Can’t always Bank on Integrity

The other day I watched a documentary I highly recommend. A warning however: it might get you (righteously) angry. It was episode 4 of the Netflix show, Dirty Money.

The episode recounts how global banking giant HSBC (US division) was grossly negligent in applying laws to prevent money laundering. In fact, they purposely manipulated systems to avoid the controls. This was almost certainly with the knowledge and implicit approval of headquarters (London). This allowed criminals like Mexican cartels and ISIS to move money around the world.

The bank admitted to this fact, pleading guilty.

Any reasonable person, when confronted with the evidence would expect stiff penalties. If it were me, and seeing they had systematically and intentionally flaunted the law, I would have metaphorically burned HSBC to the ground. I would revoke their business licenses within the US, I would jail anyone whom knew of it and remained silent. I would have seized funds and assets, so neither the organization nor individuals profited.

US Attorney Lynch said,

“…HSBC’s willful flouting of U.S. sanctions laws and regulations resulted in the processing of hundreds of millions of dollars in OFAC-prohibited transactions. Today’s historic agreement, which imposes the largest penalty in any BSA prosecution to date, makes it clear that all corporate citizens, no matter how large, must be held accountable for their actions.” (source)

There was some talk of HSBC being “too big to fail”. I would do what justice demands. Yes, it may have put thousands out of work – and yes, many of them might be completely innocent of all wrong doing. But it would also have sent a message: obey the law or the consequences will be dire. I’d be willing to bet that criminals would have found banks a lot less malleable the next day, had that occurred.

Those complicit within HSBC betrayed the world. They demonstrated gross indifference toward the law, and perpetuated the suffering of victims of the cartels and terrorism. What is more startling is the failure of the Justice system to hold them to account. HSBC was fined the equivalent of a mere five weeks profit, and management forfeited a portion of their bonuses. No one lost their job, no one went to jail. In December 2017 the US Department Of Justice announced it would dismiss all criminal charges against HSBC.

LadyJusticeImageA key aspect of a healthy civilization is a justice system which doesn’t see the perpetrator – the rich should be punished equally to the poor. In this instance the Justice system, and those charged to administer it, appeared to fail. I hope there’s a good reason we just aren’t privy too, because otherwise it is… lacking in transparency and justice.

I believe in a free market, but maybe if organisations are becoming “too big to fail” then we should start looking at ways to prevent them from growing further, at the very least. The bigger an organisation is the more oversight they should have… after all – we don’t want the economy to fail – but we also don’t want to make them unaccountable either.

It may be that those responsible will never appropriately be held to account on this earth, but I believe they’ll one-day face a Judge to whom they’ll answer. And if they aren’t repentant beforehand the punishment will be eternal.


Microstory: Teleporting Justice

A micro story, inspired by an elevator (lift). Think of it every time your travel in one 🙂 (Update: I should add, I wrote this from top-to-bottom in about thirty minutes).

Everyone of course knows the name Michael Zoeing. Four hundred years after his death, he is still recognised as one of the greatest scientists in all of human history. We now take for granted teleportation (technically called Instantaneous Directional-beam Transportation). It’s hard to remember that six hundred years ago such technology was only possible in the minds of science-fiction writers.

There is no doubt that Zoeing’s innovation changed society for the better. You need only look at the holograms of turn of the 22rd century to see the congestion which choked cities, and the literal decades of an individual’s life that was spent moving from one place to another.

I do not discount the immense value of Zoeing’s creation, but I think it important to remember the controversy that surrounded the announcement of this technology. I would not be surprised to discover most readers don’t know what I am referring too. After Zoeing became a trillionaire he had immense wealth and power, which – like so many powerful individuals in history – he used to sanitise the public records.

Consider yourself in a pre-teleportation world. Would you allow a relatively unknown scientist experiment by bombarding your body with high-energy plasma, literally tearing apart your body’s molecular structure? Healthy, willing, test subjects would be hard to find. But Zoeing sensed he was on the brink of greatness. (Though I consider ‘he hoped’ to be more accurate). Zoeing was in the race to what was the holy grail of science; he had to try it on human subjects before the other labs beat him to the breakthrough.

