Monday, October 27, 2008

ELSA Goes to Sicily - A review, an overview, my thoughts

Before I start, I just want to categorically state that I will, or am, by no means going to defend any actions that went on during the course of the weekend in Sicily. It is clear that certain elements of the trip could be very controversial in their nature, and hence I will not defend the actions of anyone who was subject to such controversy. Having said that, I will try and make sure that such controversies are not mentioned in this blog.

Relax u ek™
Needless to say, there were a host of protagonists throughout the course of the trip, but perhaps there were none bigger than Alex. Hell, when you have a t-shirt dedicated to yourself spanning across no less than 12 people (10 when you consider that two didn’t make the trip to Sicily), you know that you’ve reached a certain level of fame in the group. Alex, you see, is the epitome of ‘relax’. He is about as happy-go-lucky a character that one can have amongst them, and one that seems to be ready to attempt anything. Well done to him, then.

Most of the ‘relax u ek’ ideology came through the massive consumption of alcohol that occurred during the weekend. ELSA is synonymous with its drinking feats throughout the course of the three days in Sicily, with some people even sticking to a strict diet of alcohol for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Most times, this was combined with a delicious side plate of puke. Or, in Analise’s case, a piss in poor Mark’s hard-hat.

International Law… u ek
Of course, Sicily isn’t all just about the alcohol. It’s about the educational aspect as well. Which is the reason why the Government – yes, I did vote PN – were big enough suckers to pay for this trip out of their own coiffeurs via the Smart Card (and most people accepted this gift gratefully), all simply because we paid a visit to Catania University for a 20-minute lecture on International Law. Now, if I was the University, I would use the term ‘law’ in conjunction with ‘lecture’ very lightly, because this was anything but that. Speaking about Model United Nations, with a flyer being distributed in Italian, may cover the international foyer, but it certainly does not give an outlook to any legal spheres whatsoever. Indeed, I’d rather class this as a comfortable sit down in order to give the government a good reason to pay for this trip. Brilliant.

Perhaps we were chicken enough not to rent a car between us, especially after we found out that Krista and co managed this feat quite comfortably. Indeed, maybe only Mickey and myself were really up to the task of driving on the horrendously congested Sicilian roads, other than the girls who rented out a vehicle, but the end result remains that we still didn’t even try getting one. Perhaps it’s just as well, as apart from the roads being congested, the drivers there are worse than Malta. I swear.

Well, the sightseeing journey was not plentiful, primarily because we only visited three places in total – Catania, Acitrezza and Taormina – and secondly because the majority of us were too pissed to realise what was going on most of the time. However, a brief outlook on all three would not go to waste. The centre of Catania is a joy to behold with its historical buildings, long roads and numerous fashion establishments. However, there are a couple of downsides to this – there are quite a few pesky beggars, obviously wanting money. When we were having lunch on Friday afternoon, we must have had at least three different people coming up to us all and asking us for money. And needless to say, they get quite angry if they don’t get what they want – just ask Mark, who had a knife pointed at his throat by this brat of an (approximately) 8 year old child, just because none of us gave him what he wanted. Throughout the course of the day, we must have encountered such people at least 6 times. An answer to this? Do what Stefan was doing – offer them a cigarette, and they’ll go away with immediate effect.

Acitrezza, on the other hand, is the place where we were staying, and is a 15-20 minute drive from Catania. It’s a relatively small and peaceful fishing village, and here I’ll just give a small bit of credit to our hotel manager, who, despite providing us with two rather inadequate meals for dinner on Thursday and Friday, was very patient with us all as many held after-parties going on till even half 6 in the morning. And of course, a brief word on Taormina is also due – it’s a beautiful place perched on the top of a hill; a very picturesque pedestrianised place that gives beautiful views of not only the underlying sea but also of the historical landmarks situated within the town.

Strut your stuff
Of course, another integral part of ELSA is none other than the parties. And, to my great despair, I have to say that these were a disappointment, for the most part. I’m not saying that our first night was bad, or anything of the sort, but when you pay €27 to enter a place that should house at least 600 people, and then leave at half 12(!!!), then you have to be slightly disappointed at the very least. Perhaps even worse was the fact that we got lost on the way due to the sheer inadequacy of one of the bus drivers (not Luca) – it permitted many of us to end up by questioning what on earth was going on, and sobered many people up!

