Equality and The Muppets

I love The Muppets. I have done for as long as I remember. For me it just doesn’t feel like Christmas until I’ve snuggled down under a blanket with my lovely sister to watch The Muppet Christmas Carol. I’m not sure what is it about them, but they have the ability to make me laugh, cry, and feel all warm and Fozzy inside. (Get it?)

But yesterday, as I made the most of a quiet night in, The Muppets did something else; they made me think. I was watching their new movie; Muppets Most Wanted in which the gang find themselves wrapped up in an European jewel-heist caper masterminded by Constantine (an evil Kermit look-alike) and his sidekick Dominic (Ricky Gervais.) I won’t give too much away, but throughout the film there is a struggle between Constantine and Dominic as to who is in charge. Dominic believes they are equals, masterminding their evil plans together, however Constantine has other ideas about the nature of their partnership……

As I was watching it, some of the lines of the song really jumped out at me. Check out the first verse:

“I’m number one, you’re number two.
We’re criminals at large but I’m at larger than you.
I’m number one, you’re number two.
I believe in equality as long as you get less than me.

I’m one. You’re number two.
You may think that you’re smarter, but I’m smarterer than you.
I’m number one, you’re number two.
You’re lucky to be number two not number three.”

It’s funny at first. After all, it’s Ricky Gervais and a dancing Frog. But let’s look at those lyrics again.
Let’s imagine that they are no longer the lyrics of a Muppets song.

They are the unspoken words from a husband to a wife.
They are the ‘look’ shot by a colleague from across the office.
They are constant looks of surprise and confusion when women speak of the equality they dream of.

Things are better than they used to be, and I am grateful for that.

But we live in a world where naked photos of female celebrities are seen as entertainment.
Where women are still defined by the number of children they have, and not their ability to do a job.
Where girls as young as 8 years old are sold as brides to men multiple times their age.

I’m guessing they don’t feel so lucky right now.

Dear Lady on the Northern Line

Dear Lady on the Northern Line.

You are brave. You are courageous. You are amazing.
You caught my eye as you boarded the train. You’d seen the looks that the other passengers have given you. Looks of discomfort, distaste, disgust. I saw them too. That’s why I smiled at you. I do hope you didn’t think that was patronising.

You see, Lady on the Northern Line, I think you’re brilliant. I know how difficult summer time and warm weather can be. Long sleeves, big bracelets, anything you can find to disguise those tell tale signs. But not you. You are wearing a beautiful, flowing, coloured top with tiny silk straps. You hold your head high, ignoring the stares of those around you.

You do not try to hide the marks of sorrow that you bear. Old, white and faded. Crimson and new. I do not know your story. I do not know your pain. But I do know this. Lady on the Northern Line – you are brave. You are courageous. You are amazing.

Why reading the Bible is like running a marathon

I don’t know much about marathons, or even sport for that matter. Shocking I know.

So up until fairly recently, I thought that marathon prep was just going to the gym for a month or so before the race. Right? Wrong. I’ve recently signed up to run the Tonbridge Half Marathon, and with the help of an iPhone app, a new pair of trainers and an awesome playlist I’m now a month into my training.

Last week I checked out a couple of websites where runners compare tips, talk about the latest equipment and encourage each other. My eyes have been opened. They talk about all of this stuff that I never even thought of! Special diets balancing carbohydrates and protein, fitness tests, running, the whole shebang. Call me naive but I never realised that running was such hard work!

I think the thing I’m most nervous about is hitting what is known as The Wall. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out this clip from the movie ‘Run Fat Boy Run.’

What I find really great about this clip is the fact that Dennis (aka Simon Pegg) only broke through the wall because of his supporters and the encouragement they gave him.Picture3

If you see marathon footage on the television, you will see that the streets are lined with supporters, some holding up encouraging messages and giving out water.  It is this support that helps runners cross the finish line (photo) and pretty much every runner I have ever seen interviewed says that they couldn’t have done it without the support of their family and friends.

So as I was thinking about the marathon and the different stages that are in it; the training, the running, the wall, the encouragement and the finish, I realised how much reading the Bible is like running a marathon.

Firstly there’s the training. As I am discovering, you wouldn’t run a race without preparing for it first.

