On PED’s in sport.

(The following article is one I mostly completed last year but haven’t gotten around to posting until now… if there are any discrepancies in the context, that’ll be why. Still, I wanted to publish it here in case anyone finds interest in reading it. One can only hope.)

In 2016 we saw what was branded as another ‘summer of sport’, with Euro 2016 in June-July followed by the Brazil Olympics throughout August. With Russian athletes almost universally banned (at least until said ban was, to some extent, overturned on appeal) from this year’s Olympic Games due to alleged state-sponsored doping, and with numerous other instances of athletes in sports like tennis and MMA (mixed martial arts) recently caught using banned substances, the issue of performance enhancing drugs has never been more prevalent than it is now.

That’s not because more people are ‘cheating’ now than athletes of the past. On the contrary, I believe with the more stringent testing available today, the amount of athletes trying to manipulate the system has fallen. Yet at the same time competition has never been higher, with multi-million dollar sponsorship available for the best, most successful athletes, and without a doubt, as testing methods improve, so too do the range of drugs available that can slip through the system. It is a constant battle for testing methods to keep up with PED’s on the market.

I figured I would use this space to offer my thoughts on this controversial issue of performance enhancers. That’s what they are; my thoughts and nothing more. I don’t intend it to be a conclusive, in-depth article, but if what I write can help others think more critically about a certain topic, I can’t help but do it.

For me personally, the topic became prevalent again recently when one of my favourite athletes, Brock Lesnar, tested positive for a banned substance while training for, and on the night of, his UFC fight with Mark Hunt on July 9th. But this is not something I write as a ‘fan’ of someone or because I want to defend anyone who breaks the rules. Rather, it’s that I want others, people like you and I, to understand that this issue isn’t as cut and dry as most seem to think. It’s not always – if ever – a black and white divide between ‘cheating’ and being totally ‘clean’. Let’s talk about the reasons why.

Brock Lesnar tested positive for a banned substance after having been granted a 3 month exemption by USADA before his big fight.
Brock Lesnar tested positive for a banned substance after having been granted a 3 month exemption by USADA before his big fight.

As obvious as this may sound, there are many different forms and variations of performance enhancers out there. It’s not too dissimilar from the range of vitamins and supplements available; the line is drawn when the effect of a certain substance is deemed to give an unfair advantage over those who don’t take it. Whereas I think the line should instead be drawn with substances that endanger an athlete’s long-term health.

But that doesn’t mean I’m in favour of unfair advantages; quite the opposite. In simple terms, I think athletes should be given a list of legal substances they can use by their allocated governing bodies. These substances would be tested and approved beforehand, to ensure they aren’t a danger to the health of an athlete. Said substances would be available to use as each athlete sees fit.

Granted, this isn’t too different from what happens currently: athletes are given a list of ‘banned’ substances, and things are added to or removed from this list dependent upon how much of an advantage they give in terms of performance enhancement. But the policy on this is generally zero tolerance on anything that is seen to give said advantage. I think this leaves room for abuse by athletes who have the resources to ‘slip through the gap’ as such with the latest designer drugs – who would not be motivated to take such a risk if there were allocated drugs available to use for each athlete rather than confined strictly to the banned list.

This isn’t me trying to make excuses for those who break the rules. Think of it more as an argument for those who don’t; those who end up at a natural disadvantage just for sticking to their principles, for reasons they’ve had drilled into them – that all PED’s are wrong – and a way of removing the advantage given to those who simply have greater resources at their disposal.

It’s also an argument in favour of the integrity and enjoyment level of sport itself. The larger-than-life athletes of the past and present that people know and love, who’ve inspired millions with their feats, may not have been who they became were it not for performance enhancers. Of course people may feel aghast at even the suggestion their heroes would do such a thing, but how can you be sure they didn’t, aside from wishful thinking and their carefully constructed public perception?

