SMOKERS BEWARE: YOU ARE AT RISK OF INCORRECTLY HIGH BREATH TEST RESULTS


In an article published by PR Newswire  Lawrence Taylor a South California attorney and author of Drunk Driving Defense, claims that smokers might get into trouble when undergoing a breath test because of incorrectly high breathalyzer tests. Studies have shown than smokers have a higher concentration of a molecule acetaldehyde than non-smokers and that molecule is sadly enough very similar to the ethanol molecule the breathalyzers look for. As a result you may end up with an incorrectly high reading when tested. Especially long-term smokers run this risk.

From other studies it transpired that there may be credence in the proposition that smoking slows down the alcohol absorption, which would result in a lower blood alcohol level that it would be with a non-smoker. According to the scientist the results of the studies have “considerable social and medicolegal relevance” when trying to determine the blood alcohol level of a smoker. Taylor quickly notes that this simply means that the machines will probably not get it right in estimating blood alcohol levels of a smoker and are therefore highly unreliable.

Source:  PR Newswire 28 September

Taylor’s science based arguments that the machines are flawed are impressive. At the same time however these machines are used on a daily basis by those out in the field. What will need to happen now? A new procedure in which the officer asks about prior smoking activities, how recent, amount of cigarettes so as to ensure whether or not that may have influenced a breath test reading. And if a blood test needs to be used as an alternative, we have to consider the matter of differences in alcohol absorption between smokers and non-smokers.

How long until we see these types of arguments appear in New Zealand court rooms.
On the other han this may be a good time to consider a 0 alcohol allowance for those that are driving.

IS YOUR MOBILE’S BATTERY RUNNING OUT QUICKER THAN USUAL? You may have been hacked


AUSTIN, TX – Ads on Craigslist and other classified ads are advertising software that allows anyone to be able to hack into any cell phone for less than $30. Reporters in Texas investigated the program and found that they were able to hack into cell phones as promised.
PI Greg Parsons notes that such software is used by law enforcement but usually retails for hundreds of dollars. These software programs are now easily bought online and are shipped from abroad, since they are not legal in the US. Police ended up dealing with stalkers who have are using the software. Experts note victims of the software may find that their minutes increase or that their batteries drain more quickly. In addition, most people using the software often send threatening messages to their victims.

Read the full story here >>>

SLIDESHOWS IN COURT: The media is NOT the Message


Even though not used too often yet, slideshows like for instance a Powerpoint presentation can have a significant impact in your case. Opening statements and closing submissions are two of the few opportunities where you can prepare your story in advance and present it to the court hopefully without too many distractions.  Preparing a series of slides and using the power of visual communication can substantially increase your ability to present a lot of information and increase the level of comprehension thereof. Now just because you know how to create a nice background to your presentations, that does not mean that your presentation will actually be of added value to your statements or submissions. A bad presentation may even harm your case. In fact you may very well not even need a presentation, but if you think you do, here are some matters to consider.

SOME GOLDEN RULES AND TIPS

1. Create an outline first
Keep in mind at all times that the slides are not meant to tell the story, you as a solicitor or barrister are. The presentation is there to support what you want to present to the court and not the other way around. It is important not to get caught up in the visual and audio enhancements available to you. The story is what comes first and should be able to stand on its own. Once that is done you could review your outline and see where it may benefit from visual enhancements: a photograph or video, a fragment of an audio recording or videotaped statement, a highlighted part of a document or an important document itself. The enhancements are there to illustrate or emphasise important points.

2. Simplicity Rules
Presentation programs such as Powerpoint offer a wealth of whistles and bells: slide transitions, cool background options, animation effects to name but a few. That does not however mean you should actually use them. The courtroom is not a place to provide entertainment it is a place where justice needs to be done. A conservative approach is therefore strongly recommended. Simplicity rules here: keep things lean and clean, at best with a light blue or otherwise non-distracting background. I prefer a light background as opposed to a dark one (somehow dark blue seems to be a favored option for many. Like a website, a lighter and softer background is much easier on the eyes).

