Powerful stuff, this. Thanks to Claire for sending it to me:
"I’m part of the fellowship of the unashamed. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I’m a disciple of His and I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still.
My past is redeemed. My present makes sense. My future is secure. I’m done and finished with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, cheap living, and dwarfed goals.
I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, or first, or tops, or recognized, or praised, or rewarded. I live by faith, lean on His presence, walk by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by Holy Spirit power.
My face is set. My gait is fast. My goal is heaven. My road may be narrow, my way rough, my companions few, but my guide is reliable and my mission is clear. I will not be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice or hesitate in the presence of the adversary. I will not negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity. I won’t give up, shut up, or let up until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, and preached up for the cause of Christ.
I am a disciple of Jesus. I must give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until He comes. And when He does come for His own, He’ll have no problems recognizing me. My banner will be clear!
-Found among the papers of a young Zimbabwe pastor after he was martyred"
I'm going to put these words up on the wall beside my desk at work.
It's lovely to be part of a good news story for a change. The media persecute us mercilessly, as a rule. Mindless stories about mollycoddled bad guys sell papers but don't help anyone else. The Football For Life project in South Africa is just fab. The kids the project aims to help are growing up in poverty and gangland culture. Many of them are fatherless too. The football coaches are trained to mentor the kids they work with, using football as a distraction from gang activity, and a way to channel gang rivalry (better to fight it out metaphorically through a football match than literally fight it out). Along with the football they deliver messages about health, and some education, and a bit of surrgogate fatherhood. I think it's a wonderful thing but it's not just what I think - there is statistical evidence for the reduced murder rate in the area, for reduced teenage pregnancy among the girls they're working with, etc.. Glasgow The Caring City are our main link with the Monte Christo Ministries project in South Africa, and they are in partnership with World Emergency Relief who made the video. If you're looking for a project for your church or school you could contact Ross at Glasgow The Caring City and offer to sponsor a team in South Africa for their football kit for a year. £250 is an achievable sum (a non-uniform day at school or a dress down day at work, for example?) which would make a world of a difference to the lives of these kids. But they'd accept any money of course. I know for a fact that their football shirts and boots would be their most prized possessions. The plan is eventually to post the projects' football teams' scores on the internet so that folk can follow the performance of the team they're sponsoring. What with the World Cup being in South Africa (without Scotland though, sadly) it is a project that has the potential to capture the imagination of kids as well as prisoners.
I've not been calling by here much. I go through phases of things and just now I'm in a Facebook phase. Facebook's amazing - this week I've reconnected with my schoolfriend, who was my bridesmaid way back in 1993. And recently I've also reconnected with a former colleague from my days working for the Department of Social Security (as it was called then). I remember debates we had in the pub at work nights out, he being a convinced atheist and me being an equally convinced Christian. Well, nearly twenty years on we've picked up from where we left off. (Incidentally I don't think debating/arguing really works in achieving anything - we just get more and more entrenched. So maybe I should quit while I'm (not) ahead.)
I thought I'd share today's debate.
In the unlikely event I have any readers left here after my faithlessness as a blogger of late, you'd be welcome to join in/argue with either or both of us.
Norman's post, which started it, was: "Blasphemy is a victimless crime." Richard Dawkins.
Then it went like this:
Neil: What a hero.
AnneDroid: Been thinking about this. I would happily fight for the right for people to blaspheme if they want. Free speech etc. But at the same time it actually really hurts us as Christians to hear blasphemy and I don't really get why people want to use God's name/Christ's name all the time the way they do... what do they get out of it? I never say anything but I don't like it. I do know Dawkins wasn't thinking of humans as victims by the way and it was a very clever joke!
Norman: Oh, it's just a joke of course. However, if you make it a crime, as I believe they have just done in Ireland, then it ceases to be funny. Would you hang Dave Allen?
AnneDroid: No I love him. Which I suppose shows I'm not always offended, as with Dawkins' joke which doesn't offend me either.
Norman: It's a question of how we all get along together. The Danish cartoons of Mohammed were deliberately provocative and some Muslims love to be provoked. I am an atheist but have a Christian background and many Christian friends. We all rub along well enough until a subject comes up that divides us on faith lines. The Scott Rennie business, for example.
Neil: The trouble with blasphemy as a crime is that nobody else is protected by the law from being offended. I have no doubt Christians are hurt by some blasphemous comments but I was hurt the other day by the teenage girls following me down the street calling me a fat smelly bastard. I just have to deal with it and get on with life. Christians, I am afraid, need to develop thicker skins.
AnneDroid: Yes Neil that's very true.
Norman: Well, of course behind the idea of a sanction for blasphemy is the idea of any law being dictated by religion. That's less about the sensitivity of Christians than their wish to force their views on others. The various attempts to force Schools to teach Creationism in Science classes for example. That is applied ignorance which cannot be tolerated.
Neil: Hear hear.
