Saturday, 26 December 2009

Christmas grouch or ...

I am not one to enjoy the Christmas extravagance and the mad Christmas eve rush to buy presents so it was nice to find, as we returned to Birmingham from picking up our son at Heathrow, that the local shopping mall in Solihull was closed apart from the restaurants. This did cause a few problems as our son really wanted to purchase some toys as Christmas presents for the grandchildren and he hadn't wanted the extra weight when he had all his gear for moving over here. Despite the inconvenience, I was pleased to see the commercialism hasn't taken over fully in the UK.

Although there have been times of celebration at Christmas, we have had few in which we celebrated as a family. So often since our children have been married, Marilyn and I have celebrated Christmas on our own our with one or other of the children. There have been the occasional sharing with either Marilyn's extended family or with my family.

This Christmas was different as we shared with my daughter's family and our son at our home in Birmingham. People talk of the importance of spending Christmas with family and for us, this Christmas was one of those times. Sure there were gifts and food but the most important part was being able to spend some of the day with the family and especially the grandchildren. It was nice to be able to share in their joy of receiving and playing.

Another thing that makes Christmas different here from New Zealand is that here there isn't the summer holiday shut down so Marilyn will return to work for three days next week and I will return to work on the 4th. In New Zealand, many people are looking forward to their summer holidays and an extended period away from the workplace. This changes the atmosphere considerably and in some respects makes Christmas day all that more special.

So was I the Christmas grouch this year? No, I found myself feeling sad when our daughter's family climbed in the car to head for home. The day of fellowship had been important and seemed more valuable than anything else that might have happened today.

The importance of having family around and being able to share with them was really the importance of this day. The fact that Christians want to celebrate this day as Christ's birthday is significant but I no longer have a desire to force such a celebration on others. Instead, I am pleased to see families celebrating together and enjoying one another's company. My prayer is that all might no something of the joy of friendship and love of sharing together as a family.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Working together

Before starting to read Luke 8:19-21, I had been thinking about loving all peoples even those who do not share our faith. Can we share in ecumenical worship with other faiths? I am beginning to believe that the answer is yes. To some extent, we should be prepared to support what they want to achieve to build unity in the world.

The attempts to force others to conform is what has generated hatred and division. Seeking the welfare of others is what will bring down the barriers and encourage renewed consideration of the principles of faith.

For Jesus, his family were those who sought to be part of the kingdom of God. They were those who in some way sought to live out God's will. It wasn't those who had an exclusive attitude but those who needed help and were willing to listen and work together. He reached the outcasts of society by associating with them and reaching their real needs.

If we are to live in the kingdom of God, we have to refrain from competition and jealousy. We have to cease trying to make others like ourselves and simply reach out in love and friendship. If they reject us, that is their choice. It isn't for us to put up barriers and to make life difficult.

In a way, this continues my thesis that the way to resolve conflicts in the middle east is to build understanding, to hear the concerns of the people, and to address their needs. By reducing the alienation, we remove the hatred and build bridges that enable the real problems to be addressed. Addressing those real problems may mean challenging our own assumptions and approach to life.

Freewill and automata

If there is a God, why does he allow so many bad things to happen? But wait a minute, what would our lives be like if God kept intervening to ensure that nothing ever went wrong? Which is a more effective way to show my love for my children? Should I step in any time there is a risk of something bad happening or of them failing and remove them from that situation or should I in love allow them to experience the good and the bad, the successes and the failures that they might learn and grow stronger. That is precisely the decision that God has to make in His love for people. Should He surround them in cotton wool and stop them doing things that might hurt them or others or should he give them the freedom to make their own choices and to fail from time to time?

Barclay in commenting on Luke 7:30-35 makes it clear that God has chosen the way of love and giving men freewill. The difficulty is that men through their freewill choose ways that frustrate God's plans and hinder the implementation of his plan. The passage describes it as God's plan for them.

Each day, we are faced with choices. We can seek to know God's path of love but often we look for the ways that bring personal satisfaction rather than service to others. In the work place do we seek personal satisfaction or do we seek to serve others? Reflecting on my own work, often it is personal satisfaction rather than serving.

Barclay closes his commentary with the statement “Had God used the force of coercion and laid on man the iron bonds of a will that could not be denied, there would have been a world of automata and a world without trouble. But God chose the dangerous way of love, and love in the end will triumph” (pp 92-93).

Providing this freedom of choice is what brings differences in understanding. Each of us has the freedom to interpret what we read or hear according to how we perceive it. As a consequence, teaching doesn't deliver a single understanding, it delivers a diversity of understandings based on the way that the learner experiences the teaching and relates it to their current understanding. We work in a world of diversity that provides its interests and its challenges.

