Rest from Terror

A while ago I picked up the book Terror-rest by Ed Morris. I finally got round to reading it, and it's worth it. He wrote it in the aftermath of the Lockerbie plane crash, 9/11, and 7/7 terror attacks to seek to defuse some of the fear following on from these events. How can people find safety in a world where they fear violence?

The book draws on Psalm 91 in the Bible, seeing its words as an invitation not just to people who would normally read the book, but to all those who would draw protection from God. The book is full of real life examples of people who have found an antidote to fear or violence, including some from the Armed Forces. (Psalm 91 is sometimes described as the Soldier's Psalm.) He looks in depth at each verse of the poem, so technically this is a commentary on Psalm 91 and a very readable one, and he encourages his readers to travel with him through the short book in small bites over a month. He's also set up a web site for comments from readers and more background at http://www.terror-rest.net/.

I haven't finished reading the book yet, so I may add to this article. However I'm already impressed by a sense of God's care and presence, and experiencing greater calm!

More details. Buy from Amazon UK.

When the Spirit…?

It seemed too hot today to be inside Lacock Church. I remember nostalgically a very outdoor church building that I enjoyed in Thailand some years ago, where birds flying in and out were very much part of the congregation. Perhaps that is good symbolism for today, when many churches (including Lacock) celebrate Pentecost – the coming of God's spirit.

We listened to a reading from the Acts of the Apostles, where Peter quotes the prophet Joel: In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

I found myself noticing the word all, and that the text does not say all Jews or all Christians, just all people. I'm sure the early Church was right to get excited at this kind of dramatic preview that took place in Jerusalem, and to gradually recognise the significance of it for their lives and ministry. I remember sharing that excitement in the early days of my own Christian faith particularly; however today I find myself hoping for the fulfilment of Joel's prophecy. What will it look like?! How will it feel?!

It seems to me the church teaching has sometimes been quite possessive of what happened at that event in Jerusalem around two thousand years ago. Today on this hot day the church just seemed too small an enclosure, separating us from the glory outside even as we remembered Jesus' presence with us, and the refreshing breeze was mainly (but not entirely) outdoors.

Losing sight of our interconnectedness

Flicking again through the pages of the April edition of Christian Politics which arrived in my mail, I notice some interesting pieces on communtiy in an article by Lord David Alton.

He speaks firstly of how 'Nelson Mandela promotes the old African belief in Ubuntu: “a person is a person because of other people.” Mandela says: “Ubuntu does not mean that people should not enrich themselves. The question therefore is: 'Are you going to do so in order to enable the community around you to improve?' ” Archbishop Desmond Tutu explained Ubuntu by saying: “Ubuntu is the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity.” ' Perhaps to include European references also, Lord Alton later quotes Jonn Donne: “No man is an island entire of itself.”

This challenges excessively individualistic or self-centred ideologies of personal development, but makes me wonder whether it means that a hermit or a lone survivor of a disaster ceases to be human!

His other fascinating quote is from (American Indian) Chief Seattle, which says some interesting things about both community and environment. Surely he is right to say that to harm the earth is to “heap contempt on its creator.”

“This we know; the earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected. Even the white man, whose God walks and talks with him as friend to friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers after all. We shall see. One thing we know which the white man may one day discover: our God is the same God. You may think now that you own Him as you wish to own our land; but you cannot. He is the God of man, and His compassion is equal for the red man and the white. The earth is precious to Him, and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator. The whites too shall pass; perhaps sooner than all other tribes. Contaminate your bed and you will one night suffocate in your own waste.”

(The Chief Seattle quote comes from Lord Alton's book What Kind of Country. It is a fragment of a speech, probably delivered in 1854 in the context of the sale or surrender of their land. I notice from the internet that there is some controversy over what the Chief actually said, and which translations are best. Various translations seem to locate the words above in quite different places in the speech!)

 

Quakers and Business

I sometimes wonder whether I am really a Quaker at heart. I like the way that they value, use, and are comfortable with silence. I like the way that they like to think things through rigorously and seek to live in a principled way. I like the way that they seek to make decisions by consensus and give those who disagree, but do not want to get in the way of a majority decision, the ability to “stand aside.”

