Tag Archives: rants

Google – not so good at responding to street view privacy concerns

Google street view is incredible, amazing for directions giving you vivid detail of streets. They have got themselves in a few problems recently though. One of the drawbacks of street view is if your car happens to be outside your house – it can be seen in all its glory – number plate and all. Google  promises that:

We have developed cutting-edge face and license plate blurring technology that is applied to all Street View images. This means that if one of our images contains an identifiable face (for example that of a passer-by on the sidewalk) or an identifiable license plate, our technology will automatically blur it out, meaning that the individual or the vehicle cannot be identified. If our detectors missed something, you can easily let us know.

The last sentence refers to the ‘report a problem’ link in the photo where you can ask them to blur a number plate, or even remove your car. Which is what I did several months, or even a year ago when I noticed my number plate clearly visible outside one of my further residences.

The only problem being Google did absolutely nothing about it. Number plate on my and a couple of other cars clearly visible, but blurred on some other cars in the street. Come on Google – get your act together!. I was told at the time they would sort it – foolishly I believed them and didn’t check back until this weekend. So now I’m waiting to see how long it takes them to respond this time… May be worth checking out your addresses.


Do we really believe in servant leadership?

Servant leadership is a concept familiar to Jesus followers and also one that is increasingly familiar in the business world.  Robert Greenleaf introduced his take on it in the late seventies, and the concept has undergone something of  a renaissance in the literature in recent years. Obviously there are differences, but sometimes I wonder if some of the ‘business’ understanding of servant leadership in ways is closer to what Jesus was modelling and trying to get us to understand.

Is it possible that the church has got its understanding and practice of servant leadership badly wrong?

It seems to me that many people have an incorrect view of what it means to be a servant leader. Many interpret servant leadership as running themselves into the ground or pandering to the ‘needs’ (or perhaps more accurately ‘wants’) of those they lead.

The primary focus of service for the servant leader is the mission of which s/he is leading (and the God whose mission it is). This changes the dynamic slightly than if the primary focus is serving those who are being led. When serving God and the missio dei is the primary focus there can be no such thing as consumer church where the congregation are provided with what they want to hear and do in the ways in which they want to hear and do it. A servant leader who primarily serves the mission of God will ultimately serve those they lead, but it may not be an easy or comfortable journey for those being led. It will however be an ultimately fulfilling one. In this sense true servant leadership should always be missional, it cannot be focused on maintaining a nice Christian social club.

Secondly a proper understanding of servant leadership should result in a radical shift in how ministers, pastors and all church leaders operate. If the minister or pastor(s) are the ones doing everything then servant leadership is not being practised. If leaders truly are servants, then serving the mission of God and the people in the light of that means helping empower the people, building them up for acts of service, and releasing them into their gifts. In the words of Chua Wee Hian:

the primary task of leaders is to identify and facilitate the deployment of gifts

Therefore if the church leader is the one who is doing everything, leading every group or committee, teaching at every church gathering I would argue they are not exercising servant (or indeed biblical) leadership. Further in doing everything they are actually denying people the opportunity to identify and develop gifts, and are not building the church up, but rather their reputation, control and empire. Perhaps we need to get back to training when it comes to church leaders – in seminaries the leadership aspect needs overhauled (if it exists at all), and what of elders? What training is there for them?  How does this understanding of servant leadership affect not only their role but also how they interact with full-time staff? Another example might be a church which struggles to find people to teach in worship services when the minister leaves. If God gives all the gifts a community needs then is the lack of people available to teach not a failure of the leadership to have developed teaching gifts in members of the congregation? Or indeed a failure of the practise of servant leadership?

If we really believe in the biblical concept of servant leadership, which yes is sacrificial (not in the ways used as an excuse for control freaks however) does it mean we need to radically change how leadership is exercised  and modelled and not just taught?

To finish, it seems that identity is crucial for servant leaders. A leader who is not secure in who s/he is cannot and will not delegate responsibility and trust others with leadership and teaching within the church, and therefore cannot truly serve…

Am I a liberal or is your God too small?

Hard to believe its almost a month since I last posted, although I have been keeping up the 365. Part of the lack of posting has been busyness and not actually making time to think, which I have missed, and too much time stuck at a computer. A few days back on the bus, starting back to class with a missiology module, the mind your head event, and reading the brilliant ‘Kite Runner’ has helped considerably though.

