Merseyside and Region Church Action on Poverty event, Liverpool, 1 February 2008
I'm a Church of England vicar in a parish which straddles Croxteth and Norris Green. I've been there four years now living in a terraced house on an estate which - it won't surprise you to hear - is full of decent honest hardworking people and lots of youngsters with hopes, dreams, aspirations and gifts.
No surprise either to note that if they get the breaks our young people can rise to the very top - as demonstrated by the exceptional successes of the now stellar Croxteth couple Colleen and Wayne. Though I'm troubled by the extremes of wealth in our society epitoimised by celebrity lifestyles like theirs nevertheless on a human level I'm proud for Colleen and Wayne - their achievements - and for the Rooney and McLoughlin families, and I'm constantly disappointed to note how the mean and monochrome gossip columnists neglect to acknowledge how this young couple's lives have been well-shaped through the goodness, integrity, sheer hard work and commitment of their families and close friends on our estate.
It doesn't always go that way, of course: many of our young people don't get the breaks or the recognition, don't escape the deprivation, and consequently a minority of our families and their youngsters turn to a life of crime. Thus the other headlines about Croxteth and Norris Green in recent months have been about gang wars and gun crime - which is very real and felt very deeply by all who live in our communities.
Last summer, some months before the shooting of Rhys Jones, the Year 3 children at Croxteth Primary School (Little Croccy, as it's known) wrote a poem together. I'd like to share it with you.
If we had the powerThey don't ask for much, the children of Little Croccy. They are just looking for a little kindness and a place in which to share it.
Gangs do not care
Their bullets everywhere
We feel so scared at night
The guns give us a fright.
Illegal fighting dogs scare us
Gangsters throw bricks at our bus
Needles of death in our street
Dropped by pale selfish people we meet.
If we had the power
We would grow the biggest flower
We could make a change
And rearrange the bad for the good.
Kind people in new parks
Friendly dogs with quiet barks
Having fun in the sun
If we try... all this can be done!
Their poem expresses the anguish of living in a place caught up in the crossfire of deprivation. It also shows great political awareness.
If we had the power, the children say, we could rearrange the bad for the good.In one simply-stated line these 7 and 8 year-olds get to the very heart of the problem and the solution. No surprise to find great wisdom coming from their young mouths: it's all about power. Who has it; what they do with it.
The theologian Bob Linthicum agrees with Year 3 when he writes that
Power is always present in all human situations, because power is nothing more than the ability, capacity and willingness of a person, a group of people or an institution to act. The ability, capacity and willingness to act is, in itself, neither good nor bad. What makes power constructive or destructive is how it is used and for what purpose it is used (that is, whether it is designed to control and dominate people or to enable people to be in charge of their own destinies).Enable us be in charge of our own destinies, say the children of Croxteth, and we will turn things around here; we will bring good out of the badness.
Do we believe them? The children's words challenge the adults around them - including us - to examine our hold on power, our ability, capacity and willingness to act, and to turn our power to the benefit of those currently feeling powerless.
One man in history made a career of transforming his great power so as to empower others to be in charge of their own destinies. One of his memorable lines was this:
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.Who are the meek in our society? We might say that the meek are the powerless ones, those who currently live at the mercy of others.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.This is not a vaguely-expressed weak wish. It's a statement of intent. The man who spoke it was in the serious business - a spiritual and political business - of changing lives by empowering people to be in charge of their own destinies. We who hold power in our communities have the challenge and the privilege to work to do the same.