Last month I travelled to Kent to take a wedding ceremony for a friend. I arrived the evening before and stayed in a local B&B. As I was settling down for the night I had the TV on and an advert came on that I really wasn’t ready for. To me, it was vulgar, sexually explicit, degrading and offensive. But what blew me away was what it was for – it was advertising a new show that MTV have just launched called The Valleys. You might have heard of it by now. Anyway, being a proud valley boy (Pooler born, Pooler bred and when I die I’ll be Pooler dead!” I was intrigued as to what the dickens this show was all about. (Pooler is short for Pontypool, in case you didn’t know!)
So here’s the general idea – MTV locate a bunch of young people from the Welsh valleys (though they’re not all from the Valleys…but that’s another story) who apparently have aspirations to ‘make it’ in the music industry and who think their only chance of making it is to leave the Welsh valleys and try their luck in the big city (Cardiff). These are some of the things that the cast had to say about the Welsh valleys:
“There’s nothing in the valleys!”
“There’s no jobs.”
“I’m sick of the fresh air, the hills, the sheep and the pound shops. Get me out of here!”
“There’s no opportunities there for us at all.”
For those of us who live here, those sort of statements are hardly new, and not entirely out of place, especially regarding employment. However, having spent 12 years of my life in Cardiff I can safely say that there are plenty in the city who would also lament the lack of jobs, and who would say that they’re sick of the smog, the concrete and the stray dogs! In other words people seem to be discontent wherever they are.
But all that said, I still have a BIG problem with MTV’s The Valleys.
I could simply bang on about the drunkenness, immorality and irresponsible attitudes towards sex and relationships that the show clearly portrays, but that would be too easy, so I’ll leave that for all the legalists to kick off about! Besides, it’s that stuff that sells the show and people mouthing off about it is only going to generate greater morbid curiosity. Similarly, I’m not going to slam it for painting the Valleys in a bad light. Do everyone in the valleys behave like those guys? No. Do some? Yes. The same can be said of anywhere in the UK. But here’s the thing, I don’t think that anyone would really think that this show paints a true picture of what ALL people in the valleys are really like.
So what am I blogging on about?
Here’s my main concern about this show – it promotes laziness, cowardice and escapism. The idea that if somewhere is tough then you need to leave that situation rather than change that situation. It’s easy to be a thermometer (taking the temperature of how things are). Anyone can do that! But to be a thermostat (actually changing the temperature of how things are) requires significantly more energy, creativity and courage. It’s so easy to identify and criticise what’s wrong and, to be honest, many people in the valleys do. It is far more costly to actually do something about it.
Let’s assume that these young people all make it in Cardiff, will they then return to the valleys? I very much doubt it! What do I base that on? I base it on the use of the word ‘just’ on their promotional video:
“Will they make it in Cardiff or will they just end up back in the valleys?”
JUST end up back in the valleys!! That’s SUCH a derogatory statement. That word ‘just’ sums up my problem with this show. For what it’s worth, I left the valleys, got a degree in Cardiff, served in several fantastic local churches and made a shed load of fantastic friends. Would I go back if God called me? Yes! I love Cardiff. But God told me to go back to the valleys. And do you know what? The problems up here are exactly the same as they were in the city! Guess what? Both the valleys and the cities of Wales are full of broken people trying to make sense of life in a broken world. I haven’t JUST ended up back in the valleys. I’ve come home. Pontypool might not have huge multiplex cinemas, a vibrant nightlife or bendy buses with TV screens onboard. But we do have EPIC countryside, genuine community spirit and a tidy accent!
On top of all that, here’s my view as a Christian. Cardiff has some HUGE and active churches that are doing a great job of making Christ known there in the city. Up here in the valleys, with a few exceptions, there is not an abundance of growing, gospel-preaching churches. In other words, what we have up here is a PHENOMENAL mission-field! Shortly before I moved up to Trevethin, a friend in Cardiff told me that I was crazy for leaving Cardiff to go live on an estate that no one’s ever heard of! He said that I would have far greater influence if I stayed in the city and that my ministry would be more widely effective. But God told me to go to Trevethin, and His vote wins!
Is it easy seeking to make Christ known up here? No! Sometimes it’s painful and frustrating and hard! But we have seen God do some wonderful things that wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t been obedient to come. Have we seen enough? Not by a long shot! But I’m not going to jack it in and join in the chorus of discontented voices that are determined to tell us how crap the valleys are. I’m going to fulfil my ministry and not stop in my task of being part of effecting gospel change here in the Welsh valleys, whatever the cost.
So a word to all my fellow valley commandos (especially the ones who love Jesus) and who are thinking stuff the valleys, the city is where it’s at: If the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, perhaps you should water your own side rather than jumping over the fence in the hope that the next field will be a more blessed place to be. Be a thermostat, not a thermometer!