Couldn't have said it better myself...

"We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are."

Anais Nin

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Pontificating, Praying and Practical Action in Pursuit of Peace

And another thing...
There was a distinct dearth of posts on this site last week... First because I had a backlog of boxes to empty following our house-move and I had a lot to wrap up before knocking off for a bit of a break... But just because I wasn't posting stuff, doesn't mean there wasn't a lot going on in the rice pudding that passes for my brain... So now that I am "off" and before I head away for a few days I thought I would catch up with a few of the issues that had been dominating the media over the past 10 days or so... With the notable exception of the Royal baby... My approach to that is best summed up in Andrea Mann's piece in the Huffington Post "BREAKING NEWS: Woman Gives Birth To Baby".
I began yesterday by offering some of my thoughts prompted by Justin Welby's approach to the whole Wonga-world episode. But one of the things I didn't say was that what impressed me most about his approach was that it wasn't just about him pontificating from Canterbury, or wherever. Rather, it involved dialogue with those he disagreed with and practical proposals to the whole thing.
Here in Northern Ireland we have had a lot of pontificating from one place or another... from pulpits of all shapes and sizes, platforms at Orange Order parades, on TV and radio and on many, many blogs... There have been condemnations, and calls for condemnations, calls to repentance and to prayer... But has it made any difference to this place?
The day that I posted my previous Supplement things here in Northern Ireland were back at boiling point because of rioting in Belfast following restrictions put on the Orange's Twelfth Parade, and the application that the Belfast County Grand Lodge had made to have a parade past the same flashpoint the following Saturday. That application and a subsequent one this Saturday were both refused, but thankfully both parades and ensuing protests went off peacefully. At the time however, there was no guarantee of that, and in the wake of some questions being raised regarding the leadership of those at the helm of the 4 larger Christian churches in advance of and the wake of the Twelfth, our own President, Rev. Dr. Heather Morris circulated a prayer for use in Belfast Methodist churches, which was then picked up by other denominations and used across the province. The prayer was:
God of love whose love streams unceasingly and relentlessly to all, we cry to you for our city. We pray for peace on our streets, for economic well-being, for understanding across our differences. Build us as one community, though diverse, that being reconciled to you we might be reconciled to one another. Lord, turn our hearts to you that your glory might dwell in this city. We pray this in the name of Jesus who is Lord of all. Amen
[CORRECTION: I have been reliably informed, by the Boss herself, that this prayer was a joint one, actually signed off by the leaders of the 4 larger churches before distribution]. On the morning that this prayer was being used there was a short segment about this on William Crawley's Sunday Sequence, which then prompted further criticism about Christian leaders and Christians in general praying instead of doing anything practical... There may, at times, be truth in this, especially in Northern Ireland, and indeed in that same programme William interviewed John Brewer whose recent book "
Religion, Civil Society, and Peace in Northern Ireland" profoundly criticised the role of the formal church during, and subsequent to the "troubles." There may have been prayer for peace week by week and there would be those who would argue that such an approach helped prevent the "Balkanisation" of the conflict here, but to those who either didn't believe in prayer at all, or had a more activist faith, such prayerful pietism at times seemed to be a way of retreating from the world and its problems.
This isn't helped by an attitude to prayer typified by a quote from Samuel Chadwick, the famous head of the Methodist evangelical training centre Cliff College, where he wrote of the Devil saying:
"He laughs at our toil, he mocks our wisdom, but he trembles when we pray."
I have used that quote myself, but this is not an argument for prayer instead of toil or the application of wisdom, but for wisdom and action that flows from prayer.
Such is the ethos of the contemporary 24-7 Prayer movement... And indeed the mindset of our own Methodist President... because as well as circulating the call to prayer, she also invited us to do something practical... In another message on Facebook she said (I haven't asked for permission to post this, but she is in West Africa at the moment and hopefully she'll grant it retrospectively):
A number of people both on Facebook and in person have rightly said, “Let’s get practical and think together about what we can do to build peace.” So I am going to make some suggestions. However, the first thing I need to say is that for Christians allegiance to Jesus must be our primary allegiance, everything comes under Jesus’ Lordship. Allegiance to Jesus and what Jesus teaches must affect the way I think about others, must affect the way I live my life, allegiance to Jesus will impact my political thinking. Jesus must come first. The suggestions I am about to make come from that perspective.
So, here are a few suggestions from me…
1. Pray: Prayer is decisive, significant action. Prayer is about asking God and also about listening to God. Prayer changes those who pray and as we pray the Holy Spirit will prompt other action.
2. Have a conversation with someone in your community or another community with whom you differ: we do have different and strongly held opinions, and we need to learn from each other and try to understand why others think the way they do. We may not end up agreeing but at least we will understand each other better. At least some of what we are seeing on the streets stems from communities and individuals feeling that no-one understands or listens to them. We need to build relationships.
3. Speak well of others
4. Be honest about our own mistakes: We have all made mistakes as communities and as individuals. Sometimes moving forward will mean admitting that we could have done things better.
5. Tell /contact/ write to our politicians and community representatives telling them we want peace: for too long those who long for peace have been a silent majority. Our community representatives work hard on our behalf and need to know that they have a mandate for peace-building.
6. Act on the underlying causes: The violence on our streets is related to issues in society like unemployment, undervaluing of education, many feeling as if there is no point in voting.
7. Be brave: we need to be speaking out for peace, saying there is a better way forward, acknowledging that there are different views, saying “we got this wrong”. When others admit mistakes we need to meet that with grace, and see it as an opportunity to build understanding, rather than as an opportunity to score points. All this will require courage.
If my ideas do not fit your context, then think about what builds peace and a stable society where you are, and do it.
You might not agree with my suggestions. They are unapologetically and unashamedly from a perspective of Christian faith, and if that is not where you are coming from then a call to prayer, while vital for me, may seem irrelevant for you. That’s OK. So what can you do instead that will build peace?
Now I’d love to hear from you as to what you will do.
Heather's emphasis on dialogue, her call to open admission of our own shortcomings and appeal for us to work on the underlying causes of social unrest, all chime well with the later words of Justin Welby and are applicable to the pursuit of peace and justice in all situations, not just our little local difficulties.
Might I suggest that one thing you might do is to follow the "President - Methodist Church in Ireland" on facebook... it might make for an interesting year as we join her in the pursuit of peace...

