lessons in balance from law and ethics

I’m studying a subject on law and ethics at the moment, and we’re trying to work out answers to complicated questions. What does it take to keep people doing the right thing? What consequences can be built in to a system so that people are motivated to do the right thing?

We build giant, unaccountable companies that scale up at a tremendous rate, based on the concept that there are infinite resources, or infinite customers, or infinite computer power, but of course, on a finite planet, there are finite resources, finite customers, finite computing power. 

Finding a short-cut to making money, or to growing, companies will take that short-cut, and pay the fine, or take the penalty on the chin, whatever that may be. The challenge with regulation seems to be balancing the cost to the public purse of operating a regulatory body, with the benefit of regulation – keeping groups honest, making a level playing field, and seeing justice carried out.

More disturbing is watching the human consequences when these power structures fail the vulnerable people they’re meant to be caring for. How do you keep people safe, while still running activities that pose a non-zero risk? 

Do you cut down all the trees, so that no-one is hurt climbing them? But what if the trees are full of drop-bears? And is there even a way to present this argument in a way that people will be able to hear it, rather than staying with their particular tribe and automatically take their side?

near end

Near end

There is much to be grateful for in the palliative care ward, which makes those moments that deviate from this path the more noteworthy. Take, for example, this interface decision that was taken on the display of this morphine pump: essentially, a device that pushes down very carefully and consistently on a syringe until the syringe is empty.

This pump is only used – as I understand it – on patients who are very near the end of their lives. And so, I was surprised to note that the wording they have chosen for the error message that indicates the syringe needs to be topped up is “near end”.

As it turns out, these words were not entirely accurate, and yet, as a wise friend said to me, any acute illness will seem – looking back at the end – to have progressed very rapidly indeed. In the throes of caring for someone, it seems to be going for a very long time, but looking back, everything happened very quickly indeed.

missing the obvious

I’ve been burning the candle at both ends a little at the moment even after listening through to the excellent audio book of Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker. The lessons of “the sleep book” were that sleep is been more important than I thought it was, and is linked to better and worse health outcomes than you might expect, its still hard to make the time to rest.

Even when I think through my different commitments at the moment, I miss the obvious: what can I move around that will disappoint the smallest number of people, to make space for the more important things? It takes an external person to even point out what I can “drop” to be able to make that possible.

No matter how well developed your skills at looking at what you’re doing, it’s more important to tap into that network of people around you, who can help provide perspective on what’s essential, and what is merely nice to have.

Create an account

In what was fast becoming a meta-conversation, I found myself explaining to the (by the voice) older gentleman on the phone what he needed to tell another person they’d need to do to use a particular website.

I told him he would need to “create an account”, a term I was sure everyone would know. He asked me – genuinely – what that meant.

Have you ever been mid-conversation, and someone used a term you were not familiar with, and you just nodded along?

It’s a simple trap to fall into, sacrificing clarity of communication on the altar of appearing wise. But it does the person we talk to a disservice.

If you’re able to keep listening when you’ve decided that a key term in the conversation is unimportant, you’re a more capable listener than I.

When our modern definition of ignoramus is “someone who doesn’t know the thing I learned five minutes ago”, it’s hard to engage other people around us with humility about our own ignorance.

But it repays the investment. Not only to find the meaning of unfamiliar words, but to show the other person that we are serious about listening to them, and even learning from them.

Is there someone you want to listen to better? Why not tell them?

What Jesus said about money

When we think about what Jesus said about money, there are a lot of words in the New Testament that overlap with the idea of money. Here’s a quick graph from a Logos search on “money”. You can see a bunch of Greek words in the pie chart, some from the gospels, some from elsewhere in the New Testament.

Money (Logos search results)

We have words about honour – the price of something; extortion, the love of money, the idea of riches, or property, or wealth. We have jobs related to money (money changer, banker, tax collector). There are words related to precious metals – gold, silver, brass / bronze / copper.

I’m not looking in a single post to try and unpack what Jesus “taught” about money, just those parts of the gospels where Jesus is speaking about money, so you can read them in one place.

Here we go: all verses are from the ESV.

MATTHEW

Lay Up Treasures in Heaven (Matthew 6:19–24 ESV)

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! 

24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. 

 

Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16 ESV)

20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.” 

 

Jesus Cleanses the Temple (Matthew 21:12-17 ESV)

12 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” 

14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, 

“ ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies 

you have prepared praise’?” 

17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there. 

The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30 ESV)

14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 


MARK

 

Jesus Sends Out the Twelve Apostles (Mark 6:7-13 ESV)

And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. 10 And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11 And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. 

 

Jesus Cleanses the Temple (Mark 11:15-19 ESV)

15 And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 16 And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” 18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. 19 And when evening came they went out of the city. 

Paying Taxes to Caesar (Mark 12:13-17 ESV)

13 And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. 14 And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” 15 But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” 17 Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him. 

 

The Widow’s Offering (Mark 12:41-44 ESV)

41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. 43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” 

 

 

 

LUKE


Jesus Sends Out the Twelve Apostles (Luke 9:1-16 ESV)

And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.  

The Parable of the Dishonest Manager (Luke 16:1-15 ESV)

16 He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. 

10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” 

The Law and the Kingdom of God  (Luke 16:1-15 ESV continued)

14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. 

