Culture


I was struck by the story of the eleven year old Mexican boy who is going to university. Clearly this lad is a paleontology prodigy but how does this decision honour his childhood? I was relieved to learn that his mother had decided that he continue at school with children of his own age to help with his social development. However, this story does seem to accord with a broader trend you can observe in British culture of children growing up too fast.

On the illicit and clearly shocking side of this trend is the prevalence of guns and knives amongst teenage gangs and the use by schoolkids of mobile phones for amateur teenage porn. On the more subtle side is the way advertising and marketing is increasingly targeting children to groom the next generation of consumers.

At the centre of this is the sexualisation of childhood, particularly girls. A report by Compass entitled The Commercialisation of Childhood outlines this phenomenon with alarming clarity: lacy lingerie, for example, is marketed to under 10 year olds. I can think of an advert promoting a doll for girls which was highly sexualised. This is just one of the impacts of this trend. Others are equally worrying. What’s more, I fear we are yet to reap the full consequences of the commercialisation of kids.

One final thing I’d like to highlight is the huge pressure that is put on parents to spend by their children as a result. Given that so many parents are in debt anyway, encouraged by consumerism themselves, this can only lead to more stress. It’s a vicious and downward spiral.

The news that Manchester (my home town) has been ‘awarded’ the first of the UK’s super casinos is surely bad news.  Gambling turnover has soared from £7 billion in 2001 to £50 billion in 2005.  That ought to worry any government, but apparently not ours.  Why is this?

Government research published in April 2006 explains why.  The researchers conclude that deregulation will lead to “more money generated in the gambling sector than any other”.  The increase will create jobs and inward investment.  What is less clear is what the human cost to this epidemic will be?
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I’ve been very tempted to join the debate about the Celebrity Big Brother bullying/racism stuff but, having not watched a second of it, felt a bit fraudulent doing so.

I was talking with my assistant, Oliver, who had only watched 20 minutes last Saturday night. He knew nothing of what had been going on in the house at that point but immediately picked up on the bullying that was occurring and was disturbed by the racist overtones. He told me his response was to suggest to his wife that they turn it off, and they did. Only a couple of days later did he realise that thousands of people were having the same reaction.

Drawn like a moth to the flame, he watched the interview with Jade following her eviction last night. He and his wife were struck by her reaction to the video footage she was shown of her behaviour in the house. While not claiming that she’d been edited manipulatively, she found it very difficult to recognise herself in the footage. “That’s not me,” she kept saying.

Whether it was a refusal or inability to see herself as others do, it’s very like that well known sermon analogy of being taking into a cinema at the end of your life and shown a film of all your actions and words – and then being told that all your friends and family have been invited to the second viewing. Reality TV has brought that terrifying and chastening experience to earth. But I doubt Jade’s story will extend the possibility of how God is able to see her through the lens of His grace, only severe human judgement.

Incidentally, how many times in the media coverage of all this have we heard people start to comment by saying, “I’m not a racist, but……”  I think it’s what is generally called, ‘blowing your cover’!  It reminded me of a John Maxwell quote, “when people say, ‘yes but’, no-one hears the ‘yes’.

One thing it’s difficult to escape in our culture is a pervasive cynicism.  Everybody’s good idea is subject to a scrutiny that quickly leads into criticism and hostility.

I reflect on the several media interviews I have heard on the really important issues related to the environment and climate change.  Typical of this was a radio interview which picked up on the efforts of Chris Martin (of Coldplay fame) to offset the CO2 emissions generated by their 26 million album sales by buying 10,000 mango trees in India.  One environmental campaigner made the point that they had burnt down (a fact disputed by another campaigner) and that he probably went to visit his mango trees in his Learjet.

Here’s the point.  HE DID SOMETHING!  It may not be perfect and he may drive a BMW, but he did something and there are others whose travel habits are equally profligate who have done nothing.  How many of us intend to do something to reduce our emissions and it’s always going to be ‘manana’

This is typical of the cynicism I’m on about.  Criticising everything and everybody is likely to stop people from having a go.  We all need to do something and the sooner we start, the better.  No one strategy is perfect, but a lot of imperfect attempts will make some kind of difference, which is what we need.  I don’t know Chris Martin and I doubt he claims to be perfect, but at least he’s made the effort. 

Of course it’s not just the corridors of environmental innovation that are haunted by cynicism.  We are cynical about almost everything, happier to decry than celebrate.  This is true in our churches and can apply to the “Fresh Expressions” stuff.  Sometimes, I sense, people are quick to leap in and make their criticisms (e.g. “it’s only an old way of being church in a new venue”). I’ve done it myself.

The first rule of innovation is to give people permission to fail.  God knows we need a group of out on the edge, entrepreneurial church leaders who are prepared to have a go.  Of course they will make mistakes; of course they will create some ideas which won’t work; little they do will be perfect.  But let’s get behind them rather than greet them and their outrageous plans with an unhealthy cynicism.

To that faithful, often exhausted and frustrated band of church leaders who, in their own way, are trying to make a difference, I simply say this: Thank you and please don’t stop what your trying to achieve!