“It’s society who’s ugly.”

Photo: wikinoticia.com

This was Lady Gaga’s scathing response to critics’ harsh words about her recent weight gain. She said: “To all the girls that think you’re ugly because you’re not a size 0, you’re the beautiful one. It’s society who’s ugly.”

The flamboyant star, known for her outrageous outfits and tendency to shock, has got it right. Society has become ugly, when people think they are justified in launching personal attacks on anyone over their appearance. Especially when the jibes, which are so vicious and reprehensible, are directed at someone who has previously suffered from eating disorders.

The question on my mind at this time is: How did we get to this place, where society without a doubt has become so ugly?

I would hope that we can start to turn the tide and place more emphasis on the internal qualities and characteristics of every individual, rather than focusing solely on the external which is prone to fluctuations and flaws throughout one’s life. Ultimately, what kind of society would we be left with if everyone was beautiful and toned, but also vacuous, cruel and selfish?

(Read more about this story here.)

“It’s society who’s ugly…”

Customize my faith: Examining our tendency to work our faith around our lifestyle

Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

In this world of ever increasing choices, whether the style of our Twitter background to the style of our jeans, we have all grown accustomed to making the choices that best suit us and our needs or preferences. What began as quite a good idea, to be able to select products and services that are ideally tailored to our wants, has culminated in a lifestyle trend that dominates most aspects of our daily routine – at times with negative consequences.

Not sure about the hundred or so blue shades of paint available on the shelf in the DIY store? No problem! Bring in an item from home in the colour you’d like and they will mix it up just how you want. I’ll admit to having done that!

Not happy with the menu selection at your favourite restaurant? Never mind, they’ll happily alter it to your preference. We’re able to make minuscule adaptations to the settings on our smartphones and computers. Everyone’s desktop is arranged just the way they like it. We like to be different and do our own thing.

Yet the enormity of choices we face can at times seem to wear us down. Did you know that there are over a hundred different types of toothpaste to choose from on a supermarket shelf? Perhaps that in part explains the increased time it takes to do a weekly family shop! Even internet shopping doesn’t mean that we are free from a bombardment of alternative products via pop up advertising.

The plethora of channels available on cable or satellite TV should ensure that everyone is happy with what’s on offer, right? Uh, sadly wrong. In an attempt to please everyone’s tastes, we’ve discovered that the quality of programming has declined and many of us end up channel surfing, hoping to find something of value to watch. Funny how when there were only four channels, most people were quite pleased with the selection available.

Therein lies the problem. Customization seems to be the obvious way forward, yet people increasingly become overwhelmed by option fatigue. We may even experience stress from the pressure we feel to make the right choice or to keep up with the latest fashion or fads.

Likewise, it’s easy for customization to begin inching its way into our faith. Not happy with a few things in the Old Testament? Write them off as poetic imagery or nonsense. Don’t like what Jesus had to say about hell? Never mind – delete those parts. Don’t really agree with the things your pastor teaches about relationships? Oh well, they don’t seem to apply in your unique case!

New churches and doctrines are springing up everywhere, often fuelled by a desire from people to create a style of service and a set of beliefs that suits them just so. But the result of making church and faith to suit me is the loss of unity, and ultimately the loss of faith altogether. Discard so many verses from the Bible and you’re soon left with an inconsistent or shallow faith that doesn’t hold together. In his blog, American speaker, Jeff Bethke speaks of the “lethargic, apathetic, and consumer based Christianity that’s plaguing our nation right now.” (Italics mine)

Instead of finding areas which unite us, individuals are frequently caught up in pursuit of formulating a faith that will fit in with their own pre-conceived ideas, beliefs and wants. People are fickle, often visiting a church only once before hearing something they didn’t  like and dismissing it. Maybe it didn’t quite tick all the right boxes.

Significant numbers of previously committed members are leaving church altogether, happy to live their Christian life outside the confines of any church involvement. That way they can customize their faith exactly the way they want. Sadly, in an attempt to find spiritual utopia, many end up abandoning their faith altogether.

