1 The LORD is my CEO, I can’t complain.

2              He sets me to work in growing markets,

he awards me a tidy pay packet,

3              he invests in my training.

He mentors me in ethical business practice

for his reputation.

4 Even though I walk

into a meeting with members of the board,

I will fear no presentation,

for your BBMs are with me;

your stats and your timesheets,

they reassure me.

5 You swing a promotion for me

in front of my rivals.

You offer me perks and stock options;

my bonus is huge.

6 Surely excellence and dedication will follow me

every step of my career,

and I will play on the golf course of the LORD

forever.

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On Halloween, or Reformation Day, a Guardian article asks whether denomination could be affecting the relative success of Europe’s economies. Read it here. My discussion thread response is nailed to the Wittenberg doors below:

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Articles like these test how far we’ll accept generalisations: Protestants busy; Catholics lazy? In Europe there are so many exceptions (southern Germany, Austria) you wonder why it’s called a pattern. But let’s not completely ditch generalisations; they have uses. Sharing anecdotes doesn’t overturn that.

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Let’s not underestimate how profoundly an underlying denomination/religion impacts national culture. Even if many of the actors driving economic success/failure (bankers, financiers, industrialists) have rejected Christian Protestant values, their minds are still formed in a culture shaped by them, and the emphases of each church filter into the wider population. Even if you reject Protestantism (the 16th century Protest Movement), you still notice its effect on making you you when you step into another culture.

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Let’s not forget religion is ONE factor among many. Climate, geography, recent (500 years) history, eg whether your country was crushed by a totalitarian state for 50 years, whether your denomination was persecuted, all mix the picture up. BUT the influence of Protestantism can still be discerned through that mixing.

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What few have attempted to discuss is WHY Protestant-base countries do better economically (though true success involves more criteria -eg happiness, family stability, lifestyle, ethical quotient).

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Eg. stezza’s response is engaging but misinformed: “America’s brand of protestant belief, is more rapture based. That is the good will go to heaven and the bad will stay on earth etc to die.” But actually, fate isn’t allocated according to whether you’re “good” or “bad”.

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The defining characteristic of Protestantism is its emphasis on grace, ie that even though I don’t deserve God’s goodness, he gives it to me anyway. Grace means getting what we don’t deserve, and is the other side of the coin from mercy –not getting what we do deserve. Getting your head round the Protestant concept of grace is vital if you’re going to understand Protestant cultures and their work ethic.

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The implication, taught in Protestant churches, is that our motivation to do good, to work hard, to strive to be the best, isn’t to attain salvation (already given freely by grace), but out of thankfulness to and love for God. As far as a stereotype contains truth, this percolates up via education for females and males to scientific and technological innovation and thereby economic competitiveness.

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Responsibility, frugality, servant leadership, activism and personal integrity become culturally popular when a broad population base are being challenged to live that way by personally reading the Bible, rather than being passive learners.

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Another thing is Protestants are keener for everyone to read, so they can read the Bible for themselves and get an education for the sake of self-improvement. Hence why the world over Protestants have invented alphabets and opened schools and hospitals.

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Of course other ‘values-matrices’ (combinations of philosophy, family culture, religion, history etc) globally produce comparative hard-workers, eg China, Korea. But it’d be rash to dismiss the effect of the Protestant work ethic on northern Europe/America, and myopic to solely focus on the blip of the present economic crisis.

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It’s also a sobering thought to ponder the cultural change to the collective work ethic if the tide of the Protestant faith in Europe continues to go out, although other factors (climate, historical momentum) will alleviate this. But the future isn’t written yet.

I got a text from my bro. ‘turn on the TV asap and watch this documentary about liberian warlord. amazing.’ So I did.

General Butt Naked was a fierce and depraved warlord in the First Liberian Civil War. He was made a tribal priest and told by Satan that he would be a powerful warrior at the age of 11. He practiced human sacrifice and cannibalism and advised political leaders.

Real name Joshua Milton Blahyi, he became feared in Liberia for extreme brutality, and for leading his guerrilla troops into battle naked, wearing only boots and carrying machine guns, or wearing drag. Before battles, they would kill a child and eat parts of the victim’s body.

Fighting for Samuel Doe against Charles Taylor, he traded blood diamonds, used child soldiers and mashed cocaine into their food.

