Minister’s blog

I whooped about a palimpsest

Theological books are often hard going for me.  I usually only manage to mine one or two gems of insight from 400 pages of hard graft.  Christopher Watkin’s ‘Biblical Critical Theory’ seems to be an exception.  I’m less than an inch through the volume, but have whooped out loud several times already.  One of the whoops resulted from this quote, which I had to read about 5 times to make sure I had understood:

“Christian thought expects to find in every cultural coding a fundamental violence; no primordial innocence is displaced by the archive; but perhaps fantastically, it treats this pervasive violence, inscribed upon beings fabric as a palimpsest, obscuring other text that is still written but in the style of a letter declaring love”  David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite, 55. In Christopher Watkin, Biblical Cultural Theory, 169

I was pleased to recall from the back recesses of my mind that a palimpsest is a manuscript (or painting) which has been painted or written over, obscuring the original text or image.  Watkin is using this quote to highlight the asymmetry of good and evil in Christian thought.  It’s a thought I had come across previously in C.S. Lewis.  Evil is parasitic on good.  It may act quickly and devastatingly, but it can only corrupt good things which pre-exist.  The Christian view of the world is that God is good and that his creation was good.  The world and especially every human being created in God’s image bear this original goodness.  Christian thought is not naïve about human nature.  “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” says Paul in the New Testament book of Romans.   Bentley Hart talks about a “fundamental violence in every cultural coding”.  Every human being, every family, every village, every culture bears this mark of fallenness.  But underneath that brokenness, pre-existing it and persisting behind it is the original goodness of human beings.  There to be redeemed, there to be restored.

Watkin has similar insights about the primacy of the personal over the material and of love over violence which made me thump the air, but this image of the palimpsest is the best one so far.  This is a theology and a thought of indelible hopefulness.  The most broken human, be they victor or victim is not beyond redemption.  The most twisted and wicked culture, rightly subject to the judgement of God is not without straightened-out-start-over potential.   I am really looking forward to Watkin’s examination of redemption later in the book.  Meanwhile the idea of evil as a palimpsest capable only of obscuring but not destroying good is keeping me smiling. 

 

The Boobs of Oppenheimer

I went to watch one of this years’ most talked about blockbusters last week.   Christopher Nolan’s biopic thriller on the life of the inventor of the atomic bomb lived up to the hype.  A well told story woven with gripping suspense, strong characters and artful direction.  It carries a 15 certificate in the UK.  I assumed this was because of its subject matter: death, the destroyer of worlds; the instantaneous annihilation of tens of thousands of civilians; the tortured mind of the father of the atomic bomb.  But no.  The certificate was awarded for sexual content:  Oppenheimers’ boobs.

 

There was so much in this film to keep my attention.  Having only the vaguest grasp of the history behind the plot, I found the power struggle between Strauss and Oppenheimer utterly engrossing.  Cillian Murphy’s portrayal of the protagonist was convincing from start to finish.  As was Emily Blunt as a longsuffering, feisty Kitty Oppenheimer.   Robert Downey Junior managed to convince me that he was Strauss, not Stark.  Likewise there was nothing Bourne or Hunting about Matt Damon’s Leslie Groves.   Florence Pugh’s was a superb, sultry, complex commie Jean Tatlock.  The whole thing was utterly engrossing.   There was no need for Oppenheimer’s boobs.

 

The subject matter was handled with care.  Yes, this was a thriller, driving towards a single outcome, but the ethics of the production of WMDs was questioned throughout.  Yes, the aim was beating the Nazis and the Japanese in the war and the Commies in the arms race, but the horror of the deployment of A or H bombs was unhidden.  And yet, the subtlety of the storytelling around instantaneous death, full body 3rd degree burns, radiation sickness etc shielded the viewer from exposure to Hiroshima Nagasaki.  But not Oppenheimer’s boobs.

