Saturday, 25 July 2009


It was the great Reformed theologian Karl Barth who once observed, for spiritual leaders, that they ought to preach (or teach) "with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other."

I keep turning that idea around in my head, as I work as an ethicist. It seems that need to speak to the real questions that people are asking, or think they are asking.

One of the frustrations that I find is that, when people talk about Christianity, they often have little or no idea of what basic Christianity is about. They have the strangest notions in their heads -- and link to Christianity things that are completely foreign to that understanding of life or the world.

Now that's a challenge.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009


Fellow Blogger "Snowbrush" is a delightful person, who writes thoughtfully, passionately, and beautifully.

One of the challenges in his life is his relationship with God, about which he has been vocal. And I have no qualms about sharing his ideas with you.

As someone who is a Pastor by training and service, I encourage people to think reflectively about their lives, what is important to them, and why it is important.

The following is my reply to "Snowbrush's" writing on his relationship with God. Y0u can find it on his site, or you can simply read it here.

- - - - - - - - -

This is a very provocative post. Provocative in the sense of thought-provoking.

I feel really happy for your grandfather. I feel really sad for your father. Having had to fight my own demons, even in my teens, I may understood something of your father's plight.

As for the rest, just about nothing resonates at all. I just don't get it. I suppose that's because I'm a Canadian, and live in a very different context than yours.

• "Respect" resonates.

• I wouldn't give John "a pass"

• I'm surprised that you said so little about the prophets of Israel with their demands for justice and compassion -- including the prophet Jesus.

• I'm a little concerned that you quote things out of context, and that you have missed the literary style in some of what you've been quoting.

• And I'm not sure that you recognize that people have tried to do good things, but used unhelpful methods, and rally messed things up.

I'm really touched by your comment that

"If you were to be marooned upon that proverbial desert island, what one book would you take? I would take the Bible. It’s long; it contains a lot of interesting stories; a good bit of poetry; some history; some wisdom; and it spans many cultures and centuries. I can’t say that I love the Bible, but I sure do like it a lot—I just wish that people didn’t take it so seriously."

Indeed, as you say, the Bible is both a book and a symbol. And it is essentially story -- story and mystery. But I would argue that most people don't take the Bible seriously enough.

I realize that you've got a chip on your shoulder when it comes to God. That's who you are, and I'm not about to try to change that -- because only you can make that change.

The older I get, the more questions I have, and the better answers I find. I hope you keep asking better questions and finding better answers.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Hen Buddhism and the Art of Human Maintenance. (3)

Lee says:

Sunday, 15 March 2009
A reflection of the bigger picture.

In a comments to the last post, Rob-bear issued an implied challenge for me to say something nice about religion.

And it is true enough that people 'fault find' as a default position.

And it is a parent's mantra to accentuate the positive and not the negative.

But (don't you just love that word?) it's not easy.

In many ways the church is a microcosm of the broader community where good work is done by individuals and local groups but the higher up the power pile you go the more removed and more impersonal the public face.

Undeniably, people in most churches and denominations do well and mean well. Regardless of their faith. Community aid, charity, meals on wheels, visiting the sick and the poor, running telephone help-lines and such like. They honestly and earnestly apply their faith's doctrine of good.

Undeniably churches provide a sense of community and belonging and acceptance that many people find missing in their lives in other spheres.

The trouble with this is it is dull. If I blogged about the thousands of selfless acts of care and charity performed every day I would lose all my readers. Both of them.

The other thing is the Church puts itself out there. There are hundreds of tennis clubs around the country, full of people fervently playing tennis, raising money, looking after members, rebuilding club houses, holding meetings and generally being tennis clubs. They do not try to tell people that they are wrong for playing cricket, basketball or football. And you hardly know that they are there.

Churches would be left alone if they left alone.

Rob-bear says:

1. Regarding "the trouble with this is it is dull."

Actually, it's only dull to people who are dull. It's essential to the needs of others (especially the desperate), or those who really care about the needs of others.

2. Regarding the "hundreds of tennis clubs around the country, full of people fervently playing tennis, raising money, looking after members, rebuilding club houses, holding meetings and generally being tennis clubs."

And how many very private tennis clubs open their doors -- unconditionally and continually -- to people who are not part of the club -- week, after week, after week? Like the church that fed "street people" every Sunday morning (as well as other times).

3. Your commenters remind me of how many self-centred and socially unaware people there are in our world. Sadly. 'Tis the curse of the modern age.

{My argument with Lee here is that, like many other people in our time, he has fallen pray to the assumption that good = dull. It is a position which causes us to reinforce bad news and ignore good news. That, in turn, promotes a negative view on society, which often degenerates into outright cynicism. It was assumption and process with which I was constantly struggling as a journalist (and still do), as a matter of journalistic ethics.
That is compounded by the problem of self-centredness, which I have already mentioned. I do recognize Lee's concern if he wrote about "the thousands of selfless acts of care and charity performed every day I would lose all my readers." I would simply suggest that, as a matter of ethics, that he make his reporting more "balanced." Unless he has a particular axe to grind, which seems to be the case.}

Hen Buddhism and the Art of Human Maintenance (2)

Lee says:

Saturday, 14 March 2009
A response to Rob-bear

Rob-bear makes a fair point in my earlier post, that ‘organised religion’ has done much good in the past.

As he states, it has been responsible for providing many medical services over the ages.

It has also been responsible for the creation of many schools. Initially the Church gained great power by being the only people who could read and write. In later years, it found value in running schools and teaching.

Not for just itself but because it then had control of the curriculum.

