Thursday, 21 May 2009

Pedlars of Lies

I have no problem with people being given a platform from which to say whatever they want. I have no desire to prevent anyone from saying anything. We are quite capable of controlling what we listen to, distilling the value of it and either accepting or rejecting its worth. This and things like it are the beauty of the freedoms we enjoy.

I do, however, have a problem with those freedoms being used to give credence to lies. And I have a problem with the way in which we can seemingly abandon the big-picture, issue driven, needs orientated discourses in favour of the mud slinging that's dominating Westminster at the moment.

The combination of these things is that there's a likelihood of a big swing to the right in the elections in two weeks' time.

This week we've mostly been receiving pamphlets from the canvassing teams of the parties (and from UKIP in the post from my Grandad). In amongst that was material from the BNP literature containing the perfect mix of half-truth, stereotype, fear and sensationalism to underscore the skillful way in which Nick Griffin is making repugnant views seemingly palatable. Alongside this has been a number of opinion pieces dismayed at the rise of the right but addressing the issues from an aloof position that simply deals with the BNP in the same way the BNP deal with facts. And in response there has been a staggering insight into Britain's mind.

I've seen a number of statements trotted out as glib facts that are anything but.

Their pamphlet contains plenty of them whilst the comments left on newspaper articles repeat the rhetoric and expand the lies.

They'll pull us out of Europe. I am very much pro-Europe and I fail to see what behaving like a stagnant little backwater really seeks to achieve. Isolationism might work if you're Russia or China or even the USA because the economies of scale in such a big operation and the access to a willing and exploitable workforce make it somehow viable. Their Britain, which will have had the most exploitable workforce repatriated and already looks to the world to supply its needs is not going to be an attractive proposition for businesses, for external investment or for us.

Hearteningly though, until the BNP MEPs pull us out from Europe they're going to give 10% of their salaries (although no word on whether they'll follow the MEP expense abuse that far exceeds what's happening in London) to funds that will enable community groups to properly celebrate St George's Day. As though it's money that is preventing people taking the initiative and organizing things. I'd suggest that a lack of community momentum to organize things that mark St George's Day, for example, come from an insularity that is peculiarly British rather than anything else. Minority groups will celebrate their homelands when on foreign soil, the majority bumbles along comfortable in the fact that every day life is every day life and doesn't need remembering or commemorating. Plus, it's not as though the British really need an excuse for a piss-up, which is all St Patrick's and St Andrew's days have become.

Immigration, as you'd expect, features heavily. Whether it's in the opposing moves, that are supported by the major parties, to block the borders to the 80 million low wage Muslim Turks poised to overwhelm the UK (yes, because a system that currently sees a net migration of 147,000 people is suddenly going to see 800 times that number) or having a picture of a doctor saying he's voting BNP because the NHS is under strain from immigrants there's no doubt specks of truth but it's ultimately incredibly misleading.

If the NHS is under strain (ive never had a bad experience myself) it's unlikely to be attributed to one thing alone. How about heart disease, diabetes and lifestyle connected cancers? Or drink/drug related need? Or things to do with sex whether curing disease or bringing life. It's a statement made all the more ludicrous, and disrespectful to our medics by ignoring the valuable contribution made by migration to the NHS' workforce (for the last 60 years) not just as medical professionals but in the auxiliary roles too.

But that must be what is contributing to our reaching retirement and then being at the back of the queue behind the asylum seekers (there were a whopping 5,000 asylum claims last year, 700 more than the previous one but not what I would call an invasion). I've heard this queue mentioned a lot but I'm no closer to working out what lies at its head. Schooling? That's free for all. Health? Again free to all. Benefits? Open to anyone with need (both to be enjoyed or abused by anyone criminal enough to do so). Work? Difficult for everyone but accessible to everyone who is deemed to hold the best qualifications. Like jobs on the continent are if we bothered to learn languages or leave this sceptred isle. But it's clearly that issue driving claims that there should be British jobs for British workers. These recent strikes are another example of British arrogance. All that striking in this way will do is encourage more companies to leave Britain because of a workforce that is petulant and expectant of more and more and more.

