Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Woolly thinking …

November 3, 2018

dav

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) 

Not dead yet ….

January 12, 2008

I read that it’s generally agree that if a blog hasn’t had a new post within the last 3 months, then it’s probably dead. Oh dear, I think my last posting was back in September, but I don’t intend to leave this blog dead quite yet (nor indeed for a long while). Particularly as I’m now getting more visitors than I did when I wrote regularly! It’s not even true to say that I’ve had nothing to say. There have been quite a few events in the news which I wanted to comment on, but I just haven’t had the time.

One of these was the loss before Christmas by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (UK tax raising organisation) of some CDs containing personal and confidential details of a large proportion of the UK population. This not only affected my family personally, but is interesting to me as an IT manager where one aspect of my role is to ensure that our organisation’s systems and personal data remain secure. My thoughts went slightly in a different direction, however, to the general (somewhat deserved) condemnation of the government’s incompetence. However it’s now late and I don’t want to write this all at this moment. So come back soon for (hopefully) some further reflections…

Chocolate matters

April 4, 2007

I watched an article on Newsnight last week about the exploitation of child labour on the cocoa farms of the Ivory coast. The BBC web site recently posted a similar article about how child Cocoa workers are still exploited. The likelihood is that the chocolate we eat day-to-day is made at least in part from cocoa beans grown on farms where children are slaves.

Frankly this is shocking – that thousands of children are still being forced to work as slaves so that one luxury product for us can be a few pence cheaper. As always the issues are complex, and need the government’s involvement, are greatly exacerbated by corruption, are ultimately caused by extreme poverty and will not be easily solved. But my heart goes out to these children who face grave risks and are forced to work with no reward for what reason? Surely more can be done?

Fortunately there is some chocolate that is guaranteed to be ‘traffik free’, such as fair trade chocolate – see the Stop The Traffik website for more details. I’m often a bit lethargic about campaigns, but I just can’t rest in my heart in being lethargic about this. I think we should all refuse to buy any chocolate that might be produced as a result of child labour. Effectively this limits us to buying fair trade chocolate and fair trade chocolate products.

This involves some sacrifice. Only buying fair trade chcoclate bars isn’t so hard – they’re a bit more expensive, but usually taste nicer! But I also like food with chocolate in it. Shortly after seeing this news item I went to Tesco for the weekly shop – great they have some Value plain chocolate digestives I thought! Then I thought, oh no, it’s not traffik-free chocolate. In fact there are far fewer fair trade chocolate products. In the end I had to buy biscuits without any chocolate in them. I can tell you that they’re getting eaten a lot slower. But sometimes we need to do something, no matter how simple or small it is, in the hope that this one day may make a difference. If I don’t, what will I be able to say to my Lord – and the child slave’s Lord too.

Migration

March 1, 2007

Just before leaving for Spain I watched an article on the BBC news describing the perilous 1000 mile sea journey that many Senegalese people were making, aiming to reach the Canary islands with the hope of a new life in Spain. The article made quite an impact on me. On one hand, you couldn’t help be angry at the exploitation of desperate people, with gangs demanding exhorbitant fees for smuggling them across the ocean in a way that would mean the death of many at sea. But also I was quite moved by the testimony of some who had taken, or were about to take, such a journey. They did not want to leave their country or family members but felt that they had ‘no other choice’.

When we were in Spain, we were in reality immigrants ourselves for 6 weeks, and this experience gave me an even greater sense of admiration for these ‘illegal immigrants’. Despite the fact that both the UK and Spain are developed European countries, and hence fairly similar, and even though I spoke a reasonable level of Spanish I was quite culture shocked for the first week there. Everything was just a bit different and all the familiarity of knowing how to do every little thing in your own country is suddenly stripped away. And I found it really frustrating just not quite being able to communicate what I wanted to, or understand enough of what people were saying to me. This shock must be far greater if you speak nothing of the language, come from a far more distinct culture and are not about to go home again in 6 weeks. It just made me realise how desperate the poverty of people must be that they are willing to face potential death, family separation, and all this for just the hope of something better somewhere else in a strange land.

The whole issue of migration is a difficult one. No a country cannot practically open its borders to everybody who may wish to enter it. So while there is more concern for those refugees who are fleeing for their lives, there is often little sympathy for the economic migrants. While this is understandable, I don’t think it’s right. It doesn’t seem likely to me that the decision to move to a new country in search of work is one that will made lightly, easily or at little personal cost for anyone. While we do need to find solutions to the problems of migration I think we’d be better off looking at ways of solving the dreadful poverty that pushes people to leave their own, friendly lands, rather than just trying to find ways of stopping them coming in, or getting rid of them once they’ve arrived.

Climate change – why bother …?

November 29, 2006

The EU set new limits for the second phase of its carbon trading scheme today. The allowances set are to an average of 7% below the figures proposed by member states – which is a welcome strengthening of the commitment to cut carbon emissions. James Cameron suggested that today’s decision could be “one the most important decisions about the planet’s future for years to come”.

But others have commented that the cuts as they stand, which only affect some of the heavy carbon producing industries in only some EU countries, will have little impact in the face of the steadily increasing global carbon emissions. And if the cuts are too severe then UK and other EU industries will suffer, become uncompetitive, and lose out to their global competitors who don’t have such strict environmental legislation. So why bother?

You have to recognise that this is a valid argument. But then why should we bother with anything if we have to take the lead and suffer for it in some small way? It would be perfectly reasonable to only make a move when you could enjoy an immediate benefit, or when all the pain has been borne by the others who did make the first move. But if everyone kept to this logic, what would we be without? And if we keep to it about climate change, we could well be without a reasonably habitable world before long. As a Christian I believe that God did ‘bother’ about us, and I’m so glad he did.

But enough pointing fingers at others. What about me? – and you! I also watched ‘Newsnight’ the other day, where a reported explained how he had ‘given up’ the family car for 6 months at his producer’s insistence. In these 6 months he discovered they didn’t actually need it except for a few weeks of family holidays each year. Although having no car caused some inconvenience, they generally didn’t miss it. Combining this with a commitment to only fly rarely, they reduced their family’s ‘carbon emissions’ by over 70% I think. And change for environmental good isn’t the only area where ‘why bother?’ comes in. What areas are there where I feel I can’t be bothered because, well what difference will my action make in the grand scheme of things? And it’s just too inconvenient. Will I bother …?


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