If rules around performance enhancers continue to become more stringent – unnecessarily in many cases – sporting heroes of the future likely won’t be seen in the same light. The general aesthetic value and marketability of sport will inevitably go down. My argument is for the integrity of sport and evenly balanced competition across the board, not against it. We need more openness, better transparency, and most importantly, more easily accessible information on the PED’s we’re talking about, for the benefit not only of the public, but also the athletes who need to be aware of what they’re taking. You may think it obvious that they would naturally know what they put in their bodies and what exactly those things do, but bear in mind most top athletes have specialists taking care of this stuff for them; specialists whose success is tied directly to the sporting success and aesthetic value of their athlete.

These drugs have many different properties. They all affect your body differently. That effect often depends not only on the drug itself but on the type of athlete taking them and the sport in which they compete. Regulating bodies are still behind the game on this, but they know enough now to be able to offer some more flexibility that would perhaps help discourage those who abuse the system as it is.

Erythropoietin (EPO) is often seen as one of the more egregious examples of a PED by those who understand what it does. Many people will have first heard of it when Lance Armstrong was finally popped (after a long and generally convincing insistence of denial) by USADA back in 2012 for his use of it following a drawn-out saga lasting almost since Armstrong’s first Tour de France win in 1999. This was the highest profile case of our time, or at least at the time in 2012 (as there have been several other high profile doping cases since); as a result it has helped teach people some of the differences in PED’s and what they do. It also illuminated the unique position there is – and still remains – between the use of drugs in sport, and the drug tests used to catch these substances. For years people suspected Armstrong of some kind of cheating, yet he feigned innocence for as long as the authorities were unable to prove it, and those who supported him were always able to lean back on that until the curtain fell.

For the duration of the peak years of his career, Lance Armstrong duped the public, denying PED use despite accusations from those who knew what they were looking for.
For the duration of the peak years of his career, Lance Armstrong duped the public, denying PED use amidst accusations from those who knew the signs.

Now this indirectly leads us on to another brief point I want to make, and this may be the most pertinent one: PED’s are not magic pills. Sounds obvious enough, but it’s something the uninitiated seem to struggle with. Taking them does not suddenly give an athlete a free route into a final or mean they don’t need to put in hundreds of hours at the gym. Taking a few steroids doesn’t suddenly give a bodybuilder his toned physique or the ability to lift monumental weights.

The clue is in the name: they enhance what’s already there. If an athlete does not have the talent to begin with, or doesn’t want to bust their ass in training every day, then whatever PED’s they try taking, quite frankly, won’t have any more effect on their overall performance than a cheeseburger would. I’ve heard people say that athletes take performance enhancers because they’re sitting on their ass all day and can’t be bothered working out in the gym; please go and do some much-needed research if you think that way.

They don’t make you a superstar, they can’t give you talent; but they can help an athlete with talent become a superstar.

You may have a different opinion on all of this, and your opinion may be justified. As I always say, that’s fair enough. We should be having more conversations about this topic in general, whatever side of the fence you may fall on. As I’ve said, I’m not in favour of any athlete breaking the rules – if they do so without justification or reasoning, they should rightly be punished – I just think maybe those rules should be examined and questioned a little more. In most other areas that would be seen as healthy, but it seems in this area people get touchy about it.


Thoughts on Work and Unemployment.

“…the character of a society depends more upon what men think of themselves than upon what they really are.” Centennial, James Michener.

A word of warning: if you consider unemployment a valid reason to put your feet up while at the same time feeling pretty good about yourself, you’re not really who I’m writing for. It would seem in that case you’re surviving unemployment just fine, unlike a great many others, and I’m not going to be the bitter person who berates you for that. In fact, an individual bitter about having to work while others don’t is much more the kind of indirect reader I’d like, for reasons that will soon become apparent.

Now for those of you who are currently unemployed and are wondering why it’s not as fun as everyone likes to make out, the last thing I want to do is come across as patronizing. This is a common feeling for you I’m sure; all the advice employed folk try to give you is coming from a position of assumed superiority, and some can only see your current situation as a reflection of overall character. You may even have begun thinking like this yourself.

