Friday, 13 November 2009

God Loves Green


It should be obvious that God loves green, he made so much of it. So why is it that a significant number of Christians figure that trying to combat Climate Change is against his will?

This is an admittedly long blog exploring the question as it applies to the book of Revelation. Revelation is always a minefield when it comes to making pronouncements and like the many other people who have rather bizarre interpretations of the book I’m similarly unencumbered by a theology degree; though unlike many I’m also lacking in the milleniumism department.

Assuming that someone actually reads this blog who doesn’t know the Bible very well - Revelation is the last book in the Bible and rounds it off in spectacular style, with a grande conclusion where everything’s sorted, shiny and perpetually new. It’s the bit in between that causes all the controversy. Despite what many people think, Revelation isn’t a complete bloodbath: the first three chapters are mini letters to actual 1st century churches in Turkey and the last two are the happy finalĂ©. Amongst the remaining 17 chapters only Chapters 6, half of 8, 9, half of 11 and 16 have an apparent bearing on the subject. And to cut to the chase, one verse stand out in terms of clarity with respect to God’s judgment:

“...The time has come to reward your servants, the prophets, and all your people, all who have reverence for you, great and small alike. The time has come to destroy those who destroy the earth.” Rev 11:18b.

We'll need to look at a number of facets of the Bible to show why this is the case.

Scripture Interprets Scripture

OK. What this means is that you shouldn’t jump to conclusions about verses in the Bible until you’ve grasped the whole thing. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation, but it’s helped because some parts of the Bible are clearer than others. For example, the Bible certainly does say “God Is Love” - ( John’s first letter, Chapter 4, verses 8 and 16). The Bible also says God gets angry (e.g. Romans 1:18). Since the Bible never says “God is anger” we conclude that God’s anger is secondary to his love, and moreover, it should be understood in the context of him being Love itself. The Bible itself confirms this when it says in several places:

“The Lord is slow to become angry and full of constant love” (e.g. Psalm 145 v 8).

So it’s not wise to apply isolated verses, for example even my quote of Rev 11:18b above, unless the verse somehow fits into the general flow of the Bible. So, if the Bible claims God thought it was a really good idea to create an amazing universe and earth then even verses that appear to talk about God wanting to destroy it should be read cautiously.

Revelation Is Highly Symbolic

Of all the books in the Bible, when it comes to the book of Revelation, we have to tread carefully, because it really is very symbolic. For example, in Chapter 1 v 16 Jesus is described as having a sharp two-edged sword coming out of his mouth. The writer (John) isn’t saying that Jesus is gagging because of a dangerous obstruction. He’s merely expressing the power of Jesus’ voice. Later Jesus’ voice is described like a powerful waterfall. It doesn’t mean John felt like he was being deafened by crashing hiss and couldn’t make out what was being said. Similarly, chapter 12 is about a woman, a son and a Dragon. It’s very weird with the dragon throwing 33% of all stars from heaven; trying to kill both her and her son and them being whisked away from danger. Actually, it’s a highly symbolic description of the Good News of Jesus. Relax, it’s happened.

But just because it’s symbolic, it doesn’t mean it’s just useless and confusing. It’s really like that to inspire and encourage - you might think your life is pretty humdrum, but from God’s perspective it’s all completely wild!

Not Everything That Happens In Revelation Is Done By God

Let’s look at a bit of Revelation that’s all about destruction. Chapter 6 is about four horsemen. What happens is that the ‘Lamb’ (a symbol for Jesus) opens five ‘scrolls’ and four horses and riders pop out and cause havoc: War, Taxes (maybe), Death and Martyrdom. The last scroll causes lots of devastation: the sun goes dark, the moon goes red; stars fall out the sky and the sky disappears.

So, assuming this is a prophecy about actual earthly devastation (which it might not be), then does it mean that Jesus is basically killing everyone and wreaking the planet?

