Sorted Issue 60
Orlando Bloom is back! In this issue we get to know a bit more about Care for the Family and what life could be like after a digital detox.
And Gadgets, Entertainment, Motoring, Movies, Technology
Plus, the greatest team of Christian writers ever assembled.
An Umbrian Adventure - by Becky Gorman
I must admit, when I was asked if I’d like to go on a trip to Umbria to review a luxury adventure holiday, my first thought was: “Sure, I love luxury; I love adventure and I love the Lake District.” A closer read revealed that I was in fact being invited to go to Italy. It took me about three seconds to say yes please.
And I was not disappointed. The luxury element of the trip began immediately with a relaxing breakfast in Gatwick’s No. 1 Lounge. I couldn’t quite bring myself to drink wine at 6 a.m. but the availability of it was very much appreciated. The trip was the perfect blend of action and relaxation activities with the theme of food and wine woven throughout, while being utterly spoiled in the most incredible villa in the picturesque historic town of San Gemini – truly my idea of heaven.
San Gemini is a charming historic town in Terni, just south of Todi. Almost untouched by tourism, a town of quaint alleyways, cobbled streets and cool churches. Where a hidden archway could take you to the most breath-taking view or into a small square where you can almost smell the thousands of years of history that have taken place. The only non-Italian I met on our entire trip was a fascinating American professor who had moved to San Gemini to head up the archeological digs of the nearby Roman village of Carsulae (one for a future visit). She encapsulated my feeling about Umbria perfectly, saying:
“Tuscany is loved because one is obliged to love it – simply because it’s Tuscany; but Umbria? Umbria has the power to take a piece of your soul – it either sucks you up or spits you out.”Umbria was described by our tour guide as being commonly and unfairly referred to as “Tuscany’s poorer sister”. Umbria has the same rolling hills, vast vineyards, beautiful weather and historic villages on every hillside, but is not yet saturated with tourists, allowing you to experience a raw, unabridged Italy. I felt as if I were among a very privileged few who have been able to experience and see one of the most beautiful parts of the world before it gets truly discovered.
There was incredible light quality and shadows, a constant background hum of bees in the lime trees above, and the scent of lavender, mint and honeysuckle as we drank wine (and there was much wine) on the verandah. There was also something quite dream-like and other-worldly about our trip, as if we were in a film set, and every scene had been carefully choreographed to show us the most surreal and perfect side of Umbria. For example, while water rafting (more about this later) we all jumped out the boats to have a little ‘swim’, and as we came to a pause in the stillness of the water, two beautiful wild horses galloped down to the water’s edge and entertained us for a while with their foot-stamping and head-shaking. It was utterly mesmerising. OK, so wild horses can be quite dangerous and we were all but trapped in the river until they chose to leave, but it was a moment I will never forget.
Just wow. It’s not hard to see why our stunning period palazzo ‘Santi Terzi’ has been dubbed ‘the Italian Hogwarts’. Once home to the neo-classical sculptor Canova, it sits proudly at the highest point of San Gemini. This villa has recently been impressively renovated by the owner, and maintains many original architectural features; it oozes Italian charm. Santi Terzi sleeps up to 20 people so would be perfect for a group of friends, an extended family group, or even a small wedding party. With unrivalled views across the Terni valley, a postcard-worthy outdoor pool and a maid, a stay here really is a decadent yet authentic taste of Italy.
White water rafting
If ever there was a way to get a group of strangers who had only met a few hours before to bond quickly, it’s to make them all don wetsuits and go white-water rafting together. The rafting here is in the Nera River in the Valnerina region of Umbria – one of the most beautiful and rugged areas in Umbria. After a quick lesson in basic raft techniques, our fast-bonding team experienced two hours of fun and adventure, including a quick break to jump in and let the water take us for a ride.
Italian cooking lesson
Two minutes’ walk down the hill from our villa, tucked away down a side street of San Gemini, lives Lorena – the Umbrian chef. She lives and works out of her home, a former monastery with her very own 17th-century tomb in the hallway. She welcomed nine of us into her home, but she has that gift of being able to make every one of us feel as if we are the most important person in the room. After a hands-on lesson in making gnocchi and pesto, she joined us at the table to enjoy a four-course meal, and of course, more wine. I learned that when she is not teaching tourists how to cook, she is combining her passion for food with a passion for the disadvantaged and invites local disabled children into her home for cookery and life-skills. Lorena is one of the reasons I fell in love with San Gemini.
Cycling and wine-tasting
A leisurely 20km bike tour through the stunning Umbrian countryside, discovering the old town of Bevagna with its beautiful churches and the delightful village of Torre del Colle was the perfect way to work up our appetite for lunch and wine-tasting. I can honestly say that after a tour of the Arnaldo Caprai Winery, I have a new appreciation of wine. I found myself using words like “elegant”, “personality”, “oaky” and “restrained” to describe the wines I was tasting – a slight difference to my normal approach of, “Yep – tastes nice.”
I didn’t even know I liked truffles. Turns out I really really do – which is unfortunate as they sell from around £250-£1,250 per kg, depending on season. The experience began with a short walk with the dogs to the trees where they immediately follow the intense scent of the black truffle, a culinary speciality of the Valnerina region. It’s surprisingly exciting as you see the dogs pick up on the scent and start to dig for the precious culinary prize. The hunt for truffles doesn’t last long as the heat of the day intensifies and gets too hot for the dogs to work. So, after a detour via an old church and an olive oil tasting session (because when in Italy…), we head back for lunch to the restaurant, Piermarini, to cook and taste the fruits of our morning’s efforts. After an inspiring cooking lesson (they make it all look so simple), where I possibly ate my own body weight in ‘starters’, we then all relaxed in the gardens to enjoy a three-course meal, which began with an Umbrian speciality of soft-boiled egg with truffle sauce – delicious.
Tuscany Now & More (tuscanynowandmore.com, 0207 684 8884) offers Santi Terzi from £4,197 for 20 people based on travel in June 2017 for seven days sharing on a self-catering basis. Includes a maid. Tuscany Now & More features a range of properties across the region and can provide private chefs, excursions and other services upon request. Airport lounge access available through no1lounges.com/. Tuscany Now & More organise all the experiences and excursions. These can be included and organised as a part of any stay at Santi Terzi or any of the other Tuscany Now & More properties.
In Bloom Orlando is back - by Lily Lawson
Orlando Bloom is noticeably affable and open throughout our chat today. In a simple dark T-shirt and jeans, his sallow warm complexion gives the impression of a Hollywood hunk half his 40 years. And his disarming, grounded nature belies his movie star credentials. Until the subject of ‘paddle-boarding’ comes into play. Bloom squirms in his seat. “Please, let’s not go down that road today, I’m just, yeah,” says the actor, visibly alarmed.
It’s not the specific sport that’s vexed the actor but rather his complete lack of clothing with then girlfriend, the popstar Katy Perry, which nearly broke the internet. Bloom is failing to see the funny side anymore and his publicist, circling our conversation, immediately steers our talk from such lewd topics and towards more savoury conversation, like his new movies, Unlocked, a low-budget terrorist thriller and Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge which sees Orlando resume his career-defining performance as dashing Will Turner in the Disney juggernaut.
