22 January 2009

Christians Against Poverty

My friend Dave is raising money for Christians Against Poverty, a charity which runs a national debt counselling charity working through a network of centres based in local churches. As I understand it, CAP teaches people basic money-management skills and offers them counselling. The services are provided free to clients and the organisation is supported through donations.

You can sponsor Dave's fund-raising
here via the Just Giving website.

19 January 2009

Reflections on the eve of an inauguration

The article below will be going to the editor of a joint Methodist Church and Anglican parish magazine tomorrow morning (20 January 2009).  This article is not meant to be a 'spiritual reflection'. It is an attempt to reflect as a Christian on world events and to show that our Christian faith and values can be brought to bear on our 'real lives'. I'm happy to hear any comments you might have about the article itself. American readers might find some comments odd as they reflect some British ideas you might not recognise (one comment I'm hearing a lot is that 'Barack Obama is not really African-American because his mother is white'). Anyway, here is the article:


I'm writing this article the day before Barack Obama is inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States. I hope that this reflection will be neither too political nor too much about the man himself but rather offer some ways that a Christian might reflect on world events. I ask you to indulge me as this article will not be what some would term 'spiritual'. However, as Christians we believe that God is everywhere and this means that we can use our values to reflect on the world around us as well as on our 'spiritual lives'.

I'll start by saying what you'll guess soon enough anyway: I'm very pleased that Barack Obama has been elected and I'm looking forward to returning to the United States under his Presidency in what promises to be a very challenging time for both the United States and the world.

This leads me to my first observation. President Obama has conducted an inspiring election campaign and he has captured the imagination of many Americans: African-Americans, Latino-Americans, younger Americans and Americans who are inspired by values of broad liberalism and tolerance. He has demonstrated that he is an exceedingly intelligent man who intends to appoint expert office-holders in key positions and he is an excellent communicator (dare I say 'preacher'?).

However, I hope that both America and the world remember that he is not the Messiah. Well, you'd expect a Christian minister to say that, wouldn't you? But actually, I'm serious. You already know the warnings in the bible not to put one's faith in Rome (the government, the established order, those who wield power) for salvation, so I will simply remind you of those warnings.

At a more down-to-earth level, no single man, no single government is going to be able to turn around the current world economic situation in one four-year Presidential term. It appears to me that our present age is still looking for quick fixes and short term solutions. I get the impression that we hope we've elected a Superman who bash all the bad-guys and make our problems go away. 'Patience' is one of the fruits of the Spirit and it seems to be something which society lacks these days. It is going to take patience and the diligent hard work of 'service' that Obama is calling for to change the current course of the world economy.

That leads me to my second observation. Pray for Obama's safety. I get the impression that some British people are bemused by worries surrounding the possibility of assassination, perhaps because British Prime Ministers do not tend to have threats made on their lives. I believe that there is a heightened possibility that attempts will be made on Obama's life. Not only by those who may be disappointed that there is no quick fix for current problems, but also because of the very powerful symbolism invested in being the first African-American President. (It doesn't matter that he's half white; any black heritage at all was grounds for discrimination in the past.)

This is my third observation: the powerful symbolism of being the first African-American President. As an American, I don't feel that I can fully communicate to British people just what a powerful symbol this is. I suspect that African-Americans feel that, as a white person, I can't grasp the full power of the symbol either.

As one weeping woman on television said, 'This is the first time in my life that I have real hope that my children can be anything they want to be.' Perhaps a Christian would say 'This is the first time in my life that I have real hope that my children can be what God created them to be.' As a Christian, can one do anything but weep to think that there have been - that there are still - people who know that they cannot fully be the person who God created them to be? And not just African-Americans, of course.

We too can identify people suffering similar injustices in our own town and country. We can, however, also thank God every time a barrier of discrimination falls because it is another defeat for the powers and principalities. And perhaps we can get a new insight into the Gospel - into what it meant to excluded people when Jesus recognised them as fully human and as beloved children of God. Perhaps we can get an insight into how we ourselves can be good news when we are able to see the full humanity in each individual.

My last observation is that of Barack Obama's call to 'service'. The day on which I write is not only the day before the election, it is also Martin Luther King day. A public holiday that was begun with the idea that people would set aside their daily work to perform voluntary service for others. I'm reminded of a black-and-white television clip that I saw many times when I was a child: John F. Kennedy saying 'Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.'

Such a sentiment does not have to be confined to one country, of course. I can very well imagine Jesus saying 'Ask not what your neighbour can do for you. Ask what you can do for your neighbour.' It is my hope and prayer that the election of Obama means more than the election of a capable, intelligent African-American individual to the Office of President of the United States. I hope that the American people have also seen a vision of putting others first and that we have 'elected' to change our values from self-interest to service, from racism to full human dignity for all people and from quick fixes to diligent hard work.

