Archive for ‘Ethics’

May 5, 2012

Fading away

As I looked at this photo taken yesterday at Inchydoney I was reminded of the verse:

“People are like grass;
their beauty is like a flower in the field.
The grass withers and the flower fades…”

At times it seems that all around us are reminders of the transient and fragile nature of life.  To see deteriorating health in those that were once so strong, whether people or animals, can be a difficult thing to have to deal with. I never cease to be in awe of those who face death with both great courage and deep peace. I wonder how I would react if I was addressed with that awful doctor’s euphemism, “I think you should get your affairs in order”?  I’d like to think it would be a spiritual experience and maybe it would, but I’m sure too that I would scrape and rebound through each of the  ‘the five stages’, Denial & Isolation, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and perhaps (God willing) finally Acceptance.

The destination is perhaps what shapes the journey most of all. If I were an atheist I would ponder the dissolution of myself to nothing, if I were an agnostic I simply wouldn’t know what to think, but as one who stumbles, trips and hobbles after the Lord Jesus, I know that He is the way, the truth and the life.

The verse I quoted at the beginning is from 1 Peter 1:24.  The verse that goes before it reads:

For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God.

Yes this life is fleetingly fragile, but new life in God, that is something different altogether.  Perhaps we don’t fade away after all and for the one who puts their faith and trust in Christ, death is not just an ending, but a new beginning.

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March 26, 2012

Random Light No.6

Clonakilty St. Patrick's Day 2

This is a great little shop in Clonakilty, with floor to ceiling shelves stocked with plastic things made in China!
Field sprayed with a herbicide

The field behind our house a few days after being sprayed with ‘weed killer’.  Our water supply comes from the reservoir you can see as a green mound behind the tree in the field :-(

Chocolates in English Market

Chocolates for sale in the English Market, Cork.

Church of the Immaculate Conception, Clonakilty

Church of the Immaculate Conception, Clonakilty
Cats like to read too!

Jasper the cat was interested in one of the books that the boys brought home from the library…
Moon and star

The Moon and Venus taken last night.
Lady Bird

Greenfly be very afraid!

December 20, 2011

“Upon another shore…”

Gullanes Sunset

The Sun setting yesterday.  

You may recognise the words in the title as part of the ‘bidding prayer’ at the traditional Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. The full paragraph reads:

Lastly let us remember before God all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light, that multitude which no man can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom, in the Lord Jesus, we for evermore are one.

Beautiful words, but do they stand up?  I think that they do, which is all the more amazing because standing up to the the full blast of darkness that is death is some achievement.  The words are of course inspired by Scripture, (from John chapter 1 and Revelation chapter 19 in particular).

Why has this come to my mind?  In the last few days, three people I know have died.  All of them as it were ‘went before their time’, their lives cut short through illness or disease and one, the mother of young children.  It is heartbreaking.

In trying to respond I realise that any words I have to say are wholly insufficient.  I recall some words written by C.S. Lewis in his overwhelming book, ‘A Grief Observed’:

And we think of this as love cut short; like a dance stopped in mid career or a flower with its head unluckily snapped off – something truncated and therefore lacking its due shape…

I suppose that we only have a limited view now, not only of death but even more so of that Life which follows.  The Apostle Paul, inspired by the Spirit of God wrote:

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

One day it will make sense, and this knotted, tangled, painful life of fragility and contradictions will find its shape – even the shape of the Cross, where even God was not free of the pain and anguish of death.  To paraphrase Tony Campolo – ‘Yes it’s Friday now, but Sunday is coming…’

October 7, 2011

Steve Jobs

(Screenshot from the Apple website this morning)

I first learnt about this remarkable man when, after becoming increasingly frustrated with my failing (Windows) computer, I decided it was time to start dreaming about replacing it.  I came across ‘an apple event’ online, which was a video stream of Jobs unveiling the new iMac G5 (with built in ‘isight’) in 2005 – I was hooked.  Of course that was the point, Jobs was a brilliant salesman, but his task was an easy one because Apple products then and now both looked and worked like a dream.  There was a small problem however, the iMac cost just over €1,000, money I did not have.  It took another three years before I had enough to buy an Apple computer and of course with all that waiting and anticipation one would naturally assume that the reality would be a let down, but it wasn’t.  Even though I could have bought two cheap computers running Windows or Linux for the price of the IMac I am convinced to this day that the purchase was worth it because I have now had nearly four years of trouble free computing!

Few people actually knew Steve Jobs very well, which is why his official biography (to be released later this month) will sell in vast numbers.  A popular video of Steve on the internet is where he is addressing the graduates at Stanford University in California (link).  In this speech he reveals a little of his philosophy about life, about living each day as if it were your last and lots of other inspiring thoughts, challenges and ideas.

