Category Archives: Faith

Faith and Risk.

I sometimes am asked how I can take Risk Management seriously when I am a person of faith.  Or to put it another way, how I can be serious about having faith when I practice Risk Management.

Surely, if events are in God’s hands, they are beyond management by us humans?

I was pleased recently to find an example in the Bible of the early Christians taking practical measures to deal with a known risk in response to information provided by a prophet.

I read in The Book of the Acts of the Apostles Chapter 11 verses 27 to 30 that a prophet called Agabus in the city of Antioch foretold a great famine which was to happen in the reign of the Emperor Claudius.  The Christians responded not by praying it would not happen but by arranging a collection to provide funds to help those worst affected when it occurred.

Soap Box

So they saw no contradiction between believing in their faith and in taking practical steps to reduce the risk they foresaw.

I am glad I am in good company.  Yet many people who profess any or no faith fail to take simple precautions to deal with risks they can reasonably foresee.  How about you?

Six Things I do not believe about the Creation Story

Some people think the right place to begin reading a book is at the beginning.  That is not always so.  It is unfortunate that the first two chapters of the Bible, that is the first two chapters of the book of Genesis, are perhaps the most offputting for many people today.  That is because they contain the story of the Creation of the World, and of the rest of the Universe.

If you find this account unbelievable, as most people do, you may find it difficult to take the rest of the Bible seriously. Doubt

There are six things I do not believe about the Creation Story which you may find worth considering.

  1. I do not believe you have to hold any particular view of Creation before you can be a Christian. There have been over the years Christians who have held many different views of Creation, as there are today.  Some believe Genesis 1 and 2 completely literally, others see them as metaphors, whilst still others regard them as of no relevance at all.
  2. I do not believe the Bible was written as a scientific textbook. Its theme is God and Mankind.  God’s relationship with Mankind, or Man’s relationship with God, if you prefer.  It is full of insights into ourselves and how we should live.  To miss all that because you do not accept the Bible’s view of how the World began is to rob yourself of something of immeasurable value.
  3. I do not believe science and the Bible have to be enemies. I have only a limited knowledge of science, but I do value the contributions made to our understanding of ourselves and our World by various disciplines.  None of them can ever make the Bible redundant.  They do not address the same themes.
  4. I do not believe Genesis 1 and 2 were ever intended to be taken literally. I am assured by biblical scholars that the language of those two chapters is poetic.  You do not write scientific treatises in poetry.  Poets take liberties with facts in order to present deeper truths.    If you can accept that the word ‘day’ was not intended to mean twenty-four hours, but ‘period’ or ‘phase’ and thus could embrace millions of years, the rest of the story begins to look an awful lot more credible.
  5. I do not believe the human writer of Genesis had scientific knowledge far ahead of his time. Whether that was Moses or not, they were written long after the Creation but long before most modern scientific discoveries.  So the writer could not have known what happened in much detail.   I suppose he went into a trance and had a vision, like a lot of the prophets in the Bible.  He probably struggled to make sense of what he saw.  What we have is testimony to his great insight and ability.
  6. I do not believe the Creation Story is irrelevant. Although I have said that I do not believe you have to hold any particular view of this story, I believe there is an important truth in it that we should not overlook.  God created the World, and the rest of the Universe.    Not some other god or the Devil or anyone.  It is His World and He knows how it should work.  Follow the Maker’s instructions.  That is true whether it took Him seven days or seven billion years.

So before you dismiss the Creation Story and then go on to dismiss the rest of the Bible, think about the six things I do not believe about it.  Perhaps you will not believe them either.

The Season of Invitation is over. Is now the time to consider yourself invited?

I have written before about the Season of Invitation.  It was an initiative by the Church of England in the North West to encourage people who have not been to church for a long time (ever?) to come and have a look.  There was Back to Church Sunday, Harvest, Remembrance and various Christmas and New Year Events.

The idea was that churches should make these events visitor-friendly.  Apart from looking out for new faces, people were to think about the actual services.  No jargon.  Explain what’s going on.  What page of the hymn book to go to.   Also, these special Sundays were times when a lot of people put a lot of effort into extras.  Decorating the Church.  Musical items.  Drama.  These were times you could go to church and not feel embarrassed because you would not be the only visitor or newcomer.

