Give us a break!

Why shutting up shop on Sunday is good for everyone

 

The irony didn’t escape me, when, on Boxing Day, I found myself taking calls from the media, explaining why shop workers shouldn’t have to work on Boxing Day.  That was four years ago, when I worked for Usdaw, the shop workers’ union.

Fast forward to 2012, and Sunday trading is relaxed temporarily for the Olympic and Paralympic games.  Should shops continue to open all hours, including for longer on Sundays?  The debate still rages.

The argument seems to focus on the fact that we’re an increasingly secular country, most of whom don’t attend church on a Sunday, so why not deregulate Sunday trading?  I’ll tell you why not.

The reason Christians argue for a day off is because it’s good for people to have a rest, not for some abstract or particularly religious reason. Jesus annoyed the authorities of his day by being anti-legalistic, picking corn on the Sabbath (which was considered ‘work’) and claiming that, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”  A day off is to make life easier, not harder.

While our lives may be a little easier if we can pop to the shops for milk, think how much less easy it is for shop workers, for whom it’s just like any other day.  There need to be safeguards in place so that they can rest too.

In law, shop workers can ask not to work on Sundays, but increased Sunday opening hours mean that many workers report feeling pressurised to work whether they want to or not.  They might want to show that they are committed to the job, make sure they get a promotion or perhaps just don’t want to let down their colleagues, who also have to muck in with shifts.

They can take off days during the week instead, but it’s not the same.  In a way it doesn’t really matter which day people have off, so long as most people are off at the same time.  It allows people to see their families/friends and enjoy a day that is different to all the rest.

Doctors, police etc. have to work Sunday shifts, but why add to that unnecessarily?

The lovely irony is that businesses themselves are more productive if they allow their employees rest, as W. K. Kellogg discovered in 1935.  In a counter-intuitive move, he cut his staff’s working day by two whole hours, whilst keeping their pay the same.  Both morale and productivity rose.  Why?

A change really is as good as a rest.  A day off can allow a shift of perspectives – from needing to produce and acquire to simply enjoying the release of just being.  This freedom tends to make folk more, not less, productive.

Philosopher and rabbi, A J Heschel, elucidated this beautifully:

“There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord.  Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern.”

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Je ne regret rien

Live without regrets

Lindsay Lohan recently had the words ‘Live without regrets’ tattooed onto her wrist.

She is not alone in this sentiment.  It seems that every time I read a an interview of a celebrity with an, er, colourful history, they invariably say that despite their weekly trips to rehab, regular forays into prison and string of messy relationships, they have no regrets whatsoever.

Saying that one has no regrets is akin in popular culture to saying ‘I love the person I am and I accept it’.  This taps into the zeitgeist where self-esteem is the ultimate goal, and has become a cool and ubiquitous mantra. 

To me, it sounds like a defiant gesture.  In Lohan’s case, it could be that she’s using her tattoo to tell the press and the public to put her past behind them and let her get on with her life, which is entirely understandable.  Or she may simply be happy with how things have worked out.

History repeating

Unlike Lindsay Lohan, however, I do have regrets. 

I regret that in my university days I spent more time at the Rampant Lion than the library.  I regret that I wasted countless years and tears on dead-end relationships. 

But when I say I regret these things, it’s not that I dwell on them; neither do I let them get me down.  I accept them and am in the process of making peace with them.  No, to say I regret them is to say that if I could go back in time, I would act differently.    

American philosopher George Santayana famously said that, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Regrets should not mean a negative attitude towards the past, but rather a more mature attitude towards the future.  Experience can teach us much, but only if we are willing to learn from it.

Life in a bubble

But what if we have learned so much from our mistakes that we truly have no regrets about them?

This question pre-supposes that we live in a bubble, discrete from the rest of humanity; that our decisions have no impact on anybody else but ourselves. 

Lohan was incarcerated for driving under the influence.  Suppose she had run over and killed someone, would she still have no regrets?  Everything we do has a knock-on effect.

Unless we have lived a perfect life (and who has?), we will have hurt people other than ourselves. And we will also have turned our backs on our God. 

Grow up

It’s only by having regrets about our choices that we can turn and be forgiven and make better choices in the future.  But that guilt about messing up need not, indeed should not stay with us, but rather be replaced with gratitude for our forgiveness. 