So, 1. Do your research! If you don’t know the course, you can’t prepare for it. Somebody once told me that the Bible is God’s road map, guiding us on our journey. The exciting thing about our lives is that the destination is not unknown. At least not by God.  I find it so reassuring that I don’t have to stress about where my life will take me, because God has already mapped it all out for me.

All I have to do is enjoy the journey! This isn’t always easy, but the Bible is full of promises that God gives us.

For I know the plans I have for you says the Lord. Plans to prosper, not to harm you. (Jeremiah 29 v 11.)

The Bible is full of verses such as these that help us plan our route.

Secondly, the Bible is FULL of people who have already run the race. Bible-love
Genesis through to Esther is story after story of men and women who have served God faithfully and royally mucked up as well. If I’m going somewhere new, I always ask my friends who have been there first. Where did they stay, where did they eat and so on. We can use the Bible in a similar way to learn what went right and what went wrong in the lives of these famous Christians.

Thirdly, think about your motivation. Runners in a marathon enter for all kinds of reasons; to raise money for a charity, to challenge themselves, to beat their previous time….. Why do you as a Christian read the Bible?

Because your youth leader tells you to?
Because you feel guilty if you don’t?
Or because the Bible is a book full of guidance, wisdom, stories and encouragement?

The Bible is a love letter from God to us. Think about why you do or don’t read the Bible and maybe chat to a friend or leader later about your motivation.

Then make a plan! Much like marathon training, reading your Bible doesn’t just happen.

Think about when you are going to read it. If you’re not a morning person, before school probably isn’t going to work for you. Build it into your daily routine and set aside quality time with God.

Think about where. A crowded common room or shared bedroom may not be ideal. Think about how you connect with God – love nature? Try the garden!

slideshow_imageLike quiet and relaxing? Stick your iPod in! Be intentional in the environment you create so that you can meet with God. These things rarely just happen if we don’t make a conscious effort.

And there are so many resources out there to help us – so we don’t have to plan it on our own! Bible notes are really easy to get hold of either online, from a Christian Book Shop or through your church.

There are plenty of apps available for tablets, iPhones and Android that helps structure your quiet time, and podcasts that can be downloaded to your mp3 player.

So why is reading the Bible like running a marathon?

Because it covers every stage – stories from the past that prepares you for the race.

Poems of despair and encouragement as you hit the wall.

Jubilation and praise as you cross the finish line.

And support as you prepare to share your story with the next marathon runner.

Which leaves us with a question.

What do you want your race to look like? And what are you prepared to do in order to get ready? 

What I wish I’d known….

I am so privileged to know lots of amazing young people.
The majority of them I have met through my local church where I used to be a full time youth worker, and where I now volunteer.
Many of them are in the middle of a really tough few months as they battle coursework, revision, GCSE’s and A-Levels.
Most of therm are under immense pressure, be it from their schools, parents, future universities or peers.
Ten years ago I was taking my first GCSE’s and starting to really feel the heat. Here are three things I wish I’d known back then…..

1. School work is important, but it’s not the be all and end all. (Gasp!)

What do Simon Cowell, Richard Branson and Lord Sugar have in common?
Apart from being ridiculously wealthy, they all left school at the age of 16 with two GCSE’s between them. Now before you all stop reading and start burning your school uniform, let me finish. I’m not saying that you don’t need school. I’m not saying that you don’t need qualifications. What I am saying, is that if you open your results in August and didn’t quite get what you hoped for, it’s OK. Because whilst school work is important, it’s not the only thing that matters.

2. Balance is key.

When exam season is upon you, often the natural thing to do is to clear your diary and cram. You get up early, you skip meals, you stay up late. I know this because I used to do it. Something I wish I’d known back then is that a healthy balance is one of the best tools you have at your disposal. Going into that exam room having had a good nights sleep means your brain is functioning at its best. As tempting as it is to focus entirely on your work, please try and keep some balance. Don’t skip the things that energize and refresh you; they are an important part of staying grounded. Take half an hour each evening to eat dinner with your family. Talk about other things. Don’t skip Brigades; everyone deserves to have Friday night free. Walk the dog. Enjoy the sunshine. You’ll feel much better – I promise.

