Fair Trade and Middle Class values

Although I think Fair Trade is a good idea I am convinced it often does little more than making middle class people feel good about being rich!

Can you afford to buy Fair Trade? I can and often try to. It makes me feel good as if I am making the world a better place! The problem, as I see it , is that I can do this because I have a middle class job that is paid a good middle class wage.

Have you ever thought about how ‘fair’ some Fair Trade products are? Have a look at one of the Fair Trade museli bars, often there is less than 30% that is actually Fair Trade. Having gained the logo the product can then be sold at a much higher price attracting those who have money to buy and feel good about themselves. I often wonder as I pay the cashier at the supermarket for my ethically sound products, how ethically sound it is that she or he is getting paid so poorly?

I believe in Fair Trade, in one sense, but as long as some have wealth and others don’t we will continue to pretend we are making a difference. What we really need is a stronger political will to make equality a reality. That would mean I have less and others more. It doesn’t mean I have more to make the choice to pretend I am making poverty history.

Oh and by the way before everyone starts going on about some commune in India benefitting from Fair Trade. Think about what you are saying. Do you think they are being helped enough to have an equal standard of living as ourselves or that they can eat a decent meal or send their kids to school. We fool ourselves!

What difference does it make?

People often say how, if you become a Christian, God will give you peace and joy in your heart. That just makes me wonder where that peace and joy is, and whether I misunderstand what those words mean.

People told me how encouraging it is to keep a prayer diary, because then you don’t just forget what you’ve prayed for, you can tick off all the prayers that have been answered. But after trying it for a while, I just found it discouraging because I could hardly tick anything off. Was I praying wrong? When an open-minded and searching friend asked me ‘Does God really answer your prayers? What prayers has he answered?’, I was embarrassed at how little I could say.

Is there something wrong? Shouldn’t I see answers to prayers, and feel peace and joy?

Of course I can’t believe the idea that God gives prosperous lives to all faithful Christians – that our health and comfort are an indicator of how much He’s blessing us, how much He loves us and how much we please Him. That idea could only survive in our affluent society, and you only have to look at the material poverty of the majority of the world’s Christians to see how ridiculous it is. But I find it easy to slip into believing subconsciously that God’s approval and my relationship to Him is revealed by the way my life is going – whether I’m on a clear and productive path, comfortably settled with a clear purpose, or struggling to keep going.

But what’s the truth? Obviously God doesn’t make our life cushy, and Christians are often hit by tragedies, but surely it doesn’t make no difference whether we live our lives with him or not? So what difference does it make?

One clear answer is that His Holy Spirit is available to give us help and strength, so we can experience God’s help both in our own selves and through other Christians. But God doesn’t just take over the control of our lives, like when you ask a computer officer or someone to teach you how to do something, and they say ‘It’ll be easier if I do it myself’ and can’t be bothered to explain it to you. He wants us to learn and grow and be given responsibility and trust. His help is available, but we have to draw on it as we continue to live out our lives in our own will and with our own mind. As a result, our efforts to live better lives can show very little progress at times, or even go backwards, but at other times we can make good progress with His help.

So that’s one difference that should always apply. But what about external circumstances and events? Does God never intervene in ‘miraculous ways’ that are clearly special? Should our prayer just be about developing better character and allowing the Spirit to work in us, or can we also pray for things to happen? Can we expect God to make our lives better in any sense, or are we called to cope with the effects of this fallen world just like anyone else?

The last thing is obviously important as a testimony to other people – to show that God helps us overcome difficulties and persevere – and to stop us getting too settled in this world and forgetting about Heaven. But there are plenty of examples people testify to of God doing miraculous things or clearly answering prayer, so it’s not simply a matter of waiting for the next life. One point the book ‘Wrestling with God‘ makes is that God’s answers to prayer may be quite different from what we expect or can understand – He chooses what’s best for us with His infinitely higher understanding, and we shouldn’t feel His ears are closed to us if we don’t get what we think is right. Part of faith is learning to trust that He’s there and cares for us beyond a simple ‘I prayed and got what I wanted’ level of evidence.

So if we feel there’s no sign that God’s doing things in/with our life or listening to our prayers, we shouldn’t straight away conclude it’s our fault for not praying right, or being dedicated enough to Him, that He doesn’t care for us, or that it’s stupid to believe He answers prayers and that we should feel embarrassed by the lack of evidence for that. We can continue to pray for what seem to be good things, like people being kept safe or healed, as well as for internal ‘faith and character’ things, but we shouldn’t be discouraged and feel we’re praying wrong if we don’t see what we prayed for. God’s given us what He knows is right, and we can learn from what happens – more about God and ourselves and life – either directly from what we get, or indirectly from how we cope with it.

