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Code Ode: Prat and Pride, Part 2


(Re-read, Code Ode; Prat and Pride Part 1, Prat.)

(Read Luke Ch 15, v 24-32)

Recite this, out loud, walking along, to the rhythm of your footsteps. Best by far in a Ray Winstone / Bob Hoskins accent. (If you are reading this on your phone, turn it on its side).

So there’s cat’rers – a mobile disco.
They’re largin’ it well hard.
Next thing that we get is,
Oh no, it’s only Big Bro,
Parked up in the yard,
Face like a dead lettuce.
A bloke there’s hangin’ about.
Oldest gives him a shout.
“What’s the blimmin’ row?
What’s happenin’ in the ‘owse?
What’s this going off in
There – they tell me nuffin’. “
“Yeah guess what?” He says.
“Your brother’s back here safe and sound.
We’re partyin’ – innit.
Your dad he’s pushed the boat out,
Got cat’rers – a disco round.
Come on – join in it!”

But the oldest goes bananas.
Has a tantrum in the car.
Says “That’s beyond the limit
The party – you can bin it.
No way I’m joinin’ in it
Dad’s gone a step too far”.
They fetch the old man out.
Says “What’s this all about?
Get out the car and come in, son.
For Pete’s sake give us a grin, son.”
But he doesn’t wanna play.
He’s got to have his say.

“I’ve had the best intentions,
Stayed and slaved here all these years.
Not carted off – not me.
You’ve never even mentioned
Having my mates round for beers
And you doing it for free!
Now this prat of a son of yours
Takes what you’ve built over a lifetime,
Says ‘Thanks I’ll have a nice time’;
Blows the lot on slags n’ whores.
He comes crawling back to you,
Broke – with his cap in hand.
What do you go and do?
Hire cat’rers, – a flippin’ band!”

“My son, just keep your wool on.
No need to be so full on.
Come on now, shake my hand.
Together we’ll always stand.
(It’s a disco s’not even a band).
Come on now, say no more.
Everything that’s mine is yours,
But we had to paint the town red.
He’s back alive – it’s like he was dead.
We had to have folks round.
He was lost and now he’s found”.

Then my mate Josh piped up,
“God’s like that geezer – with his sons.”
I said, “You’re getting all hyped up.
I think you’re having me on.”
He said, “No – not nearly – really.
Open your eyes – you’ll see it clearly.
And now I think it’s your round!”


CVM intern, Sam Lomas writes about his short term mission trip to Swaziland with Samaritans Purse

You’ll never fully understand overseas mission until you’ve been and done it for yourself.

Nandos. Not the first thing that comes to mind when traveling to a tiny country in Southern Africa. But there I was, sat in Nandos eating a chicken burger less than 10minutes away from the Swaziland border. Pre-trip training complete, malaria tablet swallowed, money exchanged and bags packed. Having never been on a short-term mission trip before I felt a mixture of excitement and apprehension.

Day one of the trip we travelled to a school, where the local churches had come together to build toilet blocks for the students. Arriving at the school with paintbrushes ready to paint the new toilets we had our first taste of African timing. The toilets hadn’t been built yet! No matter, we left the paintbrushes in the van, picked up shovels and pick axes and got stuck in, mixing the cement and digging foundations. As this was our first contact with local people we were all a bit nervous. We didn’t know how they would respond to us being there. The ice was quickly broken though thanks to our poor technique cement mixing and lack of experience using pick axes – confirming their stereotype of westerners not being very good at physical work!

During our time in Swaziland we were able to visit a number of different water projects. The first we visited, the church had organized a water committee and they had been able to cap a natural water spring about 1 kilometre away. A well had been dug to store the water and fences put up to keep cattle from contaminating the water source. The fresh clean water was then piped down the hill into the village and out of a shared tap. Easy access to clean water was such a game changer for this small rural community. In the past, cattle would drink from the same water source as the locals which contaminated the water, making the children seriously ill and gave all who drank the water sickness and diarrhea. Since the new system was installed they have had no cases of diahorrea.