With far less scientists, lobbyists and lawyers than other labs Zoeing was at a significant disadvantage. The proper channels just had too much red tape to be feasible. So Zoeing undertook an elegant deception.

In the fourteen story building where his lab was, he modified one of the elevators after-hours, surreptitiously installing his transportation technology. Test subjects, unknowingly, stepped into the elevator and triggered the experiment on themselves. The elevator rose as per normal, but in the last seconds of travel the lights would flicker and the elevator would shudder. Unbeknown to the passengers they had been teleported to a stationery elevator which was a few millimetres off-alignment, thus proving the technology worked.

Though never proven, in the early days it was rumoured nearly a hundred people disappeared from the building before the technology was perfected. Zoeing at the time refuted the claim, and then sued for defamation. The controversy quickly dissipated from the media after several successful lawfares.

Yes, Zoeing succeeded, but at what cost? What of the families to whom these victims belonged. One day their loved one left the house, and never returned – seemingly to vanish from the planet. Do the hundred-plus victims of his experiment get justice? Did he ever admit guilt? What kind of society do we want? One that holds the guilty to account or one where the rule of law is simply a mirage?

A Reflection for Easter

Recently I was asked to write a little something for the lead-up to Easter for a church event. It was to be a “call and response”, something which I’m not really familiar with. The basic idea is that a caller says something (from the front), and then the response is given by the congregation.

Due to other commitments, I only had about three nights to write it. I’m reasonably happy with what I came up with. It will not be used verbatim, as I consider it a draft that can be re-worked by the event organiser. The congregational response is in italics.

He was at home in heaven, worshipped by the angels and in perfect unity with the trinity.

But we were separated, lost in our sin. The weight of the law too heavy and our natures corrupt.

He left comfort, unlimited power and heavenly majesty to enter the world as a babe.

You gave it up for us, knowing what the cost would be.

He came in stealth, not hailed as a King but miraculously, into humble circumstances and ridiculed by the community. He lived among us as a human, with all the highs and lows of life. The Word records that he grew in favour with both God and man.

You understand what it is to be human and can empathize with our struggles and temptations, but were without sin.

Few recognised him, but he came to save us; to be our salvation. To give us a way back into relationship, through truth and grace.

You came to bring a mirror to our hearts.

He was a friend to the sinner, the thief, the adulterer, the sick, the despised and the guilty. He looked down on none, nor hid his face from any who sought him. He was a friend and neighbour to all in need, coming with gentleness and love. A bruised reed he would not break, nor a smouldering wick put out. He saw us not with human eyes, but with a divine heart.

You taught us what it means to love, and what God expects. You did not condemn us for our sins or allow others to, but instead forgave us and called us to repentance.

He was welcomed as a King, but came on his own terms. He rejected power, fame and wealth and sought only to do the Father’s will. His eyes were always focused on the eternal. He knew his blood would be poured out and his body broken for the forgiveness of our sins.

You did it for us, while we were still sinners.

In the Garden we saw his humanity, overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. He begged the Father to save him from his fate. Those he had brought along slept during his emotional heartache.

Fearful but obedient, you did it for us. You did it for me.

Before the Sanhedrin and Pilot, he was falsely accused; betrayed and abandoned by friends. He who has been faithful through all time felt the repeated sting of faithlessness. He was innocent.

I am not. Someone had to pay the price, and you didn’t want it to be me.

Pilot would not save him. He who is perfectly Just, received no justice. They stripped him and mocked him. He was beaten and spat on. His head, deserving of a royal crown, was pierced by a cruel crown of thorns.

You wore the crown for me.

He was whipped without mercy, his back shredded, bloody and torn by iron and bone.

By my sin and iniquity.

They lay him on the cross. How his humanity must have wanted to flee, to call on the angels to protect him. Obedience held him there, firmer than any human hands could. But obedience would not have held the fear or pain away.