After sacrificing a calm girl, Blahyi says someone appeared to him in a blinding light. It was Jesus. He told him to repent and live or refuse and die. He stopped what he was doing. From that point on, his life was turned around.

Now, Blahyi is a follower of Jesus and is living a new life. He has a wife and three children. He has given up the power he had and could have had, putting himself at risk of revenge.

He appeared before Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to confess to being responsible for the deaths of over 20,000 people. He has said he’s willing to go to the Hague to be tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes.

He goes round saying sorry to the relatives of people he killed. Watching these scenes of humble apology, forgiveness and even reconciliation was very moving. I haven’t seen anything like it.

Cynics have cast doubt on the genuineness of Blahyi’s conversion and have suggested it’s a ploy to avoid prosecution. As I watched the programme I felt he was sincere.

Watch the docu on Channel 4’s 4oD and make your own mind up.

U.S. Route 66 has a legendary place in the heart and soul of a car nation.

That highway was taken by wagons, Okies, truckers and beatniks. It led from the windy business metropolis of Chicago to the sunshine opportunity of the Golden State and the Pacific. In between, it went through a microcosm of the U.S. This is Jack Kerouac country.

As Nat King Cole sang:

It winds from Chicago to LA

More than two thousand miles all the way.

Get your kicks on route sixty-six.

If God’s story is a road like that, Route 66 is a great vehicle for getting you along it. This is the main resource book for Spring Harvest 2011, written by Krish Kandiah. I’m going to examine his machine component by component.

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a) The chassis of the book is built in 8 segments. Like the 8 different U.S. states the historic route 66 passes through, these themes mark the 8 writing stages the Bible goes through.

Kandiah compares each Bible genre to a terrain -woodland, plain, city, etc. Each book within that genre is like a town on that terrain.

This resonates with me. For me, travelling in the Bible has moments in the mountains, all plunging rivers and hairpin bends. It has urban motoring and vast stretches of desert.

Route 66 maps it out like this:

1. Narrative- living faithfully

2. Law- living distinctively

3. Psalms- living poetically

4. Wisdom- living discerningly

5. Prophets- living prophetically

6. Gospels- living infectiously

7. Epistles- living purposefully

8. Apocalyptic- living hopefully

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b) The bodywork: 40 chapters, which if you break up by 8 weeks, is 5 chapters a week. That’s a pretty good arrangement. It lets you read daily but miss a couple, or take the weekend off, or read it all on a Saturday.

Kandiah writes lightly, clearly. He takes you into deep water but doesn’t do so by boring you. He’s easy to read but there isn’t a gram of fluff in the book. He tells the odd tale, but is message-focused, not anecdote-reliant.

He employs the simile of a road trip, but he hasn’t locked himself in his car with this. If the image of gas stations and motels isn’t enough to get you through a book, plentiful other metaphors and vignettes furnish what he wants to say.

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He insists the purpose of getting familiar with the Bible isn’t to build up an impressive store of trivia. It’s to be able to get through daily life, with its opportunities and temptations, and through extraordinary life, with all its celebration and grief.

“I aced my driving theory test. By memorizing the Highway Code I could tell you the precise stopping distance of a car travelling at 60mph in the wet and I could identify any traffic sign that you could throw at me, whether low bridges, duck crossings, or bio-hazards. I walked out of that office with my head and my certificate held high and then begrudgingly got into the passenger seat of the car. Despite passing the theory exam, I was still totally incapable of getting a car to go from A to B. Three months later, I succeeded in providing my driving-test examiner with several near-death experiences in a 25-minute test of faith. I am not sure if it was the stray piece of scaffolding in a skip which barely missed his head as I took a corner, or the whiplash he got from my emergency stop, or simply the sheer look of panic of the faces of passers-by that led him to fail me.

“There is a huge difference between theory and practice, not only regarding to drive, but also when reading the Bible. Knowing the theory of how to navigate the Bible is a very different set of skills to knowing how to navigate life with the Bible.”

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c) Tyres: Travel journal studies at the end of each chapter, designed for individual use. This is where I’d say the vehicle hits the road.

In the past when I’ve come across this format I’ve skipped these bits, but Route 66 somehow made me want to get into the selected Scriptures and go through the questions. That’s a mark of Kandiah’s ability to get to the good.