It’s often said that if we don’t get what we ask for, we should learn from that – but in the sense that we can learn to pray better, less selfishly, more as God wants – ‘He answers our prayers, but only if we ask according to His will’. But I think that a lot of the time, the learning is not about praying better, but about understanding what ‘God answering prayer’ means. We need to learn from what God brings about, the things we face in life.

As for joy and peace, I’ll get on to that later…

The Religious Hatred Bill Question

I’ve been following the progress of the religious hatred bill debate since the start of last October (05) when the protest of hundreds against it took place. I’ve even been doing pieces on it for an online writer/journal called Dogmanet. But I have not made my view (where I stand) on the possibility of the Bill known. Neither in the journal, nor to myself.

Needless to say but when I say the Religious Hatred Bill debate I am speaking of that debate which brought comedians like Rowan “mr.bean” Atkinson to be alongside Premiere radio and evangelical alliances representing the Christian voice of Britain. Both sides protesting against such a Bill to ever come into existence. One of the actions the lay believer could have taken was to sign a petition at your local church or through Premiere radio website to name a few. My elder brother signed one, and I would have done the same if presented, though I am not so optimistic about the effectiveness e-mail signatures to stop a law.

There is one question that ran through my mind while I was submitting the latest happenings on the Bill for the journal, and that was where do I stood on the issue, on the debate over the Religious Hatred Bill. Where I stood on whether it should be brought into existence or not. I ask myself where I stand because I am not a public street preacher, or preach from the rooftops, I am not in a position in a religious institution to indoctrinate one faith, nor am I taking phone numbers inviting unbelievers to my local church, or door knocking to convert. So I come to the conclusion that the passing of this Bill may not directly affect me, but as a believer my faith is based in a book, which speaks of exclusions and damnations as well as salvation. So I wonder whether I should support and sign petition against the Bill on Christian Principle not practice alone.

Lk

I hope this fits in Andy, and keep it up.

Life Style vs Work Style

Is our life defined by work or our work defined by our life?

Recently I have started a new job and already it has shaped my life to the point of no recognition.

I have long battled against the idea of being forced into things just because that is ‘the way we do it’. I have swung full circle and found myself working for a big multinational again.

I guess I have been trying to make my lifestyle do my work but now I find my work becoming my lifestyle.

The sacrifice is time and the reward is money but is it.

I am finding that there are very few things in life which I do on a regular basis which don’t have a ripple effect on the rest of my life.

I am very fortunate in many, many, many ways and I know this. I am not questioning that, what I am questioning is “what is it that we really sacrifice by our work?”

~

Retiring GuiltyExpression?

Dear all,

Activity on GE has been pretty much zero, and I just don’t seem to have enough time to write new articles. Meanwhile the spam attacks continue, and I don’t really have time to fight them off, King Canute-like. So, I am thinking of retiring the site, and making a static archive of it available so that people can still read what we talked about, but the spammers can’t ruin it.

This will make me very sad, but unless some people are prepared to start writing articles, I don’t think the site is going to have any momentum. It has been amazing sharing ideas, inspiration and frustration with you all: don’t stop expressing the unspeakable!

If you don’t think the end has come yet for GE, let me know. I’d love to see it continue to be useful to people, and a place where I can hang out.

By the way, my email address andy@guiltyexpression.org appears to have been silently throwing my emails away for ages now, so I’m _really_ sorry if you emailed me – it just didn’t get to me. Try my other address – andy at artificialworlds.net and you will definitely get me.

Love, and see you around.

Andy

P.S. If you have opinions about this, visit the discussion board and let’s discuss it there.

Prolonged downtime – sorry!

You may have noticed the site has been down for ages.

We had various problems with hosting/domain names, nameservers etc. and I’ve been really slow to fix them. Anyway, it’s back now…

Things have slowed down a bit here recently, but I may be able to put some work into getting some new articles soon, and for the meantime feel free to browse back over the classics of the past, and submit new classics by clicking “Submit an Article”.

Folklore vs. Biblical God

Whatever happened to Jewish myths, fiction and parables? In the manner that we speak of indigenous Indian, African, or Greek cultural fables?

