All posts by PaulW

Working at McDonalds taught this person empathy

Form Stuff: I thought working at McDonald’s was beneath me, but I was wrong.


Celebrated Hero in ‘Zeitoun’ Book Faces Murder Charges in New Orleans –

This is so sad. Zeitoun was a book I loved reading earlier this year and raved about to everyone.

Unfortunately, Mr Zeitoun hasn’t shown the same strength of character and goodness he displayed earlier in life and during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. His ex-wife, Kathy Zeitoun, says that while the Zeitoun family life portrayed in Dave Eggers’ book was accurate, in the last few years Abdulrahman Zeitoun has become violent, angry and “radicalised” as a Muslim.

My flatmate and me are really disappointed – the world needs more heroes. But we both feel we shouldn’t judge. We didn’t go through what Abdulrahman Zeitoun went through in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

And people do change, even people who shown heroism and courage, often for the worse. I remember thinking what a cool sort Lance Armstrong was after reading It’s Not About the Bike. But in later books he came across as arrogant and full of himself.

Our heroes also have clay-feet. Martin Luther-King, for all of courage and principle (and clear Christian faith) was a womaniser. My prayers are with Kathy Zeitoun and her children. And I hope Abdulrahman Zeitoun finds the path of righteousness and integrity again.

Coverage of the Pussy Riot Trial and Imprisonment from the Christian Think-tank Ekklesia

This is an overview of the Pussy Riot trial and imprisonment from the British Christian think-tank Ekklesia, which leans to the left theologically and politically. The article makes two points which haven’t been highlighted by most of the other media:

 In the performance, the musicians walked into the cathedral, donned brightly-colored balaclavas and began to gesticulate and dance in front of the altar. Their actions were filmed as a video and set to music with the lyrics “O Birthgiver of God, Get Rid of Putin” and an expletive as a refrain.


The video went viral, shocking many Russians and infuriating the Kremlin and the Orthodox hierarchy, but also setting off a debate in the church about the role of forgiveness and mercy in Orthodoxy.

Two opinion pieces from the Moscow Times about the Pussy Riot Verdict

The Moscow Times has two very good opinion pieces about the verdict against Pussy Riot last Friday. This very good one from Garry Kasparov (former World Chess Champion) is in contrast to the blog post I linked to yesterday about the verdict. Kasparov says:

Despite whispers of leniency, I never doubted that a conviction and prison term would result. Not because they violated anything in the Criminal Code, which, as of this writing, is still freely available on the Internet. No, Pussy Riot’s actions were hateful toward religion only in breaking the First Commandment of today’s Russia, “Thou shalt not take Putin’s name in vain.”

Yulia Latynina uses the verdict against the band to draw a contrast between the civil religion and idolatry of Partriarch Kirill and Vladimir Putin (Homo Orthodoxus – “Human Orthodoxy”) and the Christianity of genuine Russian Orthodoxy:

The Pussy Riot case is a useful case study to understand the religious views of a large segment of Russia’s Orthodox Christian community, a group I will call “Homo Orthodoxus.”

First, this belief holds that God does not forgive. A typical example: During a recent demonstration against Pussy Riot, an Orthodox activist screamed “God does not forgive, and to claim otherwise is blasphemy,” while beating a female supporter of the punk group. This unforgiving nature is such an important characteristic of God for the Homo Orthodoxus believers that they hold it in a category apart from the direct commandments of Christ.

Despite evidence of the presence of an oppressive police state in Russia night now, it’s great to see the presence of an articulate civil society in that country too.

A reminder to always question the media

This post from Eastern Orthodox Blog Get Religion about the media coverage of P***y Riot’s protest flashmob song at Christ our Saviour Russian Orthodox Church, and the band’s subsequent conviction, shows the need to regularly question the perspective of our regular media outlets.

The author of this post claims that it was “unbalanced and inaccurate journalism for the mainstream American press, in story after story, to essentially ignore the details of what the protesters said and did and where they did it”.

Note: neither the author nor I am not supportive of the two-year sentence handed down by the Russian judiciary for this act – even the Russian Orthodox Church has questioned the severity of the punishment. But this may be the unintended consequence of well-intentioned laws designed to discourage religious hate speech against, Muslims, Jews, Orthodox Christians …

Brief review of Jon Gordon, ‘The Seed: Finding Purpose and Happiness in Life and Work’

This is not a full review. Instead, it’s some thoughts on Jon Gordan’s The Seed: Finding Purpose and Happiness in Life and Work. You can find an excellent full review here at Goodreads (*Warning: Spoiler Alert*).

I found this an endearing and good-hearted business fable.

One lesson in The Seed has resonated with me. The main character learns that he won’t find his purpose in life by going around and looking for it. Rather, he finds it by planting himself where he is, serving others, and investing what he does now with purpose. By doing this, the main character’s purpose finds him. At this point in my life, this has been an encouraging lesson.

The Seed isn’t going to win any prizes as a great piece of literature. In places, it’s saccharine and cheesy, but I feel it’s heart is in the right place. This may not be a book for you if you cannot sympathise with the Evangelical theology of Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Life (Jon Gordon tells his story of becoming a Christian here).

One aspect of the book that raised big questions for me is that its story promotes the idea that God regularly gives us “signs” to guide us and we should regularly look for them. I am not sure this is inherently healthy for anyone. I know many people where this idea has led to superstition and poor choices.

Writing as a believer in God, I believe that God can give us signs now and then, which give us assurance or guidance about a momentous decision, or a direction we should take in life. But when I read the book of Proverbs or Torah or epistle of James, I see that God is much more concerned with us developing the ability to make wise decisions for ourselves. Rather, than seeking signs, genuine faith seeks and cultivates the wisdom needed to make good decisions.

Ten Happiest Jobs

Last week, Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed, drew attention to this Forbes article on the Ten Happiest Jobs.

At the top of the list of the happiest vocations were clergy. I mentioned this to a friend of mine, who snidely commented, “Yeah, I suppose talking to your imaginary friend would make you happy.”

I said, “Do you have a clue about what clergy do? They often see people at their most vulnerable and they make a difference. It’s a helping profession where you can help someone going through a divorce, a family experiencing grief or someone suffering from depression. It’s also a job full of social interaction. And studies show this affects job satisfaction the most.”

The articles links to Todd May, who argues in an opinion piece for the New York Times that “A meaningful life must, in some sense then, feel worthwhile.  The person living the life must be engaged by it.  A life of commitment to causes that are generally defined as worthy — like feeding and clothing the poor or ministering to the ill — but that do not move the person participating in them will lack meaningfulness in this sense. However, for a life to be meaningful, it must also be worthwhile. Engagement in a life of tiddlywinks does not rise to the level of a meaningful life, no matter how gripped one might be by the game.” This is why those jobs with better pay and higher social status are less likely to produce happiness than lower status jobs such as clergy.

I would like to read the study and see if there is a break down of the No. 1 job by religion (e.g. Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim), theological tradition within the religion (e.g. mainline, progressive, Evangelical) and gender.  Do these factors affect job satisfaction and rating?

From the Christian pastors I know, I know their job isn’t all happiness. But unlike a lot of other jobs, pastoral ministry is often a role where there is a huge chance for personal growth and change. You can grow into and with your role. This helps to create resilience. For example, a pastor of a church I went to as a teenager was a typical Pentecostal fundamentalist, but after 10 years of pastoral ministry in another place, facing some personal trials, and theological study, he was a changed, chastened person. And a better minister. Studies show that feeling that you are still growing and being challenged in your roles is linked to job satisfaction.