The Trouble with Money

By now, a lot of you may have seen either Epic Meal Time on YouTube, or the television programme, Man vs. Food. Both are very different, as Epic Meal Time is short videos on YouTube that show the guys making insane food concoctions and then eating them, while Man vs. Food is advertised as a travel programme, hosted by Adam Richman, in which Richman travels across the USA to find the most intense (and usually largest) delicacies that he can find in each state, and then taking on the challenge to eat them.

To give you an example of what I’m talking about check out this video:

You can check out Epic Meal Time on their YouTube channel, but here’s a taster of what you’ll find there:

(Bacon is like, a thing, for the Epic Meal Time guys.)

Both programmes, in particular Epic Meal Time, are enough to make you feel pretty ill, but that’s not really my main issue with either of them.  While they are both highly entertaining, it also sickens me to see such sheer greed.

Here are some important statistics for you on world hunger*:

  • Hunger is the world’s number one health risk; it kills more people every year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.
  • One in seven people in the world will go to bed hungry tonight.
  • One out of four children in developing countries are underweight.
  • There are more hungry people in the world than the combined populations of the USA, Canada, and the European Union.
  • In 2010 it was recorded that 925 million people do not have enough to eat, and 98% of them live in developing countries.

But these programmes are just the tip of the iceberg. Supermarkets throw away thousands of tonnes of edible food every year; in 2004 Tesco UK recorded that it sent 131,000 tonnes of waste to landfill, stating that the majority of it was food. Across the whole of the UK supermarkets generate 300,000 tonnes of food waste every year*. An article on Channel 4’s website states that, “The wonky carrot has become somewhat of a celebrity in the world of food waste. Supermarkets say consumers won’t buy them when mixed in with their straight, perfectly-shaped peers.”

The article also adds that, as a nation, we throw away more than seven million tonnes of food waste every year. But, in comparison with the USA, you’ll be shocked to hear that in 2010 it was recorded that our American friends across the pond created a staggering 34 million tonnes of food waste*.

If countries in which people had more than enough would share what they had, everyone in the world would have enough to eat. World hunger would no longer be an issue, and maybe the Epic Meal Time guys and Adam Richman would get real jobs. However, I fear the problem has gone too far; and that in itself makes me feel ill.

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*All statistics provided by World Food ProgrammeChannel 4, and the United States Environment Protection Agency.

Review of Red Letter Revolution Tour

Last night some friends and I went to the Red Letter Revolution Tour in May St. Church, which featured Rend Collective Experiment, Tony Campolo, and Shane Claiborne. The evening left a lot to be desired and I came away from it with a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth.

Firstly, it was organised terribly. On my ticket it said that doors opened at 7:30 pm and that the night started at 9:30 pm. Luckily for my friends and I, we had decided to head up early and when we arrived at 8:00 pm we were just on time for it starting. We had gone “early” hoping to get good seats, but when we got there the whole main area of the church was full so going into the balcony upstairs was our only option. This area was great to see the band perform as we were all standing up, but when everyone sat down (and it was a big balcony which circled round the entire church, so there were a lot of people sitting here) we realised we couldn’t see a thing because the stage was set too low down. People spent the whole talk leaning over the the edge, standing, or sitting up on the row behind them. Being short meant I eventually just gave in and sat back and tried to listen to as much as I could without completely losing attention. If you’re going to charge people £15 for a ticket to something surely you should ensure that all the seats you provide can view the stage?

I have no complaints about Rend Collective, they played brilliantly as usual and, let’s be honest, ended up performing more than they led worship. The crowed cheered and clapped for them; not quite a worship environment. But they were great, nonetheless, putting on a brilliant show and making me smile throughout. I don’t doubt that they were there to praise God but I think the amount of fame that they’ve gained as of late makes people more excited to hear them than to do the same.

The evening was going reasonably well until Campolo and Claiborne came out to speak. I’ve read The Irresistible Revolution and think Claiborne is doing a great job in Philadelphia, and I think he seems like a nice guy, but I also think people need to stop thinking that what he is doing with The Simple Way needs to be done everywhere, and that if we don’t do it we’re being awful Christians. We are not all called to form random communities, sell all our possessions, and give all our money away. We find our communities where we are, whether that be with our parents, our uni mates… just because a guy wearing sweatpants and dreadlocks tells us that this will save the world doesn’t mean it’s going to.

