A Cluttered Mind…


As I looked back on the day, I realised that I had barely had the chance to gather my thoughts and was shocked at how unproductive I had been. It wasn’t a question of time – I certainly had moments throughout the day where I could have focussed on writing. But that was the problem – I couldn’t focus. Demands, distractions and concerns consumed me, and I realised my mind was out of sorts – cluttered.  I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on anything else. It became obvious that:

A cluttered mind…

  • stifles creativity
  • confuses thought
  • thwarts plans
  • delays action
  • minimises success

A cluttered mind may also overwhelm or depress you.

How to de-clutter and refresh your mind?

  • unplug technology
  • walk among nature
  • listen carefully
  • breathe in beauty

Music may also provide a positive backdrop to encourage clarity.

Once in a while we could all benefit from calm and walking away from the chaos.

A quote from the Bible: “But you should keep a clear mind in every situation.” (2 Timothy 4:5, New Living Translation)

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.

The Perils of Procrastination


Image: Vilseskogen, Creative Commons

I’m sitting here writing because the mood has struck yet I’m painfully aware that I have a couple of deadlines to meet – namely long schools presentations that I must have nailed to near perfection for rehearsals next week. For the last few weeks, they’ve been on my radar, the paperwork imploring me to get to it and learn it. I’ve done all sorts of other preparation – highlighting, creating prompt cards, recording the presentations on my phone – but the main thrust of the task exists in staring at those cards and reciting them ad nauseam until the words flow effortlessly from my tongue.

But I keep procrastinating, finding other activities and jobs to do – whether folding laundry (which for a family of five is an almost never-ending task), planning future events, writing or lurking on Twitter. Incoming phone calls have been allowed to linger for longer than usual and distractions from the children have been strangely welcomed – anything to avoid getting down to learning those texts.

You’d think I would have learnt by now that it’s good to complete tasks way before deadlines. I’ve experienced the dread of getting a 10,000 word final year dissertation complete (in German, even more terrifying) – and realising the foolishness of not pacing myself.  I’ve panicked after staying up to ungodly hours to get lesson plans done for an observation or inspection, all the while chiding myself for not getting them sorted at least a week before. I’ve cringed with embarrassment at the naff Valentines card I bought my husband one year, when we were living in New York City and I put off looking for one until late afternoon on the 13th. There are no major supermarkets stuffed full of Hallmark in central Manhattan; the shelves of all the bookstores and local shops were alarmingly bereft of suitable cards by 4.30pm. Why did I even leave it so late? (Admittedly there are a million and one distractions in NYC, and we hadn’t been there long so I was still finding my way around, searching for apartments and sorting out admin for the start of our expat life. Making a card was not an option, as we were staying in a hotel.)

Anyway, you get the idea. I’ve definitely been a pro at procrastinating. I started to change tack in the last few years when I realised how much stress could be avoided by getting things done way in advance of deadlines. Having children with unpredictable crises now and again (such as throwing up all night) taught me that I cannot rely on living my life last minute. I think much of this has to do with how one was brought up – and, yes, my parents were equally haphazard with timing, often rushing everywhere and leaving things ‘til the last minute.

Procrastination causes unnecessary stress. Which in turn makes you grumpy to those around who have to endure your panicked tirades about what you desperately must get done before it’s too late. It also turns every event – even joyful ones such as a family get-together – into far from joyful occasions. Instead of being free to enjoy such a date, you’re hurried and in a flap over all the things you need to organise because they’ve been put off until they absolutely had to be done. If you’re a procrastinator, you’re constantly running two steps behind, never really at ease with being in the moment. You can’t relax. And here’s the irony – all the time you spend putting things off, your thoughts are still constantly invaded by the task. You end up spending far more mind and soul energy on the task than you would have done if you just got to it earlier. I decided that the habit had to be broken.

How? Simply by being ruthless. Almost imagining that a deadline is in fact several days or weeks earlier and putting it at the top of a list of priorities, rather than letting it be pushed aside in favour of other events and distractions. For less major occasions and dates, this still involves making sure that everything is ready so that you can leave the house in good time. (I’m still learning this one. At the weekend, I felt quite smug about turning up on time at a restaurant to meet friends, only to soon discover that I was at the wrong restaurant! Thankfully, I was still within the time frame, as I had left in good time and could get to the correct one before they had seated). ‘Be prepared’ is a worthy motto, not just for Scouts, I’ve learned.

