Freedom Is…

.. A deep work (what happens in you is greater than what happens to you, and is deeper than the workings of the circumstances and situations that frame our daily life), a quick work (God takes a long time to do something quick and will take as long as it takes for us to turn away from what ever else we look to for help on to Him) and a lasting work (what happens through you is meant to outlast you, and true success is measured by how much it empowers the next generation to extend the work that we do). Or so says the phenomenal Joel A’Bell whom I stumbled on in today’s Hillsong London pitstop..

Was also great to hear the worship team reprise This is Living from the Young & Free Album. Sadly they didn’t get to do the Lecrae rap bit.. :(

New month, new focus, new energy, given how much February sucked on so many levels…

Bits, Bobs and Writing Elsewhere…

Firmly mired in the middle of my February read, Ted Thompson’s debut novel The Land of Steady Habits, no thanks to a gruelling schedule at work with criminal deadlines, although I did manage to complete a profile of Selma star David Oyelowo for the church newsletter I occasionally write in. What intrigued me about that in the first place was how open he has been about his faith through out his career from theatre to Hollywood. Fascinating read, if I say so myself. Other than that most of my February reading was web based longform, a few of the more interesting ones being highlighted below:

1. Biblical Reasons to Doubt the Creation Days were 24-hour periods – Justin Taylor (The Gospel Coalition): Interesting read, particularly coming from someone firmly ensconced in the camp of biblical inerrancy, key quote:

Contrary to what is often implied or claimed by young-earth creationists, the Bible nowhere directly teaches the age of the earth. Rather, it is a deduction from a combination of beliefs, such as (1) Genesis 1:1 is not the actual act of creation but rather a summary of or title over Genesis 1:2-2:3; (2) the creation week of Genesis 1:2-2:3 is referring to the act of creation itself; (3) each “day” (Heb. yom) of the creation week is referring to an 24-hour period of time (reinforced by the statement in Exodus 20:11); (4) an old-earth geology would necessarily entail macroevolution, hominids, and animal death before the Fall—each of which contradicts what Scripture tells us; and (5) the approximate age of the earth can be reconstructed backward from the genealogical time-markers in Genesis.

2. Ten Years of Google Maps, from Slashdot to Ground Truth – Liz Gannes (<Re/code>): Google Maps, ubiquitous as it now is, is only Ten Years old. Liz Gannes charts its origin story from birth to the pervasive product it now is. And the quest for innovation is not sated yet, by any means.

The early history of Google Maps ends there. Most of the seminal Google Maps team members have moved on, but to a person they recall working on Maps as the most fulfilling and successful project of their careers. They still take it personally when they hear of bugs in the product or complaints about misguided redesigns.

Today, Geo is one of Google’s main product divisions. Ground Truth remains an ongoing project, and Google developed tools to keep its maps updated through direct user contributions. The division continues to be acquisitive, buying Zagat and Waze and Skybox in recent years. Street View has mapped the Grand Canyon and the canals of Venice. And Google’s maps have laid the groundwork for its most ambitious project yet — self-driving cars.

3. Why I’m Still A Catholic – Nicole Callahan (Salon): Reflecting on remaining Catholic in spite of disagreements with doctrine and how defining herself as Catholic somehow feels like a crucial part of her heritage.

Despite my disagreements, my weaknesses, my failures as a member of the Catholic Church, I can’t do anything but remain in it, though I’ve long since abandoned any pretense of being a great Catholic. Like all American Catholics, I flout and complain about and struggle to comprehend Church teaching; I emphasize the things I find easy to agree with, and minimize those that bother me. But while I am a bad Catholic, and I know it, I am also a practicing one. I have figured out that I’m just the kind who stays.

Though I can understand all the reasons why other people lapse and leave, I can’t seem to manage unbelief. Nor can I turn my back on the church that still gives me a home, a place to belong, when I so often feel that I don’t truly belong anywhere else. This might make my faith sound like a “crutch.” It very well might be. At times I feel that I cannot function, cannot stay on my feet, without it.

