5 Hacks for Living in Edinburgh if You are Under 25

search-location-edinburgh  When I first started dreaming of spending some time abroad, my thoughts immediately shifted to Scotland.  For some reason the grandeur, the historicity, and the landscape have always caught my attention and when it finally came into reach for me I knew I needed to take the opportunity to travel and live here.  Nevertheless, many people tried to discourage me because of one issue: money.  Although in theory we all wish that we could have as many life experiences as we want, the truth is that unfortunately so much of what we do really boils down to finances.  Due to the fact that the Scottish Pound Stirling is worth twice as much as the Canadian dollar, people were rightly concerned about the prices I would encounter over here.  However, what they didn’t realize is that it is actually quite cheap to live in Edinburgh, especially if you are under 25.  Below I would like to share with you 5 hacks for helping save money if you are a young adult who lives in this incredible city:

  • Figure Out What’s Free

The best thing to do when you move to any town or city is to scour around for fun and free activities and Edinburgh has plenty of them.  Whether you’re interested in nature hikes or a walk on the beach, art galleries or museums, church history or military history, there is something for everyone in this city.   If you are having a difficult time knowing what is free or cheap, just ask the locals – they are sure to point you in the right direction.  Personally, I recommend you start your tour at Gorgie City Farms.

  • Get a Young Scots Card

The Young Scot’s Card is an incentive that is available for all young people between the ages of 16-26.  This card is absolutely free to get and gives you access to online and in-store deals including cheaper cinema passes and student rates at many attractions.  Furthermore, the Young Scots have an impressive interactive website where you can win virtual points for completing surveys or learning about different topics and these points can be collected to win small prizes or enter yourself into draws.  Additional Tip: If you have a student card, bring it with you.  Students almost always get the cheapest rates including at some restaurants and stores.  If you don’t have a student card, the Young Scot’s Card works as a nice substitute about 80% of the time.

  • Buy a Rail Card

If you are under 19, you can use your Young Scot’s card for cheaper rail fare, but only within Scotland.  However, if you buy a Rail Card from Virgin Trains this will give you 1/3 off of any train voyage within the UK (including England and Wales).  The card costs around £30 but if you plan to do a lot of land travel, it is totally worth it.  On top of that, if you plan ahead, you can easily save even more money with advanced tickets (just make sure to get a return and not two singles or search online for the cheapest deal).

  • Buy a Historic Scotland Membership Card

For only £39.50 with your Young Scots Card, you can explore almost all of the Scottish castles and several other places of historical interest for free.  This card also gives you a 20% discount when you visit the cafes and gift shops at the castles, and discounts on a few other historical sites that are not castles (eg. The Scottish Mining Museum and Palace of the Holyrood House).  There are even a few places in other parts of the U.K. that will accept this card.  At first £39.50 sounds like a lot of money, but it really isn’t.  To put it into perspective, if you visit Edinburgh and Stirling Castle once you basically have just paid for your ticket and by the time you throw Craigmillar into the mix you have gotten more than your money’s worth.  What I usually do is plan a day trip around a castle so that way I only have to pay the transportation to get there and back and the rest of my afternoon is already planned for me.

  • Know Where to Buy Your Groceries

Just like in Canada and many other places in the world, Edinburgh has a wide range of grocery stores all with different prices.  At first, you will likely hear many locals telling you to stay away from Tesco because the groceries are pricey, but personally I have found that Tesco almost always has the best deals.  Iceland is also a really great store with cheap prices – especially if you fancy exotic meat.  Furthermore, you can get a 10% discount at ScotMid with your Young Scot’s Card.  Nevertheless, sometimes your best bet is simply to go to a local baker.  If you have a sweet tooth, you can often find goodies for much cheaper at one of the many bakeries in the area and best of all it will be homemade – not that packaged stuff.  If you are craving sweeties from home (aka: North America) this is where you need discipline because the prices are always ridiculously high for imports.  However, if you are lucky, you might be able to find some of those same chocolate bars and confectionery at the local Poundland.

Living in the UK can be expensive and it can be difficult to navigate at first, but if you make good friends along the way, you will likely find more and more ways to save money and to come back with some dough still in your pocket.  I have only shared a few of my favourite ideas with you, but I hope they have helped.  Have you lived in Edinburgh before?  What do you recommend in order to save money? I look forward to hearing from you.

