The Women of Woolwich – Let’s hear it for the women…

Ingrid Loyau-Kennett remonstrating with one of the killers

Upon reading the incredible stories of women who shielded the soldier’s body and who engaged with the barbaric individuals who enacted yesterday’s atrocity, I can’t help but draw parallels with the brave and valiant women who stayed to watch Jesus at the crucifixion, refusing to let him die without friends and family close by, and those who were also the first to rush to the burial scene on Easter morning.

What incredible displays of courage shown in both instances. Women, undeterred by bloody scenes of absolute horror. Women, refusing to walk away but standing their ground to show defiance against evil and solidarity with the subject of unfathomable violence.

The Cub Scout leader, who calmly remonstrated with the cold blooded murderer on the streets of Woolwich, unflinchingly drawing near to the crazed men brandishing bloodied weapons, is a wonderful reflection of utter selflessness and lack of fear. The woman, a 48 yr old mother from Cornwall, thought only of distracting the perpetrators from inflicting further atrocities and protecting others. She showed no concern for her own safety, thinking primarily of innocent bystanders and children who would be leaving school.

What an amazing, totally inspiring display of calm courage. What absolute evidence of humanity at its finest, unwilling to let evil triumph unquestioned. Without any formal training or suitable qualifications, this one woman succeeded in redeeming hope in a hopeless situation. She epitomises fearlessness and true strength, without having any chance of reaching for a weapon in self defence.

And what about the woman pictured seated in the road beside the fallen soldier, praying over him? She thought nothing of entering this horrific crime scene to honour the dead soldier and pray over his mutilated body. In place of murderous violations of a human being, she brought peace and showed the ultimate display of compassion and care. She could not revive the man; it was already too late. But she did that which she could: namely publically mourn over loss of life, showing her respect and thus mirroring the love of a mother – an unrelenting, exuberant, undeterred love. This one action reflected the unconditional love of our Father God.

In response to this abominable tragedy, let’s hear it for the women! The women such as these in Woolwich, who, while going about their daily lives, chose to defy evil and stand up for the helpless. Countless other women across the globe likewise refuse to stand back and be silent, or run off in dismay. Think of the teachers who comforted and shielded the defenceless, frightened children in their care at the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma, as a raging tornado brought down the school around them. They too acted in loco parentis where parents could not be beside their children.

Such are the women who refuse to allow their culture, their community or their nation be destroyed by acts of terror or disaster. Such are the women who fight for change or stand up to bullies. Even sadistic bullies carrying multiple weapons, with hands dripping blood.

This is one instance where medals should surely be awarded, even though they are not sought. On that fateful street in Woolwich those women were not seeking acclaim or fame. They gave no ostentatious speeches and didn’t attempt to seek reward for their actions. No, rather they demonstrated pure, unadulterated courage. What an inspiration in such dire and highly dangerous circumstances.

Let’s hear it for the women: fearless, compassionate, pursuers of peace. Oh, how we should commend their incredible compassion and feats of bravery.

Bastille: Pompeii/ FaithWalk Comment

The song playing on the radio caught my attention. I’m a sucker for a catchy song, but this time I thought I’d inadvertently tuned to a Christian channel rather than Radio 1 and had to check the dial. My foot started tapping along in the car as I heard:

“We were caught up and lost in all of our vices…”

“Oh where do we begin, the rubble o’ our sins?”

I only heard the latter part of the song and missed the artist details, but when I got home I searched over Radio 1’s playlist and discovered the song named ‘Pompeii’. It made sense when I watched the video – the inevitability of the destruction of the ancient city, how not one individual could escape the impending doom.

The spiritual analogies are rife, and I keep listening to this song which dominates the airways as it resonates with our current culture. The video is a vivid display of the inevitability of the destructive forces of our sin. But the artist leaves us with no solution. We’re simply destined to succumb to the darkness in our eyes and souls.

But there is a solution. And it’s found in the person of Christ who’s made restitution for the darkness that seeps into our hearts and tries to take over. How amazing to know that we are not lost and we don’t have to submit to the overwhelming depravity that comes to us naturally. In Christ anyone can become a new creation and experience a transformed life. We can’t get rid of the darkness on our own, but when we let God step into our lives, He can wash us clean.

This may not be the intended message that the artist wanted to convey, but my spirit almost can’t help shouting out the solution to the burden of a dark heart that Christ wants to fill with his light. I’ve experienced that light and it’s oh so freeing. Next time you hear the song, think what about what it speaks to you.

