50 Shades of What is Going on with the World?

If you’ve been following my blog for a while you’ll remember my post entitled, ‘The Pink Room and Fifty Shades of Grey’. It was about Child sex trafficking in Cambodia  and how pornography was the beginning of this thriving industry.  After watching the video posted above I’m still pretty worried about 50 Shades of Grey and the impact that it’s having on society.

I think the scariest part over all is when we find out that E.L. James was inspired to write her book by the Twilight series, books that were meant for teenagers.

I can’t lie, I read the Twilight series but eventually came to the realisation that Bella had no idea what real love was, that what she felt for Edward was infatuation, and the fact that she appreciated so much that he wanted to kill her pretty strange. Their relationship was based on sadness, death, and depression, not on love. Oh, and those really intense descriptions of their wedding night? That was far too much for the teenagers that read the books. Teenage girls became infatuated with Edward Cullen and had no real concept that what he and Bella had wasn’t a relationship but some odd obsession.

But now a grown women has taken these books and made them into something for adults. No longer can we say, “It’s okay, they’re teenagers, they’ll grow out of it”, because it looks like it’s not just teenagers who are obsessed with this sort of infatuation. As we grow we realise that society doesn’t provide the kind of love that we’re really looking for and people turn to sex and pornography to feel better about themselves.

The second problem is that this book is not a work of great literature. It pales in comparison to works of Tolkien and Dickens,  Bronte and Austen. James admits that she would write her book on her Blackberry on her way to work; where is the space here for real thought or consideration of artistic motivation? How can you possibly write a novel, a work of literature, something that inspires, on a mobile phone? She also tells us that she “just sat down and wrote a novel” as soon as she had finished reading the Twilight series. Novels, great works of literature, take more than “just sitting down and writing a novel”. They taken time, effort, a lot of planning and research.

Some of you will probably call me a “literary snob” but it worries me that people are becoming more and more entertained by bad literature, predictable films, and generic music. The X Factor claims to be looking for that one singer who has something different yet every person who is made famous by it sounds just like the rest. If your art doesn’t fit into the box that society wants it to then it probably won’t do very well.

The third issue is the amount of sex in the book. I mean, yes, that is its whole purpose, but it scares me that this is exactly what made it popular. James, in the video says, “Well, it’s a love story.” So sex equals love, right? I think the sad thing is that a lot of people think that’s true. For a lot of people sex means attention which means affection which, somehow, means love. I don’t think Christian Grey loved Anastasia Steele, I think both of them were lonely people who had very little in their lives and knew nothing but loneliness. I think their obsession with violence in sex says even more about this and makes me wonder why exactly people enjoy this so much. Is this something to do with why grown men like to pay to have sex in brothels with young girls who can’t defend themselves? There must be a correlation some where.

Don’t get me wrong, I make no judgements on the readers of this book, but I do worry about what was going on in the head of the author, how the entertainment industry was so willing to accept her work, and what exactly is happening to society as more and more people become obsessed with sex.

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Part One: “It’s dangerous business walking out your front door.”

So, this is the first post in my ‘Getting Through University with Christ’ series. I encourage you to take what I have written and relate it to your situation. Also keep in mind that this is still relevant whether or not you move away from home. University is scary either way.

The loch with the Wallace Monument in the background.

Driving along the A9 to the far end of Bridge of Allan, a quaint yet cosmopolitan little village on the edge of Stirling, Scotland, you come to a gap in the trees and, right before your eyes, are Stirling Castle, the Wallace Monument, and the Ochil Hills, standing proudly in a line. At the start of my first year I was a bit terrified by this; Stirling was big and intimidating, it had once been a capital city where battles were fought, but most of all it was new. However, on every journey back in the three years after this, I would get excited as we drove along the road, making sure I was wide awake for this scene to once again stand right before my eyes. The city of Stirling had well and truly become home, and I would shed a few happy tears before realising I had to spend the next week unpacking and then, once again, go back to lectures and seminars and generally get bogged down in all the boring things that university brings. But I’ve never gotten over the true beauty of that place. The campus is gorgeous: right at its centre is a loch (man made but still stunning, nonetheless) full of swans and ducks, there’s little rabbits all over campus and once, in my final year, I even spotted a weasel and a few deer. You think that nothing beats Stirling in autumn, when the whole campus glows an orangey, gold colour, until you see it in spring when everything starts to grow again and all the bluebells and daffodils come out, and everywhere you go you see baby rabbits scampering around, and the loch brings delights such as nesting swans and ducklings.

Little cygnets beside the loch in Spring.