Though I’d like to say I wouldn’t fall into such fallacies here, I nonetheless thought long and hard about whether I should write this post at all. Job or no job, this label alone would never make me an expert. For a label is really all it is. I can speak only from personal experience of living under the dreaded banner of unemployment between September 2013 and May of this year. In the end, I realise that I am essentially no different a person now than I was then – though my personal thoughts and feelings may have been different at the time, as yours may be now. And that’s fine.

This is why we must always carefully consider context when it comes to fair judgment. Indeed it is why I take so long setting the context for this post by way of lengthy introduction.

What I am about to do is attempt to pass on what I have learned about how unemployment, and furthermore the working world in general, operates. Some of what I have learned concerns the value of integrity, self-confidence, general health and the (occasionally negative) effects that social interaction can have on your decision-making process.

I have learned that the government uses terms like ‘job security’ or ‘job creation’ as justifications for some very questionable ethical decisions, and that many people are happy to go along with some proposals only because of the jobs they will create. The jobs issue has largely become the holy grail of both local and national politics.

This is partly because they have helped perpetuate the notion that income support and welfare benefits are a great burden on the typical working man, as is the one who benefits from the system while ‘the rest of us have to go out and work, paying for others to sit at home’. I have even known some Christians to carry this attitude while at the same time having a ‘heart for the homeless’, as if the two are not inextricably linked.

Perhaps what helps justify the separation between them is this: one has grey areas that can be exploited, while the other is pretty black and white. It is those grey areas, and the people who exploit them, that indeed tell us there is something wrong with the current system – though our government’s answers to the problem will only, I think, serve to exasperate it.

In order to ‘encourage’ job seekers to find employment, they have introduced further demands to make the experience forcibly more uncomfortable for you. Requirements for the amount of weekly applications you must make are incrementally increasing – as if the problem stems from you not doing that in the first place. You spend precious hours recording innocuous details of jobs you have applied for, essentially as proof that you have done so. It does not really matter what the job role is. Just that the check boxes are ticked off on your record, so you can get the money they are holding ransom.

The consensus says you are somehow too privileged in your present state. After all, you don’t have to work like the rest of us. You have multitudes of free time on your hands, right? If you weren’t being forced to apply for the next administration role or doing another online search, you’d be partying all-night and sleeping until lunch every day. Because that’s just the kind of selfish person you are. Living luxuriously while most others live in relative misery, taking advantage of all those poor folks who are struggling along in jobs they don’t like so they can pay for you to watch television all day.

You’re a leech on the system, a piece of dirt on society’s shoe. You are less than working class. You are like a criminal who needs to be tagged and kept track of. If you’re let out of sight, it’s suspected you will get away with not working forever. And that would be so unfair to the rest of us. So we will make you feel like all of these negative things, and say it is for your own good. You must be made to feel immensely uncomfortable in order to then feel extra ‘motivation’ to work and gradually become respectable, like one of the nice chaps that the rest of us are.

While this excessive description may sound exaggerated, it is close to the truth of how most ‘job seekers’ in the U.K. are broadly seen and treated. Yet I can’t believe any of it is really based on truth in the vast majority of cases. If unemployment was supposed to be fun then I, along with so many others, must have missed something at the time.

Why, then, does this image persist? The structured system that we are blessed enough to have in this country was originally set up as a way to help those in need while they looked for paid employment. But it now feels more like a handout through gritted teeth to an unfashionable group of people they want to ship into the nearest generic job to get off their books. Not for your benefit, but for that of their flailing system.

After a few months experience of this, you’re likely to be at least slightly depressed. You may soon be at the point where you no longer care what jobs you’ve applied for or what training course they kindly recommend. You only want to get out of this self-deprecating cycle and are willing to do whatever it takes to do so, even if it means working a job that you feel completely unsuited to. And that, I’m afraid, can create further cycles that you may be stuck in for five years, a decade, maybe even the rest of your working life.