The Huhne Effect: What parents can learn from one man’s fall from grace

My older sons have yet to enter the world of serious texters, those who fire off dozens of messages, questions or inane thoughts every day. Despite owning mobile phones for quite some time now, the allure of being in constant contact with anyone, not least me, hasn’t quite taken off. This may be in part due to the fact that the phones generally get left at home and partly because they’ve yet to be enamoured by girls seeking their attention. Playing games on their iPod Touches still seems to be the preferred digital activity. So, for the time being anyway, our conversations or disagreements take place largely in person. (And I dread the thought of every exchange between me and an irate son being forever put to print.)

One thing’s for sure. Most parents in Britain will have learned a thing or two from the disclosure of texts between disgraced politician Chris Huhne and his teenage son, Peter. Most will have reeled in shock at the blatant hatred and profanity contained within Peter’s messages or cringed at the sheer extent of insults contained within his words. Teenagers aren’t known for thinking before expressing their opinion; texts are no different in this respect.

The personal exchanges between a bitter son and his errant father are poignant, for they reveal the extent to which a child can feel deeply hurt and let down by their parent’s actions. The words chosen by Peter reflect a sense of utter betrayal, while the pleas of desperation for his father to come clean show how much children can possess a strong sense of justice concerning wrongdoing (if they have been brought up within any strong moral framework). To witness a parent stoop so low morally has long-lasting, devastating effects on a child and we gain painful insight into the massive effort that will be needed to restore some semblance of a relationship once such damage has been inflicted.

Despite Huhne’s catalogue of indiscretions, most parents will feel a tinge of compassion for the man considering the dire circumstances in which he now finds himself. For we, too, are fallible. Hopefully not wilfully deceitful and law-breaking as in Huhne’s case; but we know we fail at parenting sometimes, too, and that our children can be easily disappointed by our inability to live up to their expectations of what constitutes a perfect parent.

In Huhne’s favour lies the obvious expression of patience and love for his son, speaking kindly even in the face of such vitriolic outbursts from his own flesh and blood.  And so a parent should rightly respond; we are the grownups, the ones supposedly capable of rational, measured responses. We also see the bigger picture – a future in which the ties between us and our child remain, no matter what may have come between them. Nothing is worth severing that bond – and perhaps we should all consider the consequences of our actions beforehand instead of trying to repair damage afterwards.

In putting forth his point of view calmly and not ceasing to write genuine messages of care, Huhne may well have demonstrated his one major saving grace in this debacle in the public eye: that of an unrelenting, loving parent. In doing so, he has also unwittingly reflected the father heart of God, who never ceases to love his children, despite their flaws and angry rants. Unlike Huhne, though, God is a faithful, perfect father who never lies to his children. God remains committed to us, even when we’re verging on losing faith or feel wounded by what’s been allowed to occur in our lives. He never stops loving us, but continues to extend his compassion and grace. How comforting to know that God’s words to us can always be trusted, since he is wholly infallible and good.

For all the furore surrounding this very public family breakdown, I would hope that all parents glean something positive from this story, including the value of both personal and professional integrity.

Why we’re not meant to be happy…

Photo credit: Jeephead, Creative Commons

Photo credit: Jeephead, Creative Commons

Our culture is obsessed with the attainment of happiness. There are books, articles and movies which focus on how to find it, while the word is forever inscribed in the American constitution as one of its core features. Yes, the pursuit of happiness has surely been a hot topic since generations past.

Parents are often quoted as saying that the one thing they want for their children above all others, is happiness. It seems a reasonable thing to which one should aspire. Surely everyone has a right to find happiness in life?

So why then have I become convinced that we’ve been sorely misguided and that, in actual fact, we’re not meant to be happy?

Before you shout at the screen and determine that I’ve temporarily lost a few marbles, hear me out for just a couple of minutes.

Maybe I should begin by clarifying what I am not saying…
I’m not saying we shouldn’t engage in activities or pursue relationships that we love or enjoy, or make us feel happy.

I’m not saying we should be miserable in life and complain all the time.

I’m not saying we should sacrifice any and everything to only serve others and make them happy.

What I do believe is that there are seasons in life, times that fluctuate from great excitement to times of sadness or disappointment. To experience a range of human emotion is to be accepted as part of life and is built into our psyche; it’s good for us. Both the highs and lows of our lives bind us together with those with whom we share our souls. The highs would not be so precious if we had not also succumbed to the raging hardships of lows. How else could we possibly understand what others are going through if we only ever experienced elation?