Ten years since his last appearance in the swashbuckling adventure, Bloom and on-screen love Keira Knightley reunite to guide their son, Henry (Brenton Thwaites) is his new adventures on the high seas alongside Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow. And while Bloom insists his involvement in the instalment amounts to a small few scenes, fans of the heartthrob are chomping to see their favourite back, especially after a number of years in Tinseltown wilderness. So where was Orlando and what inspired this break away from the big screen?
Turns out, family, namely his six-year-old son Flynn with former wife, supermodel Miranda Kerr, was priority, particularly during and after their divorce. The dedicated father chats about his relationship with his son and why he needed to concentrate on the youngster. Bloom also talks about his phenomenal start in Hollywood, why it took its toll on his confidence, and why Bond is the ultimate goal.
When you watch a movie like Unlocked, with its central themes of terrorism, it feels scarily close to home given what’s happening today.
That’s what struck me, the harsh reality attached to this script, sadly, in the current climate we’re living in. We shot this two years [ago] and even since then, it’s shocking how much more relevant this story is in terms of our everyday existence. In the last two years, look at the atrocities, at the acts of carnage, Paris, Nice, Westminster, it goes on. It’s something so terrible and so fundamentally part of our day to day.
But when I say that, I also grew up taking the Tube, and we lived through the IRA bomb scares, they happened all the time. You were getting taken off the Tube, evacuated, so it’s not totally alien to me, there was tension then, and it’s here now. Obviously the 7/7 attacks are still very much in the mind of Londoners; you can’t help but be reminded. But you can’t allow it to rule your life; we may as well give up, otherwise.
Are you more mindful of such dangers, being a father?
I think now, especially that I’m a dad… I think it’s universal for all parents. If we’re in a busy public place, if we’re on the bus, if we’re in the park, on Oxford Street, it might flash across my mind for an instant, are we vulnerable? Where’s our escape? Yeah, it’s weird.
But like I said, you can’t be worried all the time. I don’t want to ever pass my fears down to him; kids are like sponges, they absorb so much more than we realise. I don’t want him to be scared. You try and keep a balance, don’t you?
You’re well known for your good guy roles. Jack is somewhere on the spectrum of goodie and baddie, would you agree?
He’s right there, in the middle. Right there between a hero and a rogue and a blatant sociopath. That’s just makes it more fun doesn’t it? I like delving in to the dark side, the complexities, that light and shade, it’s far more interesting for me as an actor than a straight-laced, buttoned down, starchy MI5 agent with an unblemished moral code and this emotionless front. We’ve seen that before countless times, it gets a bit boring.
So Michael [Apted] allowed me to make changes, decipher Jack as I saw him, allowed me to investigate his background, as I saw it. You know, he was ex-military, a little PTSD, done some time behind bars – [it] mixes up to produce a man on the periphery of society, very much a lone operator; adherence to societal preferences, you know, isn’t his MO.
It kind of sounds like you’re referring to Bond there, when you say starchy MI5 agent.
Is he MI5? MI6 [laughs].
Your name has been bandied around as a replacement for Daniel Craig. How do you fancy your chance?
I don’t know. I feel like there’s been all this talk about Tom Hardy and Tom Hiddleston and all that. Is my name being bandied about?
Maybe not as much as them, but it’s there.
Why am I not in the running for James Bond? I’m quite insulted by that [laughs].
Would you actually be interested?
Yeah [laughs]. I’m game, I’m on it. Tell me who to talk to [laughs].
We’re going to see you soon again as Will Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean, some may argue equally as iconic as Bond – was there any hesitation on your part to come back after ten years?
There was no way I could ever turn that down. What kind of idiot would that make me [laughs]?
Much of the plot is being kept under wraps, but what can you tell me about Will’s involvement?
I’m at pains to convey my short scenes in this movie [laughs]. Only at the beginning and the end. I fear there’s this misconception that I’m central throughout but that’s not the case. I was only on it for a few days, down on this huge, epic set. It was never going to be a central role. They asked, “Would you come back to introduce your son?” who Brenton plays and I loved that idea of passing the torch to the next generation who goes off on his own adventure. I sort of bookend the action.
Keira is back too for the reunion?
I’m glad that’s out there [laughs]. I was worried I’d give it away. Yes, Keira’s back. What a brilliant reunion, I couldn’t do it without her and I’m so glad that’s out there now, that everyone knows, because hers was the big secret.
I can’t say what she does in it, I can’t really say much in general. But I’ve seen it and I’m very happy to confirm, it’s … fantastic.
Don’t you say that about all your films?
Well, sometimes your expectations aren’t necessarily met. I’ve been pretty lucky, but yeah, it happens [laughs]. No, we’ve gone right back to the start, back to the roots, back to what made [Pirates] so special 15 years ago. The special effects took precedent, stole focus, in a way, with the subsequent chapters, so we’re back to story front and centre, what the Pirates movies are made of. A very similar narrative to the first, which to me, [was] controversial, but I thought it was the best of the bunch. And hopefully this one will compete [laughs]. I’m pretty sure it will…
I’m sure Flynn’s excited to see Dad as a pirate?
He loves these films, he loves them. Dad’s a pirate, it implodes his mind [laughs]. Big fan. When we went to get his first Lego, he was laser beamed on the pirate ship. No fighter planes, no spaceships, it was a pirate ship for him. So you know what, there was never any question, if they wanted me back, if they wanted Will Turner back, for a multitude of reasons but purely for the fact that I know he would love it, I was all in.
When I’m deciding what to do next, I now tend to think, would Flynn like to see this, would he enjoy it? That’s become a more present consideration than before. And I think in certain ways, I get more excited, knowing I’m working on something he’ll love. There’s a real kick in that.
Working on something like Unlocked, a relatively independent movie after Rings and Pirates, is it important for you to step away from the blockbusters?
I think, and this is my theory, I started out in really, really, big … huge films, with massive audience share, and I was still learning. I was cast in Lord of the Rings a couple of days after I left drama school. And that’s a very public spotlight to be under when you’re still unsure of your footing. I feel like my mistakes were clear for the world to see, highlighted by comparisons alongside Viggo Mortensen and Ian McKellen, easily the best actors living and breathing today.
I needed to retreat away from that exposure and work on smaller projects, do theatre. I did some smaller movies, which some were so small, they didn’t even see the light of day [laughs]. But each one of them helped me on this journey and in my craft and that’s … been a huge, huge benefit. I’m so grateful for every one of those opportunities.
I feel I’m better equipped now from those experiences; I hope I’m better at my job. I haven’t done that many movies, if you look at my body of work.
Was that why you took a break for a few years, to focus on different directions?
It’s because of my son, quite honestly. I’ve been focused on him, he’s six years old, he needs his parents around, what’s more important?
There was a period of instability when his mum and I were separating, and we both made conscious choices to be around as much as possible to help that whole transitionary period. That was our responsibility.
And now things have settled nicely, everybody is in a good place, there’s a rock solid security there, and therefore more freedom to explore professionally [than] I have in the past few years. So that’s why I’m taking chances and risks, working in genres and arenas that offer up new challenges.
Movie locations you want to explore - by James Barrass-Banks
Ever watched a film and thought, that looks like a cool place to visit? Why don’t you? We took a look at five famous movie locations, and what makes them great holiday destinations:
London has been host to a wide variety of movies and TV shows in recent years. If you’re a fan of Jason Bourne, the city has a range of locations to visit, allowing you to follow in the steps of Matt Damon in the fifth instalment of the franchise. Woolwich station, for example, was transformed into Athens for the filming, with Bourne dramatically bursting out from a café – a good opportunity for recreating that scene if you’re a wannabe action hero.