Monday, July 29, 2013

Money and Mouths

For a few months there has been a story bubbling away concerning Papisse Cisse the Senegalese striker who was refusing to wear his club Newcastle's strip with the name of its sponsor Wonga emblazoned on it because of his Muslim beliefs, which strictly forbid the charging of interest. Not all Muslims take such a strict approach, and indeed Cisse's Muslim team-mates Cheick Tiote, Moussa Sissoko, Massaido Haidara and Hatem Ben Arfa didn't seem to have a problem with wearing the shirt (although early reports did suggest that Tiote had some reservations). Cisse received a lot of unsavoury abuse for his stand... although many suggested that it was more to do with engineering a lucrative transfer away from Tyneside than any religious scruples. This seemed even more the case when photographs appeared of Cisse gambling in a casino (also against strict Islamic law), and in the wake of the exposure of such seeming hypocrisy, it was predictable that he came to an agreement with Newcastle regarding the wearing of the kit. However, it remains to be said who leaked the photographs of Cisse in the casino and whether they profited from that leak...

Then, just as the Cisse story was coming to it's almost inevitable conclusion of money trumping morals, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby entered the arena. First sensationalist headlines suggested that he was declaring war on Wonga threatening to put them out of business, like some Anglican Godfather. Read the articles however and you discover that the truth of it was that he was reporting on an open dialogue with the Wonga CEO Errol Damelin where he stated his desire to compete Wonga and their ilk out of existence, by offering premises and expertise to Credit Unions the length and breath of the country, especially in socially deprived areas where pay-day loans companies are at their most pernicious (due to the lack of predictable pay days!) But within twenty four hours the AoC's "casino moment" came with the revelation that the church of England had invested £75,000 in Wonga via a venture capital company (though when you think about it £75,000 is actually only about £1500 for a year at Wonga's eye-watering top rates of interest). This resulted in a very funny cartoon by Dave Walker on Cartoon Church showing an Archbishop reversing a high horse... and mixed reports about Justin Welby being "furious" and "praising" Wonga... I half expected the next move to be him photographed with a Wonga monogrammed mitre...