The challenge should not be how I can find a church and beliefs to suit me, but rather how I can adapt my life to revolve around Christ and his precepts. What changes can I make in my daily life to enable me to live out my faith purposefully and how can I centre my life on Christ?

A great quote I came across in my Twitter feed this year, which has taken root in my heart and keeps going round in my head was something like this: We shouldn’t ask Jesus into our lives. Instead He invites us into HIS life…. Wow! For years evangelism has centred on convincing people to ‘invite Jesus’ into their lives. This quote reminded me that we need to keep our focus on Christ and change our lives according to His plans and purposes.

In Christianity, many concepts or principles are often turned upside down and reversed. For instance, the call to love our enemies or to lose our life in order to save it. In a world full of personalisation and customisation, Christianity implores us to lay down our preferences and desires in pursuit of the kingdom of heaven. Am I willing to give up my right to have things my way, just the way I like, in order to see the gospel proclaimed and lives transformed by its power?

You see, customization in design or in media is all about me. Faith in Christ is all about Him, turning my choices upside down and around for his sake. What would it be like if every Christian lived this way? I’m sure it would impact our culture enormously, as well as unite us as a community of believers.

Just arrived in my email inbox – a message from WordPress about how to better customize my blog…

Of Faith And Fear

Photo credit: Creative Commons (toffehoff)

One compels you to action.

The other prevents you from doing anything much at all.

Fear of failure.

Fear of what others think.

Fearful of the obstacles and struggles.

Fear that keeps you in that place you’ve always been.

Fear is a poison, seeping quietly into your soul.

Faith is a first step.

Faith to face those struggles head on.

Faith to believe the truth and follow it.

Faith to listen to the right voices.

The two pull and tug and war against each other.

Faith is a restorer of the soul.

Faith frees the mind, unleashing potential.

The enemy of faith is fear.

Let faith win.

Setting things straight – Regarding Rupert Everett’s Assertion About Gay Parents

Mr Everett, an openly gay, British actor who starred in the 90s hit Shakespeare in Love, has certainly kicked up a media storm among the proponents of gay marriage and parenting by saying: “I can’t think of anything worse than being brought up by two gay dads.”*

I’m wondering whether his assertion might be groundbreaking here. A gay man attacking a gay lifestyle choice? Virtually unheard of. The likes of Stonewall and other organisations must be quaking in their boots. How dare he stray from the party line!

What’s that you say? There isn’t a gay political party?

Perhaps not, but at times it’s seemed as if every gay person has to toe the line over the rules of attraction, marriage and parenthood. Or risk being shunned from the very community which is meant to wholeheartedly accept them.** Perhaps this explains in part why Everett has decided to disassociate himself from said community. (Quote: “I’m not speaking on behalf of the gay community. In fact, I don’t feel like I’m part of any ‘community'”)

I admire Everett for his boldness to state his opinion. After all, the whole basis for the gay movement is underpinned by a belief in sexual freedom and the right to live as one pleases without threat or discrimination. This surely includes the freedom to hold and express one’s own opinion.

Looking at this topic aside from the perspective of gay rights and gay wishes, there arises a very poignant issue – namely that of the adopted or surrogate children, who ultimately have no say in the matter. They are simply denied the opportunity to be parented by both male and female figures. And no, I don’t think having uncles, aunts or friends of both sexes really counts – though such individuals are certainly valuable to a child’s upbringing.

I hope that the gay community take it upon themselves to consider the long term consequences of growing up in a family consisting of same sex parents. Each one should perhaps ask themselves: How much would I have enjoyed growing up with two mums or two dads? Would I have missed out on something?

Like Everett, such a thought seems horrific to me. Growing up with only sisters, for instance, I valued even the variety that male presence in the shape of my father brought to the household. However, to be denied the input of a mother, despite her flaws or imperfections, would have been unthinkable.  Meanwhile, the thought of only two mums… I won’t go into that.

And yet, regardless of the assumption that two, loving gay parents might do a very fine job of raising children (and indeed better than two irresponsible or immature heterosexual parents) – what about the wishes and rights of a young child?