Visiting a child led home was a stand out part of the trip for myself and most of the team. We had heard the statistics (1 out of 10 homes in Swaziland are led by children under the age of 11) but now we had the chance to see it for real. Up close – in your face. The home we visited had burnt down while the children were at school and so they now had to live out of a tent which had been given to them by aid agency World Vision. The girl aged 18 was head of the family, and was responsible for looking after her two younger brothers aged 16 and 13. After being shown around their somewhat shattered home and seeing what little possessions they had, we congregated inside the tent where she answered our questions. She said she was worried that she might not be able to provide for her brothers, not knowing where their next meal would come from. She also said she was scared of abusive men who live in the area. Before we left she told us that she loved going to church and had a strong faith in Jesus Christ. The team was broken emotionally. Silence echoed on the bus journey back to our accommodation that night.

Never in my life did I think I would get chance to build a mud hut. But by the end of the trip I’d had so many new experiences that I was used to just getting stuck in. An elderly lady’s home had blown down over night. Fortunately her daughter had moved her out of the house and into her home as she had serious concerns for her mother’s house and its stability. When we arrived at the location to build the new house we were greeted with singing and prayers of joy. It was quite something. Feeling very unworthy and unable to grasp just how much it meant to these people for us to come and be with them, we rolled up our sleeves, got alongside each other and began the build. Some mixed dirt and cement; some placed rocks into the wooden frame of the house, and others prepared food for dinner. As the day went by one thing became very apparent. These people were so full of joy and happiness you wouldn’t believe it. Through our eyes they had nothing; the house was tiny and made of mud. Food was hard to come by and money was scarce, and yet they were happier and more at peace in comparison to how we are back home.

How could they have so little and yet be so joyful and full of life, so confident and publicly unashamed to be Christian? It was clear that we could learn a lot from them. Later when I opened my bible, there was a passage that stood out to me.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.’ 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

In other words… Forget about everything you own and possess. It counts for nothing and never will. No wonder they were joyful. They understood that they had no less than us.

The last day before leaving Swaziland was a Sunday. This meant attending a local church. As guests to the church one of our team members was asked to speak on our behalf. He spoke about what we had seen and experienced in Swaziland. He then went on to speak a little about the UK and what life’s like. They struggled to understand how so few Christians there are in the UK, and were seemed surprised when we asked them to pray for us, as we share our faith with those around us. The children would ask, “Don’t your friends want to go to the heavens?” Stunned by such an innocent question, it was just another reminder of how important telling our mates about Jesus really is.

If there is one thing I could say to you now it would be to go and do it for yourself. Reading about mission trips, listening to presentations in church or just watching comic relief it’s all good but you’ll never fully understand until you’ve been and done it for yourself. CVM have partnered with Tearfund and Compassion challenging men around the UK to ‘speak up and stand up’ for those who cannot themselves. Whether it’s sponsoring a child or signing you and your mates up for a short-term mission trip, don’t hesitate to act.

Short-term mission trip

Sponsor a child

Bless children, who have nothing, this Christmas

Lift the label

Lift-the-label-blogIn seeking to understand something of the background to the current problems in the Middle East, I’ve been in a dialogue with a friend about Islam and its relations to Christianity and Judiasm.
I’ve also been reading a book called ‘Touching the Soul of Islam’ by Bill Musk, in an attempt to understand something of the cultural differences between East and West that incline us towards particular religious beliefs and practises taking hold in our respective spheres.

One thing that worries me, not just in this debate, but more widely, is a tendency to tar everyone to whom we attach a particular label, with the same brush.