To imagine that we should possibly feel happy all the time is verging on ludicrous. Even if all our desires and wishes were to come true, sooner or later we would experience loss – whether from death, or from separation (a friend or loved one moving on to pursue their happiness).

Research has shown that many grand lottery winners are not happier several years later. They have accrued everything they could ever want, been overwhelmed by luxury, and still they are unhappy about certain turn of events – such as loss of community or their former job. Many of them hanker after their old, simple life. It was less complicated then.*

As many have said before, I also would agree that joy and contentment are different entities. Despite a torrent of misfortune and negative life occurrences it is possible to choose to focus on a few good things and remain joyful or content with one’s lot. There’s always something to be thankful for.

The reason I’m convinced we are not meant to be in a perpetual state of happiness is this: We would cease aspiring to anything and we would achieve nothing of lasting legacy.

Imagine if William Wilberforce had been happy with the political status and standing in the community he had attained. Imagine if Michael Angelo had been happy to paint just one corner of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. It’s precisely our unhappiness, our dissatisfaction with the way things are, that compels us into action and to pursue change in the situations around us. It’s in our time of discontent that we can be stirred to make a difference. It’s those who cannot sit back and revel in their wealth who go on to fight poverty, it’s those who see injustice and cannot rest oblivious in that knowledge who go on to help rescue those in dire need.

Even in our personal lives, unhappiness serves a purpose. When we are aware that our relationships are lacking or that our time is being frittered away on minor matters, we can heed that inner voice, that inner dissatisfaction and cause it to kick start change and remedy those areas which need attention. It’s unhappiness that also drives ambition, which has caused many a tea lady or busboy to reject their default station in life and work their way up the ranks of a company. It’s the years of being hard up that often motivate a young person to work hard and achieve more.

Unhappiness – or perhaps ‘restlessness’ might be a better word –  is good for us, as long as it drives us to take action and make stepping stones of change. Only if we wallow in unhappiness will we regress and find ourselves pulled down into a pit of despair, causing us to go round in circles of mediocrity or spin in whirlwinds of negativity. There’s always something of value to aspire to, always a way we can turn a negative state into something positive. Often, all it takes is an acknowledgement that we can be part of a greater solution, that we then begin to focus on the bigger picture and are able to envision our future role in the world around us.

I’m reading a great book by Nick Vujicic at the moment, the motivational speaker who has no arms or legs. In Unstoppable he quotes Frederick Douglas, the American slave turned social activist, who said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” It struck me how we all make progress as a result of overcoming difficulty – difficulty, which at the time made us feel pretty unhappy.

Next time you feel unhappy, ask yourself what you could be a part of to effect major change. There are situations you’ve endured that have led you precisely to this point. Your experience might prove invaluable to a life changing movement or could propel you into a key role. If nothing else, your character has been shaped and developed as a result of the tough times. Character doesn’t tend to be developed during seasons of happiness.

If Jesus had been happy sitting around having tea at Mary and Martha’s or helping his friends reel in big catches of fish all day, he would not have got riled up about the Pharisees’ hypocrisy or driven out the money changers in the temple. He could have relaxed on the sea of Galilee  telling stories for the rest of his life. Instead, Jesus didn’t settle in one place; he was led to different towns where he could affect and influence different crowds. He didn’t shy away from challenging people or situations.

Maybe we are supposed to get upset or deeply uncomfortable about some things affecting our world. Perhaps we should consciously stir our unhappiness towards something productive or worth changing. In that way we can actually be the conduit of good news to others, making a positive difference in the lives and circumstances around us. I, for one, want to be an active participant in making my life count for something. And if that means that I’m frequently in a state of restlessness, so be it.

*See this article about unhappy lottery winners.

Epic Battles of Parenting: How YouTube is Corrupting Our Children (one rap at a time…)

YouTube video: Epic Battles of History

Most parents consider what media is being consumed by their children and dutifully provide age appropriate DVDs and games, and switch off the TV before the 9pm watershed. Parental settings are placed on smartphones and other technological paraphernalia.

We are aware that some material out there is not good to be consumed by our 11 or 8 year olds. We install filters on our internet too (OpenDNS is a great, free service that works via the router to all computers in the house). We feel we’re at least making an effort to protect our children from sinister content and feel we can relax a little, right?

Wrong!

