Category Archives: Ethics

Listening

There is something really powerful about having someone’s full attention and knowing they are listening to every word I am saying. It is no less powerful to give someone your full attention and listen to every word they say. You connect with the other person, you get to know them on a new level, no matter what you are talking about, and a new understanding is found. All of this makes listening one of the most important things we can do for others. Listening alone can make a huge difference in someone’s life and sometimes it is the only thing left to do.

Jesus told us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. Unfortunately this is hard and gets even harder if we don’t know anything about them. Caring about some nameless and faceless person is infinitely more difficult that caring about someone we know. Therefore I believe, that one part of our Christian calling should be to know as much as possible about the people we meet so that we might love them. If we love our neighbours, we want to be there for them and help them when they need our help. Again, if we don’t listen, we don’t know what they might need and we don’t know how we might help them. Sometimes the best help is just listening and being there.

At University I joined a Nightline, a listening service run by students for students. That means students sit at a phone at night waiting for their fellow students to call, to talk through a problem they are experiencing. This can be anything, from stress with an assignment to a break-up or even worse. By talking it through with the volunteer, the student has someone when nobody else might be available, they can clear their mind and sort through their options. The idea for it was born in Exeter more than 40 years ago and has spread rapidly. The first German Nightline was founded in 1997 and now there are 15.

As a Nightliner I was able to experience the joy and satisfaction that comes with being there for someone who is going through great turmoil, and it has pressed upon me the importance of also listening to others “in real life”. In our society we learn much about how to express ourselves to others. We tend to forget that without people receiving the information and seeing us for what we are, there is something important missing. What is point of being able to tell everyone exactly what you think if nobody is listening?

As a Christian I feel that it is part of my calling to achieve a better understanding between people. I hope that by supporting and promoting the art of listening we can make a difference in how we see each other. I am sure that if we listen to each other’s needs, it will also change how we treat each other and the world will be a better place because of it.

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Filed under body and soul, Ethics, Life stories

Historical me – Voting

Voting ballot from 10 April 1938. ("Refer...

Voting ballot from 10 April 1938. (“Referendum and Großdeutscher Reichstag; Ballot; Do you agree with the reunification of Austria with the German Reich that was enacted on 13 March 1938 and do you vote for the party of our leader; Adolf Hitler?; Yes; No” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I follow politics. I think, part of it is the spectacle, almost like a soap opera at times, but the larger reason is that I know from the stories of the past that politics are very important. Knowing what you believe in, what is right and wrong, can make the difference for the rest of the country. And, of course,we can change things, especially by voting. I take that very seriously. Voting for me is not just a privilege (although I certainly cherish it) but much more a duty. As a good citizen, I have a duty to ensure that my views are heard because it is when people ignore what’s going on that things go down the drain. But there is another reason why I value voting so much. And it is the story of my great-grandmother.

It was during the Third Reich. My great-grandmother was visiting relatives in a small village and there was a vote. I don’t know what the vote was for (but it was a national vote, so there are only three option: 1. parliamentary elections in late 1933, 2. parliamentary elections and referendum of 1936, and 3. a referendum on the annexation of Austria and parliamentary elections in 1938). In all three elections, more than 99% of the voters officially voted ad more than 98% of the votes were in favour of the only party who stood in those elections. Clearly this is ot what happened in reality. Here is what my great-grandmother experienced (as told by my mother): Everyone was required to come and vote, even my great-grandmother who didn’t even live in that village. Since it was small everyone would know who did or did not vote. My great-grandmother was told what to vote and then some member of the SA (a kind of militia that served as a police force without needing to keep to police rules at the time) with a weapon stood behind her, looked over her shoulder and made sure she voted as intended.

Today we take the privilege of voting in secret far too lightly. I remember discussing this in a civics class and the teacher telling us how important it was that secret voting was required because if it was not, anyone who did want to vote in secret could become the scapegoat or outcast because people would know it was them who didn’t follow the majority (apparently this happened in East Germany during GDR times). I hope that these things will never happen again in my countries (I wish I could say never again full stop but we all know they are happening right now all over the world).