Little human beings are not accessories or pets to boost our ego or fulfil our dreams, nor should they be part of a societal experiment. We would all do well to remember that. Only time will reveal the loss experienced by those with no voice.

History shows us that civilisations thrive where families consisting of mother, father and children are the norm. And future research will hopefully include reports from interviewed adults who have grown up in non-conventional family units. For how we are brought up shapes us long after we have moved out of our childhood home.

I think it’s good that someone like Rupert Everett has had the audacity to bring such issues to the surface. Long may there continue to be like-minded individuals (gay or straight) who will put forward their point of view, in spite of the ensuing media backlash.

*In an interview by the Sunday Times Magazine, 16 September 2012 (Online subscribers only.) For more about the furore, you can read excerpts of the interview here.

**Reaction from the gay lobby was similarly aghast when earlier this year lesbian actress Cynthia Dixon from Sex and the City fame, who used to have a husband, claimed that – for her, being gay was ‘a choice’.  See this article

Disclaimer: I don’t hate gays. In the past I have happily engaged with both gay neighbours and lesbian ones. I liked them. They were very nice people; I invited them over. I just don’t have to agree with everything they do or say or stand for. Is that okay? Same goes for all my friends. Likewise, they’re free to disagree with me.

For those who missed this over the summer – here’s the follow up article to ‘Candyfloss Culture’. Thanks again to Jennie for working with me and publishing these posts on her blog 🙂
(For any Americans reading, candyfloss = cotton candy.)

NewSong40

Last week, in her first guest post on this blog, Annie Carter wrote a great critique of Western culture, in which she argued that “Though the world is awash with sensory delights, designed to allure and excite, behind the scenes many are struggling to find their place or purpose. … Like candyfloss, the culture tantalises the senses but doesn’t fulfil our deepest needs.”

She noted that “the Church is ideally placed to help people shift their focus from the superfluous features defining our culture to the intangible values that truly matter.”

In today’s post, she considers whether or not we are making the most of this opportunity.

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Having seemed so out of touch for so long, the church has caught up remarkably well with current fashions and trends, and enthusiastically embraced the latest cultural norms. In some instances, we’re now at the cutting edge. But have we taken it…

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Another Bite Of The Apple…

As Apple unveils its much anticipated iPhone 5 to hordes of eager fans and techno geeks, all longing to see which of the previously leaked rumours are in fact true (uh, that’ll be most of them it seems), I can’t seem to help myself from being distracted by the company’s iconic logo. Its simplistic and eye-catching design – a perfectly formed bite out of an impossibly perfect apple. An instantly recognisable symbol across the globe. A symbol synonymous with cutting edge electronics, hi-tech designs and superior, portable gadgetry for ever hungry technological consumers.

In many ways Apple has defined a generation of young people. A generation unwilling to make do with basic or cheaper products. From the first iPod to the latest iPhone, many of the young, the hip and the wealthy have lapped up everything the company has served – such that a significant majority remain furiously loyal to the company – verging on the fanatical at times – unwilling to give even slight consideration to its competitors’ offerings.

It’s not my intention to stir up debate over Apple versus Android here. Let it be known that I use and admire both systems, and can see the pros and cons of each. I love what I can do with the technology in my hands and the way it allows me to organise my life as well as achieve my writing goals as I travel. I’m not going to demonise Apple (though I do deplore the way some of its workers are treated).

The company is to be applauded for its ability to create sleek products which have transformed the way we communicate, work and socialise. If the iPhone 5 were a watch, it would be a Rolex. Yet the latter, pricey accessory which most cannot afford remains largely in the hands of the rich and famous. Apple, on the other hand, has invented much sought after items that are seen in the hands and pockets of movie stars, and made them available to the average Joe on the street (albeit for a reasonably high monthly sum for most folks). Even ten year olds can be seen walking around with 3GS models clasped to their ears.

And yet the hunger for ever better, snazzier, faster technology remains. In five years time the iPhone 5 will be classed as naff and useless, unfit for purpose. Clever advertising continually alerts us to what we’re missing – FaceTime, state of the art maps, voice control, panoramic photography… another bite of the apple.

