Fighting dirty in the battle for school places

Muddy TomThis week, a mother was convicted of forgery after she submitted a fake tenancy agreement in order to secure a place at a high performing school for her daughter. She was fined £500 and sentenced to 100 hours of community service.

Many parents might have sympathy for her. The magistrate in the case, Michael Peacock, sounded like he did: “You are obviously a very good and conscientious mother and like all good mothers you want your kid to go to the best school available. We hear of people buying expensive houses in expensive streets and so on, in order to get into a certain catchment area”.

But, as he summed up, his judgment was clear: “Whatever you do it’s got to be within the law. What you did was dishonest. It was cheating, cheating the system.”

Competitive behaviour

There are few issues that create the kind of anxiety and competitive behaviour among parents more than the battle for school places. Recent figures show an increasing number of parents are giving false information to secure places for their children at the most sought-after schools.

Over the past five years, more than 700 children are believed to have had their places withdrawn after false information was submitted on application forms. In the past year alone, some 420 parents were suspected of cheating to ensure their children get into the best primary and secondary schools, a rise of 13 per cent on last year.

Entwined with Christianity

This issue is closely entwined with Christianity, because frequently it is church schools that parents are keen for their children to attend.

Recent media reports also refer to
parents who have falsely claimed their children have been baptised. And although it could not be counted as legal fraud, there is the common issue of people attending church just to get their child a place at a church school. It’s such an established route to avoid the cost of private education, that it has its own catch-phrase: “Get on your knees to avoid the fees”.

‘Divine and dusty’

Rather than simply condemning parents, it’s worth reflecting on the root causes. For me, these issues illustrate the complex mixture of good and bad, ‘the divine and the dusty’, which is within all of us.

On one hand, the commitment, care and sacrificial love that most parents show towards their children embodies the best of human nature. Whether religious or not, for many the bond of love for their children is a sacred thing and parents want the best for their offspring.

Anxiety and pride

And yet, on the other hand, parenting also reveals a darker side of human nature, one that is deeply susceptible to the distorting effects of anxiety and pride.

Anxiety can be the default setting for modern parenting. Schooling worries are fueled further by league tables and Ofsted judgments. The fear that our decisions will mean our children miss out on life changing experiences can haunt parents like a persistent ghost.

Pride is often the flipside of anxiety. Even more than the houses we own or the cars we drive, children can become emblems of parental achievement. Living embodiments of our marvelous balance of skills and values. Sure, we love them, but we also love what they say about us. I tend to tell the stories that make me look good.

The problem with Jesus

My oldest son has just started at a local comprehensive school. He has had a really positive start but inevitably it has been a time of increased anxiety for all of us.  For us faith and prayer has been more relevant than ever. But it has also made me reflect on Andy Dorton’s perceptive comment on faith in an urban context:

“The problem with Jesus is that he never had kids: claim he understands all our temptations if you like, but he never had kids.”

Justice rather than self-seeking

Last week at the local Church of England church connected to my son’s new school, they held a special service for the school. A prayer was said, summing up so well a Christian hope for what education can bring:

“For all involved in the task of education, that it may be devoted to justice rather than self-seeking, equality rather than privilege and the creation of community rather than division.”

I know a lot of people, whether Christians or not, who would respond to this prayer with a hearty ‘Amen’.

This article was originally written for the EA’s Friday Night Theology

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Is war a necessary evil? – by Danny Kuhrt (aged 11)

WAR NECCASARY EVILWar is the worst thing known to man. People dying at terrifying rates. The Chance of dying at any second. It is a horrible thing. Yet, sometimes it is necessary. You cannot let sometime storm into your country, kill everyone, abuse you and become powerful for being evil. When Hitler invaded Poland, they couldn’t just stand there and let it happen. It would have been a bloodbath. There is one thing worse than war: Massacre

If one person invaded the world and no one fought one person would have complete control. You must fight back. Or, if it is impossible to win, surrender. War is necessary. For example if the allies hadn’t beaten Germany in WW2 Jews would have been hunted out of existence. The Eradication of a race. That is massacre.