I hope you tried it.  I hope you liked it.  I hope you gave feedback, whether good or bad.  We only improve if we know where we’re going wrong.

So that’s all over for a while?  Well, perhaps.

Whether you were invited or not, whether you went or not, perhaps now is a better time to go!  I think I would rather see what a church was like on a “normal” Sunday.  No extras.  No special efforts.  What is it like, really?

I think you will find that a lot of churches don’t need any season of invitation.  They are always welcoming.  They never use jargon.  They always make everything clear to everyone.  Try it and see.  Say I invited you.  You might be surprised.  In a good way!

Is it time to scrap Harvest Festivals?

As I have mentioned before, the Church of England in the North West has chosen the Harvest Festival as one of its “Back to Church Sundays” when services will be made especially visitor-friendly and when it will be a good time to go if you have not been for a long time.  Of course, I think it is a good idea and I hope it helps a lot of people.  However, I am not a great fan of Harvest Festivals, despite the fact that they can be very enjoyable and I know a lot of effort goes into them.

Why am I less than thrilled?

The Harvest Festival is an important fixture on the calendar for a lot of people, although it is not exactly fixed.  It has been around a long time.  The concept and the symbolism are both simple and are both good.  It is an occasion when samples of the year’s harvest are brought into church and given away to the poor as a recognition of our gratitude to God for the harvest, as well as for everything else that we have, and a recognition of our responsibilities towards each other, especially those worse off than ourselves.  The concept is certainly in line with everything Christians, and a lot of others, believe.  The old hymn sums it up very well:

We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land, but it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand.

What then can be wrong with it?

What is wrong is more in the perception than in the reality.  Everything about Harvest speaks of our rural past.  That is what many people like about it.  It reminds us of our rural roots.  It conjures up images of happy peasants working in sunny field manually gathering sheaves of wheat or some other crop.  It is questionable whether that image was ever real, but nowadays it is certainly long gone.  Not only do very few of us work in agriculture, but agriculture itself has changed dramatically since the Olden Days.  Agribusiness is big business, is highly technical, is far from labour-intensive, is highly regulated and entails a remarkable amount of IT.  Even in the countryside, more people work in leisure, conservation and mineral extraction than in agriculture.

So what?

Does any of that negate the truth that we all depend on God for our material as much as for our spiritual well-being?  Of course not.  God is the God of Science and Industry, even of Finance, just as much as he is the God of Agriculture.  Is our duty to help each other, especially the poor, any the less?  In our modern global economy, where not only are we increasingly interdependent but where we can be instantly updated on crises around the planet, the poor are more visible than ever.

Why then would anyone doubt the value of having a Harvest Festival?

It is because Harvest gives the impression of a Church and  God that belongs in the countryside and in the past.  It may be that some of us find that the sort of Church and the sort of God we are comfortable with, but it is wrong.  If God exists at all, he exists for all people for all time.  He is as relevant for a website designer or a careworker as for a farmer.  He is as much the God of the inner city or the City as of the rolling hills.

I know that many clergy and others work hard to make the points I have just made in their Harvest Festival sermons and other elements of their services.  I applaud them.  However, their words are likely to have less of a lasting impact than the overall impression created by the sight of fresh fruit and vegetables and the very word “Harvest”.

There is another issue.

My other objection is that it is an annual event, like harvesting itself, for that obvious reason.  However, it is too easy to remember God and our neighbour only once a year.  The reality of God’s goodness and the needs of the poor should be with us all the year round.

 

What do I recommend?

Perhaps it is time to scrap Harvest Festivals and hold special events scattered like seed throughout the year to think about the relevance of God and our social responsibility in relation to various aspects of modern life: science, technology, health, education, leisure, service industries, sport, and whatever is most relevant in your area.

 

 

 

 

Is it always wrong to pay less than the Living Wage?

Last night I was reminded of the controversy over the Church of England and the Living Wage.

I went to the AGM of my local Church.  One of the matters reported was the remuneration of people working in a community centre run by the Church.  I learnt :

  • It employs a few full-time staff and a lot of volunteers.
  • Between these two groups there are some who work there part-time on the minimum wage.  Some of these also work as volunteers on other days.
  • I believe this is a situation you could find in many charities and similar bodies.
  • If everyone there was paid a Living Wage, it would be uneconomic to provide the community with most of the services it does.
  • The people on the Minimum Wage would like to volunteer but need some remuneration to supplement their pensions, or in some cases income from other employment.  They do not look at this activity as something they do to earn a living but as their way of giving something to the community.  They do not feel exploited.