So I read with interest a recent article, written in the light of the likely takeover of Cadbury in the UK, called “The Quaker Brand.”* Cadbury was one of a number of businesses set up by British Quakers in the 19th Century. The Quakers were keen to provide good working conditions for their staff, and a visit to their Bournville site in Birmingham is fascinating – and not just for the opportunity to eat lots of chocolate!

What interested me particularly in the article was that the reason that the Quakers became such good businessmen was because, being outside the Anglican Church, they were banned from universities (until the middle of the 19th centrury). This effectively excluded them from careers in law, science, or medicine – and of course their pacifism excluded service in the armed forces. There was also good networking within their religious community. These developments resonate with the Jew's dominance of financial activity in Europe in earlier centuries due to their exclusion. It is interesting to see the way in which the closing of doors to certain activity can shape whole communities in a way that brings benefit, although it can be (very) painful at the time.

I find it a scary thought that the focus of British intelligentsia on law, science, and medicine continues today to the detriment of creative industry. As I have sought to live out a vocation in the world of business for most of my working life, I also find it alarming that this establishment position was colluded with by the Anglican Church which in earlier centuries had a stranglehold on most of the education system. The Christian faith calls for a positive theology of work, but this perhaps explains why many (Church of England) churchgoers say that they find a complete absence during church worship of connection with, or affirmation of, their work.

Yes, maybe I am really a Quaker!

*The Week 30th January 2010

Climate Change Conference

As I write the conference in Copenhagen about climate change draws to a close. Some people claim that there is a consensus that global warming is caused by human action that has caused an increase in carbon dioxide. There are notable opponents to this view, including Viscount Christopher Monckton who has spoken out at Copenhagen. He claims that human influence counts for at most one sixth of the global warming, and that government attempts to deal with this by telling us what to do are an abuse of power.

In other words, he says that powerful people are making use of the “scare” to gain more government-level control over world populations. I should like to dismiss such theories, except that it seems obvious to me that people can seek to use any opportunity to advance their own cause or power. See my article about Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine.

As I understand it, religious people who warn us against the creeping threat of one-world government or one-world religion see this as the fulfilment of Biblical prophecy. The fact that some of those who bring such prophecies are portrayed as insane in media reports does not mean that they are wrong. Prophets have a proud heritage of being misunderstood or ignored (and at other times their advice is acted on). Logically there are three possible positions each of us may take: concerns about one-world government (etc.) are unfounded; the concern is real, and the climate change lobby are part of the movement; the concern is real, but the climate change lobby is not related in to it.

I'm not sure I find these things helpful, because I don't find scary information helpful unless I know what to do about it. Such interpretations or predictions do not suggest that we should take action, rather they suggest that it is part of God's plan – revealed in the Book of Revelation and elsewhere in the Bible – for things to get worse before the final successful battle of Christ over evil. So that suggests that all we can do is watch. The only action advocated (and which readers should thus take seriously) is to fear God and avoid the “mark of the beast.”

It may be tempting to ignore anyone who says what we do not want to hear, whether it is those saying we caused climate change, those saying we cannot blame others for climate change, or those who want to put God at the centre of the conversation. Even if only a small part of climate change is caused by human generation of increased carbon dioxide, there is still the observation that our seas are becoming more acidic to the detriment of shell fish and corals.*

My own belief is that solid progress will not be made while climate change is seen just as a problem to be solved. There needs to be recognition of the connectedness between ourselves (humans), Creator, and creation (which includes our distinctive role or vocation). In such a framework the underlying issue would be seen as sin, and in particular greed. So progress requires that as individuals we do not only look at what practical steps we can take to reduce energy consumption, but that we also look at our underlying beliefs and the effect they have on our behaviour and take penitent steps to address that too.

I also wonder what would happen if, instead of wondering whether we are to blame for climate change and trying to change the climate (King Canute and others have failed), we invested the energy in looking for technological and humanitarian solutions for those populations which are expected to be affected most detrimentally. 