In speaking about the effect of being diagnosed with Cancer he said:

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

and:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

These are not the words of a stereotypical CEO of one of the largest Corporations in the world, they are the words of someone who has stared death in the face and lived a little longer to tell the tale.  Many many people around the world, including myself, are saddened at this mans death, but we are grateful for his life and for what he was able to do and to achieve.  I think I am right in saying that Steve was a Buddhist, though the words quoted above remind me of so much that Jesus said during his earthly ministry, about living for each day (Matthew 6:25, 34) and not storing up things in this life (Matthew 6:19,20) and the words of comfort Jesus spoke to his disciples in John 14.

In being reminded by Steve Jobs of my own mortality, I am grateful to him for this far more than for the numerous Apple products that I enjoy using each day.  All of us will have to face death one day and few of us will manage to do so with the clarity, dignity and composure of Steve Jobs.  Therefore I also have a renewed gratitude that I am and we are not on my /our own in all of this; I am grateful beyond words that in Jesus all of us have someone to look up to who has stared death in the face – and won.

Steve Jobs 1955-2011, may he rest in peace.

September 11, 2011

9/11

Photo: U.S. Flag at ‘Utah Beach’, Normandy.

We were living in East Belfast at the time and I was driving to see an elderly man in a nursing home when I heard the news on the radio.  I was listening to 5live and it was Simon Mayo (I think) who broke the news, (which at that stage was still quite vague), about a plane flying into one of the towers at the World Trade Center in New York.

The man I had gone to see was a World War Two veteran, he had been one of the U.S. infantrymen who had landed in Normandy on D-Day, 6 June 1944.  He had a photo of himself in uniform from those days above his bed.  He had just heard the news himself, and we discussed the implications, it was the beginning of a new era, we agreed that the world would never be the same again.

I didn’t do any more visits, I just wanted to get home.  I arrived to find Sonja sitting in front of the television horrified at the pictures being shown; she had been watching live footage when the second plane had struck.  I think we hardly moved away from the T.V. for the rest of the day.

It would be easy to be cynical about and condemning of America’s response to these attacks over the years that have followed.  Our freedom of speech and comfortable lives allow us to do this from a lofty place of priviledge and without any fear.  I may join in the chorus of critiscism one day, but not today.

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August 31, 2011

Foie Gras

DSC_6960

Driving around the Dordogne region of France it is inevitable that you will sooner or later come across some Geese, lots of them! One day we stopped the car for a better look at these birds who seem to have a wonderful life. They have plenty of space, lots of shade, water to drink and bathe in and of course more food than they can eat. The catch is of course that these Geese are made to eat more than they are naturally capable of.

‘Foie Gras’ literally means ‘Fat Liver’! These geese are force fed by hand or machine (read about it here), so that their livers will be as large and fatty as possible.

I’m afraid to say that I was unaware of just how intensive the process was until reading about it upon our return home. I wish now that I had not bought a jar of Pâté (€12 for 100g) that now sits on a table in our dining room along with lots of other food that we bought back – actually not much of the other food left now!

Perhaps I am just being naive; there are of course many things involved in food production that I and many are uncomfortable with, such as with intensive egg and poultry production, pigs who live their entire miserable lives in dark concrete sheds, veal and farmed fish to name but a few. Our response to this is to try to be aware enough of the issues so as to not buy products where we are not happy with the method of production involved.  Perhaps if I knew more I would end up being a vegetarian – something I certainly could not stomach!

July 20, 2011

“Where is my future?”

Clonakilty Graffiti

Yesterday I came across another work of art by Clonakilty’s answer to Banksy.  You may remember a previous post of Zirak’s work; it’s a bit more thoughtful that your average graffiti.

So we have a young boy holding a placard saying “Where is my future?”  He has hollow-looking sunken black eyes, he looks dirty and untidy, a hand is in his pocket and his shoe laces are untied.  He looks depressed, lost and fearful, though at the same time his stance is one of innocence mixed with a little defiance.  The back-to-front e’s on the placard suggest this boy is old enough to read and write but only just, he is not quite there yet – he has his whole life ahead of him, a future overflowing with dreams, ambitions and possibilities.  The world is his oyster.  Or is it?  I think Zirak is refelcting on the economic woes of this country and how the dreams that many had during the Celtic Tiger years are now in ruins; no longer are the children wearing designer labels and their parents driving around in huge SUV’s.  Yes the future for many in this country is bleak compared to what it was, but perhaps a bit of perspective is needed too.

Thinking about this made me remember that wonderful verse from Jeremiah 29:11

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

No matter how bleak this life may be, in God there is always a hope and a future for all.

Thank you Zirak for another thoughtful piece of Street Art.

