Sunday, February 26, 2006

Animal rights?

I often walk past the animal testing lab in Oxford as it's on the way to my faculty, and it's not uncommon to see animal rights protestors demonstrating outside. Animal rights protestors are especially visible in Oxford, but they're even more high-profile this term, thanks in large part to the declaration of the Animal Liberation Front, the extremist wing of these protestors (who are willing to resort to violence), that even students were not off-limits.

So, finally, someone had had enough, and organised a counter protest, called, rather ingeniously, Pro-Test. You can read more about it here.

Anyway, I was just wondering what an informed Christian view on animal rights might look like. Broadly speaking, humans are of course meant to be stewards of the earth and to care for the Earth, including animals(Genesis 2:15, 19-20). After all, creation is good (as is pretty obvious in Genesis 1). So, there's no way we can condone animal cruelty for the sake of it. At the same time, human beings are especially important (Genesis 1:26-28), imbued with dignity not granted to animals, and their lives must obviously take precedence over animal ones. To that end, animal experimentation might be useful in medical research, which can be used to save more lives. (Although some animal rights group dispute this).

But I was just wondering if anyone has anything to add beyond the rather broad principles sketched above? Are there more complicated ethical issues involved?

Reflections on being a CU Rep (2)

Being in Christian leadership is not about waiting till you're perfect before you accept - otherwise, we'll be waiting till kingdom come. One of the aphorisms I liked was that to be a rep, all you need is to be FAT - Faithful, Available, and Teachable. Well, of course one's gifts would be taken into consideration too, but character is the essential criteria, I guess.

Nevertheless, that didn't mean I didn't have apprehensions before accepting. Here's a couple:
Not being British. You might think, hang on, what's that got to do with anything? And certainly, I think for some non-Brits, that's not an issue at all. But I often find that it takes more time for me to be able to connect with a Brit, and so leading a CU full of Brits did make me wary! And over the course of the year, this did get in the way occasionally, as I didn't always understand the way the Brits do things. Of course, some people might claim that this is an advantage because I'm doing something different!

Witnessing. The main aim of the CU is to present the claims of Jesus to other members of the university, and that was certainly a scary prospect. It's easy to fall into the numbers game and wonder whether the fact that I've never "led anyone to Christ" (which can be a misleading statement) means that somehow one is more deficient than others. I had to remedy that way of thinking pretty quickly.

Busyness. Which turned out to be a valid, since I underestimated just how much work repping entailed!

Repping, as it turned out, came with a high frustration factor, and I've come to realise that no matter what aspect of Christian leadership you're in, whether pastoring a church, or being involved in a parachurch/mission organisation, or even if you're simply a small-group Bible study leader, this will always be the case. Things don't go the way you plan. People disappoint you. You go on and on about how important prayer is and then no one shows up at the prayer meeting. Or worse, you know your own prayer life isn't as it should be.

And there were other difficulties as well. A plural leadership is always encouraged, but what that means is that one is always working with other people who (thankfully) don't all fall down in awe at all the brilliant ideas you have. My co-rep and I don't do things the same way, and on occasion we might have very slight disagreements on theological matters. I'm less enthusiastic about my college chapel than he is, for example. But it was good to learn that simple but vital lesson, because it will be the same everywhere.

One of the hardest aspects was when a difficult pastoral issue popped up last term in my CU, and it certainly caused me to reflect a lot on the nature of Christian community. I'm not at liberty to elaborate, but I had to sit down with a friend of mine and have a serious chat that dealt with some core issues of her identity, which was quite a terrifying thing to do! Thankfully, with much prayer and also counsel from some wiser heads, it went well for the most part, but I never imagined for one moment that I would ever have to do such a thing while repping.

But even then, as I look back over the year, I've seen some subtle but positive changes as well, proof that God was working. I think about the fact that the core of my CU now turns up for early morning prayer week after week without any need for prompting. I think in particular of one girl who didn't want to have anything to do with the CU in her first year, but after joining us, grew from "a spirit of timidity" to one of confidence where her zeal for evangelism is infectious. I think about how the simple fact that we decided to meet in people's rooms (we're a small enough CU to do that) helped tremendously in strengthening bonds of friendship. I think of answered prayer to have an extrovert Christian in our midst to challenge our introvert-dominated CU. I think of the common vision that our CU shared during Love Actually.