4. What does your selfie say about you – The Next Web:

Selfies also allow us to exert a greater level of control over how others perceive us online, and this is a major appeal. Thanks to front facing camera phones, we can take countless photos of ourselves until we have an image that depicts us exactly the way we want – an image that we’re happy to share with the online world. Interestingly, recent research suggests that this “selective self presentation” may actually enhance our self-esteem and boost our confidence.

5. An Ode to the Aux Cord – Eric Hulting (Medium):

Few things exemplify that [instant gratification] more than the AUX cord. Literally any song that exists on your phone or the internet is within your reach once you get in your car. It’s cathartic, spiritual even, to have that level of free will over what you listen to. Last road trip I took, I listened to something like 100 different songs from like 50 different albums

On Loving, and (Not) Marrying…

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When I was seventeen, I was sure that I would be married by the time I turned twenty-seven. I knew the date, Saturday the 7th of July 2007, who she would be and the song we would say our vows to. That year was my first away from home at University in a different city, one in which I cut my teeth creating a budget, spending money as I chose and defending my results to my father at the end of each month – all very responsible and grown up – or at least so I thought. There was no real science – or thought for that matter – to the timing, merely a wild stab in the dark. Ten years seemed far enough into the future to feel like forever, and my big Uncle F who seemed to embody adulthood perfectly turned twenty seven that year, or maybe thirty. Reality, I would later find out, was far more intention and hard slog than hit, hope and wishful thinking.

***

Thursday nights at Union Square, with the milling masses of people camped out at the various eating places and shops, are perhaps the clearest confirmation of what I learned as a seventeen year old, that we as a species are wired for love and loving. If you believe the 2013 predictions, Britons splurged nearly £1bn for Valentine’s Day, with the average spend just under £120. Across the world, Japanese, Thais, Indonesians and Taiwanese splurged a tad more, the equivalent of £173 on average. A 2015 survey in America by the National Retail Federation, projected a total spend in excess of $18.9bn (£12.2bn). Valentine’s Day therefore does continue to capture the imagination as The Day to be romantic, one on which we indulge ourselves and our love interests.

That we are now busier, and more stressed out, than at any other time in the history of our species seems to have done little to dampen our enthusiasm for love. We have in the main co-opted technology to our cause. By almost every measure (size, revenue, number of service providers at least), online dating is big business – £2bn and growing; the most astonishing statistic perhaps being that one in five relationships now starts online. Social media perhaps also has had a part to play; conflating time and space into a continuum in which separation is defined by a few mouse clicks or bursts of data from any one of a plethora of messaging apps bobbing around the ether via our ubiquitous wingmen, our cell phones and tablets, rather than by physical distance .

In spite of all the love and loving we seem to gravitate towards, marriage as an institution appears to be in decline. We as a species are waiting longer to marry, and when we do, there are fewer marriages, and more divorces, across Europe. Across the pond in America, the situation is as dire, the headline number being a thirty per cent reduction in the marriage rate per 1000 between 1990 and 2011.  Clearly, between hooking up and marrying there lies some sort of bottleneck, a rate limiter that constrains conversion from romantic connections into marriage.

***

One possible explanation for this apparent disconnect is, at least in the West, that marriage, or more specifically living together, can carry an economic penalty. The rise of the welfare state, and its ever increasing generosity, means that at least in some scenarios, it makes more economic sense to preserve separateness in the eyes of the law, as opposed to tying up and losing benefits in the process. This factor perhaps impacts more strongly on persons more likely to need welfare due to lower earnings but it is an effect reproduced in the US also, as identified by research conducted by Heritage..

Beyond the economic disincentive, there are also a number of perception issues within the wider culture. One of such is that marriage is inherently limiting, succinctly captured by The Big Bang Theory’s Howard Wolowitz in the The Vartabedian Conundrum Episode:

 “There’s a whole buffet of women out there, and you’re just standing in the corner, eating the same deviled egg over and over again”. 

