Archive for the ‘justice’ Category

Striking News from Egypt: or the Silence of the Pundits

The news from Egypt (indeed all the “Middle East”) over recent months has varied between being silence (most of the time) and shock-horror (when some new tragedy/atrocity manages to break through Western media’s apathy about the rest of the world. 

Vinoth Ramachandra again does us all a service by posting material written by one of his Egyptian contacts he titles it The Other Egypt. It begins:

When more than 85 Churches and institutions were viciously attacked and burned (a profound blow of disgrace and humiliation in this culture of ‘honour’), the non-retaliation of Christians was both unexpected and unprecedented.

If you haven’t heard about this please read his post! In fact do yourself a favour subscribe to his blog, or visit it regularly. It is constantly sensible and provocative a difficult balance given the topics he covers.

Grateful Undead on the Titanic

Gavin (at Otagosh) has a post puffing, 95 year old, Lloyd Geering’s new book From the Big Bang to God. I have not read Geering’s writing, I’m an OT scholar and John Robinson was the theological thinker frightening the horses when I was young (at least in the UK). But Gavin’s post and especially one of the comments got me thinking about why such extreme forms of theology the ones that are a whisker away from Atheology don’t work for me.

It’s all to do with worldview. In the film “Titanic” there’s a nice scene that sums up some popular1  worldviews . Jack a hobo won his ticket (3rd class) in a poker game, but is invited to dinner in first class2 and in course of conversation tells how he won his ticket.

One rich buffer responds, in suitably plummy accent: “I think life’s a game of chance.” This, it’s all about luck, worldview is remarkably convenient for the comfortable, for there is nothing you can do about luck except enjoy it. And if life, the universe, and everything are just luck then there are no inconvenient moral rules – do as you like as long as it “works for you”.

Another RB trumps that: “Real men make their own luck!” This view of life is even better for the comfortable, it means that somehow I deserve my privilege.

In contrast to the Lucky Bastards and the Bootstrappers3 Jack’s worldview is simple and works. “I think life’s a gift.”

That’s how I experience it. What the Bible and traditional theologians, often call “grace”. I get what I don’t deserve. Now this worldview both requires, demands forcefully even, moral thinking, because gifts make relationships and relationships impose obligations.  But if life is a gift, then who is the ‘giver’? Because ‘gift’ differs from ‘luck’ only in the ‘giver’.

Thankfulness is at the heart of my faith, I try to make it a heart of my living, and it is why (despite everything else) and all the powerful Atheist arguments and all that (some) Christians can do to discredit ‘him’ I am a Theist, I believe in God – the giver of life.

So I guess for me theology starts with the ‘Spirit’ (the giver of life), and moves via the ‘Father’ the Creator to recognising Jesus as their expression in creaturely form.

  1. As we’ll see at least in the modern Western world and elsewhere among the rich and powerful. []
  2. Because he saved Kate Winslet from suicide. []
  3. I call them that because they apparently believe they have elevated themselves by tugging their own bootstraps. []

A worthwhile Lent?

Vinoth Ramachandra does it again. In Food for Thought he points up several matters of real significance, and suggests if “Lent” is to be a real and worthwhile fast (cf. Isaiah 58: 6-7) rather than e.g. giving up coffee it would be better to spend time researching the coffee trade…

Amen, amen, amen!

Now that would make a sensible exercise in penitence and justice, or if coffee is too overdone, choose another aspect of his list… doing it as a group would be even better…

Lamenting in/with Sri Lanka

Two friends have recently spoken well of the recent pastoral letter from Dhiloraj Canagasabey, the Anglican Bishop of Colombo. Both in different ways, and for different reasons call it prophetic.

After succinctly and clearly explaining what “the rule of law” means:

The rule of law means that we as a nation are governed by a system of laws to which the lawmakers themselves are subject. This is a way of ensuring that power is not concentrated in the hands of one person (or group of persons) and exercised arbitrarily…

He explains in briefly and in unemotional language why Christians have a special call to speak out when as currently in Sri Lanka this safeguard is threatened. But far from merely asking for political action or protest he moves to call the churches first to self-examination and lament. The process he proposed began yesterday, and continues today with meetings in the cathedral and other churches. Which will extend into:

a series of Bible studies, reflections and discussions during Lent. Which is traditionally a period of self-examination and penitence, to reflect on what it means to live as a faithful disciple-community of Jesus in the context of our nation today.

One of my friends wrote:

We are so grateful for a leader who seems to be finally speaking out to the church along biblical lines. Thought you might be interested to see what he says (I’ve attached a copy of the letter in case you haven’t seen it already). I believe this is an important first step in mobilising the church to do one of the most important things that we are meant to do – intercede. Some churches from other denominations have also decided to adopt the concept. 

We should join her in prayer that this will happen, and that the process will be filled with the blessing of the presence of the Holy Spirit working powerfully among Sri Lankan Christians during this critical time.

