Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hey, you!


Do you see it??

Up there!!

How often do you travel through life and see nothing of what you pass? With your eyes to your feet? With your iPod plugged into your ears?

How often do you walk past a building and see nothing apart from the door? Never looked up at the interesting architecture often found on the upper floors of otherwise boring high street buildings? Never noticed the trees and the flowers and the animals you pass?

How often do you pass someone and not even see them? Someone who might need your help? Not smile at them?

Why not? Because they make you feel uncomfortable? Because they might want you to do something? Because they might embarrass you? Because you might not be able to help? Because nothing is better than something??

No, it's not!

I challenge you... to look. And when you have looked, to see. And when you have seen, to do.

My secondary school's motto was 'Everybody can be Somebody'.

Do you ever catch yourself saying "Somebody should do something about that"? "Somebody should put that away"? "Somebody should pick that up"? "Somebody should ask that person if they'd like to join in"? Do you see where I'm going with this? You can be that somebody.

In the past month, I have been trying to do this. To look and to act on what I see. And I ask you to join me. No, I challenge you...

Be Somebody!

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I shall tell you a story

Once upon a time, there were these two little boys – Ben and his little brother Al. They didn’t have any parents, although their grandma oversaw what they got up to.
Ben was Grandma’s favourite because she thought he looked just like his dad, and although Al looked like their dad too, Grandma couldn’t really see it.
One day, Ben decided he was going to look after Al, so he started deciding what Al should do, what he could eat, where he could go and what he could play with. Grandma thought it was lovely that Ben wanted to look after Al like that, so she encouraged him. Al didn’t like being told what to do and not being allowed to play with what he liked, but Grandma told him he was being ungrateful for the help that Ben was giving him and that he had to be nice to Ben.
Eventually, Al got fed up and got some Lego bricks and started flicking them at Ben. They stung when they hit him, so Ben threw some big wooden blocks back at Al. These hit Al on the head and gave him concussion. Al complained loudly, but Grandma told him that it was his fault because he was throwing Lego first. She said that Ben was only a little boy and the neighbourhood kids were always picking on him, so he was within his rights to defend himself if someone attacked him.

The End.

What do you think?
How can Ben & Al's relationship be fixed?

I have no idea, but I know the situation cannot continue this way for much longer.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Born in Song!

Born in song! God's people have always been singing!
Born in song! Hearts & voices raise.
So today we worship together.
God alone is worthy to be praised!

The opening of a little-known hymn by Charles Wesley. It is taken by Methodists to summarise an important aspect of our worship and our faith. Charles Wesley's hymns are often essentially a sermon, set to music, a technique which works for two reasons. Firstly, it means that those theological points are more easily remembered and, on the flip side, it means that when Christians are singing such hymns, they are reminding one another of those truths.
A good (& hopefully familiar) example of this is 'And Can It Be', especially verses 3 and 5.

In case it's not clear by now, I come from a Methodist background and there was always music in our house growing up. Usually someone would be singing to themselves, humming, whistling, playing the piano, or listening to a CD or the radio. However, whilst these songs would sometimes be hymns or Christian songs, I'm not sure there are more than a handful of overtly Christian CDs in that house (I own just 2). More often the songs would be of a different nature. Most of the CDs are secular, but a large proportion of the songs sung would be campfire or protest songs. As a child, I attended Woodcraft Folk meetings and camps, and they too have a culture of communal singing and thus I learned many songs from there also.

I was thinking recently of the similarities between the Wesleyan idea of the sermon-to-music and the idea of the protest song. Music is a good way to help people remember the relevant points, and in a society that until relatively recently largely illiterate, this would be extremely important. Also, it's a good way for people to be able to remind one another of important truths, common ground and significant events in history.
A song that particularly springs to mind here is 'The World Turned Upside Down' by Leon Rosselsonn & made famous by Billy Bragg. It tells the story of the Diggers, a group of early socialists, who rose up in rebellion against the enclosure of common land. The lyrics talk of the age-old battle between the poor's desire for equality and the rich's desire to keep what they have. Whilst Enclosure is not really an issue now, that battle still continues.

Whilst musing on these things, I asked my family to list their 3 favourite protest songs. I gave them no further definition, largely to see what definition they would give themselves. They chose 9 different songs between the 3 of them. (topics of songs are given in parentheses)

Mum chose songs that made a specific point (rather than a general rant about the world) and tended towards a more 'traditional' style, but of the 30+ titles she listed for me, these were her top 6, as 3 was too small a sample to do the list full justice. (Her choices also had to have a good tune):

  • Send me back to Georgia (anti-war)
  • World Turned Upside Down (social injustice) [as mentioned above]
  • I wanna be an Engineer (sexism)

  • Where have all the flowers gone? (anti-war)
  • What have they done to the rain (anti-nuclear)
  • One Long Happy Night (social justice)

Dad chose more 'modern' songs. Also, it may be pertinent to mention that when I was younger, he made a set of what became known as his 'angry tapes'. These were compilations of protest songs and similar, which we regularly listened to in the car. I'm sure that those tapes had a significant impact on my current political leanings and also on my knowledge of social history (both British and also on topics such the South African apartheid). Two of the songs he chose are about specific events, as opposed to the more general subject matter of many protest songs.

  • Ideology - Billy Bragg (politics)
  • Iron Hand - Dire Straits (British miners' strikes)
  • Hurricane - Bob Dylan (racism & the arrest of boxer, Rubin Carter)

Tim (my brother) chose, again, more modern songs, but his were even further from the traditional 'ballad-style'. Again, he wanted songs which made a specific, well made point, rather than a general rant about the rubbishness of the world or the futility of everything!:

  • War - Edwin Starr (anti-war)
  • Bodies - Sex Pistols (abortion/pro-choice)
  • Mister Writer - Stereophonics (anti-paparazzi)

So, all of these songs with wildly differing styles are largely for the same purpose - to make a passionate point and to get that point heard, the same as Wesley's gospel-to-a-tune.