Iconic London landmarks such as Buckingham Palace were also featured in The BFG, and if you’re a fan of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective, there are many locations from Sherlock to explore too: 187 North Gower Street stood in for 221b Baker Street, while messages from Sherlock fans can be found at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, another shooting location.
London’s also a surprisingly good place to visit in terms of the cost of living – a beer will cost you roughly £4.40, while dinner for two will cost on average £51.25. Compare this to other cities such as New York, where dinner will set you back £61.35, and a pint £4.60.
Europe in general
A sightseeing tour around Europe would be the perfect trip if you’re, like almost everyone these days, a fan of Game of Thrones. Shooting locations range across the continent, with Croatia, Ireland, Malta, Scotland, Spain and Northern Ireland all appearing in the show, while Titanic Studios in Belfast is where a lot of the production takes place.
Although you can’t access the studios themselves, Ireland has a lot of beautiful scenery to explore (although if you get the chance, Belfast is a great place to grab a cheap drink: £3.50 a pint, compared to £4.28 in Dublin). Downhill Beach, for example, featured in Game of Thrones’ second season as Dragonstone, while the small coastal village of Cushendun is where Melisandre gave birth to that Shadow. There’s also the Dark Hedges, where Arya escaped from King’s Landing, and Ballintoy, which has featured as the Greyjoys’ Iron Islands.
Toronto has been used for the filming of a lot of massive blockbusters, including The Incredible Hulk and Kick-Ass, but it would be a truly great place to visit for fans of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Suicide Squad.
Locations such as the Toronto Public Library, St. Michael’s College, and Casa Loma, where Scott challenges Lucas to a fight, will be recognisable to all Scott Pilgrim fans. If you enjoyed Suicide Squad, meanwhile, Yonge Street is worth a visit – one of the busiest roads in Canada, it was completely closed for four days of shooting. Hy’s Steakhouse, the MaRS Centre, and Bay Street should also be on the list of any Suicide Squad fan.
Toronto can be a highly affordable place to stay if you know where to look. A lot of B&Bs and guesthouses in East Toronto, for example, will fit in with even a strict holiday budget. Car rental is also worth considering – after all, you’re only around 80 miles from Niagara Falls. In terms of drinks, you can expect to pay only about £3.87 for a pint of beer.
New York City
Ghostbusters fans old and new will enjoy visiting the shooting locations of the original 1984 film in New York. Guided tours also enable you to make the most of your trip, and see every recognisable scene from a whole host of movies. The beautiful art deco building 55 Central Park West is still known as the ‘Ghostbusters building’, while fans will recognise other locations such as the New York Public Library and the Ghostbusters’ HQ, Ladder 8 Firehouse.
Travelling around the city is cheap and straightforward thanks to the subway, although a taxi will not set you back too much at around £1.32 per km, compared to a city like Tokyo (£2.73). The different areas of the city also allow you to stay somewhere that best suits you. The Upper East Side will see more luxurious hotels, while Brooklyn and the Lower East Side will be perfect if you’re into more of a bohemian experience.
2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was the first film to be shot in Cambodia since 1964, and the country’s relatively undiscovered scenery gave the movie a lot of iconic shooting locations.
Phnom Bakheng is a stunning hill with a Hindu temple, while the beautifully constructed Bayon Temple is made up of 54 towers adorned with smiling faces.
Ta Prohm, meanwhile, is a temple with a unique courtyard interweaved with trees, and the 12th-century Angkor Wat is a must-visit monument even if you’re not a Tomb Raider fan.
As the Lara Croft shooting locations are quite far from the capital, it’s worth booking accommodation in Phnom Penh and then planning trips to the temples. The capital also has a bustling nightlife, but if you want somewhere a bit more relaxing, try Lakeside and the BKK1 area.
These are only five of numerous beautiful, exciting TV and movie locations across the world. Whether you’re an action fanatic, a Ghostbusters superfan, or just eager to win or die in the Game of Thrones, there’s somewhere for everyone to explore. And who could really resist when cheap drinks and bargain hotels coincide with these epic collisions of on- and off-screen worlds?
A Nearly Infallible History of the Reformation - by Nick Page
On the desk in front of me is a Playmobil® figure of Martin Luther. I don’t think it’s an exact replica, I mean, apart from anything else, he hasn’t got a nose. Anyway, the figure was released to mark ‘500 years of Reformation’.
Now, it’s not easy to get into the Playmobil® Hall of Fame. As far as I can find out, the only other historical characters they have ever done are Cleopatra, Caesar and the Butterfly Fairy. But amazingly, the Luther figurine became Playmobil®’s fastest-selling figure, ever, with some 34,000 of the tiny plastic toys selling out within 72 hours.
Not bad for a 500-year-old theologian.
So what is this all about? Well, the little brochure accompanying the figure explains that it commemorates Luther’s ninety-five theses nailed to the church door in Wittenberg.
This event has been called “the hammer blow that launched the Reformation”, and here’s the story as it’s commonly recounted. Catholic salesmen are making a killing selling indulgences – basically vouchers for time off in purgatory. Luther, outraged, writes down his Ninety-five Theses. Then, on 31 October – All Saints’ Eve – 1517, he strides to the Wittenberg church and nails his theses to the door. A crowd gathers. “Guten tag! Vorsprung Durch Technik,” they exclaim, slapping their Lederhosen. “Es ist der Reformation!”
The scales fall from their eyes. There are cheers and tears and everyone goes home to be Protestant and be righteously happy ever after.
Suffice to say, it didn’t happen quite like that (indeed the whole ‘nailing to the door’ bit may not have happened at all).
The fact is that Luther was not the first person to call for a reformation of the Church. He wasn’t even the first person to criticise indulgences. But he was the person who, above all others, took these ideas and stood by them. He refused to back down. And that’s why he, more than anyone else, is the ‘star’ of the tale.
Little Marty Luder
Martin Luder (‘Luther’ is the posher version) was born on 10 November 1483, in the town of Eisleben in Saxony. He was named ‘Martin’ because the day of his baptism was St Martin’s Day. Just as well he wasn’t baptised on Christingle, really.
He was a clever boy and his father wanted him to be a lawyer. So he attended university in Erfurt, and he was on his way back there in 1505 when he was caught up in a terrifying thunderstorm. A bolt of lightning struck a nearby tree with such force that it threw him to the ground. He prayed desperately to his favourite saint: ‘Help me, Saint Anne, and I will become a monk.’ The storm abated. He survived.
Unlike many of us who, in moments of peril or desperation, pray similar ‘I-promise-I’ll-be-good-and-I’ll-always-go-to-church-and-possibly-become-a-vicar’ prayers, Luther kept to his word. He gave up his law career and joined the monastery.
A sweaty monk
Luther became an Augustinian friar. He keenly embraced poverty, obedience and chastity (insofar as you’re allowed to embrace chastity) and at first it brought him peace. He observed all the rules and regulations about how to walk, how to talk, even how to hold your spoon. He attended prayers seven times a day, but he could never quite escape the feeling that he was doing something wrong. He attended all the services, wore the rough clothes, punished his body, often taking no bread or water for three days at a time, but still he couldn’t feel acceptable to God: “The more I sweated it out, the less peace and quiet I experienced.”