Then there's the question of Iraq and Afghanistan. Dealt with in a number of ways. Firstly, Iraq was about oil and therefore wrong, Afghanistan is a foreign war and therefore we should be pulled out. They state our troops are not well equipped (and the infrequent stories that highlight this gloss over the evident disparity in kit between the rarely wounded coalition and the repeatedly pulverised enemy). Oh yeah, and that Muslims in this country don't appreciate their sacrifice because soldiers have been abused in the streets.

It's a clever ploy because it distances them from the fighting on the basis of faith and the source of so such foreign policy discussion and faith based discourse whilst leaving you in no doubt that Islam is dangerous and insidious. It ignores the reality that there are plenty of anti-war protesters who have diminished the efforts of the British forces by pointing an accusatory finger, backed up by the nationwide news coverage of the event, at one particular group and one particular incident.

It's interesting though that there's a contradiction within the party and what they believe when it comes to the interaction of faith and skin colour. A BNP candidate councillor for York said that if there is a black police association from which whites are barred why couldn't the opposite be true. Leaving aside whether that's what normality looks like (no majority 'loses out' when minorities are granted the same opportunities) he went on to say that they don't want to talk about colour at all, just people.

So why then does their propaganda specify Muslims (twice)? Skin colour and faith are clearly very different. Although skin colour isn't important what you believe is enough to make us build up divisions that really we aren't interested in. Evidently this school of thought must be informing the guy who said something along the lines of 'it's not that we don't like Muslims it's just that their faith is incompatible with our Christian heritage'.


Christianity tells of God's love for me, for you, for creation. It points out the beauty of being in loving relationship with God and with people like us but Jesus makes it blatantly obvious that actually it's more about being friends to the friendless, striving for justice for the downtrodden and generally pouring out ourselves in service to others particularly if the world thinks your differences are insurmountable.

Be proud that this nation of ours has played host to people from around the world forever. Be proud that in this country your human rights are not only protected but they are proactively promoted throughout the world. Be proud that we are blessed with education, health, welfare, transport, employment regimes and systems that are the envy of the world and that prompt people (without just cause to flee) to leave their homes to search for better life and offer those who have to flee a safety from the harm they might experience at 'home'.

I work in one of the poorest parts of the UK. 6 out of 10 postcodes are amongst the 25% most deprived nationally. And we have an ethnic minority population of 8-9%.

Yet the menu of life in Hill is one of joblessness, benefits, drink, drugs, fractured families, teenage pregnancies, nationally the lowest educational attainment, some terrifying health statistics. And I could go on.

None of those problems come from immigration. None of those problems would be fixed by corporal or capital punishment. And certainly none of those problems are solved by the repatriation of anyone deemed not to be British by ancestry.

It's not enough to say "no platform for racists", thumb our noses and walk off with the moral high ground attached to our feet. It's not enough to be condescending, to assume that people understand and appreciate what's going on behind the propaganda. This is heart and mind stuff, but it's heart and mind stuff that flows from that reluctance to engage. So let's address the issues. Let's talk about Britain being an absolutely mongrel nation that has thrived on immigration and covered the planet by emigration. There is no such thing as being 'British' by ancestry; there's nothing that makes a 5th generation Brit more British than someone whose parents arrived in this country in the 60s, or who has recently been given citizenship.

Get off your bums and use your vote. The European elections use Proportional Representation, that makes it even more important that you do vote. Don't lose sight of what this is really about in the immediate confusion and emotion of this talk about expenses (when really we're splitting hairs over a small proportion of unnecessary expenses against necessary expenses). Evil prospers when good people do nothing.

"He has showed you, o man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God" (Micah 6:8)

When you go to the ballot box vote for the people who will do justice, mercy and humility. Please don't vote for the ones who won't.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Principal Agent

As part of my job in Hull I get to study for an MSc in Public Management in Birmingham (where I am currently in a fairly ropey hotel room). This is a wonderful opportunity but not necessarily one I'm always enthusiastic about (I need to work on cultivating an attitude of gratitude). Before we came down for some lectures on research methodology today and tomorrow I was completing an essay on the insights that the principal-agent theory has in terms of performance management. And it got me thinking.

Before I continue I ought to explain what the principal-agent theory is. Don't run away at the thought of economic theory I'll keep the explanation brief and hopefully straightforward.

If I employ you to do something that makes me the principal and you the agent. I want to minimise the inputs I give you in exchange for a maximum level of effort that ensures I get what I'm looking for from you. You, on the other hand, want me to give you as much reward as possible in exchange for less effort. What we both want is an outcome that suits us both – I want my interests to be maximised, as you do yours.