Since time immemorial, older kids introduce the younger ones to vile language and rude jokes. Can’t really be stopped, I accept that. But that’s where it used to stay: in the school playground or dinner hall – confined to a few minutes a day or subject to threats of detention if overheard by a zealous teacher. Most kids realised it was pretty naughty and took care over what they repeated.

But then someone came up with YouTube. I love YouTube; I think it’s a great idea and a great tool. But I wish they would come up with a YouTube for kids, that was free from the uncensored bile that is spewing forth from its videos these days.

The same parent that won’t let their child watch The Simpsons because of its rude content, may not realise that young Jack is happily viewing Epic Rap Battles of History which all his friends are raving about.

To save you the bother, I’ll explain: These are witty little raps between two characters from history or popular culture who engage in a slanging match of sorts, whereby they sing their own praises while dissing their opponent in uber derogative fashion. Thus we have Hitler vs Darth Vader, Moses vs Santa and Dr Seuss vs William Shakespeare.  Sounds fun?

It is, to an extent. It’s a clever idea and very entertaining.

But this is 18+ stuff that you would have only come across on the comedian circuits or late night Channel  4 programming in a previous generation.

The first video I mentioned in this piece, at 1 minute 41 seconds long, contains 9 expletives or crude phrases. That’s one every eleven seconds! And it’s being watched repeatedly and regurgitated by the masses at a secondary school near you.

Perhaps more disconcerting than the profanity, is the misrepresentation of historic figures, along with the trivialization of some major events (holocaust, slavery and the like). Prepare to see a whole load of Hitler impersonations in school corridors very soon. And unsuspecting eleven year olds getting unwittingly put in detention or accused of racism for something they really don’t understand and haven’t been taught yet.

Thanks a lot, YouTube!

This is where parenting gets tricky. You can easily keep some unsavoury stuff away from your primary (elementary) aged children.  But be prepared for an onslaught of filth once your child enters secondary education.

I’m now thinking about blocking Youtube on the older boys’ iPod touches and only allowing it on a family computer at specified times. No, it won’t stop what they see at lunchtime, but it’ll prevent the multiple, mindless viewing.

Ugh, the challenges of the Internet Age. I don’t like to ban everything, but something needs to be done. We may have blocked the porn, but YouTube is broadcasting something akin to audio porn. And the masses are lapping it up. Hitler vs Darth Vader has racked up over 68 million views, and it’s readily available for your younger children to see too.

How do other parents handle these dilemmas?

Games, Guns and Killing – A Parent’s Call of Duty

Photo credit: Geektyrant.com

On both sides of the Atlantic there is rousing debate about gun control and the need to prevent further school shootings. The arguments range from: ‘It’s people who do bad things, it’s no use banning guns’ – to: ‘If we didn’t allow guns, we wouldn’t have mass shootings’.

Enough people have commented on this issue already, so I’d like to focus my attention on the story from a different angle. It’s time to talk about violent gaming.

Many of the people decrying the ownership and use of guns in America are quite happy to play realistic, violent games such as Call of Duty and World of Warcraft, or to allow their pre-teen children to play them.

Immediately most readers will groan as they hash up that old argument in their head: “Just because I like to pretend I’m a soldier wielding guns and knives  in video games, it doesn’t mean that I’m going to go out and kill someone in real life. It’s just a game!’

I agree. Read my lips, I mean print; I agree.

YOU are not likely to go out and kill anybody after hundreds of hours of playing such games.

But one sad, lonely, emotionally stunted or mentally challenged individual is.

And therein lies the problem.

I call it the ‘One in a Million Theory’ (though the odds could quite likely be the 10 or 100 in a million theory).   Of all the millions playing such games, a very small proportion will be obsessing over their love of virtual killing. They may be reclusive types, loner types, angry types, or as one former classmate of Adam Lanza said ‘one of the freaks’.

Such individuals are storing up the images in their head and becoming inclined towards wanting to kill in real life. When they will strike may depend on a variety of influences and current mood. But death is lurking within them, way before they strike out to harm someone or many ones, as in Newtown, Connecticut.

Murder doesn’t happen in a day.

I’m convinced that the desire to kill begins as a small seed in a person’s psyche or heart before they ever pick up their weapon of choice.

The Bible talks about the desire to sin, and how what starts in our hearts can lead to death. [James 1:14: Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. 15These desires give birth to sinful (evil) actions. And when sin (evil) is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.]

I believe that playing violent video games waters and fertilises the seed, encouraging thoughts of killing to grow. Other influences or family dysfunction also play their part. But once the seed is fully grown, the perpetrator strikes out.