18 January 2009

16 January 2009

Science and Religion

My friend Tim at A Blog with No Name has written a post on the subject of Science and Religion.

Here is a teaser:
There is only one reality, whether you're looking at it through religious or scientific eyes. Science and religion both try to discover some truths about it. Truth can't contradict itself; so if they do discover truth, it must be consistent. It's no good to believe during the week that we evolved by natural selection, only to believe on Sundays that we were specially created out of the blue 6,000 years ago. Science and religion must both live in the same real world. Theology and science must both adapt in response to known evidence, as we make more sense of the world we are in. Otherwise we're disconnecting ourselves from the world and our beliefs are simply attractive ideas which have nothing to do with reality.

Do we want reality, or fantasy? I think that if we're basing our lives on it, we should go for reality. Or at least, the closest we can get to reality.

15 January 2009

The Peace of the Lord Be With You

I'm still in a mood where I need humour. I'm not trying to have a pop at the Church of England, I'm really not. I first heard this song with reference to The Methodist Church, but the lyrics were quite similar. Hope you enjoy it.

And the peace of the Lord be always with you.

10 January 2009

Reformation Polka

I've arrived at another place lately where words seem vain so here is a bit of humour out there for all you Lutherans, cradle Lutherans, ex Lutherans and those who just generally worship The Reformation.

Hat tip to Stephen at the appropriately-named blog Biblische Ausbildung.

07 January 2009

Someone Must have my Money

Over the last few months, I've seen a number of people on the internet saying something like 'Where has all my money gone? Someone must be benefitting from it.'

I'm going to go where angels fear to tread and try to explain why no-one has 'stolen' your money and why 'you never had it in the first place'.

This post is not going to use financial jargon and won't satisfy the financial version of the question 'How many angels can dance on the head of a pin'? I want to try to communicate in simple terms why no one has stolen money from your investments. And I'm going to stick with explaining stocks and shares (equities) because that's my area of knowledge. I'll leave someone else to to explain 'fixed income and bond pricing for beginners'

First A Really Simple Explanation

You know the chap who insists that his house is worth £125,000 and that he's not going to accept a penny less? When the house across the street that is exactly the same as his house (but in better decorative order) gets sold for £100,000 this chap still insists that
his house is worth £125,000.

Silly man, we say. A house is only worth what someone is prepared to pay for it. It's not worth £125,000 just because you say it is.

Well, exactly the same principle applies to stocks and shares. They are worth what people are prepared to pay for them. And just like people are willing to pay less for a house in a housing slump, so too are people willing to pay less for stocks and shares in a recession.

A Bit More Complicated Explanation

Suppose I start a business manufacturing widgets. I invest £1000 to build a factory and to buy all the raw materials I need to manufacture widgets. Some people might say that my business is now worth £1000, because I can sell my factory and raw materials for £1000. Some people might say that my business is now worth £900 because my used kit won't command full price on the second-hand market.

Now suppose I have a reputation for being the very best widget maker in the world and I've just left United World Conglomerates to go out on my own as a specialised widget maker. My mythical economy is growing at 4% and the widget market is growing at 8%. But people think that because of my know-how and reputation, I can grow PamBG's Widgets at a rate of 20% per year and they think that I can do this easily for the next 5 years (I'm going to grab a lot of customers away from UWC.) They might then decide that my business is now worth £2239.49 (£900 compounded by a simple 20% for 5 years).

'Wow!' I say. 'I thought my business was only worth £900 but it seems that everyone out there thinks that it's actually worth more than twice that amount! They think it's worth £2239.49! Fantastic!'

You can see where I'm going, I think. Suppose the economy suddenly slows from a 4% growth rate to a 1% growth rate. But people only want to buy widgets when the economy looks good. Suddenly, instead of the demand for widgets growing at 8%, it's now growing at 1% - same as the economy.

'Woah! Hold on!' People say. 'PamBG's Widgets is the best around but when we thought her business was going to grow at 20% a year, we thought the widget market was growing at 8% a year! Now we think PamBG's Widgets is only going to grow at 2.5% per year, so actually we now think the business is really worth £1018.27 (£900 compounded by a simple 2.5% for 5 years) and that's all we're prepared to pay for it.'

So, did I lose over £1000? No, I never had it in the first place. No one has 'taken' that money from me and no one has 'stolen' it from me. No one now has £1000 in cash to go out and spend that I used to have. That money never existed.  In the same way that the chap who thought his house was worth an 'extra' £25,000 never had that money in his hand to spend.