So this is definitely something I see as a serious long-term issue, though I’m left with a decision now, as to whether I should continue focusing on the problems of the overall system or on helping the individual cope with it and through it. The latter was my motivation for writing this post so I will try to stick to that. But the former will not go away, and at some point there does need to be wider change – even if that means completely scrapping some of the privileges we have in this country. I’m not trying to demean those privileges; rather I’m saying we should not be made to feel so guilty about them.

If the government were to genuinely assist the unemployed, a good first step for us all would be to realise that the issue of money is not really the root of all difficulties someone will encounter when not working regularly. That root problem is lack of work in itself.

This leads me to my core point, which is more like the obvious rule no one likes to acknowledge: work is good. If you resolutely disagree with that simple statement then I’d daresay there are one of two things wrong; either bad experiences through working jobs you haven’t enjoyed told you it is merely something to be endured for a certain amount of time, or you have an illness or psychological ailment that prevents you from being able to reach your working potential. In the latter category I would include such things as laziness, lack of energy, insomnia, among other conditions that affect mental and physical performance.

Snobbish reactions may retort that by categorizing in this way I’m somehow giving lazy people an excuse for not working, but understand that this loses sight of my point. Work is not simply a chore that people are somehow ‘getting away with’ when they don’t partake in it. Let’s please drop that inherent thinking on both sides. While work should not be actively avoided, nor should we turn our noses up at those avoiding it. Because I suspect both would be misunderstanding the issue around which arguments are being formed.

Think, for example, of how you felt last time you completed a particular task well, and how you then feel when you do not complete said task well. The fact that we can make this distinction between doing something well and not doing it well, and the differing ways they make us feel, should give us a bit of a hint about ourselves.

That hint leads us to this: our species thrives on taking pride in our achievements. When one realises the positive psychological effects of good performance whether in completing a desk job assignment, playing sport or even cooking a good meal, the conclusion naturally follows that work (if done well) is supposed to be a joy. Laziness is just one factor that would rob you of that joy. It can be devastating in the long run, and frankly, it is not an intrinsic decision that someone makes any more than they would make a decision to be sad or happy, shy or confident.

There are always other contributing factors, and in this sense it is very much a genuine psychological condition – albeit one that someone can fight through and recover from. By all means they must; just because someone may struggle with laziness does not mean they should think it an excuse to stop trying.

Of course it is also naïve to think that a lack of trying automatically equals laziness in every case. You may lack passion for what you do on a daily basis and wrongly think this to mean you’re some kind of horribly lazy person because you don’t always feel like working as hard as the next fresh-faced fellow employee.

This is another attribute that many people unfortunately do not consider when looking for work; if it is not something you want to do, you are naturally not going to feel as passionate about doing it as someone else who does. You will end up struggling to give your full effort in the tasks assigned to you. Bearing this in mind, it then comes as no surprise when you encounter an office worker struggling along while observing how many others working in an area such as retail are more content with their jobs.

Yes, some people are most definitely passionate about working in retail, and you can always tell the difference between those who are and those who are not. That is no bad thing; if retail is what you are passionate for, let no one tell you it is a dead-end job. Though you may want to be aware of the background ethical practices of the store or chain you end up working for… the waters of those major industry names are very murky, and are a big reason why I personally have fought hard against succumbing to retail work in the past couple of years. Often the problem is not the job itself, but rather those who are providing it.

Upon sensing the tone of this piece, you may accuse me at this point of being unrealistic. Out of touch with how the world operates. A naïve young man not really understanding anything about actual priorities in life due to not yet having a family of my own, or blinded by the luxury of further education and a benefits system enabling me to supposedly pick and choose a job at my leisure.

Others, they will say, are not so fortunate as this. Sometimes you’re in a position where you have to take any job offered to you, even should you hate the very thought of it. Sometimes there is just no other option. Now, it could (and I think does) sound a little ridiculous to make such a claim while living in a first world country like the U.K. – perhaps you should try living in one where the phrase no other option would seem all the more pertinent – but I digress.