No. And this is why: because the fifth scroll represents martyrs and Jesus certainly doesn’t kill his followers. My personal take on it is this: Jesus’ opening sealed scrolls (which in ancient times typically contained proclamations) means Jesus is simply revealing things; not doing the things that are being revealed.

Similarly, in Chapter 8, angles blow trumpets and all sorts of ‘earthly’ disasters happen. For example:
“Hail and fire, mixed with blood, came ouring down on the earth. A third of the earth was burnt up, a third of the trees, and every blade of green grass.”
Nasty. But again, none of this is attributed to God in chapters 8 and 9. Instead these things happen after an Angel (which means “God’s messenger”) blows a trumpet (“i.e. makes an announcement). The latter part of chapter 9 is about disasters that fall on people via human/horse-looking locusts headed by an ‘angel’ king called “The Destroyer.” I’d hazard a guess, but with a name like “Destroyer” this king and henchmen are probably not on God’s side. And in any case it’s centred on people, not the ecology (in fact in v4 the ‘locusts’ are told not to harm plants, only people).

God’s Anger Isn’t Like Ours

Even when God is angry, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s acting directly - he may be acting through someone or something else. And it doesn’t mean that if he’s acting through people that these people are God’s faithful people.

For example, let’s look at Jeremiah 25. Jeremiah takes place during the reign of the last kings of Judah (the ‘better’ half of Israel) and covers the destruction of the country, primarily through the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. In chapter 25 we read this (from v9):
“I am going to send for all the peoples from the north and for my servant, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia. I am going to bring them to fight against Judah and its inhabitants and against all the neighbouring nations. I am going to destroy this nation and its neighbours and leave them in ruins for ever, a terrible and shocking sight.”
Here, Nebuchadnezzar is called God’s servant. But it’s clear from other Old Testament books that he isn’t one of God’s people - he acknowledges God sometimes, but basically he’s a ruthless pagan tyrant. He’s not one of the good guys, he doesn’t live an exemplary life, you wouldn’t want to meet him.

So, God sends Nebuchadnezzar to invade Judah, but the commands he gives to Judah aren’t to join or support the Babylonian army or act like them. Instead we read, a few chapters earlier:
“The Lord told me to go to the palace of the king of Judah, the descendant of David, and there tell the king, his officials and the people of Jerusalem to listen to what the Lord had said: ‘I the Lord, command you to do what is just and right. Protect the person who is being cheated from the one who is cheating him. Do not ill-treat or oppress foreigners, orphans or widows; and not kill innocent people in this holy place. If you really do as I have commanded, then David’s descendants will continue to be kings...’” Jer 22:1-4a
The only way to take this is that God’s punishment is to allow evil people and their forces to destroy Judah for their failure to be just and right. So, the people who bring the disasters are destructive (and wrong) and the solution is to act justly, righteously and lovingly.

In the modern context, surely it means this. If as Chapter 16 implies, God has an ultimate intention of bringing environmental disaster then those who bring it - i.e. those who cause environmental damage are themselves the bad guys, not God’s people, i.e. the equivalent of the ‘Babylonian Army’.

Furthermore, God’s commandment to us is to act righteously. At the time, it wouldn’t have been an excuse to say “Well God is sending the Babylonians to trash the place so I might as well grab all I can and dispose of anyone who gets in my way while it’s possible.” In a similar way it’s not acceptable to say “Well God is sending an environmental disaster, so I might as well buy a new SUV, invest in ExxonMobil and go on yearly holidays to Mexico.”

In this sense God is acting like a Gaia hypothesis. The Gaia hypothesis treats the earth as a living organism, which acts a reassert its survival if threatened. In this case we threaten the earth and so Gaia would bring disasters in order to eliminate the threat - the important thing being that the organism survives, even if we don’t.