So Evangelicals’ are spoken of as if our beliefs and practises all the same and likewise Muslims’ or Jews’ or Scholars’ of a particular tradition. I’m also still shocked by how many people I meet believe that Roman Catholics are not Christians! I recently read ‘The Chosen’ by Chaim Potok in which the differences between Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox Jews are explored, my eyes were opened to understand a little more for example, of what goes on at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Let’s not get lazy, the world isn’t black and white, shades of grey make it hugely complex and hugely rich in diversity. Perhaps we could ask ourselves: ‘If we had to, by what labels we would like ourselves to be described?’ – then most of us would realise how complex we are and everyone is.
Fearfully and wonderfully made, Praise God.

Code Ode: Prat and Pride, Part 1


Read Luke Ch 15, v 11-23

(Recite this, out loud, walking along, to the rhythm of your footsteps. Best by far in a Ray Winstone / Bob Hoskins accent. If you are reading this on your phone, turn it on its side).

My mate Josh down the pub,
Got a story about this bloke;
He’s minted. Now then,
He’s got this, fam’ly business.
He could give them anything ,
He never stinted–on them.
Got blokes , working for him,
Bespoke, load a’ stuff, and so
He’s got these two sons. The oldest,
A straight-down-the-line
Sort a’ bloke. Not rough, yer know?
The other – was a bit of a lad, a bit mad.
Could be a prat, I’m told,
Bad news and how!
Saw what the old man was worth,
Said “I want some a’ that, pot a’ gold,
An’ I want it now!”

So he kicks off – like chronic.
Father has to give in–to him.
Put hisself and the business on the line.
He risked everythin’–for him.
Packed in, pulled out, retired.
Split the lot between the two–of them.
Soon as the youngest got his share,
He decided what to do–right then.
Cashed in his bit.
Loads of the ready was what
At his insistence, he got.
Right up the young prat’s street.
All them breathin’ down his neck –
Wanted freedom, distance–a lot.
He voted – with his feet.

Goes abroad to some hellhole,
Where he was into
Everything, real deep.
‘Everything’, I mean you could buy
Anything, dead cheap.
Talk about a walk on the wild side,
More a marathon run–then some.
Enjoyed hisself to death,
Laid everything in sight.
Sure, he was havin’ some–great fun.
“I get tarts for free, (and high class pros,
I pay for, as well.)”
If you asked him. “Any regrets?” “Regrets!
On what score? Like hell!”

Then the money ran out,
He got no clout, no more.
S’no use to shout.
He found out, for sure,
Without a doubt
What a bunch of louts
His friends might
Really be. – They headed out
Of sight, off site.
Then the economy goes down the drain.
It goes well, insane.
There’s no welfare state, there mate.
So earning a living’s
One hell, of a game.
Some of the things he did! –
Lowest of the low, he was–gettin’.
Sometimes he could have ate
The leavings off folk’s plates,
But he couldn’t, cus they wouldn’t–let ‘im.

Then (Josh said),
A light bulb went on – flash!
In the plonker’s little head.
“I’ll put an end to muppetry.
I’m bonkers, must be said.
In this puke hole, I’m well up-a-tree.
Here I am – me,
My father’s son, I’m starving
And even blokes what work for him,
Aren’t short of grub,
Not even one, they’re larfing.”
Although it took a while
The big idea hits him.
Genius! – With style.

“I’ll go back home!”

But there’s more to it than that.
He saw for, the first time in his life,
And since he set out on the roam,
He was – a prat.

He had to confess.
He’d been a right bar steward, no less.
“I’ve stuck two fingers up to Dad.
I must’ve driven him up the wall.
And if there is a God,
Where He’s concerned
I’ve stuck two fingers up, an’ all.
I’m not fit to be my father’s son,
No more, I know the score.
The time for grovelling has come.
It’s all your fit for chum.”
So, sty-fell-ing a sob,
He decides to say “I’m sorry.
I’m not fit to be your son no more.
Just gizza job.
Any job, ‘cause basically I’m poor.”

So he goes home.