If we are to move on and grow in maturity, we need to set aside our pride, admit that we have made mistakes and learn from them.  We can’t change the past, but for everyone’s sake, let’s be grown up enough to learn from it.

 

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See how much I care!

See how much I care!

Billionaires might ditch their charity giving if new proposals to cap their tax relief come in.  But getting less splash for their cash is only part of the reason to give less.

John Low, chief executive of the Charities Aid Foundation, says the wealthy are less likely to give now that they are being “vilified as tax avoiders”.  This means that what charities receive could have less to do with their need and more to do with how much it enhances the image of the give.

You are your car

But it’s not just the rich who care about their image.  According to Freakanomics co-founder, Stephen Dubner, we’re much more likely to buy a Prius car than one of its hybrid competitors.  Why?  Because the Prius is the only model that looks nothing like its fuel-guzzling cousins.  It says, “Look at me – I care for the environment!”  South Park insightfully renamed it the Pious. 

But is there a problem?  Surely all this trying to outdo one another in ‘worthiness’ is beneficial to society? 

In many ways yes.  But our desire to look good can be to the detriment of our effectiveness in actually doing good. According to Dubner, it’s not unusual for people to have solar panels fitted to the sunless side of their house because that’s the side that faces the road.  And, as More or Less’s Tim Harford points out, in Japan, you can now buy mini eco windmills for your roof that look super-efficient.  This may have something to do with the electric motors inside…

My confession

In a couple of weeks I’m running the Manchester 10k for anti-trafficking charity, Hope for Justice.  It is a truly excellent charity and I genuinely want to raise money for it and awareness for the cause (and I’m very grateful for your donations). But I admit I have other motivations too.  

I initially booked my place purely because I wanted to run a competitive 10k – simple as that.  And if I’m honest, another reason is my desire to look like a kind, caring sort of girl. 

Christians and non-Christians alike jostle to prove what great people we are.  Everyone does good for a whole host of reasons, from demonstrating that God values all people to proving that you don’t need to be religious to be caring, which of course, you don’t.

Unfortunately, our mixed motives cause us to suspect the motives of others.  That’s why we often prefer the Simon Cowell ‘bad guys’, who make no bones about being selfish or misanthropic, because we understand their motives; unlike politicians, Christians and ‘do-gooders’.

Out in the open

I have a good friend who is refreshingly honest about her motivations for doing things.  It makes me laugh, but it also makes me trust her, because I know she’s not hiding anything, and I can relate to what she says. 

In writing his gospel, John was honest about his agenda too, writing, “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  How often are we so open about our motives for sharing what we believe?

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone was more open about their motivations in life?  Hybrid car owners would be less smug, charity fundraisers less self-satisfied.  We’d realise that we’re not alone in our imperfections, and maybe we’d all be able to trust each other a little more. 

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Feel the love?

Falling out of love

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and I’m an incorrigible romantic, so I’m hoping to drag Olly along to Madonna’s new film about Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII.

Describing her credentials for directing the film, the queen of pop says she knows “…what it feels like to be swept off your feet and to feel a deep love…”.  But, having experienced her fair share of break-ups, she’s also keen to point out that lasting relationships need more than that.

Divorce lawyers Grant Thornton suggested that celebrities such as Madonna were encouraging the rest of us to view love selfishly, as they published news that in the last year ‘falling out of love’ replaced infidelity as the top cause of marriage breakdown.

It is natural to equate feelings with relationships.  A psychological study of a man with a recently-acquired brain injury found that he no longer had any feelings when he saw his mother, so he concluded that she wasn’t his mother, and wouldn’t be persuaded otherwise.

But what if we don’t feel love for a partner, friend, colleague or stranger – does that leave no hope for a loving relationship?

Love triangle

Thankfully love, as modelled in the Bible, is not based on capricious Cupids and fluffy feelings.  Like its counterparts, faith and hope, feelings are intrinsically linked to thoughts and the will.  The three form a triangle, each influencing the others.  But the will is where the rubber hits the road.

The beauty of this truth is that we are never held captive by lack of love – love is an action.  So whether or not we feel love, we choose to act lovingly.

Jesus called us to, “Love each other as I have loved you.”  Which is no candyfloss kind of love when you consider, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Brain changer

The bonus is that acting in love can change the way we feel as well.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Lara Honos-Webb explains, “When we help others and do kind acts, it causes our brain to release endorphins, the chemicals that give us feelings of fervor and high spirits” and “…gives the brain a serotonin boost, the chemical that gives us that feeling of satisfaction and well-being.”

