The year started with New Zealand’s South Island being struck by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake. Less than three weeks later, Japan suffered a quake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale – the worst to hit the region since records began. A massive tsunami followed, killing 16,000 people.
Looking west, the developed world witnessed huge disasters as a series of tornadoes ripped through the heart of America in May and Hurricane Irene struck the Caribbean in August.
Monsoons battered much of Asia throughout the year and heavy flooding left more than a million people homeless.
But it’s not just the weather that has been dramatic.
“Money Makes The World Go Round”
If such a statement is true, then we can expect to witness the earth being thrown off its axis and plummet into deep space during 2012. The financial crisis is more or less, a global one.
Sadly the Western world – especially America – doesn’t seem to understand the simple principle that you can’t borrow money forever.
If I lent you a million dollars every day for 2000 years, you still wouldn’t be anywhere near the amount of debt the US government is in. The National debt has increased by $3.94 billion per day since 2007.
Natural disasters and unnatural debt. But to top it all off, as 2011 draws to a close, the very people responsible for disseminating these important news stories are corrupt!
The Hacks Have Been Hacking!
As if to prove to the public that they will sensationalize anything they can get their hands on, the UK press has spent the last 6 months sensationalising the very story they are caught up in. Millie Dowler, Ian Blair, Steve Coogan. The question is not “who’s phone has been hacked?” but “who’s phone hasn’t been hacked?”
So if that great staple of British democracy (newspapers) is under threat and Levison is serious about the government regulating the press, where can we look for inspiration in these dark times?
Arab Spring- Unprecedented Phenomena
When a 23 year old fruit seller by the name of Mohammed Bouazizi had his business shut down by a corrupt Tunisian police force, everything changed.
Inspired by Buddhist monks, Bouazizi set himself on fire. This is surely the most tragic form of protest imaginable, yet it turned out to be the most effective.
Within months, all of Tunisia was in an uproar. The Tunisian’s righteous indignation at an oppressive regime was adopted by their Arab neighbours in Egypt, Libya and now Syria.
The West loves democracy, and Obama and Cameron have been acting like excited kids at Christmas as the news of toppling dictatorships reaches our shores. They loved it so much, they joined in the fun and started taking out dictators, who only a few months ago we were more or less friends with.
Many European politicians worship democracy, and are pleased it is coming to the Middle East. But as the great Winston Churchill once said: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried.”
The situation in Iran is hotting up. The country has been hanging homosexuals and threatening to nuke our only true and dependent ally in the Middle East (Israel) for years – but we didn’t care. Oh no, it wasn’t until the Iranians attacked the British embassy in Tehran that we all started paying attention.
To summarise, there have been wars, rumours of wars, earthquakes, nations rising against nations, an increase in lawlessness (look at the London riots if you don’t believe me) and an all round lack of love and respect.
No wonder Harold Camping decided to pronounce, “the end is nigh”.
Here’s The Hope
Right now you’re wondering where the hope is, right?
I dare you to spend a few moments thinking about what Christmas means, because ultimately the true message is one of hope.
Jesus was born during similar times to our own. Both then and now, the world had gone totally mad! 2000 years ago, the King was issuing orders to kill all the baby boys in town. Oppression was everywhere. Yet some ordinary and mainly working class Jews discovered the greatest man who had ever lived and had their loves totally transformed for the better. They dedicated the rest of their lives to spreading this “good news” about Jesus.
Now one quarter of the world worships the Jewish messiah. Perhaps it’s fair to say us Christians are able to celebrate Christmas better than any other group of people. Maybe we understand the meaning better than anyone else. But we won’t like to think like that, because the point of the Christian faith is this news about Jesus isn’t just for a select few people…it’s for everyone. And that’s why we’re happy to let the whole earth join in and celebrate Christ-mas with us.
This isn’t dull, meaningless theology. Jesus offers hope now. His message of hope wasn’t just offered to some shepherds and wise men in a stable. The message was never only for a chosen select few. His message is eternal and inclusive. As relevant today as it was then. Hope has come.
While we eagerly await a coming time where there will be no more floods, tsunamis, famines, earthquakes, financial crisis, corrupt politicians and journalists…Oh yes, such a time is coming. But the hope of the Christian message doesn’t start when we die or when the world ends. It’s already here.
