Monday, April 30, 2007

Let go and grow?

Ok, I am sitting here at work going crazy because my brain is trying to figure out how to conflict a junction correctly so that trains don’t collide on the Bakerloo line, at the same time as trying to think about how to get trains into service first thing in the morning on the Jubilee line. So rather than allowing my brain to explode, I thought I would take a break and write a blog.

I have a question. (Does that surprise anyone?!) I am most likely going to be blasted for overcomplicating this again, (and after Sunday – you’d think I would have learned!) but I have to ask my questions – it is part of who I am. So here it is:

When we talk about ‘letting go, and letting God’, is it not possible that we may be doing this, when actually the right course of action is to do something. I hear the point of view that sometimes we just have to relax, but for me, I just don’t know how to do that, without also forgetting my own responsibility. There is something I have had playing on my mind for a long time now, and I think about it constantly. I have just recently been blocking it out of my mind for a while, and trying to stop analysing it, and asking ‘why?’, (is this letting go?). The trouble is that I am worried that is going to lead to acceptance of something that should really not be accepted – and actually needs to be changed. (Does this make any sense?)

So how can you ‘let go’, and yet still grow? (I’m a poet and I didn’t know it!) If we let go, do we just end up accepting the status quo? (Oh look – I did it again! – sort of). Do people get my point? I know that the idea was that we are to let go of our control and give the control to God – but I just don’t see what that means practically. How can you let go, and yet still take responsibility for your spiritual growth?

Ooh – I kept it relatively short too! Well done me!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Build it anyway?

You can spend your whole life building
Something from nothin'
One storm can come and blow it all away
Build it anyway
You can chase a dream
That seems so out of reach
And you know it might not ever come your way
Dream it anyway
God is great
But sometimes life aint good
And when I pray
It doesn't always turn out like I think it should
But I do it anyway
Do it anyway
This word's gone crazy
Its hard to believe
That tomorrow will turn out better than today
Believe it anyway
You can love someone with all your heart
For all the right reasons
In a moment they can choose to walk away
Love 'em anyway
God is great
But sometimes life ain't good
And when I pray
It doesn't always turn out like I think it should
But I do it anyway
You can poor your soul out singing
A song you believe in
That tomorrow they'll forget you ever sang
Sing it anyway
Sing it anyway
I sing
I dream
I love
(Martina McBride - Anyway)

I heard Martina McBride singing these lyrics on American Idol today, and it immediately impacted me. First of all because it mentioned God and was being sung on American Idol, but after that, because of the attitude it encourages. I think it is a beautiful and very powerful song. I can imagine it being many peoples 'life anthem' in that it really speaks to them and produces in them some sort of application for their lives. But I had to stop and just think to myself, 'hang on, it sounds good, but do I actually agree with these lyrics?'

I re-read these lyrics, and added to the end of each phrase the question, 'why?'
Build it anyway - why?
Dream it anyway - why?
Pray it anyway - why?
Believe it anyway - why?
Love them anyway - why?
Sing it anyway - why?

As a Christian, I know that sometimes, even when we can't understand, and even when we don't know the answer to the 'why' question, faith requires us to believe anyway. And when we pray and God seems to be ignoring us, faith requires us to pray anyway. Also, love is something we do, not because of what we get out of it, but just because we do. I know all that, and so if this can be true for those things, then why not for 'dreaming', 'singing', or 'building', (whatever that might mean metaphorically). But again I have to askthe question, why'?

Take dreaming for instance. 'You can chase a dream that seems so out of reach, and you know that it might never come your way.' What is the point in dreaming for something that in all likelihood is going to end in disappointment? Or building - You can spend your wole life building something fom nothing, but one storm can come and blow it all away. If you know that - why bother building it?

I told someone last week that I was in a very Ecclesiastical mood, in the sense that I am with Solomon in his frustration at the meaninglessness of life. We could build, dream, pray, believe, love and sing, and enjoy doing those things, but what does it actually achieve? Do we feel better? Maybe, yes. Although not always because the crush of disappointment can hurt like crazy, but maybe for a while, the positivity and hope represented by these lyrics can make us feel better. Someone once said to me, 'I don't know why we are here on this earth, but we are here, so we might as well enjoy it.' Is that it? Is our whole purpose in life just to make ourselves feel better about being here? To try to find some smidgen of enjoyment in an otherwise rubbish life? Is there something more? Does hoping, building, praying, believing, loving or singing change anything? Do we do these things to mask the rubishness of life, or are they worthwhile in themselves. Are they things we should do because they change the world or because they make us feel better? I guess my question really is, 'what is the meaning of life'? How often throughout life will we have to come back to that question before we truly understand the answer?!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Gambling - Whats the limit?

I want to start by apologising. I had a really massive topic I wanted to blog about following this mornings meeting, but I had a long talk after the meeting with someone I trust and I have decided to hold off on it for a while. I have lot to think about following that discussion, and most of it too personal for here. So instead I am blogging about something rather different to the usual. (And it may seem stupid and trivial).