Even were the above points about my situation true, and some of it certainly is, I am not sure how that would change my underlying argument. My points about ethics and passion for your job still apply whether you’re in a position to appreciate them or not. So let’s say you’re bending your own ethical views, or instead remaining willfully ignorant of certain ways in which your company operates, in order to feed your family? That does not negate those ethics. While you may garner some sympathy from me, it would not change the overall problem. Thus I think it best not to end up in such a situation if you can help it.

However, the issue I am currently attempting to tackle is unemployment itself. Whatever the reason you find yourself unemployed, whichever job you’re trying to go for whether for passion, love, money, or to simply escape the dreaded four walls of your house, there are some basic principles you can follow to make that potentially long hard journey somewhat lighter.

The most important of which is not ‘eating well’ or ‘getting regular exercise’ (you should be aiming to do these things anyway), but finding something useful to do with your time. This will be difficult, because much of what the Job Centre will have you doing is not a useful way to spend your time. But there will be occasions when you definitely need a break from that, from being made to feel you can only get a job by having your hand held from application to interview.

It is important that you don’t just fill these occasions with ‘spending time with friends’ or watching a movie, however nice these things are to do. Instead, try to fill it with something that could be confused with work: a nice kind of work which you actually like doing.

I had my ‘thing’ right here. You’re reading it now in fact. I liked writing, so a few years ago I started a blog; a blog that has occasionally felt like work, if only for the amount of effort I have put into it. This very piece you’re reading is close to the kind of writing you could expect to find in any gainful writing-related employment. Granted, content would need to be streamlined a bit more and… Anyway that’s not the point!

Often I would change my environment for this, such as heading to a coffee shop or even occasionally to the local pub. For writers this change of setting is especially important; you get to soak in a particular environment or group of people in a way that you simply wouldn’t do when you visit these locations with friends. You may even find a source of valuable inspiration you could not have found at home.

Now, I do realise two things; first that you may not be a writer yourself and therefore do not consider this information applicable. Second that it’s generally expected of the unemployed to just sit at home all day, aside from their rare trips out of bed to view the décor of the Job Centre, so it may come as a mild surprise that I did not. Well, if you truly fulfill the criteria of the latter, I’m afraid you will go crazy before too long, and I’m not talking strictly figuratively.

I’m convinced that home in general is a terrible place to do most kinds of work, though if you have to I would recommend you assign a room or specific private place exclusively for it. This is why the more middle class among us venture out to find houses with a spare room: it provides potential office space if nothing else.

Of course you may not be in that position, nor may you be interested in writing. Though I would recommend journaling during this period at least, if you can stick that – you’ll need some method to air your frustrations, and this is one of the best ways to straighten out your thoughts if you would prefer others didn’t see your emotional side.

For those who do not like writing at all and certainly would not consider a job in which you have to do it on a regular basis, I’m sure that energy exists within you elsewhere. Maybe you fancy yourself a bit of an artist instead, or a keen photographer? Perhaps you like to think you’re a good talker and know how to handle technology; in the past ten years YouTube has exploded, providing you with an invaluable outlet for your potential talents.

My point is simple: there will be something, however slight, that compels you to produce some kind of work, and this can take more forms than you might think. One of the biggest lies unemployment can tell you is that you are unable to do this; it can make you feel like you’re incapable of working like everyone else, or you don’t have anything to offer. But this will only be the case if you let it be. It is never too late to start on something fresh; something that actually helps you feel like a valuable, respectable human being.

Should you still feel you would not be able to do this because you, in your own words, don’t have a creative bone in your body, then there are always other tasks you can do. The thing is, only you will truly know. Besides, I would ultimately wager that every person has that creative bone – but the longer it goes without being used, the harder it gets to dip into it. Some people never explore their creative potential and so end up feeling they have none. Creativity requires initiative – it is not something you can wait to be directed towards by someone else. When you do take that initiative, you may find some untapped potential. While unemployed, it is always worth a try.