All he ever did was care for humanity, loving us and wanting to restore us. And the judgement for our sin came down on him, again and again – THUD, THUD, THUD as the nails were driven through his hands and then his feet.

You paid the price for me. You took my guilt and shame.

What unspeakable agony he must have endured upon that cross of ours, as flesh, muscle, bone and nerves were broken or pushed aside by iron spikes. He screamed out, that we would not have too. His body was broken that ours could remain whole. His life was cut short, that ours could go on for eternity.

You were pierced for my transgressions and crushed for my iniquities. My rightful punishment fell upon you.

Even upon the cross, he asked the Father to grant us mercy.

It is who you are. You are good beyond all measure.

At his death the curtain in the temple was torn; the barrier between God and man removed. A new covenant was created and sealed by his blood. He came to open the eyes of the blind, to set captives free and release those who are trapped in darkness.

I am not worthy of your love and mercy, but I gratefully accept it. Examine my heart, Lord God, and see if there is anything offensive within it. You are my God and my life belongs to you.

The Cost and Value of Integrity

A few months ago US Vice President Mike Pence was attacked by much of the US media and commentary for what has become known as “The Pence Rule”.

During his 12 years in Congress, Pence had rules to avoid any infidelity temptations, or even rumors of impropriety. Those included requiring that any aide who had to work late to assist him be male, never dining alone with a woman other than his wife, and not attending an event where alcohol is served unless Karen was there.

In a 2002 interview with The Hill, Pence called it, “building a zone around your marriage.”

Source: The Washington Post.

For this comment Mike Pence faced a chorus of howling complaints (and a few cheers).

Mike Pence should be honoured by the fact that the media took to calling it the “Pence rule”. I suspect it fit the desired narrative for the attackers to target Pence than someone whose character was less impeachableFrom The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham,

“We all knew evangelists who had fallen into immorality while separated from their families by travel,” Billy wrote. “We pledged among ourselves to avoid any situation that would have even the appearance of compromise or suspicion. From that day on, I did not travel, meet, or eat alone with a woman other than my wife…”

It may seem quaint and impractical in this day of casual relationships between the sexes to be so rigid about meeting with someone of the opposite sex – but it worked for Billy and his team. They eliminated any suspicion of problems. While on the road, the team travelled together and occupied adjoining hotel rooms, or at least rooms in close proximity. By not travelling along, they minimized temptations. And each team member committed to never being alone with a woman who was not his wife. (page 55).

Plenty of people were willing to attack Pence, not so many Graham… I wonder why?

There’s a few points I’d like to make:

This is Mike Pence’s personal rule. Let me repeat that: personal. Though I know of others who follow it (or variants), no one is trying to make it law (at least not in Western countries). It’s a decision that he’s made to protect himself, his wife and his marriage. Not to mention all the women potentially involved, their children, spouses, wider families and their friends.

It’s a smart rule. I think it is a smart rule for anyone. For a politician, in the public and never-blinking eye, I’m willing to say it’s dumb not to embrace some pretty strict rules. Yes, technically before a court of law you’re innocent until proven guilty, but for a politician where perception is reality, everyone has a camera and can tweet their unverified rumours and get a thousand re-tweets within seconds… can anyone really argue it’s not a smart move?

There’s a reason. Men know the kind of thoughts that run through their brains. Very few women truly understand this; we are just so different. The very first glimmer of sexual attraction often starts visually for men. It doesn’t matter if we’ve never talked to you, or your values and views are polar-opposites to ours. If you’re attractive, we are likely to notice.

That doesn’t mean bad behaviour on our part is acceptable or unavoidable. It is possible for us to reign in our thoughts and control our eyes so we aren’t just a bunch of drooling neanderthals. However, that self-control means sometimes we’re going to implement rules for ourselves which you just can’t comprehend or see the need for. You need to understand: this thing is on a hair-trigger.

But the rule isn’t there because, “if I dine alone with a woman an affair is a certainty.” That isn’t the case, but as acknowledged by Willard Harley in “His Needs, Her Needs – Building an Affair-Proof Marriage” affairs often start out as “just being friends”. As Pence said, it’s a “zone around his marriage”. Think of it like a fire-break. You build and maintain the fire-break to protect what you have in the event of a fire.