One of the things we have been looking at in missiology is the scope of the salvation story – remembering that although personal salvation and eternal destiny are important parts of it, they are not all of. I get really annoyed by people who try to make something complex all about one thing – the whole penal substitution debate is possibly in some ways an example of making orthodoxy about one aspect instead of recognising there are a few things all to be held in tension. People are also pretty quick to try to label people these days. Perhaps one of the problems of the reformation is the continual fracturing so we have no concept of the ‘one holy catholic apostolic’ church anymore. Evangelicals especially seem often to have completely lost some of the ‘one’ concept and seem to spend all the time defining themselves over and against everyone else. If you don’t hold tightly to the exact formulation of whatever doctrine it is is being discussed you get labelled a liberal. Which brings to mind the ‘don’t throw the word liberal at me as a dirty word speech’ from series 7 of the West Wing.

[UPDATE – on labels check this out from the wonderful Real Live Preacher]

When it comes to integral mission, it still frustrates me that some people seem to read the bible with blinkers, and can’t see that mission in its truest sense is a holistic thing. Insisting that social justice, environmental concern etc is part of God’s reconciling the whole of creation just seems to get me labelled as a liberal. Which I probably wear as a badge of honour because I’m stubborn. But the fundamental problem I am becoming convinced off, (and I don’t mean this in a superior way, and realise this post has been a bit facetious so far, so I apologise) is that too often we simply have too small a view of God. To read Colossians 1 and realise God isn’t just interested in reconciling humans but reconciling and restoring the entirety of creation is to have your view of God enlarged. So maybe in these debates as we wrestle we need to be asking ourselves not how we can write someone else off to make ourselves feel superior, but how big is our view of God in it all? and I sign off with a large dose of humility realising that I too am guilty of what I am railing against others for too often…

poppies, flags and should churches celebrate Remembrance Sunday?

poppy.jpgNow from the outset I want to say I have the utmost respect for those who have sacrificed and put their lives on the line for their country. I get a lump in my throat watching the veterans of the First and Second World Wars and hearing their stories. It outrages me that those who do their country – or government’s bidding at great cost aren’t properly looked after. What i’m about to say is in no way about not valuing the sacrifices of those who have bravely laid down lives

I must confess i’m not a poppy wearer. I have a poppy application request sitting waiting on facebook poppy_card.jpgthat I haven’t done anything with yet and am not sure if I will. It does seem to be a bit of a political statement for many to ear a poppy or not, and it seems that on TV everyone is wearing one. Is that because its what they are supposed to do or because they choose to as individuals support the poppy appeal? To seen Juande Ramos – the new Spurs manager wearing one as a Spaniard seemed slightly bizarre. I’m not sure if Spain have poppies there. To be honest if I was to wear one it would probably be white poppy. It does seem as if in some circles its the done thing and not to do so is frowned upon. Obviously some people make it too much of a political issue.

My problem with Remembrance Sunday is that often to me it seems to forget about the millions of innocent lives also lost in conflict, and the lives of those on the other side. In remembering our fallen heroes do we also remember the thousands of Germans killed by the RAF’s firebombing of Dresden (labelled a war crime by some), or the thousands of Iraqis and Afghans who have died? Even those combatants from the ‘other side’ are people who have/had mothers, fathers, children, friends, siblings. I was struck when in Berlin that our tour guide emphasised the point that the Nazi were not superhuman monsters – but people like us who did commit evil acts. As we remember wars, there are heroic acts, but war in itself is brutal. Remembering or commemorating military battles in church also seems strange to me, and is something I am extremely uncomfortable with. In many protestant churches we don’t take any time to remember some of the great heroes and martyrs of the faith yet we remember those who gave their life in battles? It seems incongruous at the least. And how does it all square with being peacemakers, with loving enemies and some of the crazy things Jesus called us to? Is this something we really give thought to or is it just something that’s expected, that we always do, and aren’t willing to ask hard questions of?