Truth be told he probably was furious, but in the interview on Radio 4 he simply said he was "irritated" and "embarrassed" but also said that in the complex world of modern investment and finance things can get messy. As to "praising" Wonga, from what I heard he simply said it was professionally run, that Mr. Damelin was "very clever" and that they weren't the worst out there... Yes, they don't come round your house with a baseball bat! Today they published their 10 Commitments (see what they did there) which clarifies their position and gently mocks the AoC's campaign against them... I wonder how much money they threw at a marketing company to come up with that? Certainly more than a credit Union could afford or would be morally responsible for the church to spend. Business Secretary Vince Cable has been critical of the high profile of Wonga through various TV (and sports) deals which gives them a financial clout which will stifle the competition they claim to welcome... and indeed they have been referred to the Competition Commission for that reason.

The briefings including Wonga's "Ten Commitments" all referred to the church facing accusations of hypocrisy (it worked with Cisse - why shouldn't it work with Welby). I had a huge admiration for Welby's predecessor given his capacity for profound thought and his compassionate nature, but he was often wrong-footed by media that was hungry for soundbites... But Rowan Williams was not a soundbite theologian. Welby, however whilst being intelligent and compassionate is also media savvy. When the news broke concerning the CoE's investment in Wonga, he didn't try to spin his way out or dodge the media, but nor did he back off. This was an intelligent, moral, nuanced and practical approach to a difficult problem... The sort of thing we might expect given Welby's intelligence and background in business. Indeed whilst earlier in the year he was critical of recent banking practices, suggesting various ways in which the system might be modified for the better, at the beginning of last week he suggested that the "naming and shaming" of bankers was "lynch mobbish".

We are not good at dealing with the moral murk that money stirs up. We like things black and white. Especially in the church. But when it affects our personal or institutional finances there is all kinds of casuistry employed.

Take our own church's stance regarding the lottery. Last year the Annual Conference of the Methodist Church in Ireland made a decision, by a very narrow majority to allow Methodist Missions and other social outreaches to apply for lottery funding to resource programmes that help others... Not approving of the Lottery as a means of raising money... not allowing for the upkeep of buildings or funding internal church programmes, but as a means of helping the people from whom (in many cases) the lottery money was taken in the first place. This prompted a lot of soul searching, letter writing and heal dragging regarding guidelines regarding the exact terms under which a church might apply for such money. Then this year that decision was reversed. In following up the decision it was suggested that the Missions might want to distribute gift aid envelopes to encourage conference members to put their money where their mouths were - no good to smaller church outreaches that were not represented at conference or had gone out of business in the intervening year, but at least it was a start. Someone also suggested that we might put a levy on the annual assessment (the "income tax" on congregations which resources the central church for those not aware of Methodist polity)... This was universally rejected... It is all very well taking a moral stand, but don't expect us to pay for it with actual money... Nor was there any real analysis done of the church's investments. Are we investing in companies like Wonga? But actually the contemporary stock market is no longer predominantly about investing in companies, but is often an educated gamble on the movement of stocks and shares, with no investment staying in one place for a prolonged period. How consistent is that with our overall, purist, stance on gambling?

The modern financial world is not the same as it was in the days of Moses and his sabbath economics, or Wesley and his approach to moneymaking, saving and giving... it is vastly more complicated. The Archbishop publicly recognised that, but equally he is pursuing an approach that seeks to apply Biblical principles to the contemporary world, primarily looking out for the poorer and more vulnerable in society rather than our own interests, be they the financial interests of the church or its moral purity... or maximising the economic growth of the nation by baptising capitalist greed.

I hope he continues on this track. He certainly has widespread support despite the much vaunted accusations of hypocrisy. Apparently there is even support around the cabinet table. Not just Vince Cable either. One of the stories I linked above even suggested that George Osborne supports his approach... which is slightly worrying, although given the state of the national finances he might be looking for a loan from a Credit Union soon.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Saturday Supplement

