I want you to believe something.

Before I tell you what it is I want to tell you why I want you to believe it.

I don’t want you to believe it because I want you to, but because YOU will want to.
I don’t want you to believe it because I wish it was real, but because it IS real.
I don’t want you to believe it because I say it’s true, but because it IS true.
I don’t want you to believe it because I can PROVE it, or that anyone can’t DISPROVE it – that wouldn’t be belief, that would be knowing.
I don’t want you to believe it because your family, your friends, your peers or someone you respect believes it, but because deep down you know it’s right for YOU.
I don’t want you to believe it because it’s simply A truth, but because it’s a BEAUTIFUL truth.

So what is it that I want you to believe?

I want you to believe what you know to be true:
That we have an amazing gift of life, full of opportunities to love and act lovingly and yet we more often choose to act selfishly and hurtfully.
That we sometimes find that when we do our best it simply doesn’t last.
That even when we’re at our best we remain our very worst, because all the bad things we do don’t simply disappear, however much we try and atone for them.

I want you to believe something else which is also true; in fact it’s somehow MORE true.

I want you to believe that although we know we can be good AND bad, hopeful AND despondent, up AND down, loving AND hateful, that ultimately it’s OK.

It’s OK because you’re loved – just as you are – and love always has the power to bring beauty out of ugliness, light out of darkness, hope out of despair.
Love ALWAYS wins.

You’re loved by the same love that holds everything in being.
Whatever idea, name, shape or concept you have for “GOD”, HIS transcendent reality is one which IS love, and which comes to us not as a FORCE of love, but as a loving PERSON.

The love which you are loved by is completely personal and deeply intimate.

This love cannot be measured, or reasoned or even described, but it can be felt, and every one of us has at one time – or many times – felt this love, and it has felt completely personal.

When you see the splash of yellows as Autumn breaks out in the trees.
When you gasp, breathless, looking down on clouds from a mountain summit.
When the sky is on fire with outrageous pinks and oranges as the sun sets again to rise again tomorrow.
When you discover that mathematics is… BEAUTIFUL and how pine cones, triangles, circles and curves all share a universal language of perfect complementarity.
When another human looks into your eyes and tells you – with delight – that they love you.
When you experience that first kiss and your heart is thumping more life out than you knew you had in you.
When your child is born and the emotion is like the final crescendo of a symphony written in the outer cosmos visiting your soul in a momentous surge.
When you hold your dying mother’s hand and reassure her that she can go now.
When you see a child dying in some remote place ‘over there’ and your heart is moved to compassion ‘right here’.
When you look into the depth of your own soul and know that you are more – significantly more – than your skin and bones and even your ‘consciousness’.

This is a love which cannot be described but can be seen at work.
This is a love which cannot be rationalised but which makes perfect sense – sense of itself and sense of everything else as well.
This is a love which comes to each one of us to know and be known – person to person.

This love is from the ONE who IS love and who has created everything IN love and FOR love.
This love is so spacious that it can hold belief and unbelief in perfect tension and not be improved on or reduced by either.
This love is so embracing that you cannot place yourself outside of it however little you may love yourself, or however little others may love you.
This love does not understand labels, or lifestyle choices, or orientations, or belief systems because all it understands is to love anyway.
This love cannot be contained, or owned by anyone, or any one group, or any one religion but is always, perpetually seeking to expand our understanding of what love is and to invite us to love likewise.

This love is not abstract, just as the GOD who is love is not abstract either.
This love has taken on flesh and blood, like you and me, and continues to take on flesh and blood whenever and wherever we receive and express this love.
This love has come into the world but the world has not received it; at least not fully.
This love has come to be like one of us, with all our limitations and all our doubts and fears:
Yeshua of Nazareth, born into poverty in a land under foreign Imperial occupation, into a religion which had truth but knew not the love which sets men free.
Yeshua of Nazareth who healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, reached out to the outcasts and even raised dead people to life, and yet who was put to death because his radical demands to love GOD and to love your neighbour were simply too radical to stomach.
Yeshua of Nazareth who loved his enemies even as they were putting him to death, and who entrusted himself to that universal, transcendent love as he drew his final breath.
Yeshua of Nazareth who didn’t stay dead but resurrected to prove that love IS stronger than death and that life IS more than what we know.
Yeshua of Nazareth who left us so that we might live out the same love for ourselves and follow his way of love.
Yeshua of Nazareth who IS that same GOD who IS love and who is coming back as that same man who walked out of his own tomb to finally redeem all things and all people into an eternal reality of love.
Yeshua of Nazareth who is here, now, every time we help someone in need; every time we feed the hungry; every time we clothe the naked; every time we fight for the cause of the vulnerable and the outcast; every time we forgive and are forgiven; every time we love our enemies and not only those who love us.
Yeshua of Nazareth who today takes on flesh and blood in you and me when we receive and express that same love for which he first came into the world.