As blogger Tim Challies notes,

The Billy Graham Rule is not a universal law mandated by the Bible, but a personal rule mandated by conscience. It is not a biblical law but an attempt to flesh out a biblical principle (sexual purity and/or being seen as above reproach). Many will follow the Rule according to their best understanding of how to ensure they are honoring God. In so doing they will be heeding their conscience…

Some complained that it disadvantaged women, because they would be excluded from important informal times at work. Yes, sadly that’s a likely effect. But the rule does cuts both ways (even if, disproportionally) – men can’t have lunches with their female bosses. But if we were going to make things entirely fair, should we also put a stop to the smoking circle? What about those who play sport or run together, doesn’t that disadvantage the disabled?

The world isn’t fair and people don’t get treated equally. Not every player wins a prize and sometimes your skills won’t be acknowledged. That’s life. It’s unfair that we can read and some in the world can’t, should we stop reading?

Besides, it’s not an insurmountable problem. The wise boss would make time to invest in all his staff. Meetings could be one-on-one, but in a public place, or behind closed doors, with the blinds open. The application of a boundary doesn’t mean that men and women aren’t going to talk to each other any more.

There is a cost of integrity. In some parts of the world that cost is death but for us in the West it is more often just ridicule. Mike Pence felt it and so do others. They look strange. They are accused of things which are untrue and unfair. They pay the cost, because they know the value. Pence is protecting his integrity, his wife and the marriage they have built together. He made a commitment to her and is doing whatever it takes to keep that commitment.

You remember ‘commitment’ right? Doctors doing no harm, journos reporting the truth and politicians serving the people? If only we had more of it.

RIH, Billy Graham

Rest in Heaven, Billy Graham.

In this world of all-too-often compromised values and fallen ‘heroes’, Billy Graham stood remarkably unscathed by controversy. How many people have successfully navigated the treacherous waters of fame and public opinion and not met with failure or tragedy? Not many.

He was consistent, faithful and trusted.

I’ve read before that if Graham had his life ‘over’ he would do as Jesus did and invest in a small number of people instead of his evangelistic crusades. Would he have made a greater impact on the world had he done so? Possibly; only God knows. But what we do know is that he made a huge difference in millions of people’s lives.

Some who accepted Jesus at a crusade would have had the seeds of truth stolen by the challenges and opposition which came, but I know of several (and there would be innumerable more) who had that seed planted in deep, rich soil. From that seed of truth and hope a great tree of salvation has grown. Many thousands more have found shelter, and in time – their own salvation – under the shade of those trees. Faith is a journey. Sometimes Graham planted the seed, other times he watered it, and for many, he harvested it.

May his family and friends rejoice in the legacy and the man who was Billy Graham. Though their pain of loss remains, there must be great joy in knowing Billy now sits adoringly at the feet of the one he loved and gave his life for.

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

A Changing Season

If I were an artist I’d love to sketch a comic to describe a small part of how I feel. Bereft of all skill with a pencil, I must ‘use my words’.

As soon as I left the elevator I could hear it. Behind the closed door across the hallway there was heavy breathing. No, not just breathing: a multitude of heavy grunting noises, and the occasional tired sigh. It made me of the effort involved in squeezing into jeans three sizes too small. It was the sound of simultaneous exasperation and desperation.

I approached the wooden door cautiously, expecting it to spring outwards at any moment. As I edged closer I imagined I could see the door bowing in the centre. Surely it was just my imagination? As though in answer to my query the door creaked as though under great stress. The bolt holding the door shut stood firm, for now.

I looked around and could see no in the hallway. A dozen questions filled my mind. Who was in the room? Why had they been locked in? And by whom?

“Hello?” I called, unsure if I would be heard over the grunts. The noise didn’t change. To my ears it lacked the quality of ferociousness. Someone, or something, was trapped.