Have you had similar experiences in your life or in your family’s past?

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Filed under Current Events, Ethics, Family, History

Historical me – Authority

I have an issue with authority – not that I mind when someone tells me what to do. What I mind is being told what to do and being expected to blindly follow those orders. I always ask questions when I don’t understand the reason for why I should do something (and I have gotten into trouble for it a few times) but I could never just do something because I was told to. I need to understand. Because if I don’t agree with it and believe it to be wrong, I want to have the option of saying so and the option of not doing it. The most terrible thing for me would be to do something wrong because I failed to have the courage to ask the question. To me it’s quite obvious where I get this from.

First of all: My grandfather.

Well, step-grandfather; you will find that there are three grandfathers in my family and this is the one I am not related to by blood. Let’s call him James. I grew up with his stories of what it was like to serve in the military during the war. It is often said in my family that he spent more time in prison and wounded than actually fighting and I have to say, I kind of think it might be true. He volunteered at the very beginning of the war (to me he said it was the most stupid thing he ever did) and somehow ended up in Paris where he started an affair with a woman who was black. I don’t know if you know but it was a crime to have “interracial relations” under Hitler and when James was found out, he was lucky to not be send to prison or to a Camp but “only” to be moved to the Eastern front. It wasn’t an easy way out, the Eastern front was known for being the most terrible of them all. The first day he joined up with his new unit, the Sergeant who was getting to know everyone asked where they were from. When it was James’ turn he said that he was from Cologne. Cologne is the West of Germany and quite close to the French border and as the French weren’t exactly liked very much at the time (you know, WWI and the reparations and… other stupid stuff) his segeant who apparently liked putting people into their rightful place, said: “Oh, so you’re a Half-Frenchie!” I am sure if my grandfather had just nodded and smiled, nothing more would have come from it, but my grandfather being who he was instead answered back (which is never a good idea to do to your superior in the military but in this situation was particularly – unintelligent). “If I am half French,” said my grandfather and gave back ass good as he got to the sergeant who was from the East of Germany (the part that’s now Poland) “You are a Polack” He spent his fiorst three weeks in the new unit in custody for insubordination.

Soldiers of the 1st SS Panzer Division near Kh...

Soldiers of the 1st SS Panzer Division near Kharkov, February 1943 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Second of all: My country’s history.

Early on it was established in my mind that if people hadn’t been such good Germans as in that they did as they were told, Hitler and the Nazis would have had a much more difficult time trying to get to power and then abusing that power.Adolf Eichmann, the coordinator of transporting people to the concentration camps,  is, for me, one of the most despicable people in all of history and not because he believed in what he did (which I am sure he did) but because in the end it was a problem for him and in the end all he cared about was solving that problem. I don’t think he ever really thought about what he was doing. He was indifferent to that, the important thing was that he was given an order and, as a good bureaucrat, he made it happen. Indifference is a terrible thing and not questioning your superiors is another. Today, there is a clause in the rule book for German soldiers in that if they believe an order goes against the constitution they don’t have to follow it. That’s as it should be.

Thirdly: My mother.

My mother was undoubtedly influenced by all of the above and her example of thinking for herself, coming to her own conclusions and questioning everything helped me to become who I am today. Thanks Mom.

Interestingly, I learned from the other side of the family, that quiet opposition is possible, too. When everyone around them was becoming a member of the Nazi party, my great-grandfather refused, despite the threat to his teaching job, and while he did send all of his children to the Hitler Youth and the Federation of German Girls, he taught them at home that not everything they were told was necessarily true and to treat everything with caution. He taught my grandmother to question authority and he managed  to keep his family as safe as possible. Quite the feat at the time.

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Doctor Who morals

The Mark 2 fibreglass (Tom Yardley-Jones) Tard...

I was watching the TV series Damages the other day and something suddenly struck me. One of the baddies was obviously feeling guilty and decided to help one of the people he had wronged. That made me remember one of my favourite quotes from Doctor Who. He is talking to another baddie:

You let one of them go but that’s nothing new. Every now and then a little victim’s spared because she smiled, ’cause he’s got freckles. ‘Cause they begged. And that’s how you live with yourself. That’s how you slaughter millions. Because once in awhile—on a whim, if the wind’s in the right direction—you happen to be kind.

