Go For The Hard Cell

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what it means to be a Christian at University, and how exactly I/we fit into society and the church. I have often marvelled at how the life a student leads is perpetually estranged from the “real world”, and how we as students tend to warmly embrace this unhealthy notion by pro-actively ensuring that our contact with those outside of University circles is restricted to a few words over a shop counter. The average modern day student, Christian or not, seems to have a chip in their brain which convinces them that they are the centre of the world/ are in some way different to the rest of society in terms of what they are entitled to. Admittedly the blame does not fall completely at the feet of the student – you need only walk down the High Street to see that shops and businesses have identified students as a key target market in their advertising campaigns – but It saddens me that this is a particularly common problem within Christian circles. That sounds a little harsh, I know, but please give me a couple of minutes to provoke a thought or two.

In relation to my introductory paragraph, I would like to call into question the helpfulness of the infamous “Student Cell Group.” I’m aware that they’re hardly a new phenomenon, and most churches these days seem to have adopted them into their vision, but I’m unconvinced that they hold a great deal of value [although I do appreciate that there are advantages to them].  I was having a conversation with my Pastors at the beginning of the summer about how to cater for the students at my home church, and they were quick to point out that students, of all people, do not need “catering” for. Students have the most time and energy out of everyone so surely, they reasoned, it is only logical that we are the ones doing the giving? We discussed the pros and cons of setting up a student study group at the church, and arrived at the conclusion that it was neither a biblical nor a beneficial move for the students and church alike. Why, Pastors Roy and Ryan reasoned, should students feel the need to separate themselves from the rest of the church when in Jesus’ eyes they are deemed the same as all other adults? At what age do young adults stop considering themselves to be walking the Christian faith differently to other folk in the church and instead embrace the wisdom and experience that they can glean from those who have already been through University and the world of work?

This also raises the question as to where in the Bible we are instructed to slice the church into age brackets and enforce exclusivity. I would suggest that a glance at the Early Church shows us that folk from every background imaginable met together and enjoyed one another’s fellowship. I’m aware that it’s much more cosy/easy to just hide away from everyone else in our little student world and set up what I now like to call “Cell lite” [because how can we get the full meat out of a discussion if everyone involved has the same experience?], but Jesus doesn’t instruct us to seek out convenience and exclusivity. Church is about meeting under Jesus’ name with all of his family together – young, old, poor, rich, funny, annoying. Sometimes you have to put up with it, but tolerance teaches patience and patience is a fantastic Fruit of the Spirit. Can we get a more perfect example of how to do fellowship  than Jesus, who spent loads of time hanging out with some spectacularly diverse groups of people from many different walks of life? Acts 20:35 and Leviticus 19:32 also spring to mind.

You [the young adult] also have to remember that when you go to a mixed-age house group, you become an incredible blessing to the elderly folk with whom you have fellowship. Imagine yourself, if you will, at the age of 80. Do you not think it would be a little saddening to see a Christian generation growing up intent on separating themselves from you and your peers and you’re not really sure why. When the young you shows a desire to invest time and interest into sharing your Christian experiences with the unemployed man in his mid-40s or the 60 year-old cleaning lady, it is immeasurably more rewarding than discussing the quotidian nuances of University life. Although it is not always the case, most Christians tend to grow in maturity and wisdom through time. That man in his mid 40s and that 60 year old lady will have an excellent grasp of the scriptures and a wiser head upon their shoulders. Obviously I generalise somewhat, but it’s undeniably a trend. Does your church have mixed-age cell groups? If so, I encourage you to attend one of them.

I appreciate that there are a lot of stones that I’ve left unturned, some of them rather heavier than others. I hope you have felt sufficiently challenged by this article to leave a comment, drop me an email or – even better – just “Go For The Hard Cell”.


Portsmouth is [nearly] the complete city…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It seems like forever since I sat down at my laptop and described my first experiences of Portsmouth, both as a University and as a city. In the eight [!!] months since then, I’ve completed a whole year of University. To me, that’s bizarre – time has flown! I’ve really enjoyed my first year at the University of Portsmouth, and here are 5 reasons I identified as to why:

1. Portsmouth is a fantastic city. I know that this seems a strange priority to set at the top of the list for a University student, but I firmly believe that to be comfortable in your learning environment, you first have to be comfortable in your living environment. As a city, Portsmouth has everything – beaches, parks, churches, shopping centres, bars, restaurants, Krispy Kreme do’nuts and even a giant dinosaur [until it was cremated by hooligans]. There is never a shortage of activity, especially in the city centre. It’s fair to say that Portsmouth is a “happening” city.

2. The University caters well. Although I should probably have achieved higher academically, I really felt supported and pushed by my tutors to meet deadlines, participate in discussion/debate and maintain a high standard of work. I’ve probably let them down at times, but the course [up to this point] has been refreshingly interesting and challenging. I particularly enjoyed getting the chance to study A Pilgrim’s Progress in seminary discussion, and look forward to my “Bible and Literature” module in the Autumn!