On this Saturday when the Orange Order has proposed another parade along the contentious Crumlin Road in North Belfast... a proposal which, in my mind, as recklessly provocative and rightly restricted by the Parades Commission, most of the internet snippets that have caught my eye this week relate to last week's Twelfth Parade and it's aftermath...
First was a piece by Alan in Belfast, posted on the Slugger O'Toole site last month, but which I only saw this week, critiquing the BBC coverage of the Twelfth Parades in the wake of the corporation's assessment that its coverage in  2012 had complied with its own impartiality guidelines... I have to say that I agree with Alan's analysis, not suggesting that the BBC's coverage should be reduced, but should be more imaginative and informative. However, this year's coverage was just more of the same, suggesting that the Beeb has a lot to learn...
But nothing like as much to learn as the Orange Order. Again, Alan in Belfast offered a digest of the resolutions to be read at the various demonstration fields... suggesting that they were inward looking... I would hasten to add, backward looking... The combative words from various platforms across the province, certainly did nothing to diffuse the tensions over the few contentious parades and, despite protestations about calling for peaceful protests, might well, in other jurisdictions, have led to prosecutions for incitement to riot... Certainly the macho language and ''No Surrender'' mentality of certain Orange spokespersons are a significant dimension to the subsequent trouble, and Ross Kemp, (who functions like a modern day, balding and less articulate Kate Adie), was apparently doing the rounds of bonfires and parades for one of his down-market, shock-horror documentaries. Dave Magee has regularly commented on the dimension of masculinity in Loyalist culture and offered a perspective that Mr. Kemp probably won't major on... There were a couple of other bonfire blogs, but I'll probably save them for the run-up to next year's 11th night... Harriet Long, who gave us a superb series of blogs prompted by the flag protests earlier in the year, also offered a take on parading, patriotism and machismo, from a female perspective.
Identity is a key question in all of this, and Ballymena girl, Hails, explores what that means for her, in a description of her visit to the culture hotspots of Belfast on her Coffee Helps blog
Two other pieces on the same site as Dave Magee's post, Compromise after Conflict, are also worth a read: John Brewer looks at the future of the Orange Order in the wake of this mess, and how all the citizen's of Northern Ireland have a stake in the successful integration of the Orange into a ''shared future.''
Meanwhile Francis Teeney offers a little reality check, reminding us that Orangeism is bigger than Belfast and that contentious Orange Parades are not necessarily the most important things in the world, or indeed even in Northern Ireland.
With that in mind let me finish with a few non-orange tinted pieces... First an interesting profile of the new Sinn Fein Lord Mayor of Belfast Martin O'Muilleoir in the Irish Catholic, which emphasises his attempts to reach across the political divides in this fractured city, which the last Sinn Fein incumbent signally failed to do.
Then there were two pieces in the Grauniad: the first a by Polly Toynbee, questioning some of the spin on the recent stories related to mortality rates in NHS hospitals, and suggesting that some of this may be a smokescreen for surreptitious privatisation, then another news story today looking at the possible privatisation of care for vulnerable children, with one of the possible providers being G4S, the grasping but useless providers of security for the Olympics... As if those children haven't suffered enough...
But finally take a look at this blog about an art exhibition entitled  Reflections, which offers portraits of elderly people as they once were... After unearthing a mound of old photographs in our recent move I know how some of the people in these pictures feel...


Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Psalm for the Sunday after the 12th of July

This week has seen Belfast explode in one of its all-too frequent episodes of self-destructive violence. The reasons are many and complicated... Bad political and policing decisions, poor leadership, ill-chosen rabble-rousing words...  it isn't sufficient to point the finger at those actually involved in the violence, predominantly working class or unemployed young people from both sides... they, in many ways were just the kindling waiting for the spark... 
It is too easy to blame others... anyone else... and not take a good long hard look at ourselves and ask what difference we have tried to make for the better. While we may not be guilty of sins of commission, there may be much that we have omitted to do...
There are times when I wonder whether I am wise continuing to live in this province and condemning my children to grow up in the toxic political atmosphere of this place. But part of my sense of call was about coming back here in order to try to make a difference... 
Today I start my ministry with a new congregation, based on the Lisburn Road, which the main Orange Parade on the 12th passes every year. As part of the 11am service this morning I will be using a responsive version of Psalm 139... But below is yet another version that I have adapted in the light of recent events...

You know me inside out O, Lord,
I’m an open book to you.
You know when I sit and when I stand;
you read my thoughts from afar.
You see my comings and goings;
I’m never out of your sight.
Before a single word is on my tongue O Lord,
You know how the sentence will end.
I look behind me and you’re there,
then look ahead and find you’re there;
your hand is always upon me.
This is all too much, too wonderful to understand;
My mind can’t take it in.

Where can I go to avoid your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your call on my life?
If I run to the hills, you are there before I am;
if I hide under the duvet, you are there beside me in the bed.
If I flew to far western horizon,
if I settled on the other side of the sea,
even there I would not be beyond your grasp;
you would be there already, waiting to embrace me.
If I said, “Surely darkness will hide me”
and tried to hide from your sight
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night shines like the day in the light of your love.
You made me, inside and out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am an amazing act of creation;
I acknowledge that all your works are wonderful.
You know every bone in my body, every nerve in my neural net;
You know exactly how I was made,
bit by bit., from conception to birth and beyond;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
before I’d even lived one day.