Another perception problem might be that marrying is increasingly being seen as an addendum to life, something to be progressed only after several other more critical things have been checked off. True, marrying for the heck of it, without proper preparation or thought as to how to deal with the responsibilities that come in its wake, is somewhere between foolhardy and irresponsible, but the delay trap can sometimes be self perpetuating for no real benefit. Delaying marriage to focus on getting an education, work and other critical life skills for successful adult life does correlate with lower divorce rates as research in the US by the National Marriage Project concludes. There are costs associated with this though, particularly to do with enjoying the freedoms of the single life a little too much at times. The same report concludes:

Twenty somethings who are unmarried, especially singles, are significantly more likely to drink to excess, to be depressed, and to report lower levels of satisfaction with their lives, compared to married twenty somethings” 

A third societal influence is perhaps the rise of the personality cult when it manifests itself in an overly explicit focus on looking out for oneself only. Only the best will suffice, the narrative suggests,  as such the guy or girl next door can only ever be a barely passable 5.5 whilst we are rip roaring 10s on the desirability scale. Whatever glamorous attractions they had disappear forever once you’ve heard them fart five times in a row after far too much cheese or seen them wake up looking like ‘crap’. 

Increasingly relaxed societal norms around cohabiting also contribute, I suspect. With relational needs – often sex, but also the emotional support and commitment an intimate relationship provides – no longer limited to the context of marriage, there is also less of an incentive to ‘buy the cow’ in a sense, seeing as the milk is often available for free. 

***

I would be hard pressed to describe what my seventeen year old self felt as love. There was a certain element of excitement, and perhaps delirious joy, associated with what I felt, or thought I felt, but the cold hard evidence suggests that that in itself is never sufficient. Paul’s seminal chapter on love paints a picture that majors on the focus, work and intentionality that sharing life in the real world requires rather than the warm fuzzy feelings we as a species associate with love and loving.  What cannot be in serious dispute on the other hand though is that a sense of duty alone, without the buzz and excitement, seems like a consignment to purgatory at best, or a living hell at worst. Where the balance is is a question I am still unable to answer. Eight years and counting after my Big Virtual Wedding which was not, it is clear that I am still none the wiser, having cycled through a few of these phases myself. Perhaps the chaps at Wait But Why put it most succinctly:

Marriage isn’t the honeymoon in Thailand—it’s day four of vacation #56 that you take together. Marriage is not celebrating the closing of the deal on the first house—it’s having dinner in that house for the 4,386th time. And it’s certainly not Valentine’s Day. Marriage is Forgettable Wednesday. Together.

On praying, and changing…

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One day you wake up with a sense of hunger, as though someone  – or something  – dredged the innards of your soul and all you want to do is talk to Him. The tug is so strong – and insistent – that you think nothing of kneeling on the cold, hard floor and pouring out your heart. It seems to work because by the time you’re done, you feel light headed and ready, ready to take on the world, bad guys, ghouls and all.

Some other days your prayer feels like an intense coffee date; playful, happy, somewhat giggly and intimate. You come away at the end of it all feeling like you’ve sat in your favourite corner of your favourite coffee shop;  ginger bread latte and waffles to hand, swung your feet beneath the table with the odd knee touch, your voice only a smidgen above a murmur and caught up on life, love and everything.

Sometimes the beauty of a sunset or an unexpected rainbow will knock you out and like a flood of words to the lips, prayer will rise, the sense of presence and of being near somehow convincing you that there is a wider meaning to everything, and that the show – colours splashed as though on your canvas – has been crafted especially for you. Maybe you might cry, or sing a little too loudly with gusto, but all told you’ll come away with the unshakeable sense that He was there.

Some days you’ll find yourself floating, lost in the crowd, the collective drone of shared ablutions dragging you along like the receding tide drags an unwilling swimmer out to sea. Unlike the swimmer you don’t resist, allowing yourself to be carried along, soaking in all the energy in.

Some days it will feel like a war of attrition. You, and what you want on one side, Him and his sovereign will on the other. You plead your case, the same words you’ve used every day for the past nine lives. You might rant a bit, about being the good guy, and about how the bad things which seem to insist on happening to you and yours speak the lie to his being good. You moan about the existential crisis his failings are bringing on. You might cry yourself hoarse, and come close to shaking your fist in his face in anger. Somehow you won’t. You’ll stop just short of the line between despondence and plain rebellion. You’ll convince yourself that there must be a bigger point to everything.

Tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, you will return in quiet contemplation. Whether He will or He won’t, you realise that life goes on at a steady clip. You find acceptance, difficult as it may be.

I didn’t get the one thing I prayed most about last year. At times there was an overwhelming sense of faith that it would happen, at others it felt like I was chatting up a brick wall. What I can not deny however is that with time I am finding acceptance, and the niggling thought at the back of my mind that maybe that was the whole point of everything, changing me.

On Crime and Punishment

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When my father would tan my hide – which was often in the years between turning twelve and escaping to University when I turned seventeen – he would send one of the many cousins who lived with us to fetch his preferred instrument, a lean, mean pankere, roll up his sleeves and matter-of-factly deliver a canning of epic proportions.  The speed with which the instrument materialised time and time again – in spite of my best efforts – had me convinced that my cousins took a certain perverse, gleeful joy in seeing my bum tanned. Any number of infractions could have been the trigger for one of those in those days – taking apart his treasured gramophone for the heck of it (and not being able to put it back together again a la Humpty Dumpty), sneaking off to ‘dessert’, the patch of red earth where endless games of football took place – and young men where introduced to cigarettes and girls if you believed my mother, and once resorting to my fists to settle an altercation with E, the sharp mouthed imp who seemed to delight in getting under my skin. Early on, the tears flowed in copious amounts, until I mastered the act of tensing my buttocks just enough to mitigate the pain, the odd faint moan escaping my gritted teeth the only concession I allowed myself. Custom and practice dictated that, upon completion, I would have to say thanks and then sit through a debriefing session where my failings would be analysed, and alternate behavioural practices highlighted. In retrospect, the canning – intense as it was – was never truly the worst outcome. Infinitely worse was being left to stew in silent contemplation, particularly where my failings had occurred outside the confines of the house on 39th; my sense of guilt being complicated by the uncertainty around how much, if any, my father knew of my misdemeanours.

Punishment as a consequence of crime or offending is primarily regulatory. By inflicting pain, discomfort or a penalty of some sort, punishment acts as a disincentive, conditioning the behaviour of the members of the collective towards what is ostensibly for their good, and more importantly, the greater good of the collective. In society, these limits of acceptable behaviour are codified in  rules, laws and regulations with the justice system providing the framework for deciding appropriate punishment.

In the home, the limits of acceptable behaviour are largely part of an unwritten social contract – parents have a duty of care to their offspring, and responsibility for passing on the body of knowledge of social mores, the elements of a worldview and core values which accrete over time into the culture that defines the specific religious, ethnic and social space within which the family operates. Offspring on their part implicitly trust what is being provided for them – at least at first – and agree to operate within the boundaries their parents set, however arbitrary these might seem. As the offspring age, and hopefully develop the mental capacity for interrogating their own spaces, they add to, delete from and modify the premises of the body of knowledge they have been handed, keeping it fluid, relevant and appropriate for being handed over to the generation they themselves will cater for.

Beyond the obvious regulatory objectives of punishment, there is a sense in which punishment is redemptive – that much I gleaned from the fall out in my heady teenage years. I suspect the redemption punishment brings is premised on two things – that the offender can come to terms with what they have done with a measure of contrition, and that the punishment exacted is somehow seen to be commensurate to the offence committed. In a sense, the offender has to be seen to have paid for the disruption before reintegration into the wider collective can take place – being able to contribute to the greater good of the collective is the upside to reintegration and rehabilitation.

In conversation over the weekend with a friend, the Ched Evans case came up. Following his release from prison after a rape conviction, his attempts to  get back into football have floundered, largely due to the public outcry, and the threat of the withdrawal of sponsorship from the various football clubs who have mooted the idea of re-signing him. I expressed the opinion during said conversation that punishment could be redemptive, and that in this case having been released from prison, he should be allowed to get on with his life, whatever shape or form that might take. I was quickly reminded – sternly I might add – of how the girl in question has had her own life overturned having to change her name and change location several times over the last five years after being outed on twitter. She is unlikely to ever be able to just get on with her life, which makes the premise of commensurate punishment somewhat difficult to achieve here.