Paul Windsor (ex-principal of Carey now working with Langham Preaching) adds the more specific prayer:

that the preachers being trained through Langham will develop a prophetic edge that will speak up and speak out on matters of injustice.

The full text of the letter is included in the Anglican Communion News Service report here.

An obituary for politics

I have several times over the last few years linked to Vinodth Ramachandra’s clear-sighted, incisive criticisms of Western Christians ongoing synchretism with materialism. It is with sadness made deeper by our recent visit to Sri Lanka (the Beautiful Isle) that I now also link to his post “A Political Obituary” it is thought-provoking reading.

SBL Podcasts

Podcasting logoi from http://podcastlogo.lemotox.de/

There is an interesting (if somewhat restricted) discussion on the SBL’s Facebook page about the possibility of podcasting (some) sessions from the annual meeting.

The suggestion is simple. Record sessions (unless the speaker asks not to be recorded). Make the recordings available on the web.

The advantages are clear. Much wider access to this forum of scholarly conversation. Currently many of us are either geographically rich (i.e. we are so far from Chicago that tickets and time to get there are difficult) or economically poor (we simply cannot afford to attend) that we miss out on this means of keeping up with current and emerging thinking in our areas.

SBL has a fine history of making efforts to widen the circle, scholarships for attending the meetings for emerging and distant scholars are a good (if expensive) example. SBL is also developing a reputation for using technology to make access wider (think of e-publications and RBL online), even sponsoring open access scholarship. Podcasting (even some of) the Annual and International Meetings would be a huge step in this direction that would cost little. (A few MP3 players and a few days of work.)

The argument so far advanced as a possible objection, that some scholars might not wish their presentation to receive this wider audience is easily covered by making participation optional. The other objection, that people who might otherwise attend would decide to stay at home misses the point, that social interaction (not to mention book exhibits ;) is a big part of the reason people attend. I’d be surprised if numbers attending dropped significantly as a result of podcasting, and this year numbers are so high they have had to arrange extra hotels :)

You lost me at…

John Douglas posted this video on Facebook. I’d seen the research before, I’ve even commented on similar work (Giving up on Church)


This time it struck me again forcefully how often “Christians” major on the minors. Blow up things of little importance, but forget the vital stuff. Many of us prattle on about how gay marriage is wrong, but we fail to put real effort into supporting the couples who marry in church, so they can stick together becoming one flesh across the years. Some of us even mount campaigns aimed at persuading people into believing that the world was started in 4004BC, rather than spending the money and energy on helping people celebrate the wondrous creation and so its wonderful creator. We preach and sing interminably about how God is nice and loves us, but fail to address the big questions. Which usually begin with “why”.

To be fair one of the reasons I like South City is because from time to time we have a service where people are invited to drop big questions in the box, and the next week those questions are addressed. Last time examples were:

Sometimes when people pray someone is healed, sometimes they are not, why?

Is it wrong for Christians to spend dollars  on expensive holidays and trips?  Are there scriptures to teach us how to use our
God provided Money? Other than being good stewards, helping the poor and widows orphans tithing etc.

Being an extra in a story Jesus told

Photo by redjar

In response to my post Fairtrade: Coffee, Chocolate & Bananas Heather commented:

…it will do nothing to convince the group that I most often encounter: those who don’t believe that what they do could possibly change ‘the system’. That’s the main point I find myself trying to argue with people.

Oh, you silly people! I’ve always tried to change the world, but, since I was three I’ve recognised that usually I have little success. I have a blog, it’s quite popular, I regularly write posts trying to change the world. However, there are nearly 600,000 websites that are visited more often than my blog. Realistically I stand little chance of saving the world :(

Happily I don’t have to. That post is already taken. What I do have to do is to try to change my little corner of the world. If I persuade five of you to change your buying just habits on just one of these three  products: Coffee, Chocolate and Cocoa, or Bananas then at least one family’s life will be changed for the better. If two of you five persuade five others, we have a snowball, and snowballs do change the world…

But, for the moment forget about snowballs, because Jesus told a story that featured a couple of possible world-changers:

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.  31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  (Luke 10:30-32)

Priests are always trying to make the world a better place, and preaching to change the world is a Levite’s job…

Fairtrade: Coffee, Chocolate & Bananas

Photo by anthony_p_c

Some of you, I hope many, do not need to read this post. Sadly those who flick past will probably be mainly those who DO need to read it :(

When I posted a recipe for some nice Chocolate Muffins (which are actually a sort of moist and juicy cross between muffins and brownies, but that’s another story) on Repentant Carnivores Heather commented suggesting that I should have recommended that people use FairTrade chocolate and cocoa. To my reply that “I just assumed that people would (at least try to) use Fair Trade” she wrote: “Wow! You must move in very different Christian circles from me! I know relatively few Christians who think that such buying decisions have anything to do with their faith (even Christians who are very aware of and concerned about the Majority World)

Fair trade is a Christian issue:

God hates rapaciously greedy oppressors. The prophets and the Old Testament laws had loads to say about the evils of injustice and how God cannot tolerate people who oppress their neighbours. Jesus had some interesting things to say about who our neighbours  might be. Put these together and if our buying in the market (or even supermarket) is done at a price that does not allow the producers to live a decent life we are acting in a manner that God abhors. Whether or not there is any truth in claims that: “God hates fags” it is abundantly clear that God does hate rapaciously greedy oppressors.