3. Your health and well-being must always come first. 

‘Just try your best. That’s all you can do.’
But what is my best? How much work do I have to do in order to have ‘done my best?’ When I was taking my exams, I became obsessed with the idea that in order to succeed, I had to give it 1000%. I was constantly battling the belief that unless I did that little bit more, I didn’t deserve to do well. I would spend every waking moment working and revising; that was all that mattered. I truly believed that unless I worked myself to the point of exhaustion, God would not bless me with good grades. So for four years that is what I did. Each time exam season arrived I worked until I became ill. I learned bad lessons and developed unhealthy habits that were hard to break. I’ve just finished my final exams for university, and I could feel those old beliefs starting to creep back into my brain. ‘You went for coffee with a friend on Saturday instead of revising. You don’t deserve to pass,’ they whispered to me as I sat in that exam room.

In those moments it can be really difficult to distinguish between the lies and the truth.
Surround yourself with good people; people who encourage and support you, who will help you to tell the difference.
Remember that the God who created you is a God of love, not a God of punishment. You cannot earn his love. Working hard will not help you to get it. Your grades do not determine it. It’s yours no matter what.

Princesses – who have I missed?

Over the last week or so, I’ve been compiling my list of Top 5 Princesses; a mixture of fictional and real women who I believe are great role models.

In no particular order, my list includes:

1. Princess Ameerah Al-Taweel

2. Princess Elisabeth of Belgium

3. Eowyn

4. Elizabeth II

5. Princess Fiona

I would love to hear your feedback.
Do you agree or disagree with my list?
Who have I missed?

Please get in touch via the contact form above.

 

1. Princess Ameerah Al-Taweel

I must confess, I’ve had real trouble with finding a fifth princess that I wanted to write about. When I thought about putting this list together, I was sure I had five amazing women on my list (in hindsight I think I counted somebody twice.) So after a few days of trawling through Google (other search engines are available) I was a little worried. People kept asking me’ When are you going to write up the final princess?’ and I would laugh nervously and change the subject. 0x600

Yesterday a miracle arrived in the form of Glamour magazine (never thought I’d be uttering that sentence) which profiled Ameerah Al-Taweel, the ex-wife of Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal of Saudi Arabia. She met the Prince when she was eighteen years old, when she had the opportunity to interview him for her school newspaper. Nine months later, they were married and Ameerah became Princess Ameerah. Many expected her as the wife of one of the 30 richest men in the world, to sit back and enjoy her new position and the lavish lifestyle that accompanied it.

But this wasn’t what Princess Ameerah had in mind. In the Glamour interview, printed in April of 2014, she reflected “I didn’t want to be that girl who’s not doing anything. I wanted to make an impact.” Ameerah started dedicating much of her time to working on her husband’s charity. the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundations, and began fighting for women’s civil rights; including the right to drive, inherit equally, and retain custody of children after divorce.

Sadly the Prince and Princess divorced in 2013 after five years of marriage, however it was an amicable split and the couple state that they have remained good friends. This has not stopped Ameerah from continuing to campaign for women’s rights both in Saudi Arabia and across the world. During the last five years she has visited over 70 countries, supporting orphanages in Burkina Faso, providing aid to victims of flooding in Pakistan, and continuing to improve and promote the image of Saudi women through her efforts.

ki19According to Wikipedia, some of her many accolades include: an honorary member of the Disabled Children’s Association and an honorary board member of the Saudi Volunteering Society. She is also the founder and CEO of Times Entertainment and Co-Founder of Tasamy a foundation which employs jobless Saudi people. In 2011, Princess Ameerah received the ITP Special “Humanitarian Award” on behalf of the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation at the Arabian Business Achievement Awards ceremony.

Her efforts have not always made her popular however. In January of 2012, her then brother in law Prince Khalid bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz publicly criticized the Princess for her increasingly high profile image, threatening his brother to reign in the “repeated appearance of his wife in the media,” warning him of “severe” repercussions if the younger Prince does not stop “practices which violate our family, religion and Saudi values.” (extract from The Huffington Post.)

Her response?

“Saudi women are doing incredible things, and we’re making progress all the time,” she says. “I want to be the one women look to when they tell their daughters, ‘Look, she got a divorce and see what she’s doing now? She’s an independent woman. She’s doing something good for her country. She’s a role model.’”

2. Princess Elisabeth of Belgium

ImageTime for another ‘real life’ princess, and this one is something special.
Princess Elisabeth, eldest daughter of King Philippe and Queen Mathilde is the current heir to the the Belgian throne. She has opened hospitals, given speeches, made countless public appearances, and carried out her royal duties despite receiving abduction threats from Neo-Nazis.
Did I mention that she’s only twelve years old?