I’m not sure that Chapter 16 of Revelation (the 7 bowls of God’s anger) applies in our near future, even if you read Revelation as actual predications of the future. There’s two main reasons: firstly, since we don’t know when Jesus returns we don’t know when any of this other stuff would happen either. Secondly, when it happens may be conditional on our behaviour, as in Jeremiah 22. For as long as we act justly, it won’t happen.


We have to be careful about how we interpret the book of Revelation - it’s symbolic for precisely that purpose. If we take a consistent look at what God is like and how we’re supposed to be then we find that what is there makes sense and holds together. God loves us yet detests people abusing his creation. If we push him far enough though he can relent - allowing disaster to fall, even allowing it through the actions of evil people and systems. In the end though, as it says in Rev 11:16b:
“...The time has come to reward your servants, the prophets, and all your people, all who have reverence for you, great and small alike. The time has come to destroy those who destroy the earth.”
God, right now, wants us to combat climate change. Over a period of 250 years we’ve transformed our society from largely agrarian to highly industrialised. 19th century Christians saw the implications of industrialisation and fought hard for better living and working conditions for its victims. It’s time for us to take this baton of God’s love and carry it into the 21st century.

In part 2 I’ll look at some of the practical consequences of what’s actually happening here and now. I’ll be looking at why compassion for South American orphans, Ghanians in shanti towns; Bangladeshis, Sub-Sarahan Africans, Assamese Indians means caring for the planet and why God’s healing is so much more than just a Band-aid on a near-fatal wound.

And they’ll be more pictures!

Friday, 9 October 2009

Sinclair vs Acorn Footsoldier Memoirs

Watching BBC Four's
Micro Men last night took me back a few decades to when I was a lowly footsoldier for Sinclair in the 1980s. There's no doubt, the company rivalry that took place in Cambridge was mirrored in every schoolyard in the UK. And the drama was good, the BBC got the feel of the whole, crazy techwar down to a tee; from the seat-of-the-pants entrepreneurialism to the acceptability of smoking; to interspersing real 80s footage with the drama; to the personal obsessions of the rivals.

But what of the footsoldiers? Being only 12 to 15 at the time I was oblivious to the internal politics but well aware of the day-to-day conflict. There's no doubt, the rich kids got the Beebs and the scruffnecks got the Speccies. Worse still, school patronage of Acorn disadvantaged the more ordinary kids because schools often wouldn't let them do computer science homework and projects on their Speccies whereas the richer kids could do their homework on their computers - moreover, teachers would take school BBC micros home over the weekend so their middle-class kids could get extra time for free. We had to pay for our disadvantage!

OK, so how important was all this? For us, it meant something because we were developers and not just users. Our machines were platforms for our future careers where we learnt primarily problem-solving skills that would equip us for life. Consider how these 'toys' were the springboard for the British video games industry to the point where 80s kids still dominate these companies because modern children almost never learn to program. And consider how many of the younger generation of software developers still say, "yeah well I learnt to program on an old Amstrad CPC that was tossed to me in my teens..."

The true beauty and power of these machines was their simplicity - which is also what fuelled the tribalism so effectively. The Spectrum was a terrible computer, I went through 4 or 5 before I got one that worked! It had an awful keyboard; a slow BASIC language; a painful printer; chronic expansion potential and embarrassingly blocky colour. But at least it wasn't a BEEB with it's overpriced, snotty-nosed elitism; painful 6502 processor; weedy 32Kb RAM; boring motherboard and pebble-dashed casing. Yuk ;-)

If you really want to relive some of this you need more than an emulator - so why not check out Libby8dev : A spare-time tribute home micro built with A powerful Z80, RAM, Firmware and glue logic on Veroboard. Yep, I figured out how to do the entire glue logic with a single microcontroller! For only £9.99 I'll send you an AVR + firmware IC and it'll be a doddle to build. Then you can join the team and share in the world of shoe-string development with its crazy highs and lows; missed deadlines and geektastic experience full of wires, hacked circuits and solder-singed eyebrows. You also get the weekly project memoranda in courier 10-pitch!