As a boy, I’d been trapped in a dark, strange place and I hadn’t liked it. I remembered the feeling well, now decades later. Tentatively my hand reached up to the bolt. The outward pressure being applied made it hard work but with great effort I managed to slide it across.

I was ready when it released, and leapt backwards as the door flung open.

Inside was the pitiful display of an elephant crammed into a space too small for it. The elephant could barely move more than blink is eyes, and even as I watched it moved it’s trunk into the hallway with a look of relief at a momentary chance to stretch, even a little bit.

The elephant was well and truly in the room, and no one – even attempting to enter the room could ignore its presence.

Acknowledging the Presence

The elephant in the room is I haven’t written in a while.

I had planned to be revising The Rebel Queen. Well, that’s not happening at all at the moment. Nor am I working on any of the other projects which I had previously been so excited about.

Why am I not writing? I’m not sure to be honest. You could be forgiven for thinking that perhaps I’m in a funk because I’m yet to hear about my submission of Vengeance Will Come. That’s a reasonable assumption, but it’s not true in this case. Even before I submitted a disquiet inside of me was growing.

Something which has haunted me for quite a while were the examples of (the late) Keith Green, musical extraordinaire and Francine Rivers, the successful Christian author. Both of them, at different points in their faith were called to give up their craft (music and writing) for a significant point of time. They had to make sure they were doing ‘it’ for God, and not for their own glory. Their example has always haunted me. Would I be willing to give up my writing? Would I be able to? I could never answer that question. Maybe this is my own season of putting it down – or at least – refocusing it?

I’ve also been feeling more convicted that my time should be spent on things of the eternal – things that will last – not the temporal.

The truth is I’m not sure quite what is happening, but for this season in my life writing is taking a back seat to other priorities. I’m putting more effort into relationships and building up the men’s ministry at my church.

So what have I been doing?

I’ve also been reading a lot. I’ve got more books on the go — too many — at the moment. I’m re-reading Keith Green’s autobiography No Compromise and Every Man’s Battle by Stephen Arterburn. I’m also reading How to Build a Life-Changing Men’s Ministry by Steve Sonderman and Living Water by Brother Yun. I had also started (and understandably put-down-for-now) The Book that Made Your World by Vishal Mangalwadi, The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan and SPQR by Maggie Beard. All this from someone who normally reads one book at a time!

My (lesser) free time has been spent programming.

Will I be Writing?

I’m sure I’ll be writing something. Probably a lot more faith-related material. I might even write some non-fiction, but likely that it will be much smaller size. Writing something smaller takes a lot less time than writing or revising an entire novel.

What does it mean for this blog?

I think it will continue (at this stage). It will broaden: I’ll write about more topics than writing; probably much more on faith and other things which I am passionate about. It probably won’t be every week (as has been my normal rate). Right now, it’s hard to say – because everything feels up in the air.

The Western Church

For too long I have swallowed a lie. The edges of the lie occasionally made me uncomfortable but by-and-large it has gone down with my consent.

Like Neo taking the red pill in The Matrix, I’m beginning to wake up.

The lie is this: the church must present itself in a certain way in order to attract people. It must have an attractive building, easy parking and worship times should be convenient. As Westerners we have come to expect a certain level of comfort… how could we possibly convince people to come unless they are going to be comfortable and have a great experience?

The statement has a ring of truth to it; all good lies do. To attract a certain type of person it is true. Fortunately, however, Jesus covers off on this in Luke 14:16-23:

Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

“Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

“‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

people-1550501_960_720Jesus makes it clear – if those we invite are too distracted by the world, then we should instead go to those who will be interested in the invitation. The widow and the orphan, the homeless – all those seeking God and His love aren’t picky about the building’s décor. Did we really think our flashy building could add anything to the draw-card of the Father’s love?

It does make it harder to reach people, because of the likely sacrifice it will cost us. We’ll have to turn down the comfort-controls a notch or three. It may be harder for us to relate to the less fortunate. We might actually start learning what it is to carry a cross…

The whole idea is counter-cultural, but that’s exactly what Jesus was.