The Inner Critic: Exploring Mental Health Through the Movie Anomalisa

Anomalisa-2015-pipolunette   Today, one of my friends from church and I decided to go to the cinema and watch the recently released film Anomalisa.  Voted as “the most human story of the year and it doesn’t involved a single human” Anomalisa is a story of fear, paranoia, mistakes, and self-acceptance.  Michael Stone is a successful businessman, presenter, and leader with a complicated and confused personal life.  Currently married with a son, Stone is plagued by memories of his past girlfriend and internal conflict.  Throughout the film, we see Stone’s mental health deteriorating until it eventually disrupts his daily rhythms and especially his interpersonal relationships.

The movie itself was quite strange.  It was graphic, overly sexual, and dropped a number of “F” bombs.  It was disturbing and not true to the previews at all.  For this reason, I cannot recommend the movie to you; however, I will say that the one thing I did appreciate about the movie is that it gives us an opportunity to reflect and talk about mental illness.

In some ways, our culture is becoming more attuned with mental health issues.  In recent years, there have been several innovations and advertisements that seek to make us aware of the plight those who face anxiety or depression experience.  In particular, the U.K. has recently unveiled an advertisement called the “Power of OK” in which people are urged to be mindful of those around them who wear masks rather than being upfront about their feelings and emotional state.

Nevertheless, I find that as a culture, we are still quite behind in our ideas surrounding mental illness.  I know that in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. questions like “how are you” or “are you alright?” are truthfully little more than polite greetings.  We do not ask such questions because we want a deep answer, but rather because we have been conditioned to ask them.  As I mentioned in a previous blog post, many people in countries such as Germany or Japan only ask such questions to those who are closest to them and when they truly have an investment into the other person’s life.  In many ways, we could learn from such cultures especially in our churches where people should be free to express themselves without fear of judgement or of being a burden.

Anomalisa offers little in terms of its plot line, graphics, or cinematic presentation, but it does give us an opportunity to enter into the mind of someone who loses touch with reality, is insecure, and is unable to control their emotions.  It also portrays the helpless responses those who do not experience mental illness may give to someone who does.  Responses of concern and empathy mixed with confusion, anger, and impatience.  Hopefully Anomalisa will foster and encourage dialogue about our cultural perceptions surrounding mental illness and will ultimately propel our society forward by creating a more loving and safe community where all feel accepted, wanted, and loved.

Entertaining Easter or Easy Evangelism? Movie Review On: Risen (March 2016)

734546207001_4764236597001_7ci-risenthemovie-vstill  Note: This review contains some spoiler alerts.

Today, four of my friends from the International Fellowship at Charlotte Chapel (in Edinburgh) and I went to see the recently released movie Risen at the local cinema.  Although there is always something strangely disconcerting to me about the idea of eating popcorn and sipping soda while watching a horrifying portrayal of Jesus’s death, I also found myself strangely warmed by the fact that Hollywood put out a family friendly, faith based movie for a change rather than their standard fare of drugs, sex, and alcohol.

Upon first entering the auditorium, I was immediately struck by the clientèle that found themselves occupying the plush seats.  The movie theatre was about one third full (not bad for Edinburgh) and the majority of customers were middle age or above.  I noticed that most were women, but a few men were also present.  In part, this may have been because of the time since we went to see the movie at 11:15am.  In Scotland, Good Friday is not necessarily a holiday and many people still need to work on this day.  Sadly, we have a limited number of theatres in Edinburgh, only two of which were showing the film, and only one of which had a showing on Good Friday.  Even despite the fact that the movie had a slot today, none of the other movie times were really well-suited to an audience as there were no screenings on Friday evening, Saturday, or Sunday except one at 11:30pm.  To me, this points towards the unfortunate cultural disengagement with the Christian faith especially in the secular U.K.  Whereas Canada and the U.S. have released several Christian films in recent years including showings of Son of God, the Dropbox, and War Room, Scotland has not hosted any of these movies.  Additionally, Canada and the U.S. know that the best time to market an Easter film is during Holy Week itself, but it appears that in Scotland, other films are making enough money so therefore there is no need to show a Christian movie (which does not draw in many people) more than is absolutely necessary (which in this case is once per day at random hours).  This was disappointing for my fellowship because originally 20 people had indicated an interest in the movie, but due to the time, only one quarter of us were able to attend.  Nevertheless, I still give thanks that I live in a free country where people are entitled to practice their own religious traditions and that even though this movie was not given much of a chance to impact the masses, at least the U.K. still permitted a Christ-centered movie to be screened during the most holy season of the year.