Lastly, and I make this final point with a little trepidation because some like to go to stubborn extremes with it; be wary of the advice that is all-too-willingly given by certain people. As a writer, frankly if I listened to all of the well-meaning advice others have given me, there is little chance I would have ever considered myself good enough to get paid for my skills. To achieve goals you do need encouragement from some close friends. But to be honest, most of what will get you where you want to go comes from an awful lot of self-determination and will power on your part. Having some idea of what you could achieve, you must then dare to trust your instincts (whether for better or worse).

Periods of doubt may cause you to waver in that, and it is almost impossible to get through without encouragement from somewhere. It’s best to get that from someone close, who believes in you a little more than the average person – allowing for instances when, of course, you just need a telling off for being too unrealistic or unreasonable. If you’re confident that person/ those people actually know you well enough to speak with some wisdom on the matter, then it is obviously beneficial to listen and make changes accordingly. I would discourage you from extending this liberty to everyone though.

My conclusion is, in the end, the most basic point I have tried to make here: that work does not have to be directly related to a job, and therefore unemployment need not sap you of all confidence. Much of the problem that exists stems from how people think of work itself; whether something to be hastily avoided or drearily put up with. It is neither. It is, in fact, the only thing that enables us to survive. Without it we would not have discovered fire, or been able to hunt for meat to cook on that fire, or built shelter to comfort us for the following day’s hunting, when the thrill of surviving another day would take hold of us again. The most important question of all may indeed be the most primal one: where has that fire gone?


Finishing F.P.

1 Peter 3: 15-16 – “In your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame.”

Let’s be under no illusion: F.P. actually ended for me no less than two months ago. But there are still some of you a tad confused as to what it’s all been about, so I feel I owe a little closure (if one could call it that) to this tiny season in my life.

Although F.P. has technically been a year of me working voluntarily for the church, I stress the vagueness of it because this isn’t something I see as a simple ‘open and shut’ case. This has been what the life of any typical Christian should look like – granted without the general working week of any typical Christian, but that’s what the church office has been good for. Yes, there is more to church than what happens in the three hour slot on a Sunday morning, just as there is so much more to the life of a Christian than what happens on that one ‘holy’ day of the week (which, for all its supposed holiness, still appears an afterthought in the lives of many believers who won’t think twice about skipping it in favour of recovering from their overindulgence of the night before).

F.P. is an internship year run by New Frontiers, an evangelical Christian family of churches. It involves working in the church office while attending monthly training sessions away from your ‘base’ (my base has been in Portsmouth; training in Bristol. This varies depending on which part of the country you’re in, i.e. south west, central, north). The idea is to train up people in the Christian faith while they learn on the job by getting their hands dirty in their local church. It doesn’t work perfectly for some; others drift through without really getting the point. For me, it really has meant growing in my faith, and most of you will have seen that indirectly if you’ve been doing the devoted thing of reading all of my blog posts this year (…don’t worry, I forgive you).

Yes, I have had a plan for the pattern I wanted them to take. Here’s a recap of the posts that have been a part of this ‘plan’ so far:

A Word to the Wise; warning against putting too much emphasis on having ‘knowledge’. Knowledge is a gift that should be used properly, to advance God’s kingdom, if you have it. If you don’t, that can be more of a blessing than you may think.

Moral Instinct; argument for God’s existence from the point of view of our ‘morals’. I made sure to emphasise what I believe to be the difference between ‘morals’ and ‘conscience’. Conscience only speaks to tell us when we have done, or will do, something wrong. Morals on the other hand, are the very scale on which we can judge that rightness or wrongness. Conscience may be a device of morals, used to remind you that you didn’t follow them in that instance, but the two are not one and the same. If conscience is like the law, morals are more akin to grace.

In the Beginning; Creation! Not arguing for or against the method that God used, but talking about how it glorifies Him, whatever way He did it, which could be any way, because He is God! In focusing on the method, we miss the true glory of creation: its story, from start to finish.