 

The bible celebrates boobs as part of God’s beautiful human creation.  A differentiating marker of the female half of the race made in his image.  Anyone who has ever romantically loved a woman appreciates them.  If infants could speak they would probably have something warm and fuzzy to say on the matter.  But the bible is clear that bare human sexual organs are designed for intimacy, not for public gaze.  My opinion is that much of what passes for beauty-celebrating boob art is actually man-titillating boob porn.  There’s probably a fine line that’s lost on me.  Even so, I think Oppenheimers boobs fall on the M-TBP side of the line.              

 

I don’t suppose Florence Pugh came up with the idea that she should get her top off.  Presumably Christopher Nolan or some other male script writer thought it would be a good plan for the public to be exposed to the full visual effects of Oppenheimer’s philandering.   We’ve moved on from boobs on page 3.  We realised that soft porn in the newspaper is misogynistic, unnecessary and damaging to sexual relationships in the real world lives of readers.   Actors and scriptwriters of the calibre that made this film are perfectly capable of discussing or suggesting extramarital affairs – as they did for the relationship between Oppenheimer and Ruth Tolman – without mammary exposure.   It’s a shame that M-TBP denies thoughtful 12(A) year-olds the chance to wrestle with the subject matter of this cracking film.  I hope they let Pugh ply her excellent craft with her kit on in the next feature.  There’s so much more to this excellent film than Oppenheimer’s boobs. 

Dele, Dr Amy and Level 3 safeguarding

“He only cost five mil’,   he’s better than Ozil, we’ve got Dele Ali” we sang.  What a player he was – the acrobatics, the flair, the partnership with Kane.  Pochetino seemed to have Dele’s youthful antics under control and he was firing on all cylinders.  But in 2019, we all noticed that something had gone South.  The attitude simmered, the petulance flared, the brilliance waned and the starts dried up.  None of us could really explain why… until last week.

In an interview with Gary Neville, Dele revealed that he had been sexually abused as a child and that those feelings had resurfaced for him as a young professional footballer. He had emotionally and chemically supressed them which had resulted in his footballing world crumbling.   He is now facing his past in therapy and beginning to feel stronger for it. 

The NSPCC reckon 1 in 5 of the adult population of the UK experienced some form of abuse as a child. As a caring professional who works with people over long periods of time, I think this statistic is  about right.   Going on the people I have met, we as a nation we systematically abused and allowed abuse of Children for most of the time between the 70s and noughties.  The abuse took place in schools and churches, in sports teams, social clubs, celebrity circles and especially behind the closed doors of families.  We did not talk about it and we did not deal with it and now we are reaping the consequences. 

 

Shortly after hearing Dele’s story, I listened to Dr Amy Orr-Ewing’s address to this year’s parliamentary prayer breakfast in Westminster Hall.  She was speaking about justice and forgiveness and the unique contribution Christian faith can make to the victims of abuse. 

For a victim to move on from the effects of abuse, the truth needs to be spoken and justice needs to be done.  Sometimes this is not humanly possible because a perpetrator has fled, or died or remains too powerful to be held to account.  The bible tells us that every human will face judgement at the end of days and that every injustice that has ever been perpetrated will be dealt with in one of two ways.  For the genuinely repentant, the just penalty was paid in advance by the death of the son of God.  For the self-justifying and unrepentant there remains only punishment and exclusion.  The death of the Son of God is the ultimate cost.  It does not cheapen the pain of the victim.  The suffering of the Son of God places him alongside the powerless victim and in opposition to the empowered perpetrator.

Victims also need to be able to forgive.  Unforgiveness is a perpetrator’s leash on the life of the abused.  Forgiveness cuts the line and allows a victim to move on.  Even when a perpetrator’s repentance is not available, a victim can exercise their power and agency over them through forgiveness.  Jesus words of forgiveness to his torturers on the cross identify him again with the victim, and show the powerful agency of his way of forgiveness. 

Orr-Ewing pointed out to the assembled parliamentarians that acceptance of the Christian truth that justice will be done one way or another is an enormous help both in the decision to forgive and the process of forgiveness.     