3. Colors and Fonts
Also keep in mind that what you see on your screen is not necessarily how things will come across in a court room or on a big screen. Anything that is too dark or too bright may be a distraction which could ultimately have the effect of loss of attention instead of attracting it. With loss of attention comes loss of retention and loss of comprehension.

By default white is the standard background colour but this is not the easiest on the eyes when seen on the big screen. Instead consider light grey, or a soft blue background, it is much easier on the eyes especially when you are presenting images.

Likewise with fonts. Not all fonts are equally easy to read on the big screen. Fonts like Times New Roman, or Book Antiqua (a favorite under lawyers it seems) are best suited for printed materials but hard to read on a big screen. I prefer and recommend using font types such a Arial, Tahoma, Trebuchet or Verdana for non printed media including presentations because they are easier to read and therefore more suitable. Again; with loss of attention comes loss of retention and loss of comprehension.

4. Too Much of a Good Thing
As said before, presentations are there to support your story not to tell the story. All too often I see how too much information is crammed on the slides. It may be tempting to put a particular part of your submissions on a slide (for instance a complete paragraph) but that can have some terrible side effects. First of all it may lead to slides that are very hard to read because of the small size of the font that necessarily comes with. More importantly: there is this tendency to start reading ahead, which results in your audience being focused on reading your text instead of listening what you have to tell. YOU are telling the story not the slides.
Also keep in mind that bullets are speaking points not reading points. Reading texts straight from the slide is besides that very boring and therefore does not help in retaining the attention.

5. Visual and audio enhancements

So you made the outline and you are now ready to incorporate visual and audio to your presentation, assuming that this will be functional.
With photographs, I recommend making them as large as possible: meaning use the complete size of the slide and where you are considering blowing up part of a picture, use a separate slide for it and apply the same rule. On other occasions you may want to use the initial photograph as the background and add a blown up fragment on top of it to emphasise a specific point. Consider your options here.
When incorporating documents, ensure that you incorporate he relevant parts either by using a hyperlink to a specific part of a document or by cutting and pasting a specific fragment into your presentation.  When you want to highlight a certain part of a text in a document, I recommend so called “reverse highlighting.” Instead of having one of those yellow boxes consider the option of a black box in which the specific part of the text is made bright yellow or white.
And then there are video fragments. There is no reason why such fragments should be playing small size. Where blow them up to the size of your slide. For audio clips I recommend a blank slide with at the most a small icon showing that the clip is playing. You want your audience to focus on the audio not on the player.

“Excuse me, I am encountering a technical problem here: it doesn’t work?”
I bet you have you seen at least once a video or audio clip on a PowerPoint slide that didn’t start playing. Usually the reason for that is that someone has copied or moved the presentation from one location to another. The program searches for the video or audio file, and it’s not there. What I recommend is that you copy all the visual and audio enhancements into a separate folder that sticks together with the presentation itself. You could burn this on CD and you will have no trouble at all. For Powerpoint users: use PowerPoint’s “Pack
and Go” or “Package for CD” feature. This feature will ensure that all embedded files are included with the presentation.

ALMOST READY TO GO
You have finalized the presentation and are almost ready to go now. I recommend you make notes where slides need to be switched in your text so as to ensure your story and your slides will run as one smooth operation. Besides that I would like to suggest that if you have the possibility, to run a try or rehearsal. Reviewing your outline and actually presenting it are two entirely different things. At the very least you will have an indication as to the length of your performance. Perhaps you could rehearse the presentation for some of your colleagues or team members. Make sure you get some sort of feedback on whether or not your presentation is convincing, is able to appeal to your target audience (dealing with a jury that is different than dealing with a judge or panel of experienced arbitrators), and whether or not adjustments may be required.

