Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Boxing clever

Photo credit: Chris Royle

Last weekend was a big one for British boxing. But while the much-hyped stateside battle between Amir Khan and Zab Judah was a bit of a flop, the fight between underdog Tyson Fury and Dereck Chisora this side of the pond was the exact opposite.

Fury really pulled something special out of the punch bag against Chisora. It was skillful, dignified and fascinating to watch, with both men working to their strengths: Chisora with his fierce, punishing blows and Fury with his fancy footwork and clever combos. Both fighters gave it their all and thoroughly thrilled the crowd.

But as a Christian, should I really be watching one man smack the living daylights out of another? Is this the “good fight” the apostle Paul talks about in his letters to Timothy (1 Timothy 6)?

Well it seems there are two schools of thought on this: namely the male and the female viewpoint. The men I talk to give me more or less the same answer. They explain that boxing is a sport, that it is good for the body and that it helps to focus the mind.

But what if you injure someone or give them brain damage, I ask? How is that good for mind or body? They look at me as if I’m a complete moron and reply that if that happens, one simply stands in faith and prays for the injured party. Besides, it hardly ever happens, they assure me.

Meanwhile, most of the women I ask seem to share my views. It makes for uncomfortable, yet compelling viewing (mainly watched from between our fingers, which are glued over our eyes as soon as the first punch is thrown). Just as long as no-one gets seriously hurt, we tell ourselves.

The debate becomes more interesting when we learn that there are several Christian boxers on the scene: Fury and Judah to name just two. Neither seems to have any problem reconciling their work and their faith.

In fact, Judah claims he is doing a “great job” of serving God in Sin City. Having earned himself quite a reputation over the years for street fighting, unsportsmanlike behaviour and promiscuity, he claims his life has radically changed since he became a Christian.

He told the Daily Mirror: “Maturity has come with age but I give all credit to my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who has humbled me and given me the mental standpoint of a man. I have finally grown up and come to understand what life is really about.”

Meanwhile, Fury entered the ring on Saturday wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with “I found Jesus” and claims he prays for his opponents before he fights.

The regular churchgoer told the Daily Star: “I try to do everything by the Bible. I’ve read testaments in church and I pray a lot. It’s the most important thing to me, more important than boxing.”

With probably the most apt name in boxing history, it seems appropriate to let Fury have the last word. In fact he sums up the ‘Christians in boxing’ debate quite succinctly.

“I don’t have a problem reconciling my religion with boxing,” he says. “God gives me the strength and belief to win.”

Read the full Tyson Fury story in Sorted November-December.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The perfect apprentice

Photo credit: BBC Pictures

I recently spent the weekend hiding from the tabloids, facebook and anything else that might give away the winner of The Apprentice. I’d sky plussed it but knew I wouldn’t be able to watch it for several days after the Sunday final.

For those of you who’ve never seen the show, here’s the basic premise. Lord Admiral Grand High Dragon Brewmaster Suralan Sugar (Lord Sugar for short) chooses a number of contestants – 16 this year – and then makes them jump through hoops each week, firing them one by one until a winner emerges.

This may sound cruel, and it sometimes is, but it is also massively entertaining, and discussions about each episode can bring even the least interesting of our colleagues to life.

Everyone had their favourite, whether it was eerie Edna with her creepy long gloves, monotonous Melody who would climb over a dead body to get what she wants, jolly Jim and his cringy one-liners, simpering Susan with her ridiculous questions or triumphant Tom (this year’s winner) and his harebrained inventions.

But entertaining as it is, it made me wonder how I would respond if God was on one side of that boardroom table and I was on the other. What would he say about me? Would he point that oversized finger at me and tell me I’m FIRED (or even worse, doomed to the fires of hell?).

Well let’s think about how Jesus treated his ‘apprentices’, the disciples. They were a motley crew, including several fishermen, a tax collector and even a money-grabbing traitor. Jesus had his patience tested to the limit with these 12 guys, but he continued to spend time with them, teach them and help them to catch his vision.