Did Israelites have romantic myths, or folklores for that matter? Myths they could enjoy, and entertain without considering it history, or the law of God. If so how would it be next to the Good Book?

Surely these myths would have a “culture conscious” effect on Israelite/Jewish culture and thinking the way other tribes, cultures and nations fables have on theirs to teach, to scare to preach or to guide.

We experience the of the power of myths, spoken through everyday parables, through art-forms, through visual media like films. Their influence can show in our thoughts, and beliefs when we are in the same situation that the myth or fantasy is based. For example when a child is acting in the manner of his father it would be said to him; “like father like son.” Which reflects the mythical parables and famous stories about sons that acted in their father’s footsteps. And because Hollywood is the mouthpiece for myths in our day when we find ourselves in a situation similar to a Hollywood story/plot we say to each other that it “was just like in a film.” The modern teller of fables.

Looking to the Hebrews what effect can we imagine cultural myths, fantasies and folklore had on Jewish, and Israelite thought back then? And how can we suppose the influence would have to the inspired writers of the Bible?

Reading the Bible I gather that Hebrews, Jews had pure traditions. Pure in the sense that almost all aspects of life had laws covering it, as St.Paul points out.
Does this mean Jewish Israelite people were the first or only people on earth to have no culture of thought based on myths, fantasies, folklore and mystical metaphors? Or did God become that metaphor?
That their teachings and understanding of life was based solely on the history and the law which the Bible writers their forefathers taught?

Did God’s involvement with the Israel nation replace for them what every other nation has in folklore, myths, romantic tales, and so on?

This question has weighed on me for some time and it isn’t the easiest task for anyone convicted with the writings of the Bible to communicate without sounding like a heretic or blasphemer. This being the case isn’t it so that anyyone who has ever asked where did the writer of the beginning get there history asking where is the folklore in it?

Lk

these are the days

(what are we about that has eternity written on it?)

these are the days of names…Rick, Bill, and Joyce
the days of mega church cells leaving the institutional church
and these are the days of book blogging gatherings
and purpose driven prophetic words emerging

and night is coming…

the days are fading away.

night is coming…

things seen in the light of the day- will they shine in the dark?

Miracles

There are many things which happen in this world which can’t be explained through the reason and logic of this world.

This is not so strange since most of us can not really explain how the world started with 100% certainty or indeed how/why we came into being ourselves. Unsurprisingly we find out that many other things beyond our understanding happen in this world.

For myself I have opted for the rather easy route of believing in God. This solves all the problems associated with ‘luck’ or ‘coincidence’ and in my head and my heart I can put it down to faith in God.

So what miracles do I want to talk about other than the miracle of life itself. Well I have been so overwhelmed by God recently that I have to show it in writing for if I don’t I feel I may forget how completely stunned, amazed, dumbfounded, ludicrously happy, shocked and surprised I am with miracles.

A small aside is that an interesting twist on the above emotions is that I also felt guilty, very undeserving, humbled, greed and fear.

On to what miracles I’m on about. Well I’ll give you ones throughout my life just so you realise that this sort of thing doesn’t just happen once.

Age of 9 – Prayed that a teacher wouldn’t get cross that I hadn’t done my project (he was normally quite strict). He was in fact very kind and considerate.

Age of 19 – Prayed that Cardiff would accept me even though I missed their offer by one grade. I now have a 2.1 (yeah baby) from Cardiff.

Age of 20 – Asked God if he would give me some friends I could trust if I was to follow him, I can safely say I have friends I would trust my life with.

Age of 23 – Started to join in prayers about the possibility of a nephew, since my brother and his wife couldn’t seem to have kids. They now have two.

Age of 25 – Prayed about job – became a volunteer.

Age of 27 – Asked God where I would get the money for an MSc. Cheques totalling £6,000 came literally through the letter box a month before I started. (Tuition and rent for the year was £7,500)

Age of 28 – Asked God where I would get a car since mine just died. God has given me a car for free, which is even better than the last one.

I have only given the highlights but needless to say there are many more miracles or at least mini-miracles which I have witnessed or been part of. The odd thing is, my faith you would of thought would be like that of an apostle but it really isn’t. I have my doubts and worries and my family will certainly tell you I’m less than perfect, so why me?

I have no answer to that except to say – “Praise God, Praise God and more Praises to God” (also noted that saying this while dancing around with an enormous smile on my face)

~

P.s. I’m going to starting a discussion topic about miracles if you want to speak of any since it is less formal than writing an article.

