03 November 2012

Israel and the need for reconciliation

A report about a Palestinian Christian sparks thoughts of reconciliation and encouragement between Arabs and Jews in the land of Israel. We consider what we can do, individually, to take this essential process forward.

Speaking in the Capernaum synagogueThe Archbishop Cranmer blog recently had a guest post about the problems between Israel and the Palestinians, in particular claiming that we are hearing much less than the whole truth about the Palestinian side.

The article, by Anglican Friends of Israel, involves some analysis and examines the reasons that ordinary Palestinians might wish to be very circumspect in what they say, especially to Western media.

A personal story - But what struck me most powerfully was the story of a Palestinian Christian woman who has decided to speak out. Her name cannot be revealed for obvious reasons, but her story is outlined in the full article and she is clearly a very brave person. She has been speaking to meetings in the UK recently, helping to expose the false reports so readily accepted by some churches in the West.

It's most important that stories like this are told and shared widely. That's why I've decided to pass the information on to everyone who reads 'Journeys of heart and mind'. Some extracts from the article are quoted below, but I encourage you to visit the original and read it for yourself in full.

Many of us suspected that [the] romantic picture of bravery and harmony in the face of brutal oppression concealed a much darker reality but it was hard to prove as Palestinians largely kept silent. To be sure, some clues couldn’t be missed – the murder of Bible Society employees in Gaza, the sack of Bible Society and YMCA property in the West Bank.

Back in 2007 when the Gaza murder was still raw, my wife and I were invited to a meeting to hear the widow of the victim speak. She very bravely told us her story. Some dozens of us, Palestinian followers of Isa (Jesus) and European believers met together for prayer, to talk, sing and to share a meal. It was a very special day, an occasion I will never forget.

Fr Nazaih, the long-time parish priest of Ramallah, the capital of the West Bank [said], “…Little by little the Christians leave because they cannot live with the Muslims. There are some fanatics who do not like the fact that we exist.”
...
One of the most courageous women I have ever met spoke ... about her life as a Christian Palestinian in the West Bank. Her life and family members have been threatened because she has dared to break the conspiracy of silence that permits too many Christians to retain a rose-coloured vision of life on the West Bank.
The original article goes into her story in some detail.

What can I do? - Let's think for a moment about our role in all this - our role as believers living in the West. How do we deal with deceit, especially when it is widely promulgated as fact? We do need to keep speaking the truth and doing it in love, not from an angry, vengeful heart. But apart from spreading the truth whenever and however we can, we also need to provide whatever practical help we can.

One way to do this is to work through organisations like 'The Joseph Storehouse' who provide help to Jewish and Arab families facing hardship in Israel, or 'The Olive Tree Reconciliation Fund' (OTRF) who work so hard to build reconciliation and trust between Arab and Jew in Israel.

There are many more good and exciting stories out there. Julia Fisher, director of OTRF and a broadcaster in the UK, has written a series of books about much that has been happening in and around Israel encouraging so many across the divide. I strongly recommend buying a copy of her first book, 'Israel: The Mystery of Peace'. The true stories it contains will lift your spirit and warm your heart. Take it from me - they will! It's also very worthwhile spending some time looking through the pages of the OTRF website.

Israel is not a lost cause. How could we even begin to think such a thing! This land is so beautiful, so historic, and above all so special in the sight of the Father and of the Son. Even for those with a purely worldly view of history and geography, this is a special place. Harmony and reconciliation are possible here - possible but not easy. It is well worth making the effort.

Questions:
  • Have you visited Israel? If so, did you have an opportunity to speak with ordinary local people (Jews and Arabs)?
  • Are there ways you could help the reconciliation process? Visit some of the links on this page and see if there are things you can do.
  • If there is no reconciliation in Israel, what do you think the result will be?
  • Should reconciliation be primarily a political process or can it begin at a more personal level?

See also:

02 November 2012

Why is life dangerous?

Why is there so much danger in the world? We examine how random chance is necessary if we are to have a choice and how choice is necessary if we are to be capable of love. The most surprising thing is that there are not many more disasters.