Now the old man’s front drive’s
The length of a small runway.
When father sees him, at the gate,
Well, there’s only one way.
When he sees him comin’
The old man sets off runnin’.
The old man–there’s no way he’s fit.
And running, rich old guys avoid
If they can–get away with it.
The son – he starts in.
“Dad I’m not fit to be – ‘”
The old man interrupts him.
He starts up – and butts in.
“Come on don’t be a mug.
Come on don’t make me laugh.”
He gives him the old bear-hug
And calls in his chief of staff.

“Get him kitted out
In the Armani and the Gucci.
Come on now!
The best that we have got.
This here is my son now.
He’s got to look the part
He’s got to have the gear.
We lost him now we‘ve found him
We’re having the biggest party,
You lot have seen all year.”

‘You’re the voice,’ Sharing the Saviour. Part 1

Using films, books, culture and sport as we tell others about Jesus.

This is the first part in a series on what it means to share our faith, and therefore what ‘Jesus Saves Racing’ is about at its core. In essence the series will focus on what we as Christians aim to be talking about and how we go about saying it when we share Jesus Christ.

23-996I love music and enjoy playing guitar and writing songs a bit. Although I have a broad taste in music, ranging from rock to rap and from metal to folk, I would say that primarily I’m most inspired by the singer-songwriter. A guy or gal with a guitar, in a subway, with a message. A voice crying out into my town or city, into my life.

“You’re the voice, try and understand it, make a noise and make it clear… We’re not gonna live in silence, we’re not gonna live in fear…” – John Farnham.

From Woody Guthrie to Dylan and from Tom Petty to Jack Johnson I’m lovin’ the message in the music. The Streets, Arctic Monkeys and Eminem spoke to me because they had something gritty to say. They had observation and a certain critique of our culture. They spoke into a society that they really resonated with. They had a voice with an edge, rather than being a bubblegum-gobbledygook-voice that goes pop. Don’t get me wrong I like pop, but for what it is – surface pop, fizz and bang! But, as a ‘speaker of truth to all mankind’ (as Martin Smith/‘Delirious?’ sang) I want be a voice. I want a message. I want to be Bob Dylan with ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ and not Aqua with ‘Barbie Girl.’ I don’t want to share ‘plastic life’ with a ‘Barbie world,’ I want to share Jesus Christ with a needy, gritty real world.

Sharing the Saviour

So how do we speak into what is increasingly called a ‘post-Christian’ culture – where references to God are scant and confused? We will be looking at a number of ideas, but this time around we are going to get into what it means to say to someone “you can be saved.” It’s such an important thing to grasp and share.
Recently it was suggested to me that the idea of being ‘saved,’ or someone ‘dying for us,’ is alien to our society… Is it? What do you think? Is that a true statement, or is that just an assumption we’ve been told to believe?

I argued back, “It’s just not an alien idea!”

So let’s tease out this ‘substitution’ thing, this ‘dying for’ saving idea, in our culture (not in our faith, for the moment, we’ll do that later).

“I’m a substitute for another guy” – The Who

Let’s look at a few cultural examples:

‘Dying for us’ is the central thing that speaks to us from those that have laid their lives down for their country (‘They shall not grow old, as we that are left to grow old’). The two minutes’ silence on ‘Remembrance Day’ is a sombre, serious and profound moment when we remember those that died fighting in wars so we can live. We also find many films that have this theme running through them. They range from ‘The Matrix’ to ‘The Way the West Was Won,’ and include movies such as ‘Gran Torino,’ ‘The Guardian,’ ‘Seven Pounds’ and ‘Armageddon’ along the way (with just about every super hero film chucked into the bargain, in some sense).

If we think about songs, we find the concept of dying for someone is the ultimate expression of love, e.g. Bon Jovi – ‘Baby I’d die for you, I’d die for you, I’d cry for you, If it came right down to me and you, You know it’s true, Baby I’d die for you’. We even have a messed up version of ‘dying for’ in Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ (and thus ‘The Cutting Crewe’s’ song ‘I just died in your arms tonight’ – an ‘80s special!) In sport we have the concept of a ‘substitution’ – the player who takes the place of the tired, the poor performing and the injured.