No matter how hard he prayed, how thoroughly he confessed, this increasingly sweaty friar struggled to feel clean. For all his “holy monkery”, as he called it, Luther was painfully aware of his own sin and plagued with anxiety about his salvation. It wasn’t for lack of trying. He was an Olympic-standard confessor, sometimes exhausting his poor superiors by spending up to six hours listing his sins. Then he’d exit the confessional only to realise that he’d spent so long confessing that he’d missed chapel – which was a sin. So it was straight back in again.
Then there was the whole forgiveness thing. Forgiveness depended on how contrite you truly were, and Luther could never be sure that he was sorry enough. “The more I tried to remedy an uncertain, weak and afflicted conscience with the traditions of men,” he said, “the more each day I found it more uncertain, weaker, more troubled.”
His superiors, perhaps thinking that a change might do him good (and probably seeking a break from all that confessing), persuaded him to join the staff of the newly founded University of Wittenberg. Teaching suited Luther and his academic career prospered. And perhaps he would have remained there, an academic in an out-of-the-way town, were it not for the fact that the Pope, as popes tend to do, decided that it was time for another building project.
Indulge me a minute
The Pope was Leo X. Leo’s career illustrates some of the problems with the Catholic Church at the time: he had become an abbot at the age of eight, and took over the great Benedictine abbey of Monte Cassino aged just 11. Beats a paper round, I suppose. And when he became Pope he hit the jackpot. On his election, he said to his brother, Giuliano, “Since God has given us the Papacy, let us enjoy it.”
And enjoy it he did. Leo led lavish processions and held huge banquets. He spent millions on tapestries and paintings and sculptures. He was a very cultured man, who revived Rome’s university, appointing nearly 100 professors and widening the range of subjects to include medicine, mathematics, botany, astronomy and, probably, media studies. It was a golden age. But the trouble with golden ages is that gold is expensive. As well as supporting his luxurious lifestyle, Leo had an ambitious plan to rebuild St Peter’s Basilica. And that needed even more money. So he launched a massive indulgence sales drive.
For most people in the Middle Ages, life was cold, muddy and bleak. But the good news was that after your death – if you were Christian – you got to go to heaven. However, only certain people – martyrs and saints – got into heaven straight away. The rest had to spend time in purgatory, being purged of their sins.
Purgatory was imagined as a crowded place, where you had to spend a long time enduring a series of trials or punishments. A bit like going to IKEA. But the souls were happy to accept the punishments because they knew that a visit to purgatory would, in the end, bring rewards. Like IKEA. But purgatory wasn’t heaven, and most people looked to spend as little time there as possible… Like IKEA. And so a whole purgatory-avoidance industry grew up. People could buy indulgences – vouchers – which would give them time off from purgatory. These promo codes were backed by the authority of none other than the Pope.
It wasn’t long before Leo’s indulgence sellers arrived in Luther’s patch. Suddenly, people started turning up at Luther’s confessionals armed with copies of their indulgences. They no longer had to do any kind of penance, and they had the paperwork to prove it.
Luther went ballistic. On 31 October 1517, he wrote to the local bishops accusing them of allowing unbiblical practices: “Christ has nowhere commanded indulgences to be preached, only the gospel.” And this was when he wrote his famous 95 Theses – 95 bullet-point statements challenging the whole indulgence-selling racket. These are the bullets which are credited with starting the Reformation.
The theses were sent on to Rome. Luther was ordered to back down. He didn’t.
And the rest is history. Or theology. Or something.
If Luther had just objected to the sales of indulgences, then the Reformation would have fizzled out. But what happened was that in subsequent years, Luther went on to challenge the very basis of medieval Christendom.
And what made this possible was that he was an absolute master of the new technology of printing. In pamphlets and books, Luther challenged not only indulgences, but the authority of the Pope himself. He wrote books which called for the abolition of things like clerical celibacy, Masses for the dead, obligatory fasting, the canonisation of saints, pilgrimages and all religious orders. He denied any distinction between laity and clergy: “All are truly priests, bishops, and popes”, he wrote. “A cobbler, a smith, a peasant, each has the work and office of his trade, and yet they are all alike consecrated priests and bishops … For all Christians whatsoever really and truly belong to the religious class, and there is no difference among them except insofar as they do different work.”
One of his most important ideas was that Christianity is not about doing ‘good works’, about earning your salvation. Christians, he believed, have been liberated by faith. “For faith alone and the efficaciousness of the Word of God, bring salvation”, he wrote.
These are radical, incendiary ideas. And Luther used radical, outrageous, incendiary language. He was famously rude, outspoken and even sweary. These books must have been astonishing to read in the 16th century. This is medieval punk theology, agitprop protest writing 400 years ahead of its time. Luther dipped his pen in pure outrage and let rip.
He was a one-man publishing empire. Tracts, pamphlets, books poured from his pen. From 1517 until his death in 1546, he published an average of one work every two weeks. Had he been alive today he would have been a brilliant and deeply annoying newspaper columnist: he had that knack of writing books that people wanted to read – that they had to read. Luther grasped very early on that the only thing which would silence a book was if nobody read it. So he made his books and pamphlets saleable – they were outrageous, urgent, polemical, readable, compelling, a must-have. There were peddlers who went from door to door selling nothing but Luther’s writings, and his books were described as being “not so much sold as seized”.
Small wonder that Luther’s writings scorched across Europe. One-third of all books sold in Germany in the early 1520s were by Martin Luther.
Heroes and villains
Luther wasn’t a saint. He was a difficult, outspoken, prickly individual who abused his friends and enemies alike. But the history of the Reformation is full of people like that: people capable of writing wonderful truths about God, but also words of hatred and abuse. People who behaved in ways that both served God and served their own interest. People capable of heroism and villainy. Human beings, to use a technical term.
What matters, I suppose, is the ideas. The ideas of the Reformation changed our world. They were not just about religion: they were about what it means to be an individual. They led to our concept of modern democracy, even our concept of the nation state.
And in all of this Luther, takes centre stage. He wasn’t the first person to call for a Reformation of the Church, or to object to the sale of indulgences, or to deny the Catholic theory of transubstantiation. He wasn’t even the first person to invent the idea of justification by faith. But he was the first person to really take these ideas and run with them.
And that’s why we celebrate the 500th anniversary this year. And why this miner’s son from Saxony gets to be not just a Playmobil® figure, but the best-selling Playmobil® figure of all time.
On Skis across the Finnmarksvidda - by Corinna Leenen
We spend the night on the frozen expanse of Lake Lesjavri. The Northern Lights build up in an arch above our tent and we watch for several hours how they magnify into rippling curtains on either side of the lake and finally flow in a curling and waving stream right above our heads and into the distance. The Inuit of Alaska believed that the lights were the spirits of the animals they hunted. Out on the lake, surrounded only by snow and mountains, we are far more susceptible to this legend than to any geophysical chart showing collisions between particles. Through most of the evening, commands of “Don’t move” and countdowns for exposure times echo across the lake as we try to capture the lights on camera.