KNOW WHEN TO GET HELP AND ACTUALLY GET IT
If you have the time and resources to do all of this yourself, go for it. If you are sure you will not risk the outcome of your case, go for it. Whilst the tips outlined here are relatively basic, they may well end up to become time-consuming, especially if you are an inexperienced user. This is time you could have used on the merits of your case or another case. If you do not have the time to devote to this type of preparation, or if it is just something that would divert precious time away from more important responsibilities, consider assistance by an experienced party: someone in your office, an outside party such as a litigation support professional or trial (presentation) consultant who can tackle the production matters and where required or desired, who can even be present during to assist at the relevant times in your court case. You don’t need to be and want to be distracted with the technicalities as you are presenting your case and therefoe need to be ocussed on your audience.

Costs are at all times a consideration, but should not impede the best possible representation of your client. If the case was worthy to be tried it is worthy to be presented properly, effectively, and efficiently.
If that means you need to bring in some assistance than you should bring in the assistance. A trial is not the time for bargain-hunting.
At all times make sure that like yourself your team is trained and experienced. Learning the ropes on the account of the client is not acceptable.

No matter how good looking or convincing you think you are, delivering opening statements or closing submissions are the few moments where you are in almost complete control of the story conveyed. Using visual aids can have a significant impact on  how the story comes across and is comprehended. Where a lot of information needs to be shared not using visual aids can lead to confusion or at least make make you fail to impress your audience. On the other hand excessively flashy presentations could have a negative impact as well.

A conservative, balanced and effective approach is to use proven designs and colors. Your presentation should fit with the environment it is presented in, you are presenting to a court not providing the entertainment of the day. At all times keep in mind: YOU ARE TELLING THE STORY NOT THE SLIDES!

Think you may need some outside advise by now? Contact us and we are more than happy to help in getting the best out of your presentation.

Internal Fraud and abuse: a genuine risk. Did you get your assessment yet?


Are you aware where your vulnerabilities and risks are?

Occupational fraud and abuse is one of the most serious threats to business nowadays and yet it is also the one most overlooked. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners estimates the average losses to businesses running up to 7% of the revenues as a result of misappropriation of assets and corrupt activities such as kickbacks.  With a Gross Domestic Product figure of 180 billion for the year end March 2009 in New Zealand, we are talking about a potential of $12.6 billion that was lost on fraud if we translate these figures to New Zealand by those that are supposed to protect the bottom lines of business instead of threatening them. I have found no documents that could indicate that the situation would be any different in New Zealand. What does strike time and time again in reading these reports is that especially smaller sized businesses are extra vulnerable and that is exactly what the New Zealand market consists of for the most part: smaller businesses. Economic times have put many under pressure and it is noted that occupational fraud and abuse appear to be on the rise. With times hard enough as they are adequate protection should be maintained even though it does not directly contribute to the generation of revenues. There are several steps you could consider:

  • Establish a whistle blower facility through which anonymous tips can be forwarded by employees, customers and vendors. Tome and time again this has proven to be a valuable tool in the timely detection of potential fraudulent activity;
  • Implement a written fraud policy detailing what will happen in case occupational fraud or abuse are discovered;
  • Provide fraud awareness training which could start by communicating existing procedures clearly but after that consider the help of a professional to assist your staff in learning how to spot the signs and what to do when they do spot potential fraudulent activity;
  • Ensure that your information security is up to date, and I do not just mean keeping intruders out but ALSO internally;
  • Conduct proper pre-employment checks. In the end: you hired the fraudster;
  • Appoint someone to take responsibility;

What these steps indicate above all is to take a pro-active stance instead of a reactive one. Damages caused by fraud and abuse can very quickly run up to substantial amounts if they stay undetected. No system is 100% fraud resistant but there are ways to ensure that frauds are detected as quickly as possible. This is especially important for smaller businesses, taking into consideration that full recovery is seldom achieved and the damages may be harder to bear. You would not be the first small business that had to close its doors or had to fire innocent employees because of the damages cause by occupational fraud and abuse.