May 27, 2011

Col. Gaddafi comes to Clonakilty…

Clonakilty Street art

Walking down the main street in Clonakilty yesterday evening I was stopped in my tracks by this picture, painted on a board that has been placed over the window of a closed shop.  It intrigues me on a number of levels; firstly, although it is a fairly simple painting / stencil, the person depicted is instantly recognisable as the longtime ruler of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi who has been a thorn in the flesh of the U.S. and U.K. at least since the Lockerbie Bombing of December 1988 and probably for many years before that.  Of course more recently Gaddafi is in the news for the terrible situation in Libyaat the moment, a heartbreaking conflict between those loyal to Gaddafi and those (inspired by the success of their neighbours in Egypt) wanting the end of Gaddafi’s regime and to replace it with a democracy.

Secondly, the name of the artist is interesting; “Zirak” is not a common name in West Cork!  A quick Internet search shows that the name originates from an area overlapping Pakistan and Afghanistan, so perhaps the artist has come from there, or if not then certainly the artist’s ancestors did.  Why did they feel the need to paint this?  Perhaps it is a very graphic (literally) way of expressing their thoughts on what is happening in Libya at the moment – which brings me to the third level of interest, the words:

They still love me … right?

This puts in a nutshell what it is all about.  The conflict in Libya for many people is simply Gaddafi’s ego verses everyone else.  He would of course not be the first leader attempting to cling on to power in the face of overwhelming opposition, but it seems that his desire to be liked, respected, feared and revered has cost many lives, including members of his own family – and ultimately it may very well cost him his life also…

Of course we all want to be loved, but when that desire to be loved mutates into a desire to be adulated, whether the person is a rock star, footballer or political leader or even just somebody like you or me, then that is a recipe for grief.  It all makes me think of Someone who loves us more than we will ever know, understand or fully appreciate:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

If only Gaddafi had been told this news while he was still a young man…

April 11, 2011

Charlie

Charlie

We were heading out as a family on Friday evening and had just driven a few hundred metres onto the main road when we saw the body of our cat ‘Charlie’ lying there.  He had only recently been knocked down as his body was still warm and limp, though quite lifeless.  I carried him home and we buried him in the garden the next morning.

I remember reading a church magazine years ago where there was a section called ‘The Wise Owl”.  People wrote letters (this was before the days of email) asking questions about the Christian life and the Wise Owl would answer.  I remember one letter written by a young boy whose dog had died, asking if his dog would go to heaven.  The Wise Owl said ‘no’ (albeit in a very long-winded fashion).  I could not help but think the the Owl may be wise, but sensitive and gracious he was not.

I would like to think that Scripture is silent on the issue because it is not something we need to know.  Perhaps in the life that is to come we may be surprised by many things and one of those surprises might just possibly be a reuniting with those pets whom we have loved and lost.  I hope so anyway.

February 20, 2011

The right response to hatred

Light and Dark

Photo: Sunrise on the way to Timoleague, early one Sunday morning.

Sermon for Sunday 20th February.  Text: Matthew 5:38-48

Timoleague, Clonakilty HC, Year A 3rd Sunday Before Lent (Proper 2), 20/2/11.  Matthew 5:38-48

Humility is a difficult thing to grasp.  I had to laugh last week when I saw a politician on television puffing out his chest and saying “I am a humble man”!  Poor chap, I think the irony of boasting about his humility was lost upon him!  But of course politicians are easy targets, what about ourselves, are we in danger of being proud of our humility?  Well if we are then the few verses of our reading from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel will give us a jolt back into reality…

The Lord Jesus starts off by quoting a well-known phrase from the Old Testament law (from Exodus 21:24) and then He expands upon it:

‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an  eye and a tooth for a tooth.” 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; (Matthew 5:38, 39)

How do we react when we are wronged?  Think about when you are in the car and somebody pulls out in front of you or cuts you up at a roundabout, or you are trying to turn on to the main road but some eejit is blocking the yellow box junction!  We can get a bit upset – perhaps we even secretly wish that our car was equipped with a mobile rocket-launcher!  When someone does wrong to us we want revenge!

The Old Testament law of ‘an eye for an eye’ was there to make sure that the punishment fitted the crime, so that a sentence was neither too harsh nor too lenient.  What does the Lord want us to do?  Does He want us to demand our rights?  No.  Does He want us to make sure that those who wrong us are punished?  No.  (This is not so much talking about crimes against the state which are punishable under law, it is talking about our relationships and dealings with people).  Do we have a readiness to resentment?  Are we easily offended?  Do we go into a sulk when we don’t get our way?  Are we keen to assert our rights?