 

A couple of days later, I went for my refresher safeguarding training.   Churches in the UK are busting a gut to make sure that they are safe places for kids and vulnerable adults.  At the same time, we are reminded daily of the effects of abuse in the lives of the folks we care for.  It can be hard to hear some of the stories but the hope of justice and the call to forgive at the heart of the Christian story are wonderful tools for healing and progress.          

I wonder if Dele knows the Christian story.  I wonder if it would help him to pull through.  Either way I hope he is able to forgive and to find justice and peace.  I hope he recovers some of his earlier brilliance and flair.   I even hope he gets some starts at Everton this season.

      

Could I be an actor… or a politician?

Acting did play a part in my becoming a preacher.  As a teenager I realised that just as I had memorised lines in school plays, I could memorise bible verses.  If I could stand up on a stage in front of the school in My Fair Lady or Oklahoma, surely I could stand there and talk about my faith.  Occasionally folks have suggested to me that there is not much difference – it’s all just communication, and anyone who is good at communication can be a preacher – just as they can be a writer, blogger, vlogger, actor etc.

I’ve heard similar things said about politicians over the years – William Hague, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton.  I’m belatedly reading Tony Blair’s autobiography which mentions the accusation:  “they don’t believe in anything, they are just a good communicator”.  Blair’s response is emphatic:  “If you don’t have core beliefs…. you will never be a good communicator – the best communication comes from the heart”.  The former PM points out the microscopic scrutiny under which modern politicians live: if you don’t mean it, you will quickly be found out and called out as a hypocrite.   Fortunately, local church preachers tend not to have the same level of media scrutiny.  I do think congregations and communities are able to spot hypocrisy in the pulpit though.

My brief foray into school drama shone a bit of light on the integrity issues actors must face.  Even at the age of 13 I was pretty uncomfortable with Alfred Doolittle’s ethics.  I guess I convinced myself that the bigger story was worth telling and that Alfred had a tragi-comic role in setting the scene of Eliza’s hard-knock life.     I wonder how much control professional actors have over which stories they tell and which parts they play.  I know I would be pretty uncomfortable with many of the roles played and stories told by contemporary dramas.

I know that Christians can navigate the tricky waters of showbiz and politics with integrity.  I’m glad that June Brown, David and Carrie Grant, Kate Forbes and Danny Kruger were called to do that.  You might be too.  But I am grateful to work in a role which restricts me to communicating about a fairly tightly defined set of ideas I really believe in.  I’m also glad of the infinitely wide variety of ways which are available to me to do this.  I am happy to dramatize or politick or preach and I don’t mind doing it online, in print or in person.  It’s all part of telling God’s story of creation, fall, redemption and future glory.  I hope I am telling it with integrity.  Could I be an actor or a politician?  Skills-wise maybe.  Conviction-wise probably not.

Lego 8865 and the creation mandate


My wife Jo was clearing out the cellar at her parents’ house when she came across one of her brother Ant’s old Lego sets.  As a kid the 1988 ‘Test Car’ set seemed like the ultimate toy I never had.  Over the last few weeks I have stolen a few moments (with Ant’s permission) to build it.  It lived up to my expectations. 


If I recall correctly, it was the biggest Lego set money could buy in 1988: the top of the Technic range.   Where 8865 really delivers is in its representation of real car features: mock v4 piston engine, independent suspension, rack and pinion steering, rear differential, adjustable seats, 3 speed gear box and pop-up headlights.  You can observe how they are put together as you build through the stages and then trundle the car along and see how they operate.  Although I never owned one, 8865 is the reason I know what a rear differential gear is and how it works.

As a kid ogling friends’ finished 8865s I never noticed that it was a strangely proportioned model.   The engine is mounted very high and the seats are too big and too close to the edges and roof of the car.  This is because it is made out of Lego.  Not bespoke plastic parts specific to one aesthetically pleasing model only (like post-revival Lego models) but real multi-purpose bricks.  With a  bit of imagination, you could use these same bricks to build a bigger gear box, or a dockyard crane, or a mock-up steam engine or a lift in a lift tower. 