Monday, 21 September 2009

iBook G3 Jaunty Jackalope Update!

As promised here's the update for the progress on my installation of Xubuntu Jaunty Jackalope on my G3 iBook.

The basic problem was this, I have an old 128Mb USB flash stick, but it won't mount on the computer. I had had the same problems when running an earlier version of Xubuntu on my iBook and I had thought it was to do with USB Flash disk support or FAT support on PowerPC / Apple hardware. But this time, because I really like Jaunty Jackalope, I really wanted to get it working.

It's possible you've found similar problems. You plug in a USB Flash drive and it doesn't mount. You can check what it should look like when you mount by sticking in your Xubuntu installation CD (I had to type
eject at the terminal to get the tray to eject) - it should pop up in the Thunar file manager window.

But with my USB Flash drive that didn't happen. After some investigation I found that the program dmesg (which logs debugging messages from the kernel) had this log at the end:

[98622.283596] sd 1:0:0:0: [sda] 256000 512-byte hardware sectors: (131 MB/125 MiB)
[98622.293940] sd 1:0:0:0: [sda] Write Protect is off
[98622.293964] sd 1:0:0:0: [sda] Mode Sense: 00 00 00 00
[98622.293972] sd 1:0:0:0: [sda] Assuming drive cache: write through
[98622.345699] sd 1:0:0:0: [sda] 256000 512-byte hardware sectors: (131 MB/125 MiB)
[98622.362888] sd 1:0:0:0: [sda] Write Protect is off
[98622.362912] sd 1:0:0:0: [sda] Mode Sense: 00 00 00 00
[98622.362921] sd 1:0:0:0: [sda] Assuming drive cache: write through

The Mode Sense bit is where it first goes wrong. It wasn't to do with file system support, because it was never able to read even the first sector. I found out from some Linux bug lists that some USB Flash drives simply don't read in Linux. I've got a good hunch as to why. It's because the testing procedure for most Flash drives probably isn't that rigorous. They test the hardware with Windows (and maybe Mac OS X) and as long as it works there they're happy.

The solution is to try another USB Flash Disk. I tried a friend's and hey presto, it worked!

So, I then tried connecting my Nokia N95 via USB and that worked, here's the image.

So, the moral of the story is: try another Flash Disk!

Friday, 18 September 2009

Jaunty Jackalope on an iBook G3

Well, I managed to get an Xubuntu edition of Jaunty Jackalope to go and in the end it was pretty easy! Moreover, the experience is fantastic, it runs at a decent speed and of course it gives me access to Firefox 3 (3.0.14 as I write); which is much better than FF 2!

It's certainly fun enough to use it right now to write this blog. At first I had been having problems with a blank screen and then some stupid messages in psychedelic colours about Xubuntu running in low resolution mode and the helps I'd seen on the internet only told me to edit my xorg.conf file and that didn't do the trick. So, here's my sumarised tutorial:

First, I obtained Xubuntu from here. In my case I downloaded the CD image using Feisty Fawn on my iBook; burned the CD and then burned another CD which contained all the documents in my home directory (as I'm too dumb to stick my home directory in a special partition :-S )!

Then I found a tutorial on getting Xubuntu running on an iBook.

The key thing was getting the boot process right. The correct thing is to boot from the CD (by holding down 'c' as it chimes until you see the message telling you it's booting from the live cd). Then you press TAB and you see a list of possible boot images. You can't select the list using tab or anything like that - it's just a text message. An iBook G3 should boot from a particular image "live-nosplash-powerpc" so I literally typed:


At the prompt, then and it (eventually) booted into the graphical desktop with a messed up resolution (as I expected). But the colours were right and text was readable. Then I followed the tutorial. After installing Jaunty onto the whole disk I found the mac would boot correctly into Xubuntu with the Splash screen and it all worked OK. It made me immediately install a whole bunch of updates and then I installed the JDK so I could play around with Java Swing development on this machine.