And isn’t this true for many, if not most, of us? We do the wrong thing all the time, knowingly do the wrong thing, but every now and then we muster up the strength to do what we believe is right in difficult circumstances – and that is how we live with ourselves. That is how we survive the knowledge that we are not always a good person. We remember the things we did right. We pat ourselves on the shoulder and say: See I am not all bad after all. And, as contradictory as this may sound; I think that is really important. To remember that we sometimes do have that strength. Because God does, too. Yes, he knows all our deeds, good or bad, but through his grace we are forgiven the bad ones. And we please him every time we get it right; every time we go beyond ourselves he jumps up and down with joy – and so should we. Of course we can’t be complacent about it but if we only focus on the bad things and those we got wrong – we’ll simply break. So I say: let’s use this very human feature for a good cause. Let’s use it to do more good deeds and less bad ones. Let’s use it as a carrot so we can forget the stick.

So, today, do something right, do something good, do something you wouldn’t normally do. and then tonight, when you go to sleep, remember it, remember the warm, fuzzy feeling of complete goodness and thank God for experiencing that grace. And then, tomorrow, do it again.

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Filed under Ethics, good vs. bad, Prayer, TV and Film

John 15:12

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

My favourite verse in the New Testament is this one. It really shows the priorities we should all have and what Jesus expects of us. If only it were as easy as it sounds…

 

 

 

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Blackmail

Taxes

Yesterday I read a story on the BBC that blew my mind. Apparently, the Catholic Church in Germany has decided to make people pay for their sacraments. To understand how this works you need to know some background details. Since the 19th century, when the State took away much of the Catholic Church’s property, the state has been collecting a so-called church tax in compensation. That means, when you register with the government (which you have to do whenever you move), you also register your religious affiliation and whether you register as Protestant, Catholic or Jewish, you will be required to pay a tax. This tax isn’t a lot; 8% of your income tax. That means, if you earn 100 000€ a year and you pay 10000 in income taxes (I simplified the math here), you will need to pay an additional 800€ in church tax. In the last few years (or decades), more and more people have de-registered their religious affiliation and it has long been in contention whether that means that they are also leaving their Religion. I think we can all agree, that this is not necessarily the same (and personally I think it is not the same at all). Well, now the German Catholic Bishop’s Conference has decided to make it so officially. That means that if you de-register with the State, you also automatically leave the Catholic Church and the consequence of that is that you will be denied all sacraments, except for the last rites. Even a church funeral might be denied you if the deceased was not registered.

I am outraged. I have joined the CoE a while ago but if I had not this would have the last nail in the coffin to make me automatically leave the Catholic Church of Germany. How dare they connect the giving of the sacraments with paying a tax? How dare they make people pay for spiritual anything! It is properly unbelievable.And why would the Bishops think that this would mean less people leaving the church? I think this is going to make more people de-register; out of anger. I would. I am so agnry at them, I could scream. This is not what being a church is about, it it is not about giving people a space and support to encounter God and Jesus and explore their faith. This is pure power play. If you don’t pay taxes, we won’t let you go to communion. If you don’t pay taxes, we won’t let you be a godmother. If you don’t pay taxes, we won’t give you a funeral. It’s blackmail.

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Filed under Catholic Church, Current Events, Ethics, good vs. bad