A war has a terrible consequence on everyone, even slightly. If the front line is on your land or in your city you are very likely to get caught in the crossfire. If your country is in the war you will either have to go or see loved ones go. You also have to suffer either bombing or the threat of it. Lastly, everyone else in the world is put under threat and their politicians have to make the tough decision: should we join in, and if we do, who should we support?

The dictionary definition of war is fighting, but it is so much more than that. It is sadness. It is worry. It is dread. It is so much more than fighting. War must be avoided unless it’s desperate. It is a nightmare that we, as the most intelligent species on the planet, should be able to avoid. But if there is a madman like Napoleon or Hitler it is necessary. It is Evil. That is the answer to the question, but it can be necessary in dire times where common sense deserts people. We must put our every attention into preventing the things that lead to war: rivalry, tension, idiots and the desperation to have power.

War is evil. But we can avoid it. If we all work together and be smart, we can prevent it.

Danny Kuhrt lives in Streatham.  This essay was a homework assignment from his school, St Mark’s C of E Academy, Mitcham.  

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‘The Book of Forgiving’ by Desmond & Mpho Tutu [Review]

book-forgiving“Forgiveness is not easy, but it is the path to healing. It was not easy for Nelson Mandela to spend twenty-seven years in prison, but when people say to me what a waste it was, I say no, it was not a waste. It took twenty-seven years for him to be transformed from an angry, unforgiving young radical into an icon of reconciliation, forgiveness and honour who could go onto lead a country back from the brink of civil war and self-destruction.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu received world-wide recognition (and the Nobel Peace Prize) for the moral and spiritual leadership he gave in opposition to South Africa’s apartheid regime. Then in the post-apartheid era, President Mandela asked him to Chair the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which helped South Africa address the crimes committed during that era without bitter recrimination. His book No Future Without Forgiveness tells the incredible story of the commission.

Personal and practical

For these reasons, Desmond Tutu is best known for being a Christian whose faith has helped influence the public and political climate of his country.  The best thing about this new book, jointly authored with his daughter, is how personal and practical it is.

I am sure that everyone reading this is in someway burdened with pain and hurts from their past.  Because of the danger that we turn people like Tutu into superheroes, it is significant that both co-authors frame the book so personally: Desmond Tutu writing about the pain of witnessing his father’s verbal and physical abuse towards his mother as a young boy and Mpho Tutu writing about the trauma of finding her housekeeper, Angela, brutally murdered in her home.

It is worth stating that the book has a whole section of what forgiveness is not. The authors are clear that forgiveness is not weakness, it is not a subversion of justice and it is not forgetting what happened.  Perhaps most helpfully, they share that it is not easy.


Despite the challenges, both co-authors are clear that it is the path to healing, restoration and freedom:

“Are you hurt and suffering? Is in the injury new, or is it an old unhealed wound?  Know that what was done to you was wrong, unfair, and undeserved. You are right to be outraged.  And it is perfectly normal to want to hurt back when you have been hurt. But hurting back rarely satisfies. We think it will, but it doesn’t.  If I slap you back after you slap me, it does not lessen the sting I feel on my own face, not does it diminish my sadness as to the fact that you have struck me. Retaliation gives, at best, only momentary respite from our pain. The only way to experience healing and peace is to forgive. Until we forgive, we remain locked out of the possibility of experiencing healing and freedom, locked out of the possibility of peace.” (p.16)

The Fourfold Path

At the heart of the book is the ‘Fourfold path of forgiveness’ which is as follows:

1. Telling the Story
2. Naming the Hurt
3. Granting Forgiveness
4. Renewing or Releasing the Relationship

This framework offers a ‘theory’ of forgiveness that both rings true to my experience and also corresponds with good theology.  Truth - through telling the story and naming the hurt - are essential stages of authentic forgiveness. We should never pretend that hurtful things have not happened, they need to be dealt with in the ‘fierce light of truth’.

Practical exercises

Finally, what makes this book so special is how practical it is.  Each section ends with accessible and simple exercises which help the reader actually engage in the process of forgiveness rather than analyse it from a safe distance.  It was not easy spending a whole morning carrying a stone around in my left hand, but it brought home to me the issues of unforgiveness that I carry around more than just thinking about them ever could!