All in all, a major success! Before you can copy my success you might need to know the specs of my machine. It's an iBook 600MHz with 640Mb of RAM and a 60Gb HD. The initial install only required about 2.8Gb; I've installed a bit more since then.

There is still one gripe - I'll come to that in a new blog, but for now the old iBook has YET ANOTHER lease of life, life in abundance :-) !

(Updated 19/09/09: Although I used the right link, I provided the wrong link for the Xubuntu download, but I've corrected it now!)

Thursday, 4 June 2009

On Being Moved By Resting Bodies

I took a walk round the graveyard of St. James' Anglican church in Didsbury on Sunday. Interesting place. Loads of chicken-wire type grating over most of the windows, which is a pity since the actual stained glass imagery behind would have looked so much nicer. And it seems like the place isn't totally well kempt.

I found a tomb. There's about 8 bodies resting in it and as I started to read it, it moved me. It tells a story of a 19th century family: the Bibbys from Levenshulme. It begins with Eliza, Thomas & Mary's 20 month-old toddler who died in 1803. Then there's the 1 day-old Edward who died 2 1/2 years later. And there's Daniel Burton (10) who died 15 years later aged 20 days and two other brothers: Thomas (10) and James (18) who died within 3 days of each other in 1927.

I started to think about how much grief this family had had to put up with. So many children they undoubtably loved and yet lost over such a long period. How did they carry on? Could we have done the same?

And it gets worse - Mary, their mother died in 1826; so Thomas had to endure the loss of two more sons only a year after the mother. And he himself only lasted another 9 years. I'm stunned. How did people hang on with such trauma?But then I noticed something else. Another name. At the end, Mary, another daughter (their only remaining one?): died in 1891 aged an incredible 87 years.

I think what it says is that these people had real faith in a way rarely seen today. They ploughed on when most of us would have given up. And it bore lasting fruit in the long-term - maybe Mary's descendents are around today. I was moved.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Let's Play Remythology™

A facebook friend of mine: James Alden commented on a Independent article from March 7, 2009 where it said:

"when you sit around pretending your life is eternal and for ever, you use it casually and wastefully, like any other resource you imagine is not going to run out"

I didn't originally get why James pointed it out (he was referring to the reckless attitude within the financial sector), though the context of the original article seemed to be an Atheist take on the meaning of eternal life.

I've seen this kind of thinking before from Atheist writers; beginning with Dawkin's Guardian commentary on the 9/11 bombings. Since I've never seen anything like this idea in the Bible; nor any other Christian book or article; nor from any Christian talk; nor from my Christian friends, I'm somewhat at a loss for where the idea comes from.

Well, that's not quite true - I could see where the idea comes from if all you ever knew about Christianity was that Christians believe they have an automatic eternal life, regardless of their actual values. but it doesn't really make sense (to me) if you know even a smidgen more. If you believe God made the universe and it was a good thing, then obviously trashing his creation ain't going to thrill him too much. If you think God is serious with his commands about how to treat people with love and respect then wasting yours or others lives seems to me to be counter to his plans. If you read the Gospels you realise it's about your heart, not your excuses: signing up to Jesus isn't a licence for taking liberties which is why Paul in his letter to the Romans argues that God's grace isn't an excuse for doing wrong.

The point is, it's where your heart is and Jesus changes people's hearts. So I'm wondering what's going on here. What could it be if it's not a deliberate game of 'deconstructionism'?

My best answer is this: what if the two sides just aren't talking to each other? What if the majority of Christians have written off the Atheists because 'they'll never be able to see what the message is about' and the Atheists have given up on the Christians, because they are beyond reason? What if we're mostly just listening to ourselves imagining what the other thinks, but not actually communicating?

What if we're all playing Remythology™?

[I'll blog this for the moment and put the links in place when I can.]