The result? Life is more peaceful, and you feel ready for the task at hand. Instead of constantly thinking: ‘I could have done that so much better if I’d just had a little more time’, you feel content that you have given something your best shot and secure in the knowledge that you are not letting others down. So to any other procrastinators out there, all I can say is – stop labelling yourself and decide to turn away from this frightful habit. And when procrastination tries to wrangle its way back into your daily pattern, use every ounce of strength to show it the door. The stress relief will be oh so worth it.

And with that thought, I’m off to learn those scripts…

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.

Caught in a Quandary (Over helping strangers and being charitable versus ignoring them and walking by…)

I was on my way home from walking my youngest son to school this morning when I turned the corner into our street. I was carrying a bag of shopping, having just popped into a local shop for some essentials.

And that’s when she approached me, a petite, young Latvian lady, reasonably dressed, with pleading eyes and a request. “Please, can you help me?”

In that split second I had to decide whether I would engage with her or mumble ‘sorry’ and walk on. I decided she was low risk and engaged.

“How can I help you?” I asked.

“I need make phone call. Please. My phone no credit.”

She showed me her low cost, old looking phone. “Need to call boyfriend, problems with passport.”

I looked at her. She appeared distressed. I said I can’t let her use my phone to call Latvia.

“No, not Latvia, he live near here!” she argued.

The phone tucked in my jacket pocket, I quickly weighed up what to do. And that’s when I decided that I didn’t want to risk being mugged and all the hassle of setting up a new phone which is essentially my diary and whole life organisation tool. I use it for lists, weather, German radio, email and a whole load of other stuff. I don’t have an iPhone, it’s not that precious to me – but my time is. I didn’t want to risk being a mug by potentially allowing a total stranger to run off with my phone.

So I reached into my jeans pocket and offered her 50p, explaining she could make a phone call in town (just a few minutes walk away). She declined the coin. “No, no, I need make call here.”

At that point I knew I made the right decision, and I said “I’m sorry, then I can’t help you.” I continued on my walk home, convinced that she was probably a drug addict trying to find goods to sell for a next fix, or maybe this was her way of ‘earning’ money.

Such encounters are tricky. Something within me, influenced in no small part by my faith, finds it exceedingly difficult to simply ignore someone who has approached me for help. I want to help someone if I can, but I’m acutely aware that I cannot solve everyone’s problems.

Yesterday I was in town and passed by a couple of Big Issue sellers. They were easier to ignore, because they were making a general plea for shoppers to buy their magazine. They weren’t looking at anyone in particular. I felt justified in ignoring them, but a little guilty in not looking at them properly to say ‘No Thank You’. After all, I really didn’t want to buy their magazine. I don’t buy any magazines anymore, I tend to read online.

But the second time, I felt convicted that the guy was making an effort to help himself but everyone was just walking by. How must that feel, to be homeless and stand out in the cold all day trying to sell something that no one wants? I turned back, and gave him a meagre amount (£1) for free, explaining that I didn’t want the Big Issue. He thanked me and appeared grateful. It wasn’t much that I gave, but I’m sure it cheered him up a little.

Now that wasn’t too difficult, and donating one coin doesn’t hurt much at all. But what I find harder than giving away cash is giving away time or friendship.

A few years ago there was a strange lady who lived in one of the flats across the street from us. She spoke in a weird way, looked dishevelled and it was clear that she had some kind of mental health problem. She loved to talk to me and the children if she met us out and about, and would regularly knock on our door – just to chat or ask questions.

I made an effort to be friendly, but she could easily chat for half an hour or more. When you have young children to prepare dinner for, and a number of other parental responsibilities, you often have to set boundaries in place by politely, yet firmly saying that you can’t chat for any longer.

I could have invited her in, but I felt uneasy about that. Mental health issues can range from mild to severe – such as schizophrenia – and again, I didn’t feel right about letting someone into my home who might be a risk. Maybe if I didn’t have children I would have felt differently. As it was, I always made an effort to smile, be friendly and chat whenever I could.

One time she knocked on my door, requesting a cup of water. A cup of water?! (When she lived feet away from my house?) Baffled, I couldn’t ignore the scripture in my head about ‘Whoever gives a cup of water to one of the least of my children has done it unto me’ (Jesus). I decided not to tell her to go home, but went and fetched her a glass of water; it wasn’t that difficult.

And that’s what I think we need to take away from this. Sometimes, offering a smile, a helping hand, a coin isn’t that difficult. We should help others more often. But we also need to take care, since there are unfortunately some characters who would seek to exploit or harm us. Discerning the difference is no easy task, though.

At any rate, I don’t think we should give up on our readiness to help others in their time of need. It’s part of what makes us human.

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?


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?

