Saturday, 27 September 2014

Fighting dirty: the battle for school places

This 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."

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 Over the past five years, more than 700 children are believed to have had their places withdrawn after false information was submitted on application forms.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.

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 claim parents have falsely claimed their children have been baptised. 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".

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.

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.

My oldest son has just started at a local comprehensive school. Inevitably it's a time of increased anxiety for him and for us as parents. As a family, it's a time when faith and prayer has been more relevant than ever. But it has also made me reflect on Andy Dorton's comment: "The problem with Jesus is that he never had kids: claim he understands all our temptations if you like, but he never had kids."

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."   Amen!

Jon Kurht is executive director of social work at the West London Mission

Friday, 26 September 2014


A grey cloud like a flag from despair hangs over my head.
Going about my day with my face pale as wax,
Fatigued, confused, angered by my past reflection,
Hand icily cold, crumbling like a fairy dream,
Broken, like some great river's ice at the touch of spring,
Alone, like a storm tossed-wreck.
Feeling unconscious to life like steel.
Dreaming awake to fall asleep,
As slumber falls on the eyes of a tired child.
Because I'm still accepting that she's gone away,
As stars that flashes with the sun,
Breathing, as a sea disturbed by a violent wind.
For my love upon love upon love in her was packed,
Now gone,
Despair replaces the cloud I've lost.


Wednesday, 24 September 2014

I do see God's hand in everything

I do see God's hand in everything. The old divines put such a matter under God's providence. There is not a thing which occurs that God had no hands in it. He is in every detail, in fact he weaves it all together for the good of his awesome glory, yet sins not, and grants liberality to the creatures as justice and his love demands it.

Now sometime ago, on the 24th of December 2013, I decided to go and cut my hair for it was rather messy and unkempt. Ony my way to the barbers, I bought Ola Ola pounded yam and placed it in a blue carrier bag. I sat down at the barbers now waiting to cut my hair, but besides me sat a boy who clearly had a disability. I shunned him not, although at first when he placed his hands on me, I moved away as to find it a repulsive thing. Perhaps I did shun him, but afterwards I allowed the boy to rest on me.

Now, it was my turn to cut my hair. I hanged up my jacket and placed my blue carrier bag on the chair. After my hair cut for which I paid double to the barber because he spent almost half an hour on my hair and only ten minutes on the previous customer.

I thanked the barber, put on my jacket as to leave and in almost exiting the door, I remembered my blue carrier bag. To my surprise it was gone. I related this information to the barber and he reinburst me at once. And just before I had finished cutting my hair, the barber had given me his number just in case I needed an haircut for next time. Then I went to buy another Ola Ola pounded yam and took my train home.

Now, as I sat happy and pensive on the southeastern train, I remembered that inside that blue carrier bag which was taken, I had left my beloved headphones and mp3 player. Now, I marevelled how it was a marvellous thing that I took the oportunity to take the barber's number, otherwise my headphones and mp3 would have been lost to the wind, for I was travelling on the very next day for six weeks.

What was also interesting was that the barber had asked me whether I had anything of value inside the taken blue bag. I replied, no. Memory failed me then but returned to me on the train. I called the barber and he promised to keep it safe for me on my return. He kept his words. 

Finally I got home and reflected upon all this, on that comfortable chair where men empty their internal waste marvelling at the wonder of God's providence. If I had never sat next to that boy, If I never took the barber's number, If I never paid the barber double, then perhaps little sympathy would have been shown me. And even though I cannot now travel with my mp3, for I had no other headphones, but I really wanted to travel with my mp3, I thought that perhaps this was a blessing, but certainly I knew that it was surely for my good, for God works in all things for the goodness of all those who love him. Now I cannot say I love God amazingly, nay, my love is full of all kinds of poverty, but it is love still, though very immature.

In all this I did see God's omnipotent hand, guiding my daily events according to his Sovereign will. Some cannot accept this, fret not. I am content for you to believe in God's absolute goodness even if you cannot reconcile it with his absolute sovereignty.


Where is the blood you bring to enter heaven's most holy place?

“Where is the blood you bring to enter heaven's most holy place?” asked the devil. “For under the covenant, the high priest must never enter without blood. Where is your sacrifice, knowing that the blood of goats and sheep could never suffice for the heavenly sanctuary. Such sacrifices are indeed sufficient for man made tabernacles, but it is not sufficient for the real thing here in heaven. Have you not read the documents on these things Oh man. And you O God, whom I hate, will you not now banish him like me? Will you not send him into the outer darkness, or are you a breaker of your own immutable laws, making you yourself and offender. If it is the case, then you ought to banish yourself into hell, and all your heavenly hosts too; allowing my demons to make a hell out of your heaven.”