‘So what’s that got to do with me?’ You might ask yourself. ‘I don’t have a desire to kill anyone and I’m not watering anything!’

Again, correct. But if one in a million players is a psychologically disturbed individual, then we could potentially have dozens of budding Adam Lanzas lurking out there. Think about it: dozens of others willing to enact such brutal destruction and loss in just a few moments of action.

Admittedly, the banning of guns would reduce the scale of death, but even with a couple of knives, Lanza could still have killed several before being restrained or detained.

The one in a million is still capable of inflicting excessive pain and loss.

I think it’s time to not just think about gun control, but think about fascination with virtual killing. Children, in particular, are more influenced by what they see on a screen, than rational adults who have already learnt empathy, kindness and, hopefully, self control.

In the last few years, I have noticed an increase of stories in the media about young men, ranging  from teens to those in their 30s, who have never committed any crime before, lashing out to kill their wife or girlfriend or family member. In the UK, this is usually a knife inflicted murder. Stories such as this or this. And more recently, this. (An horrific killing in front of the couple’s young son)

Ordinary men. Often responsible men with children. Middle class men. Decent employees. These were, in fact, not weird or reclusive individuals.

Yet in a moment of madness they have killed. Perhaps they were angry with something their partner said or did. But instead of leaving or working through the conflict, they did the thing they so instinctively found easy to do: They reached for a knife and killed.

It would be interesting to know what they had in their dvd or gaming collection.

I find it hard to believe that the correlation between spur of the moment killing and violent gaming is considered ludicrous. Yet mass killer, Norwgian Anders Behring Breivik even boasted that he had practised on Modern Warfare 2 (part of the CoD games)  for around seven hours a day before carrying out his killing spree on the island of Utoya in the summer of 2011. (Reference) Likewise, it has been reported that Lanza liked to play violent video games.

Do we really think that there are not any others like him out there? Even if it is only one in a million players, do the calculations. Around one billion dollars of revenue from  Call of Duty – Black Ops II, that means around 16 million games sold, if the item costs around 60 dollars. That means 16 budding killers according to my modest, hypothesis. If you think that ten in a million players could be disaffected, disturbed people, that figure jumps to 160. Sounds alarming.

In the same way that people wish to see gun restrictions enforced for the good of the many, I would like to see video game restrictions enforced to help reduce the cultivation of killing among so many young people, an obsession that has potential to translate into killing in real life, at some point in the future.

In the same way, that gun owners are encouraged to lock away their weapon, I’d like to see parents lock away their 18 (or R) rated games, and game producers to tone down the level of violence.

I once read that during WWI, many soldiers found it hard to kill human opponents, having just practised on circular targets. Thereafter, the military trained soldiers to shoot lifelike, stuffed figures, that resembled people. The soldiers responded as expected – shooting their opponents came more naturally to them; they no longer flinched or held back during WWII battles.

Now we have high tech, visually realistic killing scenarios, surely it is much easier for the one in a million to enact what they’ve done on screen countless times: wipe out a human life. A precious human life.

Blood and gore doesn’t faze them; they’ve seen it all before. How utterly horrific.

Outside legitimate settings of war or training for war, what business does entertainment have with the promotion of graphic, realistic killing? Not just a few seconds in a movie, but scenes played over and over and over again in the comfort of one’s bedroom or living room. Where the player is the perpetrator.

We wouldn’t dare suggest that children should play with AK47s or knives. So why is it OK to let them play with such weapons in a virtual world (that is now highly realistic in its depictions of action, gore and death)? (For the record, I am not against toy guns or paintballing and the like – these pursuits do not involve gore.)

For those of us who are parents, it’s a tough call. Ironically, what is OUR call of duty? To succumb to group pressure from the rest of the class and let them play such games, or to buck the trend and stand up for what we know to be right: Children and young teens shouldn’t be spending hours every day killing people on screen.

Violent gaming is effectively a social experiment that could be brewing a whole host of future killers.

I’m no mathematician, but if there were an equation for a killer, I’m certain that violent gaming would be one of the variables. Yes, there are other parts to the equation – ‘isolated and withdrawn character’ perhaps one of the constants – but if we could remove one part, perhaps the formula might crumble a little and not result in multiple deaths.

One thing is certain: gaming has played a part in several massacres.

Endnote – An interesting article addressed to parents about the latest CoD installment, Black Ops II.

Another article discuss the same issue here, mentioning nine year olds who play CoD with their fathers.