Think on these things

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Photo: Creative Commons/ withbeautiful

Unlike those who can briefly consider an issue, mull over it for a few minutes and move on, carrying on as usual with all the minutiae of life, work and family – like many others, my mind is overwhelmed by all that is going on in the world. For those who can’t help thinking and evaluating, or inwardly critiquing and projecting, last year’s events and the first few weeks of 2017 have barely allowed pause for rest.

From our political turmoil here to the stark leadership change Stateside; from the rise of Isis to the increase in humanitarian crises; from what appears to be an increasing legitimisation of sexism and racism, to the post-truth explosion spreading through social media; from the global economic uncertainty, to the housing and rent crisis – it just seems relentless. All that, in addition to the usual stories of violence, family breakdown, loneliness and poverty.

Even our churches and Christian communities are not immune to the onslaught of uncertain times and conflicting interests or beliefs. It’s easy to get caught up in the arguments that divide and that hurt. We’re often not the huge, happy family we’re meant to be; we read from the same Bible but people think differently from us.

And in this context, in this hive of anxiety and criticism and uncertainty, I’m reminded of the apostle Paul’s encouragement to us in his letter to the Philippians: to think on whatever is true, whatever is right and whatever is lovely.

I don’t think that this means we should simply ignore the big issues all around us or turn a blind eye to the suffering or injustice (as some suggest with the phrase: “I don’t watch the news, it’s too depressing”). There is a time and a place to consider all these things and to take action. Rather, I think the verse refers to our default state of mind; to the everyday, undercurrent feelings that set the tone in our spirit and souls.

It doesn’t mean we shy away from addressing the big issues (clearly, Jesus also never avoided the difficult stuff), but it’s being mindful of what dominates our mind; what pervades our spirit most of the time. Do I wake in the morning and think about God, sensing His presence, or do I wake up worried about the state of our world and its future?

I’m not advocating for a return to superficial, feel good Christian soundbites like: “Everything’s ok, God’s in control!” – smiley face – or: “Never mind about that, let’s just praise God!” God does mind about what’s going on in our world. He hates lying, violence and injustice (Proverbs 6:16-19 and Jeremiah 22:13). He weeps with those who weep (John 11:35).

In Isaiah the prophet describes Christ the Messiah as: “A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”. Jesus never aligned himself to superficial, super-happy faith; he was moved by the people and situations around him. He showed anger, not just overturning tables in the temple, but also towards the Pharisees who were always trying to find fault (Mark 3:5). Jesus experienced frustration, just as we do.

But there is something about our faith that is steadfast, that holds us onto the rock of Christ through all the stormy change and turmoil. It’s not that we ignore the storm, but we don’t have to be swayed by it, we don’t have to be overwhelmed.

Like Peter, we need to try to focus our eyes on Christ as the waves rage around us, otherwise we’ll too easily find ourselves sucked under by the surrounding current, gasping for air, unable to fully function. When we’re overwhelmed by all that’s going on, we need to fix our eyes on Christ the truth – our God made flesh – who is the Word of God.

Whatever is right. Whatever is true. Whatever is good – think on these things. The word to the Philippians in another translation is “meditate” on these things. Our underlying thoughts can be saturated by what is true and lovely, even when all that surrounds seems ugly or wrong.

So let me ask the question: how does Christ shape our thinking in this age of post-truth? Do we let Him, rather than the day’s latest news, overwhelm our hearts?

Jesus is the light of the world. As the world seems to become ever darker and atrocities abound, His light becomes ever brighter as we reflect the Christ in us and shine to those around us through our words and actions. Are we letting his light shine through us in these times of fear and uncertainty?

5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Write A Book (And The 1 Reason Why You Should…)

Photo: marsmet (CC)

Photo: marsmet (CC)