There is also a phenomenon called the investment effect.  It turns on its head the notion that we do things for those we love: Of course we do, but we also love those for whom we do things.  The more time and effort we invest in a person, the more we want to see the best for them.

Just do it!

In an ideal world we would always have pure motivations to love people simply because they are human beings made in the image of God, and never, even partly, because it makes us look good or because we feel better for it.

Most of us will never have such consistently unblemished motives.  But Jesus didn’t ask us to love, he told us.

Mother Theresa said, “If you are kind, people will accuse you of selfish motives; be kind anyway.”

So don’t sit around waiting to feel the love for your partner, friend or someone you pass in the street.  Just get out there and love.

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The ultimate detox

Christianity’s best kept secret

Cabbage soup

Have you ever ‘detoxed’?  According to tescodiets.com, four million Brits attempted to give up alcohol for January last year.

Despite the high failure rates, we love to detox.  Not because Gillian McKeith nags us to, but because it makes us feel better about ourselves.  We see it as reparation for our excesses.

The Christmas puddings caused us to do wrong, so now we must be punished with cabbage soup.  As well as a temporarily slimmer waistline, detoxing gives us a sense of balance, of peace.

Naughty but nice

The language of indulgence and detox is borrowed directly from our religious traditions; ‘naughty’ cakes; ‘guilty’ pleasures.  Slimming World even calls calorific foods ‘sins’.

This stems from our inherited idea of religion as some kind of heavenly balancing act, where our bad actions must be outweighed by good.

Most religions tell us that our salvation or higher state is achieved through doing good things, adhering to laws, self-denial or achieving a more disciplined state of mind.

Even certain Christian denominations have been prone to preach that forgiveness and a right relationship with God is to be achieved by attending church, reciting prayers or even self-flagellation. In a terrible irony, through its efforts to ‘be good’ and please God, the church continues to obscure the greatest secret of all.

Martin the monk

So ingrained in our collective psyche is the idea of earning salvation, that theologians such as Martin Luther remain famous for challenging it.

After years as a self-denying monk, Luther came to realise that nothing he could do, even sleeping out in the snow in harsh winters, could earn God’s favour.  His revelation that the work had already been done once and for all transformed the church.

The truth was in the Bible all along, but had been too hard for many to accept: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

So good, it’s criminal

So why do many people still cling to their good deeds?  I suggest that Christians give to charity, read the Bible and try to be ‘nice’ people because it makes life feel fair and feeds our sense of pride.

But the harsh and beautiful reality is that grace is far from fair.  It’s scandalous and we are the beneficiaries.

Moments before he died, a hardened criminal acknowledged that Jesus, who was being crucified alongside him, was God’s son.  Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Wailing into dancing

Even knowing this, I’m often tempted to beat myself up over my latest transgression.  When that happens I try to turn that thought into gratitude.  My failings remind me that even my greatest efforts can never be enough, but Jesus chose to die in my place, so that I am free to have a relationship with him.

His gift wasn’t so that we could rush out and gorge ourselves on deep-fried sins, but rather live happy guilt-free lives in gratitude.

King David wrote: “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.”

If you resolve to do just one thing this year, I challenge you to find out more about the wonderful, difficult, beautiful, shocking reality that is grace.

There’s a reason they call it amazing.

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Ask for more this Christmas

Why receiving may be better than giving after all

That John Lewis ad

Have you seen this year’s John Lewis Christmas ad?  Who wouldn’t love to have children that prefer giving presents to receiving them?

A recent survey showed that people who gave money away were considerably happier than those who spent it on themselves.  Giving thoughtful gifts gives us pleasure because we imagine the joy they will bring to others.  It makes us feel effective, useful and generous.

Even Jesus said that it is more blessed to give than to receive.  So point made then?  We should all give lots this Christmas time.  Well not exactly.

If giving is so good for you, then why are we hogging it?  Perhaps this Christmas we could allow our loved ones the joy of being givers, by becoming good receivers ourselves.

Stiff upper lips

Unfortunately, we Brits are notoriously rubbish receivers.  We find it hard to accept anything – compliments, gifts, help etc.  Stiff upper lip and all that.

We mistakenly believe that asking for help makes us look weak, and that to be respected or seen as caring we need to give tirelessly.