A word has to go to poor Stefan here though, who really managed to strut his stuff after getting out of the shower. His clothes stolen, he had to emerge from the bathroom with a towel covering himself and looking very much like a prima donna. Needless to say, the very notion of himself coming out of the bathroom, naked, with this towel just covering him, was hilarious. I’m just wondering at which point he thought it was a good idea to come out of the bathroom in this manner, not rinsed (he still had soap on him), with all his friends waiting for him(!!!)…

My thoughts on Smoking
As the majority already know – word spreads and photos on Facebook never do anyone justice – I was subject to having a couple of cigarettes while in Sicily, something that seems to have become quite a talking point among many of my friends. Firstly, I would like to clarify the situation – what happens in Sicily stays in Sicily – it has been done, and I cannot revoke that that has been done. Secondly, I am not going to be taking up the habit of smoking – I know what type of a person I am and I know that it is not in my character to do so. Thirdly, I feel that such ‘condemnation’ over this topic is unjustified, undue and unjust – as it says in the Bible, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her" (John 8:7). No one is perfect in life, and neither am I. So that’s that aspect all cleared up, I hope.

Final Thought
So as to not make this blog too lengthy, I have decided to conclude here. Most of that that I said has covered the duration of the trip, anyway. All in all, Sicily was a pleasant experience spent with some good friends. Without going into the merits of the case, I believe that there could have been aspects of the trip that could have been better than those that evolved throughout the duration of the three days, but overall, it was a better and more worthwhile trip than last year’s. However, a trip to Sicily next year could verge on the repetitive – indeed, I strongly suggest to the organisers to find another place next year.

God Bless and Take Care,

Thursday, October 9, 2008

If Only I Had Some Thoughts...

Well, go figure. I, prime thinker, have nothing to think about. So, well, I decided that now is an opportune time to think about God's love for us. I actually have something of the like on my laptop, which I might upload later if I deem it appropriate, as it was essentially a doodling of my thoughts during my quiet time at STRONGER. The reason is that because it was a 'doodle', it won't make much sense. And that's exactly the opposite of what the aim of my blog really is... I don't want to lead my readers into thinking that I'm just a bullshitter par excellence. Which I am, anyway.

Well, I decided to Google (!! - yes, I was feeling lazy and tired when writing this!) some Bible quotes with regards God's love for us, as I felt that these could really be attributed to STRONGER (for those reading who don't know what it was, it was Y4J's recent weekend live-in). Anyhow, in my opinion, this was the strongest verse that emerged of all:

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." - John 3:16

This quote managed to make me further reconfirm the love that God has for us all. God has no plans to abandon us when the going isn't good, because He knows that He can pull us through the hard times. God loves each and everyone of us so much that He gave us His only Son, who then subsequently died for us in the ultimate form of suffering - on the Cross. God loves us so much that we will be saved simply by believing in Him, nothing more, nothing less. He promises everlasting life to all of those who do so, it says it clearly in the Scripture! STRONGER was an opportunity for us all to reconfirm our belief in the Lord, and hence quantify not only our love for Him, but also His love for us.

Then I came across another quote that I thought was really applicable to the weekend as well:

"The LORD opens the eyes of the blind: the LORD raises them that are bowed down: the LORD loves the righteous." - Psalm 146:8

I thought that prior to STRONGER, we might have perhaps been blinded by circumstances that took priority in our lives. I'm not perfect, and based on personal experience, I was definitely one of these people as well. Times would pass where I wouldn't pray or spend some quiet time with God, and hence, start to become 'blind' once again. On the other hand, our faith might have grown stagnant and hence we might have needed to 'recharge our batteries'. This is what STRONGER enabled us to do as a group - it enabled us to realise that living in God's light, or, to use Andrew Consiglio's term, boarding and being part of the "ark", was the righteous thing. I felt that this weekend really helped a lot of people, myself included, to see this once again, and to get back on track with God firmly rooted in my life. Once again, I stress though, I'm not perfect... and indeed, there have been times this week where I have slipped back into being blind! However, I believe that living in this light is a growing process that one has to evolve through with time. Which brings me to wrap up this section with a verse from Deuteronomy, and is the reason why I believe in such a God...

"He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He." - Deuteronomy 32:4

Moving on now. Something of a landmark (I was really going to say the word 'judgement' after 'landmark', seeing how many times I've heard it during law lectures!!) nature also happened for the first time in a long time at STRONGER... I went to Confession. Only God knows how long I hadn't gone prior to last weekend, and judging on my calculations, it must have been around 4-5 years ago. (EDIT: It was actually around 2 years ago. Honestly.) While I don't think I had anything in particular to confess about, I did somehow feel as if I had managed to take a huge weight off my chest after this happened. Now, suddenly, while browsing through other websites, I came across this and understood why fully...

