Monthly Archives: April 2015

Drawing the Line on Poverty

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When I say “I have no money”, I mean I don’t have as much as I’d like. When I say “I have no money”, I mean I’m saving up for something else. When I say “I have no money”, I mean I’ve already spent it on something else. Unfortunately, when so many people around the world say they have no money, it means they have no money.

We hear so many statistics like how the hundred richest people in the world earned enough money in 2012 to end global poverty four times over. Or how if every premiership football player were to give up their wages for just one week, they too could end poverty. It’s infuriating and we think to ourselves, well why don’t they then? Surely when you’re that rich, it would be easy to give up a quarter of your salary or even just one week’s wages? But maybe that’s it. Maybe these people also think it’s someone else’s responsibility. Maybe we all hear the statistics that don’t directly apply to us. We all think it’s down to the rich but what if I said owning an average house without a mortgage in London puts you in the richest 1% of the world and that it has been predicted that by next year, the richest 1% of the world will own more than half of the global wealth. If you have food in your fridge, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep you are richer than 75% of the world. If you have money in the bank, your wallet, and some spare change you are among the top 8% of the world’s most wealthy.

People living in extreme poverty are not a minority group. Nearly half the world’s population live on less than $2 a day. This week I’m living back below the line in an attempt to get an idea of how this might feel. I’ve already been hungry and grumpy and eating really quite grim food but I’m only doing it for five days. Also, living on £1 a day in the situation I’ve been blessed with is nothing compared to people living in genuine poverty. The most common things I’ve heard have been “surely if you’re being offered it…?” and “technically you’re not paying for it…” True. But if I accept a free glass of squash at a friend’s house, what’s to stop me having a biscuit with my drink after church? And if I’ve had a biscuit with my drink, I might as well have the cake being offered in the meeting. The thing is, it’s very difficult to live below the line if you don’t know where the line is. And I have been blessed with a very fortunate situation and it would be very easy to live for five days without actually paying for anything. Day one a group of us were invited round a friend’s house for dinner where she cooked us a big lasagne, with all the works; salad, garlic bread and strudel, doughnuts and ice cream for pudding. Day two I went to a birthday gathering where I was offered a beautiful looking chocolate cake with caramel and rolos. We also had cake in the break of a committee meeting and often when I talk about it with friends, they offer to buy me food. It’s lovely but few of the people actually living below the line find themselves living also among the wealthiest people. I’m incredibly lucky to have the friends that I have but this week is about recognising those that don’t.

Also, for people genuinely in this situation, less than $2 a day has got to stretch a lot further than just food and drink. When in Kenya, I saw children unable to participate in lessons in school because they couldn’t afford exercise books the equivalent of 4p, we made obscene amounts of squash for the children from water that was unsafe for us to drink and watched children trip up on the playground as they were unable to buy shoes. This week I thought I’d take the challenge further and not pay for anything at all other than food or drink but I found, unfortunately, this just wasn’t really possible. I realised just how much money we spend without even knowing. Whether it’s on doing my laundry, getting into town or even just printing I have had to spend money this week although I am of course trying to keep this excess to a bare minimum.

So, you may not be a premiership football player, or one of the hundred richest people in the world but if you have just read this blog post, you are more fortunate than the three billion people in the world who cannot read at all, so maybe just take a second to realise how fortunate you really are 🙂

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Roses are Red

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Many years ago, in the far off land of ‘The North’, two houses has a bit of a disagreement, something about the colours of flowers I believe. It seems things got a little out of hand and thus began the Wars of the Roses (which, obviously, Lancaster won).

To this day, over five hundred years later, the two houses (or, universities) continue to fight for the title in our annual sports competition, the Roses. Sadly, the outcome for Lancaster wasn’t quite as jolly as it was all those years ago, however, much like how Lancaster and York were reunited through Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York, I was reunited with friends for a York day of fun.

Saturday saw a full day of sports between the two universities, however, by the time I arrived in York all that was still happening was the darts. In full swing when we arrived, my friend described it as “like clubbing, but with darts”. To the point that there were bouncers on the door checking bags for alcohol and when I walked in with all my things for the weekend, I had to explain to the bouncer why I had a jar of jam with me, after mistaking it for alcohol. I like to think my support really helped seeing as we hadn’t exactly been doing that well on the winning front that day, yet we won the darts. But, realistically, not knowing all that much about darts, I can’t say I was always cheering in the right places and when my friend and I often found ourselves cheering at the same time, we knew something was wrong.

However, Sunday was York day of fun, and it was going to be fun. We kicked off the day going to an absolutely lovely church where we were challenged to think about the characteristics and values we both had and needed to work on. Out of the list, it was noted that my York friends would need compassion towards me when they beat us at the Roses but I think humility was also needed that day.

After a great time of worship, we headed out for lunch to a beautiful, quaint little art gallery restaurant. I have to say, I think sometimes, when we’re always so busy, we widely underestimate how great it can be just to hang out. With this in mind, we headed over to the university to watch a spot of sport with homemade timetables and t shirts at the ready. Throughout the day, we saw squash, badminton, netball, basketball and rugby, a lot of which Lancaster actually managed to win, it was just everything else,that I didn’t see, that we didn’t.

After a full day of excitement and sadly a pretty tragic defeat, it was time to fall in front of a Rom Com with Dominos. Pretty much the best end to a day. After coming back for third term, it seems everyone is busy with revision and work and stress levels are high. I often feel that in our busy lives, I’m constantly thinking of ways to make every minute productive, to make sure everything I’m doing is in someway useful. Sometimes I simply have to step back and realise that I am far too blessed to be stressed; sometimes, I all I need is a York day of fun and I can’t think of two better people to spend a York day of fun with.