THE BEST DEFENSE IS A GOOD OFFENSE. This is why businesses bring in professional outsiders that can assist them in identifying the gaps or weak areas. Dierckx & Associates Ltd offers the possibililty of a Fraud Risk Assessment: a comprehensive analysis of the vulnerabilities and risk tolerances in your business, an examination of existing fraud policies and measures and a determination of the adequacy thereof. Typically  this will result in a detailed report with findings and recommendations in the form of actionable steps to create more effective fraud prevention an detection.

“I CAN’T AFFORD AN ANTI-FRAUD PROGRAM”

A typical reaction on post such as this one will be that “we don’t have the resources to implement the suggestions you are making.” I am very well aware of the budgetary restraints that come with small businesses. Many effective controls and measures can be implemented at very low to virtually no cost. It is also important to keep in mind that if your pro-active measures prevent only one fraud or employee theft your efforts and associated costs probably have earned themselves back.

Don’t wait until it is too late. Contact us so we can discuss what your needs may be and where we may be able to assist you.

This post was originally posted at Dierckx & Associates.

A THANK YOU TO HARMONY CHURCH; REFLECTIONS ON BEING A CHRISTIAN


Those that know me well know that I have been studying Christianity as well as other belief systems for a very long time. I was around 11 years old when I said goodbye to the Roman Catholic Church because I could not align my understanding of the Bible with what was being told on Sunday. You could of course wonder well … 11 years odd (I meant to write old but I guess the typing error says just as much as to how one is perceived at that age) … what do you know? Being a beta orientated student it is not difficult to imagine probably that where that belief in God was soon replaced by belief in science and from that the impossibility of a God.  At the same time there has always been that sense of marvel that somehow kept alive at least the doubt that maybe there was a God. All these incredible things in nature, our universe, the placement of Earth in there making life possible on Earth; it just seemed that random chance of that happening was not a satisfactory explanation. So, as a started to realize, I was actually never an atheist, I was more like what they call an agnostic. I will get back on that. In the past five years this interest in religion has been transformed into a more serious attempt to reconnect with the religious and spiritual and rediscovering Christianity. Whilst Buddhist philosophy, Taoism and other oriental philosophies really appealed to me, I also started to see how many of these teachings, showed similarities with what can be read in the Bible, could as well have been sayings of Jesus, at least when taking into consideration how I understood his message to be.

It was the movie “Stigmata” a religious thriller that introduced me to the Gospel of Thomas, a non-canonical gospel that was discovered at Nag-Hamadi in 1945. For those of you that are into serious Bible study and perhaps even more, theology and theological theories will have hear of Q (=Quelle) which is a hypothetical source of sayings of Jesus. The Gospel of Thomas is very similarly a collection of sayings many of which we will find back in the Bible yet without the context. The Gospel of Thomas actually made me rediscover Christianity, study what is called the historical Jesus and from that it opened me up to a lot of different ideas on God, Christ an Christianity which ultimately lead me to find my own path in there. At the same time, over time I had lost interest in anything having to do with institutionalized Christian religion, if only because I could see how the power structures, dogmas, rules and requirements did not seem to align with how I understood the teachings of Jesus. So, church has been out of the question for me for years with a very few occasional visits to Christmas mass with family and/or friends. Church visits of which there have been many over the years were always about an interest in art and architecture.

Yesterday was special in that we went as a family to mass. Not a yearly Christmas mass, no, normal Sunday mass in a relatively young Christian church led by an old friend of my wife: the Harmony Church (http://www.harmony.org.nz). Whilst I may have my particular ideas, think it is important that my children get a taste of celebrating belief, Christianity with others. Besides that I was ready to see what it would do to me. Past Christmas celebrations have more often than not left me with either an empty or even angry feeling so I admit I was worried upfront. The openness of attendees was something that immediately struck: before, during and after mass. Sure this was a small beginning church and probably everyone knows each other, yet you never had this feeling of being checked out, the child friendliness was incredible and overall there was a very positive atmosphere throughout the complete experience. It was good to be around such friendly and inspired people and it sort of rubbed off. For a long time have not felt such an urge to contribute: as a musician, as a human, as a Christian?