Without that diversity, in a world of automata, the interest and challenge would be removed. We would be little more than mechanical robots repeating tasks each day. The freedom to choose is what gives interest to life but it also leads to the uncertainty and struggles.

My preference is for freewill over automata.

Reference

Barclay, W. (1975). The gospel of Luke (revised ed.). Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press.

Struggle or peace

The origins for this entry date back to attending a Computing Education conference in Wellington in January of this year. One of the themes that was discussed was the journal and conference rankings for evaluating research contributions. The claim is that research is evaluated based on its contribution but in reality is that the contribution is assessed based on where the research results are published. As a consequence, if a researcher seeks the recognition for their research in this world, then they had better ensure that their work is published in the highly rated conferences and journals. Failure to publish in such journals and conferences leads the researchers work being regarded as inferior regardless of its quality or importance.

What it boils down to is that this world promises riches and contentment but only if you participate in the games. If you challenge the system, you are seen as not playing the game. If you seek to advance in this world's systems then you must play the game and not seek to serve and help those who need our help. Don't challenge the system if you want the rewards of this world.

Christ challenges us to serve others and to sacrifice our advancement in this world in order top receive the eternal joy and contentment (Luke 6:20-26). Is it struggle or peace or is it struggle and peace?

Barclay commenting on this passage quotes Maltby who says “Jesus promised his disciples three things – that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble.” If we seek to follow Jesus and to serve those who are in need then we shouldn't expect the recognition of this world or the short term wealth that it might bring. We need to be prepared for a life time of struggle as we seek to serve those in real need.

At the conference, I made a decision that I would prefer to publish my work in places where it is needed and it can prove useful rather than chase the “A” rated publication outlets. I seek to publish to help others and not to grow my own status.

I did become frustrated at times in a workshop because we didn't get enough time to deal with things that I felt were important but was my frustration with the lack of time to help or the lose of recognition for understanding the issues that I felt were important? I suspect my frustration was more because of lack of recognition. This is the difference in attitude caused by walking in faith. If we walk in God's guidance, we will work away from the places of recognition and quietly help those who are in need. If we seek this world's glory, we will focus on gaining status and possibly miss the need. There is more pleasure in meeting the need than in gaining status.

Reference

Barclay, W. (1975). The gospel of Luke (revised ed.). Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Banker's bonuses

UK Bankers who receive bonuses over $25,000 are to have their bonuses taxed at 50%! “Yeah right” say the local papers. The banks and bankers will find some way around it.

“Hang on” Why are these bankers who are already being paid exorbitant rates for stuffing up the banking system being paid a bonus that is double what the tellers are being paid? They expect their tellers to survive on a measly $13,000 but can't afford to give up their bonus. Who is being greedy? Don't argue they deserve it because they do more work. I don't believe it. If they showed more appreciation for their staff then they might actually reduce their work load. If they showed more interest in their customers then they might find their wasn't such an outcry against their greed.

What even frustrates me more is that in order to do so many things here in the UK, I must have proof of a bank account. It is difficult to live in this society without one. We were credit checked to rent the house. We required a bank account to sign up for utilities. The bankers have it all running their way. It is time they were given a shake up and began to really serve the people.

The western banking and financial system is corrupt and these payments simply reinforce that fact. Give the customers back their money and stop ripping them off. All the bankers are doing is protecting their income and their wealth and not showing any concern for the person who is trapped by the imbalance of the financial system.

And politicians, all around the world, who have been living off the perks, show that you mean business in reshaping the financial system by paying back the perks and ensuring that those who are struggling to survive have a fair share of the produce of the land.

We are coming up to Christmas, a time of giving, but the thought that is in my mind is of Jesus throwing the money changers and traders out of the temple. Why did he do it? Because they in their greed were charging more than what the product they were selling was worth. They were preying on the vulnerable for their own gain. Jesus saw their deceit and took action. His action showed real love for the people and their needs.

My call this Christmas is for the bankers and politicians to come clean and repay what they have ripped off from the people. Give the people some reason to have confidence in you rather than continuing to feather your own nests.

Weren't you told you won't be able to take it with you!! If you want to sleep at peace each night then show justice and live simply so that others may simply live.

For the rest of us. Don't get sucked in to the giving and getting of big gifts and non-essential items. Don't borrow just to give. Often the best gift isn't the extravagant item. It is the love that you share or maybe the things that you build with your own hands.

It's time to stop the commercialism that drives so much of our lives and to return to some of the simple ways that demand our time and presence rather than our wallets. We are enslaved to western commercialism and greed. Break the cycle. Show love and compassion for those in real need.