Mount Pinatubo in 1991
What underlies the fact that life is dangerous and the Earth is such a dangerous place? Wherever we look we see danger and catastrophe lying in wait for us. Road accidents, volcanic eruptions, storms (like Hurricane Sandy), diseases of all kinds, violent crime; there's no denying the risks we face daily.

Some of these hazards can blamed on human wrongdoing or failure. Violent crime is an example of wrongdoing and most road accidents result from failures of judgement, design, construction or maintenance. But what of a volcanic eruption? Who is to blame for that?

Let's put dangers into three broad categories - deliberate human action or inaction, unintended human action or inaction, and natural events. Of the three, natural events form the category we want to consider in this article. We need to begin by understanding that the universe has always been open to the effects of chance.

Let's elaborate a little. We don’t know how the universe came into being, all we can say is that we have a pretty good idea how it developed after the first tiny fraction of a second (10-35 s). But we do know that since that first fraction of a second, randomness and chance have been (and remain) fundamental to its development. Sub-atomic particles flashed into existence and then, just as suddenly vanished again. They still do that today, what we regard as a perfect vacuum can be shown to be a sea of churning activity.

Chance is absolutely necessary in a universe where there is to be some freedom of choice. Why? Because we can only choose if we live in a universe where things are not normally determined in advance. My understanding is that Yahweh created a universe in which intelligence would arise and in which any intelligent life forms would be able to know him and choose to love and follow him.

Perhaps we see a glimpse of this in 1 Kings 19:11-13. We'll be exposed to many things during our lives, but Yahweh is not present in the outward tumult and danger; he communicates quietly. We may fail to notice him if we are focussed on the loud and dangerous things.

Let's put it very simply. Love requires a universe in which things are not directed. Volcanoes can erupt, earthquakes can shatter cities and hurricanes can flood coastal plains. The chain of  dependency is that love depends on the ability to choose, and choice depends on the existence of chance. In other words chance makes choice possible and choice makes love possible.

It seems to me that the real wonder is not that bad things sometimes happen, but that they happen so rarely. We certainly shouldn't blame Papa for random disasters, but we should thank him for such an exquisite combination of personal freedom and relative day to day safety. This supreme balancing act is something worthy of great praise, awe and gratitude.

In conclusion we have to take a small amount of rough with the surprisingly large dollop of smooth. Thank you, Father, for doing such a great job of designing this universe! Truly you are worthy of praise.

(This article is based on a comment I left on an article on the Jesus Creed blog.)

Questions:
  • People sometime ask, 'If there's a God, why does he allow suffering?' How do you answer this?
  • Has this blog post provided any unfamiliar arguments about suffering?
  • Do you believe a creator is free to create things without regard to logic?
  • Is a universe possible in which something could be simultaneously true and false?

See also:

01 November 2012

Dunbar and 130 to 160

< Groups of sixty to eighty | Index | No later items >

The Dunbar Number represents the size limit for meaningful social interaction with others. We need to be careful that we don't have so many church friends that we have no remaining capacity for close social connections with neighbours and others.

Prof Robin DunbarThere is a value called the 'Dunbar Number' which is about 150. Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist and pschologist, proposed that this was a natural limit to human group size. He wrote that it is ...
... a cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships, that this limit is a direct function of relative neocortex size, and that this in turn limits group size ... the limit imposed by neocortical processing capacity is simply on the number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained.

In other words, groups much larger then 150 are too large for the members to know one another in a continuous and meaningful way. We simply cannot interact regularly with more people than this. We may know about other people and we may meet other people but we can't really get to know them adequately in a social sense. Knowing someone personally involves spending time with them more or less regularly and 150 is the approximate limit of our ability to do this.

In church life - So in a church context, although we might meet in larger numbers than this, we can expect to only properly know a subset of the people present. And if we regularly socialise with 150 church friends, we will not have much capacity remaining to socialise with neighbours, work colleagues, or the other people we meet day by day. And that is a problem.

Why is it a problem? Simply because we are supposed to be making disciples! We can only make disciples by spending time with the people around us in a social context. To do so our existing regular social group needs to be smaller than the Dunbar number of 150. If we maximise the number of friends we have in the church, we are automatically minimising the number we can maintain in the world. And we do not go into the church to make disciples, but into the world.