Do find that you respond better to a topic if it's presented to music? Do you remember it better? Do you find it easier to share it?

If you got this far, thank you.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Bible & me

After many years working with and alongside the [Evangelical] Christian Union at university, I have had many discussions and downright arguments as to why I am not a Conservative Evangelical (please note capital letters). I respect the Bible, but many of the interpretations that seem to come automatically as part of Conservatism/Evangelicalism do not make any sense to me.
Many times, my interpretation of a particular passage is at odds with the 'traditional' interpretation, but to me (& I'm sure many others) makes more sense and indeed seems to be more likely to be true. However, I then am told that my interpretation is wrong. Why? Because it's not what the Bible teaches. Apparently.
An example - Women covering their heads in church.
In the times in which these verses were written, it would have been shameful for the women to go without headcovering. To me, this is not a religious regulation, but a guideline on how to interact with local culture. Going out with their head uncovered marked these women as dressed like prostitutes. That is not a good thing for a Christian woman to do. Now, this is not the case! I do not feel the need to cover my head in church or anywhere else. However, if I attended a church which asked me to do so, then I would because that would be culturally appropriate in that church. My interpretation is that it is ok for a women to not cover her head, but it would not be appropriate for her to go out dressed in clothes that make her an sexual object or a prostitute. That would be demonstrating that she had more freedom in Christ than she really did. She is a daughter of God, and as such should have respect for herself and thus should dress appropriately. Covering her head would actually have the opposite effect - that she is somehow not fully worthy of respect and she is somehow a lesser human being compared to her husband or any man. To me this is simply untrue. She and any women on God's green earth are made in his image and are loved by God as his daughters.

But I have said this before and have been accused of not understanding the passage, twisting it for my own ends, of being a Liberal, of being a feminist (meant in a bad way), or simply of having no respect for the Bible. All of these (except maybe the feminism one), I would dispute.
However, I'm not sure that would achieve much here.

Instead, I would like to direct you to this post on Bible Deism. I'd be very interested to hear the thoughts of anyone who reads this post or Peter/qaya's.

God bless.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

What does the Fairtrade mark mean?

[written for University of Reading Student Newspaper, Spark,
for Fairtrade Fortnight 2006]

Many products in the UK carry the Fairtrade logo, but it is not often clear precisely what ‘being Fairtrade’ actually means, so I will try to explain what Fairtrade certification is and what the logo signifies. I will use the example of coffee growers, as that is probably one of the areas you will best recognise for Fairtrade, and also it is one of the biggest portions of the scheme.

In 1989, the world coffee market was decentralised and as a result, the prices crashed. A huge number of coffee growers now receive less money for their crop than it costs them to produce it, and in some cases get back barely half of their outlay. Indeed, growers are now receiving around one-quarter of what they were getting for their coffee beans 40 years ago and some 25 million people can no longer afford basic living costs. Yet, the roasters (the companies we recognise) are making bigger & bigger profits. Somehow, the fact that the poorest people in the world seem to be subsidising our coffee drinking doesn’t really seem fair, but what difference does being Fairtrade make?

Fairtrade certified products ensure that the growers have received at least a living wage for their work. This is above the standard market value and is a figure which is linked to the cost of production, meaning that growers can make the profit they need to feed their families, send their children to school and afford the cost of proper healthcare. For example, in 2003, coffee growers in Fairtrade schemes were paid between 2 and 3 times the going rate for their crop (around 120¢/lb, instead of 50¢/lb). The benefits to the individual farmers here is obvious, but there is another benefit to being part of a Fairtrade scheme, which is what is called the Social Premium. This is an additional 5¢/lb, which is paid, not to the individual farmer, but to their community and is spent of projects such as healthcare and education which benefits even more people. There are fairly?/ethically?traded goods which are not Fairtrade and it is often this social premium that is the difference. For example, all Green & Black’s chocolate provide the growers with a fair wage, but only their Maya Gold is certified Fairtrade. However, the best way to guarantee that growers have been paid fairly is to look out for the Fairtrade logo on the packaging.

Finally, aside from the benefits to the farmers though, there are also benefits to the consumer. There are tight quality criteria which producers have to meet before they can be certified as Fairtrade, meaning that Fairtrade coffee is often of a higher standard than non-Fairtrade produce. Also, because they cannot afford expensive agricultural chemicals, most Fairtrade farmers are producing pretty much organic coffee ‘by default’, meaning that it is better for the environment as well.

So, now you know how much of a difference Fairtrade can make to producers lives, would you consider making Fairtrade your habit? Keep an eye out for the logo!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

What is this?

This blog will hopefully be somewhere I can post about things that I am passionate about, without interrupting the 'fluffiness' of my other blog. This blog is still about me and my life, but also about news stories and other matters that are important to me. Hence the mixture of the Strawberry (me) and the Passionfruit (things I am passionate about). The topics I blog about will depend on what I want to say!

Why 'Way of Micah'? It is a reference to Micah 6:8...
     He has showed you, O man, what is good.
     And what does the Lord require of you?
     To act justly and to love mercy
     and to walk humbly with your God.

This is, to me, a summary of how a Christian should live. It is a summary of what I hope to be and using it as the URL is a reminder to me to try to live up to this verse.

On a similar note is this verse (James 1:27)
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

There are the beginnings of this new venture.