All the host of heaven watched as the devil spoke in this trial of mine. They all watched from a distance, but their eyes and ears were such that it was as if they were right in front of me.

I was silent for a little while, and watched the devil's pride grow with great satisfaction. Then the Father, that king of hosts looked upon me and said, 'Son of man, have you no defence to make?'

“My Beloved God and father,” I replied, “To speak in front of you humbles me. But since you have asked me a question, I shall proceed to answer my cause.

“Devil, you fiends of fiends, have you heaven's documents not read. Do you not know that it is very boldly written that only one kind of blood is sufficient to make me stand in this court and live eternally by his glorious side. Something which you have forfieted never to enjoy again. Have you not understood the events of the past forty days? Have you no attention paid, that by his blood, that is the blood of the lamb slained on the cross that I am justified here. Look at his hands and feet, and now look closely on my head. I have been marked by his blood. Yea by the blood whom you thought you crucified to your victory. You crucified yourself! But I see that you have not marked yourself with his blood. What is your justification? I am under the new covenant.”

“New covenanat!" exclamied the devil. "What new doctrine is this?” asked the devil. 
“If it be true, then ruined I be."

A simple nod in agreement from the Father on all that I said angered the devil to tear his garments.

The Father then gave the order that the devil is henceforth declined in heaven's court from making accusations in this most holy place against those who have the blood of his one and only Son on their heads, yea, all that have been sprinkled with the blood of his beloved.

The devil then descended to earth, going all about the world, to destroy the saints and to diminish their influence, for he had no more case against them in the courts of heaven. 


Monday, 22 September 2014

Prophet of woe and woo

Prophet of woe

Once a lovely lady
Now reveals her skirt
To every nation.

No longer knows
How to blush,
Decency has escaped
From her.

That tower of refuge
Where freedom dwelt
And righteousness reigned -

Has now been captured
By morality's foes,
Which end by Yahweh

Personally descends,
Raining a torrent
Of destruction
Upon her tiny lofty head.

Prophet of woo

Your bright blue land
Does shine -

Dandelions and lilies
Does arise
To sing thy praise,

Through whom
Freedom unleashed,

Spreading justice
To savages reach,

Granting them grace
To know the poet's flute.

Savages did dance
Understand shone alight
Making them men
Born-again to nature's delight.


God, whom to my friends existeth not.

God that golden light,

whom to my friends existeth not,

Save in my mind, that grand design,

Imagined by imagination deep in my heart,

For comfort and vengeance,

No objective right.

Now, if only my mind they have

Then they too would have that heavenly light

Shone deep beyond unbelief

That God is indeed a very real thing.  


I knew a sad boy - Lost love

I knew a sad boy who unleashed some very sad words in verses on me. He bid me read and see his heart, how it breaks never to mend.

Now I know how Romeo felt
When his lover perceived her dead,
To die was better to live,
Sooner or later the anguish
Would his feelings kill to stone,
And live as if a dead man breathed
Passionless talk, thrill-less eyes
Better to poison oneself right now.

Some in marriage their walk does sing
And others for years enjoy their tune,
But mine quickly end,
where I wished forever and us would be friends.

O such feeling in my heart.
That my beloved has depart,
Forever I fear the dart of love
Hitting me to love again,
For doubt and fear shall reign in me
Reminding me of my beloveds leave.

O God once again I fail
This theme has now become my theme,
In darkness hide, my secrets keep
I never could with another live so deep,
And here I thought a ray of hope,
But wrong, spectacularly I fail again.

O invested time I wish to take,
To be Absent on that first night,
Where we made, sweet love
In kisses bright,
I wish I had never seen that light,
Then my heart wont be aching tight.

My first first love,
I wished would be my last last dove,
Now by Jove swore,
An eunuch to the last.
When my first first love
Another found strong,
Finding me weak,
Ticking our time done.

O for heaven to shine in me
But heaven forsaken by deeds I did,
That now forsaken, heart breaking, un-mending,
Heaven cannot shine,
The ache knows no decline.

It is true that one is blind to what they truly have till they have lost it. Now I in sorrow sit, weeping deep in my soul, never to love again, only to have it go to yonder hills, feeling dread inside. But only I to blame, when in full passion should have esteemed what I felt deep in my soul, and dare I not ask, not know, if it was because of another's drum that took her away, but God in his plans does know, that a heart broken will in the end bring forth a golden sunshine on my character, to care and have patience more.

I saw the tears in her eyes, like heavy clouds about to unleash a thunderstorm upon my anxious frail head. The feeling for long as overwhelmed her, that she no longer could bear the heavy waters beating on her banks. For me, no longer pity could keep at the expense of happiness, that I a must, must wound or perhaps kill, a price she is now for her joy willing to pay.  