I think I was helped too by the fact that we had a particularly gifted exec the year I was repping (well, in my opinion anyway!), plus being encouraged from the Word. Ps. Julian Hardyman, who's at Eden Baptist Cambridge preached at our Reps induction and he was extremely penetrating, and Rico Tice, evangelist at All Souls, preached a superb sermon on hell - not the easiest topic to talk about! - last term.

My term as rep is coming to an end, but I know for sure that long after I am gone, God will continue to grow the work here in Oxford, as He's done for the last 127 years. Soli deo gloria.

† Expand post

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Reflections on being a CU Rep

Needless to say, you can love people without leading them, but you cannot lead people without loving them. - John Maxwell

This is our real "Program": faith in Christ, fellowship with Christ, faithfulness to Christ, fruitfulness for Christ. - Richard Baxter

Being at CU today was a real joy. As we looked at the resurrection in John, sang In Christ Alone, one of my all-time favourites (I guarantee you that if human history lasts that long, this one will be around for centuries to come), and then got dragged to the bar to embarrass myself at the pool table, I'm truly grateful to God and OICCU for entrusting me with the job of leading the college CU (or repping, to use the jargon).

At the same time, it is with excitement that I am passing the baton in a couple of week's time.

Let me briefly explain the structure of OICCU, which is often so confusing to outsiders. Quite simply, because Oxford University is a collegiate university(only Cambridge can truly be said to be comparable), we have both college groups, that is, the college CU, which is part of OICCU, which is quite simply all the college CUs together, and the central entity. There is an executive committee - many past presidents have gone on to serve God in pastoral ministry and in the mission field, you might recognise a few famous names! - and college groups are led by Reps.

I still remember that feeling of incredulity when I was first asked to consider repping. Firstly, those moving on to their third years aren't normally considered, although it's by no means uncommon, and secondly, well, me? At the same time, it was certainly pretty exciting. Let's face it, our motives are rarely pure, so there was some internal chest-beating going on because deep inside you're actually thinking I'm soooo mature. I have been asked to be Rep! My holiness quotient's above average! (You soon learn that what has actually happened is that your IQ dropped by several points, hence the delusional state.)

So despite not touching a drop of alcohol, I probably was sloshed, because I accepted. (Rationalization: drunk in the Holy Spirit. Yep, that's it. It was the Holy Ghost.) Note to others considering leadership positions in the future: the proper way to go about is to pray about it, talk with others, and look at your own gifts. The proper way is NOT to get high, say yes impulsively, and then claim that it was those pesky voices in your head that told you to do it.

[To be continued]

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Life in the trenches

It's been a long time hasn't it? What will follow will be a whirlwind of stuff, so don't look for details.

Rethinking 1 Corinthians 7
I've just finished looking through 1 Corinthians 7(NIV) for tomorrow's Bible study. I'm not leading it, although as the co-leader I'm still required to do some prep to lend my co-leader a helping hand should he need one!

When the Bible study group leaders were taught this passage last week (we're looking at the first 16 verses) it was certainly an eye-opener for me. I knew vaguely that this was the supposed chapter on marriage and singleness, but actually studying it in-depth for the first time helped me see just how much confusion there is around this passage.

In particular, I never realised that the NIV didn't do a great job of translating this chapter. So right off from the bat, in verse 1, the NIV's "it is good for a man not to marry" is increasingly falling out of favour today. If you look at the footnote the alternative translation is "it is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman", which is the translation favoured by more literal translations - even the TNIV now favours the latter. Literally, in the Greek it's rendered "good for a man not to touch a woman" - which is apparently a euphemism for sexual relations in those days. (It also makes sense in light of what Paul has been arguing for in chapters 5 and 6; the letter flows better.) And that immediately blows to pieces all the popular teaching I've heard concerning this passage! (The NIV also translates a couple of things awkwardly later on in this chapter).

Among other things I was struck by was how pro-sex and pro-marriage God really is. I'm sure we've all heard sermons on how God's plan for sex is the best, but this passage really hammers that truth home. In verses 3-5 sex within marriage is celebrated as something to be enjoyed equally by husband and wife, and verses 10-16 shows how much God treasures marriage, to the extent that a believer should not divorce his/her unbelieving spouse. I found verse 14 especially one that really struck me, since I grew up in those sort of conditions.

I could go on and on, but I shouldn't, have other things to blog about. Just one other surprising fact, or surprising to me anyway. Apparently quite a few commentators believe that Paul was married at one time!