Stirling is a story. It’s a story of running away from Jesus and then turning right around again and running straight to Him. It’s a story full of “goodies” and “baddies”, of dark valleys and sunlit paths. It has a joyful beginning, a climactic middle and – I won’t spoil the ending just yet. Most of all Stirling is my story. One person chasing after Jesus and getting a bit lost but always finding their way back. I hope that my story can encourage you in your own story, and that you can fall in love with the people you meet and the places you end up in as a student. I was truly blessed to be led to Stirling and I thank God for that a lot these days, for the true and perfect love He has shown me just by telling me to follow Him to that city. You know how sometimes you have a few choices in life, and you know that God will use whatever you choose, but sometimes there are things that He sets right in front of you, and He won’t rest until you’ve accepted it? Stirling was one of those things for me. I’m a big fan of The OC (please, don’t judge me) and I’m currently watching season three again. In an episode I watched a few days ago the loveable Seth was talking about how he had always wanted to leave Newport but now that it was actually happening, now that he was actually going to be moving to the east coast for university, he didn’t want to do it; that’s exactly how I felt when it came to finally leaving Northern Ireland. Coming from such a small country (the whole population could fit into London about four times) the thought of really leaving, of really going somewhere that had more than four train lines, was terrifying. But I knew I had to do it, and I kept saying to myself, “If you don’t dive in at the deep end now you’ll never go.” So I dived.

Sunset behind the trees at the loch.

The only explanation I have for this courage is Jesus. Simply Jesus. I’d spent my whole life up until that point like a deer in the headlights, afraid of anything and everything that might be even a little bit tough, but at that very point I decided I needed to go. I needed to get out of the bubble and find out who I was, who I really wanted to be. Home would’ve been easy because it was comfortable; it was a place I knew. I could have learnt to drive, I could have saved a lot of money, I could have had home cooked meals every weekend, I could have taken my laundry home, I could have done a lot of really nice things, but I wouldn’t of grown up half as much as I have had I stayed in my lovely little comfort zone. However, as mentioned above, I now know that I probably would never have actually ended up staying at home because God wanted me in Stirling so badly. I think at one point my Dad was almost angry (which I now see, with hindsight, was a good thing) that I wanted to stay in Northern Ireland. I was cutting off all the opportunities that moving to the mainland would bring me. He said something great the first day I arrived in Stirling: “If you leave you can always come home, but if you never leave it’s not that easy to go if you never have before.” At eighteen years old it’s hard to realise this, it’s hard to see that home isn’t always going to be the best place in the world, at eighteen you don’t realise that there might be a credit crunch half way through your university career, causing half the jobs in the tiny country that you’re from to be cut. But do you know the best part about being a Christian? God does know all this stuff.

Sometimes I feel as if people have over-referenced the wonderful Bible verse that is Jeremiah 29:11 (“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”), but in this case I think it’s an interesting verse to dwell upon for a while. It’s nice to look back over the past four years with this verse in mind, to consider the pain I went through that God never wasted, to consider all the blessings, all the amazing times with friends, all the unexpected good grades. God has well and truly given me a hope and a future and it will most definitely come to fruition.

I hope that this series can inspire and encourage those of you in universities across the world. Your time at university will affect and change you in ways that you never could have imagined and, while this post seems very specific to my own experiences, I think you’ll find that a lot of people go through similar things while living the student life and, come graduation day, you might realise that you were’t as alone as you may have thought you were.

Distractions

For the first time ever I’m doing a first draft of a blog in my Moleskine.

It’s 1:00 am and I’m writing from my bed, ready for some sweet sleep as soon as I’m finished writing. You might be wondering why I’m writing a draft by hand; well, as you can probably tell from the title, this post is about distractions, and my biggest one is the internet.

Here’s how it goes: I wake up, get out of bed, turn my laptop on to check the usual social networking sites and e-mail accounts. I scroll through my Tumblr dashboard, check out any new videos from my YouTube subscriptions, and then I get breakfast. I end up back at my laptop watching rubbish on Netflix, and then spend hours flicking between social networking sites. Before I know it it’s 11:00 pm and, quite literally, my whole day has been wasted on-line. The worst part is that I constantly tell myself, “Right, in half an hour I’ll read,” or, “Okay, I’ve read three pages of that textbook for my Masters application, so now I can spend some time on YouTube. But I end up totally scrapping the reading or writing I really wanted to do and am doing something totally mind numbing on the internet instead.

I have wasted so much of my life on the internet and the thought of that in itself makes me want to cry. I mean how much more could I have accomplished if I’d stopped getting distracted by something so utterly unrewarding and focused on the important things?

Don’t get my wrong, I think the internet is really useful. My blog in particular allows me to reach people who I would otherwise never meet, and gives me tonnes of writing practice, while social networking keeps me in touch with my friends who live half way across the world, but it shouldn’t take over my life.

Most of all this distraction completely destroys my relationship with God.