Having said that – and I am not pretending that I even remotely understand the nuances of the case, and if he was/or was not innocent as he has maintained – surely the premise of punishment in the law is that having served his sentence, and being registered on the violent and sex offender register rehabilitation is in order? By no means am I suggesting that Ched Evans is the victim here; I am merely pondering how rehabilitation and reintegration square with his situation. It is a difficult conversation – particularly given his relative profile – and the fact that he maintains his innocence. I wonder though if any of the two or so people who still stop by these pages might deign to offer an opinion? Fire away if you do!!!

2015 Reading #1

In addition to completing Moon Walking with Einstein, The Pioneer Detectives and significantly denting my copy of The Best American Essays 2014, my 2015 reading has consisted of loads of longform, which I am curating via Pocket. Below are a few of the more interesting pieces that caught my eye this month:

1. Learning to Drive – Adam Gopnik (The New Yorker): What we learn when we learn to drive?

… Driving a car more like walking on a sidewalk, [is] full of recognitions and hand waving and early avoidance, tamping down the sudden shocks that the combustion engine is heir to…

I saw that driving was in another way civilization itself: self-organizing, self-controlling, a pattern of agreement and coalition made at high speed and, on the whole, successfully. “Just signal and slide over,” Arturo would urge me on the highway, and, as I signalled, other cars—other drivers—actually let me slide over!

2. Writing Your Way To Happiness – Tara Parker-Pope (The New York Times) : The benefits of expressive writing?

Like Siri, I have numerous explanations for why I don’t find time for exercise. But once I started writing down my thoughts, I began to discover that by shifting priorities, I am able to make time for exercise.

“When you get to that confrontation of truth with what matters to you, it creates the greatest opportunity for change”.

3. Selma was a Spiritual Endeavour for Me -Alissa Wilkinson and Morgan Lee (Christianity Today): David Oyelowo on playing Dr King in Oscar nominated (best picture) Selma:

.. every film I do can be edifying, can be something that points toward I believe to be true: I’m not one to shy away from darkness in movies, as long as there is light. As long as the light overwhelms the darkness, then you’ll find me in the midst of that story. That’s what I aspire to do because I know it to be true in my own life. I don’t think I’ve done a film that doesn’t demonstrate that—the darkness being overwhelmed by the light.

4. The Secret Life of Passwords – Ian Urbina (The New York Times) : Keepsake passwords;

…ritualize a daily encounter with personal memories that often have no place else to be recalled. We engage with them more frequently and more actively than we do, say, with the framed photo on our desk. “You lose that ritual,” [Miah said,] “you lose an intimacy with yourself.”

5. The Little Bug That Could – Michael Frankel (Medium): On travelling across the continental US in a Volkswagen Beetle to welcome a grandchild;

The Bug and I rolled into the Tampa Bay area still under waves of thunder­storms, alternating downpours with steamy sunshine. You could almost see the recently dropped rain rising off the pavement as steam. The grand tour of the union was coming to an end. We covered seventeen states in 6,000 miles. The top was down for 5,300 of those miles — a new personal-all-time-best. I consumed seventy-five cups of coffee on the road, almost all of them McDonald’s secret, piping-hot recipe. I averaged eighty miles per cup. The longest dry run between McDonald’s restaurants was 258 miles from Fallon to Eli, Nevada on Route 50. Along with the coffee, I ate six dozen granola bars and countless pretzels.

Of Rust, and Metaphors

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Amidst the hurly burly that was the last quarter of 2014 at work – not helped by the unease set off by sliding oil prices, and questions around the future viability of North Sea oil and gas given lifting costs and taxes – the crazy gang team at work made time out to head across town for a day to reflect on how we’d performed through the year and agree objectives for the 2015. For what it’s worth it was good craic, much better than I expected given the strong personalities within the team, and the sense of simmering conflict, even though it was a tad too reliant on woozy, zen-ish things like sitting in a circle and taking time out to reflect in silence.