The instructions are much harder to follow than modern Technic instructions.  Apparently this set is notorious for having the highest average number of components per build stage.    It must have taken Ant, and my school friends some considerable time to build, with numerous pauses to locate where parts went and work out how segments fitted together.  Interpretation and ingenuity were mandatory for 8865 builders.   Help from parents and older siblings may also have been required.

Human beings are created to fill God’s earth and subdue it according to Genesis 1.  To use our ingenuity and strength to tame the planet and produce everything we need to  live and thrive.  It’s God’s planet, so we ought not be wasteful.  We’re made in his image, so we are creative.  

This old Lego set got me thinking about wastefulness.  How many of the toys we have bought our kids will be any use at all in 35 years time?  This one’s going back to Ant now for him to build with his kids.  It got me thinking about creativity too.  Some geniuses in Billund made 8865 work using a minimum number of new parts (just three novel front steering and suspension components I think?).  But the end result is a really satisfying build and a lovely toy, which is crying out for more creativity on bodywork and doors and points on to all sorts of other mechanical possibilities.

A toy with waste-reducing longevity, manifesting and promoting human creativity and theological reflection (at least for this nerd).  Sounds like a winner to me.  Here’s to the 1988 Lego 8865 Test Car.

Bear boring Grylls

Louis Theroux was dismayed to find his recent interview with Bear Grylls being described as boring on Twitter.  I can kind-of see where the tweeter was coming from.  Bear Grylls is being interviewed on his private island, but there is no secret mansion.  Louis Theroux is probing his soul, but there is no scandal.  They bump into Bear’s wife Shara.  She is normal.   He really does do pull ups dangling over a cliff.  No camera trickery. 

I read ‘Facing Up’ Gryll’s account of his Everest ascent years ago.  You’ve got to be pretty strong and confident and lucky to ascend Everest but what struck me was his humility & faith.  He came over as a very likeable character.  He’s made a lot of TV shows and a lot of headlines over the 20 years since then.   More recently he has made a great deal of money, but he he still strikes me as a genuinely humble, personable chap. 

Bear Gryll’s appearances in the Alpha Course films have made his simple Christian faith well known.  He doesn’t consider himself religious – just a guy who trusts God and prays each day for forgiveness and guidance.   His closest friends and confidantes are Christians: Charlie Mackesy and Nicky and Pippa Gumbell.   He’ll talk about this simple faith with Piers Morgan or Louis Theroux or anyone who asks.  Someone once suggested to him that faith was like a crutch for the weak.  He said it’s his backbone. 

Our kids have grown up watching Bear Grylls films.  We did not really care when the Mail reported that he sometimes stayed in hotels whilst away from home filming.  You can watch most of his 21 genuine scrapes with death on his Discovery DVDs.  They are real and terrifying.  You cannot question the guy’s bravery or the happy-go-lucky spirit that got him through SAS selection. 

In recent years, we’ve watched Bear Grylls ‘hosting’ celebrities in the wild: Nerendra Modi, Barack Obama, Yao Ming, Will Ferrell, Kate Winslett, Anthony Joshua.  His disarming presence seems to help people open up about their hopes and fears whilst he takes them to the edge of their physical abilities in wild environments.  

You might gather that I am a fan.  It’s always dangerous to hold someone famous up as an example of life and faith.  But having observed Bear Grylls from my armchair over the last 20 years I still think he’s a pretty good bet.  If swagger and scandal are the spice of your life, then Bear Grylls will bore you (tweet away).  If faith, family, courage and kindness are your bag though, you could do a lot worse than following bear Grylls as he follows Jesus.      

When Consultant Surgeons Pray

I am often reminded that we in the West have outgrown our need for religion.  Science has taken the place of superstition and humanity has risen above the need for faith.  The only place where religion persists is in the uneducated minds of folks in underdeveloped societies.  We, the strong, the wise, just don’t need it any more. 