Old Times; looking at the problems people have with the God of the Old Testament, and arguing that it’s still as relevant to our theology today as it has been previously.

One; arguing that the entire Bible, including the Old Testament, is all about One subject/ person, and that is Jesus!

The Prideful Problem; covering the original sin, the one that sprouts all others from Genesis to the modern day. It is pride, which I argue makes us worse even than the sinful actions we have done, or will do, and it’s only Jesus’ blood that can break us free of it – our very own prideful nature, in direct opposition to Christ’s humble nature as man.

Time before Time after Time again; looking at whether God’s omniscience is compatible with our ‘idea’ of free will. A key point is that God created (or, if you prefer, continually creates) time for us, and He himself is outside of it – this really is the simplest way of answering the question.

The pattern is, of course, not yet complete. What, you thought it would end with my F.P. year? Not at all, I have other subjects I wish to cover before the end of the year, including the juicy topics of marriage, salvation and/ or pre-destination, the creative nature we inherit from God, and finally, our ‘mission’ (we only really call it that to make it sound dramatic – but the overall point is somewhat more serious).

These posts were topics on which we were not necessarily taught directly, but which I have thought more about as a result of the analytical skills placed on me from my university past and, simply, my renewed appreciation of C. S. Lewis. Not that I’m in his drooling fan club or anything, but the writing style of C. S. Lewis – as I’m sure those of you who’ve also read Mere Christianity and Miracles (to name two of around seven or eight theological ‘classics’) will have noticed – has been a great influence on my own version of theological arguing this year.

So no, the past year hasn’t all just been praying, singing and standing in the middle of Portsmouth’s Commercial road telling people they’re going to hell, while I try and avoid getting a ‘real’ job and actually doing something with my life. I can tell you now, it hasn’t been that at all, but I will concede there were prayers and some (bad) singing nonetheless.

There has also been a distinct lack of money in my life this year (not that this is any change from my previous three years as a student). This ultimately has been more of a blessing than some great challenge I’ve had to bear through. It’s helped give me a different perspective on the relationship between money and work.

Around me, I see a world with many problems, that isn’t helped by people (Christian and non-Christian) who work only for money and see no other reason for it. Already I can hear the frustrations of those who would retort that money is a necessity, it’s what makes the world go round; my friends I don’t need reminding of that. I am very aware of our situation in reality. But this response is only proving the point I am getting at. Do you see how you’ve already jumped to its defence?

The general world’s attitude towards hard work, that it primarily creates wealth rather than personal satisfaction and self-confidence, has resulted in portions of society that are willing to do whatever it takes to get one (the wealth) without the other (work). Alternatively we have people who work extremely hard and are good at what they do, but see the only purpose of their talents in gaining masses of wealth from it.

We also have people stuck in jobs they don’t get any satisfaction from because their sole purpose is to bring home a pay check; they dream of winning the lottery and retiring early, associating that with comfort and security. They aspire to more than the working class environment in which they’ve been placed, for no other reason than being able to accumulate more wealth and have a more comfortable life as a result.

You’ll make your own moral judgments on where these attitudes rank in terms of what you feel is acceptable, but the main problem with them is that they leave little room for God as sovereign in your life. When Jesus claimed it was hard for a rich man to get into Heaven, all of them fall into the category about which He was talking. The key here is not how much money you actually have, but your attitude towards it. I would daresay speculating and dreaming about being rich in earthly possessions or physical assets makes you no better than those who are the subject of your aspirations: if anything, your envy gives you a further burden.

There are many ‘rich’ people who see the riches for what they are: an insignificant extra, in some cases even a burden they’d rather do without. Some feel blessed by God to have such riches and use it to bless others (see Rick Warren as a fine example, who now lives on 10% of what he earns and gives the other 90% away, reversing the ‘10% tithing’ rule many Christians use as a fallback). Others feel blessed by God to have riches and… well, keep it all for themselves anyway, because God wants them to be healthy and ‘happy’. The less I say about that right now, the better.