The Book of Forgiving is a beautifully distilled book, full of moving personal story, convincing theory, challenging practical exercise and deep spirituality.  I would highly recommend it for anyone – because we all carry the scars of pain that we have either caused or been a victim of.  We all need hope and we all need forgiveness.

Buy The Book of Forgiving by Desmond and Mpho Tutu

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Loch Mess: the Caledonian Crisis, 2034 – a blog post from the future

ScotlandFlagYesterday saw a marked escalation of the conflict between England and Scotland.  In a statement released by Downing Street, Prime Minister Euan Blair confirmed the significant expansion of English military action:

“I have ordered reinforcements to bolster the British troops placed along the Scottish border.  Operation Hadrian has being stepped up to maintain the integrity of our borders”

In addition the Prime Minister confirmed that a massive joint manoeuvre had been launched with Russian forces to “protect and secure the international business interests” around Aberdeen, the centre of Scotland’s oil industry.  It is believed that around 15,000 troops, the majority of whom are Russian, have landed in the Scottish Highlands and have effectively sealed off Aberdeen from the rest of Scotland.

Roots of the crisis

The Caledonian Crisis has its roots in the Bank of England’s decision in 2015 to give Scotland ten year’s notice to stop using the Sterling currency after they voted for independence from the UK.

Scotland’s planned transition to the Euro by 2025 was then derailed by the public anger created by Scotland coming last in the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest.  Many had believed that Scotland’s entry, from veteran duo The Proclaimers, would win the contest.  But despite critical acclaim they were awarded Nil Points.   This international snub kick-started the ‘Nil Points = No Euro’ campaign in which successfully convinced the Scottish government to create its own currency.

Loch Mess

However attempts to form their own currency hit problems when Rangers fans felt the new proposed bank notes featured too much Celtic green and white. The uncertainty around the future of the currency, dubbed ‘Loch Mess’ by English media, drove Scotland into hyper-inflation and financial meltdown. Glasgow and Edinburgh have experienced serious unrest as mass unemployment and shortage of food bites hard.

Throughout the 2020s, conflict between Scots and English affected all major cities.  This followed the Special Powers (Scotland) Act which made the public wearing of kilts illegal, banned the film Braveheart and only allowed Irish Whiskey (with an ‘e’) to be drunk in England.  All food stuffs with a ‘distinctly Scottish connection’ were banned after widespread rumours of extremists concealing explosives as Haggis.

As disruption continued, the English government pushed ahead in 2030 with the forced repatriation of ‘anyone with a discernable Scottish accent’ from English territory.  Overnight, Scottish people living and working in England went into hiding and many enrolled in elocution lessons to stop saying ‘aye’ and ‘wee’.  Security forces continue to search for those living amongst us as ‘closet Scots’.


Yesterday’s the English government’s military actions mark a rapid escalation in the level of the conflict. As ever oil is at the heart of the issue.  During the years of uncertainty, more and more of Scotland’s oil industry was bought up by Russian oligarchs.  And once the current crisis started, England became under increasing pressure from Moscow to take action. As the Prime Minister Blair said

“Along with our Russian allies, we have secured Aberdeen in order to protect the long term business interests of the international community.  Our nation has a long and impressive history of wars fought to protect oil interests and I fully intend to maintain this proud tradition.” 

When questioned on why Russia were so involved, the PM replied:

“England can learn a lot from how they dealt with their trouble-makers in the former Ukraine region.  Plus they’ve opened some great restaurants in Knightsbridge.”

Speaking from his Presidential Palace of Balmoral, Scottish Head of State Alex Salmond declared that the English aggression would be met with similar force:

“They may take away our oil, but they can never take away our Freedom!”

It was only twenty years ago that the people of Scotland voted for independence from the United Kingdom.  Surely no one could have predicted the way events have unravelled since that that fateful decision back in 2014.