"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." - 1 John 1:9

The priest that I confessed to then told me that as a penance, I should look at Psalm 23 and reflect on it. I decided that to do such an 'analysis', I should write down what I think about it on a piece of paper (as I didn't have my laptop with me at the time). Needless to say, I found Verses 3 and 4 of particular inspiration, and the following is what I wrote regarding this:

"You guide me along the right path for the sake of your name. Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for you are at my side; your rod and staff give me courage." - Psalm 23:3-4

There are many periods in life where we encounter walking through such dark valleys. Most times we know about them and are conscious of the wrong that we are doing, but sometimes we slip into such darkness subconsciously, without knowing it's there. It could be for various reasons, which need not be mentioned. In such circumstances, we have to try and realise the wrong that we are doing - as difficult as it may be - and rectify that wrong. (Knowing that we have the Lord by our side, in all circumstances, whatever the situation may be, makes us stronger.)

I think that's all I have to say... I'm sorry if my post has, for one, not come across in a clear and structured manner and secondly not made sense at all, and can hence be classified as bullshit! Ironic now, isn't it, that the title of this blog is If Only I Had Some Thoughts...

God Bless You all!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Where it All Stemmed From

The inspiration for this blog comes from a simple phrase - 'Thank you'.

Well, as I've written what is now around 6 blogs on this site (either I have, or haven't, or don't feel like counting the amount written!), I think it's finally time for me to give (part of) my testimony. It's taken me some time to actually get down to writing this, but I think that it should now be out in the open, once and for all.

In my previous blog, I wrote a few 'character profiles' for a select group of people who come to Y4J. As I mentioned, or more like as she mentioned(!!), I was requested to do this by Bettina and, over and above that, well, an angry mob of people who threatened to kill me if I didn't do so! (I joke). However, what I didn't mention was the fact that I placed my best friend Mark at the top of the list for a reason. It wasn't a case of favouritism - those who know me well know that I don't give preferential treatment to practically anyone (though I'm sure that it has happened in the past and will happen again, in some form, in the future). It wasn't a case of further proclaiming that Mark is my best friend. Indeed, that would be taking the easy way out, wouldn't it?

Of course, the latter is invariably linked to what I'm going to say, but I believe that he is someone who has managed to change my life for the better. I'm saying this because Mark was the person who brought me, and hence introduced me, to Y4J. Unfortunately, I tried finding the message that he sent me, which was around two days prior to the Lenten talks, to no avail, as otherwise I would have quoted it here. However, it roughly stated that it was an invitation - directly to me - to attend these talks as they might be good for myself. At first, I was extremely dismissive of the message, and in fact I remember asking Mark why on earth he had bothered sending it to me, stating that he knew I wouldn't come because I wasn't into these things and that it was a waste of 5 Euro cents. He responded in a similar fashion to "We [at Y4J] were told to send this message to people who don't attend and maybe don't believe... Cu there" (loosely quoted).

To cut a long story short, I had nothing to do the following Monday evening, and decided to head off to these Lenten talks, simply to see what they were about. However, I first checked whether any of my friends were going - to be honest, I wouldn't have dared to go had I been alone. Initially, like everyone else, I'm presuming, I needed that support and that encouragement to keep on going to the talks and indeed, later on, even Y4J meetings. Now, 8 months down the road, I obviously don't need this assistance any longer as I'm confident that I'm doing the right thing, but primarily, I'm now confident in my faith. Such a confidence and such a belief was lacking back in February; I can't say that it's lacking now.

So as the first line of this blog states - The inspiration for this blog comes from a simple phrase - 'Thank you'. Yes, thank you to everyone for being by my side when I needed it the most; but more specifically, thank you to Mark for making me believe once again. Without that SMS that he sent, I wouldn't be the person I am today. I may have already told him this a few nights ago when online, in a rather random statement, but I felt that it needed to be made public.

To conclude, I chose two quotes - one from Romans and one from the great philosopher St. Augustine - to show us how even though we might drift away from the Lord, He is always willing to welcome us back with open arms.

"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." - Romans 5:8

"God loves each of us as if there were only one of us." - St. Augustine

God Bless You All & Take Care,