations and insist that others recognise our ‘truth’. As Jesus said to a group who insisted that they were seeing clearly:

If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains. (John 9:41, NIV)

So do we give up on any idea of knowing truth about any matter, and admit that disagreements, conflict, wars, are inevitable. If there were no God then I think I would be forced to such a pessimistic conclusion. But as a Christian I have more hope. There is a God who does not suffer these limitations, who sees all aspects of a matter. One in whom there is truth, indeed who is truth. And he offers to help us and guide us into wisdom. He has also given us a guide to know that truth and help us in the thorny issues of life – the Bible. You may say that in saying this I’m just setting up my own truth from my own biased perspective. I can’t prove that God is the ultimate truth but I have found by experience that I can trust in him and his word in my life.

For everyone, we need to recognise our own limitations and that we will never be the source or guardian of truth. With humility we need to listen to the one who is far wiser, who sees all things, and who is a far better guide in life than anyone else. Where there are things which we disagree about, perhaps he might just see things better than us.

For the person who accepts this, there is another question however. We may accept that God is our guide, and the Bible one of his primary ways of guiding us. Yet still Christians disagree about what God has said in the Bible. How do we know which Biblical interpretation is really the truth?

An important answer to this question is that God promises us that his Spirit will guide us into truth (see for example John 16:13, 1 Cor 2:14). But faithful, humble Christians, seeking the help of God’s spirit to understand the Bible, still come to different conclusions as they read it. I believe that there is another important element in our answer to this question. The Bible isn’t just given to us individually, but to us together as His church, his followers. We need the help of each other to understand it. This is emphasised in the picture of God’s people as a body with many different parts each with its gift to bring to the church as a whole. This is usually applied in terms of roles or gifts that we use in serving the church together, but it applies in other areas, including our understanding of what God is saying and has said to us. We need each other’s gifts, experiences, wisdom to gain a better understanding of the truth that God had revealed to us together as his people. Just seeking to understand it on our own, or only with people similar to ourselves – or just those from our own Christian tradition – will lead to a distorted understanding, like that of a bunch of ears, or a gathering of knees might have compared to the more rounded view of a body!

So we need to spend time listening to and learning together with many other followers of God with different characters and backgrounds, and from different church traditions than our own. This is not just talking about the occasional isolated ‘united church service’, or spending time with those from a few selected churches that we feel are ‘sound’ enough, but a real living out of Jesus’ picture of us together as His body the church. This is not easy to work out in practice. While we need to listen to different voices, not all are really seeking to listen to God’s truth – we need discernment too. But if we want truly to seek to know better the truth that God has given us, this seeking together is not an optional extra but a necessity.

Something to blog about

September 16, 2018

I see that it’s about 6 years since I last posted a blog article here. Looking at the site stats I also see that while I had a healthy (though far from earth shattering!) number of views of my blog articles for many years, it has dried to a tiny trickle of views over the last few years. However for the last few months I have increasingly felt that I should return to the blog. Why you might ask, when it seems to have died a death over the last few years? And why bother when it seems likely that no one (or at best very few) will read it?

Psalm 19 (NLT) says:

The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world.

The beauty and grandeur of the sky, in particular I think the night sky, is a constant testimony to the greatness of the God who created it, who caused it to come into existence. I love looking up at the stars and as I reflect on them, and the immensity of the distances that I am looking across, this give me some inkling of the greatness of God. Yet many of these stars, great suns putting forth huge amounts of energy are scarcely visible or noticed by most of us. But they display God’s glory whether or not they are being looked at.

There are many questions in life to which I don’t know the answer, many things which are unclear. Many of my thoughts and views are not profound and unlikely to be worth sharing. But I do know that I know the God who made and loves me, and the truth that we can know him is truly amazing. And in the midst of the challenges of life, my God is the one thing I am sure and confident in. Given this there is value in ‘proclaiming his glory’ whether many or few will listen.

Mea Culpa

September 27, 2011

There’s a lot of blame around at the moment.

At the UK Labour party conference yesterday, the shadow chancellor – while admitting that their party had made mistakes – insisted that Labour wasn’t to blame for the current financial challenges, saying that it wasn’t “public spending on public services here in Britain which caused the global financial crisis.” Trying to avoid political bias, I can point out that the blame game occurs on all sides of the political spectrum – so the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats equally insist that the current hardship caused by public spending cuts is not their fault, but the consequence of the public debt that they inherited.

Trying to pin the blame on someone for the current financial crisis will also lead you in circles – was it the reckless bankers, the politicians who were reluctant to regulate, the failure to provide adequate safeguards when the European single currency was set up, the addiction to debt of us all? The one answer you are unlikely to get – no matter who you ask – is ‘Mea Culpa!’

People are willing to admit that they are not perfect, they have made mistakes, they must put their hand up for some of the things that have happened: but on the big issues, the ones most under consideration, they are really not to blame.

I’m not aiming to denigrate politicians here. I may be naive, but I think that the past Labour government followed a policy of relatively high public spending to boost the economy during financial turmoil because they sincerely believed that was the best course of action for the country as a whole. Likewise I believe that the current government is following a course of fairly severe public sector spending cuts because they also sincerely believe that this is the best and wisest policy in the current circumstances. In a similar vein, I suspect that most of the individuals that authorised the bank loans which ultimately put banks in financial difficulties, did so believing that debts would be repaid and the loans were a good thing for their employers. And when we go it into debt, most of us do so in the confidence that we will repay those debts before long.