3. The Christian Union is strong. As a confident but relatively friendless Fresher, I was keen to form some strong Christian friendships from the off. The Christian Union was welcoming, encouraging and engaging. Those are some pretty key attributes for a society that is based in the Bible. In January I accepted an offer to assume Presidency of the CU. It was a Spirit-led decision, and one that I really had a lot of second thoughts over. I’ve enjoyed the last four months a lot – “President” is just a name, a title. The real leader of the CU is God, and if we continue to seek him and serve him then I firmly believe that he will bless us and guide us in return. It’s been fantastic to see many of my friends repeatedly step out and worship the Lord in acts of service, and the joy they experience in him is an incredible blessing.

4. Halls are a lot of fun [and also rather convenient too]. I was intent on getting into UoP’s Halls of Residence. Well, to be more precise, I was intent on getting into the James Watson Halls of Residence. The pictures in the brochure made my flat out to be shiny, modern and exciting [which it was…to an extent]. It perhaps wasn’t the princely palace I had anticipated, but having compared it to several other examples of University accommodation I now consider myself privileged. For £102 a week I enjoyed an en-suite, a generously-sized bedroom, a kitchen/diner with a view, a corridor to kick a football around in and, of course, 5 lovely flat mates. Lectures were a 3 minute walk away, as were shops and the train station. In fact, everywhere I needed to go was within 15 minutes walking distance – the town centre, church, the seafront, the supermarket. I doubt I’ll ever live anywhere else so convenient.

5. My Grandma is nearby. I love my Grandma, I think she’s brilliant. Admittedly she’s not 100% “with it”, but my visits to her house provide me with some welcome respite in the hectic life of a University student and CU President. It’s easy to become so heavily engrossed in student life that you lose sight of the real world. I enjoy spending time with people my age – we share similar interests, lifestyles and humour – but hanging out with my Grandma gives me a great chance to push the “pause” button on University and enjoy some quality family/old person time. She’ll normally set me to work around the house, asking for boxes to be moved and plants to be trimmed, but I find that I genuinely enjoy these menial tasks. It’s a little something of normality, a sense of life outside of what can rapidly become a fairly impregnable student bubble.

My one regret from my first year is that I’ve struggled to get heavily involved in church life. I hope that this is something I can rectify next year, and in the mean time I look forward to serving at my home church in Worcester. This summer promises to be a fine one.


The Aussies are out but not down!

The Australians are a funny old bunch. They’re born with a permanent tan, spend most of their time upside-down, celebrate Christmas in the summer and cook every meal on the barbecue. If they’re not indulging in Australia’s two favourite past-times [surfing and crocodile hunting] then it’s because they’re in didgeridoo class. They love the Outback, hate the English and aren’t quite sure what to make of drama teachers [see Chris Lilley’s fantastic Mr G]. Oh, and they’re pretty fond of their cricket.

When England recorded their first Ashes Series victory [3-1] in Australia for 24 years earlier this year, the land down under was in a state of shock. A 6-1 Aussie triumph in the following ODI series spared further embarrassment, but consistency has been hard to come by for the men in yellow recently – a fact highlighted by the manner in which they were ousted out of the Cricket World Cup at the hands of India. The result served to prise another Aussie finger away from the post-Ashes straws at which they had been clutching. From an English perspective, it’s nice to see imperfection in the Australian ranks!

It’s fairly obvious that the Australian cricket team are not at the top of their game – they’re lacking form, confidence and good leadership. Yet, in my opinion, they can still be the best team in world cricket. Here are three causes for Aussie optimism:

1. Shane Watson

Shane Watson, or “Watto” to his teammates, is a “new-breed” cricketer. He hits big, bowls fast and plays hard. He was Australia’s shining light in an otherwise dark Ashes series, consistently scoring well and playing smart cricket. He is also pretty useful with ball-in-hand too, averaging 31.41 runs per wicket at Test level. With Watson in the team, Australia can only get better. He leads [and plays] from the front.

2. Fan base and infrastructure

Cricket has an incredible following in Australia. No other [and larger] cricket-loving nation – India, England, South Africa – has consistently produced such fine cricket teams throughout history. From pre-school playgrounds to the professional arena, Australia places too much emphasis on achieving sporting success to slip away from the top. If the Aussies covet a trophy, they’ll get it. Remember, there are just 22 million people living in Australia. That several of their largest cricket stadia [The Adelaide Oval, The Gabba, The MCG and the WACA] have a greater capacity than England’s biggest venue, Lord’s, is testament to just how serious they are about the sport.

3. Aussie Pride

When Australians lose, it is more than just their reputation that is wounded. It is their pride too. Over the last 20 years, Australia have been the team to beat in world cricket. We’ve all been playing catch-up whilst Warne, Ponting and co have been running the show. This is no longer the case, and the fact that they are now seen as mere mortals, beatable in any form of the game, will fuel a desire to return to the top of the rankings charts. A wounded man is more dangerous than a winning man, for he has nothing to lose but everything to gain. So despite being out of the World Cup, the Australians should certainly not be down about it.