Two days earlier my partner, Jamie, and I had packed our pulks and set out from Jotka Fjellstue to cross the Finnmarksvidda plateau north to south-east. The Finnmark region lies at the very top of northern Norway. The Finnmarksvidda is in the interior part of this county and covers an area of about 22,000 square kilometres, stretching from Alta in the west to the Varanger Peninsula in the east for about 300km. We planned a rough route from Joatkajávri (south of Alta), across the frozen Lesjavri lake, to Ravnastua and finishing at Karasjok. We bought four Nordeca maps in Alta and did most of the day-to-day route planning in the evenings in the tent.
Daily going with the pulks is tough. They are laden not only with our camping gear, fuel and food, but also with the technology needed to capture our journey – camera, tripod, solar panels. The waxes aren’t working properly on the first days, there is a lot of backslide and not a lot of winning ground. Despite the cold we slowly shed layers of clothing as our bodies warm with the effort. “Twenty minutes and we’ll take a break” – Jamie’s words keep repeating in my head and this break is now overdue. He wanted to get to the top of a little hill first – for the views. I had read somewhere about the Inuit practice of walking frustration out on the tundra. They would walk until their anger subsided and lay down a rock on the ground to mark how far the burst of anger had propelled them. It gets me all the way to the top of the hill just fine. I sit down on my pulk, unclip my bindings and search for the green dry bag in the front of my pulk which has our food in. I am half in a mind to take my frustration out on Jamie, but think better of it and make room for him on my pulk. He sits next to me.
What happens next, very unexpectedly, is a marriage proposal, a minute of admiring the sparkling ring on an ungloved hand at -12C and panicky questions, uttered daily, about the whereabouts and safety of the ring as it was stashed away at the bottom of the pulk. We ended up dragging an engagement ring 130km across the very north of Norway.
Every evening we look for a good spot to call home for the night. We pitch the tent in deep snow that would hold our pegs, and dig the entrance pit which serves as a cold air well and cooking area. Arriving at the chosen spot on Lesjavri we find the snow layer is too shallow and the pegs hit ice instantly. A strategic use of some ice screws solves our problem and the tent is pitched. I unload the pulks and store the drybags at one end of the tent while Jamie shovels the snow in the other. I blow up the Thermarests, prepare our sleeping area and wait for Jamie to boil the first round of water for our soups. Then follow dry-ration main courses and desserts.
Everything in a polar tent is practical – we are careful not to waste energy or warmth. Filled with boiling water and stuffed into the front of our down jackets, the ration packs make for a nice addition of warmth. We try to keep our gloves on as much as we can as warming up cold fingers takes a long time. Long metal spoons are dangling from the tent ceiling, clipped in with carabiners. The tent light next to them sheds light on our little domestic scene; our breath clouds the air between us. Conversation is short, only single words, repeated, as we can’t hear each other very well through the hoods covering our ears and wind blowing outside.
Red bottles are our pee bottles, blue for water, and every liquid is frozen solid in the mornings. We stuff the things we don’t want to freeze into our sleeping bags: water bottles, face wipes, gloves, chocolates. It’s rather crowded. I don’t sleep the first night, kept awake by the cold. I turn on the tent light – it’s 3 a.m. and the watch dangling next to the light shows -12C. I shuffle deeper into my sleeping bag and close the zipper over my head. Sleep in general is rough and I am lucky to catch a few hours every night. I lie awake pondering about the darkness around the tent and imagine I could hear the ice cracking underneath. When I wake Jamie with a whispered warning he says some calming words and goes back to sleep. I envy him.
Morning routines take us one and a half hours from waking up to clipping our bindings and setting off. It’s the same as the evening but in reverse – Jamie boils water for breakfast, I pack away the sleeping stuff and everything else we used in the night – hut booties, electrics, maps. Breakfast is dry ration strawberries and rice pudding, which is my preferred option. I throw the dry bags out of the back entrance into the snow near the pulks and we brush away any snow that’s got onto the tent floor, take down the tent and pack the pulks. The last thing we do is fill in the cooking hole with snow.
We see the Northern Lights on two other nights, but we are soon too tired to look out for them. After crossing the lake, we make our way to Ravnastua, a mountain hut three days from us. The last leg of the journey is uphill and the snow cover is deep, making for slow travel. We battle hard drifts of snow until we reach our goal at Ravnastua. The hut keeper at Ravnastua looks after us with hot chocolate and coffee poured from a large metal kettle. It’s tempting to think about staying at the hut for the night but we press on and set camp on the edges of a small birch forest. From there it’s another day to reach Karasjok. Dropping down from the plateau through the densely wooded sides of the valley below is a tough battle. The rope system we are using with our pulks offers less control than the rigid shafts we had used on previous trips. On steep sections the pulks keep sliding past us and pulling us off our feet if we don’t catch hold of the rope, or running us down from behind. After taking several falls and praying that the ground will level off after the next bend, it finally does. We’ve reached the valley bottom. Twenty minutes away from the road leading into Karasjok, we unceremoniously call a taxi and double-check they have enough room for two people with two pulks.
Despite the tiredness at the end of every day, there were so many moments that took our breath away. As the plane takes off from Lakselv airport we’re in silent agreement – we must come back!
Exped Adventure runs this expedition in March 2018. For more information visit expedadventure.com
Any questions or enquiries email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Jamie on 07854 197584
Dancing with Dragons - by David Hawthorn
Dragons’ Den, car-crash TV for the more discerning BBC2 audience
I must have watched dozens of episodes of the popular BBC television series Dragons’ Den. I’m sure you have too, but just in case you have missed this visual feast, let me outline the premise.
Budding entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to a panel of four wealthy individuals, the titular Dragons. The applicants are asking for money; investment for their businesses. Typically, they are looking for something in the region of £30,000 to £70,000 in return for a stake in their idea, which, of course, they assure the Dragons, cannot fail.
What makes it unmissable viewing, though, is watching some of their ill-prepared, poorly thought-out and deeply unprofessional pitches being ripped to shreds by the Dragons. I must confess that despite wincing at the cringe-worthy attempts to impress there is, to my shame, more schadenfreude in me than I would care to admit. This is car-crash TV for the more discerning BBC2 audience. But among the left-handed screwdrivers (not literally) there are occasional moments of genius. You can’t help but get hooked by some of the better, creative and often the simplest of ideas. If only I had a spare £30,000 to invest!
There have been some notable major successes from the show. I can vividly remember the episode in 2007 when Jamaican–British businessman, Levi Roots glided into the Den playing his guitar and singing as he launched his Reggae Reggae Sauce. With the help of the Dragons the sauce was on Sainsbury’s shelves nationwide within a month. Mr Roots is one of the standout successes of the show with the Reggae Reggae brand now worth millions. His story is the exception and there is another, less popular side to the series.
In February 2015, The Sunday Telegraph survey of all 143 entrepreneurs who had successfully agreed an investment1 found was that despite promises made on screen, over half never received the investment. Of those that did, around a third were no longer trading when their report was published. One in three had failed already.
Dragons’ Den is an entertaining presentation of the concept of equity investment, where money is injected into a business in return for a stake.
The failure rate from investments made in the Dragons’ Den is much lower than the norm, according to the Centre of Private Equity Research at the University of Passau.2 They concluded that two-thirds of businesses that receive investment (specifically venture-capital in this study) do not result in the management staying in ownership, the most common outcome being that the investment was written off, presumably as the business had folded, with ‘selling the business to a competitor’ the next most likely result.