Of course the bible entreats us to give expecting nothing in return, but it also encourages us to be cheerful givers.  A sour-faced martyr slaving away resentfully over Christmas dinner, whilst everyone else sprawls on the sofa, benefits no-one.  I’d rather have a microwave lasagne and a happy atmosphere.

But is it morally wrong to step back sometimes and be a receiver?

Expensive perfume

Jesus was a receiver.  Clearly, this didn’t stop him giving.  He dedicated his ministry to teaching, healing and ultimately dying for other people.  But he understood acutely the need to allow others to give.

When a woman came and poured a bottle of expensive perfume over him, Jesus was the only person who didn’t try to stop or rebuke her.  In fact he said, “She has done a beautiful thing”.  The woman’s heart must have leapt as she heard those affirming words.

Most of us would have told her not to be silly, “Put that perfume away”.  The impact of the insightful gift would have been lost.

Give the gift of giving

Being a good receiver takes practise.

This Christmas it could mean asking for or accepting help from guests, most of whom will be more than pleased to be asked to contribute.  Whether it’s bringing a drink, helping to cook or fixing the radiator for you.  People feel uneasy and indebted if they aren’t allowed to give.

When someone says how good you look or how well you’ve cooked, practise smiling and saying a simple, honest thank you, even if you think you look fat and can’t cook.  And when you receive a gift let them know how much you appreciate the thought that has gone into it.

Being a skilled receiver is not about being greedy or demanding.  It’s about balance, and everyone benefits.

So demonstrate your love this Christmas as never before.  Become a gracious receiver and allow those around you to experience the unparalleled joy of giving.

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Is it possible to age gracefully?

Mixed messages

“Oh Anne Robinson, just why can’t you age gracefully?” asks one exasperated columnist of the presenter’s latest facelift, whilst another unkindly describes 63 year old Judy Finnegan as looking ‘exhausted’ and ‘puffy-eyed’.

Ok, two Daily Mail examples.  Research purposes only, you understand.  But mixed messages about women and ageing are ubiquitous.

We live in a world where older women in the public eye are damned if they make an effort with their looks and damned if they don’t.  The only women that the media allows us to respect are those with great bone structures, who naturally look fabulous despite their years (think ex-models Helen Mirren and Joanna Lumley).

Magazine articles telling us that age is not important anymore run alongside ads for anti-ageing creams. We’re told it’s ok to be old, but only if you look young.

This leaves most of us normal women confused.  We rush out and buy expensive skin creams and then feel guilty about not ‘ageing gracefully’.

The harsh truth

The truth is that ageing can be harsh, especially for women.  Our age is linked to how we look, which is linked to our attractiveness, which in turn is linked to feeling noticed, loved and accepted.  If we believe that we have to resemble an ex-model to be valued in life it can be very disheartening.

Yet the media insists on providing us with naturally gorgeous people patronising us about how easy it is to be beautiful.  Said Joanna Lumley, “We’ve all got a few more wrinkles, but who cares? If you always try to be kind, you’ll look like the most beautiful person on Earth – and men will just fall at your feet.”  Ok…

Beauty on the inside?

A more honest approach would be refreshing.  I would rather see a normal woman explaining how she made the best of her looks than a celebrity trying to convince me she’s successful because of her inner beauty.

Instead of Imedeen and Dove ads pretending to buck the trend by running modeling competitions for ‘beauty on the inside’ why don’t they just come clean and admit that even they’re just looking for people with big smiles and great skin?  I suspect my internal beauty is simply not that photogenic

Ageing gracefully

It’s easy just to blame the media for perpetuating the elusive ideal of eternal youth.  But we are part of the problem.

We revel in the bitching about who’s had ‘too much work’ or who looks old and haggard.  Magazines and TV programmes cater to our love to bitch (think Heat or the X-Factor auditions).  We buy into them and the circle continues.

No wonder older women in the spotlight are obsessed with their looks – we make them that way.

Most of us will never look like Helen Mirren or have extensive ‘work’ done.  We’ll look average, a bit wrinkly, a little saggy.  Rather than falling at our feet when we’re being kind, men, with great concern, will comment that we’re looking tired.

Acceptance of ageing will always be a struggle, but it might be just a little bit easier if we turn off the TV and get on with the more meaningful things in our lives.  And, whilst we’re at it, stop the bitching and let everyone else get on with theirs.

If we want to grow old gracefully then, I suspect, being gracious is probably our best bet.

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