Sunday, 21 September 2014

Far from the shore of righteousness

It seems to me that I am ever so far away from the shore of righteousness. That land which I know contains all goodness and loveliness seems altogether to be out of my reach. Although I know that it is ever near, yet it appears that I can never reach it. I see it with the eyes of my mind, but I can never swim far enough to walk on its green pastures. I always sink. O such is the misery of the worldy man, that he can see the clouds but never touch it. He may jump as high as he can but will never reach it. But look how easily planes fly through the clouds! And whilst I have a heart for righteousness and a body for sin, I can never be happy. It is altogether now impossible to indulge in the world with any happiness, because my heart for righteousness will be very much dejected, which is really the centre of me. But if I follow the course of righteousness, I will be very much happy. But my body will be weary and I should be tired phyiscally, for my flesh would seek to torture me. O, this body of death! Who will deliver me?

Thanks be to Christ who delivers us from this bondage, eventually. And he can do it now. Such is the victory of the cross that Christ can subdue entirely the passions of our flesh, but he does it not at once, and we must struggle, and fight, and prove our worth. We must choose and we have the Spirit for help. O to submit my mind to all that is noble and pure, to meditate on all that is good and to keep away from all things impure. O that is my desire.

How happy I will be on that day when this body is swallowed up by the eternal. Sin shall cease from me forever and I will not miss her.


Building a new nation

I’m writing this morning after the night before. About two hours ago the chief returning officer, Mary Pitcaithly, confirmed that Scotland will not be leaving the UK. Like so many others I stayed up all night to watch the conclusion to this unprecedented exercise in democracy where 85 per cent of eligible voters took the biggest constitutional decision in UK democratic history. 
And so we stay. 
After all the debate, all the campaigning, all the passion and all the argument, the people of Scotland have made their choice and the UK will not be the same.
It’s hard to describe what these last few weeks have felt like. Politics has been everywhere – the talk of the playground, the building site, the swimming pool and the church. At a time of cynicism in the Western world there has been a reinvigoration of civic engagement and debate as politics once again has actually mattered.
The world has been watching and they have seen a nation debate its future without blood, tanks or sword. And they have seen a nation decide to reaffirm its bonds with its neighbours while challenging our leaders to deliver a better governance, not just to Scotland but to everyone in the UK.
There is a sense of unfinished business. Not quite so much for Scotland, for in one sense we have finished this season (though there is more devolution coming). Rather the debate now moves to England, Wales and Northern Ireland to decide how they see their own settlement in relation to their neighbours. How do we reflect on what has just passed in Scotland and what may be to come for the rest of the UK?
First, we learn to love our neighbour. In Luke 10 the parable of the Good Samaritan contains the telling question Who is my neighbour?’ and in many ways that has been the key question of our debate. As believers we’ve had to consider that question as we vote – am I just voting for what is best for me or am I voting for what is best for my society? And we now have to consider it as we reconcile to those who have passionately disagreed on this question. As a nation we’ve had to consider the very practical question of neighbourly relations – who are my people? What is my nation? Now that we have reaffirmed that the UK will remain as a family of nations how are we to build God-honouring relationships between our own nation and the others that make up this United Kingdom?
Second, we must learn to build a just society. Much of the desire (not all) for independence was driven by a sense that the current Westminster political system is fundamentally unjust, particularly to the most vulnerable in society. The Yes wins in Glasgow and Dundee were driven by a heart cry for social justice and for a society of greater equity.  Right throughout scripture we see God’s interest in a just society. From Adam’s initial mandate to the vision of Israel, to the Kings, the Prophets and the ultimate kingdom of God, scripture points us to the values of a godly society. If we do nothing else on the back of this referendum let it be that we build such a society with God’s kingdom values at the heart.
Finally, this debate has been about identity. Who am I and what is this nation I call home?  The reason this debate has been felt so closely by so many across the whole UK is that it is about the core of who we are, how we see the world and our place within it. Flags and symbolism are powerful tools and the thought of gaining or losing can have a powerful effect.  Yet as Christians we know our identity is not primarily found in nation or symbol but as adopted children of God. Our citizenship is not in England, Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland but rather it is in heaven and we eagerly await a saviour from there (Philippians 3:20). Constitutional change is coming but as we consider politics and nationhood we must remember who we are.
Scotland has taught us much about democracy and justice through this campaign and we hope these positive effects will start to be felt across the UK. With the decision now made it is time to build a future family of nations with God’s values at the heart.      
#What Kind of Nation?
Kieran Turner is public policy officer at Evangelical Alliance Scotland 

Dedicated to excellence

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