Uncomfortable conversation

Detail

Something happened today that made me really uncomfortable. I was with a group of people, some of which I didn’t know very well and we were talking about nothing and everything, being funny and hilarious. Then, one woman started talking about a situation she’d been in at her previous job. A colleague, who everyone knew to be on the autistic spectrum, had invited everyone to his birthday party and asked everyone to prepare some kind of activity. So far so good, but then she proceeded to make fun of the party and described various activities in the most ridiculous way possible.It did sound terrible but she had told us before that the poor guy wasn’t like everyone else and I felt really, really uncomfortable with the direction this was taking. First of all, shouldn’t she just have played along at the party (which apparently she didn’t) because, well, it’s what the guy liked and she did go for him after all. Secondly, why tell us about it in a way that became more and more mean (I felt) as she went on. And thirdly, no-one said a thing. I think I would have if I had been with friends but I didn’t want to be the killjoy. Now I feel guilty. Was it my responsibility to interfere? She wasn’t really hurting anyone. But making fun of someone with whatever-it-is-called just seems so very wrong to me. I’m not sure what to think. I hope I would have had the guts to stand up to her if there had been someone affected present. On the other hand I don’t know that there wasn’t; I didn’t really know the people all that well after all. In the situation I realised what was going on but I made the choice not to say anything because everyone else was laughing and didn’t seem to feel like there was anything wrong with it. Were they all thinking the same maybe? She isn’t a terrible person, I don’t think. But I feel a lot more cautious about her now. Maybe that is also not fair.

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Filed under Community, Ethics, good vs. bad

A life can never be given back

English: Footprints from Westhaven. Looking ba...

Today I was listening to a lecture on Christian ethics, originally to try out whether I liked the speaker or not. Then I realised he was talking about the death penalty and what the Bible says about it and I couldn’t stop listening. This is something very important to me, not least because a friend of mine was murdered a few years ago. Now, you might think that I would want the killer to die, maybe even, that I should want him to die but actually I don’t. In fact, when I first thought about it (being from Germany where the death penalty is not an option, it didn’t cross my mind until someone asked me) I realised that I felt quite the opposite. This man had taken my friend’s life and I wanted him to realise what he had done (he never showed remorse or apologised to her family or anyone else as far I know) and then live with it. Because wouldn’t that be so much worse than just dying? I feel terrible whenever I do something to hurt anyone else and while I realise that not everyone feels the same, I hope that killing your girlfriend would result in that. I think if the guy was killed because of the society I am a member of I would actually feel guilty (and I agree that that would go a bit far and not be a reasonable reaction at all). There are a lot of reasons for and against the death penalty and I cannot possibly list them all here but if you are interested here is an extensive list of all the arguments. The lecturer, I was listening to, made some arguments for and against it  and finally came to the conclusion that the Bible allows the death penalty if it is applied justly and fairly. This is a big if of course and he also concluded after giving a few examples that the process cannot ever be completely just and fair. While I agree with the latter I don’t agree with the former. His arguments were compelling but mainly based on the Old Testament and I choose to believe that God told us in much more detail about himself in the New Testament. Even as early as Deuteronomy we are told that revenge belongs to God and Paul explains it to us in Romans: Do not take revenge my friend… on the contrary if your enemy is hungry feed him… Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. Also, using my moral sense it just feels very wrong. Like I said, it would be too easy for the killer and he would never have the chance to repent and try to atone his crime. I believe, and maybe this is a little wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, that everyone can give something to society and that every single person plays a role in the greater scheme of life. Letting somebody live, even if it is just in prison, gives him (or her) the chance to give something back. Even if it is writing a book and becoming rich or just sowing footballs (or whatever it is they do in prisons these days). I am just a normal person who likes to hold a grudge as well as anyone, so don’t think I am some angelic weirdo. In the beginning I was so furious (and so very sad!) and as I found out more details about her Footprints in sand. Marinha Grande, Portugal.death I became angrier and angrier. For a while all those feelings took over my life. When the trial was finally over, after almost a year, I was so glad that his terrible crime was acknowledged by awarding him the maximum sentence possible (15 years, if you are not considered a menace to society in Germany). As I write these lines and remember it all, the tears come back into my eyes.  I am very glad I was asked about my friend’s killer because it helped me to find out, in a moment of amazing grace, that I had started to forgive him.  I realised that I didn’t want him to suffer in prison and that I hope when he leaves, he has used the time in prison to get an education and make something of his life. Enough lives have already been destroyed because of his actions. I don’t think I will ever stop being sad but I am eternally grateful that I have stopped being furious. Sometimes I am still angry but it passes quicker every time.

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Filed under Bible, Ethics, good vs. bad, New Testament, Philosophy, Prayer