Killing God

Are you proud to be a Christian? Do you ever feel embarrassed by Christianity, and feel disturbed that it might be nonsense? I certainly do on occasion. A sermon I heard recently claimed that, once you’ve resisted the devil for the first time, he may tempt you again but will never fundamentally challenge your relationship with God. Well, either I’ve not resisted him for the first time, or that’s absolutely false. I often question the foundations of my faith. But as a result, I often spot new rays of hope, such as the one I’m writing about.

I was walking round Baltimore harbour the other weekend, wondering glumly what Christianity has in its favour. Then I realised that there was a way of thinking about it that’s quite positive, and which I don’t normally think about. I’m usually thinking from within Christianity, worrying about the things it says about God and humanity. Or I’m thinking from within atheism or agnosticism, thinking about how these views attack and question Christianity.

But what about another point of view: ask the question, “What does Christianity ‘do’ to God?” In other words, step outside thinking from within Christianity for a moment, but don’t go as far as committing oneself to an opposing view. Just look at the concept of God, and the concepts of Christianity, and ask how Christianity deals with, modifies, and operates on the idea of ‘God.’

What does Christianity do to God? When I think about it like this, I realise that Christianity is quite exciting, because it does all the sorts of things to God that I find attractive, the things I feel desperately need doing to ‘God’.

Firstly, it makes God into a human. Not totally; Christianity doesn’t claim that Jesus is only a human, or simply God wrapped in a human-skin rug (“Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?” as Frank the Rabbit from Donny Darko might say). But still, it takes ‘God’ – a distant, all-powerful, terrifying concept – and makes him comprehensible, touchable, near. He has taken on flesh. He knows how we feel, and feels it himself.

Next, amazingly, it kills God. Many people see this as scandalous, once it’s taken out of its familiar setting in Christianity. Christians are shocked when Phillip Pullman kills God in ‘His Dark Materials’; but the God there is almost relieved to die. Christians are shocked when Russell T. Davies poisons the Son of God in ‘The Second Coming’; but his girlfriend in that drama feels that she’s doing the right thing, killing God for all the mess he’s caused.

I don’t want to criticise Christians for being upset by these modern writers, as there is something very dark about what they’re doing. But equally, we should realise that Christianity, seeing it as an ‘operator’ for a moment instead of committing ourselves to its truth, does the same thing to God. We could say that, when people wish that God was dead, they may be wishing something wicked, but nevertheless their wish is jiving with Christianity, which kills God. Christianity says that the Son of God has died, shouldering all that is wrong with the world. All the things we (wrongly) blame God for – injustice, suffering, wrongdoing – are pinned on him (or him on them) at the cross with which Christianity kills him. Christianity doesn’t rejoice in killing him – it sees it as a tragedy – but kill him it does, and sees that as universally important. Perhaps Pullman isn’t as far from the kingdom of God as he’d like to be.

Finally, we may wish that God would take the blame for our terrible world, we may wish to kill him… but then what? Do we really want to live in a world without him? Where can we get a sufficient yardstick for good behaviour, for what we should do with our lives? Where can we get any affirmation for our belief that love is real, that reason is reliable, that choice is not an illusion? How can we beat the answer that Ted Hughes’ crow gives to almost every question as to who is strongest – death? (The fact that crow thinks he’s stronger still doesn’t really help us – it may be true at the womb-door, but not at death’s door).

Christianity does another thing I approve of to God here. It brings him back. It raises Jesus from the dead. He bears all of the darkness, and overcomes it. A God made human, made to share the bitterness of our darkness, nevertheless survives and is glorified. This is good news – Christianity has made ‘God’ into something that is truly sympathetic, but still far above us and deserving of our worship, devotion and life, and giving us hope of a life raised up with his.

The ‘God’ that many people hate is indeed a God in a very ugly form. Christianity does a lot to this ‘God’, and changes his shape in a very attractive way. A billion questions are left about whether the resulting ‘God’ is good – but I can’t fault the directions in which Christianity shapes him. Perhaps after this exercise I, with you, can now re-enter the mentality of commitment and relationship to this God, no longer seen as a concept to be operated on by a set of concepts, but as the one true God who has not been changed by Christianity, but who has engendered it as a true description of who he is and what he is like. Perhaps, after all, I am proud to be a Christian.