Whilst mass was enfolding and even after that the question came to mind again: can I actually be a Christian taking into consideration the personal views I have on God, crucifixion and the resurrection?  While I enjoyed the mass and the message that was conveyed, there was also the matter of the deity of God. Notions such as “God is present here today;” not too much trouble with that as God is present everywhere. Likewise with notions such as “I can feel God’s presence;” feeling God’s presence is something to be very happy about because in my perspective that means a connection with the creator. Is that not the ultimate purpose of any spiritual exercise or movement?

Does God Exist? A Rationalist with a Twist

The Collins Shorter Dictionary and Thesaurus describes “rationalism” as “philosophy which regards reason as only guide or authority.” In the Wikipedia we find the following short description:

In epistemology and in its broadest sense rationalism is “any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification” (Lacey 286). In more technical terms it is a method or a theory “in which the criterion of truth is not sensory but deductive” (Bourke 263). Different degrees of emphasis on this method or theory lead to a range of rationalist standpoints, from the moderate position “that reason has precedence over other ways of acquiring knowledge” to the radical position that reason is “the unique path to knowledge”.

If there is anything that appears to have dominated my thinking and my state of mind it is most probably that I have this sense of always wanting to leave the door open: there are no absolute truths in my perspective. I prefer to think in temporary truths that may be replaced with new insights and as a result of that a new (temporary) position or truth. Instead of thinking in absolute, fundamentalist terms, I prefer to leave the door open for other perspectives.

For many rationalism is considered as one of those ways of actually saying that it is impossible to be a religious or spiritual person and that there cannot be room for belief in God in one’s life. I tend to see this not necessarily as rationalism but more as scepticism, or better yet another form of fundamentalism, perhaps we could say rationalist fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is understood here as a state of being or mind whereby alternative ideas, that do not match with one’s own view on reality or belief of reality, are blocked out just because of that. I believe that curiosity cannot kill any cat and that it is exactly curiosity that opens up for new ideas and growth, personal and ultimately as humanity. I do not for instance see an impossibility to be a rationalist and at the same time accept that there is a God.

In my view the most important question for a rationalist is not necessarily what your opinion is but more how you arrived at that opinion. Rationalism in my view stands for supremacy of reason and if that reason leads you to certain conclusions than that’s how it is: that does not make you a lesser a rationalist. At the same time there is something relativist in there since what may be my truth for now is not necessarily my truth tomorrow or forever. Rationalism, in my view, includes the option of seeing ones current position or personal truth as fallible (a theory), one that may be subject to change where the same reason requires so. It is this (maybe personal) rationalist approach that has led me to consider myself an atheist for most of my life. I looked at the existing evidence and whilst compelling at times, I did not find conclusive evidence that there actually existed a God. At the same time however I must now admit, I wasn’t looking for any such evidence. I wanted to believe that there was no God. On the other hand, I found the body of atheist publications, culminating in the recent work of Richard Dawkins “The God Delusion”, similarly inconclusive. I have come to a point by now where I consider atheism to be a belief system just as any religion and for that matter a very fundamentalist belief system.

It took me quite some years to realize that the conflict between science and religion, between Atheism and Deism was actually a false one. It was never about whether or not there was a God: a religious person believes that there is a God and an Atheist claims there is no God. The fact that science may not have been able to find proof that there is a God, a creator, does not mean that there is no such creator. If anything history has taught us that science and there laws and theories it claims to generate are not always as absolute as one might be led to think. So, not having found proof for the existence of God could also mean that humans are not advanced enough yet to scientifically prove it or even recognize the evidence for such existence at least in an empirical sense. So, in that sense Atheism is actually another religion or belief system. All in all, the playing grounds were completely open in that matter and I would have to find my own way in this. The other camp however was offering very specific descriptions of God which I had a hard time believing in or even accept. (See further down this letter.)