The world throws distractions at us to keep our eyes off our Saviour and everyone’s distractions are different. Whether it’s the internet, sports, music, your job, whatever it is, everyone has something that distracts them from God. It’s something we’re told to be wary of constantly, but we somehow seem to find justification for it. For me it’s, “Well I need my laptop on for Spotify because the music I want to listen to right now isn’t on my iPod.” I end up sitting at my desk reading right next to my laptop, and of course am on Facebook within ten minutes.

So this is why I’m writing a first draft in my Moleskine. I turned off my laptop about an hour ago and I already feel better. I’ve read my Bible, listened to worship music, and even mumbled a few words to God. I’ve also decided that tomorrow I’m cancelling my Netflix membership; I need less reasons to go on-line and getting rid of that will help. I’m excited to wake up tomorrow and not go on-line straight away, to not be tied to it and to start living my life with Jesus.

I hope that you also will be able to get rid of your distractions.

Endurance: Part 3

For the third part of the series I want to write about enduring when you’ve chosen your own path and need to get back on to God’s.

In the book of Genesis you’ll find the story of Abraham.

There are many important parts to the story of Abraham but I want to focus on the one that starts in chapter 15.

Genesis 15:2-6
But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?”And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.”He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
(NIV)

Abraham (meaning ‘father of many’, originally called Abram meaning ‘exalted father’) trusted God. When he was told that he would have children he believed Him and didn’t question it. God told him that he would have offspring as numerous as the stars in the sky and He wasn’t lying; if we ask God for something, something that is good and Godly, if we desire something and God tells us to wait, to be patient, and that He will get to it in His own time… He means it. I’m not saying this because I have everything I want in life, I’m saying it because I know God is good and faithful and true.

You see that isn’t the end of the story of God’s promise to Abraham. After a while his wife, Sarai, got pretty impatient so decided to take things into her own hands. Sarai tells Abraham to sleep with Hagar, her maidservant, so Sarai can then have her child, but this did nothing but cause more pain:

Genesis 16:4-5
He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.”
(NIV)

When we try to get the things we want by our own means, totally disregarding God and His plan, we tend to get hurt. When we know that we’re doing something that He doesn’t exactly think is a good move, we get hurt. The path that God has for us is hard, but what makes it even harder is when we have to climb over to it after spending time on our own path. If we hadn’t chosen our own path in the first place we probably wouldn’t know what it was like to be on it and yes, that would be hard, but walking away from it once we’ve known what it’s like is even harder.

But we must endure this, we must turn around and walk back to God.

Again, in chapter 17 God told Abraham He would give him a son, but in chapter 18 Sarah laughed at Him because she thought she was too old to have children:

Genesis 18:12-15
So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.” But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”
(NIV)

Sarah had no patience and little faith, she wasn’t willing to trust in God to give her the one thing she desired so much. She thought that because the world said it wasn’t possible that there was little God could do. The great part of this story is that Sarah was wrong; oh, she was so wrong:

Genesis 21:1-2
Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised.Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.
(NIV)

God doesn’t lie to us, He doesn’t lead us down paths only to disappoint us. If we desire something that is good and Godly, that will glorify Him, He will give it to us but we need to be patient. We need to trust that He is doing the right thing because He truly knows best.

We all go through seasons; we all go through tough times but we also all go through amazing times, when God does beautiful things for us and showers us with blessings. Life is full of these seasons, we will never stay on level ground because if we did that we’d never learn anything, just like we won’t learn anything if God just gives us whatever we want. But we need to remain faithful throughout all of it because when we choose to stray we end up getting far more hurt than we ever would have had we kept our focus.

But when we do come back to God, when we choose His path again, He won’t say, “I told you so”, He’ll welcome us back with open arms, just like the father did when the prodigal son returned home:

Luke 15:20
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
(NIV)

He is just glad that we’re once again walking beside Him.

India’s Economy, the Tory Government, and Why We Need to Keep Giving

      By 2015 the UK is planning to end all financial aid to India. As the BBC reports,

“Support worth about £200m ($319m) will be phased out between now and 2015 and the UK’s focus will then shift to offering technical assistance. [International Development Secretary Justine] Greening said the move, which will be popular with Tory MPs, reflected India’s economic progress and status.”

The main problem here is that we’re forgetting what’s really going on in India. Putting the economy aside, I think the Tories are only listening to what they want to hear. As with their own country, they’re choosing actions that will benefit the rich and cause the poor to suffer. It’s not even just on our side; Indian foreign minister Salman Khurshid said: “Aid is the past and trade is the future.” I didn’t think that in a country like India, one that has struggled with such severe poverty, that is still covered in slums like the one pictured above, that their government would be so oblivious to the need for aid. Maybe this aid isn’t needed for the country’s economy, but it is needed for their people as a whole, who, as Obama said about the United States on Wednesday night, “Are greater than the sum of [their] individual ambitions.” Don’t get me wrong, I understand that the USA and India are two entirely different countries, but surely every government should understand that it’s the people as a whole who make up the nation, not the rich?