Logistics aside, I found Risen to be quite a powerful portrayal of the Gospel message.  The movie centers around a Roman Centurion, Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) who witnesses the death of Jesus and then discovers Jesus’s true identity for himself over a period of several days after His resurrection.  Unlike the Passion of the Christ (which I regard largely as “violence porn”), Risen centers more on the narrative story rather than on graphic details or gruesome violence.    The narrative begins with Clavius walking into the house of a Jewish man, recounting his strange, emotional and moving tale, and then ends with the question “do you really believe this all happened?”  The movie then gives its viewers the opportunity to decide for themselves what they will do with the compelling evidence of the resurrection, but the option is presented in a rather gentle way rather than a forced conviction or through emotional manipulation.

I particularly appreciated the emotional connection this movie fostered for its audience.  This was shown in two distinct ways.  Firstly, through the main character, Clavius, and secondly through the interviews that take place throughout the film.  In the first instance, we can see the inner battle that Clavius faces and his adventure that leads him straight to Christ.  Clavius is a highly influential man who truly wants nothing more than the best for himself and for society.  He longs for a day with no war, no political upheaval, no revolts, no protests, and no death.  He longs for a good job that will enable him to care for his family and that will provide him with the basic necessities (if not a few luxuries) in his life.  Interestingly, although many would portray Clavius as originally an evil man because of his Roman identity and his involvement in the crucifixion, the movie portrays him more as someone we can sympathize with.  All of us are like Clavius in a sense, especially before we truly get to know Christ.  Most people in this world long for the same things Clavius is looking for.  Almost all of us long for world peace, a cessation of violence, and the opportunity for unity – yet, we, like Clavius often look in the wrong places to find such freedom.  In the movie, this point is best illustrated by Mary Magdalene (one of the most beloved and well known disciples of Christ) who blatantly informs Clavius that he will never receive what he is after because he is looking for the right things but with impure motives.  Magdalene then speaks of how Christ set her free despite her troubled past and provides Clavius the opportunity to consider how he can also receive this turning point.   Although it takes Clavius a while to reach his ultimate decision, we can see an inner wrestling taking place in his life throughout until finally he finds himself face to face with Jesus and must choose between continuing to live a comfortable life style or else accepting what he knows to be true.

During Clavius’s long journey to discovering Christ for himself, he conducts a series of interviews with those who claim they have seen Jesus after he was buried in the tomb.  These eye witness accounts are first mocked, then regarded with curiosity, and finally listened to by Clavius.  Although they add superfluous material and poetic license to what we find explicitly mentioned in the Scriptures, I appreciated how they add emotional depth and help develop the character’s lives a bit more.  For example, all of us who have grown up in the church (or have attended a church for quite some time) are very familiar with the Easter story, yet we often read it from our own perspective.  This film gives us the opportunity to step inside the life of Mary Magdalene, the eleven disciples (because Judas had already suicided by this point), and even Clavius.  This, in itself, makes the movie highly worth the watch just because it adds such unique perspective and really makes the Gospel story come alive.

Nevertheless, while Risen has many admirable qualities, it is also important to acknowledge the controversy that has surrounded this movie in recent weeks.  One of the reasons I was so keen to see Risen was because lately my Facebook newsfeed has been filled with messages from movie goers who seem to have nothing positive to say about the film.  They resent the fact that it is either too violent, too scripturally inaccurate, or Anti-Semitic.  Although some of the logic behind such outrageous claims may come from a good place and despite the fact that all customers are entitled to their own opinions, I did not find this to be the case at all in this movie.

Firstly, the crucifixion was a gruesome and terrifying event.  Sadly it was a common place punishment in that era for criminals, political dissenters, and religious agitators, but what makes it even more devastating in relation to the Easter story is that the man who hung on the Cross was the Christ, the Messiah.  Jesus was not just a mere mortal, but He was and is the only begotten son of the Father.  We should feel moved with empathy and compassion watching Him suffer as He did, and yet we should also realize that no amount of physical pain we witness on the big screen while sitting in comfortable chairs and eating delicious snacks can ever come close to the purely devastating events of that first Good Friday.