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Krish Kandiah

d) Seating capacity: 8 small group studies summing up each section, with a chart to fill in and questions to answer. Route 66 will work great as a small group series, but equally would make an enlightening series of talks.

I meet up once or twice a week with a bunch of friends. One girl, who loves cooking and isn’t fazed by mass catering, makes a great dinner for us. We chat about our lives. We open the Scriptures together and ask questions about parts. I might try out Route 66 with them, see what they think.

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e) Turbocharger: 8-week Bible reading challenge: This programme to get through the whole thing in 8 weeks is ambitious. I love reading the Bible, but still balked at Week 1: Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, Ezra, Nehemiah and Esther.

But Kandiah points out that together this is about as long as a Harry Potter novel. I can read that in a week. Route 66 has so drawn me in that I’m seriously contemplating taking on that challenge.

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Who’s it good for?

Route 66 is a solid entry-level, general purpose outline of the way the Bible is structured by genre. If you’re less than clear about how it all fits together, this is a great read.

It’s designed for people who follow Jesus and are pretty familiar with the Bible already. But there’s nothing to stop you and some curious friends who don’t follow Jesus grabbing a copy of Route 66 and going through it together.

Kandiah’s hearty and winsome personality comes across in the text and makes a friendly invitation to you to get in the car and set out on the road. Thumbs up.

Today I was throwing out some old VHS’s cos we have no machine on which to play them any more. I came across Jumanji.

I handed the black VHS cassette to a graduated student, telling her it was a great movie about a family who play a board game with wild animals and stuff.

She took it and tried to open it up like the cassette itself was a board game or something.

She had no idea what a VHS was.

She thought I meant the cassette was a game, not that it was a movie about a game.

I had to explain that you could once put them inside video players and watch films on them, and that we used them before DVDs.

She’d never seen one before. And this is a university graduate. That made me feel so old!

She barely believed me when I told her everybody used these VHS thingys when I was a kid.

I don’t know if you still use VHS, but actually to look at one again and to hold it in my hand made me think how absurdly big and clunky and plasticky they are.

Do you remember having to wait for minutes and minutes after watching an entire movie for the blessed thing to re-wind? Ha ha! Fond memories.

Happy Fourth of July!

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I celebrated Independence Day with American friends and a couple of Brits.

In the evening we hung out, played Apples to Apples (brilliant card game), waved flags and indulged in a bit of light-hearted pan-Atlantic banter.

We took sparklers outside and made this picture. Pretty cool, huh?

We rehearsed til we got our timing together, then had lots of tries to get it right.

There were a few pics with half an F, or a backwards R. But this one came out OK.

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7 letters scrawled in fire on dark air.

An enduring concept. The cry of history.

Show me a person who doesn’t want freedom. Nobody wants to be a slave.

American or Brit, light or dark, we can have fun together to celebrate being released from oppression and to be thankful for being given freedom!

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What does oppression mean to you and what does freedom mean?

by Nat Ogborn, London

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I am a committed monarchist. I think the Royal Family is good for Britain.

With Prince William and Kate Middleton being the new Posh and Becks, now is a good time to be a monarchist.

But I would like to think that my veneration for the institution goes deeper than royal wedding fever. I believe that constitutionally it is beneficial to have a royal family.

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Why do I think this?

Most importantly, if a system works then there is no need to change it. The Royal Family works. British government is stable, has a long history of democratic engagement with the public and is not known for oppressing its citizens.

The last overthrow of government other than through constitutional means was in 1688, and even that was a peaceful revolution. I’m not sure how ending an institution that has existed peaceably alongside the evolution of democracy in Britain would improve the situation.

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There is no evidence that republics are better than monarchies. Europe is a good example. Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands all have a monarch. Germany, France, Italy do not. The latter group are not worse or better places to live in.

Spain reintroduced their monarchy in 1978 in an attempt to get rid of a secular dictatorship and the king was instrumental in introducing democratic reforms.

Monarchy of the people, for the people

It is true that the Royal Family inherit position rather than get elected based on merit. I am fine with this for several reasons.

Firstly, if people were really bothered by it, they would want to end it. They do not. The last opinion polls show support for the monarchy hovering around 80%.

If the monarchy was genuinely unpopular, then it would go. It isn’t, so it can stay. This makes its undemocratic nature paradoxically democratic.