It’s That Time Again – New Year, New Start/ FaithWalk


Graphics credit – Sweet Dreamz Design, Creative Commons

The wonder of fresh starts… Even the word ‘fresh’ conjures up images of warm, baked bread, newborn babies, crisp cotton sheets or budding shoots of spring. It just sounds right – something positive we should embrace.

As we approach another new year, the vibe online has begun to spread epically over the last few days. It’s all about resolutions, goals, plans and dreams.

We have grown accustomed to valuing the first day of the year, almost to mystical proportions; you can feel it in the air. The first day of January demands our attention.

Such is the fervour and interest in what others have begun or have planned, that it’s difficult not to get caught up in an urgency to formulate our own resolution; perhaps a measure of guilt or jealousy if we ourselves have not aspired to equally lofty goals.

A few days into January though, and often we find that the super plan to get fit, stop smoking or start a new daily habit, has been hijacked by other life events, crises or distractions. Failure looms over our heads and we think we may as well give up.

Perhaps our goal was too ambitious. So next year we make none at all. But deep down something tugs at our spirit, almost willing us to at least attempt a new start.

Something is built into our psyche, that propels us forward, urging us to not settle for mediocre, not settle for the way we are. We know that we are capable of more.

The beauty of the Christian life is that every day is a fresh start, a new chance to start again. We can defy Western convention which dictates when a clean page may begin, such as January 1st or a milestone birthday – whether 30th, 40th or 60th.

Nowhere in the Bible does it say… “And on the first day of the next year the man of God rose early and decided to change the course of his life by making a few major decisions and plans.”

No! We are not to be restricted by cultural norms or ancient traditions. Every day can start anew. Every day is an opportunity to pursue a goal or make a difference.

2 Corinthians 5:17 confirms this: “Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come.”

I love that. If my life is entwined with Christ’s, the new has come. That holds true every day of the year.

Now is the time to do what you know is right or begin what you know you must complete. Christ in you can make it possible.

A fresh start. Why wait a couple more days? December 30, 2012 can be the day you made a change that changed your life. Do it!

(Astute readers may note that in my last post I stated that that would be the last one of the year. Well I changed my mind and didn’t want to wait ’til New Year’s Day!)

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.

‘Tis the Season to be … Grumpy! / FaithWalk

 A few years ago I distinctly remember going round some busy shops close to Christmas, feeling quite upbeat and happy, and actually not in a tremendous rush (probably quite rare for me!) I was just getting a few last minute things. As I wandered around and queued at the tills, it struck me just how miserable everyone seemed.

Here we are in the West, with all the clothes, food and technology we could possibly want, and yet so many seem so absolutely fed up.

Christmas has morphed into an obscene commercial enterprise, where advertisers dole out their image of what Christmas should be: laughing children, sitting by the fireside, families kitted out in the latest fashion, a feast fit to impress Nigella Lawson and of course plentiful snow and stacks of perfectly wrapped presents. The reality is often rather off the mark…

People are feeling stressed, lonely, anxious, perhaps worried about finances, ex husbands or in-laws, and all the while pressured to create the ideal festive celebration.

I put together this light-hearted, alternative to the carol – ‘Tis the season to be jolly’, with the last verse featuring a voice for the Christian perspective. ‘Do we have light and life in our hearts?’ is the question we should never cease asking ourselves, not just at Christmas. Let’s place less emphasis on following everyone’s expectations and make Jesus the focus once more.

Oh, and look out for those sad faces over the season; someone you know could be among them.


Tis the season to be grumpy Fa la la la la, la la la la

People crashing into you with their trolleys! Fa la la la la, la la la la

Shops are too full, traffic’s standing still

Kids are all whining: “WHEN is it Christmas?!”

 Nobody knows if they’re coming or going,

Drinking too much at Christmas time / wrapping hundreds of presents at Christmas time


Tis the reason to be silly Fa la la la la, la la la la

Wearing these hats, and overfilling our tummies Fa la la la la, la la la la

Ten packs of mince pies, a turkey that’s oversized

Dancing like crazy at the work party

Everyone’s thinking  “When- will- it all be over?”

And then we’ll just repeat and- do- it again next year!


Lots- of- people are wondering “what’s the point?”, Fa la la la la, la la la

Many try escaping by going on holiday Fa la la la la, la la la la

Some start rowing more, others party till-their-heads-are-sore,

Hoping they’ll find some meaning in the madness

Santa used to be their reason for believing

But now the grown-ups have nothing-to-hope for


Tis the season to be joyful, Fa la la la la, la la la la

We  have light and life in our hearts, Fa la la la la, la la la la

People are wondering, if we’re any different

Or if we’re just stuck in silly traditions!