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The dis-integration of Christian social action

lovethyneighborasthyselfIn the last 15 years there has been huge growth in social action projects established by churches. The rise of Food Banks has probably been the most high profile example but there has also been a massive increase in Church-run Night Shelters and debt advice services.

These newer initiatives have joined well-established projects which have been run by other churches for generations.  The West London Mission, where I work, is a good example. We began our work in 1887 and back then we ran Food Depots, clothing banks, soup kitchens as well as Thrift Clubs to help people save money and a ‘Poor Man’s lawyer’ to give free legal advice.  Today, we employ over 70 people and run a wide range of services for people affected by homelessness, addictions and other personal problems.

The big challenge

It cannot be disputed that Churches are very good at establishing social action projects. The big challenge is how these projects maintain a Christian ethos and continue to be explicit carriers of Christian hope.  I know of so many organisations, both large and small, which were birthed with a strong Christian basis but have now left it behind.  In our secularised times, faith often becomes just a slightly embarrassing footnote of their history.

Sometimes faith fades due to a lack of passion or commitment or a key person leaving “We used to be more overt about faith but it doesn’t really happen anymore.”

Sometimes it is due to fear, especially to do with losing resources.  “It would not go down too well with our funders if we were too Christian.”

And sometimes faith just become fossilised. “A Vicar chairs the committee but there is no real connection with the church.”


In these ways that faith becomes so easily dis-integrated from social action and a chasm opens up between the church and the projects it has started.  The homelessness field in which I work is littered with examples because so many homelessness charities were originally started by churches.

The split can often lead to power struggles, bitter disputes and eventual messy divorces between the church and the social projects it has formed. Often both sides end up poorer for the separation.

Relevance of faith

Its tragic because community projects often provide the best witness to faith in a sceptical world. Most people have a lot of respect for genuine care and compassion in action. Often it makes much more sense to them than a church service.

Also, faith and spirituality are so relevant in bring hope to people and tackling poverty.  In my field, this was the powerful findings of last year’s report ‘Lost and Found: faith and spirituality in the lives of homeless people’ which showed how important and relevant faith was to those on the margins.


The growth of social action provides the church with some great opportunities.  But we must learn the lessons from the past and not allow social activism to secularise the church or neuter its message.  It is for God’s sake that we are seeking to make a difference.

Christian social activists should have strong ambition to integrate faith and spirituality alongside their practical work.  This is not simple or easy especially when working with vulnerable people.  It does not mean being coercive, inappropriate or forcing anything on anyone. But it will mean being courageous, creative and confident about how the relevance and importance of our faith.


If you are interested in how faith connects to social action then you might be interested in joining me at this weekend at the beautiful Scargill House in Yorkshire.  I am leading this weekend with a couple of great friends who I have worked with in recent years.

For God’s Sake Make a Difference: Friday 27 February to Sunday 1 March 2015

Justice and righteousness are at the heart of God’s character. How much does the Church reflect these characteristics? How do we hold together practical and spiritual care? How do we develop an authentically missional social action?

Jon Kuhrt (West London Mission), Annie Kirke (London Diocese Missional Communities) and Paul Reily (Scargill Community and formerly of Housing Justice) explore the theology and practice of social action and ask what this has to do with the Kingdom of God today.

For all the details and how to book in please see the Scargill website.

Related posts:

Posted in Social action | 7 Comments

Pray in the tension

Lost In London - by Simon & His Camera

photo by Simon & His Camera

Many of us live
A nation of strangers
Aliens in cities,
Trapped in societies
Of rapid, social change.
We face new problems
With no clear answers.
It’s not happened
To us before.
Nobody’s behaved like that before.
We’ve got no tailor-made pattern.
It’s an itsy-bitsy life.
Let’s be quite clear,
No comprehensive lifestyles
No grand, universal designs
Let’s not look for them.
Let’s get clear the tension
Between heaven and earth,
Between our visions
Of God and the earth,
And the tension
Of fidelity to both.
And in the tension

Taken from Prayers from a Searching Heart by Ian Calvert 

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How should our faith affect the way we live?