 As we huddled around the sandwich tables chewing away on sandwiches and bacon rolls and sipping coffees, we were offered a question for reflection, one we would expatiate on later over the course of the morning. The question was to come up with a movie or a song that best described how we felt about our day job. The responses were as interesting as they were varied, ranging from It’s a Hard Knock Life from the musical Annie to Ocean Rain by Echo and the Bunny Men, indicative of the general sense of being overwhelmed by fighting fires and being under appreciated across the group. I might have over thought it a bit – my repertoire of movies isn’t exactly exhaustive – before I eventually settled for Raid on Entebbe.

Based on the 1976 rescue of the passengers and crew of Air France flight AF-139 from Tel Aviv following its hijack by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, it chronicled the difficult deliberations involved in reaching a decision to sanction a commando operation in Entebbe, Uganda, 2500 miles and several hostile countries away. In the end, although largely a success, Yonatan Netanyahu, and 3 hostages ended up dead; a fourth hostage was murdered, ostensibly on Idi Amin’s orders, having been sent to the hospital due to illness. Certainly not Africa’s brightest hour by all accounts.

Looking back, I suspect I went for Raid on Entebbe largely because my role over the last few years has increasingly felt more like that of a commando than a rust geek, putting out fires rather than pontificating over their remote and immediate causes. Ultimately, it has been about managing risk  – identifying, quantifying, evaluating and mitigating the risk to the environment, people and the business from the interactions of materials and the internal and external service environments we put them in. In an ideal world, I’d replace every bit of leaking pipe with 25Cr or Titanium, significantly reducing the probability (in most cases) of a repeat failure. The reality though is that the cost of doing that on a large scale would be entirely prohibitive; which is where I earn my bacon, pretending to find finding non-obvious solutions to corrosion and materials problems which represent value for money – the best bang for the buck within reason.

Sadly, or thankfully, Rust never sleeps, likewise I have to keep trying…

Reflecting on the Scottish Referendum: A Call to Social Justice

A few months ago, people across the length and breadth of the nation of Scotland went to the polls to answer the question, “Should Scotland be an independent country?” At stake was the very future of the United Kingdom, and Scotland’s place in it. On one hand, the governing Scottish National Party staked its reputation on a ‘Yes’ vote, alongside the Scottish Greens and the Scottish Socialists under the aegis of Yes Scotland, whilst Scottish Labour, the Scottish Conservative Party, and the Scottish Liberal  Democrats took a pro-Union Stance under the Better Together banner.

As the vote count came to an end on the morning of September 19th in victory for the Better Together campaign, what became clear was that the keenly contested campaign had revealed deep fissures in the very fabric of the Nation. The romance of nationalism and the historical antecedents notwithstanding (Scotland as a distinct entity has existed in some shape or form since about 840 AD and 2014 was the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn which saw the English army defeated by the forces of King of Scots Robert the Bruce), economic considerations, fair and equitable distribution of wealth and protecting access to the NHS in the face of the (real or imagined) threat of its privatisation featured strongly as a subject of contention.

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The HAVES vs HAVE NOTS narrative seemed supported by analysis of the voting patterns which showed strong correlations between greater unemployment and support for independence, and age above retirement with support for staying with the Union (perhaps due to concerns over pensions).

The immediate aftermath involved clashes between Unionists and independence supporters. As recently as October, a pro – independence rally in Glasgow still managed to attract over 6,000 people, perhaps indicative that even the passage of time has done little to soothe the sense of grievance a significant proportion of the nation still feels.

The challenge going forward therefore is one of reconciliation; recreating a sense of togetherness and genuine belief in all and sundry that the nation belongs equally to everyone – rich, poor, old, young and old alike. That sense can only be fostered by delivering on the sound bites trundled out by both sides of the campaign, mainly a fairer, more productive, empowered Scotland.

There is an economic argument for a fairer, more egalitarian Scotland. Equal opportunities and lower unemployment will deliver greater productivity, and enable more people contribute to the state in the form of taxes, rather than constitute a drain the system.