The Twist

I found myself in a difficult position with both camps not being able to provide me with evidence and arguments that could lead me to think that there was a higher probability for either one position or the other. So,  I made a choice based on an emotional argument, a leap of faith so you wish.  In the circumstances, a rationalist approach would have necessarily left me with an agnostic position. However whilst the scientific evidence may have been unsatisfactory to make either one or the other position more likely, there was what I could refer to as “emotional and/or spiritual evidence:  knowledge or an undeniable feeling that there is something that is connecting us all, that there is or must have been a creator. Besides that, if there really was nothing more to it than just random chance, genetic procreation and survival of the species, why are we trying to stay alive after having raised our children? We did what we needed to do, so what’s the point in staying alive any longer.

I guess Albert Einstein said it beautifully:

“What is the meaning of human life, or of organic life altogether? To answer this question at all implies a religion. Is there any sense then, you ask, in putting it? I answer, the man who regards his own life and that of his fellow-creatures as meaningless is not merely unfortunate but almost disqualified for life.”


Even though the scientific evidence was not there, my gut and general sense for meaning of life, led me to believe that there must be something like a creator, a God. In fact I dare to say that even though I would not be able to describe it appropriately, I experience this God on a daily basis, through my amazement about the marvels of nature, the sense of being such an insignificant little part of a large universe, the arts, music, literature and in relatively simple things such as the love you automatically feel for your children, for your wife, even though the act of genetic procreation does no longer require it, in the compassion for others when looking at the wars, famine and natural disasters. While some could be brought back to the survival of the species argument, others do not relate to that at all. Can anyone tell me how a piano player like Bill Evans contributed to the survival of the species, why Bach, Mozart or Beethoven wrote the masterpieces they wrote? Why did Vincent van Gogh, Gaugin, Monet, Manet, Picasso and all the other great artists make their masterpieces, why do great writers write what they write: Coelho, Garcia Marques, Kundera, Steinbeck, Tolstoi, Kafka and the lost could go on forever? Time and time again I cannot help but feeling that these same great artists have been showing us a part of reality that can no longer be described in physical, empiric terms. A super-reality that transcends the physical and introduces us or even connects us with what one could describe as the supernatural.  Being a rationalist does not have to exclude believing and even experiencing a God. Again I will quote Albert Einstein:

“The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. He who knows it not and can no longer wonder, no longer feel amazement, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle. It was the experience of mystery–even if mixed with fear–that engendered religion.

A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which are only accessible to our reason in their most elementary forms–it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man.

I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in ourselves. An individual who should survive his physical death is also beyond my comprehension, nor do I wish it otherwise; such notions are for the fears or absurd egoism of feeble souls. Enough for me, the mystery of the eternity of life, and the inkling of the marvellous structure of reality, together with the single-hearted endeavour to comprehend a portion, be it never so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature.”

“But there is a third state of religious experience which belongs to all of them, even though it is rarely found in a pure form, and which I will call cosmic religious feeling. It is very difficult to explain this feeling to anyone who is entirely without it, especially as there is no anthropomorphic conception of God corresponding to it. The individual feels the nothingness of human desires and aims and the sublimity and marvellous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought. He looks upon individual existence as a sort of prison and wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole. …

… The religious geniuses of all ages have been distinguished by this kind of religious feeling, which knows no dogma and no God conceived in man’s image; so that there can be no Church whose central teachings are based on it.”


These words basically express the very similar sentiments that I have had to find so hard to express. Now, years later I see how similar notions can be found in Buddhism.
The reassurance that even for such an influential scientist as Einstein there was still room for a God in his life made it somewhat easier to take this “leap of faith myself”. Come to think of it, it is not even a leap of faith, it is instead this experience and feeling for which normal language does not have the words to describe. In addition to that – as will be clear for those that read previous paragraphs – Einstein’s sentiment appealed to exactly my issues with religion. There is apparently room for a personal religious experience.