The principal-agent theory then lets people work out how to design performance incentives or measure effort in order to get the best outcomes for everyone concerned. And it struck me that there's a school of thought about Christianity that looks at us within this framework (even if they don't know it).

On the one hand are those who unwittingly make us the principal and God our agent. That's those who think we've made him up to make us feel better (it's certainly a remarkably complex and well fleshed out crutch that's the product of invention, must be the work of some Machiavellian genius). And there are those who turn to God when the chips are down or when they need something. An ATM saviour who responds to our needs.

Not to suggest that God doesn't answer prayer of course but that we are not the principal in this relationship, it's to refute the suggested that he's an on-call deity should we need a favour. God is obviously the principal, but recognising that doesn't stop the misconceptions from floating about.

I don't know when it was that the church dropped the ball but we seemed to have done so in a big way when it comes to an understanding of the motivation behind our Christianity.

This lens of God as principal and me as his agent means I must be performing because of something God is doing. My motivation for dancing to a Holy tune, perhaps, is fear, a fear of hell, a fear of damnation and a fear of being judged a failure by God. It's an understanding that says I have to comply with a stated norm in order to be accepted as good enough for God. I'm sure there are plenty of people who love God, seek Him and serve Him that reckon that's the nature of our relationship with Him. By my reckoning it's a bit brimstone heavy and grace light which is a tragedy.

Alternatively, if not fear of consequence, then clearly it's all about reward. Heaven is the carrot dangled under our noses that we will get if our behaviours make it possible. Like imagining the God of fear, this God of prizes forms another theological construction that squeezes grace to the margins.

And that's because whilst it is possible to see elements of principal-agent theory in how the world understands us it totally skews the nature of our relationship. It's not a transactional or contracted situation. Our performance is not measured, there are no proxy indicators suggesting whether we are pleasing God or achieving salvation. God loves us for who we are, as we are and irrespective of what we have done or ever will do. It's not contingent upon fulfilling stated aims or meeting certain goals (beyond the having a relationship in a first place which, if it exists, suggests that reconciliation has happened).

The reality of Jesus' sacrifice is that it breaks the idea of principal versus agent and makes them one and the same. Perhaps we've lost sight of that behind the veneer of something transactional because we've seen relationships move away from being selfless in their search for a unity of one flesh and themselves becomes something principal-agentesque. Maybe the church is responsible for advertising this idea of family that places man at the head of a house and wife as subservient to him.

The thing is that's not what I see when I read the oft trotted out Ephesians 5:21-32.

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

I've obviously missed the bit of that which is about servitude or subjugation. Is it not a recognition that both parties give of themselves to the other out of love. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. And so, if you're in submission through reverence to Christ then as women submit to their husbands so their husbands are submitting to them. Not a transaction, not a greater or lesser role, no one thing making something else happen as a result. Just love.

The problem in much of my public management MSC is that the language is transactional. It's not relational. You won't find love being spoken about when it comes to understanding the interaction between the public and its governing agencies or a contractor and his staff. You won't find love entering the equation when it comes to maximising sales or minimising costs. Yet in the economy of grace the greatest value is to lose, the biggest joy is in giving away. Freedom comes not from the what but from the who. The who of our friends, the who of our family, the who of our communities, churches and colleagues.

If the principal and the agent submit to one another, simply because they want to maximise the interests of the other then greed, self interest and the negativity of desire vanish. So, if the principal agent theory tells the church anything at all it reminds us that our principal does that – God lives in us, trusting us to be His hands and feet and empowering us with the same spirit that created the universe.

I'd like my effort to look like it's the work of an agent responding to the most generous, over-the-top, outrageous contractual arrangement from the principal. Economic theory says that the agent is always looking for the principal to 'reward' them hugely. It says that any principal making the kind of commitment our saviour has they'd be after a commensurate level of response. The magnitude of our riches in Christ are incomprehensible, there's no way that (even if we tried harder) we could come close to matching them with our efforts. Thankfully we don't have to. But I don't want to rock up and meet St Peter saying I never tried to respond to God's grace cos I didn't have to. I'd like to be able to say I could come close. Not because I'm scared of hell, not because if I do God might answer my prayers, not because I want to go to heaven but because I don't want to forget that what God has done for me as I was, continues to do with me as I am and has in store for who I could be isn't for my benefit but is to bless him, those around me and the world.