Charities have described Cameron and Khurshid’s decision as “premature”, something that I would agree with. Maybe in regards to the economy it is, but if these men who go to work in business suits and have more than enough money for themselves would consider those who have nothing, they might make different decision. Maybe some of you will think I’m being idealistic but surely we could give this money to the poor, who will continue to suffer regardless of how well the Indian economy does?

In the comments section of the BBC article one person posted this:

“Can’t believe the people on here saying that we should still give aid to India. Maybe they do have poverty – well let them sort that out. Like many people, I work in a company that is laying off hundreds of staff and outsourcing to India. Their economy is growing. We need to look after our own people first, i.e. the ones out of work due to Indian off-shoring!”

Off-shoring is the view of the corporations: more employees less money. That’s the corporate attitude that is causing people in the UK to lose out; it benefits the economy but harms those of us who need a job. This aid is nothing to do with off-shoring, it’s to do with the British government not wanting to share like a spoilt child. Off-shoring, plus removing aid from India, means we keep all the money. If this man could see it that way then maybe he would understand the sheer greed of the Tories. They want to help as few people as possible and being able to say, “Their economy is doing fine so we can remove the aid” probably makes them feel okay about it. But this is the general attitude of the human race though, isn’t it? “Every man for himself”, and all that jazz. We are so afraid to share what we have, to love others, to help out the poor and the needy. This attitude coming from the UK, the eighth richest country in the world with a GDP of $2,290,000,000,000, who could definitely afford to help India, is entirely unnecessary.

The news media may show few images of India’s slums, choosing to focus on the big offices and money-filled areas of Indian cities, but truth is never found in glamour and make-up. Truth is found in the people who fight just to stay alive, who do everything they can to look after their families, who have to work so hard to chase their dreams, and, in comparison to the dreams of the wealthy and (in societies eyes) “successful”, these dreams look so small. Maybe some of you will think I’m naive but I think if more people respected this way of life more than the lives of people who do so little work for their money then maybe our governments, all across the world, would realise what their people actually needed.

You can find the original BBC report right here.
Photo courtesy of LSE.

Now on Facebook!

Yes, the title says it all, you can now get all your updates from Following the Northern Star posted directly to your Facebook news feed so you’ll never miss a single one!

Just click this little button right here to be linked straight to the page and ‘like’ it. Feel free to share it with your friends too.

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Enjoy!

“God Bless these United States.”

Today, after months of campaigning, Barack Obama was voted back into office and started his second term as President of the United States of America.

I’m not American but as soon as I heard the news this morning I felt relieved. You see, being the most powerful country in the world gives the USA a lot of influence over the rest of us, especially in the UK, because our Prime Minister is pretty much the President’s lap dog. Saying that, Cameron hasn’t taken any leaves out of Obama’s book just yet, but maybe he’ll learn a thing or two after seeing a Democrat voted in twice.

If America had voted Romney in they would’ve made the same mistake that so many did in the UK when they decided to vote for a Conservative government. As the months go on since Cameron was voted in at 10 Downing Street I see this country fall apart. I see the poor suffer at the hands of the wealthy, I see taxes raised for poor and lowered for the rich, I see the arts trampled on and education viewed as something that can be put up for sale, not something that everyone has a right to. Racism is on the rise and our government are doing very little to change people’s mindsets.

But America, you did good. You made the right choice.

Romney cared about nothing more than the 1%. He wanted to remove free health care (something that we pride ourselves on in the UK; did you see the opening ceremony of the Olympics in London?!), he wanted to take away women’s freedom to choose, and he didn’t care too much about them getting equal pay to men for the same jobs. He doesn’t care about immigrants or the people fighting for what they believe in. He simply doesn’t care about the little guy. He wanted to make English the official language of the USA; for a country that many describe as “a melting pot of cultures”, isn’t this a little racist? A little insane? He wanted to promote legal immigration through actions like this, but surely this means all those who weren’t born American, who are of different nationalities, will no longer be made to feel welcome in a place they call home? He supports Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and opposes gay marriage.

He doesn’t support the majority. I don’t get how I have Christian friends who wanted this guy to win.

I don’t understand how people can vote for someone with policies like this. Maybe they weren’t aware of them? Maybe they just thought, “Anything’s better than Obama”, but I think both of those options are just lame excuses.

However, Obama did win. He did make it back to The White House. I hope that I, and many people across the world, will sleep soundly tonight in the knowledge that the USA made a good choice.

Give yourselves a pat on the back America; you did good.

x

Photo courtesy of news.com.au