If it is wrong to employ such people on less than the living wage, it follows that it must be wrong to use them as volunteers.  Should volunteering be banned?

This seems to me to be totally different from employers carrying out purely commercial activities and paying their workers less than a Living Wage.

Those who shouted “hypocrite” at the Archbishop of Canterbury when he condemned unscrupulous employers were shooting at the wrong target.

 

Is Risk Management godless?

Some people think it strange that I can be involved in Risk Management and also think of myself as a Christian.

Surely, if I have faith, I must believe that whatever happens is a result of God’s Will.  Like the old song says, “In His Hands, He’s got the whole World”.  So why try to manage risks?  Why not rely on prayer?  Why not accept whatever fate God had planned for me?

I think these are reasonable enough questions, but I know that for me there has never been any contradiction between trusting in God and in making decisions based on logic applied to the available information, identifying and evaluating risks, and selecting suitable measures to control them.

One of the Temptations that Jesus experienced was to throw himself off a high building in the knowledge that God would preserve him.  His reply was that you should not put God to the test.  He seems to have been implying that if somehow he had accidentally fallen, then God would have found a way to save him, but it would have been wrong to act so irresponsibly as to do it deliberately. (See St. Matthew Chapter 4 verses 5 to 7).

We can see another example in the Easter story, when Jesus took steps to avoid being caught by his enemies, so that he would not die before it was necessary.  That is why he sent his disciples ahead to arrange for the donkey to ride on Palm Sunday, and again to arrange the place for the Last Supper. (See St. Matthew chapter 21 verses 1 to 7 and  chapter 26 verses 17 to 19).  He was not taking unnecessary risks.  Only necessary ones.

So go and read Load The Dice with a clear conscience.

 

Do religions deserve special treatment?

Commenting on the terrible events in Paris, the Pope said religions should be treated with respect, suggesting there were limits to how far satirists should go in lampooning religions.

Now as a Protestant I do not agree with the Pope about certain things, such as whether there should be a pope, but in fact I do agree with Pope Francis on many things. This time, however, I think he has missed an important point.

Religions should not have rights.  People should. Ideas should be open to debate and to ridicule, as long as people are free to argue in their defence.  I do not care why someone is being treated badly, I care that it is happening at all.  Nobody should be bullied, harassed, discriminated against or humiliated, let alone attacked, assaulted, robbed or have their property destroyed, for ANY reason: whether colour, race, religion, sex, disability or just because someone else does not like them.

I do not want special treatment because I am a Christian.  I equally do not think I should get worse treatment.

I have always had to endure criticism and opposition to my beliefs.  Mainly from atheists, but sometimes from believers in other religions, and even other types of Christian.  I have encountered this directly and through general arguments on TV , in print and online.  Some has been intellectual and sophisticated, like “the God Delusion” whilst some had been comical and sarcastic.  Some has been stupid and crude.  I have had to get over it.  It has made me think and learn and grow.  It has helped me understand my faith better.  Because God is Truth, he will always win in the end.  If you do not have the confidence to believe that, you need to take a long, hard look at what you really believe and why.

If a religion needs protecting there is something wrong with it.  Or with its followers.

None of us should want special treatment. We should all demand equal treatment for everyone.

Why Celebrate a Failed Terrorist?

Every year in Britain we celebrate the Fifth of November as a major festival in the calendar.  Probably our third biggest after Christmas and Easter.  Surely a failed terrorist who died some 400 year ago is hardly someone we want to remember.  So lets look at the relevance of Guy Fawkes to us today and asks whether we should be making more or less of this event.  It also considers how it might be changed to make it more relevant.

Apart from the great religious festivals, what do we celebrate?  Perhaps a beter question would be “what should we celebrate?”

Other countries have their independence days.  Obviously we cannot copy them as Britain was usually the country they gained independence from.  I have actually heard of an American working in England who could not see why we did not celebrate the Fourth of July!  So what do we celebrate?  A failed attempt at blowing up both Houses of Parliament and the King.  Most people were relieved, to say the least, at the time, but do we need to keep it going today?