So we see, ‘dying to save’ is not so alien. In fact it’s very central. The thing that is difficult for us believers to convey is that it is God who is doing the dying for us. Talking about a defined God is increasingly alien (but certainly not extinct) in our ‘post-Christian’ society. Whether you talk of God’s love, God’s existence, faith and science, or being saved by God dying, the challenge is the same – God. (We will return to this difficulty in a couple of blogs time).

“I’m a changing man, built of shifting sands” – Paul Weller

Alex-wing-mirrorBut there is hope and a way of sharing that message ‘Jesus Saves,’ if we can get to grips with current culture, its history and its mindset.

We do not live in a society with no Christian reference at all. What we live in is a postmodern society that needs to be able to re-link its current ways and attitudes back to their biblical/cultural origins. For, although we lack direct references to the Christian faith (they are a dying breed) we still have the lasting effects of those lost references alive in our culture.

When talking with people we find many Christian concepts and phrases are alive and well, but we do need to do the re-linking work. This gives a wonderful array of illustrations for the Gospel that are easy to grasp and we find we have a lot more to go on than we thought. (It also sometimes mercifully spares us having to tackle some embarrassing so-called ‘Christian’ moments and attitudes from history too… though not always.)

So, we can re-link ‘substitution’ (‘Jesus died in my place’) using films, books, culture and sport as we tell others about Jesus the God/man who died so we might live. We can ask: Why does Remembrance Sunday move us? Is dying for someone the ultimate expression of love? Why does the sacrifice that Bruce Willis makes for his daughter leave us with such admiration in Armageddon? And do we ever feel like that footballer who is ‘played out’ in life and needs someone to step into the breach? – because, as U2 sang, ‘Sometimes You Can’t Make it on Your Own’?

… And that’s another one – ‘stepping into the breach,’ someone who takes the helm from us… and another…

Keep on twanging… keep on singing… ‘You’re the Voice’.

Next blog, more tools for sharing faith in ‘The Main Message’.
Alvin is part of the Jesus Saves Racing Team

Paid on the Nail

Know Your WorthHow much do you think you are worth?

Every year I get a pension statement showing how much I have paid in and how much I should get when I retire. It also states how much will get paid out should I die while working.

Also every year I get a benefit statement, which says what pay I get and allowances such as health care and how much the included life insurance will pay out should I die while working.

Twice a year I am reminded that I am worth more dead than alive.

I have recently applied for redundancy, which will probably have come through by the time this is published, so my value to my employer is currently being assessed: Am I more valuable to them being employed vs Achieving the target for reduction in headcount and salary savings.

Recently through the wonder that is Twitter I came across this article concerning men and suicide. Made more even significant by the recent suicide of Robin Williams.

The research seems to suggest a combination of 3 factors:

1) A sense of not belonging, of being alone
2) A sense of not contributing, of being a burden
3) A capability for suicide, not being afraid to die.

All three of these motivations or preconditions must be in place before someone will attempt suicide. Although women, too, can take their own lives when they suffer at the intersection of “feeling alone, feeling a burden, and not being afraid to die,” this is clearly a more male phenomenon.Throughout our lives males take more risks and invite injury more often. We are taught that “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” and “no pain, no gain.” We often invest so much of our lives in our work, when we lose our jobs or retire we feel worthless, unable to contribute. It’s a short step to feeling we are a burden on those we love.

We also put less effort into developing and maintaining friendships so we can come to feel more and more alone. Read more here

Applying for redundancy is effectively the start of my retirement. Which means according to this article I am approaching a time of my life when men are 6 times more likely to commit suicide. This is an alarming.

How can this statistic be changed?