We may not have taken home the victory but I like to think in some way we made Henry Tudor proud, uniting as universities and, after everything said, hearing my friend shout the words “I want to go to Lancaster University!” 🙂

The Reason We Sing

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“Any day spent with you is my new favourite day. So, today is my new favourite day.”
[Winnie the Pooh]

This could not be more true of OneSound. It seems every weekend away becomes my new favourite weekend. This weekend we got to meet up a day earlier than often, Thursday afternoon, and when you only get to see some of your loveliest friends, some of your favourite people, on average four times a year, every moment is precious. Whether it’s getting up for early morning rehearsals or staying up into the early morning with takeaway and biblical banter, you have to make the most of the time you’ve got. I cannot think of a better combination than such incredible people, music and worship.

We rehearsed from approximately 9am until 9pm each day, singing and playing our praises. We sung about the reason we were there: “to praise the one who gave his life to be the reason we sing”, and this really does sum up why we meet. From every corner of the country, all with different backgrounds, different stories, we meet to praise the one who gave his life to be the reason we sing and through our concert we sung to let people know just exactly who that is: “Who would think this body, hanging from a cross, could have been the Son of God, hanging there for us?”

Now, many brass banders seem to be of the opinion that string instruments are great for bonfires, saxophones are intruders that shouldn’t be allowed in and percussion is for people that can’t play a ‘real instrument’ but I have to say, the beautiful violin solos were, as always, enough to give goosebumps, the iconic sax solo in one of our signature pieces was inspiring and the quick glock parts were simply magical. As for the choir, it was time to “lift [our] joys and triumphs high”, of which it’s fair to say we had many and well, only on a musical weekend would you break into spontaneous Happy Birthday, with at least five part harmony, over dinner.

The morning service on Sunday was equally inspiring, hearing testimony after testimony of how friends have been affected by OneSound, how lives have changed. To see people I never thought I would singing their hallelujahs.

And there has to be something said for the food. There was one central table that I don’t think I ever walked past when it wasn’t full with a huge variety of cake, always for the taking. Whatever hour of the day, there was a constant stream of food from consistent cake and biscuits, approximately a box of cereal each and a full roast dinner on Sunday.

Sometimes I wonder if my life really can get better but then I come to OneSound and am reminded just how blessed I really am. My only prayer is that this weekend could have been but a token of the gratitude of the blessings I have 🙂

Just a man?

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“I think you’ve made your point now.
You’ve even gone a bit too far to get the message home.
Before it gets too frightening,
We ought to call a vote,
So could we start again please?”
[Peter – Jesus Christ Superstar]

I don’t think there’s much doubt that Jesus was the most controversial person that walked this Earth. He stirred up radical thinking and ultimately caused division. But that wasn’t restricted to ‘His times’. Just recently I was playing the well loved game Headbands with a group of friends, one of whom was given the name Jesus to guess. She asked “Is he alive?” “Was he a King?” “Was he a celebrity?” Straight away our group was divided on each question. She asked how such simple questions could have such different answers. How can one man be so difficult to understand? So impossible to agree on?

The Peter depicted in Jesus Christ Superstar makes a good point; If this really is just a man, he’s gone too far, it’s Good Friday and it’s getting a little scary now. Effectively what Peter is saying is what the singer Paul Field once wrote; “Jesus do still believe that our worlds can interweave, Can you really be so sure that we’re all worth dying for?”

Because that’s the thing, this is not just a man. In fact, the chapter of Jesus’ arrest and death is full of irony. Satan’s apparent victory turns out to be his defeat while Jesus’ apparent defeat turns out to be his victory. An innocent man lays down His life for the strangers putting Him to death. Jesus died in the place of sinners, how can we see that? On that day, he literally took the place of Barabbas, a murderer, on the cross. An innocent man died while the sinner walked free. When speaking to Jesus, Pilate says “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” How ironic for Pilate to stand there and believe he had power over the life and death of Jesus, the only one with power to give life and free from death.

Because, He is not just a man. As he was dying people called out “Why don’t you save yourself?” A valid question, only, if He had saved himself, he wouldn’t have endured all the physical pain he went through, all the hurt of emotional turmoil and all the sin we committed thus proving he was not fully man. He would also be giving into temptation, showing only weakness, thus proving he was not fully God. As it was, He died on the cross, fully man and fully God.

The point is, this man suffered absolute humiliation, a complete absence from His father and a horrifically gruesome death; if there was even a small chance that all of this was for you, wouldn’t you want to know? Someone once said the Gospel was like an electric fence. So many people are sitting on the fence but the Gospel is there to electrify it, making you jump one way or the other.

So yes, Peter here raises a good point, if this is just a man, he has gone too far this time. But this is not just a man. The thing with Jesus Christ Superstar is that it finishes before the end of the story. It ends with His death, the greatest sacrifice a man can make. But what about the greatest miracle from the Lord Almighty just three days later. Fully man. Fully God.

“Who am I, that the Lord of all the Earth
would care to know my name?
Would care to feel my hurt?

Who am I, that the bright and morning star
would choose to light the way
For my ever wandering heart?

Not because of who I am
But because of what you’ve done
Not because of what I’ve done
But because of who you are”

So the question is, what camp are you in, because if someone was to do all of that for me, I think I’d want to know 🙂