You know your thoughts are precious to me, O God!
I know I can't hope to comprehend them all.
I can't begin to grasp the breadth of your vision;
All I know is that when I wake from this nightmare
You'll be there with me.

But why do you put up with such wickedness, O God!?
If I had my way I would wipe out the men of violence.
I would stop the mouth of those who preach hatred and violence
And those who blaspheme by what they say and do in your name.

I hate these agents of antagonism
I abhor those who thrive on conflict;
I have nothing but contempt for them
I am totally intolerant of the intolerant.

But hold on...

Examine me, God, and know my heart;
Investigate my life O Lord, and know my inmost thoughts.
Reveal any unworthiness within me,
and lead me along the route 
to real life.
from Psalm 139

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Psalm for Sunday

Today is my last day as pastor to the congregation of Dundonald Methodist... In our communion service this morning we will be reflecting on a couple of stories about vineyards, one in the Old Testament and another told by Jesus, asking "Who Owns the Vineyard?" 
This responsive psalm (which I used the last time we looked at Jesus' story reminds us who owns and cares for the vineyard... it may be referring to Israel after the the exile, but it could equally apply to the church in the wake of Christendom, and many local congregations who think that their best days are behind them:

Restore us, O God Almighty;
make your face shine upon us, so that we may be saved.
You transplanted a vine from Egypt;
You cleared the ground for it and planted it.
It took root and filled the land;
The mountains were covered with its shade.
But now you have broken down the walls of the vineyard
so that all who pass by pick its grapes.
Return to us, O God Almighty!
Look down from heaven and see our plight!
Watch over this vine,
the plant your right hand has tended.
Your vine is cut down and scorched with fire;
Your name is mocked.
Let your hand rest upon us once more;
revive us, so that we might bring glory to your name.
Restore us, O God Almighty;
make your face shine upon us, so that we may be saved.

From Psalm 80:7-19

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Saturday Supplement

Another quick linkdump without much comment, due to packing and unpacking boxes being a priority this week.

The big issue in Ireland this week has been Warren Gatland not only not giving Brian O'Driscoll the captaincy for the final showdown with the Aussies this morning, but not actually picking him for the matchday squad... Now the thing is BoD did have a bit of a shocker last week, with a couple of wayward passes, but he is still the most creative player out there, and arguably the only leader they have left... I really don't understand why you wouldn't even have him on the bench as a game-changer... Instead Gatland has gone for blunt force... With Manu Tuilagi on the bench incase Jamie Roberts crock's himself again... No plan B, despite the fact that this approach has never served Wales well against Australia in the past... But never mind, I said I wasn't going to comment much, and, that said, let me encourage you to read BoD's response to being dropped, illustrating pointedly why he was the ideal Lion's captain... For a funnier take, have a look at the inevitable adaptation of that scene from "Downfall", given, as Tim McGowan said, that you can cope with the moral ambiguity of having Hitler as a Lions fan!

Maybe the whole Lion's story has prompted a bout of celtic gloom, but I appreciated this piece that WhyNotSmile signposted on Letters of Note... Not only is the first piece of advice 
"Live as well as you dare."
going to live on as a favourite quote, but the whole tenor of the piece would suggest that Sydney Smith was the living embodiment of what Adrian Warnock is getting at in his answer to the perennial "Why Me?" question... (Again a hat-tip to WhyNotSmile via FB) 

Also on Letters of Note, was this wonderful short letter by C. S. Lewis to a young fan giving a few tips on writing... Meanwhile on the NY Times an op-ed piece described Lewis as an "evangelical rockstar" before going on to suggest that this was because he was offering something more than the dry, propositional fare of many contemporary evangelical writers... Actually, if pressed I think that many of the prominent reformed evangelical leaders might have difficulties with Lewis, not only because of his beer-drinking, pip-smoking lifestyle, but because his theology does not fit into an easily categorised theological box... Just as Aslan is not a tame lion, Lewis is not a tame theologian!

I've written a lot about Foodbanks recently... but perhaps I've been wasting my time as Lord Freud thinks that they are generating demand rather than meeting a demand generated by benefit cuts (and the economic downturn)... Out of touch doesn't even begin to describe him...

Meanwhile, this turn by Basil McCrea at a Sinn Fein Summerschool was an interesting one... When I first watched it I was truly impressed by McCrea's willingness to enter onto  "enemy ground"  but also by the generosity of the introduction...  I was sad to find on returning to it that the introduction had been edited out... I hope this wasn't a deliberate act on McCrea's part...