Trevor Huddleston

Trevor Huddleston

This morning I listened to a short reflection* about how small actions can make a big difference. The example used was how significant it was for Desmond Tutu when as a young boy he saw a white priest doff his hat in courtesy to his mother who was a domestic worker. Growing up under apartheid  in South Africa he had never seen a white man show such respect to a black person before and it had a profound impact on him.

It was only later that Tutu learned the priest he had met as a young boy was the great anti-apartheid campaigner, Trevor Huddleston.  In amongst all the ‘important’ things that Huddleston achieved in his life, he would never have imagined the impact that this simple act of courtesy had.  And yet Tutu cited it as a key moment in his upbringing – a moment which helped set him on the incredible path he took of helping bring hope and change to millions of people.

What difference should faith make?

The story of how Huddleston’s small act made such a big difference got me thinking about the areas of life which should be affected by our faith.  In what ways should faith make a difference to how we live?  These are the ones I came up with:

  • Privately.  Authentic faith should be always changing us in ways that only we know about.  Through prayer we seek God’s grace to shape and influence our inner lives, to allow divine love to repair, restore and re-orientate us.  Real faith makes a difference when no one is watching.
  • Personally. Authentic faith influences our small, daily decisions about how we behave, like our attitude when driving and how we treat our families. But it also influences the big choices that we make about our life: the house we buy, how we use our money, where we send our children to school. Faith is expressed in the personal values we live by.
  • Practically.  Authentic faith is expressed in actions which make it tangible and visible to others – especially those who are poor and suffering.  Beliefs only become faith when they are put into action.  This is why the Bible continually emphasises the inseparability of loving God and loving our neighbours. We are blessed by God in order to be a blessing to others.
  • Professionally. Authentic faith has to be expressed in the realms in which we spend most of our time and our energy – and for many of us that is in paid employment.  In reality there is no sacred/secular divide: the workplace is just as significant a realm as ‘church’ for us to express our faith and hope in the living God.
  • Publicly.  Authentic faith can never accept being relegated into just a private realm. Faith has things to say about how society is ordered and how communities operate. From the start, Christianity was a public movement, described in the New Testament as the ‘Ekklesia’, which means public assembly. Back then, the Christian faith was never seen as a ‘private matter’ and neither is it today.
  • Politically.  Authentic faith cares about how the structures and powers in the world can be shaped to create greater fairness,  justice and peace.  We cannot care about what is happening in Iraq, Syria and Gaza and pretend that faith has nothing to do with politics.  If Jesus had not been a political threat to the Jewish and Roman authorities then he never would have been crucified.

Of course this is all far easier to write than to live out! And of course different branches of the Church have different strengths in regard to these areas.  This is why unity among Christians is important, so that we work together to show the difference that faith makes.

Faith must make a difference to how we live.  As Brennan Manning wrote:

“The greatest cause of atheism is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny him with their lifestyle.  That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

*Listen to the reflection by Dave Tomlinson on BBC Radio 2’s Pause for Thought

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Jonah and Islamic State – by Matt Valler

IraqThe extremist Muslim terrorist organisation Islamic State (formerly ISIS) recently captured Nineveh in northern Iraq. The atrocities they have since committed there led me to revisit this ancient story…

The word of Yahweh came to Jonah the Jew. “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it because the stench of its wickedness has reached me.” But Jonah fled to Tarshish in Spain, where the days of the Caliphate had long faded.

On the sea crossing a great storm racked the boat, and each sailor called in desperation to his god for salvation. They submitted to dice to divine the person responsible, and the dice fell upon Jonah. So they questioned him: “Who are you, and from where do you come?”

He replied, “I am a Jew and I sacrifice to Yahweh, who made the seas and the dry land. But I am running away from him, towards the land where an Islamic State tolerated Jews (before the Christians drove us out). Yahweh rides the storm clouds like a chariot and he has awoken the chaos of the seas because of me. Offer me to the sea as a sacrifice and he will be appeased.”

The sailors were unwilling to sacrifice Jonah and tried to row to dry land. But the storm grew stronger. Pleading with Yahweh for mercy they threw Jonah overboard and into the depths of the sea. At once the storm calmed; the sailors pledged themselves to Yahweh.