You don’t need to be in debt to be in business
Debt kills businesses. It is a simple fact that all the available statistics support. According to government figures, each year 14,000 UK businesses become insolvent3 – that’s 50 every day! The need to service business debt is the single largest factor in business failure. The Business Angel investor that I met may have been happy with the one in five that would succeed, but spare a thought for the other four that won’t make it. Each insolvency represents someone’s dreams being dashed, and sadly in some cases, may lead to their bankruptcy. Around a quarter of all bankruptcies are the direct result of business failure.4
And yet none of this is necessary. You don’t need to be in debt to be in business. If there were no venture capitalists, no business angels or no bank loans, do you honestly think there would be no business? Clearly not, and history proves that was not the case.
Consider the great Victorian social-reforming businesspeople, chief among whom would probably be George Cadbury. Living and working in central Birmingham, George Cadbury was stirred into action to try to help the poor and deprived masses that he encountered around him. Initially he helped in what we would now call a drop-in centre, but this felt just like putting a sticking-plaster on a gaping wound. He could see a better alternative. He could use the family chocolate business to introduce real and lasting change for his employees, and from that, affect society.
He had a vision and was charged with evangelical zeal (or in his case, a Quaker zeal). As his business grew and prospered, he reinvested the profits into housing, education and recreational activities for his workforce with a great transformative effect. This is something he would not have been able to do if he had had a bank manager or equity partner breathing down his neck. In addition, he introduced changes to the weekly hours worked, giving time off for education and family life. He also introduced a pension fund out of his own pocket. These changes, among others, were a catalyst that brought about wholesale social reformation in the nation. None of which could have been possible if the person holding the purse-strings did not share his vision.
The ability to bring about social change through business is completely negated if the business carries debt.
Who said the ‘get rich quick’ philosophy was possible?
Having visited several business schools, my observation is that assumption that third-party investment is required to launch any business is typically being taught as the norm. The esteemed Harvard Business School, many would say the world leader in business training, runs a course on entrepreneurship entitled The Entrepreneurial Manager, TEM for short. The outline syllabus of TEM has the first two steps as: 1) Identify potentially valuable opportunities, then 2) Obtain the resources necessary to pursue an opportunity. In other words; Get an Idea – then Get Funded. Entrepreneurs are being set up as bait to those who seek to ensnare them in debt with a promise of get rich quick. Whatever happened to patience? As a direct consequence of this philosophy, banks fund small businesses to the tune of £100bn in the UK alone, with the average loan amount being around £88,000.5
There are, of course, many successful entrepreneurs in the world, but for every Mark Zuckerberg, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of business owners working hard to passionately pursue their millionaire dream. Sadly, many these single-minded entrepreneurs are also having to meet the expectations and demands of a financial stakeholder. Whether those demands come from equity investors or simply the requirement to keep up bank loan repayments, these additional expectations can so easily lead to the wealth-creative flame being extinguished.
Bank loans and other third-party investment are by no means essential for the establishment and growth of a business. In fact, such debt is positively dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. The alternative philosophy, that it is possible to launch and grow any business without any long-term debt, lies at the heart of the book Dancing with Dragons, Swimming with Sharks (Springmead, 2017).
Dancing with Dragons, Swimming with Sharks
When I set up my business in 2000, I made the conscious decision to do so debt-free and as such embarked upon a get rich slowly plan. In common with any small business owner, the years since then have been a roller coaster, but thankfully with a few more ups than downs.
The business started as just myself in a borrowed office with second-hand furniture and an old computer. I spent what I could afford and little by little, success was built upon success. The pace was manageable but by no means slow; our annual growth rate has averaged around 20% year on year. We are now the market leader in our field and blessed with a strong management team and great staff. If we had borrowed, would the business have grown faster? Possibly. There have been plenty of times I had considered it, and had several offers from funders who could see the potential. But I turned them all down and I am so glad I did. The absence of anyone looking over my shoulder has given me the freedom to diversify, the freedom to be creative and the freedom to pursue business that I might not have otherwise done. Which, in some cases, of course, was the freedom to make mistakes! It is interesting to note that of the various motives given for starting a business, a desire for freedom is often quoted in surveys as one of the main reasons entrepreneurs give. Saddling yourself with a debt gives you anything but freedom.
I have encapsulated all that I have learned over the years into the book, Dancing with Dragons, Swimming with Sharks. It is not an autobiography, but it is a positive statement of what can be achieved. I have collected the wisdom, practical tips and experiences that I have used over the years in an easy-to-digest format. Uniquely for business books, this is a light-hearted novel charting the story of Bob Cashmore as he launches his business and the pressures he faces on the way. The story is interwoven with 50 ‘top-tips’ that really work. There is plenty in this book that you will not read anywhere else, not least of which is the philosophy that you don’t need to be in debt to be in business.
2. The 2014 European Private Equity Activity, Statistics on Fundraising, Investments & Divestments EVCA, Brussels and Buchner, Axel, The Alpha and Beta of Private Equity Investments (24 October 2014). Available at SSRN.
3. The Insolvency Service: Insolvency Statistics – July to September 2016 (Q3 2016) adjusted pro-rata. Used under Open Government Licence v3.0. https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/insolvency-service-official-statistics.
4. The Insolvency Service: Bankruptcies by age gender and cause of insolvency 2015. Used under Open Government Licence v3.0. https https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/individual-insolvencies-by-location-age-and-gender-england-and-wales-2015.
5. Bank support for SMEs – 4th Quarter 2015, BBA, London.
Care for the Family
Strength for today... bright hope for tomorrow
It’s 7.28 p.m. on a Wednesday evening; just two minutes to go until it starts. A few last minute browsers hurry from the bookshop to the main auditorium to join the crowd pushing through the doors to find their seats. As the lights start to dim and the ushers close the doors, all is set for the speakers to take the stage and the evening to begin.
Just a few minutes later, a man sprints up the stairs and bursts into the foyer. After only just finishing a busy day at work, he’s driven hurriedly across the city. He’s not at all sure how this evening will help him be a better dad, but he really loves his son and wants their relationship to improve. Right now, he feels spent, weary, frustrated and almost done.
An usher welcomes him with a smile and an enthusiastic, “Enjoy the event.” He musters a hasty reply, “At my wits’ end.” Not the best greeting, but it’s how he feels. Juggling a demanding job with family life has become more than challenging in the last few months. Tense with the combination of stress and exhaustion, he finds a seat at the back of the hall.
As the event unfolds and the speakers share their stories, he begins to relax and occasionally smile. Suddenly, he finds himself laughing with the rest of the audience in recognition of a typical teenager/parent scenario. As he makes his way home, he realises that unexpectedly his mood has lightened. Yes, he’s still tired and he knows that there are probably still some battles ahead, but he’s encouraged. He knows that he’s not alone, other parents are going through the same challenges, and he knows that things can be different.
The event that story refers to was run by Care for the Family, a charity I started that aims to make a difference in the lives of people like this man and his son. Next year we will be celebrating 30 years of running events and producing practical resources for couples and parents. Our aim is to strengthen families in the good times and support them when life is tough. This year alone we are running more than 50 public events, participating in major conferences and festivals such as Spring Harvest, Big Church Day Out and New Wine, and we continue to expand our courses, training, books, DVDs, podcasts and other resources. We love to meet people everywhere from Belfast to Bradford, Eastbourne to Edinburgh and towns and cities in-between when we hold our events as well as connecting with people online through our website or on Twitter and Facebook.