(few hours gap) Norman: AnneDroid, I don't know if you are so offended by the tack this discussion has taken that you've decided to say nothing, however I'd be interested in your view on Christian values in a secular society.
AnneDroid: No not offended esp as my thought for the day is to develop a thicker skin!! Gross over simplification of my view: don't want a Christian version of Shariah law imposed on you or anyone else. But do think kids at school should be taught what faith groups believe, inc that many believe God made the world. Have had many a debate with an atheist who in fact doesn't really know what we believe at all. Appreciate some values are shared between us and secular law, eg "do not murder" and some aren't, eg "do not commit adultery", "do not covet", "love your neighbour as yourself" etc.. That's fine - we can and do live with that tension. But on the other hand as a mum I do sincerely wish some of the messages of the secularist media and state education were not constantly washing over my kids as if they were absolute fact.
Norman: I can live with most of this but "...on the other hand as a mum I do sincerely wish some of the messages of the secularist media and state education were not constantly washing over my kids as if they were absolute fact." Example/s?
AnneDroid: E.G.! (1) that women are to be judged according to their appearance - "read" any women's or men's magazine. (2)That people are valued by what they have - the constant use of the word "worth" in the media - so and so is "worth" sixty million pounds or whatever. (3)That school age sex is just the next developmental stage and nothing to do with belonging in a long term committed relationship - the way it is sometimes presented even by healthcare and educational workers but certainly in the popular teen media. (4) the rampant mateiralism/consumerism - my mobile phone is so last year so I must have another one. (5) the big atheist lie that we must choose between science and faith which is total crap. I love science and the more I learn about it the more my faith is encouraged. I think of at least three Christians I know well who are nuclear physicists, one of whom has twice shown me round CERN, and so on. (6) the fact every time a religious person appears in a TV drama they are mad.
Norman: I'm not sure if any of these are taught in schools! They're certainly not the values of everyone and " the big atheist lie that we must choose between science and faith" is not a universal view among atheists either.
This was a totally harrowing programme to watch the night before last, highlighting very graphically (think before you decide to watch this clip) the horrific misery of drug addiction. I'm glad I watched it, but it was difficult to watch. Ben was miserable and his family were miserable. It was brave of his family to allow their story to be shown but it would be wonderful to think it might have put off someone from going down that path.
Prisonworld is, of course, full of people for whom drugs is a part of their story. Some were addicted and getting a prison sentence has saved their life and they have managed to get clean. Some had never touched drugs at all and have only taken drugs since coming into prison, perhaps even getting to the stage where it is an addiction. Some were drug dealers, smugglers, couriers, and of course of those some were small time and some were big time. I've never used drugs myself but I've come to hate them with a passion as a result of seeing the devastation they cause. The addicts are miserable. So are their families. And of course there are also other victims - drugs are expensive and have to be paid for, sometimes through crime.
And yes, I do know lots of folk use them recreationally and don't get addicted. They would, with some justification, point to my drinking a glass of wine sometimes of an evening and say "that's a drug" and so it is, I admit it, though thankfully I'm not addicted. So also caffeine is a drug, which I've lapsed back into big time in spite of my good intentions, here and the first part of this last year.
I really hate heroin, cocaine, cannabis and all of them. I hate the whole world that goes with it. Crime, lies, violence, deception, death, and all kinds of unimaginable seediness. Legalising drugs might take away some of that, but it certainly wouldn't take away what Ben went through. From what I gathered from the program, Ben's family helped him fund his habit, with good intentions, although his poor father was then obliged to keep working till 71 when he died from cancer without having the opportunity to retire. I can imagine I might put up the finance too if it was one of my children. Parents don't want their daughter funding their drug habit by prostituting themselves or their sons doing so by mugging old ladies in the street. No wonder they subsidise them.
I've no idea what the solutions are, although I guess making simplistic pronouncements obviously isn't one of them. It's complex and we need to face up to that.
Certainly, amongst other things we need a different attitude, as a society, to the problem. In this country, there are huge waiting lists in some areas to get access to rehab, or a methadone prescription as the services are hugely under-resourced and stretched beyond capacity. It seems to me that the powers that be probably reckon there's no votes in helping drug addicts. Tabloids paint them as the villains and people don't want to see "useless junkies" getting taxpayers money.
It's my privilege as a prison chaplain to love people for a living, but do you know what? Even if you hate "useless junkies", then for selfish reasons alone, you should want to help them, as you may save yourself being a victim of their crime, or from having to fund through your taxes a costly prison sentence (well over £30,000 a year I think) for someone who might instead be working and paying tax.
Ben's story showed powerfully how low drugs can take a person. It also showed that drug addicts are real human beings with feelings, who didn't plan to be drug addicts and who wish they weren't . Their offences may offend us a lot, but they are still worthy of our compassion. And prayer.
Him Indoors and Blue Eyed Boy recently completed the West Highland Way along with some other hardy souls from our church, and the very talented Big Nathan (there's also a Wee Nathan) put it together into a video. (You may remember this, which was really awesome).