I suggest 2 ways:
Firstly – Understanding your true value – its not found on a pension or benefit statement. Graham Kendrick wrote a song - “Paid on the nail” which asks the question “How much do you think you are worth? The answer is that our lives have been already been valued and a great price has been paid. Also see Matthew 6 v 25-34

GreatDreamSecondly there is some good suggestions here…

So when I finish work, my rough plan is to get more exercise (making up for 8 hours stuck behind a desk every day) and to get involved with something significant, exactly what I have yet to discover.

What about you?

You need to “belong” and “contribute” for your own well being.
Are you involved in a CVM group? If not then why not? If there isn’t one near you then get together with some guys and start one.

God’s people – Surrounded by evil, then and now

soldiersThe psalms have been the song book of the people of God for many years and some of them (like psalm 83) can worry us – especially as they were used in public worship! So how do we make sense of these troubling verses.
One of the most important interpretive keys for scripture is that the New Testament is the Old Testament revealed and the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed.  That is very helpful for me because the Bible is unfolding in revelation and it is only in Jesus that things come together.

Jesus brings all the previous Biblical insights together.
What we are seeing in the Psalm is a picture of spiritual warfare. Before Jesus came along the battle between good and evil was chiefly played out in the physical realm. Paul says (Ephesians ) that our battle is not against flesh and blood but spiritual powers and principalities.

God has made a good Creation but presently it is dominated, in the spiritual realm by powers that seek to undermine the work of God and make creation a bad place. The evidence is before us each night on the main news programmes.

In the Psalm we are seeing battles that involve Kings and people groups around Israel. These people are all connected to the powers of evil and worshipping these powers. The King is seen as the chief representative through whom these powers act. (Just as, in the Bible, the Kings of Israel were to be the public representatives through whom God would act.)

Today we are possibly prone to forget that surrounding God’s people are enemies that seek our downfall and destruction  – we forget that to our loss. The world is not a neutral place. You and I are a battleground for spiritual realities.

“O God, do not keep silent; be not quiet, O God, be not still. See how Your enemies are astir, how Your foes rear their heads.” (Psalm 83:1-2)

Such was the prayer of God’s Old Testament people when they were surrounded by enemies who were attacking them. God’s Old Testament people felt as if their whole world was arrayed against them. Hence, they were desperate for God’s help. God has offered us help in that he offers us the way of Jesus.

Is Britain A Religious Country?

Where were you when you first experienced elation? I have vague, early-childhood memories of blissful birthdays with cakes shaped as Subbuteo pitches and parties at water parks. In my teenage years I hit new heights kayaking down French alpine rivers, dodging rocks and trees, mostly the right way up, to be rewarded with pure adulation coursing through my veins at the finish.

Of course, in sports, there was the 2003 Rugby World Cup final, that 5-1 against Germany, the Miracle at Medinah, Super Saturday, and last year when Tuilagi opened up the All Blacks’ back line like a bayonet through a pack of ravioli.

When I recall these memories I find my mind has assiduously mapped out the little details surrounding the events. It was as if I was a little bit more conscious, a little bit more alert. I felt more alive; and it felt good.

It’s little wander that we spend good money and much time pursuing things in life that leave us feeling good. It is, after all, nice to feel good. Great experiences, like a concert or climbing a mountain or a fantastic holiday, cause us to seek for further great experiences.

When we come back from our travels the first question often is, “Where next?” The pursuit of pleasure leads us to open up our wallets and map out our time with war-room-like efficiency.

Now currently, we are told that around 12% of people in Britain attend some kind of church once a month. On that basis, one could conclude that our country isn’t particularly religious, yet our behaviours I think tell another story.

Consider the humble football fan. He supports the team his father did, and lives locally enough to make it to most of the home games. He has a season ticket, and a draw in his bedroom with team shirts of years gone by. After the game he comes home and turns on the TV to watch the highlights and catch up on the rest of the league.