We are sometimes guilty of looking at such cases and thinking we would use the money in better ways; of looking at celebrities who suffer from depression and wondering how that’s possible – if they’re financially secure then what do they have to be depressed about? But you see, this attitude is exactly what Jesus would warn you against. Even when we see the evidence every day that money alone doesn’t make us happy, we still aim for it, we refuse to believe that those with earthly riches could ever really be unhappy. This problem is not with money at all. The problem is within our own hearts. The false place and authority we’ve assigned to money when it never pretended to earn such a status is the problem that Jesus warns his followers about. The message is perhaps even more relevant now than it was then.

There is a further point that God created us to work (Genesis 2: 15 states that Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden “to work it and keep it”), which can appear contradictory to what I’ve been saying if you solely associate work with money. Work is what gives us satisfaction, fulfilment and ultimately, purpose. Aha! you may reply, but isn’t Jesus supposed to fill these roles for us? Yes, but if you think the Christian life involves no work on your part then you’re probably a little confused about the saviour you follow. These things are intertwined with Christ, which means your work (whatever it may be) is intertwined with Christ. So often we mistakenly think of issues like this to be a choice of one or the other, but finding satisfaction in your work does not mean you consider it your saviour over Jesus. It merely means you are human.

The biggest danger of unemployment is not a loss of income (as frightening as this can be), but that someone can lose sight of this sense of satisfaction and fulfilment. As a writer, I know deep down that the satisfaction I get from it has nothing to do with the potential reward of money I could be getting: a part of me wonders if this will still be the case if and when anyone sees my writing worthy of payment.

As a person, I have also found (my current unemployed status makes it awfully apparent) that when I’m not working I have trouble sleeping and motivating myself to do simple things like spending time with other people. Note that these things have nothing to do with money. Granted, I’m not claiming that everyone will show these symptoms – some will always appear perfectly happy to sit back and be unemployed long term if they find they can ‘get away with it’. But this sprouts again from a flawed attitude towards money and work. Money becomes their goal rather than the work that produces it. They then feel it acceptable, with what little they have, to look at those who have more through eyes of bitterness and resentment – these attributes become their riches, and they grow them in abundance. I’m not immune from it either: none of us are.

Look at me! I’ve started writing too much already. This was supposed to be a simple sign-off to one season and start of another. I had no intention of getting deep. But perhaps this in itself is the best way of showing what F.P. has done to me. I wouldn’t say it gave me this style of thinking – but it certainly made it a bit more sensible. We all remember when I wasn’t this sensible, after all.

Coming soon on Standard 10

First, there was an encounter with a yeti in the mountains.

Then, the alien virus that threatened humanity.

Followed by a deadly confrontation with a not so deadly adversary and the final twist; all of it brought about by a mischievous figure masquerading as a goblin in the attic, looking to deceptively gain access to another dimension. What became of him after this incident, no-one knew.

The next chapter in the tale had been a long time coming. But then again, that was kind of the point. Graeme understood that now, as he stood on the outskirts of a murky jungle, knowing danger lurked in its depths. He knew not where he was, nor how he had arrived at this point – it was not important for him to know the details. All that he did know was the dread; a great threat awaited him. He knew this as he stood before the sign above an entrance to the jungle. One word was sprawled across it, and the word told him exactly what kind of place this was. It was somewhere spoke of only in legend. And it was a place he had not wished to visit personally. Sighing, Graeme made his way towards the entrance, pausing to take one last look above. Whatever comes of this will not be good, he thought, nothing in here even knows the meaning of good. The word, as if to welcome his arrival, or perhaps simply to beckon him into the darkness, momentarily lit itself up in bright neon colours quite uncharacteristic of its inhabitants. Only for a second or two, but that was enough to finally confirm what Graeme had already known. This was the place. He had feared it; now he would teach it to fear him. The lights went out, leaving him in darkness once again, but with the added image of a word seared across his retina. A word that spoke of an environment with which he was about to become intensely more familiar: