Hope Grows in Messy Places

Hope Grows in Messy Places

In the centre of Kibera slum, Nairobi, Kenya, on what used to be a rubbish dump, stand three schools, a boarding house for teenage girls, a church, a medical clinic, some outhouses for animals and a basic kitchen. There are fewer open sewers and more roads here than anywhere else in Kibera and every day 1,400 children come to learn and be fed.

 

In January this year a team of six British women left the Midlands to spend a week helping in one of the schools. It’s hard being a child in Kibera slum. Some drop out of school when they are eight to work on the rubbish dump, rummaging through the waste looking for things to sell. There is a high rate of unemployment and alcoholism. Girls are vulnerable to sexual exploitation and trafficking. A 12-year-old girl’s education isn’t as valuable to a Kiberan father as the dowry of cows her marriage might bring. Rachel and Hannah from Hinckley, Leicestershire spent the week with the teenage girls.

 

“They were aged between 15 and 19 and most hadn’t reached the level of GCSE or equivalent. Our team tried to address mental health at a very basic level – talking about good thoughts and bad thoughts and how we can deal with them. We adapted material that had previously been delivered to UK teenage girls focusing on identity. It’s a Christian resource, exploring God’s love for them. We wanted them to know how much they are loved and valued because their world doesn’t communicate that. It’s not news that teenage girls in the West struggle with mental health issues, self-harm and even thoughts of suicide. The girls in Kibera have the same struggles, and in addition they have to exist on the poverty line in a culture that gives them little sense of worth. We encouraged them to write down their bad thoughts and we gathered them like bad seeds and burned them on a bonfire. For homework we put the girls in pairs and asked them to write down something good that they saw in their partner. The next day they ‘planted the good seed’ by speaking out that affirmation to each other – looking into each other’s eyes as they delivered it.

 

“During the week we witnessed these young women recognising and releasing some specific bad thoughts that weighed them down. One confessed she had been feeling very low, to the point of considering suicide, but after being affirmed by the other girls in her class she felt lighter. She shared that she felt loved and that life was worth living. As they continued to speak out the good they saw in each other, we saw their relationships with [one another] deepen. It’s a wonderful legacy we hope long outlives our return to England.”

 

The rest of the English team worked with the younger children. They attend the school from age three and at lunchtime even the two-year-olds wander in unaccompanied for their free meal before toddling back into the slum.”

 

The schools provide these children with opportunities they otherwise would not have had. Despite limited facilities, they boast championship girls’ hockey and volleyball teams. These and more are testimony to the work, faith and commitment of Kenyan pastors Chris and Joanna who set up this settlement. Joanna herself grew up on Kibera slum and knows just how hard it is to escape generational poverty. They have been living out their vision alongside the people of Kibera for 25 years. Feed the Hungry partners with them, providing the meals and giving resources towards their building projects. Just 12 months ago, the boarding accommodation that now houses and protects 64 vulnerable girls was no more than a pile of bricks. Hope grows in messy places; it turns out that buildings can too. All it takes is ordinary people with hearts of compassion willing to scatter some good seed. Of the team that went out with Feed the Hungry, one woman was 73 years old, with impaired vision. This was her first mission trip.

 

Pastors Chris and Joanna continue to explore new projects to benefit the people of Kibera, including water purification and a fish pond.

 

For more information, or if you would like to support our work in Kibera, please contact feedthehungry.org.uk.

Jim Caviezel - Actor of Biblical Proportions

Jim Caviezel, who plays the physician and evangelist Luke in Paul, Apostle of Christ is no stranger to taking on challenging biblical acting roles, following his portrayal of Jesus in the 2004 film The Passion of the Christ.

 

Despite reportedly receiving warnings from Mel Gibson that playing Jesus would hurt his acting career, he took the risk.

 

During filming he suffered from pneumonia and hypothermia, was struck by lightning, accidentally scourged and had his shoulder dislocated. Years later, he admitted that good roles had been hard to come by since, but stated he had no regrets about taking the role.

 

Following The Passion of the Christ, Caviezel used some of his fee from the film to pay for three Chinese children with cancer to receive medical treatment. Along with his wife, Kerri Browitt, who he married in 1996, they ended up adopting the three children, saying: “They are people, just like us.”

 

He also used the platform of such a high-profile role to begin to give motivational talks on college campuses across America, which he continues to do today.

 

Caviezel was raised in the countryside of Mount Vernon in Washington in a devout Christian home as one of five siblings. The Caviezels were a family of athletes and Jim’s passion was playing basketball. But it wasn’t until a foot injury ended his hopes of a career in the sport that he stumbled across acting.

 

He told me how his parents, his basketball coaches and some of the biggest names in the film industry were his greatest role models as he went on to become a Hollywood star:

 

“I had good parenting from my father. My parents were not perfect, but they continued as we all do to try to be better. My basketball coaches had an impact on me, even the bad ones. They were just as helpful because I learned what not to be.

 

“Charlton Heston was also one of my greatest role models. Also, there was a lot of what I saw early on with Kevin Costner when I was around him on the set of Wyatt Earp and how generous he was to me.

 

“As far as Mel Gibson as a filmmaker and his work ethic, I take pieces of it but that doesn’t mean that I’m working with people that are perfect across the board or that are not sinful.

 

“I also got to meet Jimmy Stewart on many occasions; and I knew quite a bit about him. He was a great role model and a great American. He served our country very bravely. He flew 26 missions in the Liberator over Germany.

 

“Still to this day I can’t watch It’s a Wonderful Life without crying every Christmas. That film has great power in it … for example, the message that without you this world would be a different place … I think that’s how God speaks to me. And when I talk to young people I say if you thought that from the small town that I came from that I ever thought that I was going to be known as the man who played Jesus, I’d say you got the wrong guy. But, you know, I was asked, I did it and the same thing with Paul, the Apostle of Christ. I just say, “Guys, if we’re going do this movie, we’ve got to make something that’s going to last forever.”

 

Fourteen years after taking on the role of Jesus, I asked him why he decided to portray Luke in Paul, Apostle of Christ:

 

“I didn’t think that I was going to be playing Jesus in The Passion of the Christ when it occurred. I just found it a hard time turning down Mel Gibson and a phenomenal script. I mean, it just always came down to the material to me.

“I think it’s harder in this day and age to make those kinds of films. Gone are the days of Charlton Heston and making a film like The Ten Commandments that Christians as a whole are going to find fantastic. In Paul, Apostle of Christ, the performances are really strong but the words are … stronger. I love the Scripture and the way … it’s very provocative. My industry likes provocativeness in a different way. I’m lucky that I get to be the guy that, you know, gets to do it. I just want to make sure it’s executed properly.”

Jim concluded by explaining how the greatest controversy of this film is the message of forgiveness:

“It does not mean weakness, it does not mean passivity, but it means forgiving despite … the situation, that you can look evil in the face, and we need that now. It is very easy to love people who think like you think. It is very difficult to treat someone who has polar opposite views with the same dignity and respect that you would treat a friend. That’s the core message of this movie, and that is the reason why I wanted to be a part of it, because it has an edge to it.

 

“Especially in these times when people are talking about civil war, do you have any idea what you’re asking? We need to start listening to each other and it starts from one side ... that’s why it’s very hard to be a Christian, you have to be the one to do it. You’re the one that’s going to be Christ. You’re gonna have to die to yourself to be able to do that. And I think that once people start listening to each other that it takes that first person to do that.”

The ‘Reverse Snip’ of Leadership

From firing blanks to conceiving some new life in your leadership

 

In 1st June this year, I helped a friendly middle-aged woman understand something she’d never figured out:

“Why am I happy donating to children on Comic Relief,” she asked me, when I mentioned working with charities “but when a well-known children’s charity knocks on my door, with pictures of children, I feel the opposite of generous, and want to slam the door?”

 

I explained that to be generous, her brain needed some level of emotional connection and the fellow at the door – by intruding on her evening – had burned any possibility of that. I was lying on my back and I had an ulterior motive in explaining this to (we’ll call her Carol). An ageing Polish man sat nearby, fiddling with my intimate regions.

 

The Diazepam® Dilemma

 

She was the nurse. He the surgeon. I was the patient and I’d been a naughty boy.

 

If you’ve had a vasectomy, you’ll know you’re meant to take 10mg of Diazepam (another name for Valium), a powerful prescription relaxant. But my mate had warned me off it: “I came out of the operation, and staggered past others waiting for theirs, shaking all their hands, telling them what a great doctor he was and what I’d just had done. I was off my head. I could barely walk.”

 

When you work for yourself, a day not working, or worse, off your head, firing off Valium-induced insane emails to clients, is bad news. So, I skipped the Diazepam, but had to then prove I was relaxed enough without the drug for Dr Snip to proceed. I convinced him by calmly explaining to Carol what was behind her reactions. Thankfully, the doc was convinced.

 

I also have some smart clothes

 

I’m Steve, I’m married to Ruth, have four kids (hence the snip) and love the outdoors. As I write, we’re packing for three weeks under canvas, when we’ll be snaring rabbits, catching fish, cooking on fires.

 

I also have some smart clothes, which I put on for my day job helping people, organisations and good causes work out how to lead, to persuade, to affect the thoughts and behaviours of others. Leadership by another name.

 

So, sit back, relax, and see the next ten minutes as a ‘reverse snip’: helping you conceive a seed of leadership in areas where until now you might have been firing blanks.

 

The mannequin

 

All of us either try to lead what hits us each day, or we follow circumstance or the path of least resistance when stuff hits us. A fellow called Howard Gardner, in a book called Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership, brought leadership down to its basics when he put it like this:

 

“A leader is an individual … who significantly affects the thoughts, feelings, and/or behaviors of a significant number of individuals.”

 

Leadership gets dressed up more than a mannequin in a shop window – but underneath all the garments, leadership hasn’t changed: it’s still about affecting people in a way which changes their thinking, feelings and how they act. When did you do this recently? Might have been your partner, wife, girlfriend, parents, children, mates, boss – whoever. When did you last ‘lead’ your boss (or, to dress up the leadership mannequin, “manage upwards”)?

 

To avoid being forced to take the Diazepam, I had to show the surgeon I was relaxed enough and not going to freak out when he started pulling tubes from my privates. I managed to ‘affect’ him and he went ahead. I ‘led’ him the way I wanted him to go, despite his medical concerns. And after, I went home and did a day’s work (wearing Y-Fronts for the first time in 20 years).

 

A huge elephant and a naked mannequin

 

In the next five minutes I’ll frame leadership in a way you might not have come across: by understanding what fires people’s brains and prompts them to respond and follow your lead.

 

But first, let’s undress the mannequin: let’s take all the layers of clothing off leadership and bring it back to a simple, everyday decision. And, let’s name the elephant – and it’s a huge one – in the leadership room.

 

Though elephants in rooms have a way of not being named, heck, let’s name this one. He’s called Stooge. And his job is to steer ‘leadership’ so that it remains in one arena, catering to one style of leader – corporate suits (or, a less favourable term: corporate stooges) in office blocks, leading change processes and wrestling with strategic scenarios. Important stuff, but well removed from everyday life. And that’s the problem – though leadership is an everyday thing for everyday f people, it’s now seen by the corporate clothes it’s been dressed in.

 

I’ve run long and involved days with corporates to help extract what is blindingly obvious – but the leadership approach has prevented anyone saying what’s obvious. So, one of two things happen:

 

A consultant (like me) gets called in to help frame the questions in a way which doesn’t directly name the problem but points to it – with the consultant then drawing up a lengthy paper revealing – and owning – what they diagnose the issue to be.

 

Mid-level staff call in a consultant and explain the problem they see and the solution they know will work (given their knowledge of the business). But, they explain, when they’ve suggested it, senior leaders closed it down. So, they want an external consultant to come in and present it as their own idea – one that’s gaining traction in the market. Invariably this works, and the idea is implemented. But – there’s a cost. This leadership approach creates the ‘stooge leader’ (someone who appears to just toe the corporate line, and follow the corporate leader). And so, the elephant in the room is born…

 

Elon Musk – the chap behind Tesla electric cars – nailed the problem in less than 30 words:

 

“The problem is that at a lot of big companies, process becomes a substitute for thinking. You’re encouraged to behave like a little gear in a complex machine.”

 

Happily, Google, Tesla and an increasing number of corporates are rethinking what leadership can look like in business, making it more accessible, less ‘stooge-like’.

 

What they show is that when we bring leading down from the corporate scaffold it’s been lynched to, it’s less about platforms, and more about persuading. Less about change processes and more about influencing the thoughts, feelings and actions of people around you.

 

Milliseconds not months

 

Let’s dethrone the assumption that anything which is properly useful – anything that could change how you approach life and improve your lot – has to involve lots of time, weeks, months, even years. It doesn’t.

Your brain works in milliseconds. It’s processing this article now, and unknown to you using stored images gathered since you were born to help it decide whether you think it useful, or not.

 

You’ll know if you run a small business – say you’re a plumber employing two others – just how fast you can make key decisions on a job. And so it is with leading.

 

So, in less than the time it took you to calm down after seeing England beaten in the World Cup semi-final (writing this the day after), you can understand the brain’s action area – which is where people are influenced to act…

 

There’s lots of triggers in your brain, and mine, and in the people you need to lead. Every decision you make is because this action region of your brain’s been triggered. It’s the same for those you’re leading. Know the triggers and you know where leading happens…

 

There are four steps, each of which triggers the action brain and enables you to lead:

 

CONNECTION

Find connection with the person you’re trying to lead

 

Emotional connection triggers the action area of the brain – making the brain ready to listen and act. A common interest, a question about them – what they do, how their partner is, will create connection on which you can introduce the nitty-gritty…

 

WHY

Start with WHY not WHAT

 

Instinct tells you to start with the details – the WHAT – but ‘what’ will trigger the ‘conclusion’ area in the brain. You’ll get questions and theoretical conclusions but no action. It’s WHY that triggers the brain region responsible for action. So, start with the WHY: start with the reasons why you want this to happen; why this will be a good thing to do. That why will form a backdrop to make sense of, and give life to, the ‘what’ information.

 

PICTURES

Paint a picture for their brains to lock onto – and take away

 

Their brain sees the world in pictures. Think of a red bus – your brain provides a picture/image for you. And it’s pictures that’s are so critical to give the person you’re leading – because pictures speak to the action area of the brain. Their brains form this picture, and they’ll see themselves in it. Your words are a vehicle: you need to load them with pictures.

 

CONTRAST

When you reach the point of a decision – use contrast

 

If there’s a new product you need – bike, car, phone – and in a store, someone offers you one, your brain is a lot more likely to say no, than if they offer you two to compare. Imagine in the brains of those you’re leading are a pair of weighing scales. Their action brain makes decisions using these – and if only one ‘product’ is placed on one side, the brain will balance and weigh this with its own alternative – which will be “Don’t buy this one”. If, though, the brain is given two options to weigh, the probability that it will select one is increased.

Let me wrap by naming that when you lead something, you shape it. And when you don’t lead something, you still shape it. Alexander the Great said, “I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.” Even if the lion-leader within has been dozing by the fire, it’s never too late to wake him. Use the four brain-triggers above, and if you love a good book, visit Amazon and get your hands on Centre Brain.

Sorted Issue 65

Issue 65 is crammed full with fantastic articles, including one featuring 80's icon Tom Selleck. We also discuss Mental Health and the brand new DS 7 Crossback along with many more brilliant articles from our great team of columnists. Don’t miss this limited edition magazine.

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Behind The Moustache By Violet Wilder

Onscreen, Tom Selleck has a reputation for playing reliable, straightforward men; but his life offscreen is a little more complex, proving that there is more to everyone’s favourite moustachioed actor than meets the eye.

 

Those growing up in the 80s will best remember actor Tom Selleck as private investigator Thomas Magnum in the eponymous hit TV show Magnum, P.I.; or perhaps it’s his charming turn in romantic comedy Three Men and a Baby and 1990 sequel Three Men and a Little Lady that resonates best when it comes to one of the industry’s most likeable guys.

 

Further roles as dashing ophthalmologist Dr Richard Burke in Friends and Commissioner Frank Reagan in CBS’s hit cop show Blue Bloods, followed, not to mention a brilliant portrayal of brave police chief Jesse Stone in the Hallmark film series based on Robert B. Parker’s crime novels.

 

Selleck has done the lot, and across multiple genres since securing his break at the ripe old age of 35 (by Hollywood standards, anyway) with the now 73-year-old Michigan native a reassuring presence on our screens for more than four decades. Wholesome, handsome and honourable are words often used to describe the man who is as American as apple pie, and humble as it too. “There was a time I could have been mistaken for Burt Reynolds – I had a moustache and so did he,” laughs Selleck. “But he was the number one star in the world, so there wasn’t really much confusion.”

 

Selleck was born in Detroit in the mid-1940s to hardworking blue-collar parents, and was the second-born of four children. His mother, Martha, was a housewife, and his strict father, Robert – who often beat the young Tom for his mischievous antics – worked as a carpenter. Far from being the financially devastated city it is today, back then Detroit was a thriving metropolis and the heart of the automobile industry. Even so, there was little carpentry work in a town built on steel and steam, so Robert upped sticks and moved his brood to Sherman Oaks, California where he used his savings to invest in real estate.

 

There, the Sellecks thrived, including a teenage Tom, whose natural athletic ability landed him a basketball scholarship at the University of Southern California where he majored in business administration. USC is famed for shaping business leaders and entrepreneurs, but things took a different turn for Selleck, who was encouraged by a drama coach at the college to consider acting. This led to appearances on The Dating Game (a blind date-style show), stints as a model, dozens of commercials for the likes of Pepsi and Safeguard deodorant, and finally, a contract with 20th Century Fox upon graduation.

 

“I think, when I went to Fox, I was on my own with no frame of reference, no connection. I’d never done a play in my life. I started at about $35 a week, and every six months you either got fired or renewed. If you got renewed, you got a raise on their term contracts,” said the star of his original stint as an actor.

 

Despite showing such early promise, Selleck’s career in Hollywood was cut short when he was called up to fight in the Vietnam war, enlisting in the California National Guard in the 160th infantry regiment from 1967 to 1973. A period of great learning for the star, who even appeared on army recruitment posters. “I am a veteran, I’m proud of it,” says Selleck. “I was a sergeant in the US army infantry, National Guard, Vietnam era. We’re all brothers and sisters in that sense.”

 

It is not hard to understand Selleck’s long-running appeal in America where such values as honour and integrity are highly regarded. Even his most famous roles, from ex-US Navy SEAL Magnum to the upstanding Commissioner Reagan, the central characters are law-abiding citizens who always serve the good, before they serve themselves. Those are traits that Selleck, a member of the Disciples of Christ Protestant Church, feels are vital in today’s reckless society.

 

“I try very hard to conduct myself in an ethical way, because that’s important to my stability now. We’re a culture that’s so centred on the individual,” he observes. “It’s the culture that says nothing is more important than the way you feel. We’re living in an age that celebrates unchecked impulses.

“As far as Blue Bloods goes, there’s a really interesting Catholic edge to this, and I’m glad it’s there. A lot of the time religious groups are derided or criticised in drama, or made to look peculiar. I think it’s very healthy to have such a positive influence of faith in an otherwise very approachable cop drama.

“I’m not saying we need to start moving firmer positive religious undertones into what we watch; I just wonder why it’s not been do so much before now.”

 

That’s for others to decide – Selleck is a professional who takes care of his job first and foremost, and has resisted the urge to speak up about the current Hollywood sex scandal… in fact, this is probably the first time his name has even been used in the same sentence as the now ubiquitous #MeToo hashtag, as the star conducts a private life with the same grace and poise as he does his public outings. He has been married twice; firstly, to model Jacqueline Ray in 1971 – Selleck adopted her son, Kevin Shepard, and despite their subsequent divorce after nine years of marriage, still considers himself to be Kevin’s father – before wedding his current wife, Jillie Mack, in 1987, with whom he has one daughter, Hannah, 29.

 

But such a respectable public persona doesn’t necessarily mean Selleck’s red, white and blue ethics are beyond reproach. For society has changed enormously in the last 40 years, and so has Hollywood. And while it is perhaps ill-advised to look at the past through today’s lens, it has nonetheless become a common practice of today’s younger generation, who are considered more tolerant, compassionate and less blindly patriotic that their elders.

 

A good example of this was when beloved show Friends made its debut on Netflix in the UK earlier this year. No doubt the leading streaming service predicted it would spark a resurgence of popularity for the light-hearted comedy within the internet generation, but instead Millennials were shocked by storylines, branding the show transphobic, homophobic and sexist. Viewers found gags regarding Chandler’s (Matthew Perry’s) cross-dressing father as distasteful; they considered Rachel’s (Jennifer Aniston’s) hiring of an assistant based on his attractiveness to be sexual harassment; and the union between Courtney’s Cox’s Monica and her father’s best friend who was 20 years her senior, Selleck’s Richard Burke, to be just plain wrong.

 

Equally, Selleck’s staunch support of the NRA (National Rifle Association) is a quality which would have been celebrated in Hollywood of old, but may be seen as an archaic view by current standards, given the rise in violent gun crime. Then again, why would a man who has served for his country and played several gun-toting law officials onscreen not be an advocate for the right of every American to bear arms? In fact, even in 2008 Selleck unexpectedly found himself in the firing line of Rosie O’Donnell’s liberal agenda when he appeared on her show. Despite protesting that he came on the show “to plug a movie, not have a debate”, a furious O’Donnell continued her onslaught until Selleck reasoned calmly: “We all agree we need to solve social problems. My leanings tend toward individualist solutions.”

 

Politically too, he has drawn ire for his right-leaning policies, notably his 2004 donations to George W. Bush and 2008 backing of Republican presidential hopeful John McCain (prior to this he has made smaller contributions to Democratic candidates), though now declares himself to be a “registered independent with lots of libertarian views”. Again, Selleck doggedly combats critics with diplomacy, remarking: “I’ve learned by hanging out in Hollywood, where I disagree politically with many, that most people’s hearts are in the right place, and the only thing we have to argue about is the way to solve the problems.”

Selleck is right to defend his values, though these days he is far more reluctant to discuss such matters publicly, understanding that in our bid to become more tolerant as a society it is important we still listen to the views of others. Whether certain parts of his ideology are divisive or not, his overall view that we ought to work together to solve the world’s ills, that we have a responsibility both collectively and individually to improve humanity for all, is a positive one.

 

Throughout a career which has been challenging at times, the worldly wise actor has, rather than bemoan the unfairness of it all, often relinquished his fate up to a higher power. “‘A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps ... Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time,’” he remarked [quoting Proverbs 16:9, NKJV; 1 Peter 5:6, NIV].

A lesser man may have thrown his arms to sky in fury when, just as his career was taking off, he was called to join the army. He might have baulked at the cruel unfairness of returning to California to find he had been dropped by Fox, leading to 11 thankless years as an out-of-work actor. But Selleck takes such setbacks in his considerable stride, and with a shrug off those broad shoulders accepts graciously that what is for you, will never go past you.

 

“I think we can all point to good events and bad events in our lives. To have faith, to believe in good, and to put your energy into helping others in the hope and, perhaps, expectation, that good things will come to you, feels about right to me. My faith has always shown me the right way and it’s based on being as good as I can, and no matter how society has changed, I don’t think those values have changed at all.”

 

A good example of life’s habit of rolling the dice came when he first landed the role that would eventually make him. Proving, that like buses, good opportunities tend to all come at once, it was shortly after filming the Magnum, P.I. pilot that Selleck got the call from Steven Spielberg asking him to do a screen test to play Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Uncertain of whether Magnum would get the green light for a full series, and also knowing that previously his screen tests had been underwhelming, the ambitious actor agreed to give it a go. As it happened, the revered director loved Selleck’s screen test and offered him the role, only for the network CBS, who had him under contract for the detective series, to step in and insist he turn it down.

 

“So, I move on, and I go to Hawaii to start Magnum and then the actors go on strike,” explained Selleck on the Late Show with David Letterman. “And I had given a deposit to a landlady that I couldn’t afford, a security deposit, so I started working for her as a handyman. So, I’m in Hawaii, with no job, and guess who comes to Hawaii to finish their movie? Raiders of the Lost Ark. So, I could have done both, but eventually the strike ended, and I’d like to say that the rest is history.”

Of course, Magnum, P.I. was an enormous hit, spawning eight seasons and winning its lead a Best Actor Emmy award. Selleck became a household name overnight, and the Hollywood films duly followed: Quigley Down Under, The Shadow Riders, Last Stand at Saber River and Three Men and a Baby to name a few. By the mid-90s however, his relevance was starting to wane, and career resurgence came from the strangest of places when he accepted a guest spot on kooky comedy Friends.

 

“If I was a certain type of person, stuck in my ways, I’d have said no. But just like many different faiths and cultures, surely it’s better to embrace them all and see how it works out?” he offers.

Interestingly, Selleck himself admits to being advised to not do the show, particularly as he had taken such a long break from television prior to it. But proving once more that he is his own man, the actor trusted his instincts, and his time on the series introduced him to a whole new audience. “They said, ‘It’s a TV show! You can’t guest on someone else’s TV show. They’ll say you’re crawling back to television!’ But, you know, I believe in taking risks,” said Selleck. “I think that’s what actors need to do: They have to risk failing. I’ve had a long career based on that positive philosophy. I said, ‘I haven’t done a sitcom since Taxi, and I like comedy, and I like the show!’, so how could I not accept?”

Having cemented his place in industry folklore, Selleck can rest easy knowing he is at a point where work will always be there, should he want it. Similarly, he us unlikely to find himself in any financial strife, choosing a humble life on his ranch in Ventura County, California. The home sits on 65 acres of land, which includes a horse corral and 20-acre avocado farm, and is more than enough to satisfy Selleck’s needs, despite what others may assume…

 

“Anywhere I go, somebody says, ‘Don’t you have a house in Boca Raton? Or New Jersey?’ or wherever,” he laughs. “The truth is, I’ve only got the one place.”

 

Having stated time and again that his priority is and always has been his family, it’s clear that Selleck doesn’t really need to bow to the whims of Hollywood. But given his integrity, talent and unfailing veracity, it’s clear that a less-than-perfect Hollywood definitely ne

Stand-Up Virgin By Stuart Smith

A friend once said to me: “You’re really funny. You should be a stand-up comedian.” Many of us have had the experience of making a group of friends laugh down the pub. Or, if you’re middle-aged like me, at a friend’s house for a dinner party – where laughter can become infectious, particularly if the red wine is flowing. It’s one thing having a laugh with your friends but making a group of complete strangers laugh for five minutes is another matter entirely...

I have always been fascinated by comedy. I grew up watching Tommy Cooper, Spike Milligan and Les Dawson. The more ridiculous they were, the more I laughed – children laugh around three times more often than adults. I loved silly jokes like “I went to my doctor and asked for something for persistent wind. He gave me a kite” (Les Dawson).

 

I run my own brand and graphic design business, so I’m no stranger to being creative and presenting my ideas to clients. I have, on occasion, also led services in my church. But I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and see if I could do what my childhood heroes did. I was about to find out.

 

Rhod Gilbert, Greg Davies and me

 

After searching online, I found the ten-week Logan Murray Comedy Course (loganmurray.com) that ends with a showcase in front of family and friends. The course has been running for more than 15 years, and has seen hundreds of budding comics tread its boards. Logan Murray has more than 35 years’ experience in comedy, TV and directing – and is acknowledged as one of the best comedy tutors in the country. After a bit more research I discovered that previous students of the course include Rhod Gilbert and Greg Davies. I’m not Welsh, but I am more than 6’5” tall, so surely I was half way to stardom already.

 

I paid my money and, two weeks later, found myself in a small rehearsal room near London Bridge with 14 other terrified would-be comics. From photographers and NHS staff through to a YouTuber and an opera singer, we quickly got to know each other in a series of improvisation games that were both challenging and hilarious.

 

At the end of the first three-hour session, every person on the course had made me laugh. I came away hoping they were thinking the same about me.

 

The following weeks became even more enjoyable as our group began to really gel. I couldn’t wait for Wednesday evenings. Thanks to Logan, the environment was really positive and I felt very comfortable being creative, taking risks and playing the fool.

 

Sex, racism and polite applause

 

To prepare myself mentally for what I was going to do, I thought it would be a good idea to go along to an open mic night. This is where any budding comedian can sign up beforehand or even on the door. There’s no shortage of venues for amateur comedians to perform their set, particularly where I live near London.

I’d heard about a club called the Lion’s Den on Shaftesbury Avenue. In the dark basement bar, chairs had been placed in rows facing a single microphone and a black curtain that had seen better days. The format was simple, each act has no more than five minutes and are called out at random.

 

I grabbed a beer and sat down in the back row (I’m a Christian and I know better than to sit anywhere near the front). It soon became apparent that I was one of only a handful who weren’t performing. This gave the evening a slightly awkward atmosphere, much like bus drivers talking about their busman’s holiday to a group of bus drivers on a bus – more like a therapy group than a show. As each person was introduced enthusiastically by the compère, there was polite applause but with a subtle undercurrent of ‘I hope you die…’

 

The following hour and a half – which felt longer – consisted of a very narrow range of topics, namely relationships, sex and God with two of the acts being extremely racist. It certainly was an eye-opener – a glimpse into contemporary culture and the topics that consume people. It’s a window that needed looking through, but one I wanted to quickly pull the curtains on at the same time.

 

Homework, finding my voice and my first gig

 

Back in the rehearsal space on Wednesday evenings, I was gradually becoming more confident in what I was writing. It certainly wasn’t polished, but I could see what it might become with more tuition. As Logan says, “There’s no such thing as a bad joke, just an underdeveloped one.” The weekly homework we were set included creating thank you notes, deliberately pretentious poems and even a vlog desperately selling ourselves for an imaginary dating website.

 

The homework began to absorb my days (and sometimes nights) and my brain constantly whirred with ideas. I found myself tuning into people’s conversations on the train, in cafés and in church. I couldn’t switch off.

 

Through this mixture of listening, writing and performance I began to see a style appear. It was definitely me but, inevitably at this stage, I guess, influenced by the comedy that I really like now. With the dry conversational style of Stewart Lee, the surrealism of Harry Hill and with a light sprinkle of the dark humour of The League of Gentlemen, my material was loosely based on my experiences but quickly pushed into fictional scenarios.

 

At the end of the seventh session – after we’d spent the evening learning about microphone technique – the homework set was to book a spot at an open mic night. I knew it would have to happen at some point. You can’t attend a stand-up comedy course and then not actually perform any stand-up, like being taught how to cook but never tasting it.

I had compiled more than five minutes of material from the exercises, but it wasn’t in any semblance of order. I had jokes about prostate checks, epilepsy (a condition I have), taking my wife out to dinner, campsites, showers, even animals wearing hats, and 9/11. A mixed, quirky and potentially controversial bag to say the least. I began to cut, change and add bits, learning it in chunks, standing in front of a mirror in the bedroom holding a hairbrush, like a teenager. And, bit by bit, it began to feel more like me and less like Stewart, Harry and The League.

 

We decided to book gigs where at least three of us novices could perform on the same evening. That way, each of us would know that at least two people would be laughing, even if only out of politeness.

 

We chose Comedy Virgins at The Cavendish Arms in Stockwell for our first event. It’s a great room, wide but only five rows deep, with around 60 chairs set out. I let the compère know that I had arrived with my ‘bringer’. A lot of open mic nights are called ‘bringer nights’, meaning that acts can only perform if they bring a friend along. It’s a format that really works, boosting the audience numbers and making the evening more like a gig than a rehearsal.

 

Immediately, this gig felt very different to the one I’d been to at the Lion’s Den, with the audience providing generous support for everyone. Having been told that I would be on in the second half, I went off to the loo during the interval to reread my notes and write key words on the back of my hand – a safety net of ink. I bought a cola (I didn’t want alcohol to blur my thinking) and went back to my seat while the butterflies in my stomach did their thing.

 

Three acts after the interval the compère said, “Shall we get our next act out? This is his first time doing stand-up. It’s Stuart Smith.” I jumped up from my seat, onto the stage and promptly knocked the microphone out of the stand – a bit too soon to be dropping the mic. Strangely, this didn’t throw me at all and I launched headfirst into my first joke.

 

Then the weirdest thing happened, I could hear people laughing! Although I couldn’t see anyone, due to the spotlight, I could hear them. They laughed at the next joke, and the next, and I began confidently ‘selling’ each joke like Logan had told me to. I was really getting into my flow when I saw a flashing red light at the back of the room signifying I had one minute left. My last joke was about how 9/11 reminds us that the world can be full of cowardice but also of great love and courage. And that 9/11 also reminds Americans of the number to call should anything similar happen again. It split the room between those that laughed because they found it funny and those that laughed but didn’t think they should.

 

I’ve always laughed at dark humour, and as a Christian, I’ve sometimes questioned where that comes from. But I am who I am and it’s more important to me to be authentic than trying to be someone else. Robin Williams once said, “For me, comedy starts as a spew, a kind of explosion, and then you sculpt it from there, if at all. It comes out of a deeper, darker side. Maybe it comes from anger, because I’m outraged by cruel absurdities, the hypocrisy that exists everywhere, even within yourself, where it’s hardest to see.”

I returned the microphone stand to the centre of the stage, shook hands with the compère and sat back down as he was saying “Was there anybody else who, when he said the words ‘9/11’ thought, Oh… let’s see where this goes?”

 

I was buzzing. It was an incredible feeling to have made total strangers laugh, out loud. I didn’t sleep that night. I relived the evening and replayed my set in my head. I wanted to go and do it again. Two weeks later, I did.

 

Performing in the final showcase in front of my family and friends was an incredible experience. It was decided that I would be the last act of the evening, and I was ecstatic. My ego saw this gig as mine – in his eyes he was the headliner – and my competitive nature was determined to blow everyone else away.

 

I couldn’t have been happier with how it went. In less than three months I had gone from watching stand-up comedians to being one myself, albeit for five minutes at a time. I’d learned lots about comedy but the biggest transformation had been in my self-confidence, my posture and how being out of my comfort zone can actually energise me rather than make me freeze. I have more gigs booked, dinner parties included.

 

 

 

Tony Vino gives his top 5 tips for aspiring comedians

 

  1. Fake it till you make it

 

Leading up to and during your first performances you will more than likely suffer from crippling nerves. That overwhelming sense of terror when your mind goes into overdrive imagining in horrific detail all the ways it can go wrong. To perform comedy is to make yourself vulnerable in front of a group of strangers, therefore to feel fear is natural, but to give in to that fear will work against you. There is a feedback loop with audiences such that if you look and act uncomfortable the audience will respond in kind, leading to an inevitable death. Even if you experience crushing performance anxiety, consciously decide to act confident, present confident, and magically once you get laugh after laugh you will feel confident, creating a positive feedback loop. There are simple tricks to doing this, such as using open body language, scanning the audience with your eyes, smiling and being conscious to slow your speech down, ensuring the comedy pauses are in place.

 

  1. Take every opportunity

 

To find your true comedy voice, you will need upwards of 20 hours on stage. Therefore, take every opportunity to perform. Gig constantly at every event possible, whether that be an open mic, a festival, variety show, church service – heck, opening a village fête – it doesn’t matter, get up there and try your material out. If you are struggling to fill the diary with those, then create your own gig; even if it’s in your living room in front of a group of mates you have bribed with a free curry, a gig’s a gig.

 

  1. Craft material unique to you

 

It can be tempting to try to write material on classic comedy tropes such as sex, marriage, air travel, the difference between men and women’s thinking. If you use generalised material it will make what you are saying of more mass appeal. However, your act will be much better if you bring to it those quirky aspects unique to you. If you are a fan of 80s synth punk rock, let’s hear about it; if you have a phobia of Brillo Pads, tell all; we want to know about your eccentric uncle who drank two gallons of water a day because he thought he might internally combust. Subjects only you know about because they are your life will make your set more authentic and mean your jokes can’t be copied.

 

  1. Enjoy it

 

Have fun on stage and writing. Be bold, take risks and continually evolve as a performer. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to get it right first time, learn from you mistakes, let each gig build on the last. Know that the bad ones teach you more than the easy ones. A tough audience makes you tougher and your material tighter, an easy audience gives you opportunity to expand upon material.

 

  1. Learn the basics

 

Just like in any industry, art form or career, there is a level of study needed alongside the practice. There are certain quick-win performance techniques and joke constructs that you can get from books on stand-up and by attending a comedy course. Watch as much comedy as you can, then you will begin to pick up on patterns of jokes, reveals and techniques which will aid you immensely in the early days.

Opening Doors in North Korea

North Korea has enough prisoners in concentration camps to easily fill Wembley, Twickenham and Old Trafford. These prisoners have been stripped of their humanity and are forced to live in gruesome conditions.

 

Hea Woo* was one of those people. She spent many years in a small labour camp in the north of the country where she was tortured, starved and forced to work 12-hour days.

 

Growing up, Hea Woo heard lots of stories about Christian missionaries. They infiltrated North Korea and enticed vulnerable citizens, hospital patients and children down into cellars. They locked them away and harvested their organs and blood to sell. Christians, Hea Woo believed, were the enemy working in collaboration with America. They would not hesitate to catch her and kill her.

 

What Hea Woo didn’t realise was that her mother was a Christian. “She was always mumbling – barely audible,” Hea Woo said. “I realise now that she was praying.” Like most Christian parents in North Korea, Hea Woo’s mother never told her about her faith. It was too dangerous.

 

North Koreans are indoctrinated from cradle to grave and from morning until evening. Propaganda is poured over citizens, through television, radio channels, newspapers and loudspeakers. One of the first thing parents must teach their children are the words ‘Thank you, Father Kim Il-sung’. At school children are taught to report on their parents, especially if they see them reading a black book at home.

 

Many children will bow under the scrutiny of interrogation. Others might accidently sing a Christian song or tell a Bible story to their friends. It is safer to keep your faith a secret from your own son or daughter until they are old enough to understand the danger.

 

Hea Woo’s mother didn’t tell her about her faith, but she tried to guide her daughter to the truth. She said that Kim Il-sung was human like everyone else, that he had to eat and sleep too. But Hea Woo didn’t believe her. The great leader was God.

 

Many years later, when Hea Woo was married and had children of her own, the famine hit North Korea. What was a good life by North Korean standards quickly deteriorated.

 

During the famine 3 million people died or fled the country. Families survived on grass and leaves. Like thousands of others, Hea Woo decided they would be much better off in South Korea. Her husband, Geun,* left first, crossing over the Tumen River to China. He planned to find a safe route to South Korea. Hea Woo and their three children would follow when everything was arranged.

 

But Geun was arrested in China and deported back to North Korea. After six months in a labour camp, he died.

 

One day a man came to Hea Woo’s door to tell her that he had been in prison with her husband. Soon after another man came, then another. “They all said the same thing,” said Hea Woo. “That my husband had been good to them in prison. He had taken care of them and told them about the gospel. Geun revealed that he had come to faith in China. After I heard the testimony of these men I suddenly realised that Kim Il-sung was not God. I had lived my whole life based on a lie.“Instinctively I realised that Geun had found the truth. Although I was always told Christians were dangerous, because of my husband’s testimony I was no longer afraid.” Hea Woo escaped to China and went to a Korean church there. “They took care of me. They explained the whole gospel to me, but to start with I couldn’t understand it at all. But gradually it began to get through to me that there was a God.

 

“There’s only one explanation as to why I accepted this incredible tale as truth: my mother and husband had prayed for me. I’m convinced of this.”

 

Hea Woo was so overwhelmed by God’s love that in the years that followed she studied her Bible meticulously, copying out long portions and memorising psalms. She told everyone she met about the amazing love that had changed her life.

 

During this time her children came to join her in China and they made plans to travel on to South Korea together. But they would arrive many years before Hea Woo.

 

“I was staying with a number of other North Koreans in a shelter. One evening after work two of them went to a bar and got drunk. The police arrested them for disorderliness and, of course, it became apparent that they were illegal immigrants from North Korea. They were interrogated, and the police made them say where they were staying. They gave them the address of the shelter. The next day the police came around with the intention of arresting all the refugees. There were none at home. Except me. I was taken away.” Hea Woo and the other two North Koreans were deported.

 

“The first two days, I was interrogated for hours,” Hea Woo said. The inspectors screamed at me, but fortunately didn’t touch me. That was soon to change. The two other North Koreans said that I’d been teaching them about Christianity. Probably they wanted to get off more lightly. I was taken back to the interrogation room and the guards were merciless from then on.”

 

All North Korean Christians know that one day they may have to die for their faith. Each year hundreds of Christians are exposed, tortured and sent to camps where they are worked or starved to death. Christians are treated worse than the other prisoners. They are made to perform the most dangerous tasks, given less food and beaten in the hope that they will denounce their faith. If a guard succeeds in making a prisoner recant their faith they are given a promotion. Guards who show compassion are punished. Most Christians will not survive their imprisonment.

 

Hea Woo was sentenced to a labour camp for ‘illegally crossing the border’. Miraculously, the judge didn’t take her faith into account because she hadn’t practised it in North Korea.

 

“Every day was torture,” she said. “I often recalled the ten plagues that God poured down on Egypt. Everyday felt like all ten plagues at once.

 

“Constantly people were dying. Death was a part of our daily life. The bodies were usually burned, and the ashes scattered on the path. Every day we walked down that path and I always thought, one day the other prisoners will be walking over me.

 

“Despite everything I remained faithful to God. God helped me survive. Even more, he gave me the desire to evangelise. God used me to lead five people to faith. I tried to teach them what I knew. It wasn’t much because we didn’t have access to the Bible in the camp.” On Sundays and at Christmas, Hea Woo and her church would meet in the toilets which were so repugnant that it meant that they were left alone. She would recite Bible verses that she remembered from her time in China and the group would sing hymns under their breath.

 

There were some near misses with the guards and times they were sure they would be discovered, but every member of that little church survived their imprisonment. Eventually Hea Woo was considered to have been re-educated by the state. “I had never been so happy in my life. I was standing outside the gates that I had been driven through years before. I had seen death and destruction and had almost died myself. But God had taken care of me and now he was allowing me to go out. I sprinted off as soon as the gates set in motion. I wormed my way through the tiny opening and ran away. I didn’t stop running and didn’t look back at the camp. I never wanted to see that horrible place again.”

Like 25,000 other refugees from the north, Hea Woo now lives in South Korea. After being released from prison, Hea Woo lived in a nearby village, praying for people and seeing miracles until, at last, she was able to go to South Korea. By then her children were living there. Through underground networks her son had planned her route and paid people to take her from China to Laos, to Thailand and finally on a plane to South Korea.

 

Hea Woo immediately fell in love with South Korea. “I was in a terrible place, but I knew that God was preparing a table for me. I would experience goodness and love,” Hea Woo said. “Now I am so happy here. I am not rich compared to most people here, but I have Jesus in my heart.”

 

North Korea is number one on the 2018 Open Doors World Watch List of the most dangerous places on earth to be a Christian. Open Doors’ goal has always been to “strengthen what remains and is about to die” (Revelation 3:2, NIV). This verse is especially relevant to the North Korean Church. Without the generosity of Open Doors supporters, many Christians would starve to death. Open Doors works to support the Church in North Korea by supplying persecuted believers with emergency relief aid such as food, medicines and clothes, delivering Bibles, and training through radio broadcasting. Find out more about Open Doors’ work in North Korea and how you can get involved at opendoorsuk.org/sorted.

 

*Names changed for security reasons

Mental Health: Letting Go of the Stigma By Patrick Regan

“You’ve got a migraine? Surely, it’s mind over matter. Think happy thoughts and you’ll be fine.” “Broken your leg? It’s all in your head. Stop thinking so much and just shake it off!” “Cancer? Could be worse – chin up.”

 

We would never talk to someone with a physical ailment like this, and yet anyone who has suffered with a mental health issue is likely to have been told it’s all in their head, or that they should be able to “get over it”. Depression and anxiety aren’t things we can pull ourselves together over. It’s not a person’s fault, and it’s not something they can control.

 

As a society we’re more comfortable talking about and looking after our physical health than our mental health, but we haven’t always known so much about caring for our bodies. Years ago, people didn’t know that brushing your teeth keeps them from going rotten and falling out, or that washing daily is a good idea (the Anglo-Saxons thought the Vikings spent far too much time bathing because they did it once a week!).

 

We have learned a lot over time about physical health, in terms of prevention, treatment and cure. But in the area of mental health, we’ve still got a long way to go. While most of us know what to do if we get a headache or a minor cut, and it’s usually fairly obvious when we need to call an ambulance, few of us seem to know how to take care of the emotional and mental needs of ourselves and others. Perhaps if we spent as much time caring for our mental health as our physical health, we would be much happier as a society.

 

Highlight reels

 

When my anxiety started to get out of control, it was easiest for me to point to my upcoming surgery as the sole source of my problems. However, the truth was the anxiety was about much more than just one thing. From the outside, you might have missed it altogether. Things were really thriving at XLP, the charity I founded to work with young people in London. We were at a very exciting time, with two visits from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in just one year. They listened to some of the amazing young people who have come through the XLP arts programme sing, and then afterwards hosted a reception for business leaders.

 

As you can imagine, a lot of work goes on to make sure everything runs smoothly for a 90-minute royal visit. While William and Catherine are actually very easy to be around and very good at putting others at ease, the media circus that surrounds them is not. We stepped outside the doors of the church and were greeted by a wall of photographers and cameras flashing constantly. Photos of the XLP team and young people with the royal couple went everywhere, flooding social media. Numerous newspaper articles were written, and the BBC featured the visit on the six o’clock news. To anyone watching, XLP was doing really well. And while a royal visit is an exciting occasion and well worth celebrating, it’s also just part of the highlights reel – it doesn’t indicate what’s going on behind the scenes. I looked perfectly fine and confident on the outside but inside, I was a very frightened individual struggling with anxiety. It wasn’t meeting royalty that made me nervous, nor was it the media. I couldn’t shake my fears over the uncertainty around my health and my future.

 

I knew we needed to maximise the opportunities that the royal visit brought to XLP. Having such high-profile interest is incredibly helpful when you’re trying to raise money for a charity and, like lots of similar organisations, XLP really needed the money. I threw myself into the task full-throttle, knowing my operation was coming up and that I didn’t have any time to waste. I worked long days and late nights to maximise funding opportunities.

I was exhausted and there was a lot going with my family too. We had recently moved to the countryside where Diane and I both grew up, from London, where we’d live 23 years. The cultural shift was huge, and I was struggling to get my head around our new life. Our teenage daughter was finding the transition difficult and was particularly struggling with friendships. Diane and I knew this was the right move for us as a family, but we still felt guilty when we saw Keziah having such a hard time. I was overtired, anxious, not coping with change, and finding the uncertainly around Abigail’s health and behaviour difficult to cope with.

 

The Black Dog of depression

 

Diane urged me to go on antidepressants and get medical help for my anxiety. It was an odd thing: even though I had advised many people over the years to seek medical help in such situations and not to feel ashamed of it, I somehow felt that I should soldier on and get through it. There can be a fine line between anxiety and depression, and I honestly couldn’t tell if I was depressed, anxious, or both. Some days I felt a bit brighter, and then for no fathomable reason I would wake up the next morning feeling like I had been consumed by a dark cloud. A familiar feeling of falling would come over me. My mind would be flooded with the shoulds, the musts, the oughts that told me I was failing.

 

“I should be able to cope – what’s wrong with me?”

“I’ve got a family to look after, a team to lead and a job I’m passionate about – I must pull myself together or I’ll let everyone down.”

 

“I know that God loves me and is in control, despite how things feel – I ought to be stronger, get a grip and spend more time praying. I am obviously not leaning on God enough.”

 

I sometimes wonder who is setting the standards we think we need to live by.

 

As hard as I tried, I couldn’t seem to control how I was feeling. I tried some of the things that usually help when you’re feeling a little bit low: I forced myself to walk the dog, go to the gym and list some of the things I was grateful for, but nothing changed. It wasn’t just a bad day that I’d soon get over, it was something much worse.

 

Depression is often likened to a dark cloud that hangs over you, or a ‘black dog’ that follows you around. I saw a video online, produced by the World Health Organization, which describes the visits of the ‘black dog’.  There is no reason why he visits, but when he’s there, he colours everything else in the world. I could relate to so much of what the video said: how things that used to bring me pleasure no longer did, that my appetite was ruined and my ability to concentrate was shot. The black dog stole my confidence, left me worried that I would be judged, and made me irritable and difficult to be around.

 

There’s an ocean of difference between having a day where you feel down and having depression. It’s not even about being sad – depression can leave you completely devoid of feeling, and totally isolated. On my worst days, I thought everyone would be better off if I wasn’t here. I told myself they would miss me but they would get over it in time... but then I would feel overwhelmed with guilt. I knew it wasn’t true, but the thoughts really scared me.

 

I’m a self-starter, so I’d read all the self-help books. The real challenge was actually asking for help. I like talking about the bigger issues of injustice and inequality in the world and seeking out solutions, so all this taking about my personal feelings felt really self-indulgent. Over the years, I have come across people suffering through some of the hardest circumstances imaginable and I thought, if they didn’t get depressed with all they’d faced, then I had no right to. Of course, that thinking doesn’t help. It’s like telling yourself you’ve got no right to have a stomach pain – it doesn’t make it go away.

 

Church can be a lonely place if you suffer from depression or another mental health condition. People often think that knowing Jesus should mean we’re never depressed, but it doesn’t work that way. Research by the mental health charity Mind shows that one in four people in the UK suffer from a mental health problem each year  and one in six report experiencing something like anxiety and depression each week. That means each of us is likely to know someone who has it now, and multiple people who will. Sadly, being a Christian isn’t an inoculation. Making Christians feel as though they should have some kind of immunity to depression only adds to the feeling of shame.

 

The most common thing I hear from people who are depressed – and something I struggled with too – is thinking, It’s my own fault. The thought replays over and over and over again, and when we feel ashamed, it’s that much harder to seek help or confide in anyone.

 

Jesus, stigma and oppression

 

Jesus always challenged stigma and oppression, but in a way that people didn’t expect. Some of my favourite verses in the whole of the Bible are when Jesus stood up in his home synagogue, opened the scroll at Isaiah 61 and read this:

 

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

(Luke 4:18-19, NIV)

 

Oppression can be defined as the feeling of being heavily burdened, mentally or physically, by some kind of trouble or adversity. Jesus made it his mission to set the oppressed free, and he always seemed to be drawn to those who felt stigmatised, the downtrodden, and those who felt worthless. He showed great mercy and compassion to those who didn’t believe they were worthy of love or acceptance from anyone, let alone God.

 

In Jesus’ day, different people were stigmatised – ‘traitors’ like Zacchaeus, outcasts like the woman at the well, and those who were ‘unclean’, like the woman with chronic bleeding, and those with leprosy. One of the most prevalent types of social stigma today is around mental health challenges. We need to get to a place where people feel no more ashamed for having depression, anxiety or any other mental health concern, than they do having a cold or a broken leg.

 

The depression Hall of Fame

 

I find it helpful that Cantopher  also mentions a long list of people who have suffered at the hands of depression including Oliver Cromwell, Abraham Lincoln, Isaac Newton, Vincent van Gogh and Winston Churchill. After nearly every When Faith Gets Shaken talk, at least one person comes to ask for the above list – sometimes for themselves, but often to show family members to help them explain that their mental health issues aren’t a sign of weakness.

 

God doesn’t condemn us for how we feel. He wants what’s best for us, so if that means taking medication, then we should be free to do that. That said, medication isn’t always the answer to everything. Sometimes there are underlying issues to depression that would really benefit from counselling and additional support; sometimes we need to think about lifestyle factors. Once we are able to let go of the stigma and accept it’s OK not to be OK, we can concentrate on what might help us on our journey dealing with the issues we face.

DS = Different Spirit By Alex Willmott

Let me introduce you to a different spirit, a dragon with the mind of a genius. I was offered a chance to drive a brand-new DS 7 Crossback from York to Paris, and back again. For those who have suffered at the hands of the M25, you’ll understand that I didn’t jump at the opportunity immediately. After seeing one photo of the SUV, I came to my senses, and thank goodness I did. At first sight the car leaves a lasting impression. Parked in front of the house, you could almost hear it begging to be driven, much to the envy of the neighbours.

 

Instantly you know that it’s a car that is clearly on the side of the driver and the passenger alike. A beast with class. A powerhouse with poise. The latest technological innovations with the brand’s Parisian savoir faire, introducing new levels of driving comfort and performance, this SUV effortlessly oozes luxury and technology. With a plug-in hybrid petrol drivetrain hosting a 200hp petrol engine, two electric motors (with an output of 80kW/109hp each) an automatic transmission with eight speeds positioned across the front axle, a lithium-ion battery with a capacity of 13kW/h and output of 90kW, the DS designers have missed nothing, absolutely nothing.

 

I sat down with the CEO of DS, Yves Bonnefont, and he explained that though the brand has its eyes on the here and now, it is as equally invested in the there and then: tomorrow’s world. In fact, the company has already drafted a concept design for what their vehicle will look like in 2035. They’ve even named it – DS X E-Tense. Yes, this is what true innovation looks like.

 

Lead designer Thierry Metroz explained to me that the design for the 2035 was as much about poetry as it was about pragmatism. And there’s no denying that the design is one heck of a sonnet. It felt like we had been shown a glimpse of something sacredly scientific. An asymmetrical revelation that can drive or be driven, split into two Tron-like pods, with the charm of Cézanne and the flair of Baudelaire, this machine will change driving forever. For those of us with combustion engines, there is a time coming soon where we’ll upgrade to the DS X E-Tense much like when horse-drawn carriages were replaced by cars. The ultimate upgrade is coming, and it’s coming from France.