The Lord does not want us to be like this, we are not to be a miserable selfish grouch who everybody avoids because they are afraid of upsetting.  As Mahatma Ghandi (who though a Hindu greatly admired Jesus’ teaching) said ‘an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.’  If we want God’s Kingdom to come, if we want His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven , then we have to let go of our natural wishes and desires and we have to respond as Jesus did.  If someone slaps us on the cheek, our first thought might be to punch their lights out, but no, we are to not retaliate.  If someone takes from us we are not to resist but offer them more!  If someone compels us to do something to help them we are to go the ‘whole hog’ and help them as fully as we are able to do so.

We are to return good for evil and blessing for cursing.  We are to love not only in word but in deed also.

Next, the Lord says:

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

Of course, nowhere in the Old Testament law does it say to hate enemies, rather the words had been misinterpreted over time.  It’s one thing to turn the other cheek but when the Lord asks us to love our enemies is that not going a bit far?  What is an enemy?  According to my dictionary, an enemy is someone who is opposed to something, and actively tries to damage it. (Collins English Dictionary sixth ed. 2003).  Is Jesus mad?  No, He definitely is not.  Perhaps we forget that once we were His enemy, and did He not treat us with overwhelming love?  We might say ‘I was never God’s enemy’, well before you gave your life to Christ, you were a sinner, what is a sinner, but someone who lives their life apart from God.  There is no sitting on the fence, either we are for God or we are against Him and to be against Him is to be His enemy. Listen to this, from Romans chapter 5:

8But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.9Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. 10For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.

So in other words, the Lord Jesus wants us to behave towards others as He has behaved towards us, with unconditional love, grace and acceptance.

A professor of New Testament Studies, Gary M. Burge, writes the following true story

A few years ago in Jerusalem’s famed Hadassh Hospital, an Israeli soldier lay dying. He had contracted AIDS as a result of his reckless lifestyle and was now in the last stages of the disease’s terrible course. His father was a famous Jerusalem rabbi, and both he and the rest of his family had disowned him. He was condemned to die in his shame. The nursing staff on his floor knew his story and carefully avoided his room. Everyone was simply waiting for his life to expire.

The soldier happened to be part of a regiment that patrolled the Occupied West Bank, and his unit was known for its ferocity and war-fighting skills. The Palestinians living there hated these troops. They were merciless and could be cruel. Their green berets always gave them away.

One evening the soldier went into cardiac arrest. All the usual alarms went off, but the nursing staff did not respond. Even the doctors looked the other way. Yet on the floor another man was at work—a Palestinian Janitor, a Christian—who knew this soldiers story as well and also knew the meaning of the emergency. The Janitor’s own village had even been attacked by this soldier’s unit. When the Palestinian heard the alarm and witnessed the neglect, his heart was filled with compassion. He dropped his broom, entered the soldier’s room, and attempted to resuscitate the man by giving him cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The scene was remarkable: a poor Palestinian man, a victim of this soldier’s violence, now tried to save his enemy while those who should have been doing this stood on the sidelines. …

When you understand what it means for an enemy to love an enemy—and for the righteous to show neglect—then you will have a picture of the power of God’s grace at work in a person’s heart.

Gary M. Burge, Jesus, the Middle-Eastern Storyteller (Zondervan, 2009), pp. 24-25 (From preachingtoday.com)

It is of course easy for us to love those who love us, but the ability to love those who are actively hostile to us is another thing altogether.  One of the things that makes the Christian and indeed the Church of God different from the world is the ability to love unconditionally.

To live like this might seem like the bar is set just too high, but are we not children of God, and as children of God should we not be like our Heavenly Father?  If we only love those who love us, then where is the evidence of our conversion?  As Bishop J.C. Ryle puts it:

Do we flinch from the test? Do we find it impossible to do good to our enemies?  If that be the case we may be sure we have yet to be converted.  As yet we have not received the “Spirit of God.” (1 Cor. ii. 12.)

(J.C. Ryle, Expository thoughts on the Gospel, Matthew, 1856).

So who are our enemies?  The answer will be different for each of us.  They may be persons we do not even know, but who would wish us ill because of our association with Christ.  Sadly, our enemy may even be a family member or former friend or work colleague.  They  may make no secret in delighting in our failures and resenting our successes.

Here is the challenge:  You can be sure that if you are a follower of the Lord Jesus that you will have the opportunity to minister to those who hate you.  What will we do when that time comes; will we turn away and pretend not to notice, or will we reach out in love?

How happy would the world be if we were all able to live as Jesus taught.  But we are weak and we are proud and so stubborn.  Yet if there is a small spark of hope in us that is able to say “Thy will be done”, we can be assured that the very second we say “yes” to God, He is there and He will help us and He will give us every strength, resource and encouragement in Christ that we need to love, yes to unconditionally love even those who hate us.

Amen.