Such a vision is far from appreciated by “normal” religious people. A good example is the opinion of my good friend prof. J..J.A. Beenakker, in his book “Laat de Echte Jezus Opstaan. De Mythen Voorbij”.  This book documents his personal quest for the foundations of Christianity. In effect it is a personal report of his research into “The Historical Jesus”.

“The more conscious I am of how I distance myself from the past, the more conscious I become of that living tradition that starts with the Jewish people and which, through Jesus of Nazareth and his disciples, ended up to be  the broad stream of Christian churches. I feel myself to be part of this living tradition but freed from the shackles so characteristic of the past centuries. If you would ask me what the liberation from these shackles means to me personally, than I cannot answer that yet. It does however not mean, that the relationship with the church I which I grew up would no longer be important. Without the binding of the church, any religious experience runs out to become something vague.”

I do not necessarily agree with this statement which tells me most likely more about the author than about religious or spiritual experience. Whilst I could (and after visiting Harmony Church) do see the value in gatherings of people that share, discuss and celebrate their mutual belief systems; such collective experiences are as far as I can see it not necessarily a requirement.

Can I actually be a Christian?

Where I get in some sort of difficulty is in the presentation of that God as someone that is actively interfering in our life. The God that listens to our prayers and changes things for the better, the God that sent and sacrificed his Son as some sort of rescue package for mankind.  Then of course there is the matter of the resurrection, Christ standing up from the death. I will come back to this but to me it seems that this is one of these impossibilities that just do not make sense to me, that is, in a literal sense.

Why I Thought I Could Not Be a Christian

I guess what always struck me as difficult to accept was not so much the idea that there actually was a God. It is the way in which this God was described by the traditional Christian church. I could simply not align myself with the God of the Church and the doctrines and dogmas associated with it:

  • A theist defined God that interferes in the lives of individuals;
  • A theist defined God who sent down his son as a rescue pack for humanity;
  • Jesus as the (re-)incarnation of a theist deity;
  • A literally interpreted Bible where it comes to the virgin birth of Jesus, Jesus as the miracle worker; and
  • A view of Jesus as dying for our sins after which he is supposed to have physically resurrected, which to me seems an impossibility and barbaric idea;
  • Prayer as a request to God who is supposed to listen and act upon that and interfere in our human existence and history;

In addition, in part due to past experiences and my own ideas on what Christianity should be about, I had a hard time with what I saw as institutionalized Catholicism and/or Christianity (reformed and protestant):

  • The exclusivity instead of all-inclusiveness that I see back in the words and actions of Jesus.
  • The claims to truth: even Jesus saw himself as a teacher and not the one providing the answers. Instead he opened up your thinking about a relationship with a living God, whatever that may have been;
  • The system of Sin and Forgiveness that appears to bring out nothing more than behavior control systems based on fear (for death);

Reading all these objections against Christian belief and doctrine one could easily ask. Well with that being the case, you can hardly call yourself a Christian in any event so why bother getting to know about Jesus at all? Well that is easy to answer: the way I got to know the teachings of Jesus, it does have incredible value to one’s life and ultimately to reach a state of divine peace and a connection with our creator right here on Earth.

The Kingdom of God is Here and Now: Inside and All Around You

If there is anything that I picked up from reading about the historical Jesus and source documents it is the notion that Jesus was here on earth with one mission only: to proclaim the realization of the Kingdom of God. And that Kingdom of God/Heaven was something to be expected not in a far away future: no it “was already at hand”. (Mark 1:15) In the Gospel of Thomas we see a similar notion:

113) His disciples said to Him, “When will the Kingdom come?” <Jesus said,> “It will not come by waiting for it. It will not be a matter of saying ‘Here it is’ or ‘There it is.’ Rather, the Kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it.”

Jesus was furthermore quite specific about the place of this Kingdom. Similarly shocking as the previous statement must have been his answer to the Pharisees, when they asked him when that Kingdom was to be expected:


The Kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo Here! or Lo There! For, behold, the Kingdom of God is within you( Luke 17: 20-21).