  1. Everybody is doing it. There was a time when writing a book was seen as a major, commendable feat; authors were held somewhat in awe. Not anymore. Since the typewriter was ditched and we all got our hands on new technology, writers have been springing up all over the place. The advent of the internet and the ability to self publish has enabled an explosion of authors into the marketplace. Just look around on Amazon Books for a few minutes and you’ll get the idea (if you hadn’t already realized). Nearly every fifth person on social media sites seems to have written a book or a novella or a travel guide (well, at least if my followers are anything to go by), while virtually every other person expresses an intent or desire to one day write a book. So, yep the market for books is beyond saturated, and if you’re going to write something, you better check that it’s unique or in demand.
  2. It will consume far more time, energy & mental exhaustion than you could ever imagine. It may consume your every waking moment. Just consider your most stressful project, dissertation or creation to date, and how much it took out of you to complete it. Now quadruple that, or even times it by 10 (depending on the length, complexity and genre of your book), and you’d have a vague idea of how much work will go into this brilliant book idea of yours. (For more on exactly what’s involved, check out this article). Despite what you may have heard, writing a book is work, not a stroll in the park. Are you willing to invest that much of your heart, mind and soul into getting your book into print? Thought not. Think again. There are other vocations out there, you know.
  3. It’s not just about churning out text for the content of your idea any more. You’ll really have to look into expending effort into producing a website (or outsourcing it to a professional), and think about additional social media channels devoted solely to your book. Yep, basically more time, and probably a hefty sum of money to get on the writers’ bandwagon these days. If you think such things are an unnecessary extra that really wouldn’t concern you, you better do some research. Even the big publishers are looking for authors who are willing to go the extra mile with establishing an online presence and connecting with readers.
  4. If all that hasn’t put you off yet, maybe this will: The project doesn’t end after the book has been written, or even published. Next comes selling hard copies to friends, neighbours, colleagues, twitter buddies, random strangers etc. It’s all about marketing yourself, chasing leads, requesting reviews and making friends with others who’d happily advertise your book to their friends and followers. Yet again, even if you land yourself a deal with a top publisher, they’ll expect you to do your part in marketing your book. You are no longer just a bona fide writer, you are now expected to be a promoter and marketer. Believe it. Could you actually do this, or does the mere thought scare you silly? If so, now’s the chance to forget that vision of becoming an author and put your ideas on the slush pile of Silly Ideas To Be Forgotten, Never To Be Resurrected Again. Just think of all the stress you’d save yourself, not least the embarrassment of having to sell an actual product to the wider world.
  5. And finally – and this is the most convincing reason of all… In pursuing your dream to write a book, you will subject yourself to the greatest tension ever known to writers everywhere… No, not waiting to see if anyone will buy your book; no that’s really not that bad. After all, you don’t have to tell anyone how many copies you’ve sold! No, the ultimate fright comes after you’ve sold a few and the reviews start coming in – from readers you don’t even know. Yes, waiting for reviews, and along the way requesting reviews, often having no idea what they will say, could possibly be the scariest moment of your life. Are you ready for those 1* reviews to come in from those who think your book is the biggest load of rubbish they’ve ever read? I have not asked anyone for 5 stars, not even my over enthusiastic big sister – and yet a few glowing reviews have rolled in. But I am not naïve. When I think about it, I don’t think I would even give myself 5 stars! I know those 1* reviews will likely soon come in. How am I so sure? That’s easy, just check out the reviews for your most favourite book ever, or a well known blockbuster that comes to mind. Scroll down. Yep – there they are – the 1* reviews from disgruntled readers who really weren’t impressed with the story or style of that hyped up book! Do you really think that if J.K.Rowling couldn’t avoid 1* reviews, that somehow you’re so special that you won’t get any? You must be joking (unless you only ever sell 5 or 10 copies to your best friends and family.)

The 1 Reason Why you Should Write a Book…

If all the above has failed to deter you from pursuing this writing malarkey, then here’s the one reason, and one reason only, why anyone should actually press on and write that book they’ve so wanted to write. And here it is (drum roll, please)… The ONE reason you should ever write a book is because YOU HAVE TO! Because it’s stirring in your bones & your soul, and you finally relent & accept: ‘This is what I absolutely must do. I will get no peace unless I get the words out, printed on the page/screen/scrap of paper.’ If this is you, then what are you waiting for? Get on and get writing your book! We want to hear about it. Tell us about your book idea in the comments below.

And while you’re here, why not check out the links to my novel and book website? Thanks!

From seedy to celebrated: the acceptance of porn into mainstream culture (and parliament)

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Today I’m privileged to have an article featured over at Threads, a really great site. Check it out!