The world trade system is rapaciously greedy: Unless it is moderated by consumer choice or government legislation the world trade system in which we operate is rapaciously greedy. (In this post we will ignore legislation, that’s someone else’s business.) Take coffee,  a high proportion of coffee is grown by small farmers,1 they get usually a tiny proportion of the price that the big coffee companies charge for the end product2 these prices hardly cover the cost of production.3 Buying “normally traded” coffee therefore is oppressive and unjust.

For Chocolate and Cocoa the issue is different, there much comes from large plantations, whose owners (Western companies or local elites) make good money, but pay a pittance to their workers, or even if many stories from reputable sources including the US State Department are to be believed use child slaves imported for the work from neighbouring countries. Buying “normal” chocolate products is therefore oppressive and cruel.

For bananas there is a third problem, here most production is from large estates, the monoculture practices of these companies require the use of dangerous chemicals, the companies have often bribed government officials and legislators to ensure that they can continue to expose their workers to these chemicals (and so not lose their commercial edge). Buying “normal” bananas thus endangers the health of the people who worked to grow your banana.

You CAN now (at least in NZ) often find FairTrade coffee at the supermarket – there is no excuse to buy anything else.

You CAN now (at least in NZ) often find cafes that sell FairTrade coffee – there is no excuse to go anywhere else.

FairTrade chocolate and cocoa are less easy to find, a few supermarkets stock them, but often you have to go to a TradeAid shop, or buy online: NZ, or search Google.

Some supermarkets stock fairly traded bananas.

If your supermarket does not stock these products do some Social Media Activism, “social media” is a hot notion among marketers, supermarkets want you to “friend” them on Facebook. Do so. And then post on their wall asking them to stock Fair Trade products. If enough people post on Pak n’ Save’s FB page, they will stock Fair Trade… it’s up to you!

  1. 70% from properties of less than 10Ha. []
  2. Typically less than 10%. []
  3. In 2010 the price was around US$2/pound  according to the International Coffee Organisation. []

Downfall of a dictator, or is Google making us REALLY stupid?

US President Richard Nixon and Mobutu 10 October 1973 (National Archives and Records Administration, 194548 via Wikipedia)

People write books about what turned Col. Joseph-Désiré Mobutu from a charismatic young man riding a wave of popular support, encouraged along by the guns of his men, into the office of president after his second coup1 into a broken failed dictator at the end hardly even feared. But, though the proximate causes are multiple and complex, the heart of the answer is simple.  Insulation.

 

Mobutu lived the Life of Riley, or at least of an African despot, he did not mix and mingle, people came to him not he to them. He received only the information that his circle of paid sycophants chose to offer him. Few offered information that would trouble or annoy him. Would you tell a croc that it looked ugly, or a lioness that she needs dentistry?

As a result he was cut off, out of touch. Living in a fantasy world in Gbadolite (his “presidential village” in the back of beyond – though with its own international airport and huge cellars of champagne) or on his boat.

Although Congo/Zaire is a country the size of Western Europe, with few roads that are passable by Landrover, his downfall came almost as fast as his opponents could walk from the border to Kinshasa (1600Kms), in November 1996 his government ordered Tutsis out of Zaire, on May 16th 1997 he was the ex-dictator.

What has this to do with you and me, and Google? Well Google filters its search results, offering each user a prioritised selection according to their interests (and what will win Google most advertising revenue). This is great, if you are interested in Medieval history and not 20th century weaponry a search for “saracen” will not lead to (too much) information about armoured vehicles. But it is a disaster if you want to know what is real and true about the world we live in.

For all our other media are already censored and selected to tell us what we want to hear – TV is renowned for its triviality and superficiality, preferring celebrity scandals to mass starvation any day. Newspapers have their backs to the wall trying to find new revenue streams while fighting tooth and nail to protect the old ones, do you think they can afford the luxury of telling you anything except what you want to hear? So, without the Internet we live in a media bubble as pernicious and dangerous as the one that sheltered Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga.

But if we discover the Internet using a tool like Google, which tailors the results of our searches to our “interests” that tool too has failed us. Our knowledge of what is really happening in our world is a circumscribed and as biased as any tin-pot dictator’s.

 

  1. After the first he gave power back to the politicians. []