He washed their feet, he prayed for them and he ultimately died for them. As their mentor, he didn’t look for ways to pick fault with them, he spent his time instructing, empowering and deeply loving them.

So does that mean we could go into God’s boardroom, stick our feet up on the desk and expect a big pat on the back? Probably not. He’s given us a clear mandate – to go into all the world and preach the good news about Jesus’ death and resurrection (Matthew 28:16-20) – and, like Lord Sugar with his tasks, he expects us to follow it.

God is not to be trifled with, but he is a people person. He wants to know us inside and out, to help us get rid of the bad bits and build on the good. While Sir Alan tells Zoe in one episode that he has forgiven her this time but won’t do so again, God never runs out of forgiveness for us.

And this is how we should treat the people around us, especially if we are in a position of authority ourselves. The impact we have on other people could change their lives and even their destinies. Our call is not to be power-hungry, but God-hungry, and this task is more challenging (and rewarding) than anything Lord Sugar could cook up.

The best part with God is that, whatever our skill set, we are absolutely definitely HIRED.

Read more in the upcoming issue of Sorted magazine.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

A hobble up the cobbles

Photo credit: Sorted magazine

I had a strange day last week. One minute I was getting off the train in central Manchester and the next I was walking past the Rovers Return with Corrie's newest bad boy Frank Foster, real name Andrew Lancel.

Andrew comes to find me in the green room, surrounded by stars of the show who take turns making tea and toast, all the while exchanging friendly banter.

He is the perfect gentleman, dressed in a smart suit that is matched with a welcoming smile. He shakes my hand and whisks me off up the most famous cobbled street in the world.

But then when he suggests retreating to his dressing room for the interview I wonder if playing flirty Frank has finally got to him. Luckily I’d packed my chastity belt so off to the dressing room we went.

Andrew appears a little riled from the moment we meet and it’s only when we sit down that I get to the bottom of it. He’s been misquoted by the trashiest of tabloids and is visibly annoyed.

He explains the irony: give an interview mentioning you’re a Christian and that part never goes in. Say something totally innocuous and it is twisted to make you sound like a religious bigot. Luckily people who have met him know he would never have made the comments that were attributed to him.

With that out the way, we get down to business. He tells me about joining the Corrie crew and becoming the show’s new Mr Nasty.

“It’s the most welcoming place I’ve ever worked, right from day one. There’s never been a day I’ve not enjoyed,” he says. Having always been a big fan of the show and appearing several times as an extra in younger years, he instantly felt at home on the Street.

Having said that, becoming Frank took a bit of work. Andrew is clearly a gentle guy who loves people. His dressing room is plastered with pictures of his wife Louise and son Isaac, and he mentions them throughout the interview. So how does he become Frank the predatory ladies’ man, I wonder.

Well that’s testament to his skill as an actor. Before joining the show he convincingly played gay heroin addict Harvey Black in Queer as Folk, arrogant bully Barry Pearce in Bad Girls and tight-lipped DI Neil Manson in The Bill. So he is used to embodying something he is not.

He has no choice but to dive right in (if that’s the right choice of words!) The first time he meets co-star Samia Smith, his character is expected to force himself on her, trying to kiss her and stick his hand up her skirt. Clever editing leaves the audience unsure just where the sexual assault ends.

Christians often ask him how he can play parts like these as a believer, and this obviously gets his goat. “It’s my work,” he says emphatically.

In fact, Andrew believes playing such a controversial character has given him a better platform to speak about the things that matter to him – his family, his beloved Everton and his God. “If I can make a living and embolden and encourage people in their faith that’s great,” he says.

So what can we expect in the next few months? Well the Liverpool-based actor assures me Mr Foster is just getting started. Things are hotting up and it won’t be long before his actions make headlines again.

Read the full story in Sorted September-October.