“What we want to do in Care for the Family is strengthen families in the good times and come alongside them when life is more difficult. Even in the toughest of times in family life, we want you to know that you are not alone.”
Our passion is to strengthen marriages, equip parents and support those who are bereaved. Family life is a joy and a blessing, but we all know that troubles can come along and suddenly our family can feel fragile. Single parents, parents caring for a child with additional needs, bereaved parents or those widowed young face particular challenges, and we all have to deal with the pressures of our modern lifestyle and culture.
One of our priorities at present is to give parents confidence in raising their children in a digital age. We want to provide them with practical advice on screen time, social media and consumer culture, as well as helping them deal with serious issues such as online bullying, grooming and pornography. Safeguarding our children from potential dangers is vital if we want to help them take full advantage of all that digital technology has to offer.
“It is too easy to make the internet a scapegoat for the pressures on our children today. We need to realise that the problem doesn’t lie in the internet itself, but in the choices we make in how we use it.”
Katharine Hill, UK Director of Care for the Family and author of Left to Their Own Devices? Confident Parenting in a World of Screens (Muddy Pearl)
This year we are running two new events specifically for men or for women to strengthen them as individuals, encourage them, affirm them in their identity and challenge them to make a difference in their home, workplace, church and community. The Free to Be events for women earlier this year were sold out and received incredibly positive feedback from the hundreds of women who came. Later this year, we will be launching In the Arena, an event for men that gives practical, tested advice about how to deal with some of life’s challenges. Our two speakers come from very different backgrounds and have a vast range of experiences. Gerrit Bantjes was a British Army paratrooper and a fitness coach at Cardiff Rugby Club. Regular drills or training routines helped prepare him to be effective, building up strength and resilience for when he needed them most. Philip Jinadu leads Woodlands Metro, a thriving church in the heart of Bristol, and he too understands the need to be ready – not just in his role as a busy church leader but as the founder of Love Running, an initiative that encourages people to get fit, make friends and change the world.
“In the army we repeated battle drills – tactics and routines – so that we could react rapidly to events. Playing rugby, we practiced drills until we could do them with our eyes shut. Drills are an essential ingredient for high performance and success. Drills save lives. As men of faith this becomes even more paramount.”
This mindset has shaped the In the Arena event. Gerrit and Philip will talk about how we perform in some of the main arenas of life – our work, family, health, faith and friendships. Sharing insights from their experiences of both triumph and adversity, their aim is to strengthen and empower men at every stage of their lives – to help them be ready for whatever life holds.
All of us are in life’s arena and we will face challenges, uncertainties or difficulties that can really test our integrity, resilience and character. In the Arena looks at what we can do to be ready to deal with those issues that can affect our most important relationships, our work and our inner, spiritual lives.
The image of ‘training’ and an athlete’s determination is in the Bible: “Run to win … … with purpose in every step” (1 Corinthians 9:24,26, NLT). We want you to have that same sense of purpose in your life, so don’t miss coming with your friends to In the Arena where you’ll enjoy a great evening of encouragement and some helpful ideas.
There are seasons in family life when many of us feel like the man I wrote about at the start of this article. Perhaps you, too, feel weary or frustrated, and if that’s you right now, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. At Care for the Family we see enough heartache and pain in a week to last a lifetime. We know that there are often no easy answers, but we want to come alongside you and offer what support and encouragement we can.
A couple of years ago, a woman approached me in the interval of one of our evening parenting events. She said, “When I was a little girl, your books used to be on my parents’ bookshelves, and then their marriage went through a difficult period and they were helped by watching your Marriage Matters video.” (I remember filming it in the Wembley Conference Centre in 1991.) She continued, “When I got married, they gave us a copy of The Sixty Minute Marriage book, and then a little later when we were having a tough time in our relationship, we watched your 21st Century Marriage DVD. We came through that time and now my husband and I run Care for the Family’s marriage courses to help other couples.”
I felt about 112.
My hope is for Care for the Family to go on touching lives for another 30 years and beyond – not just for our sake or the sake of our children, but for our children’s children. When we strengthen family life, we affect the very foundation of our society and change all our tomorrows for good.
Here are a few routines or ‘drills’ to remember that will help to strengthen some important areas of your life and relationships:
Building your marriage
- Cherish – don’t take your husband or wife for granted.
- Connect – remember the art of communication.
- Collaborate – work together and resolve conflict positively.
- Commit – when things are tough remember that love is a choice.
Being a dad
- Lead by example – our actions speak louder than our words.
- Encourage – praise and affirm your children with kind words and actions.
- Build a sense of belonging – create family traditions to form strong memories and deepen bonds.
- Set boundaries – give your children security and help teach them self-control and respect for others.
Guarding your heart
- Don’t become desensitised – don’t let society blur your sense of your own moral standards.
- Be vigilant – don’t become complacent or morally relaxed.
- Stay focused – watch what you look at.
- Don’t rationalise – don’t convince yourself that what you are doing wrong is actually right.
- Don’t let things degenerate – beware getting to a point where your actions have really serious consequences.
Impossible is a Dare - by Elizabeth Neep
Five years is a long time. It was for William. That’s at least as long as he was locked into a cycle of exploitation, moved from city to city across the UK.
Every day, ordinary people passed by the house where he was painting and plastering for no pay, at the hands of violent traffickers. He looked like a legitimate labourer. But the reality could not be further from the truth. The conditions William was made to eat and sleep in were subhuman; there were rooms full of others who were being similarly exploited. Body after body forced to live, eat and sleep in cramped conditions. William was a strong man. He felt ashamed that he had allowed himself to end up in this situation, but he also felt trapped.
After a few years he met Samuel. Samuel seemed like a kindred spirit. They would talk occasionally, when they found a moment out of earshot of the traffickers. It was during one such discussion that they agreed that together they would try to survive. They went on the run. They were frightened; they were tired and unable to afford transport out of the area; they lived in constant fear of being found…
William and Samuel were constantly on edge. They could not relax. They could not sleep. But what kept them going was the knowledge of what they had escaped from. They ended up living on the streets. Even though their existence was hard, they knew they had done the right thing. Hope for Justice identified William and Samuel on the streets after a referral was made to their specialist team by an organization Hope for Justice had trained. The Hope for Justice team made sure the pair were put up in a safe house; they were given clothing, food, but most importantly, they were given hope. This intervention meant they no longer needed to live in fear of their traffickers.
Ben Cooley was 26 years old when he first heard about human trafficking. Not knowing what to do but knowing that he had to do something, Ben proceeded to book Birmingham’s NEC arena to gather people together to talk and pray about the issue. He didn’t have the first idea about putting on a major event; he didn’t even have an organisation at the time. But God had given him a vision: to live in a world free from slavery.
