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Wake up call

When you read or listen to the news do you ever feel this country is falling apart? It may be true that the media think that bad news is the only good news but there does seem to be too much bad news at the moment. Think for a moment about the headlines and reflect whether you are at peace with the state of the nation they portray...

Take our political leaders to start with. Eleven MPs, including Government Ministers are under investigation for sexual harassment and worse and one Cabinet Minister has already resigned. The party leaders have agreed to set up a new grievance procedure and improve support for parliamentary staff but more than that is surely needed. The expenses scandal in 2009 exposed another form of abuse and it seems nothing has been learned from that. We need politicians with a spirit of servanthood who aren’t tempted to abuse their powerful positions for self -gratification.

Nor should we focus only on the moral failing of politicians. A lot of ordinary folk are misbehaving. 45% of British men and 21% of women admit to having committed adultery at least once. Family breakdown is a serious matter. Children have only a 50/50 chance of living with both parents by their 15th birthday. In 2016 3.3 million couples cohabited rather than marry but the average length of a cohabiting relationship is only 33 months. Breakdown can leave some in deep poverty and their children can be harmed so that they underperform at school and are more likely to use drugs in their teens.

Some of those bad news stories involved youngsters involved in frightening crimes. Cases of homicide and knife crime are rising and 4.8 million were recorded last year. Statistics for murder, up 21%; for knife crime up, 14%; for rape, up 13%, for firearm offences, up 13%, were not all committed by youngsters but the use of acid as a weapon has mostly involved them. A 16 year old boy was charged with 15 offences following a 90 minute rampage in London this year.

Homelessness is another type of bad news. More than a quarter of a million people in England have no home. For some that is the consequence of redundancy and eviction for unpaid rent. They have to rely on friends and some finish up sleeping rough on the streets. This year there are more than 5000 rough sleepers in London alone.

The way we treat our senior citizens may sometimes be another type of bad news. Independent Age estimates that 70,000 older people with the most critical needs aren’t getting any help at all. Family breakdown means there is no capacity to care for older relatives. Care homes are facing a financial crisis and it is thought that 37,000 care home beds will be lost by 2020, exacerbating the problem. Isolation and loneliness are blights on our society.

The picture this paints of Britain is bleak and shameful. How should we respond? It is not enough to wring our hands and think there is nothing we can do about these symptoms; we need to recognise the underlying causes. These surely include the loss of community mindedness and an increasing self-orientated individualism.  Underlying that is the flight from faith that looked to God as Creator and Sustainer of life. A survey last year found that 51% did not believe there is a God and only 10% are actively involved in a church.

St Paul surely offers us helpful advice, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).Jesus’ salt and light metaphors (Matthew 5:13-16) call us to be agents for change. That can include caring for elderly neighbours living alone, helping with our church’s outreach to the neighbourhood, and especially to the kids on the streets at night. Street pastors are an excellent example of this.  In short anything that practically expresses love for our neighbours (Matthew 19:19) would be good news even if the media ignores it.

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