My view of consultant surgeons is (thankfully) based on limited personal experience.  In my mind, however, they are often amongst the most highly skilled, genuinely ingenious, cocksure alpha males on the planet.  The epitome of human strength and wisdom.   David Nott’s book ‘War Doctor’ did nothing to disabuse me of this notion.  Nott is a Welsh-Burmese vascular and general surgeon working in London and regularly taking unpaid leave to work in conflict and disaster zones around the world. In his spare time he flies – including (for a time) Learjets.   He freely admits that his humanitarian instincts are spurred on by the thrill of working in the most dangerous places in the world.    War Doctor is not a book for the faint hearted.   It’s a full-bore tale of the horror and gore of war; of medical and political heroism and of tense stand-offs with combatants as well as other surgeons.  But it’s surprisingly full of tenderness, and despite Nott’s protestations that he’s not religious, of God’s presence and providence. 

The book recounts one terrifying account of a Syrian encounter with Chechen ISIS.  Nott is working with a couple of Syrian surgeons on an unidentified patient with catastrophic wounds.  He is manually stopping the life-blood flowing from the body on the table when the patient’s brother and his fellow fighters break into the theatre and demand to know what they are doing.  Knott knows he mustn’t reveal his Western identity by speaking as this will result in his (kidnapping and) execution, but he needs his hands to stop shaking and his assistant to pass him the correct suture, so he prays to God to ‘control his shaking hands which were still pressing on the wound’.  His Syrian colleagues explain what he’s doing to the fighters, telling them that it requires his full attention.  Unbidden, a fellow surgeon leans across the table and their heads touch ‘in a simple act of brotherly love’: his hands stop trembling and he is able to complete the operation just as the fighters’ walkie talkies summon them to some more pressing matter.  ‘From then on, every morning I prayed, asking God to keep me safe so I could do my job’.

Nott’s prayers are not born of a lack of education or courage.  They simply show that he’s in a situation beyond his control and express an instinct to reach for a higher power.   This human instinct is the same thing that packs churches in poverty-stricken regions.  It’s what makes the 12 step Alcoholics Anonymous program work.   It’s an instinct that’s dulled by the self-preserving effects of education and wealth, but never quite leaves us.  I believe this is because we are wired for relationship with God & it is possible for us at any time to speak to our maker.  We don’t have to wait till we are at the end of our resources, but somehow he’s willing to listen to us even we’re so proud about our own strength and wisdom that we leave it till then.              

 

 

I’m dreaming of an anti-racist Christmas

I recently attended a lecture hosted by the Sam Sharpe Project at Oxford University.  The project explores and promotes the story of the Baptist minister and 1832 Jamaican Slave Revolt leader Sam Sharpe.  This year’s speaker was Kehinde Andrews, professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University (BCU).  He offered plenty of solid, saddening evidence for the institutional nature of racism in the UK today.  The title ‘Bringing Down the House’ was asking a personal question: is it possible for a black man in a white world to effect positive change for antiracism and social justice?   

The lecture itself was eloquent and engaging, but it was also edgy in its uncertain tone.  Professor Andrews seemed unable to persuade himself that it would be possible for him to effect much change – either at BCU or in wider society.   It would have been a completely inappropriate response for a middle class white Wottonian to shout out ‘Yes you can!’ at the end, but that is what I felt like and here’s why: because Christmas is coming.

Christmas is when we remember that God became one of us in order to transform the world.  Setting aside his own safety, Jesus entered our world of ethnic tension and relational mess. Despite his total power he set an example of humility and service.  Living in complete moral purity, Jesus suffered injustice.  Dying as an outcast and rising as a saviour he won inclusion for us among God’s people and in his purposes.  Jesus’ followers are overcomers who roll up their sleeves and get involved in the mess of the world in order to redeem it. 