I feel like a lot of guilt tripping went on as well. As part of the tour Claiborne and Campolo had brought along with them Compassion UK, a charity that allows people to sponsor a child. This was a massive red light for me, especially when Campolo said you can sign up to sponsor a child for a year and then quit or keep going if you wanted to. This is my problem with charities like this. That child receives sponsorship for as long as the person donating wants to give them money. Looking further into Compassion, they don’t necessarily aid the children that well. They train them up to be pastors, but as they say on the ‘what we do’ section of their website, they identify “students from [their] Child Sponsorship Programme who have exceptional academic and Christian leadership potential.” What about the kids who don’t have this “exceptional academic and Christian leadership potential”? Do they just get thrown to the curb again? What about kids who would be better equipped to do something that isn’t ministry-based, or something that is less academic and more hands-on?

My main issue here is that they don’t do anything to allow the children to grow up and become independent with useful skills that will get them well paid jobs, they only help out the ones who can be Christian leaders, not necessarily something that will bring them out of poverty and further aid their communities. Training these kids to start up businesses and teaching them about trade and buying and selling from the farms etc. in their community would aid a lot more people. What Compassion UK are doing just isn’t practical in the long run, or realistic, it’s Christian idealism at its best. God calls us to be practical and guilt tripping people into sponsoring a child (Campolo kept saying, “It only costs 70 cents a day to sponsor a child, I don’t know why you wouldn’t be able to do that.”) to have this as their fate isn’t exactly practical. Yes, communities need pastors, but they also need skilled workers.

Campolo made a few rude comments which didn’t massively impress me. It wasn’t a question of being politically correct or a prude, it was simply a question of  whether he wanted to offend people in the audience or not. I don’t appreciate preaching like that and see no need for it. If people would stop trying to be Shane Claiborne, and stop trying to recreate The Simple Way in their own cities, then maybe we would be on to something, but as long as we give him the fame that he doesn’t really need (or, hopefully, want), we aren’t really going to get anywhere. Stop asking Shane Claiborne what to do and ask Jesus.

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Five Brilliant Reasons to Pick Up Your Bible

As of late I had been starting to notice the lack of Bible reading going on in my life. Last week, while leading at a kids club, we would have devotions in the mornings before the kids arrived, and rather than finding something specific and going with it I generally found myself flipping through my Bible, unsure as to where I should be looking. The most frustrating part is that I used to love reading it. Back in January I sped my way through Genesis and just couldn’t get enough, and a few years ago I made it through most of the New Testament. So I thought it was time to write down some of the best reasons to get stuck back into my Bible, not just to encourage myself but also to encourage you, my beautiful readers.

1. “We would eat chocolates and smoke cigarettes and read the Bible, which is the only way to do it, if you ask me. Don, the Bible is so good with chocolate. I always thought the Bible was more of a salad thing, you know, but it isn’t. It is a chocolate thing…” (Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz) I am totally a chocolate person. I am also an ice-cream and cake and cookies kind of person. You can most definitely consume all these items while reading the bible. Think you need to wear your Sunday best while sitting at a desk to read the Bible? Not true! Break out the chocolate (or another sweet snack of your choice) and hang out with Jesus. But don’t over do it… What I’m saying is that the Bible isn’t something that we should look at and think, “Man, it’s just all a bit too… serious and boring.” It isn’t. The Bible is full of wonder and revelation and has so many stories of God’s wonderful grace and mercy. The Bible isn’t for the proud and self-righteous, it’s for the humble and needy, the average jo, the people who realise their weaknesses.

2. Hanging out with Jesus is the best way to start your day. If I don’t hang out with Jesus before doing anything else, I spend most of my day saying, “Hmm, I’ll do it later”, while partaking in some useless activity, and end up saying a sleepy prayer after climbing into bed. The funny thing is that I’m generally one of those obnoxious morning people, but even if you’re not Jesus is the best person to start you day off with. He doesn’t care that your hair’s a mess, that you’re wearing a t-shirt with holes in it, or that you smell pretty bad. He just loves you and wants to be the first person you talk to so He can prepare you for the day ahead; He is better than any thirty-minute run or well-balanced breakfast.

3. Talking to God is important, but listening to Him is even more important. My main issue with my relationship with God is that I spend a lot of time telling Him that He’s awesome and asking for stuff, but I hardly ever let Him talk back to me. The Bible is the Word of God and He speaks to us so clearly through it. I don’t want some big, booming voice from Heaven to yell at me. I want the still small voice (1 Kings 19vs11-13, KJV) that speaks oh, so clearly but that requires all my attention. When we focus our eyes on Jesus He speaks louder than ever before, even if it’s only in a whisper.