Jonah, however, was swallowed by a mighty fish and spent three days and three nights in its belly before it vomited him onto the land.

The word of Yahweh came again to Jonah the Jew. “Go to Nineveh, in the heart of the Islamic State, and preach against it as I commanded you before.”

So Jonah went to Nineveh. It was a vast and ancient city, the seat of mighty empires that had sprawled out across the world. Jonah walked through its streets proclaiming that in forty days the Islamic State would be overthrown.

His words reached the ears of Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The Caliph tore his robes and ordered a fast for every man, woman, child and animal; no one was to eat or drink for three days. “Let everyone call on Allah,” he commanded. “Let us give up our evil ways and our violence. Perhaps then Allah may relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we may not perish.”

When Allah saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways he did relent and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.

But Jonah became very angry at Yahweh. “Isn’t this what I said would happen? Isn’t this why I fled to Spain? I know that you are a gracious and compassionate god, slow to anger and overflowing with love! A god who decides not to destroy after all! Take my life – I am so ashamed. I would far rather die than live!”

But Yahweh replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

Jonah went to the east of the city and sat down on the baking sand. He made himself a shelter and waited to see what would happen to Nineveh. Then Allah made a leafy plant grow up over Jonah to give him shade – and Jonah was pleased with the plant. But at dawn the next day Allah sent a worm which chewed the plant so that it withered. And when the sun rose, Allah sent a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die.

But Allah said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about this plant?”

“It is!” said Jonah. “I’m so angry I wish I were dead!!”

But Yahweh said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It came one day and went the next. Should I not be concerned about this great city of Nineveh full of countless innocent children?”

Some notes on the text…

I’ve long been fascinated by the way Jonah is read/misread – all the controversy about whether a man could be eaten by a whale or not (a pretty incidental feature of the plot) diverting attention from the bit at the end where God pleads with Jonah to be more compassionate (an unexpected turn).

Jonah is a story set at a time where Nineveh was the most powerful city on earth. It was the capital of the brutal Assyrian Empire. For Jonah to walk into Nineveh and proclaim destruction in the 8th century BCE would have been similar insanity to an unarmed Jew walking into the heart of the Islamic State today and proclaiming its overthrow. That was the historical moment that provoked the rewrite.

The names for ‘God’ have been kept as per the original; ‘Allah’ is an Arabic translation of the Hebrew ‘Elohim’, the word translated as ‘God’ in most versions of the Old Testament.

I’m very interested by the nuance of the names for ‘God’ used in the Bible; for example the way that Elohim (the Hebrew word for God) is a plural word used as a singular and drawn from Canaanite mythology (El is the chief Canaanite god and the Elohim is variously the divine pantheon and the sole god to whom one pledges fidelity). In the story of Jonah, both ‘Yahweh’ and ‘Elohim’ speak with Jonah, but the Ninevites only know ‘Elohim’. Elohim is a more generic way of referring to God than Yahweh, and operates within the language in the same way that ‘Allah’ operates in Arabic.

It is poignant to me that Jonah fled to Spain, the heart of the Islamic Caliphate of the West which from the 10th to the 14th century was broadly tolerant towards Jews, before the Christians took over and mercilessly persecuted them. Through a few accidents of history, Nineveh and Spain are now connected again by their opposite approaches to religious tolerance, the theme of Jonah.

In all of this mix the story of Jonah tells itself, mixing up our expectations about different gods – their names and loyalties – and offering an outrageous and provocative story through which to imagine the seemingly impossible; more than anything else the softening of our hard hearts and the prospect of peace.

Matt Valler is a social entrepreneur who specialises in the disruption and reimagination of religious narratives. He tweets at @mattvaller

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‘The Human Propensity to F*** things Up’

“One of the major obstacles to communicating what belief feels like is that I’m not working with a blank slate. Our culture is smudged over with half-legible religious scribblings. The vocabulary that used to describe religious emotions hasn’t gone away…instead, it’s still in circulation, but re-purposed, with new meanings generated by new usages…

Case in point: the word ‘sin’, that well-known contemporary brand name for ice cream. And high-end chocolate truffles. And lingerie in which the colour red predominates.  And sex toys; and cocktails… ‘Sin’ you can see, always refers to the pleasurable consumption of something.