Jesus means more than all of our presents –  

We can’t even remember what we got last year!

Yes Jesus gives us reason to celebrate!

Why the Law Really is an Ass Sometimes…

Are you someone who tends to stick to the law or are you a bit of a rebel? My husband will ensure that he goes not one mile over 60mph on country roads, yet sometimes I cling tensely onto car handles as he whizzes round curves on the quiet lanes.

I’ll admit I’m quite different.  I’ll drive cautiously on such roads as I’m concerned about what might be lurking around the corner (…a farmer and his herd of sheep, possibly, or a bunch of errant cyclers?)  But I’ll happily slip way past 70mph on a quiet stretch of straight motorway, keeping my distance from the car safely within Highway Code guidelines.

I believe speed limits were imposed to improve road safety and reduce fatalities.  Yet I’m certain that more fatalities have occurred on country roads with drivers going 60, than on aforementioned motorways with law defying drivers.

It’s all about the spirit of the law versus the letter of the law.

Consider this: Pharmacies will not allow me to flout the law by a margin of only 6 months to purchase eczema cream for my son, but school nurses would happily supply a potential 13 year old daughter of mine a stack of contraception and advice. In fact if she were 14 or 15 a doctor might deem her mature enough to opt for an abortion if she found herself unwittingly pregnant.

That without my knowledge or consent. A major procedure that is not necessarily without complication or error.  And perhaps she wouldn’t know the answer to questions about her parents’ and grandparents’ health or blood pressure problems.

That’s absolutely fine according to the laws of this land. But I, on the other hand, may not use my parental prerogative to administer specialist eczema cream to my 11 year old son, who is already physically the size of an average 12 year old, because the packet states that it is only to be used by those over the age of 12.

The woman behind the counter glared at me as if I were attempting to buy cigarettes for my son.  I just wanted to avoid a doctor’s visit and a long spell in a stuffy waiting room full of spluttering sick people and crying babies.

I’d be more than happy to follow the rules if pharmacists, doctors and teachers would likewise adhere to other rules concerning young people. What do you bet that any barely post-pubescent child could walk in and request a pregnancy test without anyone batting an eyelid?

Up and down the country girls and boys of 13 and 14 are supported and encouraged to break the law regarding the age of consent.

The argument goes… Well they’re only going to go out and engage in sexual activity anyway, so we should at least help them be safe.

Well how about…  Oh, the parent is only going to find another pharmacy to supply medicinal ointment for her unwell child, so they may as well sell her (i.e. me) the product.

Never gonna happen.  Yet one law concerns those who are still children, whose decisions are mostly fuelled by emotions and peer pressure; the other is an adult who has significantly more years of life experience under her belt and knows about dodgy signs or side effects to look out for.

Many 14 year olds can’t even follow simple instructions on a teacher’s PowerPoint yet we hope they’ll read all the contraindications listed on their packet of contraceptive pills?

Consider this also…  If I go to purchase a video or Xbox game that is rated 18, no one behind the counter asks if I have children at home who will also be watching and what their ages are.

As a former teacher who’s marked hundreds of year 7 scrapbook projects, I found it hard to comprehend how countless boys of 11 named Call of Duty their favourite video game.

Oh but that’s all right. The parents obviously believe that their child is mature enough to blow people to pieces on screen, despite being 7 years under the age limit.

But woe betide any parent attempting to push the boundaries by 6 months to administer some skin cream. Quelle horreur! Will they be sending round the social workers to metaphorically slap me on the wrist any time soon?

Unfortunately it would not surprise me. Thankfully, I decided not to go to another pharmacist to pretend the cream was for my older son, but rather followed the letter of the law and duly booked an appointment at the surgery. (So no, you can’t nail me with wrongdoing here, though I am guilty as charged concerning motorway driving sometimes.)

And I really do understand the perspective of the sales lady behind the counter.  She must adhere to the rules.  It’s just disappointing that no one adheres to many other rules regarding children these days.  And in some cases rules are shockingly absent.

If I want to, I could buy my 11 year old son a laptop or tablet for Christmas and let him use it unsupervised in his bedroom without any parental restrictions.  It would be perfectly legal to do so, in the process allowing him to view violence, pornography and yep, 18 movies downloaded online. (You’d be surprised how many parents know nothing much about installing restrictions on devices in their homes.)

I could likewise allow same said son to drink a glass of wine at Christmas (from age 5 this is legal). But I will only allow him a sip or two because as his parent I do actually possess a modicum of common sense and like to follow the spirit of the law rather than arbitrarily following the letter of the law.

What has incensed you lately about the laws of the land?