Through the ups and downs and the comings and going of new managers, he sticks by his team. Visiting regularly, checking the website, inviting his friends, and spending his cash. What about that is not religious?

And to an extent I’m with him. Saturday evening, when the world is a little quieter, I quite like a bit of Match of the Day. I like the routine, the familiarity, the ‘quick fix’ of action, and of course, catching the goals. And apparently I’m not the only one with around seven million viewers tuning in over the weekend.

Having now been going for 50 years, it really has become an institution. In the recent ‘Match of the Day at 50’ program, Thierry Henry when asked about his thoughts on the show replied, “It’s like going to church, you know, it’s a religious thing. It’s part of the culture in England.” I think he’s spot on.

And in this statement I think lies the fact that Britain is indeed a religious nation. It is a religious nation because it is a nation of worshippers. No, it might not be the Christian God or another religion that the majority of the people turn to for comfort and hope, but it will be something.

In our lives we have these sunshine-through-the-clouds moments, mini-revelations or periods of elation perhaps. We stare at them, think on them, analyse and run after them because we are looking to orientate our lives in a certain direction.

We worship. The choice we have then is what or who do we worship? What or who is truly worthy to be worshiped? Many of us are content to fix our eyes on the moment, the experience, the snippet of ecstasy and miss the author of all these things, God.

The next time you hit a high, enjoy it. Enjoy it and be thankful, and then, perhaps the next day when you wake up, why not begin to investigate why you are grateful and to whom you ought to offer your thanks?

All Alone All Together

It has taken me a while to wake up after the shock of the news of loosing another brilliant star to suicide. I grew up with Nirvana playing loudly on my Sony Walkman and Kurt Cobain’s death has been a 20 year enigma to me about brilliance and popularity’s relationship with despair and suicide. It is too painful to recount the innumerate celebrity lives lost in the 20 years since Cobain wrote ‘Lithium’ (Nevermind 1991) about a man who turns to religion because of suicidal thoughts.

Robin Williams’ death is a hard contrast in my mind. Far from being the apparently moody, raw and wounded talent of Cobain, he was (to me) the lovable, resolved therapist Sean Maguire (Good Will Hunting 1997). I had consumed Williams’ films throughout my turbulent late teenage years and to some level I imagined Christ was something like John Keeting (Dead Poets Society 1989) or Maguire; seeing your brokenness but loving your potential into being. If there were a scene in my imagination it would be Cobain and Williams on a Boston park bench, “It’s your move chief.”


I have ministered to enough grieving families over the years to know that there is nothing to say. I mean, nothing that you can say that adds anything or takes anything away. Words are hollow in the face of the confusion, guilt and despair faced by those left behind through suicide. Every circumstance is different and yet, as I have seen families grieve, these emotions are almost universal, as if they have been left behind to be unpacked like a suitcase in an empty hall.

All Alone But Well Known
Williams has been broadly quoted these last few days, “I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel all alone.” (World’s Greatest Dad). I have been mulling this over in my mind and it is still forming a response within me. I guess all I can think is, ‘I get it’. I get the whole sense of horror, being lauded around the world, being tweeted and selfied but feeling totally unknown. We can only guess how great the chasm between the true and professional self of Williams, or Seymore Hoffman or Winehouse, but we can feel it in ourselves. What could be more confusing than being known but not known, needed but unable to give or loved but only in part?

Our 21st century society carries huge dangers; it hungers after an uncomplicated person. One who is good or bad, talented or foolish, well or ill, mature or childish. It proposes that we can create a self that will be totally acceptable and that once we have sold that lie to enough people we will feel safe. We instead find ourselves all alone, all together. Suicide holds us all responsible for creating a world in which it is prohibitive to say, ‘This is me and I need your help.’

