Sunday, 30 January 2011

You Matter!

"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows."

The above quote comes from Matthew's gospel, chapter 10, and I've always felt a little uncomfortable with it! I've never really understood exactly how I'm supposed to find it comforting. "not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father" - how much comfort is that to the poor sparrow who does fall to the ground, apparently in line with the Father's will! "you are worth more than many sparrows" - so it's less likely (but still not impossible) that anything bad will happen to me! This doesn't help me that much to feel loved or protected by God...

As I've pondered this more recently though, another angle has occurred to me:

First of all, on re-reading it I've realised that I've previously failed to properly take the context into account. In the preceding verses, Jesus warns his followers that they are actually quite likely to get killed because of Him. His intention can't have been then, to assure them (or us) of physical safety. So what was he getting at?

I think just this - "you matter"! God doesn't promise that nothing bad will happen to you, but if and when it does, it doesn't mean he doesn't care! Jesus doesn't say, "the very hairs of your head are all numbered", to illustrate the fact that God is a great big know-it-all, he says it to illustrate how much attention he gives you. God is that interested in you that He actually would sit there and count every hair on your head!

So "don't be afraid"? - seriously? Well, first of all, the context here is eternal. Death (and therefore suffering) is not the end of the story and this message comes through very clearly in this passage and elsewhere in Jesus' teaching. Apart from this though, surely the scariest thing is not to suffer - or even to die - but to suffer and die alone: to suffer and die (and no-one can perpetually avoid either) in the belief that no-one cares and that you don't matter. The message of the above quote though, is that you will always matter. Even sparrows matter to God. But don't be afraid, you are worth much more than many sparrows!

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Apple - "Think different"?

As I've mentioned in one of my other posts, I love technology, although I'm not a big spender when it comes to technological gadgets and am quite conscious of waste and consumerism.  Within my own - fairly arbitrary - sense of "reason", I try to limit my contribution to both.

A year and a bit ago, I bought an Apple laptop, and I honestly think it was one of the best purchases I've ever made.  I didn't have a laptop before and it's proved extremely convenient.  I love being able to use a computer from any room in the house and even take it with me and use it elsewhere when I'm travelling.  I'd only really used Windows before and am very much enjoying the Apple experience.  My experience - in general - is that it all just works!  It boots up in 30 seconds and it's responsive when I'm using it.  I particularly like the multi-finger touch pad, which allows me to scroll with 2 fingers, browse and switch applications with 3 fingers and perform various other operations.  The standard windows laptop, single key touchpad with extra buttons for left and right mouse click feels very clunky and awkward by comparison.

Another Apple invention which I've been very impressed by recently is the iPhone, although on balance I've decided that if/when I do buy a new phone I'll probably go for something Android-based because the iPhone seems like a very closed system and I'd prefer something I have a bit more control over.  I also think Apple have been very controlling about their marketing strategy - e.g. initially only allowing the iPhone to be used on O2 - and this also put me off it somewhat.  The iPhone is still an amazing piece of kit though, and completely ground-breaking when it first appeared.

The thing I like most about Apple devices is their strong focus on usability.  Apple devices usually don't just do the job, they're easy - enjoyable even - to use.  Technology shouldn't just be about doing clever things it should be about people - it is for people after all.  I think Apple have got this dead right.  It was with some disappointment therefore, that I recently came across this article (I've already posted about this on Facebook, so apologies to those of you who've already read this or seen my comments on it), discussing a report on Apple (among other IT companies) regarding their activities in China (an important part of their supply chain because of its much cheaper labour costs).

It seems that Apple's concern for people and even for the environment (see here), extends only so far as they think it likely to directly affect their profits.  In fact according to the article referenced above, for their activities in China, Apple were rated joint bottom out of 29 global IT companies, by a consortium of 36 of China's leading environmental groups.  Particularly concerning is their apparent disregard for the health and safety of their workers.  Here's an extract from this article by the Guardian:

"... last May ... at least 62 workers fell sick after inhaling n-hexane used to clean touch screens at a Wintek electronics factory in Suzhou. The managers at the Taiwan-owned plant reportedly switched to the noxious chemical – which can cause nerve damage for up to two years – apparently because it dried more quickly than alcohol, thus increasing efficiency.

Hospitalised victims, cited in the new Green Choice video, said they made products for Apple and have written to the company's chief executive, Steve Jobs, requesting an explanation.

Nokia and Motorola responded to questions about their involvement with Wintek soon after the poisoning was revealed. Apple has yet to confirm or deny a relationship. The company said it would not comment on individual allegations."

The authors of the report particularly highlight Apple's secrecy - in contrast with other IT companies who are willing to disclose more information - about its supply chain and it's mechanisms for auditing the environmental impact and working conditions of its suppliers.

