Have you ever written a letter of complaint? I have and it’s becoming quite a speciality of mine. Over the last year I’ve written to Natwest, Virgin Trains, Virgin Media, c2c and Disneyland. Natwest gave me £10 for a delay in my new debit card. Virgin Media wrote off our final bill because I told them we’re nice people. c2c gave me the money back I spent on the wrong train ticket. Sadly Disneyland didn’t give me a free holiday, but it was worth a shot. When it comes to injustices against me and my wallet, I’m not gonna stand for it.
And yet there are genuine injustices in the world that I do far less about. I spent 90 minutes writing to c2c for the sake of £5 while 30% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa are under-nourished. When I first heard that statistic, my first though was ‘oh good, it’s only 30%.’ It’s a classic case of ‘compassion fatigue’, where the media give us so many images and stories of suffering that we become desensitised to them. We don’t don’t bat an eyelid when Huw Edwards briefly tells us there was a suicide bomb set off in Iraq, or when Ewan McGregor is asking us to donate to Unicef during an advert break.
However compassion-fatigued we are, it is nothing short of a disgrace that 1 in 8 people across the globe are hungry. That’s 865 million people, more than the populations of Europe, Australia, USA and Canada combined. It sounds like an unimaginable amount of people, but they’re all real individuals struggling to live now, and again tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow. That is scary and shocking and angers me that we live in a world that knowingly lets that happen. It upsets and confuses me that I sit in my cosy home, my cosy clothes, consuming all the chocolates and I tea I want, writing letters of complaint for the sake of £5 while there are people with nothing. And even if I donated that £5 along with every single penny in my bank account to a charity like Christian Aid or Oxfam, it’s not enough to end world hunger. It seems like a lost cause.
In those hopeless moments, I think ‘#YOLO’: You Only Live Once. It’s a phrase popularized by the rapper Drake and the footballer Mario Balotelli (hip-hop and football being two topics I’m an expert on). I can live the Yolo-lifestyle like anyone else. It’s about going out, getting wasted, not caring about the consequences. Look through my Facebook photos, and you’ll see I can enjoy a night out. This month, I ‘YOLO’d’ more than before. When I was in Brighton celebrating my birthday, I had such an amazing time doing the Joey dance and so much more on the dance floor. I kissed a guy. I danced with another, he propositioned me and I let him go. And when I went home I was kicking myself about the missed opportunity: he was (through my beer-goggles at least) hot. So I downloaded Grindr (a smartphone app allowing you to talk to other gay men nearby) and started spending 2 hours a night on talking to desperate guys asking how big your penis is before they ask your name. 2 hours a night not practicing for choir or planning my Christian Aid volunteering. After a few days I realized I don’t want to be chasing faceless fantasies through my phone if it takes time away from all the things I love doing (baking, singing, reading, writing, watching Disney), all the things that I hope one day a guy will look at and think ‘I love Joey.‘ I only live once, so I want it to be the best life it can be. That allows for going out and partying like Drake and Balotelli, but it has to go far deeper than wasted nights. But it goes deeper than that for me, and I want us now to read the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25-37, discuss)
The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) is a parable that speaks to anyone, Christian and non-Christian alike, It’s message is simple: love your ‘neighbour’, who is anyone you come in contact with, from your the person living next door to the homeless man to pass on the way to work and the factory worker in India who made your cardigan. #YOLO means living life to its fullest because you only live once, on one Earth, next to 7 billion neighbours. It is central to my Christian faith and my human decency to love and respect everyone of those neighbours. If the parable was retold today, the Samaritan wouldn’t simply help the poor guy up, call an ambulance and go on his way, posting a Facebook status about what a hero he is. He would ride in the ambulance to the hospital, come back daily during visiting hours and help him at home once he was discharged. The Good Samaritan parable tells us we should totally and sincerely care for our everyone else in our world. That is an enormous challenge, which is why it’s one we have to tackle together.
There is enough food for everyone in the world if we challenge the systems we have right now (like legal tax dodging) and examine the food we eat in our own lives. The ‘Enough Food If’ campaign is calling on all of us to stand up and shout out, to show governments and businesses that we care about people in Africa, Asia and South America just as much as we care about people in Southend, Essex and Britain. If we give our voices to the life-and-death injustice of hunger, huge leaps will be taken that bring us closer to the day needless hunger is eradicated. If we YOLO now by caring for our neighbours, they’ll YOLO by not being held back by hunger and poverty.
‘If we can conquer space, we can conquer [childhood] hunger’