Which brings me on to flags in church. Now it may be to do with the political sensibilities of living in Northern Ireland, but I don’t think there is any place for national flags to be flown or hung in churches. Think about it – what is the church? The church as a whole is the bride of Christ – God’s people – citizens primarily of heaven but seeking the good of the cities they live in here on earth. Surely for churches to fly national flags symbolises a national allegiance that goes against our allegiance as brothers and sisters of the worldwide church. For many flags are political symbols, and associating churches with political viewpoints is dangerous. For many a certain flag is a symbol of oppression. So to go to the church, where according to Paul, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection all who are in Christ are equal, that national identities are no longer important, and find that in fact those national identities are still there seems strange. Especially in a place like Northern Ireland. The church is supposed to transcend national, political, racial and cultural allegiances. When will we learn that our primary allegiance is to God and his kingdom, that we are part of his reconciling the world to himself, and simple things like political symbols in church are huge barriers to that reconciliation?

the soapbox – biting off more than he can chew with these thoughts in progress

I’ve been censored by the big brother of Rugby World Cup Ltd!

rugby World Cup ballPrepare yourself for an outpouring of indignation. I have received an email from youtube informing me of a copyright infringement, and my video of the haka at the France-New Zealand Rugby World Cup Quarter Final has been removed! Not even action from the game but the haka. Waht the flip are Rugby World Cup Ltd up to? Have they nothing better to do with their time than trawl the internet and remove the slightest footage or photos of all their games? Seriously think about it – someone must be being paid from the money I paid for my ticket to trawl you tube looking for videos from matches. Do they expect us to pay to take videos and photos or something? What sort of world are they living in? Do they have Orwellian dreams and want to take on Rupert Murdoch for control of the media? Is 1984 looming? Can anyone tell me what major crime an advert for what is possibly one of the most attractive games to watch played is? I’m awaiting a writ now for criticising their small minded ridiculous pettiness, and to be told that I have to remove the photo of the French fans as it was at an official Rugby World Cup Ltd event. Maybe it should be Big business is watching instead of big brother…

the soapbox – so angry he can barely type

So any women on the go?

I had to restrain a strong desire to punch an elderly relative for this comment at my gran’s funeral several years ago. Whether I had or not was irrelevant. In my moment of grief all she was interested in was my relationship status, not the fact I may have been upset. This is one of the things that really bugs me about the Christian community in the North at least. It’s obsessed with relationships – which are a good thing but not everything, and in fact they have a very poor theology of relationships. There seems a massive pressure for people to get married. And so many christians get married so young, and some of those marriages run into problems. Northern Irish Christians all need to read some Hybels wisdom in Making Life Work (which is a fantastic book) or Fit to be Tied. It could only have good results.

Its one of the things that frustrates me about church. Sometimes I feel it would be easier to fit in if I was in a couple. Maybe I’m just more sensitive to it, having grown up with parents who split up when I was young, and mum sharing some really hurtful comments made by other Christian couples like – “if you were still together we could go out like we used to”. Can couples not spend time with single people? Are they so insecure about the stability of their relationship that they can’t be reminded of some of the harsh realities of life?

I was really pleased to hear a friend’s minister say from the front – “we will not be a church that only invites you for dinner if you’re a couple”, recognising that disturbing reality that exists in some churches. In churches that clearly are missing something major about all that stuff Jesus kept talking about when he called his followers to love one another, to show hospitality. I don’t remember there being any qualifiers, in fact that was the whole point of the good samaritan parable. Yet for single people churches can be lonely places.

It’s another reason why I have serious issues with John Eldridge. I read Wild at Heart a couple of years ago. While lots of people seem to think he says some good things, I had to restrain myself from throwing the book across the room on several occasions. His theology is woefully inadequate, especially when it comes to singleness. As in he doesn’t have a theology of singleness. I wondered why he didn’t really use Jesus as a role model for men – it would seem an obvious choice, but then Jesus was single and that kind of blows his theory out of the water. Passages like Matthew 19.12 and 1 Corinthians 7 are conveniently ignored by Eldridge where Jesus and Paul commend singleness.

Now I’m not just taking a pop at Eldridge but something that is endemic in the Christian community and has and is damaging lots of people. Churches sometimes assume marriage is the norm and everyone else needs married to sort them out.

In Genesis when God says its not good for man to be alone, I wonder if we read too much into that in taking it to be purely about marriage. If God lives in the community of the trinity surely what He was doing there was creating community for humanity – which is something larger than marriage, which is one expression of that. Maybe what our churches need more of is loving inclusive community with the recognition that marriage is not the be all and end all and recognition that singleness is exalted in the bible. Maybe then we might really see God’s kingdom touching earth and many of us who are broken and hurting actually finding a home…

Check out Tim Chester’s blog where he has been posting some great stuff on marriage and singleness – especially this morning’s post which precipitated this soapbox rant and has some fantastic stuff in it.

Soapbox – aware of the ironic timing of this post….

Sunday can wait.