I want you to believe that Yeshua is alive today, in you and me, in the love we know and the myriad ways in which we experience it.
I want you to believe that, because it’s love, Yeshua makes no demands of us and will not compel us to anything.
I want you to believe that, because it’s love, you will want to worship, and follow, and love-likewise because that’s the nature of what this love is like and what it can do with a fractured life like ours.

I want you to believe because deep, deeper down, you have always known this love and known this truth.
I want you to believe because belief awakens us to the truth, and opens our eyes to see the light.
I want you to believe because this is good news which makes all the bad news you’ve ever known seem somehow smaller now.
I want you to believe because I have believed and I want you to have what I have, except that what you will have will be entirely yours, as personal as your fingerprints and your DNA.

Just believe and know for yourself what that freedom you didn’t know you were yearning for actually feels like.
Just believe and receive that love which has always been there for you, and always will be.

What on earth have we done to our children?

The following is the manuscript of a speech I gave at a specially arranged meeting in Parliament to consider the findings of 17yr long study of how our society treats its children which have been published in the book “The Big Question: What On Earth Are We Doing To Our Children” available here >

In any home, in any corner of this land, our hope is that our children are being looked after.
Our hope is that parents, teachers, health workers, care workers, scout leaders, church leaders and neighbours all have the welfare of our children at heart and consider it a priority and a privilege.

But the truth is that this is tragically not the case.
Hidden from view in the overwhelming statistics of the worst stories of abuse and neglect lies the long tail of an entire generation who have grown up in an atmosphere of abuse and neglect.
They have breathed this toxic air. They have imbued as norms things which to previous generations would have been anathema.
A 17yr old today is confronted with daily images of a world constantly at war.
Images are continually projected onto the screens of their brains about body image, avarice, materialism; all part of the conspiracy of superficiality that helps us look away from what lurks beneath the surface.
We wonder why children today can behave in such appalling ways towards other children. We marvel that children are giving birth to children. We stand back aghast as a child not yet having reached maturity has tallied a string of partners who have used her and abused her, and a tally of abortions to match.
Our children are now criminals, locked up with men whose stories have an eerily similar quality to them. The doors of prisons have become revolving doors, and the stories you hear could be the story for any one of those men, give or take the odd detail.
A new banker class has ransacked our financial future and taken their ill gotten gains offshore whilst a boy who loots a television in the throes of a mass riot goes to prison, their future cut short for one moment’s madness.
The “hoodie” has become synonymous with a pest, like rats are a pest, but wouldn’t you hide in a hood if you were this hated?

We should not be so surprised. Horrified, yes, but surprised, no.
We have sown the wind and we must now reap the whirlwind.

This parliament is called the mother of parliaments, and yet as a mother she has neglected her children.
Whilst MPs fiddled, Croydon burned.
Policymaking lacks the imagination that this younger generation has in spades.
Labels such as ‘scroungers’ and ‘layabouts’ are nailed deep into young men and women who have no prospect of employment; not because the opportunities don’t exist (although this is also true) but because they are not equipped.
We have spoon-fed them television and computer games and then asked them to participate in the ‘real world’, as if they even know what that means.
We have not protected them from media and programming designed to keep them hooked and addicted and then wonder why so many of them end up with other addictions.
We structure their brains around 50 minute stories punctuated with ad breaks and wonder why they can’t concentrate in class for longer than 12 minutes.
Cutting public funding for programmes aimed at fixing this enormous problem has been like cutting off the oxygen supply, and we wonder why young people react so aggressively.

Perhaps our angst and concern for them is a proxy for angst and concern for ourselves. How could we have messed it up so badly for them?
We conveniently put our children and young adults in society’s dock and throw all manner of charges at them, and the tragedy is not that they don’t know their guilt, but that they genuinely don’t understand what it is we are accusing them of.

This is a reflection written following a conversation with a 17yr old, and just listening to her speak from her heart.
“Why blame us? We receive what we are given. If you give us poison, we will drink the poison. If you show us violence, we will act out violence. If you teach us dishonesty, we will learn dishonesty. If you fight and argue over who’s right and wrong, we will be weaned on enmity and it will be in our DNA.”

How should we respond?
What has been learned can be unlearned.
What is taught can be modified and improved.
We can change the atmosphere within which our children are being raised.

How will we get to a new place where children are nurtured, protected and encouraged?
We start now. It starts with us. Each and every one of us.
The hope for our children is the hope we choose to have for ourselves.
The imagination we need to seek out a new future is there, but it needs to be accessed and given space.
The facts are written in this book (The Big Question: What On Earth Are We Doing to Our Children?) and they shout out loud and clear.
But what is written in the next chapter, or the next book… that is up to us.