I hope some of this makes sense. Personally I’m an England fan, but I’d love to see the Australians make the next Ashes series a little more interesting. This last one was all too easy.


Flog the blog; save the cat!

It’s been a while since I last blogged. I’ve been a busy man, but it’s nice to be back at the keyboard at wordpress.com. Although I’ve been stockpiling a lot of news, views and abuse, I can’t promise that this post will mark the start of an era of regular blog updates. I’ll dedicate this particular insert to Mr Dan Partridge, who has successfully bullied me into freeing up some time to flog a little more mileage out of this faltering blog.

I’d like to talk about the Iberian Lynx [Lynx pardinus]. No, I am not referring to a brand of men’s deodorant [although that’s also a magnificent thing]. I am actually talking about a big cat. If you don’t know what a Lynx looks like, think “puma-meets-house cat and then grows a magnificent beard” … or just google “Iberian Lynx”. Both techniques are equally effective.

So why would I like to talk about these unfortunate-looking felines? Well, 10 years ago the Iberian Lynx was in severe danger of being wiped out. With just 100 of them left, things weren’t looking pretty for these kitties [although if 8 out of 10 cats survived and had 9 lives each, they’d do just fine I reckon]. The cats, which are found in Spain and Portugal, were threatened with extinction by habitat destruction, loss of prey and [most heartbreakingly] indiscriminate trapping by landowners. The human race looked set to wipe out yet another brother from another [breed of] mother. Then along came the Olivilla Breeding Centre with a masterplan that put Animal Rescue’s adventures to shame!

The Centre, near Santa Elena in Andalucía, took in a number of lynxes in a last-ditch effort to rescue the once common Iberian Lynx. Using “high-tech surveillance” and “assiduous zoological care”, Olivilla has trebled the population of this Lynx from 100 to 300 in just 8 years. Whilst the process has been costly [£28m of public money is rather a lot for the sake of 200 animals], it is a remarkable story of a people who have an admirable awareness and appreciation of their history, culture, wildlife and lifestyle.

To let the Iberian Lynx suffer and perish at the hands of human “development” would have been criminal. Nature’s had it tough recently – we’ve hardly been kind to it [see: Rainforests, Oil Spills, Cheap Air Travel] – and it’s not exactly been making happy headlines either [see: Tsunamis, Earthquakes, Floods]. Let’s remember to admire and preserve the beautiful aspects of nature because once we start looking we realise we’ve been blessed with a beautiful world!


Humble Pie

Just a (genuinely) very short post, articulating some thoughts.

Several recent events have led to me seriously questioning my ability to handle my pride and convictions in a controlled and Godly way. Whilst I often like to feign arrogance and superiority for comedic effect, I fear that occasionally this seemingly innocent badinage manifests into something that alienates rather than amuses. This quandary becomes even stronger when the acquaintanceship in question is relatively young, and very much still at the formal stage of polite inquisitiveness.

I have also developed an infuriating habit of offering my opinion on everything and anything. It is not necessarily a bad thing to be strongly opinionated – in fact, I’d argue that it’s essential for an English student. The problem that I struggle with is the fact that, as a Christian, everything I say and do to and for everyone else should be done out of love, and should reflect the same love that God has shown me! I need to tone down the flippancy and facetiousness, and instead focus on humbling myself in situations where I feel compelled to contradict or oppose. Offer guidance when required and desired. The rest of the time, respect and listen to the convictions of others.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5,6)

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21)


Is blogging “egocentric?”

e·go·cen·tric adj.

“Confined in attitude or interest to one’s own needs or affairs.”

This is a fair question, and one that can’t be dismissed casually. Blogging is very different from other genres of media in the respect that the blogger expects the “blogees,” if you like, to take an interest in their musings and anecdotes. Not only is the audience expected to take an interest, it is also assumed that they are taking time out of their day specifically to read up on new articles posted by the blogger. 

Newspaper and magazine journalists don’t write their pieces in anticipation of readers skipping pages in order to specifically enjoy articles written by that journalist. They’re writing informatively, sharing facts and figures and not a lot else. That’s their job, and they do it very well in this country. A blogger’s objective, on the other hand, is to gain popularity and endear themselves to the hearts of the general public. I’m nowhere near achieving fame for my blog, and I acknowledge that I never will be. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want people to take an interest in what I have to say. If I wanted to report news, I would copy and paste pages from the BBC website. If I wanted to bring outspoken opinions to the table, I would ask Prince Charles for his top tips on how to  be publicly controversial. The purpose of me setting up this blog was to share some thoughts and interests of mine with those who know me. I am also hoping to develop flair and verve in my writing in preparation for the English degree which I start next month (September).

This is why I think blogging isn’t intrinsically egocentric; it is only egocentric when used for self-promotion and self-glorification. As with most things, blogging is a tool given to us to use as we choose. We can abuse with that privilege, or we can amuse with it.