So the sabbathing stuff is coming, I’m enjoying this time of year as things quieten down (well apart from the wedding I’m best man at on Saturday) and the CU planning for next year I’ll be at this week. It usually means my mind starts to waken up. I’ve been reading Eugene Peterson’s ‘Eat this Book – The Art of Spiritual Reading’ with the title based on John’s experience in the book of Revelation.

I’m pretty passionate about the bible – God’s revelation of himself that invites us into life with him and into his story. I hate it when people misuse the bible – giving many people ammunition for all the negative claims often made against the bible. Its pretty unique and incredible if you give it a chance, it you give it time. For people trying to follow Jesus often there can be nothing more damaging than ‘bible’lite’, than not taking it seriously, not engaging, and just dipping in for bible horoscopes to make you feel good about yourself for the day. Now hear what I’m saying – God speaks and uses lots of things but we can’t build a healthy engagement with God this way. That may do for a few weeks, or months but not for a lifetime of journey. We need to really engage – I often think it ironic that ‘bible studies’ (a term that fills most people with dread, because of boring, dry, comprehension-like question and answer sessions) don’t really involve studying or the bible, but reading a passage once (which we pretty much instantly forget) then sharing opinions without actually getting into the text – more licking and forgetting than eating and chewing. That means coming humbly – not arrogantly thinking we have it all sorted or explained and entering into the story, sitting humbly under its authority.

We’ve been having lots of conversations in work about how we approach the bible, as it is one of our core values. There had been a phrase ‘good use of the bible’ banded about which we were aware did sound a bit like we thought we had it nailed and sorted. More profoundly one of our board stated a theological objection reminding us we don’t use the bible – if anything it ‘uses’ us. As we engage with God’s word, his Spirit changes and transforms us. its not just go and do this but we almost enter into the story, begin a conversation. And so ‘dynamic engagement with the bible’ was born.

I thought the following from Eugene was telling – as we enter into God’s story yes there is joy and promise and fulfilment but also deeply unsettling experiences…

“The bible is a most comforting book; it is also a most discomfiting book. Eat this book; it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth; it will also be bitter to your stomach. You can’t reduce this book to what you can handle; you can’t domesticate this book to what you are comfortable with. You can’t make it your toy poodle, trained to respond to your commands.

This book makes us participants in the world of God’s being and action; but we don’t participate on our terms. We don’t get to make up the plot or decide what character we’ll be. This book has generative power; things happen to us as we let the text call forth, stimulate, rebuke, prune us. We don’t end up the same.

Eat this book but keep a well stocked cupboard of Settlers and Alka-seltzer.”

I’m excited about continuing my journey of understanding, experiencing and being involved in what God is doing in history, to do that its vitally important we engage properly and meaningfully with his word. I leave you with a question posed by a friend…

“How can I read the Bible to enter into its story so that its story becomes my story and the story of this community I have come to love?”

How sound are you?

Clearly with an exam tomorrow I should be considering Charles Gerkin’s approach to pastoral care but nothing recharges the old grey matter more than thinking about something completely different. Following on from a previous post about the tension between what is I guess Paul’s advice to Timothy to “watch your life and doctrine closely”. Note not just watch your doctrine but life – how it is lived out. Orthodoxy without orthopraxis – or faith without works is dead, as James would say. I forgot to mention that I was asked “are you a young earth creationist or a heretic?”. Now I have a strong stubborn/rebellious streak so even if I was a young earth creationist I would probably still have answered “I guess i’m a heretic then”. It was ridiculous that my views one one matter should define whether someone respected/listened to me or wrote me off.

Anyway, my colleague has just written a blog entry on similar grounds – around the theme of how we measure our unity – by actions and/or belief. Check it out here.

Finally a couple of cartoons stolen from Dan Kimball on a similar note:

Which is more accurate? or sadly true?

Revision always allows you to find out bizarre things like your theological worldview:

You scored as Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan. You are an evangelical in the Wesleyan tradition. You believe that God’s grace enables you to choose to believe in him, even though you yourself are totally depraved. The gift of the Holy Spirit gives you assurance of your salvation, and he also enables you to live the life of obedience to which God has called us. You are influenced heavly by John Wesley and the Methodists.

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan
Neo orthodox
Classical Liberal
Roman Catholic
Reformed Evangelical
Modern Liberal

What’s your theological worldview?
created with QuizFarm.com

Are you busy?