Interesting thing economics...

Friday, 8 May 2009

HIV Kings Of Europe

According to yesterday's Metro, the UK is HIV king of Europe.

Tragically I'm not surprised.

Whenever we hear the latest statistics that tell of Britain 'leading' Europe in some new way the response is that we need more or better sex education. This follows the premise that information is what sexually active men and women are lacking.

I'm not buying it. I don't believe the solution rests in some golden calf of sexual education that focuses on precautions. I think that there's little more that can be done in school.

We are an incredibly condom-ised society but we also have such a ready proliferation of post coital birth control that cure (of pregnancy) appears preferable to prevention of sexually transmitted life (be it viral or human).

No, I think that the fact Britain leads the way in teenage pregnancies, abortions and sexual disease is because somewhere in our national psyche we don't value relationship with one another as we ought with the result that sex isn't seen as something of consequence. It's casual, not special.

For chunks of my peers, promiscuity is grounds for respect. Sexual conquests are celebrated as an end in themselves. People are reduced to objects of gratification. Lily Allen's most recent offering says that being bad in bed undermines anything positive in a relationship.

But in a throwaway world it's hardly a surprise. Britain is a place where the temporary reigns. And more often than not it is a selfish idea of temporary which doesn't think about the consequences. Dishearteningly that message is reinforced by the media, in politics and through fractured families.

The Pope was recently attacked for saying you don't fix AIDS with condoms. The church is ridiculed for saying that abstinence and faithfulness should be higher priorities. This alternative is easily mocked, just another irrelevant sermon from a completely irrelevant group of people.

The "Death of Christian Britain", as sociologists call the 1960s, has much to commend it. Not least it changed the dynamics of gender (or recaptured New Testament values of equality), beginning a process that sadly has not yet reached completion. But, in addition, by supplanting singular ideas with pluralistic ideals it gave space to people of all faiths, and none, to express their ideas without prior conditions. True pluralism is foundationally about loving your neighbour for who they are and what they think even if that person is someone you would hate to be. But it is critically undermined when it isn't a two way dialogue.

People should not have ideas foisted onto them or be required to live according to my expectations. That's neither gracious nor loving. However, if we don't offer the alternative what's left behind is a vacuum. And that too fails on both counts. When it comes to sex and relationships I think the squeezing of God to the margins has been a bad thing. So called 'free love' seems to have resulted in slavery rather than freedom and painful hollowness instead of loving delight.

I have no doubt that loving and respecting one another unconditionally and selflessly is the model for relationship and I believe that the public commitment of modelling that forever is what makes marriage the perfect context for sex. What I could do is use that to stand in a corner and judge. To jump around on top of the moral high ground claiming victory after a battle that knows only losers. True, I don't think condoms are the answer but in the developing world so much time and effort goes into standing alongside people to tackle the issue. In Australia the Red Cross have little stalls outside night clubs doing that whilst handing out condoms.

The sexual revolution has had side effects. For some reason Britain has borne the brunt of them. But if we're interested in people's lives being transformed by grace and hope could we have done more to support it? Could we take a lead from those Aussies and stand outside nightclubs offering condoms ourselves (alongside our bottles of water and street pastoring)? Not to condone the things we disagree with but to engage with the reality of brokenness around us. To love them by serving them on their terms, not ours.

Too often the problems of the world become the church's pornography; we get to analyse without being involved. We toy with the idea of being part of a culture that has sex on tap. We moralise about its perils. But we keep doing it from Christian holes in the ground that people might, if they're lucky, fall into.

This is why Conversations is exciting.

It's gloves off church because it's passionate about authentically seeking God's heart for transformation. On Wednesday the theme was 'Loving The City' and Dave Magill spoke on Nehemiah's rebuilding of Jerusalem's walls. He asked us what metaphorical walls need rebuilding in York. As someone who lives in the shadow of a broken family (of Christians no less) it's strange this didn't occur to me then. Getting back to the basics of relationship is fundamental. It is impossible to stress the importance of rebuilding relationships built around selfless appreciation, respect and compassion. Sex and everything that is glorious, or sinister, about it lives or dies on the basis of whether those things are present.

We love because we were loved first.

As I saw on Sunday there are people living within touching distance who might never have known what it is to be loved unconditionally, just for being alive.