Easy Answers and Finger Pointing
Tragic events like these always cause worthy people to start pointing to mental health charities for answers. The trouble is that all of the pointing distracts people from their responsibility. It lays blame on the victims of suicide who are often parodied as ‘mental’ or ‘addicts’ or ‘weak’. Yes, suicide can be a tragic outworking of mental illness, but mental illness is often a tragic outworking of a lonely and stigmatising culture. More than that, our societies’ continual pillaring of people suffering from mental heath issues only drives up the sense of unacceptability we all feel about our own mental health. It therefore increases the sense in some that suicide could provide a welcome relief from the pain of living.

Perhaps the shock that we feel is wrapped up in the immature aspirations we held to receive the same applause and veneration offered to Williams. Suicide is a cold reality check to our vain hopes that performance or stardom might undo our own sense of isolation in the crowd.

The Church is the antidote to these longings. Yet I see the ‘all alone, all together’ problem more frequently in the packed pews than in the crowded malls. If we are to have any impact on the devastating issue of suicide our mission must be to address the sickening problem of loneliness.

Rest For Souls
Cobain talking about ‘Lithium’ said, “I’ve always felt that some people should have religion in their lives…That’s fine. If it’s going to save someone.” I think its fine too. But I want to tell Cobain that it isn’t religion that is going to save people from suicide, it is a relationship with Jesus Christ. He says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29)

It sounds simple but its not. When a dear friend in my last church committed suicide I realised that we had spent nearly four years together trying to cross the bridge between religion and relationship. Mental health issues, shame, isolation and disappointment all played a part in making that journey super tough. But ultimately I believe she got there, even though it wasn’t enough to stop her making a decision to not to live.

The Big Secret
The big secret is that we are all making a choice to live. We all need ‘rest for our souls’; we are so exhausted by our own posturing and the gnawing sense of unacceptability that plagues us. Let’s stop blaming ‘mental health’ for suicide and start blaming culture for mental health. I am tired of being all alone, all together and my sense is that you are too. I am grieved that our creative heroes and heroines are being taken from us by loneliness and despair, but I am also angry that their personal battles are made out to be the sole justification for their loss. As Christian people let’s stop the scapegoating and start modelling welcome, inclusion, acceptance and understanding to society. Let’s work to make the Church the place of ‘soul rest’ that Jesus intended – where our loneliness is undone and our decision to live is an easier one.

Will Van Der Hart
This blog was first published here…

Confrontation versus Love?

Confrontation is frequently seen in a negative light!

We tend to respond differently when confrontation presents itself. This could be as follows:

  1. The goal is ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’! It’s my duty to put you right!
  2. I’m uncomfortable – so I’ll withdraw; conflicts are hopeless, people cannot change!
  3. It’s better to be nice, stay friends as differences can be disastrous to a relationship. I may be wrong anyway!
  4. I’ll meet you half way! A compromise – both sides give up a portion of their position/ values.

Perhaps none of these seem to be the right response? There is however a fifth way – ‘I want relationship and I also want honesty and integrity’. It has been called ‘care-fronting’ where there is high concern for relationship and high concern for truth.

With ‘Care-fronting’ you can say ‘I care about you and about our relationship’ and ‘I feel deeply about the issues at stake’! This is the most loving and the most growth promoting for human relationships. Sometimes however it is a goal that needs time to be achieved and other responses such as those set out above could be consciously chosen.

As you would expect Jesus modelled this approach with exemplary consistency, courage and clarity. Examples are:

The woman accused of adultery – ‘Let anyone among you who has never sinned throw the first stone at her’. Such accruate confrontation! …………………..To the woman, ‘Where are they all – did no one condemn you?’ ……’No one , sir’; Neither do I condemn you’. Warm understanding care! ‘Go away and do not sin again’. Clear, unmistakable confrontation.

To the rich young ruler. Jesus listened to him, loved him and then confronted him. ‘Go, sell all, give to the poor, and come follow me’. What could be more clear?

Jesus spoke truth in love. He was truth. He was love. So the Word became flesh; he came to dwell among us, and we saw His glory,……full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

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