Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Hand of God

Francisco Bosch scored what many are calling the try of the season playing for Manawatu against Waikato in the NPC.

He chipped the ball ahead, leaped high and headed it at the top of its bounce. Gathered it and sprinted clear of the cover defence. All in covering about 65 meters.

The controversy is all about the header. Bosch who also plays sevens knew that you could not throw and head - which would be a knock on but could head on from a kick. Kind of amusing that people make a fuss about someone heading the ball instead of catching it when the entire game of rugby is based on someone handling it when they should have kicked it. The sport is founded on unconventionality.

The other amusing thing given his nationality is that Argentina have a rugby player who can actually head the ball, rather better than a soccer player who is most famous for knocking it on, although I doubt he was attempting a catch.

Both scored in unconventional ways. But one was according to the rules.

Which puts Francisco a lot closer to the "hand of God", by using his head

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Signs of the Times

This sign at Redeemer University, where we are this week publicices a service offered by entrepeneurial students. They will check your assignments for things like spelling and grammer before you turn them in to be marked. It would be a better advert if they could spell "professor".

This slogan on a car in Wellington is equally perplexing. "I love to have fun. I love my family and friends. I love this beautiful planet earth. The reason why I choose this car is because it will totally satisfy my requirements for outdoor living. Well - tomorrow where shall we go?" Total satisfaction is quite a claim to make for any kind of transportation. The irony of proclaiming your love for the planet on a gas guzzling CO2 emitting machine is also evident.

Inconsistency is one of the characteristics of life today. Much of life for many people does not join up, they play different roles in different situations, adopt different personas online and can handle a degree of inconsistency without feeling it is hypocrisy.

We place a high value on "Undivided Life". Wholeness, health, healing and peace are all connected in the Hebrew idea of Shalom. Growing in integrity means joining up life; becoming the same person at work, at home, at church and online.

When I was a student a friend drew me a card which quoted from Paul towards the end of his first letter to the Thessalonians: "May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he'll do it!"

In an age of fracture, fragmentation and disconnect it is a reminder that there is only one who puts us together again.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Sprint Customer Service

Sprint Wireless in the US has just written to a over 1000 of its customers effectively telling them that their custom is no longer wanted. These people call the customer helpline with greater frequency, are more demanding and harder to please. They have been told to make alternative arrangements and that their wireless service is being terminated.

"Our records indicate that over the past year, we have received frequent calls from you regarding your billing or other general account information," the letter reads. "While we have worked to resolve your issues and questions to the best of our ability, the number of inquiries you have made to us during this time has led us to determine that we are unable to meet your current wireless needs."
"Therefore after careful consideration, the decision has been made to terminate your wireless service agreement effective July 30, 2007."

This is a landmark decision in customer service. It takes away the idea of the customer “always being right” and replaces it with a cost benefit matrix of service provision. Annoying customers are not worth effort even though ironically the company motto is “Where our customers come first”.

The most dissatisfied people do take up a disproportionate amount of time. I can see the attraction of blowing off complainants rather than resolving complaints. It is quick and easy and immediately puts up your consumer satisfaction ratings.

Sprint has had a reputation for poor customer service and poor network coverage. For the first quarter of 2007, it reported a loss of 220,000 monthly subscribers. This was the third quarter in a row the company had a substantial loss of these types of customers. Sprint argues that they routinely “audit” customer complaints and what they are doing is not unusual. It is hard to see how the policy improves public perceptions of customer service.

It does make me wonder how this policy could be applied in other areas. Expel the worst behaving 10 per cent of kids in a school and tell their parents to make alternative arrangements. Extradite the most argumentative and awkward citizens. Fire the awkward members of staff. Take the most difficult members of a church into the car park and explain politely but firmly that they should go away and never come back.

I guess many ministers would have a handful of people that consume a disproportionate amount of time and emotional energy. Most of us have people in our lives who drain, complain and complicate our existence. Some of us have people who have wronged us in the past or continue to do so in the present.

In Matthew 18 Peter asks Jesus how often he has to forgive his brother before he takes the Sprint solution. “How many times must I forgive my brother when he sins against me? I do not know how irritating Andrew Peter’s brother was but he offers what is culturally a generous suggestion of 7. There was a cultural three strikes and your out kind of a rule so Peter is doubling it and adding 1 to be on the safe side. Jesus replies 70 times 7; by which he does not mean 490 strikes and you are out but rather to keep forgiving time without end.

Jesus illustrates the extravagant nature of this with a parable about a servant who is forgiven a debt of 10,000 talents. 10,000 talents was an unimaginable large sum of money, it is the largest unit of denomination (1 talent was 6000 drachma) combined with the biggest number that could be used. It is like us saying a billion or a zillion dollars, more than could be paid in many lifetimes.

Jesus message is that those who have been forgiven much must forgive plenty.
Our policy on forgiveness is born in the context of the table rather than the desk.