Take a deep breath. There is a rant coming…

‘Are you busy?’ appears to be quickly replacing ‘how are you?’ as a commonplace greeting. I’ve been noticing it more and more over the last few months, its been annoying me but its taken me a while to figure it out. ‘So what?’ you may think, but what does it tell us about who we are? It seems to me that this seemingly innocuous question is a symptom of something much deeper. No longer are people interested in how I’m doing, what I may be thinking about, the questions I’m struggling with. Instead all they want to know is if I’m productive – am I justifying my place on the planet by doing stuff.
Well excuse me if I happen to feel that there is more to me than what I do – phew some of you who are aware of my coffee drinking, talking about God career might think. It seems to me its a sign that our worth is not found in the depth of our character as Martin Luther King dreamed of but instead in how much we are doing. To stop in the fast-paced world we live in is almost criminal. The pressure to keep going, to do more, to work longer, to earn more, to keep learning keeps getting greater. Now I’m an activist and I love doing stuff, but as I get older, the more I realise how much I need to stop and take time out, to allow myself to slow down, and remember that the world revolves around God and what he’s doing, not me. Time to think and read is so valuable, to follow the model of Jesus taking time out is more important than ever with the pace of life we live today. To ask each other how busy we are simply confounds this lie that our value lies in what we do, not the content of our character, not in following a God who rests when his work is done and who calls us to a balanced not a frantic life…

On a slight side issue, the whole greetings thing is interesting, and I realise I’m pretty guilty of this so its something I need to work on. When I was in Tanzania (not a phrase I’ve used for a long time!) one of the things that struck me was the amount of time people made for each other, how they valued each other, how when they stopped to ask how someone was, they meant it and waited until they had heard everything. Today we ask ‘how are you?’ and don’t even wait for an answer or expect a ‘fine’ or ‘grand’, and not for people to actually open up and share what’s really going on. We’re good at the niceties but how much do we really care?

How prepared are we to take the challenge of thinking about what we say when we ask people questions and meaning what we say?

its all about the money

Its great when you’re able to combine some of the things you’re passionate about. Two organisations that have had a huge impact in shaping me are Tearfund and IFES Ireland (who I work for although Jaybercrow has always speculated that IFESi paid me and i actually worked for Tearfund). Anyway back to the money. we had a joint event on ethical finance tonight for students and graduates covering a huge area from a a big picture biblical understanding of stewardship, how to handle your money to ethical investments.

I remember being pretty shocked a number of years ago when I discovered that the money (or lack of) that was in my bank account didn’t just sit in a huge vault. Its obvious that banks don’t just make money from the bandit charges they have, but they invest the money that sits in your account to make money – which is how they can pay you interest. And what makes the most money? Well it tends to be arms companies (amazing the effect spreading fear of global terrorism has on the value of arms companies…), oil companies, and many which maybe aren’t the most scrupulous in their ethics. One of the major downsides of capitalistic societies is that generally where there is large amounts of wealth there is also oppression and injustice. This is where ethical finance comes in. Ethical accounts and investments have strict criteria about what they invest in – so for example the co-operative bank and smile its Internet version won’t invest in companies involved in the arms trade, oil companies, companies associated with human rights abuses or animal rights abuses (although the last one wouldn’t be my biggest concern). This means you can sleep easy about where your money is being invested. True the returns may not be just as hot (although the ethical market is one of the fastest growing) but what is more important – justice, dignity, care for the earth or an extra £20 interest? What would Jesus be teaching about ethics if he arrived in the 21st century?
I can hear you saying that’s all well and good but does avoiding the bad companies make a difference – surely we should try and reform them. Yep. This is where SRI’s or Socially Responsible Investments come in. They aren’t as strict as ethical accounts and reward companies that are doing good stuff by investing in them. For example instead of avoiding oil companies they will invest in BP because they are pouring a lot of resources into renewable energy, or they will invest in drug companies that are diverting some of their massive profits to providing cheap drugs for the developing world.
So with SRI’s your money can make a positive difference. Now you may not be loaded or have an investment portfolio but you will or should have a pension plan or long term savings – that’s where all this stuff kicks in.
But I need to remember as someone who follows Jesus, and believes in a God who is generous towards me, to live generously, and that involves not just giving money away (which i could be better at) but thinking about what happens to the money I do have.

Then the other problem with all of this is if you live in the south – are there any ethical bank accounts there?

Your financial correspondent signing off and wondering if he should follow his predecessor into the financial sector…