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Secondly, I’m not sure that it is good to have elected officials at all levels of government. I like the fact that the armed forces swear allegiance to the Queen rather than the Prime Minister.

It shows that power does not rest ultimately with the person who has the power. It may be only symbolic, but it is a symbolism I quite enjoy.

A lot of the royal duties such as opening buildings, visiting charities, fronting organisations have to be done by someone. I like that in Britain these roles are often undertaken by an unelected member of the royal family.

This defuses any possible chance of every single event being politicised, as it would be if MPs or elected mayors, or a President did all of them. The Queen floats above the politics. This is healthy for Britain.

Unique Selling Point

The world is now smaller; countries are becoming more similar in many ways. The monarchy is a defiant statement of Britishness and difference that I rather like.

I am not surprised that one of the main reasons Canada wants to keep the monarchy is because it makes them unlike the USA. Brilliant. The more ways in which one Starbucks-dominated corporate state can be distinguished from its neighbour the better.

For Britain, the monarchy represents part of that history, identity and culture which all the tourists find so fascinating. I fancy that some of those tourists are jealous that their own countries do not possess anything similar.

Putting the U in the UK

In terms of identity, I believe that the monarchy plays a valuable role in uniting the United Kingdom, which is becoming increasingly disunited. The monarchy is not English, it is British.

It can be a shared experience for people all around the country, as well as to Britain’s constituent immigrant communities, who are statistically more likely than the indigenous population to define their identity as ‘British’ as opposed to ‘English’ or ‘Welsh’ for example.

In sum

Monarchies last because of three reasons; they oppress; they are needed; they are popular. The British monarchy is indisputably the latter two reasons.

It has evolved from an autocracy to a symbol with barely a ripple of discontent and as long as it doesn’t do anything spectacularly stupid, like try to claim power back from Parliament, there is no reason why it cannot survive and thrive.

Perhaps the monarchy represents the best of that very British concept, the muddled compromise.

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It is strange that the ‘Mother of Parliaments’ holds strongly to hereditary monarchs. It is bizarre that a nation so used to mercilessly mocking authority with impunity should not have got rid of the ultimate earthly authority there is.

None of this should work; surely the monarchy cannot flourish; surely it can’t be a symbol of all that’s great about Britain. But it does and is. Wonderful.

Prince Philip and the Communist Party of China (CPC) are the same age.

Today Prince Philip celebrates -or more likely ignores- his 90th birthday –a remarkable innings in which time he has been exiled from Greece; took part in the invasion of Sicily; told his wife Elizabeth she was Queen; and been worshipped in Vanuatu as a god.

On July 1st, China’s ruling party will mark 90 years since it was founded in 1921 in Shanghai.

In that time, the world’s largest political party (78 million strong) has helped fight off the Japanese; won a civil war; implemented Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution; and led China into the 21st century as a free market under the Scientific Development Concept.

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Commonalities

On the face of it, the Communist Party of China and Prince Philip may not seem natural bedfellows.

At the Hong Kong handover in 1997, Philip referred to Chinese officials, apparently without a sense of irony or self-reflection, as ‘appalling old waxworks’. He told British students they’d become ‘slitty-eyed’ if they stayed in China too long.

Despite this, the two do share things in common. They are crusty, ancient pieces of living history, wallowing in the luxury of ill-gotten wealth, both unsoftened by decrepitude and still ferocious when the mood takes them.

They have straddled the 20th century and evolved their public images from uncouth military entities to benevolent, pragmatic grandfather figures.

They both embody systems of government whose claims to represent the people differ from orthodox democratic republicanism.

Despite being acknowledged as generally good for their country, both have a propensity to spark international outrage from time to time.

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Philip the Consort

For 60 of his years Philip has been married to the Queen as Consort –a vague role whose lack of substance may have destroyed the soul of a lesser man.

A naturally impatient and outspoken leader, he has had to endure years of walking several steps behind his wife at official ceremonies and staying in the background.

But the Duke of Edinburgh has handled it with aplomb, bringing hawk-like intelligence, charitable inclination and bloody-minded political-incorrectness as a foil to the Royal Family’s stuffy decorum.

A lifetime in the monarch’s shadow has given Philip a reputation for making outrageous or offensive comments in public. The word ‘cantankerous’ could have been coined specifically for him.

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For this, he is loathed in part but overwhelmingly adored by the majority of Britain. This Mountbatten adds a quality of realness, of frankness to the Royal Family which none of the Windsors could get away with. If you don’t find him refreshing, you at least find him newsworthy.

Today I doff my cap and wish the Duke of Edinburgh, whose D of E Gold award I am a recipient of, a happy 90th birthday.

President Obama & Hillary Clinton want a 2-state solution for Israel-Palestine, based on 1967 borders.

I agree this is the best political solution.

Contrary to what Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu says, the 1967 borders are not indefensible.

They will allow a viable Palestine and a secure Israel.

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A Palestinian State comprising Gaza Strip and West Bank should be founded. Golan goes back to Syria.

I think in return, Jerusalem should be undivided and wholly controlled by Israel.

The capital of Palestine should be Gaza City. The capital of Israel should be Jerusalem.

The idea of Jerusalem as a separate entity, an international city (a city-state like Vatican City?) is interesting, but unworkable permanently.

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The Palestinian Constitution must recognise Israel’s right to exist, and vice versa.

Palestinian refugees in neighbouring countries should be freely allowed to settle in either halves of Palestine. It all should be enforced by a teethy force of UN peacekeepers.

The 300,000+ Israeli settlers in West Bank must choose to stay in a Palestinian state, or move to Israel.

The 200,000+ Palestinians in East Jerusalem must choose to stay in a Jewish state, or move to Palestine.

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To sum up: 1967 borders. Palestinian State = (Gaza Strip + West Bank), capital: Gaza City. All Jerusalem to Israel. Golan to Syria. People able to move. Teethy UN troops.

There you go, Israel-Palestine problem solved! It involves a lot of compromise from all sides, but then so does mayhem.

As a follower of Jesus, I’m convinced politics is very limited in what it can achieve. (If the Arabs and Jews all became disciples of Jesus, as some are doing, it would simplify.)

But I also think Christians need to be pragmatic -as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. So we need to have workable solutions to real problems. This is my attempt to balance a fair and viable solution for Israel-Palestine, that really doesn’t favour one side over the other.

Blimey O’Reilly! Osama bin Laden has been killed by US forces. Can you imagine taking that shot?

The world’s most wanted man since 9/11, Al-Qaeda’s leader bin Laden was found not in an isolated tribal village, not up a mountain in a cave, but in Abbottabad, a mere 65 miles from Islamabad.

The terrorista was in a massive fortified house a few hundred metres from the Pakistan Military Academy (think Sandhurst or West Point).

Did the Pakistani military and ISI really not know bin Laden was hiding in a castle on their doorstep? That’s revealing.

Surely they had suspicions. Which means they turned a blind eye. Which means they are permitting Al Qaeda to operate.

Pakistan’s regional games may well be the fulcrum upon which the 21st century turns. The conflicts at the heart of nuclear Pakistani society- between extremism and moderation- are the crucible in which we must put the peace of the next century.

But today, the liberal West’s Moriarty has been killed.

Terminated. With extreme prejudice.

This Pakistan operation, kept secret from the Pakistanis until after the event, shows the effectiveness intelligence & special forces can have if applied with hard work, strategically, over the long-term.

Here’s President Obama’s announcement.

And this is how it’s being reported by the Pak Tribune in Pakistan, with 64% of site users saying they don’t believe bin Laden is dead.

The fact remains, Obama has been able to do something George W Bush and Donald Rumsfeld had not, and just slightly increased his chance of 2012 re-election.

Bin Laden’s whereabouts are now reported to be in front of his maker, where he’ll have to explain himself.

The dude is dead. Killing criminal masterminds may or may not help solve national security crises, but it doesn’t solve the underlying problem of the human soul, which needs cleansing from sin before it can enjoy reconciliation with its maker.

Osama bin Laden may have been bad, but if he’d accepted Jesus as God, he would’ve been forgiven.

Will this death in Pakistan cause the disintegration of Al Qaeda? Hopefully. But the multiplying broomsticks from the Magician’s Apprentice come to mind.

Fighting fire with fire was in this case effective. But only the determined application of love in the world will lastingly change it for the better.

Almondtree

Hi, I'm Tom and this is my blog, about things that interest me.

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