Practical suggestions - My advice is to expect church to involve smaller numbers, two or three, six to twenty, and for special purposes sixty to eighty. Meanwhile, focus some effort on having good social involvement with as many non-church people as possible. These will include your wider family, your neighbours and those you share an interest with or work alongside. These are the pools in which you may discover future disciples.

Recognise that good fellowship is possible with the twos and threes and with the sixes to twenties. Do you really need more than that? Weigh up the benefits and the costs of larger church groups than these. What will be gained and what will be lost if your entire capacity to socialise is spent within the church community?

Questions:
  • If you meet regularly with others in a group this size, how many would you say are your friends?
  • How do you relate to the others, those who are not close friends?
  • Are there arrangements to meet in smaller groups at other times? Does this help?

See also:

< Groups of sixty to eighty | Index | No later items >

31 October 2012

Sandy storming in

Hurricane Sandy has caused devastation and continues to bring more trouble as it heads into Canada. Why do disasters like this happen? We consider some of the common views held by people of faith and by those who see no need to believe in any deity.

Hurricane Sandy in New York
The Caribbean islands and coasts and then the north-eastern coast of the USA took a major hit when Hurricane Sandy swept in. It has now weakened to post-tropical cyclone status but continues to drop large amounts of snow and rain as it heads north into Canada. Winds, although much reduced, remain dangerous and damaging.

Our hearts and thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by Sandy. Loss of life has been relatively low, things could have been far, far worse. But for families who have lost loved ones this is no real comfort. The losses in terms of property and flood damage and infrastructure are, of course, immense. Rebuilding will take a long time, countless homes and businesses are without power. There's no denying the scale and seriousness of this storm.

Global warming - We are living in changing times. Not only was this a powerful storm, it was also the largest Atlantic hurricane on record. Nothing this size has ever been seen before. The storm surge flooded considerable areas along parts of the US coastline.

What are we to make of all this?

Although no single event proves or disproves the reality of global warming and climate change, this record-breaking storm adds fresh evidence to that already accumulated. It makes it that bit harder to deny that the climate has altered, that bit harder to conclude we are doing no harm by pouring large volumes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Sandy should, at least, give us all pause to think and reconsider the evidence.

Considering faith - And what should people of faith make of Sandy's devastating effects? No doubt there will be voices from some supporters of Islam claiming that the storm is Allah's retribution upon  the 'Great Satan'. But most Muslims will not think of it in this way or say any such thing, instead feeling sorrow and sympathy towards fellow humans suffering pain and loss.

Atheists, on the other hand, will take the view that such things happen from time to time. It's regrettable and very sad, but it's how the world works. It's up to us to do what we can to avoid problems - don't build on flood plains, create structures that will withstand earthquakes and violent winds. Don't live at the bottom of steep slopes or close to volcanoes. Commendably, many will help to rescue and support those who are hurt or suffer loss.

But what about those of us who follow the teaching and example of Jesus? The majority may not give a second thought to wondering why such things happen. They too will feel sorrow and sympathy and many will pray for those affected by the storm. Others, however, will give serious thought to the question, 'Why?'

In particular, a common thought following any natural disaster is, 'If there is an Almighty Creator in charge of everything that happens, and if this mighty and powerful person is good, why are such things allowed to happen? Why was the world not created to be a safe place?

Some will see disasters as the consequence of sin coming into the world. Others may see it just as the atheists do - this is the way it is.

Another way - I believe we can do much better than this. I was drawn to express my views recently in a comment exchange on another blog. In the next few days I plan to take my comment and expand it as an article here. Watch this space. (Posted 2nd November, Why is life dangerous?)

Meanwhile, here's an earlier article that seems relevant. It records some thoughts we had during a meeting soon after the Haitian earthquake in 2010.

See also:

30 October 2012

A new look for the main article

This is the first post in a new format. A change of font and a focus on the current article will refresh the blog and make it easier to read. There are also several other ways to see 'Journeys of heart and mind'.

The old style blog
From now on I plan to offer articles in this new font and display them in their entirety.

Here's a sample of the old font.

I'm also widening the text area as screen widths have continued to increase and can usually accomodate the new size.

I'll only display a single article (in the past I've offered three truncated articles). Some adjustments and simplifications to the right hand column have further simplified the layout and the images will be larger in future.