Except that we know they are.

God loves you; because he loves you; because he loves you; because he loves you; because he loves you; because he loves you; because he loves you...

All we need to do is get that message through.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Cost Benefit

Recently there have been a number of journalists writing articles about church, God and Christianity. Oddly they've not all been entirely negative. Since Dave flagged up Matthew Parris' thoughts from last month I've come across, or been pointed towards, other things most notably here and here.

Nice to see that we Christians are capable of being presented in a positive light. Of course the articles are imperfect and there are things to which we Christians, and those heathen others, could pick on. Problems in their reasoning, or their misconceptions or their opinions but nevertheless these are articles which are refreshing.

Coupled to that refreshment is the wonder of the internet where anyone can hold forth on anything (just like this). And, even better, people can take their cue from what someone has written to delve deeper into the issues at hand.

Predictably, some of the articles have descended into thinly veiled arguments over "my absence of God is better than your God" and vice versa. Clearly, my bias lets me take the undoubtedly condescending, self-righteous and arrogant position that my God is better than the absence of Him but that's another discussion. And one which tends towards going round in circles generating heat rather than light.

What's caught my attention is the following remark...

Both atheists and believers have done evil things (China's cultural revolution to today's Jihadists to name just some). But I do feel that if one were to do a 'cost/benefit' analysis of the two camps- the atheists would have the higher moral ground because we have contributed a lot more to science in general and in particular, the pursuit of life saving medicine.

An interesting thought and not one that I feel particularly well qualified to discuss from the point of view of the premise that, looking at contributions to science, theists have had less impact than their atheist fellows. My gut reaction is that given the durability of Christianity, 2,000 years of thought, invention and design inspired and informed by those worshipping God does not suddenly get undone by a louder atheistic presence (which of course is nothing new).

In terms of the moral high ground, however, it's a position that doesn't show much appreciation of history. The reality, however much we appeared on earth by chance or hold that morality is simply something that occurs naturally, is that it took a very long time for people to think that other people were important.

In Genesis 34 we read about Dinah and the Shechemites. Basically, Dinah, daughter of Jacob (sister of Joseph, he of dressing gown fame) gets defiled by Shechem. The response is brutal and savage, just have a read. It's that kind of an environment into which Moses speaks in Leviticus 24.

Here's a culture that practices rampant, and disproportionate violence being told, in no uncertain terms that actually, if you're going to exact vengeance it should be in correlation to what went on. I appreciate that a stoning for a blasphemy is arguably disproportionate in itself but stick with me (no doubt this will be something to explore at a later date).

You get the whole idea of punishment and revenge turned on its head by Moses. And that persists for quite some considerable time. In fact up until Jesus.

In Judaic culture you were very keen on helping your family, and your tribe but that was where it ended. You helped those you liked. You helped those who might help you back. The concept of the neighbourhood was a closed one.

And history is full of city states, tribes and kingdoms setting off to war against its non-kindred neighbours. Now whilst the thirst for power and the quest for domination didn't end with Jesus the whole idea of what being neighbourly meant didn't so much end as finally got the point. If, in the years after that we've carried on as before it doesn't mean Jesus was lying, just that we might not have been paying enough attention.

Because if we read Matthew 5 it's blatant what Jesus is saying. This is a beautiful exposition of why vengeance is not what's best for us and specifically Jesus takes to task the idea that 'an eye for an eye' is. Instead he says that the best way to respond when someone does you wrong is to take it and offer the chance for them to wrong you further.


A madness that only gets worse in Luke 10 when a young lawyer says, so Jesus, how is it that I get eternal life? As ever, Jesus gets him to answer the question himself, whereupon he retorts that you need to love God with everything and to love your neighbours as yourself. Although the answer impresses Jesus the young man wants clarity and says but, who's my neighbour?

With the result that Jesus unleashes the Parable of the Good Samaritan on a truly unsuspecting world. This is the point when the limits on charity, on love and on compassion get undone. When Jesus becomes not just a Messiah for the Jews but effectively declares salvation for all. The moment from which the early church takes the inspiration to turn the world on its head outside of the Jewish nation. The point when all the good which has happened through Christian endeavour can find its point of conception.

Who's my neighbour? It's that person you hate; the one you share nothing in common with; the guy who is something you would hate to be.