Secondly, it is a well-known fact that Hollywood rarely gets the Biblical story right when they bring it to the big screens.  In this particular case, I found that the plot line connected quite well to the Biblical narrative, though there were definitely many instances of speculation or additions, partly to make the story flow in a movie format (remember: they didn’t have t.v. or movies in 33AD!) and partly to make the story more accessible for everyone.  This has its pluses and minuses.  One advantage is that the movie portrayed the character of Jesus very well.  Throughout the film, Jesus is portrayed as loving, meek, and gentle.  Even when Thomas doubted, He responded in a compassionate and forgiving way, and even when Clavius acknowledged his role in Jesus’s death, Jesus responded with grace and empathy, openly giving Clavius a fresh start.  During the duration of the movie, we see Jesus actively engaging with the emotional and spiritual needs of His followers and providing not only good moral teaching, but more importantly, salvation to them.   However, the disadvantage with this film is that by focussing too much on the emotional aspects of the Easter resurrection story, the Gospel then is portrayed as loving everyone and doing good in the world.  This does not necessarily mean that the entire movie is focussed solely on good works, but rather that it lacks spiritual depth and clarity on how one can attain this salvation.  My only hope is that if Christians invite their unbelieving friends to watch this film with them, it may then provide a gateway for discussion and that through this dialogue, clarity can be provided.

Lastly, I did not feel Anti-Semitism was an overarching ideology in this film. The main focus was on Clavius, a Roman centurion, and the only “bad” Jewish man was the high priest who was worried about how Jesus would disrupt his delicate spiritual authority.  Even though people often think that almost all renditions of the Easter story focus mostly on the Jews, it is important to note that we all are responsible for the death of Christ.  We have all despised and forsaken Him at least once in our lives (and probably more), and Jesus died because of the sins of the whole world.  As Clavius says in one particular scene, “I have never seen a man like Him before.  He looked almost as if He wanted to die.  As if He knew it was going to happen.  As if He planned to give Himself up as a sacrifice.”  Therefore, it is important that we all take corporate responsibility for the pain inflicted on Christ rather than using one particular ethnic group as our “scape goat.”

The movie Risen was well done in terms of its artistic and cinematic presentation which I feel is important because oftentimes Christian movies are poorly done or overly cheesy.  This then gives the impression that Christian artists and actors are not as skilled as secular workers in the same field; and yet, as my friend pointed out today, “it’s such a shame because as Christians we actually know the Creator Himself – the very One who has enabled art in the first place.”  Needless to say, I personally find that when a Christian movie is done exceedingly well it actually enhances our testimony and makes non-Christians more interested in the work we are producing.

Yet the most important thing about Risen is not in the way the film is delivered, but rather in the storyline itself.  Risen is a story of redemption, love, and forgiveness.  It is also a story about second chances and the ability to be accepted by Christ regardless of past failures and mistakes.  This is a story many of us long for and that we all have the opportunity to be a part of.  Whether you are a solid, Bible believing Christian, a C&E Christian, a seeker, or just someone who likes historical action movies, I think Risen will provide something inspiring and uplifting for you.  I highly recommend this movie and encourage you to think about someone in your network who has never heard this story before and to share it with them as an evangelistic tool.  No, it might not convert them and it probably won’t make any real lasting spiritual influence upon their life, but hopefully, it will at least give them an opportunity to see the Scriptures in a brand new way and maybe, just maybe, this is what our cultural truly needs all along.


Avarice or an Aversion to Wealth? Both Equally Dangerous Options

A_Colorful_Cartoon_Human_Hand_Holding_Coins_Royalty_Free_Clipart_Picture_100807-138278-267053 There are few things in life which hold such contention as the issue of wealth.  Money is among the most common causes for divorce and marital dissatisfaction.  Issues of tithing and financial giving have often resulted in either an unhealthy preoccupation or else off-handed dismissal within the Christian church, and squabbling over inheritance has resulted in much family drama.  But one may wonder, why.  What makes wealth such a controversial subject and is there a way to find a healthy balance?