Princess Elisabeth made the headlines when, in September 2011 she made her first formal appearance aged nine. Elisabeth made the appearance at a new hospital that had been named in her honour, and she surprised all those present by making the following short speech:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I am very happy that I can give my name to this new children’s hospital today. Together with you, I hope that many children will find help here. I know they can count on your daily commitment. The Princess Elisabeth Children’s Hospital now gets a special place in my heart.”

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It takes a lot of guts for a nine year old to stand up in front of the press, dignitaries and other spectators; this girl deserves respect. Oh, and she made the speech in Dutch, instead of her native tongue French. That’s pretty impressive if you ask me.

It has been argued by journalists and critics that this was simply a brilliant publicity stunt, orchestrated by those who deal with the Royal Family’s PR. In my opinion; who cares? Whatever the motivation behind it, a little girl stood up in front of a bunch of strangers, and made a speech in a foreign language. Let’s not take away from that by getting bogged down in the circumstances surrounding it, and give this real life princess the admiration she deserves,

3. Eowyn

Number 3 on my list is another fictional princess, this time from the J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy The Lord of the Rings. Eowyn is a noblewoman of Rohan; niece of King Theoden and an example of fantasy feminism at its best.
Desperate to fight in battle and protect the people of Rohan from their enemies, Eowyn was frustrated as her duties kept her at the royal palace. She knew that the only reason she was forbidden to fight was because she was a woman. Instead of going to war with her brother, she stayed behind and cared for her sick uncle, whilst constantly rejecting the harassment of Grima, the King’s advisor who fancied her.

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Eowyn comes out with some cracking quotes both in the books and later in the film adaptations. One of my favourites is when she expressed her sadness at staying behind from the battle, expressing it beautifully as she explained that she ‘feared to stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chances of great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.

This girl knew inequality when she saw it, and it drove her mad.
Surprisingly, Eowyn could only stay behind for so long, and soon disguised herself as a man in order to join the Riders of Rohan and fight at Minas Tirith. It was there that she confronted the King of the Nazgul, an evil witch king, who it was prophesied could not be killed by any man.

This led to the ultimate girl-power, kick ass moment when Eowyn tore off her helmet and declared ‘I am no man’ before stabbing him with her sword. I’m not going to lie, when I saw that part of the movie, I jumped out of my seat, punched the air and shouted quite loudly, much to the surprise of Mr M.

What I love most about Eowyn is that she really breaks the mould when it comes to women often portrayed in movies and books . I could have written about any of the women in LOTR; both Arwen who saves Frodo from the Nazgul to Galadriel, Queen of the Elves are strong and courageous women. I really picked Eowyn for the amazing quotes, mentioned above and for the fact that she refuses to accept the inequality she faces. She stamps on the idea of traditional gender roles, and ultimately ends up doing what no man could.

 

4. Elizabeth II

Up next we have an actual, real princess;our current Queen Elizabeth II. She’s one of the most famous women in the world (scrap that; she’s one of the most famous people in the world) and crowds flock from all over the world to catch a glimpse of all things royal; from Buckingham Palace to the Crown Jewels.

However what I really like about our well-loved monarch is what she got up to before she was queen.Growing up as a young woman during World War II cannot have been easy for anyone, let alone a member of the royal family. London was constantly subject to bombing and aerial attacks, and key buildings such as Buckingham Palace, and their current home; the Royal Lodge in Windsor were obvious targets.

TSFt9Aged eighteen, Elizabeth was keen to play her part in the war effort, and was not satisfied with ‘typical’ princess duties such as visiting those families affected by the bombs. Instead she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service and trained as a mechanic and military truck driver. Rumour has it, her love of cars, trucks and engines has continued throughout her life, and until recently she could often be found with her head under the bonnet! Additionally, the Queen remains the only
female member of the Royal family to have entered and served in the armed forces. (It’s worth noting that many male members of the Royal family have entered but never served.) LbQv2yC

Although I would not consider myself a Royalist, I am quite fond of dear old Queeny and particularly admire the way she has conducted herself, both as a princess and as the queen. She clearly takes her responsibilities as monarch very seriously, and genuinely seems to try and serve her country as best she can. She displays some of the characteristics I most respect; integrity, humility and perseverance. (Plus she seems cheeky. I LOVE that!)