In the Gospel of Thomas a similar notion is found:

3) Jesus said, “If those who lead you say, ‘See, the Kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the Kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. …”

So instead of a Kingdom of God/Heavens to come in the future (after you die), it is already there, right inside you and all around you. I guess that is exactly what appealed to me and is exactly where I expected this Kingdom to be found. The trick now became of course arriving there. To me being a Christian is probably more about living according to the words of Jesus and less about the specifics of what God actually is supposed to be. I can’t help but thinking that the teachings of Christ will if you live by them provide you that state where you are in complete connection with the creator, with the universe. So yes, I think I can call my self a Christian but perhaps not in the general sense of the word.

Why I enjoyed Today at Harmony Church

So here I was actually enjoying (quite honestly unexpectedly) the sermon and being surrounded by such a good crowd of people but at the same time feeling slightly guilty about sharing the love and compassion perhaps on different grounds.

Back home, reflecting over this experience, I thought that my beliefs were not so important, what was important was the experience of a Kingdom here and now, of celebrating that connection in the here and now. After all these years of studying it all came down to two simple concepts that will cover anything else that in my view is important where it comes to living a spiritual life or so you wish a spiritual life: the concepts of love and compassion.

Why I enjoyed today’s sermon was because for the first time since a very long time I felt surrounded by people that actually appeared to understand what these concepts mean in daily reality. In that sense it felt a little like the Kingdom of God was inside me and all around me. The latter not just because of all the marvels of nature but because I felt surrounded by people that actually understand these concepts.

Thank you Gideon and Catherine for inviting us. Thank you for making this a memorable experience and I look forward to coming back soon.

Posted via email from Dierckx & Associates

Preparation and Patience Go a Long Way: Interviewing a Scammer – John Dierckx


Over time two key factors have proven to be of key importance in relation to these type of interviews:

  • thorough preparation; and
  • patience.

The problem or I should say challenge with scam artists is that contrary to for instance internal fraudsters or employee thieves it is more difficult to bring them back to the point where they crossed an internal moral barrier.  Employee thieves or internal fraudsters are more easily brought back to that point where – driven by some perceived need – they crossed the line knowing fully well that what they were doing was illegal. This causes a certain anxiety that is subsequently rationalized away so as to ease that anxiety. Bringing them back to that point sometimes makes them confess and get rid of their feelings of guilt.  This is different for the scammer who simply does not think anything of ripping others of their money or even life savings.  They have no need to rationalize. Bringing them back to that point of anxiety is not even possible: there is none!

Posted via web from John Dierckx

Debt Collection Scam Aims at NZ Law Firms.


An older type of cheque fraud has resurfaced and is now targeting law firms. This time it involves bogus debt collection services which will inevitably lead to payments before finding out that the cheque for the collected debt bounced. It is not too hard to imagune how a similar tactic could be used to defraud other businesses.

The scam whereby a seemingly genuine foreign company solicits a law practice to collect debts on its behalf has caught out at least one New Zealand law firm.The NZLS has already warned twice about the scam. Anecdotal evidence indicates that those warnings have had some effect, though only just in time in some cases. The scam involves law practices being approached by email to receive money from a New Zealand-based debtor. The law practice agrees a retainer to undertake the debt collection and later is told the debtor has agreed to pay up. A cheque from a reputable bank is received and deposited in the trust account. The ‘client’ then pressures staff members to forward the funds, which are sent, minus the retainer, after which the cheque bounces. The approach may appear to be genuine in that it purports to be on behalf of a well-established company. However, an actual approach directly to the company can indicate that it knows nothing of the email author, e.g. the emails are forged. Approaches that the NZLS has heard of have involved amounts ranging from approximately $150,000 to over $350,000.

Australian firms are being similarly targeted and it is understood that at least one mid-sized firm in New South Wales has fallen for the scam, reports the www.thenewlawyer.com.au website.

Source: LawTalk 738, 28 September 2009

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