If you think this is a bad state of affairs, and that at the very least Apple ought to be more transparent about its operations and more accountable for its claims of environmental and social responsibility, would you please join me in signing this petition?

Petitions by|Start a Petition »

Sunday, 16 January 2011

The Beatification of John Paul II

Pope Benedict XVI has recently signed a decree officially recognising nun Marie Simon-Pierre's apparent recovery from Parkinson's disease as a miracle (reported here on the BBC).  The significance of this particular "miracle", is that Marie Simon-Pierre and her fellow nuns prayed to then deceased pope, John Paul II, for her recovery.  The recognition of this miracle then, makes it possible for John Paul II to be "beatified" - the necessary preliminary step on the path to official sainthood.

Especially as an evangelical Christian, I have lots of problems with the whole concept of "sainthood".  First and foremost, whenever the Bible talks about saints, it is referring to all those who have trusted Jesus for their salvation and persevered as His followers.  In contrast, the Catholic concept of "sainthood" elevates certain people to a special holy status - unattainable to the rest of us mere mortals.  What's more, the gateway to this exclusive heavenly club is controlled, not by God, but by the earthly (and it has to be said, often not very "saintly"!) Catholic institution!

The thing I dislike most about the Catholic model of sainthood though, is the whole idea of people praying to them!  As I understand it, saints are not deemed to have any special powers of their own, but according to Catholic doctrine they can, and do intercede with God on behalf of the rest of us.  I just can't grasp though, why anyone (well, any Christian anyway) would want to go that route.  The whole point of the gospel is that God is accessible - personally accessible - to all of us!  The only person in heaven whose job it is to intercede on our behalf is Jesus - that's one of the primary reasons he came to earth, died and was resurrected in the first place!  Jesus taught us to pray in His name, and to pray to God as Father - he actually used the word "Abba", implying a close personal relationship.  The whole sainthood thing just puts an extra layer back into a hierarchy that shouldn't really be there in the first place, and seems to me to make God look more like a distant remote authority figure instead of a loving caring personal God.

All that said however, this "miracle cure" remains.  Marie Simon Pierre said she was completely healed.  Certainly her symptoms seem to have disappeared and she was able to go back to work as a nurse again.  There have been claims that she has since fallen ill again, but as yet these seem to be unsubstantiated.

Was she really cured from Parkinson's disease?  There have also been claims that she may not have had Parkinson's disease at all, but instead some sort of psychiatric condition which simply mimicked Parkinson's symptoms.  To me though, in all honesty, this sounds like the argument of someone who's desperate for an alternative explanation because they're determined not to believe in miracles, rather than someone giving a totally honest and unbiased assessment of the evidence.

What's your opinion?

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Sex on Pandora

The best portrayal of a Biblical perspective on sex and marriage I've seen recently was in the science fiction film, "Avatar":

Pandora is a beautiful planet (actually it's a moon according to Wikipedia, although I missed this when I saw the film) with rich forests, inhabited by - among other creatures - a 10 ft tall race of blue-skinned humanoids known as the "Na'vi".

Jake Sully is a human ex-marine who is sent to Pandora with a mining corporation and given the use of an "Avatar" - basically an artificially grown Na'vi body which he can "inhabit" via telepathic link-up. These have been developed, partly because Pandora's atmosphere is poisonous to humans, and also as an attempt to gain the trust of the Na'vi, so that human scientists can learn more about Pandora and its inhabitants.

Jake's mission is to befriend the local Na'vi tribe and convince them to move elsewhere because the "Home Tree" where they all live, is right on top of a massive deposit of "unobtanium", which is what the mining corporation are there for. Failing this, Jake is to gather as much strategic information as possible so that the Na'vi can be evicted by force if necessary.

However, Jake quickly becomes emotionally involved with the Na'vi, in particular a female, Neytiri, who is assigned by the Na'vi to teach him their way of life. Jake and Neytiri fall in love and eventually have sex. In Na'vi culture though, having sex means you are mated for life! Fortunately, by this point Jake has also fallen in love with Pandora and the Na'vi way of life, and is happy about this as is Neytiri (although it does cause some tension with the rest of the clan and Neytiri later has cause to regret it, at least for a little while). I'm not going to go any further with the rest of the plot as this is the bit I want to talk about. To find out more you'll have to see the film for yourself (if you haven't already) or else read the plot summary on Wikipedia.

To me, this view on sex seems a perfect match with the Biblical ideal. It says in the Bible that a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. This is what sex is all about. This is why Christians (well, I think most of us anyway) generally don't approve of sex before marriage. It isn't because there's anything bad about sex, or because there's anything especially significant about a legal marriage contract or an official ceremony, but rather because sex and marriage are - or at least should be - inseparable. Sex is the most intimate possible physical expression of love between 2 people and when recognised as such and given the honour it deserves, it forms a powerful bond - a bond that ought to be for life. I think Avatar illustrates this principle beautifully!