My brother and his girlfriend are currently collecting the McDonalds monopoly stickers, and seem to be doing relatively well. For those of you who are not aware of McDonalds latest marketing ploy, they have created a makeshift monopoly board, and their drinks (and other products) have pull off tabs on them, which are the various properties you find on a monopoly board. The idea is that you collect as many of these properties as you can. If you complete a set, (e.g. you get both greens) then you have a chance of winning a variety of prizes.

Rowan and Naomi have one of the greens and are waiting for Bond Street to appear. McDonalds will give away £100000 to three people who manage to get both of the greens. Clearly this is not a guarunteed prize. The chances are obviously very slim. Anyway, they were telling me tonight that they had two 'Park Lane's'. Park Lane is a purple and so is a good one to have (in theory) and so I made the suggestion, (although it was all meant to be just a bit of fun), of puting it on ebay. It seems other people had this idea too.

Quite a few people are selling these tiny little tokens on ebay. We found someone selling 'Bond Street' for £2. (With free postage). Now £2 for a token might seem steep, but Ro pointed out that you would pay more than that for a McDonalds meal. We were laughing saying maybe we should do it, until it was pointed out to us that this was actually gambling. I agreed, (reluctantly) that actually yes, it was gambling, but others I spoke to did not. So me being me, I looked up the definition:

"Gambling (or betting) is any behavior involving risking money or valuables (making a wager or placing a stake) on the outcome of a game, contest, or other event in which the outcome of that activity depends partially or totally upon chance or upon one's ability to do something."

So is buying 'Bond Street' on ebay gambling? Does it risk money? Well - yes I suppose so, although buying something like that doesn't feel like much of a risk. Maybe because £2 doesn't seem that valuable these days. But, in theory, it is still risking money, however small the amount is. Is it the outcome of a game? Yes. Is it based on chance? Yes! So I guess in theory it is gambling.

Naomi says: To get Bond Street without buying it on ebay, I would have to spend lots of money on McDonalds before hand. Therefore, surely by using ebay we are risking less money, (and reducing our risk of childhood obesity).

However, the point remains that this is gambling. But how far do you take this concept? Would buying McDonalds and then using the token to try to win money be gambling? No in theory because you are not risking money - you are spending money on food and the token just happens to come as a 'free extra'. But what if you bought a McDonalds because of the token. Surely then you would be buying the token, and the meal would come as a free extra. In that case, buying the McDonalds would be gambling. Would people say that was wrong? How far do you take it. How lenient do you become before you draw a line? Is it a slippery slope? Should we therefore reject involvement in all such competitions? Would you send off a completed crossword puzzle for a competition for example? Surely you are risking the price of a stamp?

I know it may sound like a silly point to be thinking so much about, but don't you think its right that we should know where to draw the line? What do you think? Is it gambling? What would you do?

If anyone has a bond street token that they don't mind giving away, we would much appreciate it. It would save the hassle of trying to be morally right, without being legalistic and ridiculous!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

So what do we do?

After being inspired by a very good friend of mine recently, I started looking a bit more into the concept of trade justice, in order to try to find out if I could do more to help. I made a decision. Not a massive one, a very little one in fact compared with the vastness of the issue, but a decision none-the-less. My decision; to buy only fairly traded chocolate from now on. That means no more Cadbury's, no more Galaxy, at least until they bring out fair trade varieties.

I went into work one day this week and my colleagues were talking about Easter and why it has become so commercialised, and so chocolate-oriented. As part of this discussion I mentioned my decision. The discussion then turned towards fair trade, and I was told by a colleague that fair trade was a farce in any case. This has opened a can of worms, and I am frustrated and confused and in need of a bit of clarity. I am very un-politically and uneconomically minded, and so all of these discussions overwhelm me a bit, and I don't know where to find my place or my stand in it all. Those who know me well will know what a frustrating place that is for me, so if anyone can help, I would be most grateful.

The basics of it as far as I can see is this: Fair trade promises the initial producers of the products, (coffee bean farmers for example), a fair price when trading for their goods. Generally, this means that the price of fair-trade products is higher, but one would think that was a small price to pay for giving people a fairer deal. I may be simple, but that sounds great to me. Apparently not!

The Economist says this: "The low price of commodities such as coffee is due to overproduction, and ought to be a signal to producers to switch to growing other crops. Paying a guarunteed Fairtrade premium - in effect a subsidy - both prevents this signal from getting through and, by raising the average price paid for coffee, encourages more producers to enter the market. This then drives down the price of non-fair trade coffee even further, making non-Fairtrade farmers poorer." Voting with Your Trolley -, Dec 7th 2006

It also raises another objection as follows: "Retailers add their own enormous mark-ups to Fairtrade products and mislead consumers into thinking that all of the premium they are paying is passed on...Fairtrade coffee is used by retailers as a means of identifying price-insensitive consumers who will pay more." Voting with Your Trolley -, Dec 7th 2006

To be honest, these arguments do seem to have a lot of logic in them. The second argument certainly has the lesser impact on me personally. I find it annoying that companies are using this to make themselves richer and trying to come accross as ethical when really they are just being greedy, but the point is that regardless of that, the producers are still being given more money for their product, and at the end of the day that is why I buy it. I can't make all the corporations less greedy, but I can buy a product which helps a poor farmer to provide for their family.