Just after Jesus healed a blind man he said:

“For judgment I have come into this world, so that those who do not see may gain their sight, and the ones who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and asked him, “We are not blind too, are we?” Jesus replied, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin, but now because you claim that you can see, your guilt remains.” (John 9:39-41, NET)

The truth is that knowing the best course of action for a country in the complex world of interdependent economies and unpredictable market forces, is beyond any human’s ability to fathom. Any individual’s views will always be swayed by their limited and one-sided experiences and perspectives. Even in a larger group, the collective perspective will always be biased. In such circumstances we should recognise that we don’t really know what is best, that we need the help and advice of many others and that even with the best advice and soundest judgment the decisions made will undoubtedly prove to be at least partly wrong.

And this is no less true in the equally complex sphere of everyday life. We have limited understanding, experiences and, no matter how hard we try, are most likely to see things best from our own perspective, rather than that of others. We need help in life.

The guilt of the Pharisees lay, at least in part, in their unwillingness to recognise their own blindness, their unwillingness to listen to a different understanding of what was true, and to acknowledge that they had been far more ready to judge than to help this man in need. For us, we too should recognise that we are ‘blind’, that we are often to blame, and that we need the help and advice of others as we go through life. And supremely we need the wisdom, guidance and teaching of the God who does see all perspectives, is not tainted by bias, and does know the best way forwards in a complex and confusing world, even if that way forward is not the one we want to hear.

Sadly though, the tendency is to assert our own independence, our own ability to determine what is best for us, and to insist that we see quite well enough thank you. So our guilt remains.

Changing reflections

January 11, 2011
Icy lake at Blenheim Palace

Icy lake at Blenheim Palace

2011 has arrived, and the start of a new year is often an appropriate time to reflect over the past one. 2010 was a year of change for us as a family. I changed job half way through the year. A few months later we moved house and have been working our way through all the tasks that this entails since then. We’ve had other, sadder and harder changes to come to terms with this last year too.

Too much change brings stress and exhaustion. I don’t think that this is good for you(!) – but I’ve known something of this reality over the last year. However change also brings us the chance to learn new things, to develop and grow.

To give a trivial example. Our new house – the second we’ve bought – was also the second house that we’ve moved into with a broken letterbox in the front door. This had been fixed by the previous owners using glue but in time the fix came apart and the front plate came off – much like it had in our last house after I’d glued that! In our old house we eventually got a door repair company to come and change it. This time I was more adventurous and decided to try and fix it myself. I learned that actually this was very easy to do, that the mainstream DIY stores do not tend to stock replacement letter boxes for doors like ours, but that your can buy replacement letter boxes of all shapes and sizs on ebay! We now have a nice shiny new letter box on our door. It also cost rather less to fix this myself, than it does to pay for someone else to do it.

I would hope that learning to fix uPVC door letter boxes has not been the most profound thing that I’ve learned through the changes of last year. While changes can be uncomfortable, life would be much less rich without the challenges of new circumstances to face. A school that gave the same lessons each day would not be one to recommend.

Change while not always nice is often good for us.

…  a bit less change in 2011 would be nice though.

For everything there is an appointed time, and an appropriate time for every activity on earth… (Ecclesiastes 3:1. NET)

Who’s to blame?

March 5, 2008

So much for thinking that I’d have another post up within a week. Fortunately, news stories of mislaid data from UK government departments arrive about every week, so this is still a topical issue… As I mentioned in the last post, the UK tax revenue department lost two CDs containing confidential information relating to about 25 million UK residents. This is a lot of people, and many many families – including mine – were affected by it. As far as I’m aware, the CDs are still ‘lost’. There have been lots of other stories of people or companies losing confidential data since, but this is still the one that sticks most in my memory.

One of the reasons for this is that I’m an IT manager, responsible to some extent for my organisation’s data. What if some of our organization’s data were to be mislaid too! The thought sends shivers down my back, and is enough to make sure that this whole area is looked at long, hard and regularly. I can’t but ask, however, how such a colossal mistake could possibly be allowed to happen?

But wasn’t it just a mistake? We all make them. It’s just that this one had such huge consequences, and hence made the news. Was it the fault of the poor guy who put these CDs into an envelope and then into the internal post? No doubt a large part of the blame has to be directed towards those higher in authority – those who gave the orders and who were responsible for making sure that things were carried out properly. Whatever, it’s unlikely that it was done maliciously, or with any real awareness of how serious the consequences of such a stupid action might be. Can we really get so indignant about what happened?

Yet we (rightly I think) feel that we can’t just pass this by as another everyday mistake. The stakes were too important for such mistakes to be allowed. Yes, a junior official my not understand the potential ramifications of sending such data in such an insecure, and easily lost, way. And more senior ones may not undersand all the technical options for securing, reducing, or transmitting the data. But there were surely others around who did and do understand such things – they could and should have been asked, and the ‘mistake’ should have been avoided.

And this is a ‘mistake’ which all of us too easily fall into – thinking we know enough about what we should do, and being too proud / not bothered enough to ask. We are human and can’t be expected to know everything, or have the wisdom to always make the right decisions. But there are others around who know more about the things that we don’t understand, and we are all at fault when we don’t make the effort to find a better answer elsewhere. 

“If you were really blind, you would be blameless, but since you claim to see everything so well, you’re accountable for every fault and failure” (The Message) 

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