 

Formula E

 

Sam Bird, the man at the wheel of the DS Formula E machine, sums up the spirit of brand. He told me that he “Has a taste for winning”, and his performance didn’t disappoint. From behind, he took the initiative, and despite seeing one of his front axles ripped off, reducing his car to just three wheels, he crossed the line to take a podium position. Fearless, resolute and rich in adaptability, a DS driver through and through.

 

I was fortunate enough to get a preview of next season’s DS Virgin Formula E car, and it really is a Batman fantasy. If the All Blacks manifested into a racing car, it would surely be this. I’ve never heard the hushed murmurings of the word “Wow” spoken so much by so many in my 33 years on earth to date. I didn’t know whether to drive it or write a novel about it, such is its grandeur and menace. The image of electric vehicles has changed irreversibly over the last two years, and it’s largely down to investment and vision. DS are now pioneering the imminent retirement of the combustion engine but are refusing to compromise on power and the driving experience in the process.

 

DS lead designer Thierry Metroz told me, “At DS, the advanced innovations seen on concept cars add life and bold spirit to our production vehicles.” From the SUV to the DS X E-Tense, you can see this boldness at every stitch, fitting and finish. I wouldn’t want to be a competitor of DS Automobiles. I think I’d sooner beg for a job with their design team than try to out-think them.

 

At this point of any car review, it’s usually fitting to sober the compliments up and add some negatives. You won’t find that in this one. The only negative I can think of is that right now I don’t own a DS 7 Crossback. Much like France, it’s impossible to fully grasp the class and capability of the SUV in just a weekend, but I fell in love regardless. And as a 33-year-old man, I’m happy to admit that I actually dreamt of this car on the bedsheets of the Molitor hotel (another Parisian delight). I was told that driving in central Paris was a nightmare, but not for the DS 7 Crossback. With its incredible monitoring system to ensure you’re never too close to another vehicle, to its wing mirror genius lighting system to secure the blind spot, Paris at rush hour felt like a Sunday stroll up the Dordogne.

 

We’ve seen automobile giants like VW get things totally wrong in recent times. Searching for shortcuts is a recipe for disaster when it comes to cars. DS have taken a different path from some of the ‘bigger’ brands in their market, and it’s admirable. Despite their obsession with class, technology and victory, they’ve seemed to achieve the impossible, ensuring that the customer experience is second to none. They take people personally. There’s no hierarchical nonsense among the culture, no rhetoric that has flooded the automobile market. What needs to be said is said, and what needs to be designed gets the investment needed. The truth is that there is no shortcut to excellence, and these guys understand this to the inch.

 

I’m not the sort of person that is attracted to the power in a car. I once famously looked for indicators on a go-kart. However, even a snowflake like me was bowled over by the gusto of the Crossback SUV. For once I was the shark in the water, and a beautifully safe shark at that. At petrol stations I received compliments for the car. Little did they know I was just reviewing, and I didn’t tell them. I just smiled and replied, “C’est bon.” But I was lying. It wasn’t good, it was phenomenal; I just didn’t know the French word for phenomenal.

 

It’s no wonder that President Macron chose a DS vehicle to usher him to his inauguration. If I had my way I’d choose one to take me everywhere. Ultimately, the DS team are a set of dreamers, workers, pioneers and players. From their Formula E racer to their road portfolio, it was a pleasure to be among such disruptors. I am convinced, in the very depth of my DNA, that the future of driving is bright, electric and French, and the DS team will be conducting the orchestra of tomorrow’s roads.

 

Reflecting the refinement of DS Automobiles, DS 7 Crossback features one of the most attractive finishing techniques used in luxury watchmaking: guillochage. Dating back to the 18th century, this technique is still used today to enhance the dial, casing or movement of a watch. The engraved motifs of intersecting or overlapping lines can be extremely varied. Guillochage demands artistic qualities as much as it does technical and mechanical skills. This exquisitely complex type of decorative feature is reserved for premium watches.

 

“For DS, hybrids are not only about performance and efficiency. They are also designed to optimise cabin space and boot capacity,” Eric Apode, VP, Products and Business Development told me. And this is certainly the case on DS 7 Crossback, with its unique, ingenious architecture: the automatic electric gearbox is positioned in a transverse layout. The battery, which powers the rear axle, is of compact dimensions and placed under the cabin. This layout means that the floor is virtually flat in row two: a key advantage in terms of space optimisation.

 

DS Connected Pilot: drive or be driven?

 

DS Connected Pilot makes it possible to delegate driving and also to take back control at any time. Taking another step towards autonomous driving, this system is more than just a driving aid: DS Connected Pilot provides maximum support at all times, taking over on the driver’s command.

 

This truly innovative system features Stop & Go Active Cruise Control, which adjusts vehicle speed accordingly to the car in front. This function acts on the steering to precisely position DS 7 Crossback in its road lane, respecting the driver’s choices and habits. Active at speeds of up to 112mph according to national speed limit legislation, it controls the vehicle’s speed and course for the driver. Particularly useful in traffic jams or on the motorway, this function contributes to safety, efficiency and peace of mind at the wheel of the DS 7 Crossback.

 

Incredible innovation…

 

The on-board camera of DS Connected Pilot recognises broken and unbroken road markings. While driving, it continuously analyses the image of the road ahead to understand the vehicle’s situation. If DS 7 Crossback deviates from the road markings or accidentally crosses a white line, the system gently moves the wheel slightly in the opposite direction to keep it on course. If the driver wishes to maintain the vehicle’s trajectory, they can cancel the corrective manoeuvre by keeping a grip on the steering wheel, particularly if or when taking action to avoid a potential collision. The corrective manoeuvre is also interrupted if the indicators are activated. This function is activated from 18mph and is then operational up to 112mph. This ingenious system is also able to manage DS 7 Crossback in traffic jams: the car restarts automatically without driver action. Driving comfort is maintained, without pointless stress or unnecessary action.

Thierry Metroz says:

“At all stages of the design process, the guiding aim for DS 7 Crossback was to express refinement, excellence and the best know-how implemented to the highest standards. The result is there to see, with an ideally proportioned car brimming with personality. It’s a perfect alchemy of strength and style.”

 

DS X E-tense release date 2035:

 

The cockpit is accessed by an Elytre door that is trimmed with a carbon fibre/leather weave. Inevitably, the eyes are drawn to the pyramidal architecture of the single seat, which adapts perfectly to the driver’s build like the fitted seats seen in motor racing, while its reclined position helps to keep the car’s centre of gravity low. The steering wheel is an enticing combination of leather, wood and metal, and incorporates capacitive senses to monitor the driver’s efforts. The two-tone Millennium Blue and Navy Blue Aniline leather is finished with DS’s trademark pearl top-stitch pattern.

 

Located within the front wheels, the two motors selected as the source of the all-electric DS X E-Tense’s power provide unrivalled response. For road use, peak power stands at 400kW (540hp), a figure that rises to 1,000kW (1,360hp) in ‘circuit’ mode which allows the driver to savour the exquisite performance of the suspension engineered by DS Performance, the technical team behind DS’s Formula E programme. The carbon fibre chassis sits on innovative springs and torsion bars, while traction, grip and deceleration is controlled by an advanced active system conceived to optimise performance, whatever the type of road surface.

 

Thierry Metroz states: “We were given complete freedom to give shape our dreams and this creative process led us to imagine a two-faceted car, capable of delivering the best of two worlds: that of providing intense, unfettered driving enjoyment, with an abundance of power, and that of blending the art of living ‘à la française’ with autonomous motoring. In a way, DS X E-Tense comes across as a reinterpretation of the motorcycle sidecar, with a bold asymmetric stance, but on four wheels.”

Sorted Issue 64

Another fantastic edition featuring interviews with former Disney alumnus Nick Jonas, Pharrell Williams and Rend Collective along with many more brilliant articles from our great team of columnists. Don’t miss this limited edition magazine.

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