Had Jesus not been the one to institute that new covenant based on a relationship with God that flourishes in relationship with others then maybe someone else would have done at a later date. But no matter how much cynicism is poured onto the Biblical Jesus it's not an idea that pops up elsewhere. This is something attributed to him before anyone else.

Of course the church and Christians haven't always lived this out and that is to our corporate regret and shame. But it's workmen rather than tools and whilst I'll see your Crusades and Inquisition it bears raising you the 20th century secular leaders who are no less, if not more, responsible for suffering than the carnage of antiquity.

So if we keep those events out of it in recognition that death by conflict is motivated by a thirst for power irrespective of faith, or none, and return to the cost/benefit analysis it's difficult to agree with the original premise. As I said I can't comment on science, but the sweeping generalisation has certainly agitated Mrs Wellers, instead I can look at the history of selfless love (read charity). And through that lens Jesus' idea of neighbourhood, community and revenge becomes a world altering idea that strikes the Father of all blows for morality, for transforming lives, for putting hope into the middle of dark places.

But then I am exceptionally biased aren't I?

Monday, 4 May 2009

The Future's Bleak

Yesterday I was travelling back to York after spending a couple of days in Devon.

A few minutes after the train had pulled away from the station a young guy walked past, beer can in hand, directing a conversation towards his partner making it clear that she knew he wasn't happy about her alleged sexual indiscretions.

What this guy was saying was colourful to put it mildly and he clearly took great pride in having an audience with everyone able to hear his opinions on those most intimate parts of her body.

I was sat listening to music so was well shielded from what he was saying and I assumed that once he had sat himself down he would shut up. He didn't. I could have turned up my music and carried on ignoring what he was saying but instead, prayerfully taking my life into my own hands, I went and asked him if he wouldn't mind putting a lid on it.

He wasn't keen on the idea and he was even less keen on "someone posh like you" telling him what to do. Instead he took great pride in telling me that he was a very dangerous person, asking me whether I knew who he was (unfortunately I'm no expert on the criminals of Devon) before letting me know that he dealt heroin and crack. As though that would make me either fear or respect him. It did neither. Asking where I was going, York, he said that he was off to Bristol, although to hear his description of the place you would think it to be the embodiment of Gomorrah.

Having never really confronted a drunk and clearly violent drug dealer you don't know how it's going to play but his behaviour wasn't acceptable for me so I told him that. On the condition that I never spoke to him again, he did agree to move carriages. Whether he shut up once he had moved I don't know but by the end of his journey he had made his way back down to where he started the journey and got off the train with his other half and their daughter in tow. Some happy family.

And that's why I'm telling you this. Throughout the whole exchange this guy had his little daughter with him. She must be three at the most as she sits there surrounded by darkness. Her father is effing and blinding (and then some) at the top of his voice with no regard for who might hear; but worse, far worse, is the lack of respect that he has for her mother, or even that her mother has for her father.

There was definitely venom, and there was definitely anger but love?

The reality for that little girl is bleak. Where is her knowledge of love going to come from? Her parents are criminals. If they never get caught then that means a lifestyle outside societal norms. But if they do then she's alone, hoping against hope that her experience of social services will not result in the outcomes that have been, and are, all too prevelant in terms of homelessness, criminality or lack of skills.

How does the cycle of deprivation, of poverty, of pain, of fear, of anger, of suffering get broken in that context? I don't know. This is the stuff of miracles. Without a fundamental reconstruction of the hearts of her parents the future experiences of that girl aren't filled with hope. But that's Jesus' promise, that all our future experiences will be full of hope.

That's not a guarantee against pain or suffering or anything else negative but it's a promise of hope. Hope against hope, that's what I prayed for that little girl. If you're reading this, would you do that too?

I pray that in Exeter and in Bristol God's hands and feet are active in working alongside drug addicts and drug dealers, that the prisons and the police are infected by the viral, guerrilla values of the kingdom, that those providing care for children caught up in these most awful of situations know no limits on their love and compassion.

Would you ask that God would do something for the lives of all three? Challenge him. Beg him. Implore him.

God show us as the church, as your body, as your instruments of grace how we can shine your light into this darkness.

I have absolutely no idea what the future of that girl, her mummy and her daddy will be. I trust that God does.

I hope against hope that she hears and knows Jeremiah 29:11.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Thank you Father that you do.