08 April 2010


Somehow or other - and I honestly don't remember the details - I "met up" with an old university friend over the internet. I think that Judy happened to read my blog and commented on it and we went from there. It turned out that Facebook was a good place for the two of us to interact.

Judy was one of the first people I met when I went to university and we were friends throughout the four years. We both sang in the chapel choir and we were both Theology majors. I was her Maid of Honor when she and Mike got married in the university chapel a year or two after university. Somehow, after the wedding, we drifted away and then, not so long ago (18 months? two years?) we reconnected.

It turned out to be one of those friendships where you just pick up where you left off with very little self-consciousness. I was amazed at how in-synch we still were. When we were in university in the 1970s, we both envisaged the day when women would be accepted in ministry. And both of us ended up "going into ministry" in middle-age. Because she was Roman Catholic, Judy took her M.Div. and became a Chaplain; I eventually ended up as a Methodist minister.

Facebook turned out to be a good venue for the two of us because we just interacted daily with each other, usually in trivial matters but sometimes in bigger matters. We played Farmville and Cafe World and together we righted the wrongs of the world in our status updates. When we wanted to "talk privately" we sent each other emails, but a lot of the interaction was banter.

We also talked on the phone a couple of times. Judy had been battling cancer since I'd met her again and, at one point, she talked about seeking quality of life rather than quantity. Well, as much as you can do whilst battling cancer, Judy got her quality over quantity, dying suddenly and unexpectedly on the 21st of March.

And, if I'm being brutally honest, I miss her all the more for having that several-times-a-day contact with her and all the little banterings. The last thing she wrote on my status update was in response to me being pleased about getting a product to review on "Amazon Prime" for the first time. She wrote "I'm so very glad for you" and I was going to respond that that seemed like a big emotion for such a small thing. But I didn't and now I guess I'm probably glad that I didn't; it's good to be happy for others, no matter how trivial the matter and I'm glad I didn't diminish that.

Judy also wrote something else a few weeks before she died and I'm using that on my signature in a Christian forum. She wrote: "
People waste so much of their lives on hate and fear." Truer words were never written.

I know that we both shared the hope of Christ's resurrection for ourselves and I know that we will share in his presence for eternity. But this isn't really supposed to be a theological piece, just some thoughts about missing my cyber-friend and real life friend. May Judy rest in peace and rise in Glory.

01 April 2010

Christian Economic Life - Post 3: Human Rights

I wanted to think a bit about human rights in the context of Christian economic life. This might seem like a digression, but I don't think it is because a lot of the debate about what kind of economic system is just often seems to center around the concept of human rights.

The first problem I have is about talking about human rights is that, theologically, I don't believe in them. According to Christian theology everything that human beings have is mercy or grace, including our very lives. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord. Therefore, if we are speaking strictly in Christian theological terms, we can't really speak about "rights".

However, I'm not ready to dismiss the concept of human rights out of hand. I suspect that, no matter which position one takes in regard to economics, all of us would have an instinctive problem with the "tough luck" approach. "You are poor, despite working 18 hours a day, tough luck; in the eyes of God you have no rights." Or "You worked hard for that money, but we're taking it away from you in order to help others less fortunate than you; tough luck, in the eyes of God you have no rights." I suspect that at least one of those statements will rankle you!

For me, the concept of "human rights" is a secular expression of the Arminian (and catholic) theological belief that "God is no respector of persons" (to use the KJV/AV language).

Theologically, I believe that God wants all people to come to him, regardless of rank, status, skin color, community affiliation, sexual orientation, gender or any other characteristic that people can think of. God does not love aristocrats more than peasants. He does not love rich people more than poor people. He does not love men more than women. As the African congregation I served in London often said at the beginning of the service: "Whoever you are, you are welcome here. Whatever you nationality, tribe, language, skin color or gender, everyone is welcome in the house of God."

This message seems like something so natural to many of us in the United States, that we don't even question it. Yet, it was certainly part of Jesus' original Good News, because it was taken for granted in the Greco-Roman culture that the gods did prefer some people to others and that - for example - aristocrats, men, and the freeborn were ontologically better people than peasants, women and slaves. My African readers can correct me if I'm wrong, but one of the reasons this message was so powerful in the London African congregation was that, back home, different tribal groups were often viewed as being ontologically better than others. This congregation understood this part of the Good News because the opposite reality had been part of their life experience.

I think that this theological conviction that "God is no respector of persons" can very adequately be expressed in secular language by the idea that all people are endowed with certain inalienable rights. It is actually the matter of "What are these rights?" that is probably going to be the big bone of contention. I'll try to start thinking about that in the next post.