4. Being able to quote Scripture is a really useful ability. Now I don’t mean you should be able to stand up and quote a full Psalm, but in kids club, for example, we taught memory verses to the kids for a reason. You might not be able to give the reference correctly, and you might have to paraphrase, but if you can at least remember the book and give a general gist of how the verse goes, this is good. This isn’t only good for personal encouragement but also when talking to people who want to know more about God and the Bible. A lot of the time I find myself saying, “Oh, there’s this great verse! I’ll find it for you later…” Which ends up with both myself and the person I’m talking to completely forgetting I had a verse to share with them. Knowing your Bible is beneficial to more people than just yourself.

5. 2 Timothy 3vs16: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” (NIV) To put it simply, we need the Bible to learn and grow, to come closer to God, to hear His word. To gain the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) we need to read about how the Spirit wants us to live. If all Scripture is God-breathed then surely, as lovers of Christ, we should want to read His word?

After writing this post I no longer have any good reasons not to pick up my Bible; I hope you feel the same.

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A new blog?

Dearest readers,

I would like to update you on the creation of a new blog. What I love about Following the Northern Star is that it allows me to portray my journalistic abilities and do more articles that involve research. However, I also really enjoy writing about all the fun things I do with Jesus and how lovely and scary life with Him can be at times, so I’ve created a new blog, Painting the Stars. I feel like those of you who are interested in my more serious articles are probably less interested in the ones where I’m just waxing lyrical about how my life is going, so I see no harm in separating the two. I won’t be bombarding you with it, or posting it any where much, but I just want you to know it’s there. It’s also linked in my blog roll so you’ll always have a link to it.

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Review of Owl City – The Midsummer Station

I have been an avid fan of Owl City since 2008, when ‘Hello Seattle’ was making waves in the world of MySpace electronica. When he made it to the charts with ‘Fireflies’ in 2010 I couldn’t have been happier that one of my favourite artists was gaining more exposure. What I loved most about Adam Young’s music was it’s dreamy lyrics; how they took you to different worlds and made your imagination go wild.

But Young’s most recent release, The Midsummer Station, leaves a lot to be desired.

For the first time Young gave a lot of the production and writing over to outsiders and this seems to have had a negative effect on his music. The lyrics are empty and generic and the music is full of annoying, pounding beats. As someone who’s loved Young’s music since the start I feel pretty alienated as an Owl City fan; what exactly has happened to him?

The only truly good songs on the album are ‘Silhouette’ and ‘Dementia’, both of which were written solely by Young. ‘Gold’ wasn’t written by Adam at all and is full of weak, cheesy, meaningless lyrics, and a musical backing track that could send anyone to sleep. Bonus track, ‘Bombshell Blonde’ is almost cringe-worthy; he actually uses the words ‘foxy’ and ‘vixen’, and says, “Her love is a drug laced with ecstasy.” I’ve always respected Young for not writing generic, empty lyrics, for being respectful and not singing about women like this, for having more integrity.

The frustrating thing is that, just as this album has been released, Young has been uploading some really brilliant material to his Tumblr blog. Is even he maybe trying to get back to something a bit more like All Things Bright and Beautiful for his next album? I really hope so.

With The Midsummer Station, minus a couple of songs, it seems like Adam Young is doing all he can to be popular, rather than write good music. But this just won’t do for all his original fans; but does he want to lose them to gain more fans who’ll buy his records without really loving them? If that’s the case, I won’t be spending more money on his music.

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Déjà vu: circumstances may change, but the problems are still the same.

While at university socialising wasn’t an option, it just happened. I lived with friends, I studied with them, I partied with them; there was very little effort involved in meeting new people and spending time with them. In my final year it became even easier because, like most of my friends, I lived on campus, so it was really easy to make plans, most of them being a five minute walk away.

But when you don’t live in a university bubble, everything changes.

Unlike in Stirling, I no longer go to classes or the library every day, meaning I don’t bump into people I know very much. I don’t go to the same Church as all my best friends and am currently trying to become part of a Church community with a bunch of people I’ve never met before. But the biggest change is probably that the majority of my social activities involve relying on someone to drive me somewhere or taking public transport (I took public transport in Stirling, but it mostly involved nothing more than a five minute bus journey into town).

So, now, things are a bit different. However, they are also incredibly similar. In my second year of university I had to step out of my comfort zone and leave behind the constant partying and drinking because I knew I wanted something better. I had to work really hard to make new friends, to get the things that I wanted.