Today, Hope for Justice – the global non-profit organisation co-founded and led by Ben – is working to end human trafficking and modern-day slavery across the globe. “I never thought we would end up where we are,” Ben admits when asked about the journey the organisation has been on since its inception in 2007. “When I first heard about the issue of modern-day slavery, I literally thought I would put on an awareness event and promote other organisations, never did I think that I would end up being a leader of an organisation that has offices all over the world and that rescues hundreds of people, trains thousands and works with governments and businesses to address this issue of modern-day slavery. I sit here in absolute humility in the fact that people have aligned themselves with us as an organisation, that they believe the same thing as we believe.”
The vision of Hope for Justice – to live in a world free from slavery – has certainly captured the hearts and minds of many who have lent their voices to the fight. High-profile individuals such as Stephen Fry, Bear Grylls, Rend Collective, Jesus Culture and Tim Hughes have all shown their support for the cause. Meanwhile, Hope for Justice has also received political acclaim, having recently been invited to the White House to brief Donald Trump on the issue of sex-trafficking and providing recommendations on the topic in Westminster. Theresa May – who at the time of writing is the Prime Minister of the UK – has also praised the “important work Hope for Justice is doing to tackle modern-day slavery”.
“I champion any government that wants to put this issue at the forefront,” Ben explains when asked about the Prime Minister’s support. “For me, it’s one of the most important issues of our generation. I am incredibly humbled by the support of Theresa May, but I am humbled by anyone’s support … it’s because of the support of so many people and other organisations that we are able to do the stuff that we do. I was with a seven-year-old girl a couple of weeks ago [who now has] her freedom and restoration because of the support of individuals. We’ve got incredible supporters that have great public platforms, whether that’s into the celebrity world, the political world or the business world. If we get all those worlds aligned – media, government – we’ve gone a long way to actually make the issue known and we’ve got influencers who can make things happen.”
Hope for Justice has seen the rapid growth and popularity that many non-profit organisations could only dream of. And yet, the journey so far has not been without its costs. In his debut book, Impossible is a Dare, published by SPCK in July 2017, Ben speaks with honesty and vulnerability about financial hardship and the loneliness of leadership he experienced during the early days of Hope for Justice. But had he known the cost, would he still have booked the NEC arena for the event that started it all?
“People say ignorance is bliss,” Ben laughs before resuming his usual impassioned tone. “Well, there is a lot to be said about that ignorance. Sometimes you can get so consumed by something that the cost doesn’t seem so great, but now that I look back I can see that the early days of Hope for Justice were actually a really dark moment in my life. But I think I kept going because I have such a strong affinity to my ‘why?’. ‘Why am I doing this?’ But would I do it again? Absolutely, of course I would, because freedom is worth the fight. At Hope for Justice we believe that recuing even one person is worth it. I’ve held a three-month-old baby we’ve been able to rescue; I’ve sat next to and cried with children [who are] seven years old who have been through sexual exploitation. I’ve met men, women, families that have been exploited now walking free because of Hope for Justice. So would I book that arena? Every, single, day; because this is an important issue that needs our generation, and the generations, to stand up and do something about it.”
Inspiring our generation to fight slavery is central to everything Hope for Justice do; this is not an organisation wanting to work against people but with people. In many ways it was this desire that led Ben to write his first book.
“I’ve tried my very hardest to go through this process with a sense of integrity,” Ben begins when explaining what led him to write Impossible is a Dare. “I asked myself repeatedly, ‘Why do I want to write a book? Is it because I have a story to tell? Or is it because I want to promote the organisation?’ And I think it’s a little bit of both. But in addition to that, it is to inspire people to take a chance on their dreams. I took up my ‘dare’ because someone believed in me. When I shared my vision of putting on a major event to talk about trafficking, I was fully anticipating someone [would] say, ‘Hey, don’t do that, you can’t do that, it’s impossible.’ But what the leaders in my life did … was say, ‘Go and believe in the dream, you can do this and I will help you.’ I suppose I have written a book to speak to a generation of people who might have their vision, their dreams, their aspirations, but who might not have someone saying, ‘Go and do it, it’s possible.’ Great things happen because normal people step out of the line of normality and speak for something that really matters. I’ve written a book to share my story and say, ‘Hey, look, I was an opera singer, dyslexic, 26 years old – there were a lot of things against me, but there was one thing for me, I had the passion and determination to make a difference.’ And if you have that, I believe you can change the world. I want to break that illusion of ‘impossibility’ and say to people, ‘No, you can do extraordinary things, step out of that line of normality and do something – impossible, is a dare.’”
Since daring to challenge the status quo, seemingly ‘impossible’ things have certainly come into being for Hope for Justice, who earlier this year were invited to brief President Trump in the White House. “We’ve had the enormous privilege of speaking to incredibly powerful people in politics and throughout the world,” explains Ben, when speaking of the invitation. “This was one of those occasions where we were invited with a small group of people to speak to President Trump about the issue of modern-day slavery. We raised the issue of addressing slavery in the supply chains … if governments can get this right we can empower businesses across the world to ethically look into their supply chains.
“I was recently speaking at a closed event for CEOs about one of the cases we worked on where we identified 33 people in the supply chains of one of the most well-respected brands in the UK,” Ben continues. “When the interviewer disclosed their name, over 100 CEOs gasped. The next statement lingered across the room: ‘If this brand, which is known for ethically sourcing, has slavery in its supply chain, God help us.’”
For Hope for Justice, an organisation proud and unapologetic about its Christian faith, this last comment no doubt rang true.
“My faith is very important to me, personally and corporately,” Ben explains. “I love the fact that the God I worship cares about the poor and the weak and the marginalised. But I also believe he has made me to care for the poor, the weak and the marginalised. I think he has made everyone to care about them, which is why I celebrate the fact that there is such a diverse group of people who support the fight against slavery, from different political and religious backgrounds. I believe we are all made to be compassionate to our fellow human beings. So I love the fact that as a Christian I get to stand with people of other faiths, political beliefs or cultural understandings and to have one heartbeat together, one thing to unite us; we believe slavery is wrong, and I’ll stand with anyone who says those words: that they want to live in a world free from slavery.
“There are so many priorities across different churches and not every church is going to be able to fight every issue,” Ben continues, “but I remember the words of Jesus, ‘whatever you did unto the least of these …’ [see Matthew 25:40] Is fighting injustice – of any kind – a priority in your church? If not, I’d question that because it’s a priority for the head of the church: Jesus.”
When it comes to sex-trafficking, the face of this injustice is usually that of a young girl. However, speaking to Sorted, Ben makes clear that there is a heart-breaking and unique issue when it comes to men.
“I think very little is being done about addressing male victims of modern-day slavery, whether from forced labour, sex-trafficking or domestic servitude. One thing that is common in male victims – regardless of the type of exploitation they’ve experienced – is the shame they feel. They feel like they should have been able to avoid this. A lot of them wanted to provide for their families. I remember one chap, 58 years old, who told me that he saw himself sold for less than £300. As a man, I am passionate about ending slavery for girls but I am also fighting for men. I’m saying, ‘Brother, I’ve got you. I know it’s hard, I know it’s difficult.’ One of the heart-breaking things about my role is people coming up to me and saying, ‘I only want to support young girls who have been sold; men should be able to support themselves.’ The things that those men have been through – I’m with them and I’m going to stand with them for their freedom until we end this.”
To find out more about how you can support Hope for Justice, visit hopeforjustice.org. Impossible is A Dare by Ben Cooley is available to purchase on Amazon, Eden and in your local Christian bookshop today.
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