Richard’s Blog

“Hey, Siri…”

Then comes a female voice as if ‘she’ is waiting on our every request.

But apparently, this is a problem. Yes, we have a new front open in the fight against gender stereotypes and bias. The gender-bias warriors have protested at the default female voice of AI devices.

At the helm is Unesco’s recent report on the apparent harmful perception female AI voices can create about women. The report concludes, “it sends a signal that women are…docile helpers, available at the touch of a button…this reinforces commonly held gender biases that women are subservient and tolerant of poor treatment.”[1] And now with voice assistants managing an estimated one billion tasks per month, could this be affecting our view of women?

I don’t know about you but hearing the dulcet tones of my female Google Assistant telling me the answer to a question I should know doesn’t make me think of women as subservient any more than it makes me think of them as the font of all knowledge! For me, if someone starts treating or speaking to women like you would their Alexa or Android, then I suggest that someone has bigger problems than just a little gender bias!

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but I think there is another question worth asking about this report. What’s wrong with being submissive, anyway?

Long gone are the days when being submissive was a virtue worth pursuing. In this age of male-female competition fuelled under the guise of equality, no one wants to submit to anyone or be seen as the ‘helping’ party.

No, I didn’t take a wrong turning back to the 19th century, nor am I advocating having a ‘door mat’ mentality, or meeting insults with appeasement. But I do think a little self-sacrifice, some relational yielding, goes a long way in making a relationship healthier.

I think it’s worth remembering this old bit of relational advice I once read: “Submit to one another.[2]

Maybe we’re getting too used to not submitting to one another. After all, Siri and Alexa are so much better at following our instructions; they don’t argue back – bliss! And with the research group, Gartner predicting by 2020 that “some people will have more conversations with voice assistants than with their spouses,”[3] this learning to live without submitting will only increase.

So this week let’s submit one to another, and in doing so, place value on who we most value.

Notes:

[1] https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000367416.page=1

[2] The Bible, Ephesians 5:21 (NIV)

[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-48349102

Paying our Debt

I don’t know if you have student debt, I do. Sometimes I wonder whether I will ever pay it off.

Debt has a gnawing quality. It eats away at our peace of mind. It is like background noise, always there, holding us hostage. It’s almost like debt can become the ransom price for our peace and freedom.

But can you imagine being handed a cheque for the exact amount for your debt? That’s exactly what happened to 400 graduating students at Morehouse College in Atlanta, US.

Billionaire investor and philanthropists, Robert Frederick Smith, was addressing the students at their graduation ceremony. With the words, “we’re going to put a little fuel in your bus. My family is making a grant to eliminate your student loans,”[1] the stunned graduates cheered! This grant amounted to about £31 million.

They cheered because they had been released from debt, from a kind of ransom on their lives and peace of mind. And with the average US student debt standing at $29,800, what a relief that would have been!

This kind of relief, freedom, and peace of mind can be experienced by us all but in a different way. It comes from the payment of a spiritual debt.

This spiritual debt isn’t seen or necessarily felt. But, in Christian thought, the consequences of this spiritual debt is seen in the physical death that comes to us all. Why do we die?  I’m sure there are many answers to that question, but one answer is found in the idea that humans have a spiritual debt problem. So what?!

One idea expressed in the Bible is that “the wages of sin is death…[2] Strange thought, you may say, because everybody dies a physical death. But the bible also tells us that, “all have sinned.” So is death our reward? Is this physical life all there is?

That kind of thinking happens when we get disconnected from our life source, the one who loves us, God. We all carry the debt of our sins!

But a payment for that debt has been made, on our behalf! This is where Jesus comes in. And this is why he said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”[3]

How so? By dying in our place. By taking the consequence for sin. By paying the wages sin demanded. By paying the ransom price. That’s why he offers eternal life to all those who believe in him, a life beyond the physical!

If you feel this debt of sin in your life, turn to Jesus. Accept his sacrifice in your place and you will be free.

Notes:

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-48339599?intlink_from_url=https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education&link_location=live-reporting-story

[2] The Bible, Romans 6:23

[3] The Bible, Mark 10:45

It’s Bigger Than Us

It’s Eurovision time again! Time to relax on the sofa for a cultural overdose of music from people we’ve never heard of, dressed in clothes we’d never wear. Tel Aviv has already treated us with some Icelandic punk and Polish folk from the first semi-finals, yesterday.

Saturday night we get to see our very own entry. Brit Michael Rice is going to be banging out a ballad for our enjoyment. Look a bit closer and the wise will notice a familiar face from the 2014, X Factor! The question is, can he match the success of 1997 with the unforgettable ‘Love Shine a Light’?

In fact, Katrina and the Waves might have something in common with our new lad. He’s singing about love, too. Never change a winning formula, I guess!

Called ‘It’s Bigger Than Us,’ Michael is singing about this four-letter word. Not a bad song, Michael! I even like the sentiment: “I won’t give up, and I won’t let go, ‘cause this kind of love is gonna be our only hope.”[1] Then comes a key change and we are away. But I wonder what kind of love will be our only hope?

The kind of love I devour a Dominio’s pizza with? Or, the feeling I get when someone does something nice for me? Or, the love I have for others when I’m feeling that all is right in my life?

I know, with me, that kind of love often fails in more tricky times. Like when the giving of a countries’ ‘douze point’ is more about political point scoring than the quality of the performance. Or, when I hear a contestant sing about something I don’t like. If my love for others so often fails in trivial circumstances, what kind of love can be humans’ only hope?

Perhaps the hope that love can really give us is found in what many say is its greatest description; a passage that is often read at weddings. What do you think about this?

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”[2]

Love is…bigger than us. It holds us together. It sees us through the tough times. It pulls us beyond ourselves. Beyond our divisions. Beyond the natural. It transcends us, pulling us up to the divine.

This Eurovision, let’s say to each other, our family, our friends, our community, “I won’t give up, and I won’t let go, ‘cause this kind of love is gonna be our only hope.”

Notes:

[1] https://genius.com/Michael-rice-bigger-than-us-lyrics

[2] The Bible, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIVUK)

[Picture: Wikicommons, MateuszFret1998]

A Symbol for All

I wonder what you would think if you were met by a 40-foot (12 meter) granite Cross as you entered a town? Maybe because we are so used to them in idyllic country towns and villages, we may not think twice. Not so for the US state of Maryland.

There is always a certain sigh that comes with hearing of the most recent secular-religious fisticuffs. And the gloves are well and truly off for the town of Bladensburg, which hosts this 96-year-old World War I monument.

The “live and let live” spirit has been put to one side in an attempt to have this Cross removed. The American Humanist Association (an organisation with a philosophy of seeking the greater good without God) are seeking grounds in the First Amendment to have it removed. But the opposition are not going down quietly.

Ok, let me get my unconscious bias out in the open. I’m a Christian…but wait…I’m actually not a huge fan of crosses nor their public display (fellow Christians, please put down your stones). But my natural antipathy to such overt Christian signposting is offset by something we may all be able to agree on.

Whether you are of faith or of no faith, I wonder whether we may lose something with the removal of such monuments?

We all watched Notre Dame burn. It was a moment that shocked secular and religious emotions: something that had stood for so long, endured the centuries, stood not just as a Christian monument, but a symbolic one for all. One that reminded us of the value of permanence and dedication in a world that is so often transient and throw-away. And so, thinking about the Cross, could there be symbolic value for all in this 40-foot secular offence? Value that would be lost if it were removed?

What symbolism, we should ask?

In such a fast-paced, disposable, pleasure-seeking world, having a symbol to ground us to healthy values is a healthy thing. The cross is a symbol of suffering. What’s healthy about that?! Now, I’m not going to get all self-flagellating on you, but in a western world that often seeks pleasure over purpose, the cross is a reminder of the inevitability of the suffering of life. Taking up our daily cross is about accepting this inevitability, and in the accepting lies a kind of detox of the often-felt feelings of injustice and the anger that comes with this frustration.

And there’s more…

There is an irony in that this Cross is a war monument. It is a symbol of self-sacrifice. A sacrifice that put other’s needs before our own. A sacrifice that went a long way to giving us (western European and America) the freedoms we enjoy today. I think symbols that are about making room for others through the pouring out of our lives is a good thing.

But maybe the most counter-intuitive meaning to this symbol is that it reminds us that beyond suffering and sacrifice there lies glory! It’s a strange thought, maybe more of a spiritual thought. Even on a humanist level, we could agree that we reap what we sow (there are, of course, other variations of this karma idea). But from a Christian point of view, Jesus endured dying on a cross, so our sins could be forgiven, because of the reward set before him – becoming the saviour and king of all the earth. Wherever we stand with this idea, reward is at the end of suffering and sacrifice because of this universal rule.

Maybe we should think twice before removing these symbols that hold meaning for us all.

Notes:

[Photo by Albert Dehon on Unsplash]

 

The Child shall Lead the Lion

In stunned silence, my students watched 1-ton walruses slip off the edge of a cliff and fall to their deaths. The gracelessness with which they fell jarred with the emotion of the moment.

It was not easy viewing, either, for the producers of the new series Our Planet as they filmed this compelling scene with such powerful animals tumbling powerlessly down a rocky cliff face. The students I taught, often boisterous, were stilled by the sight of the graveyard of blubber at the bottom of the cliff.

This viewing was the flashpoint that brought the findings of the most comprehensive report on the earth’s biodiversity home to me. Humans’ threaten 1 million species with extinction, says the report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). “Boy, we are in trouble.” These words were not spoken in vain by the Professor who chaired the report, Sir Bob Watson.

I don’t need to beat the drum for why this is happening. There’s more of us and we are consuming more. We are cutting down trees, changing habituates, over-fishing, we’re polluting the air, soil and air. And because of the natural interconnectedness of the ecosystem, if we lose species, it affects others. If the earth could speak, it probably would be groaning[1].

Yet with such apocalyptic language, there was a quiet sound of hope. There are solutions – yes, we can do something about it. And one solution stood out for me, in particular. It’s a solution that gets at the heart of our values – what we believe.

The solution is about changing the story we’ve come to believe in. It’s not a story written down, but one we, particularly in the West, have bought into. It’s a narrative that shapes our decisions because of what we believe the good life is. This story tells us that achieving the good life depends on “high consumption and quick disposal.” This social narrative of wanting more wealth and possessions is at the root of the choices individuals and governments make. So is there another story we can buy into to help nature?

In short, yes. This other story is suggested by the co-chair of the report. Professor Sandra Diaz tells outlines this new story: “We need to shift it to an idea of a fulfilling life that is more aligned with a good relationship with nature, and a good relationship with other people, with the public good.”[2] This story is about another kind of good life. A more sustainable one that places the value of relationships above consuming more.

I like this story, even if I don’t know yet know how to live it. Though I do wonder whether we humans can ever be relied on to change things?

It’s difficult to know where this story will end for nature. This is where I have hope. It is not a misplaced hope with everything crossed. It’s a hope based on someone who I believe can deliver promises. And this person has promised a different kind of end to this story. Ok, admittedly, you may not buy into this story, but if you think it’s worth further thought, I will share an outcome for nature very different from the dire predictions we’ve heard this week.

This narrative predicts the only way the natural world can survive and thrive is not with a change of story but a change of nature itself. The nature of humans, and the nature in which this world is governed. This story predicts only the intervention of God himself can bring about sufficient change. We are given a view into what nature looks like in a soon-coming world tomorrow:

“The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”[3]

If you want to find out more about this knowledge, please contact us ON 01858 437099 (during business hours) or drop us a question anytime at info@gracecom.church.

Notes:

[1] This groaning is the state the Bible suggests the natural world is already in: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Romans 8:22 (NIV).

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-48133143

[3] The Bible, Isaiah 11:6-9 (NIV)

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