That is exactly what I’m doing right now.

This morning I was lying on my bed watching Father of the Bride: Part Two. I’ve had a reasonably busy week and on Sunday am heading down south to help out at a kids club for a week, so I wanted to take today to just stay at home and be lazy. As a lot of you know I was meant to spend six weeks in California this summer (you can read more about why that didn’t happen right here), and if that had been the case I would still be there right now with five days left until I came home. But this morning it hit me that if I’d gone to California a lot would be very different in my life. I wouldn’t have joined a new Church yet, I wouldn’t be doing this camp next week, and I wouldn’t have a job yet (did I tell you I’m starting work on August 28th? You know now!). The plans that I’m now working on (that I won’t be talking about for a while) wouldn’t even have crossed my mind and I would still be in avoidance mode, probably missing student life as much as I did on the day I left Stirling.

In the time in which I was meant to be in California I have stepped out of my comfort zone constantly, in a place that scared the heck out of me, and realised that I was able to do this because of the stress and struggles I went through at university.

In Genesis 50 Joseph is talking to his brothers after he has revealed himself to them. They sold him as a slave and told their father he had been killed, because their father favoured him, and now he stands before them, an employee of Pharaoh, and says:

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done…” (Genesis 50:20) (NIV)

All the pain I experienced, all the tests and trials I went through, all the people who told me my faith was stupid have done nothing but given God more and more reasons to build me up. The more pain we experience the more blessings we are given. Not to sound too clichéd, but the hard times only make us stronger and prepare us for the next trial.

The reason I push myself now to go out on the nights when I’d rather stay home and read or watch films, or when I wake up on Sunday morning three hours before Church starts so I can get ready and make it there on time via public transport, is because I know there’s better, and that is because I’ve seen it already. I’ve been through the tough stuff before so I know how to do it this time round. I’ve discovered that that’s the wonderful thing about life: it likes to throw struggles at us but it tends to disguise them to make us think it’s something different every time when, truthfully, it’s the same thing that it was the last time.

The next time life throws a test at you just take a minute to sit down and think if you’ve ever experienced this before; you might be surprised.

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“I will ride, I will fly, chase the wind and touch the sky…”

I adore Celtic music and I’ve been listening to a lot of Julie Fowlis recently. It fills me with so many memories of my time in Scotland, but most of all it reminds me of who I was while living there, who I became while the beautiful town of Stirling was my home.

I’m nervous about a lot of things in life right now, and this week I’m doing something that involves stepping right out of my comfort zone. However, every time I think of the bravery of the Scots, of how I fought battles in that beautiful place and of how strong I was, I instantly realise that everything I do this week will be a piece of cake.

In 2008 I moved to Stirling when I wasn’t ready at all and, in May, I moved home completely unprepared for what lay ahead of me. But the difference this time is that I have four years of experience of being uncomfortable and unsure, of living in an environment where I was constantly tested and questioned. I have been in situations where I have been the only one drunk, and I have also been in situations where I have been the only one sober. I’ve also done many stupid things while sober and also made a complete ass out of myself while drunk.

Tonight I won’t walk into this situation unsure and lost, I’ll walk into it confident and ready for anything.
If I can climb the beautiful Ochil Mountains, I can do this.

It’s easy to believe that the negative things from your past, the part of your life that is no longer a part of you, are still who you are because that’s what sticks in your mind most, when that’s not actually true at all. I wish this wasn’t true but, yes, Stirling is now a part of my past. However, it’s the best part, my favourite part, the part in which I grew and learned the most.

There’s a great song about Scotland called ‘Caledonia’, you should listen to it here:

I listened to this song a lot in my final semester because it’s a song sang to Scotland after having been away for a while. Scotland, and Stirling in particular, will always hold a really important place in my heart. Even though I’ve already accepted and processed that I’m no longer a student and that I won’t be going back to Stirling in September, this doesn’t change who I’ve become, it doesn’t mean I need to regress to the person I was when I was seventeen. I still feel like a student of Stirling University and I think I always will; the beauty is that I’ll always be in the alumni, so I’ll always have connections there. This song reminds me that who I am no longer that person, but I am a new creation in Christ because He took me somewhere and grew me there.

So if you’re afraid of something, of stepping out of your comfort zone, of doing something that scares the pants off you, just think of all the things you have done, of all the terrifying experiences you’ve conquered, and you’ll be able to do it no problem; I promise.

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