Monday, 29 August 2011

How I Was Mugged

I was mugged by a nice man in a green top the other day. His name was Tom. He carried an umbrella (for it was raining) and had tousled hair. He spoke eloquently and quite quickly, and in the brief meeting we had, he managed to exact £8.50 from me.

I left feeling demoralised and guilty, such a fool for giving away my money, hating myself for not doing more to put up a fight, to protect my hard earned cash. I've recently become unemployed, and yet, I gave up £8.50 with a whimper and a desperate urge to get away from the scene of the crime as soon as possible.

Of course, I refer to a charity mugging, and the fact that I'm now giving £8.50 to the NSPCC so they can continue to run Childline, which is understaffed - a third of calls from lonely or abused children don't get through. Undoubtedly, this is a good and worthwhile cause. In some of my forays into youthwork, I've seen the impact of abuse upon children: neglected, vacant, over-sexualised, raucous and uncontrollable. It is obvious that Childline has been, and is, a valuable asset in this country for children wanting to break those cycles of abuse. So why on earth was I so reticent to give my money away? I think there are a few options:

1) I'm a fundamentally bad person. This is a possibility. I sometimes want drivers in souped up cars to crash, or people who give bad customer service to eat something unpleasant. However, I'm not so evil as to want children to keep on being abused.

2) I'm a very poor person. This is nearer the truth. I'm unemployed, and have no income. But poor? So poor as to not afford £8.50 a month (what's that, lunch and a pint of cider?) to help stop the neglect, physical or sexual abuse of defenceless children? That's entirely untrue.

3) I don't like giving. Linking to no. 3, I don't have an income, so giving money away is rather hazardous. One has to be particularly careful that the money you have doesn't become the money you DID have, too quickly. But I'm fine with giving disproportionately. I'm very fortunate to come from a safe and plentiful home, but I know that others aren't. What I have can easily aid those who do not have. Giving is not the problem.

4) I dislike being made to feel guilty for who I do or do not give to. This, I think, is the main reason why I did not want to give money to the entirely just cause of the NSPCC. (Possibly along with being a fundamentally bad person. But mainly the guilt thing.) I only stopped on Friday because Tom smiled nicely, and I usually feel sorry for those guys. But stopping was my mistake. I was never going to walk away from him, for fear of being deemed impolite. He then pulled out all the stops: "I give to 8 charities." "A mother with three kids gave without hesitating earlier, and yet people who earn 10 times as much don't give us the time of day." "These children are the future, and yet we're reticent to give the equivalent of a round at the pub." All these things may be true, they may be lies - in some ways, that's not the point. The point is the effect they create: guilt on the part of the listener. Now, does guilt imply that I'm guilty? Certainly, I've never given to the NSPCC or Childline before. However, does my other giving of my money, time and talents, particularly in relation to the children's and youth work that I've done, assuage my guilt? Not in the mind of the collector.

It's sad, that in this day and age of plenty (which, let's not kid ourselves, it is) we have to be guilt-tripped into giving money. It seems to be the only viable way of charities collecting money - I know it well, I've worked for a church. People generally only respond to appeals for money when they feel a little bit guilty about not doing so. So we walk away from the situation guilty for not originally giving money, guilty for apparently lying ("I'm unemployed and can't really afford it"), guilty for giving up your money when you didn't mean to, and £8.50 poorer.

Yet until we all become a) truly generous, or b) Marxist, I guess we'll have to put up with the guilt, the garish t-shirts, and the misery that is giving to charity.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Last night, I joined a church for the first time ever...

I've been a part of three churches in my life previously. Two were tagging along with my parents, and one I was paid to be at. But last night, of my own volition, I walked into a church (sunny), partook of the service (enjoyable), talked with people (pleasant) and drank orange squash (strong).

It was odd being at a church where I didn't know everyone. Where I didn't have to do anything, but sit and stand and worship and wonder. Where there was no pressure to do anything in particular, just be me, and allow God to influence the person that I am.

We were a rag tag bunch of followers last night. There were a couple of folks in wheelchairs. There were people who talked during some of the songs. There were a few music-based mishaps. There was me and my short attention span. But at the crux of it, we were church, all trying to follow Jesus in the best way we know how.

I'm glad I can be church with these people.

Monday, 15 August 2011


Yesterday, I saw some elephants. I say 'saw,' I mean, took a trunk in my hand, walked about 200 metres with them and fed them. They're incredible beasts. As I lead the elephant down the path, I remember thinking: 'This trunk could kill me,' which, it must be said, is not the most reassuring thought ever.

We took them to a small forest clearing, and there they were asked to show us certain 'natural' behaviours, like kneeling (for drinking, and digging up roots), blowing (for... good question. Someone did tell us, and I'm sure it's very useful...), and a violent shaking of the head (for cooling down, or getting rid of flies. Apparently.)

The elephants were rewarded with food, and then we were given a chance of a close up. The elephants responded to every order their trainers gave - to open their mouth, lift up their foot, wave their trunk, etc., and it was all rewarded with food.

But I felt uncomfortable.

It all felt a bit like a performing circus. Seeing animals with such majesty and power, yet as tame as your household dog made me feel dirty inside. Of course, the elephants are well treated and fed, and given as much space as possible. But it all felt a bit tawdry and shallow, witnessing elephants given wood pellets as a rewarding for flapping their ears.

They were meant for more than this.

In the same way, we're meant for more than living life and performing tricks when it seems expedient to do so. We were created with such potential, and yet, we sink into obscurity because we don't get shot down so easy then.

There's a band called [dweeb] who are breaking up. They've been around the (Christian) music scene for about 10 years now, but I've never really got into them. In a conversation about them last night, I was pretty scathing about their music and their impact. But, for 10 years, they've endeavoured to stick their head above the parapet and do something good. How can I, as a mediocre, as yet unknown, wannabe musician/comedian/theologian, shoot down an artist because they tried?

Of course, it helps if that effort is coupled with skill - but when we live a life trying to keep our nose (or trunk) clean and not getting in anyone's way, we fail to live up to our potential.

So maybe, as I've documented before, going home will be the best possible thing. Maybe our music will start to get out there, when we actually come together to write stuff and gig. Maybe I'll do some open mic nights and try out some jokes on people. Maybe I'll write a book, preach sermons, help people understand God's love in practical ways.

But I won't know, unless I try.