Sometimes it’s just different.
In the midst of the constant negative news cycle, sometimes things stand out.
The recent deaths of two teenagers to stabbings stood out. Many previous stabbings have been reported and there has been plenty of debate but these two tragic deaths seemed to elevate matters into the territory of ‘something must be done’.
These two teenagers were different to the average victim. They were middle class kids and maybe that took it beyond the realms of ‘places you know to avoid’ and ‘people we expect this to happen to’. What could be previously largely ignored by opinion formers and policy makers become unavoidable.
Knife crime knocked the Brexishambles off the top of the news agenda and into a national debate. One of our relatives boldly declared that it could all be sorted by bringing back hanging and birching. Others are keen to say that it’s all about lack of Police or type of policing while some point the finger at school exclusions of difficult kids.
We always want a simple answer that turns into a simple action to fix things. If only.
It is convenient but disingenuous for the government to claim that cuts to services don’t have an effect. That’s nonsense. Actions have consequences. Austerity has stripped back services that can make a difference – youth clubs, pastoral support in schools, community policing. There is always a context and if you remove supportive and preventative services from troubled communities they will face life with less support and less chance of problems being prevented.
There has to be a societal context – we do not exist in individual bubbles but in families and communities.
There also has to be an individual context. It is possible to grow up in deprivation, go to a rough school and not join a gang, carry a knife or stab someone. Every individual makes choices and has to be responsible for them.
It can’t be one or the other. We need to address issues with people’s communities and environments and we need people to choose to do the right thing.
The other week we were praying with some friends about a painful family situation. As we prayed I remembered a verse from the Gospel of John:
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)
When we face the darkness of things like teenagers getting stabbed to death it can feel like the darkness has overcome us, that there is no light but the light finds a way through.
Here’s three thoughts about light and darkness that might help us avoid the choices of knee jerk answers or fatalism:
1 – We need to acknowledge there is darkness in us all
It’s too easy to pretend that the problems are caused by some other set of people we can attend to or avoid. The Bible puts it this way:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8)
Sin, remember, is best described as falling short – we all do that.
The starting point needs to be what we can all do to create a better society – that could mean lots of things – praying, volunteering, paying more tax, not buying the drugs that fuel gang culture etc
2 – We need to remember that a little light goes a long way
Think about it. Think about tiny stars piercing the darkness. Think about that person whose small acts of kindness made a big difference to you.
Think about the people that have invested in you (especially as a teenager – I have a long list)
Imagine beacons being lit in individual homes, workplaces and communities to illuminate and show the way. We need our light to shine.
3 – We need to know that there is a light source that cannot be extinguished
At Lent, Christians remember Jesus’ road to the cross. When Jesus died, his followers were in despair and all seemed lost. That wasn’t the end of the story, Jesus rose again to show that he had defeated sin and death, he had overcome the darkness and so can we:
I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. (John 8:12)
At my church, during Lent we are being invited to regularly pray a simple prayer:
‘Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God. Have mercy on me a sinner’.
So have mercy on us Lord and have mercy on our nation. Shine your light. Shine through us.
This article first appeared on www.christiantoday.com