Whether or not they would admit it, most churches have an unhealthy preoccupation with money.  They are either entangled with Prosperity Gospel or else entrenched in this false notion of Poverty theology.  On one hand we have the “health and wealth” teachers who espouse “name it an claim it” and on the other we find ourselves with social justice advocates who say we should sell all we have and give our money to the poor.  I, personally, am a huge advocate when it comes to social justice matters.  I believe we should end the disparity of wealth and other economic crises; however, this whole notion of forcing ourselves to become poor may not be the answer we are looking for.  Here’s why:

  • Many people who proclaim such theology, are not truly living it out themselves.

I’m not saying these people aren’t generous and self-giving, but in many cases, they are not at the extreme that they seem to be advocating.  Take Francis Chan for example.  Here is a man who says we should live off of relatively nothing, yet is a mega church pastor who is presumably rolling in some dough.  Now maybe Chan is a very self-giving man, but he is not living the extreme he so highly regards.  There often seems to be this sense of wanting to give, but still wanting to hold something back for ourselves.

  • Wealthy people can also be very generous.

For whatever reason, the church often regards wealth at a distance.  They see it as the “second best” option or even as a “sin.”  They misquote Jesus’s command to not love wealth wrongly.  You see, Jesus actually never said that we shouldn’t have money or material resources.  What the Scripture does say is that the love of money can cause all sorts of evil and hardship in our life. That’s because money has the potential to be such a dividing force.  Someone can be incredibly well off and still looking for all sorts of opportunities to share in their abundance.  Conversely, someone could be quite poor, but horde the little they do have and only look out for their own self-interest.  Money is neither good nor bad, it is a neutral force, but it is what we do with that money and the way we regard it that truly makes all the difference.

  • Money is often necessary within the church.

Whether we like it or not, churches rely heavily on tithes and donations in order to fund their ministries.  Taxes, the pastor’s salary, lighting, heating, and water all are high cost items in our society.  Oftentimes it is the wealthy people who help bankroll these types of things.

That being said, I also believe there are sufficient other ways to give including (and especially) if you are not in a good financial position.  The church I did my internship at had a saying: “we give of our time, talents, and treasures.”  This was so meaningful because not everyone in my church had the ability to give, yet, they were there after every fellowship meal wiping down the tables and stacking chairs.  They were there serving in music and youth ministry.  They were there walking alongside the homeless and the helpless.

Speaking from experience, I know what it’s like to have to trust God for every single penny.  There were several times including in recent memory where I was quite short on cash because I was a seminary student with an unpaid placement, but even during those times God powerfully showed me how I could still be generous.  Sometimes God called me to give financially and I thought to myself “there’s no possible way I can afford this.”  Yet, whenever I would trust God and listen to His voice, I always found that He gave me back way more than I originally had given.  In one case, God spoke to me so strongly to support a friend who was going on the mission field.  I gave her what little I had, then not even 48 hours later, God gave me that exact same amount back!  Another time, God called me to go on a retreat and spend some quality time alone with Him.  I couldn’t afford the retreat place, but I went ahead and booked it anyway.  A few days before my retreat, a good friend handed me a cheque that covered the cost of the retreat!  She said God had told her to do so.  I was greatly honoured.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I also don’t want to advocate an irresponsible use of wealth.  I don’t want you to go off of some idealistic notion that you don’t need to budget or think before giving… however, I’m saying that the most important thing is the position your heart is in when you are going to give.

Praying with peace and assurance has certainly led to many blessings in my own life and that is why in many ways I do border on Prosperity Gospel, however, social justice has inclined my heart to realize that prosperity does not begin and end with us.  God often does choose to bless us, but He does it so that we can become a bigger and better blessing to others.  God doesn’t give us amazing things in order to make our lives easier, He gives it to us to help us make others’ lives easier.  In fact, sometimes when God steps in and provides for us, it actually makes our life a lot harder because we no longer have any excuse for not getting our hands dirty, serving, and supporting worthy causes.

So please quit regarding wealth as either good or bad.  Instead remember that to whom much is given, much is required.  Remember that God has shared out of the abundance that He has in order than we can also share with others.  It is in doing so that we truly find our blessing and that we truly discover what it means to prosper.