From seedy to celebrated: the acceptance of porn into mainstream culture (and parliament)

Bartoli and the BBC/ Words Matter

Marion Bartoli and Andy Murray at the Champions’ Ball

I dread to think what I’d look like sans make-up in a white mini skirt on Centre Court at Wimbledon, having run around like crazy, swiping balls back at my opponent for an hour and a half. Add in a few frowns of concentration and some beads of perspiration, along with several focused grimaces, and I’m quite sure I’d not look a pretty sight.

Most of us accept the fact that Marion Bartoli, the 2013 Women’s Singles champion, was not on court to look pretty and that that was the last thing on her mind throughout the tournament. Yet some of the vitriol directed at her by mindless would-be commentators at home and the thoughtless comment from the BBC’s John Inverdale, suggesting live on air that she was not much of a ‘looker’ is shocking and regrettable. No wonder 674 viewers responded irately to the insensitive gaffe. I didn’t come across any unkind comments in the news regarding male players’ appearance or attractiveness. Bartoli’s stunning transformation at the Winner’s ball after the Championship may well have silenced some of her critics, but I don’t see why she had to prove anything at all. It’s not like she had tried to win a modelling contract; she’s a tennis player for goodness sake!

Fact is, there are times when we should just keep our thoughts to ourselves. What right do any of us have to name call and belittle others on the basis of their appearance? Unfortunately Bartoli’s experience was not unique to her; countless women face judgements on their looks on a daily basis. Female politicians and high profile women in media or business are frequently subjected to commentary on their appearance rather than their capabilities. The rise in social media has in no small part contributed to people’s tendency to broadcast mean or critical comments that they wouldn’t dream of vocalising in public.

Although Inverdale and the BBC have apologised for the above quote, the effects of the words still linger. I once read an analogy about the power of words, likening them to toothpaste that has been squeezed out of the tube. Once the substance has come out, it’s incredibly difficult to push it back in without leaving a big mess. That’s what our words are like. We may try to retract them or to apologise, but once they’ve passed our lips (or keyboard), they are hard to ignore or forget.

I’m aware of this myself, having spoken countless thoughtless words and regretted them. Thankfully, I don’t appear on live TV or radio and only a few have been on the receiving end of my ill advised comments or outbursts.  I’m reminded of the old adage, favoured by grannies and those of a previous era: “If you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all!” Wouldn’t it be good if that once again became a consistent maxim for the media – and for the rest of us – to follow before rushing to make announcements about people’s outward appearance? The BBC could perhaps also consider whether its presenters would benefit from some refresher training courses in how to avoid sexism and inappropriate comments.

The Money Trap – Why politicians’ pay should not be attractive

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In the news this week there is much furore over the issue of MPs being awarded a potential £10,000 pay rise. This at a time of major cuts and austerity across public services in a drive to reduce the national debt.

As their current salary stands at £66,396, MPs already earn nearly £40,000 above the national average, and with a plethora of perks – such as travel expenses and an additional residence in London – it would seem that a career in politics is quite an attractive option.

Which is exactly what we don’t want.

We need the right calibre of people going in to politics, to lead the country well and to make the decisions which benefit us all. Those with noble intentions and worthy characteristics such as integrity, wisdom, diligence and a genuine concern for their constituents. Those who are more concerned with doing the right thing than obsessing over their public image or the desire to climb the political ladder. MPs who will follow their convictions rather than the party whip; who will speak their minds rather than contrived political sound bites.

Thankfully, we still have some such politicians, though I fear they are becoming a minority.

What kind of leaders will govern us from Parliament if an MP’s salary becomes around two and a half times that of a teacher? (Teacher earning approx 31k in inner London after a few years.) Unfortunately, corruption and cockiness spring to mind.

Perhaps MPs should consider drastically reducing their pay to match that of teachers and nurses – those who generally go into the profession for commendable motives, and who want to make a difference.

It seems that now would be a good time to start a major shake-up in British politics if the government is to revive any widespread trust and hope in their leadership.

Of course, MPs deserve a decent salary. But it shouldn’t draw in those merely looking to carve out a career and a name for themselves. We’re getting tired of spin and shame in politics – across all parties and persuasions. In order to restore faith in our political system, measures must be taken to ensure that the quality of candidates applying for the job matches our expectations for the role. Those seeking monetary gain or fame need not apply.

ETA: A few days on, and now we read of MPs and Cabinet ministers claiming additional expenses for their children (housing and travel).