Sam Sharpe was motivated by his belief in Christ to pay the ultimate price for leading a slave strike, which became a revolt, which shone an international light on the moral disgrace of slavery. Meanwhile, also motivated by Jesus’ example, William Wilberforce MP waded through the treacle of greed and national self-interest towards abolition.  Twisted versions of Christianity have been used through the ages to prop up slavery, but Wilberforce and Sharpe both knew the truth, that following Jesus is not compatible with owning other human beings. They also knew that Jesus would have them do something about it.  Christian anti-racism cannot be passive.  Christmas says otherwise. 

The combination of the hyper-academic setting, the reminders of the horrific racism of our national past and of Christian history and some aspects of the critical race theory in this year’s lecture combined to make it an uncomfortable place for me.   I hope and pray, though that Professor Andrews is successful in bringing down his bit of the house.  I think Jesus cheers him on in that.  Christmas says that Jesus cheers on anyone who rolls up their sleeves to oppose corruption, racism and greed.  So may all your Christmases be anti-racist.

Maverick and my world

Top Gun Maverick has an IMDB score of 8.6, putting it in the esteemed company of It’s a Wonderful Life and Saving Private Ryan, Life is Beautiful and The Green Mile. It’s a good film.  It’s spectacularly shot with actors sitting in real-life inverted fast jets.  It’s honestly relational; the characters are endearing in their responses, ambitions and regrets.  As you’d expect it’s gung-ho, U.S.A.-go! stuff, but it’s free from both the P.C. overtones of its age and the misogynistic undertones of its prequel.

And yet, as we emerged from the cinema, I found myself strangely unsatisfied among my thrilled co-viewers.   I’ve been trying to work out what my problem is.  

It could be the predictability.  Ask my family – they will tell you I am very bad at predicting what will happen next.  I rarely know who did it.  But I saw all of the reconciliations and all of the rescues in Maverick coming a nautical mile off.

On reflection, I think there’s a deeper disconnect between me and Maverick.  The squeaky-clean, precision-timed realism of the fast jet footage was ultra-real.  Real g-forces and real fear are captured in the eyes of the actors, real cancer in the face of Val Kilmer.  There’s an intense realism to way the film is made.  But there’s a jarring detachment between my view of reality and the main plot-line. 

We’re making our way through the book of Revelation as a church at the moment.  The grittiness of the powers of evil colours every sermon.  Jesus wins, but he and his people suffer and die. History and regular updates from Open Doors, CSW, Amnesty etc today tell the same story.   I find myself watching a fair bit of news at the moment too.  Maybe too much.  It’s complicated – Stalin and Hitler and Chamberlain and Trump and Peter the Great and Prince Volodymir all left deep ruts that present leaders get stuck in.  There is a black and white moral quality to Russia’s action in Ukraine.  But the interconnectivity of the global economic system means that responses end up in fudged shades of grey.  We’re supporting a church in Svitlovods’k who are feeding families of refugees who don’t know if they will ever be able to return to their homes.  Inflation, fuel shortages language barriers, fear, separated families, PTSD all part of their everyday lives at the whim of complex powers beyond any of their control. 

So when a non-descript clear-cut, faceless, nameless black-and-white baddy gets destroyed in a one-off hit involving multiple miracles (I found the borrowing of the enemy F14 particularly hard to swallow), I was left disorientated.   Maybe I need to do a news-fast (I’m not going to do a bible-fast) and go re-watch.   Perhaps the super high IMDB score is a reflection of an escape from realism which I failed to grasp.  But it seems to me that where the realism of the cinematography and sitz-im-leben of any of the other 8.6ers above are in sync with one another, Maverick’s ultra-high-definition pilots and characters jarred with a nebulous setting and simplistic plot.  It’s a well made film.  Definitely worth watching again.  A clear 7.  But 8.6?  Not in my real world.