This is what service looks like: giving up rights and taking on responsibilities, administering grace. Resolving of conflict, exercising forgiveness, listening, adapting and changing together are all opportunities for learning and growth.

How we treat the marginalised, the dissatisfied, the difficult and the demanding says more about the reality of faith than how we relate to the happy and the comfortable.

So if you are thinking about complaining about any of this don’t bother. I have a little black list of people that I used to be glad to be in relationship with and it’s getting longer all the time! But if it's me that is causing the problem i'd be grateful if you could cut me a bit of slack.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Team New Zealand

“I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.”

The call of the sea resonates in these islands. New Zealand is a seafaring nation. People arrived by waka, frigate and sloop, the sea has been a lifeline, a living and a recreation. Today NZ has the highest level of boat ownership in the world, New Zealanders have won every major international sailing title, including the America's Cup (twice), the Whitbread Race (three times), the Admiral's Cup (once), the Kenwood Cup (three times), the Southern Cross Cup (four times), New Zealanders have won more than 60 world titles, while sailing's 10 medals make it New Zealand's most successful Olympic sport.

Alinghi and Team New Zealand are locked in maritime combat for the oldest prize in world sport. The Auld Mug or as it is more properly known the Americas Cup. There is a buzz in the air here as people talk excitedly of the race the night before. I don’t begin to understand all the intricacies of how you race these yachts but they are an awesome sight on full sail. It is fascinating to watch the crew at work. They all have clearly defined roles including grinder, bowman, navigator, strategist and helmsman. If you look at what they are each doing you would hardly believe that they were involved in the same endeavour. Grinders are furiously working their handles, while someone up the mast is calmly scanning the horizon for wind shifts and another is preparing for the next tack. Each crew member playing their part is essential for the skipper to race the yacht competitively. It is a great picture of the truth Paul talks about to the Ephesians Chapter 4 albeit using a different metaphor! “Under his control the whole body fits together so that when each part functions as it should the whole body builds itself up and grows through love”.

In a different Team New Zealand, people with different characters and complimentary gifts, from diverse backgrounds are united in common cause and contend as one person for the cause of the gospel in Aotearoa and to the ends of the earth.

An Americas Cup yacht has a crew of 17 onboard during the race but there is a back up team of around 150 people providing support, logistics and back up. This does not include the sponsors who largely fund the enterprise. Our Team New Zealand has a back up team. These Friends, Graduates, Churches, Trusts and Supporters are an essential part of the fellowship and enable us to do the work that God has called us to. We are hugely grateful for your prayers and partnership with Team New Zealand.

Our confidence is not in programmes, resources, people or budgets. We have thought often through this year that it is “not by might or by power by God’s spirit” that the work of God is advance. Like the other Team New Zealand we appreciate that our activity is very dependent on the wind.
We look to Jesus and the sovereignty of God realising that “The wind blows where it wishes you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” In the providence of God we want to go sailing today!

Join us in the next phase of this adventure and pray that God would fill our sails with the wind of his spirit and enable us to work together, under his command for his glory.

I like the middle verse of “Sea Fever” by John Masefield best

“I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls cry”

Sunday, April 01, 2007

A story for Uncle Jerry

This is the kind of story Uncle Jerry likes.

Anna Devathasan and Jenny Suo are high school students at Pakuranga College in Auckland. In 2004 they were doing a science project. Science Fairs are a big thing here and kids do projects together and often pick their own topics. The girls decided to measure the amount of vitamin C in some of their favourite drinks including Ribena and Just Juice.

Their experiment came out that Ribena had 22mg of vitamin C and Just Juice had about 72mg this came as something of a surprise as the company advertisements seemed to suggest that Ribena had four times the vitamin C of Oranges.

They wrote to the company and got no response, so they telephoned and again got no reply. Being persistent teenagers they contacted the Advertising Standards Authority and Brandpower and again drew a blank. After all who is going to back a couple of teenagers against the mighty GlaxoSmithKline. The TV consumer programme "Fair Go" picked up the story and suggested the girls contact the Commerce Commission. They did so but put the issue on the backburner until the case made the news a few weeks ago.

The verdict was delivered last Tuesday. The girls now aged 17 were in court to hear the verdict.

The company was fined $217,500 after admitting it mislead customers about the vitamin C content of the blackcurrant drink.

The company appeared in Auckland District Court to face charges alleging 15 breaches of the Fair Trading Act.

It admitted that its cartoned Ready To Drink Ribena, which it claimed had 7mg of Vitamin C per 100ml, in fact had no detectable Vitamin C content.

The company also admitted it may have misled customers in advertisements saying the blackcurrants in Ribena syrup had four times the Vitamin C of oranges. The judge said that while it was true that blackcurrants had 4 times the vitamin C of oranges this was not true of Ribena.