The first argument, however, stunned me into silence. What it says, in effect, is that me buying Fairtrade may help some farmers get more money, but it is likely to make others even poorer. I can't handle that. I don't want to do that, I want to help not hinder.

I want to be honest now - so here is where I am at. I read those articles on the train, and for the rest of my journey home I had to fight back tears. I was so frustrated that the only response I could make was to cry, and I couldn't even do that! This may seem like an exaggerated reaction, and maybe it was just an emotional day in general yesterday, but this is what I do. I often feel very passionately about an issue. I will be stirred into very strong emotions by something like this. It makes me so mad that there are people in the world who don't have access to clean water. It breaks my heart that there are people who live in poverty and struggle to provide for their families. It drives me crazy that I live in such relative luxury. I wonder if it is possible to care so much that you become of little or no use. If it is possible, then I think I fall in that category, because these things break my heart, and yet I do nothing. Why do I do nothing? Because I don't get it. I don't know how to help. I don't know how to make things better without making them worse.

On one hand I want to fight against what these articles are saying. Delve into them to find inconsistencies and false arguments, so that I can feel free to make my chcoclate choice again. But I have to stop and ask myself why. Why am I so annoyed that these articles might have an element of truth to them. Why does it leave me feeling so utterly gutted and useless. The honest answer is that making a small decision like that made me feel better about myself. It made me feel less guilty. At least I could say I was doing something or trying. Well, I'm sorry, but that is not good enough. This choice is not meant to be about me. It's meant to be about those poor people in the developing world. It's meant to be about actually transforming lives, not letting myself believe I am helping and ignoring all the warnings I get that say that I might not be, just because I want to feel good.

But then I am left with this question: What do I do then? Some people are convinced that the best way to help is to vote for the people that promise to do something about fair trading, and other ethical issues, (such as human trafficking). The problem with that is that politicians are so clever with their words. They can make you think that they are promising things but hide the loopholes and leave us all massively confused. I don't get politics, I am not clever enough, but I want to help so desperately.

I sometimes wish you could 'see' feelings. They are so hard to describe, and this issue for me brings out a lot of them. I want to ackowledge them and use them for good, but they can be so powerful that the only thing I can do is try to surpress them and simply let them go, because I do not know how to respond to them in a better way. Does anyone else have this problem? What can we do? And how do we know that what we end up doing is actually helping long term, and not just making us feel better or less guilty in the present?

Monday, April 02, 2007


Ok, so to make it fair, I have actually analysed the statistics. Sorry people, but I just couldn't leave it being 'my own perception'. I had to make sure it was right. So the list is updated, according to the following rules:
  • The statistics are based on blogs since 1st March 2007 and up to (and including) 1st April 2007
  • The list is based on a 'days per blog' scheme, (Dividing number of blogs by number of days in the period under consideration) - so for those who started (or restarted) blogging within this time period, the length of time of blogging has been accounted for.
  • Every single blog post is included. Some people cheat and put three blog posts in one day! (Matt L) but each of these is still included because I couldn't think of any other fair way of doing it!

The statistics are as follows:

  1. Matt Leeder - blogged on average every 3.56 days. (Helped by the three times in one day and huge amount of blogs that were simply hyperlinks to other sites!)
  2. Richard Borrett - blogged on average every 3.67 days, (but has only been re-blogging 11 days! Well done!)
  3. Dawn Watson - blogged on average every 4 days, (sorry Dawn you were overtaken by a recent surge!)
  4. Sarah Tomkinson - blogged on average every 4.57 days
  5. Ann Borrett - blogged on average every 5 days, (but has only been re-blogging for 10 days)
  6. Amy Pinwill, Becks Hills, Andy Hill - blogged on average every 6.4 days
  7. Liz Hall, Bec Goldsmith, Glyn Harries, Matt White - blogged on average every 8 days, (Liz that's not even one a week! Come on! - Matt, sorry but Glyn blogged twice in one day!)
  8. Verity Hill - blogged on average every 13 days, (but V has only been blogging for 13 days! That's just one post!)
  9. Claire Tomkinson, Richard Wright - blogged on average every 16 days. Falling behind!
  10. Rach Bishop - blogged on average every 32 days. That was once in March. Rach - you may well blame this on course work, but come on! Once a month?! At leat that's better than Jo's once since November I guess!

Anyway. That's it on the blog-list front. Back to normal blogging very soon. I can feel lots of questions brewing!!!