 

The Parable of the Ten Minas (Luke 19:11-27 ESV)

11 As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. 12 He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. 13 Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’ 14 But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ 15 When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. 16 The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ 18 And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ 19 And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ 20 Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ 24 And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ 25 And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’ 26 ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 27 But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.’ ” 

JOHN

Jesus Cleanses the Temple (John 2:13-22 ESV)

13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 

18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. 

 

 

OTHER PEOPLE IN THE GOSPELS – JOHN THE BAPTIST

John the Baptist Prepares the Way (Luke 3:1-22 ESV)

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, 

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 

‘Prepare the way of the Lord, 

make his paths straight. 

Every valley shall be filled, 

and every mountain and hill shall be made low, 

and the crooked shall become straight, 

and the rough places shall become level ways, 

and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ” 

He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” 

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” 

15 As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, 16 John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 

18 So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. 19 But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison. 

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” 

 

 

OTHER PEOPLE IN THE GOSPELS – JUDAS ISCARIOT

Judas Hangs Himself (Matthew 27:3-10 ESV)

Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, 10 and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.” 

 

 

 OTHER PEOPLE IN THE GOSPELS – ROMAN GUARDS AND CHIEF PRIESTS

The Report of the Guard (Matthew 28:11-15 ESV)

11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers 13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day. 

 

Ploughman’s Lunch

One of my favourite things to order from an eating establishment is a ploughman’s lunch.

It sounds like an ancient meal, something from a simpler, agricultural time. I remember buying a book that collected a series of sermons from Charles Spurgeon from the 1800s – the John Plowman talks – there was a whole group of people who were at an educational disadvantage, and the standard-bearer for them was the ploughman (or plowman).

Looking further into the history of this meal, there is more evidence of the idea of the noble concept of the simple life – Richard Baxter in 1830, seeking to explain the idea of how the rich might be saved (in Matthew 19:26 and Luke 18:27) speaks about the bread and cheese of the ploughman being more pleasant, and better for health, than the indulgent food of the rich.

As it turns out though, this staple (one of a handful of distinctly British dishes outlined in this review of the various carbon emission levels of different British meals) was initially promoted by ad agency J Walter Thomson, contracted to the British Cheese Bureau (for example, here is the ploughman’s lunch in a newspaper article from 1958. From there, it was popularised by the British “Milk Marketing Board” in the 1960s in an effort to help pubs sell more cheese. Widely regarded as an advertising łmasterstroke, people now seek to put their own spin on the meal (eg this paleo take on the Ploughman’s).

As you think through how to eat a ploughman’s, think back to its origins, a simpler part of history, and the ability to focus on one thing at a time.

Photo-taking and changes to memory

Via challies

Our obsession with taking photos is changing how we remember the past. If you’ve ever worked through an old photo album with a friend or family member, you will have noticed the way the old photos tap into the stories that have come to be associated with that memory. But now, we are taking hundreds or even thousands of photos: the pause to compose a selfie is interrupting the formation of the memory in the first instance!

lessons and seahorses

I was surprised to see a facebook event invite from a uni friend to a memorial service for his wife. With his dark sense of humour, and their relative youth, I thought this was just an amusing way to get in touch.

It was not.

Life was, in this case, demonstrated as far more fragile than our Western expectations would suggest.

And so I spent much of Saturday heading to the Central Coast and back to provide what support a long-absent friend can in a situation like that. I learnt more of a life now over, and we thought together about how short life can be, and the impact that some kindness and encouragement can have on the life of teenagers in particular (my friend’s late wife was a teacher, and a big fan of seahorses, hence the post title).

The encouragement of a Christian worldview was not lost on many of the people assembled. We grieve expecting that we will see our friend again one day.

What I noticed most of all, regrettably, was how fast I returned to the flood of next-actions and to-do-list items, without making much change in the way I engage with people.

If you’re reading this: remember to make the most of the time you have with the people around you. Time flies!

meeting in a premium mediocre space

Premium mediocre

There’s a phrase that I keep coming back to when I’m spending time with people; premium mediocre. It’s was brought back to front-of-mind by a friend, originally attributed to this long, mildly sweary article from 2017 which – on re-reading – starts out talking about the features of mid-range dining options, but is much more of a deep-dive into the purpose of life for millennials, parental aspirations for their children, and the financial stability of different lifestyles.

And there I was thinking it was just about the over-the-top decor at some of the places I have visited recently. Looking around at a more sophisticated online “cafe recommendation” system than existed ten years ago – when I was still writing my hundreds of reviews – it’s more difficult to generate the enthusiasm to write a review of a cafe. 

While I still appreciate a well-made cup of coffee, and my standards for such a cup of coffee are higher than most, it’s increasingly the details of the venue (ambience, noise levels, suitability for conversation, overall price and fussiness of coffee presentation) as the venue is now more the context for the conversation than an end in itself.

When I need to have a difficult conversations with someone, or try and work productively, the issue is not so much where a venue appears on the social hierarchy (though it often needs to be a factor), but whether it helps achieve the aims of the meet-up. It’s not the cup of coffee (here today and gone tomorrow) but the outcome of the conversation (with a person who will – depending on whether we share a faith-shaped worldview – live forever or at least outlive the coffee) that’s the most important.

Is the person I’m meeting with going to be distracted by the venue? Then it’s time to dial it up, or down, away from the premium mediocre setting.