What is this message of hope? Click the above picture for more info, or click here for some music. Both should help answer that question.
Welcome to part two of my attempt to sum up some of the differences between American and English culture. I have done my best not to stereotype, and would ask you keep in mind that this only my experience of one small town, in one state! America is a huge place and much of the above and below will change depending on where you are.
Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy reading these posts and learning about our two magnificent nations! Let’s make a start with healthcare.
The American government decided to pass Obama’s healthcare plan while I was in America. As with every issue there was a mix of opinions, but being in a largely Republican part of the country- most people were opposed to the plan.
For a generation growing up with free healthcare under the NHS, we Brits tend to take it for granted. I can’t imagine having to have health insurance and/or paying money if I broke my arm or had to have a big operation! So why do so many Americans oppose the plan?
The first reason is simple. Free healthcare isn’t free! Tax rises are not popular- no matter which country you live in! Many people would rather choose to have insurance or no insurance- rather than everyone being forced into paying more taxes.
There is a common misconception about American healthcare under the insurance system. This is that those who are dying will be denied healthcare unless they are insured. Such a statement is completely untrue. When it comes to emergencies you WILL be treated- no matter how much money you have.
To sum up their disappointment with the new bill, one person put it this way: “It’s not that I’m against people getting health care. I just disagree with the government’s view of how that should happen”.
Personally, I cannot agree. Like most Brits I think free healthcare is a wonderful thing- even if it does result in increased taxes because it means everyone is on the same level. There’s still the option to pay for private healthcare but it’s comforting to know that no matter what happens, there’s a system in place for everyone that will save lives.
However, like many of these issues it is much easier to see where people are coming from when you go to the country and listen to people’s opinions no matter how different they are to your own! So it’s good to come back and be able to explain the opposite view, which I think is perfectly valid when understood correctly.
The first film I watched after landing was ‘Air Force One’. To summarise the plot- Terrorists hijack the President’s plane (know as Air Force One…obviously!), loads of people die but the President saves all the important people i.e him and his family. So it’s a happy ending
You can’t get more “American” or patriotic than Air Force One. (By the way it’s a classic film so do watch it if you haven’t already!)
I actually like the patriotism in America. My American friends found it difficult to understand why so many people in the UK don’t appreciate the Queen. Sometimes I wish we took more pride in our country.
I’m not about to stand to attention every time I hear “God save the Queen” or hang a gigantic English flag up (you don’t see them here unless it’s the World Cup! What does that say about our country?) but there’s nothing wrong with loving the place you’re living in!
Cause if you don’t love your country, you’re probably in the wrong one!!
FAITH Living in a secular society, sometimes you feel a little ‘attacked’. I guess it comes from being in a minority. Saying you believe in Jesus isn’t the most popular thing to do in this part of the world (not that such a thing stops me!!)
The (not so) great English professor Richard Dawkins has launched many TV programmes and books against God making statements such as:
“Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence.”
“You cannot be both sane and well educated and disbelieve in evolution. The evidence is so strong that any sane, educated person has got to believe in evolution.”
“I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.”
I make no comment, only to say it was lovely to be in a part of the world where so many intelligent people love the God I worship. Just incase you were wondering, yes- I met a number of ”creationists”. And yes they were sane and well educated…don’t worry, I checked!!!
Is Christian radio an intrinsically good thing? Is America a safe haven for Bible believing Christians? Is evolution is obviously wrong? Do I wish every part of the world was like Joplin, Missouri?
I’m not sure about any of those questions, but I do know that it was incredibly refreshing to step out of a country that seems to laugh whenever God is mentioned and step into a place where, when it comes to faith- it feels like the culture has been turned upside down!
Well ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming on this journey with me. It’s been fun to write and I hope you’ve learnt something whether you’re British or American……or something else!
I must just again type my appreciation to everyone from CCOJ- you guys are all so inspirational. It was a pleasure meeting each one of you.
Talking about cultural differences isn’t easy. I’ve done my best to word things appropriately. Do let me know if I’ve over stepped the mark or haven’t explained something properly! The last thing I’d want to do is offend people of either nation.