But finally, it was good to see Professor Billy McWilliams blogging again as we head into the marching season... And perhaps he has come up with a creative and colourful answer to the flag protests...

That's all for now... 

But unlike the past 2 Saturdays, I'm not too sure that I want to cheer on the Lions this week...


Friday, July 5, 2013

Final Curtain

And now, the end is nearAnd so I face the final curtain...
I won't go any further, because, I'm not a big Sinatra fan at the best of times, and I particularly loathe, hate and detest that song, which is the perfect anthem to contemporary individualism...
But having got that rant out of my system, this is just a short placeholder-post, given I am moving today and I'm not too sure whether the phone/internet will be up and running in my new gaff... So I may be offline for another day or two... I've been too preoccupied with boxes this week to post anything...
The image of "final curtain" is an appropriate one however given my theatre background and the fact that when I started in Dundonald 9 years ago, I began by warning them that I was a "hypocrite", the Greek word for mask-wearer or actor... But I promised that I wouldn't be "playing a part" as their minister... that what they saw would be the real me, and for the most part I've kept to that... And I hope that will be true in my new position in Belfast South... 
But it reminds me again of Kierkegaard and his picture of an act of worship as a drama, not with the preacher, choir and praise leader as performers and the congregation as audience, but with the preacher and others "up front" acting as prompters, while the whole congregation "perform" for an audience of one... God... And that applies not just to worship on a Sunday, but the whole of life as a sacrifice of praise... those called to positions of leadership in the church are actually there to equip all the saints to serve...
So as we face the final curtain, or at least the one at the end of this act, its not me who should be taking a bow on Sunday at my final services, but the congregation who have worked with me over the past nine years...


Monday, July 1, 2013

Jesus' Apprentices

Yesterday was a day for confession in church... First I confessed that I had actually managed to turn up without the full text for my sermon, through uploading the wrong file to my Kindle, then I confessed that watching The Apprentice is one of my guilty secrets... It is, as someone with a better turn of phrase than me, merely Big Brother with an MBA but I do enjoy watching Lord Sugar choose which of what is always an unlikely bunch of misfits, will partner with him in a new business venture… It has to be said that I wouldn’t partner with many of them in running a sweetshop… but maybe Lord Sugar sees something in them that I don’t…
But reflecting on the gospel reading yesterday morning the same could also be said of those the Lord Jesus chose to partner with him in the proclamation of the Gospel as his apostles... Those who were to carry on the family "business" after he was gone.
Thankfully he didn’t and doesn’t choose his apprentices using the same criteria or methods that Lord Sugar or the world in general does. Perhaps you remember an old parody that did the rounds, purporting to be the recommendation of a firm of management consultants to Jesus (this is one of the bits I didn't quote in the service yesterday because I didn't have it in front of me...)

Dear Sir
It is our opinion that the 12 men your have picked to manage your new organisation lack the background, educational and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have attributes required to work as an effective team:
Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has no qualities of leadership, preferring to pass the buck. The two brothers James and John place personal interest above corporate loyalty. Thomas clearly demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale.
We feel it our duty to tell you that Matthew has been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau. Simon the Zealot, obviously has radical leanings, Nathanael has a lazy streak and a sarcastic turn of phrase while we suspect that both James, the son of Alphaeus and Thaddeus would register high on the manic-depressive scale.
One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, has a keen financial mind and contacts in high places. He is highly motivated and ambitious. For that reason we recommend Judas Iscariot as your financial director and possible successor as chief executive.

A piece of fiction – but it holds truth within it – The people that Jesus chose to be his apostles were not the brightest and best in the eyes of the world… They were not the richest or the most highly qualified… They were, first and foremost disciples - people prepared to follow, and not follow trends or popular opinion or conventional wisdom, but follow God in Christ…
They were also not particularly virtuous… Look at Simon Peter’s fiery temper, James and John’s selfishness, Levi the tax collector’s likely love of money, Thomas and his doubts… etc etc. They were neither invited to follow Jesus as disciples or appointed to go out as apostles because of their virtues, but because of God’s grace… In the course of a very difficult conversation on my blog last week, one commentator asked “why does God use bad people to serve him?”  To which I said “Because he doesn’t have anyone else…” We are all sinners… Doesn’t matter how bad that sin is in the eyes of the world… 
But God in his grace can use any and all of us...