There will also be benefits, purely from the perspective of enlightened self-interest. It stands to reason that crime, social delinquency and violence are likely to drop as more people are gainfully employed. Those who are not, if they have access to the opportunities to improve and are catered for the interim will also see less of an incentive to crime.

The arguments for social justice go beyond secular and economic ones; there is also a biblical imperative. Passages like Deuteronomy 15:11 –  For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land’, being a case in point.

Time and time again, the call to ‘do good and seek justice (Isaiah 1:17), not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor (Zech 7:9,10), defend the rights of the poor and needy (Prov 31:8,9), to do justice and love kindness (Micah 6:8) and protect the resident alien, the fatherless and the widow (Jeremiah 22:3) are repeated throughout the Old Testament. When Israel failed to heed this call, they were punished severely by God (Amos 5:11-15, Ezekiel 16:49,50).

Elsewhere a social justice component is explicitly commanded as part of true and acceptable worship – knowing the rights of the poor (Proverbs 29:7), letting the oppressed go free, sharing bread with the hungry and homeless (Isaiah 58:12) as well as visiting the orphan and the widow (James 1:27).

Jesus himself, after being tempted and returning to Galilee in the power of the Holy Spirit chose to reveal himself in the Synagogue in his home town of Nazareth by reading from the passage in Isaiah which spoke of his mission to proclaim the good news and set at liberty those who were oppressed (Luke 4; 18, 19). Beyond that, he also highlighted acts of kindness as one of the things we will be judged by at his return (Matthew 25:31-46). The Apostles also weighed in in their writings – John enjoined us to love not in word but in deed (1 John 3:17,18), Paul in distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality (Romans 12:13) and James to treat all without partiality (James 2:1-4)

The danger of all this is to end up flying the flag of social justice, for its own sake alone, as an end in itself or as an opportunity to ship sounds bites, hog the limelight and portray ourselves as good citizens. However as Christians, everything we do on earth occurs within a context – that of being Jesus’ hands and feet on earth, utilising the resources, skills and time that he has given us to further His kingdom. In these days in which the popular narrative is one of the death of the church and its increasing irrelevance, being champions of social change, in our communities – our next door mission fields – may well be one way that the tide can be turned, providing a door of opportunity to ‘do all for the Glory of God’.

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Originally written for my Church Newsletter, reproduced here for archival purposes. 

Wrapping up the Christmas Party Silly Season

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Each year, my Christmas party silly season kicks off earlier than the last – this time on the 24th of November – the venue being the soon to close Marcliffe set in the lush woodlands of the Royal Deeside. We are there at the behest of the black and minority ethnic engineering association, for an evening of music, dance, networking and speeches to celebrate the fabulous year they have had of making engineering sexy to BME kids across the ‘shire. My initial response of excitement when news of the gala breaks segues into one of trepidation as the day draws near, the black tie dress code nothing like my far more typical jeans and t-shirt fare. On the day, just before leaving my house, I find out that I have somehow failed to spot the one key fact, arrivals being scheduled for 6.30pm, not the 7pm I have planned for, cue a rushed final phase of preparation and a quick hop into my old banger for the drive across town. I arrive almost forty five minutes late, thanks to a wrong turn and some traffic down Great Western road. In the end, it turns out I really shouldn’t have been that worried, people are still arriving at 8.30pm, african time I guess. The event itself goes well – overly posh food aside – I get to prance and pose for pictures with a few old chums, and a wide range of people; current students, professionals across a range of Engineering professions and a number of industry stalwarts. By the time I sneak off at 11.30pm, there is no doubt in my mind it has been a thoroughly engaging evening.

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The Friday afterwards, I am at the Stage Door off Rosemount for a far less formal event, invited out by the team I work with at the motherlode, work being used very loosely here given how little face time I actually get with them. Plan is to kick things off with drinks at 5pm and then a set meal for 6pm. By the time I arrive at five minutes to six, my crowd is no where to be seen, still loading up on the brew. The first few people begin to show up at five past six, with very nearly a full complement by six-thirty by which time I am ravenous. D somehow ends up lost with a dead battery across town, which provides plenty of comic relief material. Meal done and dusted at very nearly 8.30pm, the younger crowd – and quite a few older ones too – decide they want to hit a couple of pubs to wrap up. Seeing as my day started at 5.45am, I am in no state to join in and plead tiredness, to quite a few raised eyebrows. The small silver lining is that on my way out, I get hit on by a somewhat  attractive woman – never mind she was a bit woozy, clearly having had way too much to drink.