If I say the word sin to you…it’s going to sound like as if I am bizarrely opposed to pleasure, and because of the on-going link between sin and sex, it will seem likely that at the root of my problem with pleasure is a problem with sex.

So I won’t do that.  Because that isn’t at all what I mean.

What I and other believers understand by the word I’m not saying to you has got very little to do with yummy transgression.  For us, it refers to something much more like the human tendency, the human propensity to fuck up.  Or let’s add one more word; the human propensity to fuck things up, because what we’re talking about here is not just our tendency to lurch and stumble and screw up accident, our passive role as agents of entropy. It’s our active inclination to break stuff, ‘stuff’ here including moods, promises, relationships we care about, and our own well-being and other people’s, as well as material objects whose high gloss positively seems to invite a big fat scratch.  Now I hope we are on common ground.

For most of us the point eventually arrives when, at least for an hour or a day or a season, we find we have to take notice of our HPtFtU (as I think I better call it).  Our appointment with realisation often comes at one of the classic moments of adult failure; when a marriage ends, when a career stalls or crumbles, when a relationship fades away with a child only seen on Saturdays, when the supposedly recreational coke habit turns out to be exercising veto powers over every other hope and dream…

The HPtFtU dawns on you. You have indeed fucked things up. Of course you have. You’re human, and that’s where we live; that’s our normal experience.”


Unapologetic - by Francis Spufford

All text taken from ‘The Crack in Everything’, chapter two of Unapologetic: Why, despite everything, Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense by Francis Spufford.

I would highly recommend Unapologetic, especially for those who are not Christians.  Its unlike any book I have ever read before because it takes seriously the need to communicate faith in a way people actually can hear and understand.  If you are a Christian then buy it, read it, and give it to someone who isn’t.

Buy Unapologetic by Francis Spufford

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From the DRC to London: helping Theodore realise his hope of education – by Rachel Henry

TheodoreTheodore*, 18, comes from the North East of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). He was brought up in a region where there are regular attacks on civilians by armed groups.  When he was a child, his family fled an attack on their village and settled in a camp for internally displaced people on the outskirts of Goma.

In 2008, during the violent ‘Battle of Goma’, Theodore’s father and mother were killed. He fled again, this time on his own as a 14 year old. He travelled by land through several African countries, and ultimately, after a journey of over 18 months, arrived in the UK aged 16.

In the UK

Theodore was taken into the care of the Croydon Social Services and given a temporary form of leave to remain in the UK that would last until he was seventeen and a half years old. He was placed in a house with other separated children who had also recently arrived.

In the house, Theodore struggled to communicate and make friends because whilst he spoke French, the other boys spoke Dari or Arabic. He suffered from regular flashbacks of the violence he experienced in his home country, and found it difficult to sleep at night because of the images in his mind of all he had seen.

Despite his interrupted education, Theodore has always wanted to become a teacher. When he arrived in the UK, the Refugee Support Network helped him get a place in an English for Speakers of Other Languages class at college and matched him with Sarah*, one of our educational mentors.

The big difference

When he first met with Sarah, Theodore told us that she was the only adult in his life who was not paid to help him, but was doing so simply because she wanted to. This simple fact made a big difference.  It started to help Theodore feel less alone and isolated.

Theodore has now been mentored for just over a year, and his teacher tells us that since being matched with a mentor his confidence has grown, his insomnia has reduced and he has made faster and better progress with his studies.

Last week Theodore phoned our team and said:

“You have helped me like no one else has helped me! Every time I think of you I say thank you God because you have helped me study better”

Help needed!

Refugee Support Network are running educational mentoring programme and we really need more mentors who can help people like Theodore. Watch this short film about our work:

Rachel Henry works at the Refugee Support Network, lives in Streatham, South London and is a member of Streatham Baptist Church.

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