Much like the lure of forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden, manufacturers persuade us that if we could just get our hands on that latest product, we’ll be really satisfied. Truth is, fulfilment from eye catching possessions is fleeting. The wealthy could tell you that. Being rich doesn’t necessarily equate to a life of happiness. Often quite the opposite. As the über rich acquire ever more stuff and status symbols, it often leads them to question why they are not satisfied.

As actress Kristen Stewart was reported as saying in a recent interview… “I feel boring. I feel like, Why is everything so easy for me? I can’t wait for something crazy to f–ing happen to me.” A star who has attained everything, and can have anything she could possibly want, feels boring!

And that about sums it up for most of us. After we get our hands on the latest technological gadget, the thrill eventually wears off – especially as things get worn out, become less enticing or are superceded by something more impressive. That’s not to say we shouldn’t have such items – rather that we shouldn’t treasure or place too much value on them. We need to consider how much our hunger for possessions is eating away at us. “For the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)

(For those who are curious, I’ve never possessed an iPhone but we do have an iPad2 in the house which enables us to do all sorts of creative things with music, writing and photography. I try to live by the following maxim: I will use my gadgets for good. And boy am I thankful for the sat nav feature on my phone!) 

Eye On The Ball: Inspiration from Andy Murray and Toby Mac, an Unlikely Match

Photo: Creative Commons

As everyone celebrated Andy Murray’s significant first Grand Slam win today, something in the news really caught my eye. And it wasn’t that Rado watch which he panicked over finding at the end of the match!

It’s a typical piece of photography, demonstrating the sportsman’s prowess. I must have seen similar photos a thousand times before. In this brilliant shot of Murray, he’s captured with racquet positioned optimally, yellow ball mid air, as he’s about to slice it precisely across the court. His eyes are focused intently on the ball as he readies himself to take aim and succeed against his opponent.

Murray’s impressive win would not have been possible if he had decided to take his eye off the ball, even for only just a few shots. Every shot has potential to change the course of the whole match. In his interview afterwards he shared that when he went for a break just before the fifth set, he told himself – “For one set, just give it everything you’ve got.”

At the end of it all, his body was in pain. He winced as he removed his trainers. The match had stretched his body to the limits. But it was worth it. He made history. He achieved his goal.

So what could Mr Murray possibly have in common with an incredibly cool, middle aged hip hop/ rock/dance artist from across the pond?

 

Having recently heard Toby Mac’s latest hit song “Eye On It”, I’m reminded of the parallels to be drawn from the sporting and spiritual arenas. Toby, a well known Christian artist currently topping the American Billboard charts, passionately sings:

I set my eyes to the west, walking away from it all
Reaching for what lies ahead, I got my eye on it
I see my sweat hit the ground
I put my foot in the block
This is the race of my life
And I can’t wait for this shot

As he hammers home his intent to focus on his spiritual journey, Toby highlights how the race for Christians isn’t a sprint; it’s a continual marathon which requires equal measures of concentration and commitment. Half hearted attempts at either sport or spirituality won’t stay the course or produce the desired result.

It’s easy to get distracted on the journey of life, phasing God out of our decisions or our joy. To reach that ultimate destination and to achieve the best that God has for us, requires us to do our part and give everything we’ve got (our “heart, mind, soul and strength” as Jesus exhorts us in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 12, verse 20).

We need to keep our eye on the ball. The apostle Paul speaks of fixing our eyes on Jesus, the “author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). If Jesus remains our focus, we know that we’ll come through to ultimately achieve a far greater prize than a silver cup or human acclaim.

To quote more from Toby Mac:

I’ve got my eye on the prize, I’ve got my eye on it
I’ve got my eye on the prize and I will not quit

Both Andy and Toby demonstrate their fixation with achieving what’s important to them. Today I’m challenged to renew my focus, to take inspiration from both the sportsman and the singer.

(Link to Toby Mac’s song, Eye On It…)