The King who had such a narrow escape was James VI and I.  The first King of both England and Scotland, who had acceded to both thrones without spilling blood.  Had he been killed then it is not certain that the ensuing chaos would have resulted in a new King, or whatever, for the two countries, or whether they would have split apart again, and for how long.  An interesting, but ultimately pointless, area for speculation.  Ask Alex Salmond?

What Was It All About At the Time?

  1. The motive for Guy Fawkes and his fellow-conspirators was religion. They could not accept that both England and Scotland had broken away from the Church of Rome and developed their own distinctive forms of Protestantism.  Somehow, the plotters had hoped to impose Roman Catholicism on an unwilling population, possibly with the help of foreign government, but that is a matter also for speculation.
  2. At that time, due to real or imaginary fears among Protectants, there was official discrimination against Catholics, although more serious persecution had ceased and relations between Catholics and Protestants were largely amicable.
  3. People might have thought that this failed coup would have resulted in anti-Catholic violence and/or more serious official persecution. Yet, somehow it was avoided.  Somehow we British managed to move on to religious toleration and equality without the need for revolution or violence.

So Why Does Any of That Matter Today?

  1. One of the biggest issues in British politics, and indeed around the World, is religious extremism.
  2. The danger is that some people will try to impose their faith, even a very specific variety of a broader religion, on everyone else.
  3. There have been numerous plots by Islamic extremists to cause serious harm in Britain, most of which have been foiled.
  4. We are all aware of Islamic extremists, but let us not forget the Hindu Nationalists in India and Nepal who want to oppress Moslems as well as Christians and others, and the Buddhist ones who want to make Burma, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka  into one-religion states.
  5. Some people fear a backlash against the majority of law-abiding Moslems in Britain and a general worsening of race relations, as people confuse race with religion.

So Where Does Guy Fawkes Come In?

  • We can be thankful he failed and long may they all fail who would damage democracy and religious or other freedom.
  • We can be thankful that Protestants and Catholics learnt to live and work together, even discovering how much they have in common.
  • We take courage from the example of the past and aim to see Moslems and everyone else blending into our British Society peacefully just as the Roman Catholics have.
  • We can try to export these ideas around the World, even as far as Ireland.
  • Perhaps not the fireworks, that might be asking for trouble.

So let us make the Fifth of November an international anti-extremism day, that we can all be proud of.

What’s Missing from the Occult?

Sometimes a thing can be wrong because it is not right.  I have looked at some of the reasons to not like the Occult.  Now I will point out what it lacks and which Christianity offers.

  1. Social Concern. If the Church can be accused of failing at times to address social problems, it at least acknowledges them and makes an attempt.  In fact there are lots of Christian organisations all over the World working against poverty and injustice of all kinds.  Why is the Occult absent?
  2. Guilt. The only answer the Occult has to your guilt and mine is denial.  That is no help.  Christianity offers the only real answer.
  3. Forgiveness. If someone wrongs you what do you do?  The only answer from the Occult is to get even.  Put a curse on them.   Even if it “works” it is not satisfying in the long run.  Christianity offers reconciliation at the deepest level.Where Will You Go From Here?Where will you go from here?So apart from all the negative things you might like to consider, one good reason to give up the Occult is that there is something much better on offer.  Why not look into it.  What have you got to lose?

Do You Want to Know a Secret?

I have written about various things that Christians tend to lump together as the Occult.  Fortune-telling, Magic and Contacting the Dead.  I want also to mention an element of the Occult generally that many Christians and others object to.  That is Secrecy.

  • The word “occult” means “secret” and a lot of the practices Christians condemn as occult are conducted in an atmosphere of secrecy. There seems to be a belief that practitioners hold power through their secret knowledge.
  • This seems to be a modern version of the ancient Gnostic movement, the name of which is derived from the Greek “Gnosis” meaning “knowledge”.
  • Such secrecy seems to many people to require some justifying. Why be secret?  It seems cliquish and elitist.
  • Contrast this with Christianity, as well as many other religions and philosophies, where everything is open and freely available.  Most Christians welcome questions and are very happy to talk about their faith and their experiences.  As far as I am aware, all Christian services are open to any outsiders to visit and observe.  If there are exceptions, they must be very few.  The Bible is of course available online as well as in bookshops. Go to www.biblesociety.org.uk for more information about the Bible.  It’s not confidential!