WE DO NOT KICK FOOTBALLS INSIDE THE HOUSE and other hard-won parenting tips

I am currently caught in an internal battle between parental pride and British reserve. I really do want to talk to you about how amazing our kids are and how proud we are of them, but I genuinely don’t want to be a show off. I’m also aware that when we’ve been struggling, the perfect appearance of other families has not been a blessing. Our four kids are all doing really well right now. Most of this is down to grace of God, but we have also picked up a few parenting tips along the way. While the going is good, I would like to tentatively share them with you.

People sometimes asked us in the past how we coped with four young kids. My stock answers were:

  • You just cope – there’s no alternative.
  • The difference between no kids and one kid is the biggest change.

No-one equips you for the shock of parenthood. I’m not sure that anyone ever could. The transition from living with a supportive, equal partner to living with a totally dependant baby is the biggest change humans can face. Even though we’re pretty well physically equipped and emotionally wired for it, the change can be utterly overwhelming. The arrival of one straightforward, healthy baby (many are not) into a stable home (many are not) can leave competent professional parents jibbering in the corner. We have done our fair share of jibbering.

What tips would we offer for surviving gibbering and raising good kids?

Take all the help you can get. Ask for it when you need it. They tell you this when you find you are expecting twins. It’s equally true when you are expecting any baby. Sleep deprivation and emotional fatigue are coming. You need people who can take charge while you have a nap. If you are doing parenting properly, you will not be able to continue with the financial and temporal schedule you kept before. Get used to depending on family and friends. You can return the favour when they are in need. Parenting courses can be really helpful. Don’t wait till you are forced to go on one to access care. Our church have been awesome with our kids. Having people around who will love your kids even when they bite is invaluable. Having people praying for you in the dark times is even better. Don’t have a church? The doors are always open 😊

Stay calm. It may well be true that you would never have spoken to your father like that… or that your other kids (or other people’s kids) are not head-butters. Nonetheless, in this circumstance you must take a breath and attend to the to the present speech or head-but. Are other children safe from being butted? What are the pre-agreed consequences of this particular piece of nastiness? Your emotions can be talked out with grown-ups later. Meanwhile respond to the facts of the circumstances.

Don’t wait until the police come to the door to take control of your kids’ online devices. Whist this becomes a helpful launch pad for an absolutist phone policy, it is a waste of police time, an embarrassment and a considerable source of inconvenience and anxiety. As well as a world of wonder and endless information and gaming possibilities, your kid’s phone and all of their friend’s phones are connected to every predatory paedophile and violent pornographer on the planet, every scammer in Nigeria, every hacker in Russia, every extremist in Syria and every advertisment agency in the U.S. NO teenager is wise enough to deal with this. NO phones upstairs. Not enough mobile data to watch moving pictures. Also, no phones at the dinner table.

Prioritise your values. Everyone else is seeking to imprint theirs on your kids. Make sure you get in first. Where our kids have been praised for academic or sporting performance we have encouraged them. Where they have been praised for kindness, generosity, including others, forgiveness, courage etc, we have CELEBRATED. We pray when we eat together most days, and when we travel together and when we’re worried and when we are excited. We don’t drive if we could cycle or walk. These are our family values. What are yours?

Listen as much as you talk. Parenting courses today will teach you about child-led play. Kids occasionally utter pearls of genuine wisdom in amongst the half-baked nonsense and hilarity. Take interest in their interests. Keep listening as they grow. That way you’ll have half a chance of them talking to you before they talk to friends who will bless them with the benefit of the wisdom they got from their phones.

Keep going, don’t lose hope. Child psychologists will tell you that childhood development continues for the first 25 years of Western life. I remember this being a terrifying thought. With hindsight, it’s comforting. There will be times when you cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. But it is a tunnel not a cave; you will come through to the other side. Other families might appear to be perfect, but they will pass through tunnels too if they haven’t already. Ignore them and just keep moving.

I have no doubt that there are bumps in the road ahead. This blog might end up looking like egg on my face. But by the grace of God we’re in a good place right now. If any of it helps you get to somewhere like this, or just to keep going, then it was worth my while writing.

Oh, and also.. WE DO NOT KICK FOOTBALLS INSIDE THE HOUSE.