It is extremely difficult for a single culture to recognise the ways in which its own belief systems are self-destructive, so maybe that's where the prophets come in.

 

*Source The Week 19/12/09 quoting Charles Clover in The Sunday Times.

Freemind

This week I heard some fascinating presentations about helping people to reach their full potential. The occasion was one of the regular get-togethers organised by the Institute of Business Consulting in South West Britain. The evening, yesterday, was hosted at At-Bristol by Veridian plc who wanted to tell us about their learning tool Freemind, designed by Tom Fortes Myer.

This is a collection of recordings on CD which individuals and organisations can use to get rid of the blocks to achieving their full potential. The underlying belief which Tom explained, and which I can agree with, is that performance = potential – interferences. So achieving potential is about getting rid of blocks. Before the talk I spoke to someone who had used Freemind. She spoke of how it had transformed her life since she started to understand that every situation she faced was an opportunity for her own development. That statement is, itself, transformative. by which I mean that it changed my own way of thinking.

The recordings are available on CD or by download from the Freemind web site, which includes some sample recordings free of charge.

Tom's talk was complemented well by a talk by Jan Childs of EQ4U about Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and how it is much more important in the development of leaders than IQ. I recommend her book “Understanding Emotional Intelligence in 90 minutes,” which can be purchased from the web site.

Part of my own fascination is the relationship between Emotional Intelligence and Spiritual Intelligence. Spiritual Intelligence is to me about the uniqueness, connectedness, and vocation of human beings in creation – which embraces the growing desire amongst employees in particular and people in general for meaning and purpose in their work. I notice that Jan heads off in this direction in her book, particularly in the final chapter, and I see the Tom's approach to unlocking potential as drawing together the spiritual and emotional.

Contentment

Here's some challenging quotes that I like

 

All man's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.

Blaise Pascal,  French mathematician (1623-1662), Penseés <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />

 

The man to whom little is not enough will not benefit from more.

Columbanus (7th century monk)

Will Europe be Christian?

There are some interesting discussions going on about the development of faith in Europe. Grace Davie has pioneered research in this area and written books on the subject. She comments on the current discussion hosted by the Guardian.

Grace gives an overview there, but her comment that the church has an important role to play, but does not have control, seems central to me.

I write this because I have been pointed to a video on YouTube which draws attention to the changing demographics in Europe. It contends that Europe will be Muslim in a few years because of changes in birth rates. Clearly Europe, and Britain, are becoming increasingly multi-racial. According to the videobirth rates among “native Europeans” have dropped below a critical level which guarantees their extinction as a majority culture. It then predicts that Europe will become predominantly Muslim, as distinct from Christian and from the current trend towards secularism. This prediction seems fraught with hazardous assumptions, such as: immigrant communities will continue to have “higher birthrates,” and that they will want to overthrow the culture that they are surrounded by rather than value it or develop it.

The video finishes with a “call to action” for Christians, but it seems intended to scare and to evoke a racist response in order to protect (“Christian”) “civilisation as we know it.” For this reason I do not find the seven minute video easy to watch, but here's the link to it.

What do I think, from a Christian viewpoint?

Firstly, it's no good being protectionist about our Christian culture, we need to do better. It has a lot of holes in it, as is shown at present by the scandal over the expenses of some Members of Parliament. The good news is that the public does care about such abuses, and has a sense of ideal morality to which it aspires.

Secondly, it is clear that our culture is changing and not static, we need to have an idea of the way that we would like our culture to develop, and live in a way that will bring it about. We need to be intentional about our own way of life and the development of society, not just “let it happen.” As Gandhi put it, “Be the change that you want to see in the world.”

Thirdly, the Bible does not set out a vision for a homogeneous Christian culture. On the contrary, it describes Christianity being lived out in different ways as it continues to spread through different cultures. It took courage and wisdom on the part of early church leaders to allow this. Healthy church growth has worked for its culture, and needs to be culturally and racially diverse.

So, finally, let's build a Godly society in which the teachings of Jesus are alive, expect it to be culturally (and racially) diverse and to benefit from those varied expressions, and don't expect to control the way it happens!