I posted my intention to make this change several weeks ago, hoping for some feedback. But it's not too late! Leave a comment to tell me whether you think the new style is an improvement or not.

Dynamic views - There are several other ways to view the site, maybe you'd like to experiment with them. These are alternatives to the normal view so find one you prefer and bookmark it so you can revisit whenever you like. Or bookmark several if you like more than one.

  • Classic - See the current article in full, scroll down for previous posts.
  • Flipcard - An album of images, hover to flip them, click them for the full article.
  • Magazine -  Looks like a magazine page with articles arranged in blocks.
  • Mosaic - Pick a picture.
  • Sidebar - Titles on the left, article on the right.
  • Snapshot - Like a set of photos, hover and click for an article.
  • Timeslide - One photo, several extracts, and all titles month by month.

Mobile devices - There's a separate version of the blog for mobiles.

Sign up - Don't forget that you can also receive the blog posts by email or read them in an RSS feed. The 'Subscribe' tab has all the details.

See also: Changing the websiteEnjoy the viewA new look for 'All about Jesus'

29 October 2012

Biblos

< Bible Gateway | Index | Online Bible Tools >

Bible Hub is a complex tool with extensive facilities for Bible research including dictionaries, commentaries, interlinears, concordances, versions in original and modern languages, word studies, parsing information and more.

The Bible Hub home page
The Bible Hub web-based Bible tool manages to do a very great deal. The only problem with this breadth of coverage is that it can be tricky to find your way around. But most users will find just a few features that they use regularly and will soon become familiar with those. In other words, don't be put off by the complexity of this tool but focus on learning the parts you need.

Home page - Here's some of the stuff you can find right away on the home page.

  1. Along the top, a row of national flags allow you to choose a language other than English.
  2. Below the flags are drop boxes for Bible book, chapter and verse, Bible chapter outlines, and to select a translation or commentary or original language version or a whole host of other things. The chapter outline autoupdates as you change the book or chapter, a nice feature.
  3. Next is a search box with options for topical, library, Strong's number and multilingual search.
  4. Below that comes a toolbar with 23 icons for all manner of options including advanced search, reading plans, devotions, biblical weights and measures, apocryphal books and more.
  5. And then there are two more toolbars and a set of tabs.
  6. Finally, a set of 28 large icons provides further ways into the data.
Below all of this the home page continues with masses of additional material. There's just about everything you might need for a detailed study of any verse, word, idea or theme in the Bible.

Let's try it out - Starting from the home page I've just used the drop boxes in row 2 to select John 14:1. I immediately see multiple English translations of the verse in the main column with cross references to the right. Further down are concordance links for the key words in the verse and extracts from several commentaries and word studies.

Part of John 14 in an interlinear display
Next I click the Greek icon in row 4 and right away I see a page of Greek interlinear. Bible Hub has unhelpfully forgotten I was in John 14 and shows me the interlinear for Matthew 1. Hmm.

Back to the drop boxes in row 1 and I'm soon back in John, but that was not as smooth as it might have been.

But the interlinear is well done (click the image for a larger view). There are five lines. First come the Strong's numbers with transliterated Greek words below and the original Greek in line three. The Strong's numbers and the transliterated Greek are clickable and bring up definitions, concordance entries and more. The original Greek is not clickable, sadly, neither is the English equivalent in line four. Line five offers useful parsing information (part of speech, case, tense etc).

Serious research - Bible Hub is a good place to do serious bible study for free and online. It contains everything you need in one place, but there are several ways into most of the information and this results in a cluttered and confusing interface.

For looking up a word or two in Strong's, studying a few verses in depth, or translating short passages from Greek or Hebrew it's probably all you need. Bible Hub can even meet some unusual requirements, for example it can display the Old Testament in Septuagint Greek and the New Testament in modern Hebrew or even in Aramaic.

Reading online - I can't recommend Bible Hub for Bible reading online. Bible Gateway is a much easier and cleaner way to do this in a wide range of languages and versions. But in a web browser with BibleHub open in one tab or window and Bible Gateway in another it's quite possible to use the two together to look up details and definitions while reading.

< Bible Gateway | Index | Online Bible Tools >

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