They have been ordered to place half page adds in all the National Papers here.

It will almost certainly affect global sales. If you want to see a particularly poor web site they have their response on

The vitamin C issue has also brought more negative publicity, for example the statistic that Ribena has 3.5mls of sugar per 100ml wheras Coke "only" has 2.6mls. The Ribena figure equates to 9 teaspoons of sugar per 250ml average serving. We won't be buying Ribena anymore and suspect we wont be the only ones.

The reason Uncle Jerry likes this kind of story is that it shows a couple of ordinary people can make a difference. Two schoolgirls taking on the second biggest company in the world and winning is terrific. Weakness overcoming power, and the difference that a couple of committed teenagers can make. I can see the powerpoint presentation as I type! It's not quite Erin Brocovich but it is good fun!

But it is also an example of the importance of listening. Somebody read the first letter from the girls, someone else fielded the first phonecall. They were probably in "Customer Relations". Which usually seems to mean not caring much about customers at all. It amazes me how many companies put such little emphasis on frontline customer interface. Usually when you bother to write you get ignored, fobbed off or processed. You very seldom feel that you are getting through to the decision makers or that they want you to.

This site gives you a flavour of some of the other ways you can do business, GlaxoKlineSmith take note!

and whoever you are next time you get a letter from a teenager....I'd recommend reading it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Situational Ethics

In a world without moral absolutes, right or wrong depends on the situation. What may be absolutely fine in one set of circumstances would be totally unacceptable in another.
Trumpet ice cream have a great add here called Togs or Undies which illustrate the idea perfectly.

The basic premise is to decide when togs (swimming trunks) become undies (underpants).

The commentary goes:

“How far away from the beach do togs become undies?
Skin tight swimming togs an item of clothing you’d happily wear in public but not in public.
So how far is too far? So let’s begin…
Togs togs togs…
Togs togs togs…
Togs togs togs…
Togs… Undies.
Undies undies…
Undies undies…

If you can’t see the water you’re in underpants.
Local supermarkets.
Pedestrian crossings.
Office buildings.
Public transport.
Anywhere more than 300 metres from the water’s edge, all underpants transformation areas.”

You might be able to see it here.

The key, deciding factor to the issue is if you can see the sea you are wearing togs. If not the same garment has to be classified as underpants.

When does consumption become exploitation? When does sex become abuse? Is there a basis for universal human rights or does it just depend on the circumstances?
Probably the most common view of morality is that it depends on consequences. Something is right or wrong according to its outcomes. It is okay to do whatever I like as long as it does not hurt somebody. Not easy to assess objectively how my pleasure and somebody else’s pain should be weighed.

Joseph when facing seduction by Potiphar’s wife in Egypt exhibits a morality which is not just to do with circumstances and consequences.

He determines not to sleep with her because it will be an act against his Master, Potiphar and will be a sin against God. Not only will the act betray the trust and rip the social fabric of his human relationships it will have spiritual consequences.

Biblical morality does not consist of absolutes, which are contingent only upon themselves. It has its origins in being made in God’s image and God’s character being the source of whatever standards of behaviour we practice and advocate.

There is a God who does not change from situation to situation; geographically, historically or culturally.

The big moral questions are decided not by reference to the beach but by reference to God. Which may not help you decide if you are wearing togs or undies but it may help with truth or lies, selfishness or sacrifice, freedom or oppression, activism or pessimism, indulgence or restraint, tolerance or prejudice and other important issues.

Barely a third of all Americans believe in absolute standards of right and wrong, and far fewer hold to a biblical worldview, according to an August 2005.
The poll by The Barna Group, a Christian research organization, shows that only 35 percent of Americans believe in absolute standards of morality -- that is, believe that right and wrong do not change with time or circumstances.
Thirty-two percent of Americans say that morality depends on the situation and the circumstance, while 33 percent say they do not know if morality is absolute or relative. The poll involved interviews with 1,002 adults in July 2005.
Moral relativity is often reflected in such statements as "that might be true for you, but it's not true for me" and "who are you to judge?"
"The fact that only 35 percent of all Americans believe in moral absolutes provides some frightening insight into our culture and the future of this country," Craig Vincent Mitchell, instructor of Christian ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, told Baptist Press.
"This statistic translated means that most people are willing to do whatever they can get away with. ... With so many rejecting the idea of moral absolutes, it is only a matter of time until our society collapses. A moral society is a happier society and a more successful one. An immoral society is one that destroys itself and its citizens."
But despite the outward rejection of moral absolutes, people still believe in absolutes "when it involves them or what belongs to them," Mitchell said.
"It is also interesting to note that most people who reject moral absolutes believe that Hitler was evil," he said. "No one believes that Kenneth Lay did the right thing for his employees or investors when he was the CEO of Enron. In other words, what people say or profess is often one thing, but what they really believe is another."