But the final words of this 2 part series must go to one very special lady! Stacey Tonks, I love you. Spending every day with you for 3 weeks was so wonderful, I love being a part of your life and meeting all your American friends. It’s no secret that the one reason I went to America was to see you and you alone! I’d travel any distance around the world just to see your cute face! Thanks for an incredible holiday. I love you.
Have you ever heard people say England is a “mini america”. Or America is just a “bigger version” of England?
When my girlfriend, Stacey went to America to do a gap year my friends and I were prone to making sweeping generalisations about the similarities of England and America. I know some would say ‘Why are you going to America, it’s not a different culture. Woudn’t you rather go to Africa or the Middle East where things are different?’
I’ve just spent 3 weeks in Missouri and let me assure you, the American life- atleast in the fairly rural town of Joplin is quite different to what we Brits are used to.
Just because the language is the same (well, not quite. But you know what I mean!)- doesn’t mean everything else is as well.
I landed in a complete white out with tonnes of snow, and went on to experience boiling hot sunshine and some pretty impressive rain. And that was just the first 4 days!! The weather was definitely unpredictable- unlike boring British weather which is mild mild mild!
But culture isn’t about the weather, it’s largely about the people. I have to say the American people put the english to shame with their hospitality.
I stayed with a guy called Todd who I had never met until I arrived in the country! I had seen this picture though…
But it’s ok he’s not (quite) crazy! He gave me a great room, picked me up from the airport and even let me use his car. I’m so grateful for his kindness.
Even if you are out shopping or buying fast food (the latter being a much too common delight!) people will be smiling, wishing you a good day and are only too happy to provide generally excellent customer service.
I mean, when was the last time you saw someone in Mcdonalds smile? But yes, in the US, they do!
All joking aside- the people in Joplin were absolutely lovely! If any of you are reading this- thanks so much for the welcome, you are all great!
I met a 12 year old boy who was given a gun for his birthday! His idea of a good weekend is going out hunting bears in the forest at the weekend with his Dad. The UK father-son equivalent of that is football hooliganism these days isn’t it?
What’s the American reaction to Father-Son bear hunting? Cool! Let’s hope he shoots a gud’un. Then maybe we can skin it and cook it over an open fire!
British reaction: That doesn’t sound safe?! Hope it’s licensed. And even if it is, he’s too young! What kind of a message is that giving our young people? What bad parents!
Just so you know, i’m exagerating both sides!
It’s true: Americans love their guns! And why not?! I fired a shotgun while I was there and despite missing the target on numerous occasions, I had great fun.
I enjoyed watching the reaction as I told people “not even the police in England carry guns,” and despite explaining a few “armed police” do- I was still greeted with brilliant expressions of shock. I wish I had taken pictures!!
I was staying in an area of America which is fairly conservative and Republican. If you’re the average British young person the chances are you stopped reading at the word ‘politics’ and if you didn’t then you definitely don’t know what ‘Republican’ is and thought ‘conservative’ was a political party, not an ideology!
So here’s a quick definition. Conservative generally means you believe in Christian moral values (anti abortion, pro family). Atleast stereotypically, those adopting a conservative outlook can be resistant to change and fairly patriotic.
Obama is a Democrat, NOT a Republican!
That means the majority of people I met were not huge fans of Mr Obama! This bumper sticker pretty much sums it up actually!
British media portrayed Obama as the saviour (yes, that’s the correct spelling of “Savior”) of America. He’s almost like a ‘messiah’ figure. The British media did (and does) make out that everyone in America loves him!
So it was refreshing to find people who share my own concerns about America’s new president and be assured that there are many people in America with a real interest in politics and making a positive difference both locally and nationally.
Which brings me onto a third and final area of interest. The Americans I met know their history. They know about their constitution (though it’s unknown how many have actually read it!)- they know how their country was formed and all about the civil war. Worse than that- one person started talking about British history and to my shame I had to admit I was unsure about the details he was taling about!
I think it’s excellent how so many people know all about their history. It’s surely taught in school much more than it is here!
Well that’s it for this post. Coming up in Part 2…the American view on Healthcare, Patriotism and the big one….faith.