I'll start writing another extended essay this week, this time on postcolonial literature, focusing in particular on Coetzee and early Rushdie. It was a little ironic that I started reading The Satanic Verses at around the same time the Danish cartoon controversy fanned into flame (no pun intended). Since at its core it's essentially the same issue with both - Rushdie and the Danish cartoonist both depicted the Prophet in a way that was unacceptable to Muslims, and in both cases, many reacting without actually having read the book/seen the cartoons.

I'm less confident about this essay than I was on Dickinson last term though. The theoretical aspects of this paper are more difficult, I feel, and there's a huger range of material to cover, and I guess I received good teaching on Dickinson last term.

Speaking of which, my final tutorial - ever! - is this Wednesday! I'm finding it hard to believe that my university years have whizzed by so fast. I can still remember my first tutorial like it was last month.

Love Actually
As you might or might not have gathered from a previous posting of mine, Christians here at Oxford University had put on a series of events to tell others of Jesus and the Christian faith. In some ways, those two weeks might have benefitted me more than non-Christians! It was really just hugely encouraging to see so many of us sharing the common vision and finding that sharing the gospel is less hard than it sounds.

Here in my college, it's been great to see how God worked in one particular person, Anna(not her real name). She grew up in a nominal Christian home, and having come to university, began to feel that she should really know more about why she should call herself a Christian and whether there was anything to it. She found a KJV in her home over Christmas and started reading it for the first time, not really understanding it. Then this series of events came along at just the right time for her; her friends bringing her to a couple of events. She's really, really keen to learn more about Jesus and the Bible. So having explored a couple of options, I thought that someone doing a one-to-one, reading the Bible with her, and John's Gospel in particular (since those were what we gave out) would be good. I did it as a one-off on Friday, and it was really fun as we went through John 1:1-18. Obviously, this can't be a long-term arrangement, since a guy-girl one-to-one is probably a no-no, so I'm looking for someone to replace me (plus I've got Finals coming up!). But yeah, I thought it was just great to see how God works in each individual's particular story, and how He uses various people at particular points of somebody's story.

And I'm stepping down as CU Rep in a fortnight's time! It's been quite a challenging and humbling experience really, but I did enjoy the ride. I'm looking forward to handing over though!

I actually updated my reading and movie lists on the sidebar a couple of weeks ago, but for some reason, after a few days it reverted back to the previous update. Oh well. Anyway, to sum it up, in recent times I've watched Spielberg's Munich and the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line. I had high expectations for the former and felt slightly disappointed. It seemed to me as if Spielberg settled too easily for a simplistic tone, and for some reason, I didn't feel that much sympathy for Avner, the lead character. That's not to say it's bad, and I suspect others will disagree with me on this point. I enjoyed the latter, although I sort of see why it didn't make the cut for Best Picture (Oscar). Jeffrey Overstreet has a superb review on the latter, and I agree with him that we never truly get a real insight into Cash the man, although I think he might be a little harsher than me in his final assessment.

Dang, Nate Robinson is the Slam-Dunk Champion! And I'm barely two inches shorter than him!

Watch out for them Mavericks.

And when Amare comes back, watch out for them Suns.

But don't take your eye off the Pistons and Spurs.

Other stuff
Sorry for the hodgepodge nature of this post, only to be expected when I've been away too long. There are plenty of other good bloggers out there though, and let me try to point you in the direction of a few posts that have caught my eye recently (or those I can remember anyway):

Discordant Dude on battling duality and cancer is a good sharp reminder. I love Piper, however, I think Rhett Smith here might have a point. (Ultimately, I think it's just a case of speaking to two different audiences, or making two very particular points).

As always,JollyBlogger has the most balanced treatment of the whole McLaren-on-homosexuality thing. I share his views as articulated here.

I like reading etrangere. She's working for IFES in Belgium in campus ministry there.

*Accessorizing the Gospel. A must-read.

Bah. There's plenty more but I can't dig them all up now. OK, I really must end here.

† Expand post

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Intermission: In this fragile world, you are the only firm foundation...

Everlasting God,
The years go by but You're unchanging
In this fragile world,
You are the only firm foundation

Always loving, always true
Always merciful and good, so good

Yesterday today and forever
You are the same, you never change
Yesterday today and forever
You are faithful and
we will trust in You

Uncreated One
You have no end and no beginning
Earthly powers fade,
But there is no end to your kingdom

Vicky Beeching

If things go alright, maybe there'll be a proper blog post tomorrow! Oh, and happy belated Valentine's day. Are you allowed to send a belated Valentine's greeting? (I guess if you do, then your Valentine becomes your ex-Valentine...)

But yeah, blog posts may fade away, but the word of God stands forever. :)