Rob-bear did not mention art – the Church has been responsible for some magnificent architecture, art and music.

I could now go into a long list of things that the Churches did over the years that were truly atrocious but that would be missing the main point I want to make.

My gripe is with the Church today. It’s actions now.

The Church and its supporters must take this view, too. Why else would they be chasing converts? The Bible is full of calls to repent; implying that you can leave your past ways, good or bad, and follow the new.

So, my gripe is with the new.

Irrespective of how they behaved in the past, good or bad, what are they doing now?

If what they do is good, I will praise it, but if what they do amounts to idiocy then I feel no compulsion to be a quiet observer.


There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice,
but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.
- Elie Weisel.

Rob-bear says:

Thank you for taking me seriously.

What's happening today?

• Meals for people who don't have food. (I remember going to a church in another community for Holy Communion. Sunday service was held in the chancel. When I arrived (a bit early) the back of the nave was still full of "street people," finishing their breakfasts. Similar things happen in my community.)
• Housing for those who don't have any -- including the building of housing units if nobody else will build.
• Support networks, for those who feel friendless.
• Counselling, for free!
• Etc., etc., etc.

These things, of course, rarely make it into "the media," though they are commonplace. That's why many of these activities remain virtually unknown. Often, such actions take place in a community context, where churches (Protestant and Catholic) work together, many times side-by-side with non-church groups, to provide a broader and more effective service. I speak from personal experience.

And I don't think this is just a Canadian phenomenon.

You said, "If what they do is good, I will praise it." So, . . .

{The one thing I would add in passing is that I agree entirely with the quote from Elie Weisel. As long as we're protesting something worth protesting, not a straw man.}

Hen Buddhism and the Art of Human Maintenance.

This is the first of three conversations between Lee and me. This material originally appeared on his "Hen Buddhism" blog. It appears here with his permission -- yes, as a ethicist, I do consider things like confidentiality and intellectual property rights -- and try not to violate either.

Lee says:

Friday, 13 March 2009
Jesus wept.

A story that was on the go before I went a-wandering comes from Brazil. The time line is as follows.

* A nine year old girl is raped by her step-father.
* He had been abusing her since she was six.
* BTW: He also abused her physically handicapped 14 year old sister.
* The nine year old becomes pregnant to him, with twins.
* It was considered by medical authorities that the girl, weighing less than 80lb, was at risk.
* The pregnancy was terminated at 15 weeks.
* The Catholic Church promptly excommunicated the mother and the doctor.
* The Catholic Church felt no need to excommunicate the step-father.
* Brazil's President and Health Minister both condemned the church's decision.
* The Pope supported the church's decision.

What are they thinking?

"Jesus wept" (John 11:35) may be the shortest verse in the King James Bible but his followers certainly give him much to weep over.

One of the 'virtues' touted by believers is that religion is the source of human morality; clearly this idea needs some more work.

Rob-bear says:

I get God, and faith. I don't get stupidity, religious or other. Religion ≠ stupidity.

{The process as outlined by Lee, and confirmed through other sources, is totally lacking in any kind of justice, compassion, or human decency, as far as I can see. I'm outraged -- as is Lee. Of course, this is the same organization whose leader believes that condoms are not the answer to Africa's fight against HIV/AIDS, and that condoms actually increase the problem. Huh?}

Monday, 23 February 2009

The Bible in it's Context

For many centuries, Christians have struggled with a problem at the core of their faith -- the meaning of the Bible. The biggest problem has arisen from taking the Bible out of its original context. I hope this shed some light on the context, and how to build a faith within that context.

1. The Bible is Story First and foremost, we need to remember that much of the Bible circulated as unwritten stories for ages. That's true of key portions of both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Eventually the stories were written down, and edited, and re-edited, and translated, re-edited, and copied, and re-edited some more.

The Bible is the story of how God and God's people learned to understand each other, and how they got along (as in how the people got along with God, and how they got along with each other). And sometimes the people and God didn't get along very well, from the human perspective.

Sometimes the people misunderstood God; sometimes God got annoyed with the people (at least, from their perspective). And sometimes the people didn't get along with each other. Sometimes people experimented with wild, weird, and wonderful ideas -- some of which were helpful, and some of which weren't. You'll see it all. But don't get too worried about that. Most of it is useful in helping us sort out our faith, our understanding of God -- both in terms of what is helpful, and what is not helpful.

2. Respect the Details, but Don't Get Hung Up in Them Given that the Bible is story, there are a variety of literary styles and authors. The literary styles include allegory, legend, myth (which brings us to the myth-truth paradox), poetry, personal and not-so-personal letters, personal and group history, etc. Like any story, the details lead to the "punch line" -- which is the whole point of the story. Read the story from the beginning to the "punch line"; interpret the story backwards from the "punch line" to the beginning, in order to understand the story's details, and see how they fit into the stories.

And if the whole thing confuses you, just relax, set it aside, and come back at another time. Or, if you know someone who might have some ideas to share, someone you trust, go ask. If that person is a good teacher, the first question will be, "What do you think it means"? The Bible is a community book; it takes a whole village to raise a child, and to understand the Bible.

3. The Bible Helps Us Understand God, but Understanding the Bible Isn't the Same as Experiencing God That's a reality that a lot of people miss. And it messes up their potential for a fuller relationship with God and each other. Remember, it's a story about a developing relationship, just the the one we have with God,individually and together.

Happy reading! And happy discoveries/epiphanies along the way!

About the icon of St. Anthony . . .
The icon comes from Eastern Christian Supply Company. With thanks!