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Gig number three is the Young Adult’s group party at D’s. It turns out a damp squib of sorts, the turnout being far less than I recall for a long while. I suspect it being sandwiched between preparations for our show piece holiday event, the Christmas Carol service amongst others, and a slew of stalwarts who have elected to take an early Christmas are to blame. Plus side is I get to take away several packs of rice, gizzdodo and pepper soup when I leave at just past 10.30pm on the day

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For the 15th and 16th I am away in Manchester, swotting for  – and then writing – my final exam of the year. Having had to work full pelt on a number of emerging issues at work right up to the day before impacted my ability to create time to study, so understandably I find the exam itself iffy. I help myself to one of the works omelettes at Frankie and Benny’s to help myself forget, just before hopping on to the tram for Piccadilly gardens. Fortuitously, at Cornbrook, I find out that the tram line extension to the airport is now in place, and hop on to that, halving my journey – and leaving a few friends and family cross at me – in the process.

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I’m into work the next day, back to the hurly burly that has been December, getting just enough done to show up with an element of credibility to a meeting on the 18th. That turns out to be the last credible bit of work I do on the day as it’s also the day for our traditional christmas lunch as an Operations Team. Drinks start off at 12 – I have a gin and tonic to get myself into the groove (number 10 I reckon) – followed by a set lunch. I have chicken soup as a starter, Turkey as the main and cheese cake for dessert. Beyond the food which is typically passable, the highlight usually is the raffle, and the opportunity for expressing the typically acerbic Scottish variant of British humour it provides. At lunch I end up next to one of the bigger wigs; as we chat it turns out he does have a proper engineering background – a technical PhD as opposed to an MBA – and I get to gush a bit too much on rust and my future plans – to my chagrin in retrospect, blame the gin and tonic. We all have a good laugh, helped along by a free bar. For my ten pound investment in the raffle I win a bottle of whisky.

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I toy with not attending the church’s tech team meet up on the 19th – yet another late day at work and meetings nearly putting paid to my participation –  but a few sternly worded comments from F give me the kick up the back side I require. I miss the bowling though, arriving just in time to sit in for dinner. Venue is the Frankie and Benny’s close to my house, a brisk walk and the nip in the air clear my head sufficiently enough to not be a grump of epic proportions. Loads of meat balls, and great conversation later, it’s a proper Friday evening of chilling and friendly banter – a fitting end to the week and a slew of christmas gigs for the year.

***

One of the more head scratching – and truth be told happy – things that happens to me does on the 24th. I catch the 727 at mid day to the airport, enroute Heathrow for a catch up with B. At the security screening desk it turns out there are more security folk than fliers, the irony of which is not lost on us travellers. For good measure, no thanks to forgetting to remove my watch, I get the enhanced pat down, and my phone swabbed, which in the end ends up being fortuitous as it delays me enough for a certain portly gentleman to slide up to me. Quite the cheerful bloke, he says the one thing we have all noticed but haven’t vocalised, about the security team out numbering flyers. On a whim, he offers to buy me a beer. When I decline, and upon being pressed by him, I accept a coffee instead. At the bar, he flirts so charmingly with the bar tender she is beetroot red by the time we grab our drinks and head off to a table. In a different life, and a different skin he might have been my friend S, from under grad. In the thirty minutes we spend together, we manage to drag four other people into our happy bubble, get to swap war stories about our various professions and he gets snogged by one of the guys, all very love actually-esque.

London goes by quickly; hanging with B, food (loads of), dish washing and meat chopping duties as assigned, and yet another Xmas party number – a far more family friendly, lower key event than the lot I’ve been dragged through up here in Aberdeen – help the time pass quickly enough until I am being sped all the way to Heathrow to catch my flight back to my version of civilisation.