a prayer for rebellion against us

9 08 2014

What’s your 20 year prayer? Because when we pray for young people, that’s what we’re praying. What do you wish people had prayed for you when you were 5? 10? 15? At our annual vision day for Sutton Schoolswork, we were invited to look ahead and pray for the future, and see where God led our thoughts. My prayers got quite big.  And even have a theme song.

My prayer is that this generation of young people will rebel against mine. That they will see our lazy, vacuous and self-interested society for what it is and they will rise up against it. I pray that they will be so filled with the Spirit they will not be able to control themselves from standing up against the lies we have peddled. And yes, we have peddled them, if only by our inaction. 

Where are you values? they will ask. You think that because you have abandoned religion your values are neutral and therefore better everyone else’s. But they come from inside yourself, where there is a greed and insecurity and the human tendency to self-preservation at all costs, and you wonder why your world has gone to hell.

You’ve sold us a lie that my self worth comes from my stuff. That my achievements are worth more than your love. That humans beings are consumers, not communities. That if we turn a blind eye to suffering it does not exist. That laziness leads to poverty and hard work to accumulation of trinkets and shiny stuff.

In a world more connected than ever you have cut yourselves off from any sense of duty, sacrifice and self-giving. You lie to protect your own interests and you do not hold each other to account. You have not shown us love.  

We refuse to follow you.

And when they say this, I pray that we, us, me – that we will not spend all our time defending the castles we have built for the sake of our pride or fear of change, but that we will allow them to challenge us, to change us; that we will see the world with the fresh and radical eyes of youth, and in doing so may be able to offer something to their struggle to recover our world from us. 

This is why young people are important. They will be in charge of everything in 20 years. They are the present and they are the future. Pray for them. And begin to prepare to let go of your castles and trinkets. Invite God to set a fire down in your soul that you can’t contain and can’t control. Do that, and everything becomes that much more scary exciting. And maybe more godly.  

On 6th September I will be running the Man vs Mountain race to raise money for Sutton Schoolswork. This is a gruelling 20 mile race over Snowdon, including abseiling and water obstacles just for extra fun. If you are willing and able to give, please do so through the website. Thank you. 


heart. soul. fail.

22 01 2014

I’m gonna put my heart and soul into it
teenagers with fewer A-Cs are more likely to self-harm 

I was reflecting on the connection between these two statements. The first is the sort of meaningless nonsense parroted out on TV by contestants on shows from baking to dancing, skating to singing, in those twee VT clips before they do their thing. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with putting your heart and soul into something. But I believe that one of the effects of the emotional manipulation of TV is that young people believe you can literally do anything if you put your heart and soul into it. 

What tipped the balance for me was when I heard a contestant say it on The Taste, which I wasn’t even watching. What she meant was, I’m going to use a combination of the skills I have spent years learning and honing, and in a high-pressure situation I will do my best to recreate something that tastes really nice to these three people on TV who have a sensationalist script to follow. Heart and soul? How many times have we seen X-Factor contestants put their heart and soul into singing, when really they should have paid a few quid for singing lessons. Or just used their ears. 

On TV, it’s amusing. But in real life, it is not. I remember a young person who was convinced they were going to the Brit School when they left school. A hopelessly unrealistic aim as they weren’t studying music or drama, learning an instrument, or singing other than to the radio. But they truly believed they were good enough. Why? Because they’d seen people on the X-Factor. They were completely unaware of the hard work that the vast majority of people put in.

When our culture promises so many short-cuts, and identifies ‘success’ and ‘achievement’ as being solely linked to grades, fame and money, it is not surprising that so many young people feel they’ve failed and come back to earth with a bang. Nothing matches what they’ve seen on TV. Everything else is just living half-life. Which brings us to the second sentence. 

Here’s a quote from the novel Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn (p80-1):

Our society was utterly, ruinously derivative… We were the first human beings who would never see anything for the first time. We stare at the wonders of the world, dull-eyed, underwhelmed. Mona Lisa, the Pyramids, the Empire State Building. Jungle animals on attack, ancient icebergs collapsing, volcanoes erupting. I can’t recall a single thing I have seen firsthand that I didn’t immediately reference to a movie or a TV show… I literally seen it all, and the worst thing, the thing that  makes me want to blow my brains out, is: The second-hand experience is always better. The image is crisper, the view is keener, the camera angle and the soundtrack manipulate my emotions in a way reality can’t anymore.

We must be real with our young people. We mustn’t over-promise to them, and we mustn’t let them believe the hype. Life is about far more than the emotional push of heart and soul. Feeling it and believing it are very convincing in the moment but as hollow as a grave. Life is about hard knocks, beautiful highs and a whole lot of the mundane, and true friends are those who stand with you through all of them.

Jesus makes us realistic. Jesus commends hard work alongside grace. And most of all, service. It is our folly if we allow this same culture of heart.soul.fail to filter in to our worship, to our churches, to our ministry; if our young people aspire to be like the image we portray of ourselves, and not the real people we are underneath, we have failed. If our young people need an emotional high to believe God is present, we have failed.

I’m all for heart and soul, but the heart and soul of discipleship is walking in the dust of our teacher, disciplining our lives around the broken and the hurting, and the hard work of personal change as we feel – truly feel – real life with our creator. There’s no shortcut to that.


17 08 2011

Feral, evil, savage, immoral, callous, lost causes. Those who do violence to others in the name of quick profit are called many things. Be they hoodies ransacking Debenhams and taking what isn’t theirs or bankers gambling our money and taking what isn’t theirs.


But name-calling is so easy. It starts in the playground and continues into adulthood.


What we need to do is pause.


Pausing is that thing you do when you count to 10 before you yell at your child or slap a cyclist or swear at a Policeman or call people names.


Pausing before speaking or acting means that we have a chance to think. Because what this country really needs is space to think. Deeply.


Deep thought will lead to deep justice. For the rioters, for the rioted; for the looters, for the looted. For bad bankers and for those trampled underfoot.


Without a pause, there is only revenge, knee-jerk reactions, spite. We don’t need spite. We need justice.


Justice is good. Justice is enough.We believe in deep justice not cheap spite because of our God.


People often fear God‘s justice, but we welcome it. We do not go beyond that to spite because to do that is to ignore the Jesus we claim to follow. If we do follow him we must rise above that. To do that, we live differently, love differently. God’s justice is fair. God’s justice has unfailing love as its core. That seems a good place to start.


It’s why the Torah said to a violent and warring tribal community an eye for an eye is enough and not a life for an eye like everyone else said. It’s why Jesus said love your neighbour and pray for those who persecute you instead of hating them and returning violence with violence like everyone did. It’s why Jesus told radical and offensive stories of good Samaritans and bad priests, or good chavs and bad toffs. Or whoever your feared ‘other’ is.


There have been many fascinating debates over the last week. We have seen the surface of many deep issues scratched – about families, about community, about fatherhood, about gangs, about stories, about underlying moral codes – and this has been brilliant. It is about time. We in the church are always talking about these things, as Nick Baines wrote about the apparent silence of Rowan Williams.


As followers of Jesus we need to be the ones who carry on with this. Because we believe in pausing, and then acting. We believe in being embedded in our communities. We believe in crossing the road to the injured and the wounded, however ‘other’ they are. We do this all the time. This is our chance for others to see it. Like here, in Wolverhampton. Like here, across the country. Like on CNN, with Patrick Regan of XLP. Like in the Guardian, with Martin Saunders.


But we do not do this to score points. We do not do this for eternal reward or a pat on the back.  We do it because we believe in deep justice, not cheap spite.


It’s that simple. And that hard.

the hopes sessions / 2 / doorstep

4 04 2011

hope on the doorstep

Hope is rising.

Sometimes hope can be found right on the doorstep.
Sometimes hope is trampled on.
Sometimes hope is a springboard for more hope.

This doorstep  is where the youth club meets.

detached and detaching. period.

4 05 2010

I wonder if in Jesus’ day they had bored young people hanging out around the synagogue climbing on the roof and causing trouble?  This week my new developing role of informal detached youth worker (known locally as “The Church Man”) turned into detaching youth from the church roof by getting them a ladder – they were v embarrassed to be stuck…

blaming eve?

Well, we had prayed for ways to engage with the young people on the street. We wanted to be the centre of the community. This wasn’t quite what we had in mind. Nor were the broken windows. But now neighbours have been asking for my name and phone number so they can tell me if kids are on the roof. There’s nothing quite like shared annoyance to get people talking…

Whilst talking with the kids I was asked some spectacular questions:

  • Do you own the church?
  • Why are there earthquakes?
  • Are you a paedo?
  • How did Jesus defeat death?
  • Can Jesus see me in the shower?
  • Will you crucify me so I know what it was like?
  • Can I ring the church bell?
  • How can Mary have been a virgin?
  • Can Jesus see you and Church Lady in the bedroom?
  • What is the Church of England?
  • Why do bad things happen?
  • Is it Eve’s fault we have periods?

It wasn’t my answers they were interested in. Thankfully, because saying that I am a boy and therefore don’t have periods probably wasn’t the answer they were looking for. Allowing questions, not being shocked or angry or annoyed, listening, laughing… talking to them human to human, accepting that they are pushing boundaries and want to get in trouble and not allowing myself to get pulled in that direction…

In my naive and glass-half-full mind, talking to them as adults and showing them love and respect will have a positive effect, will mean they muck around on the street but respect other people’s lives and properties and leave the roof alone. Jesus had brief encounters that changed lives, after all.

Maybe I’ll still keep watch though.

Now, back to musing on the Eve and periods question…
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