Chat with Rev Alistair Cuthbert
Pastor of family life at Stirling Baptist Church, Al is also a father of 4 young children so has hands on experience as well as plenty of research-based advice for the parents he works with. Al has been a missionary to young people in Asia and Africa and his biog says he relaxes by going to the gym and listening to heavy metal (though with 4 smalls in the house I challenge him to make more time for ‘Demonhunter’ than ‘Twinkle, Twinkle’).
Through his work Al sees first hand the problems surrounding parents and children in our society today believing that the influence of materialism as well as competitiveness and the sheer aggression of many facets of society create major challenges to children, young people and their parents. As Al points out, many families are now into their third generation who have never ‘darkened the doors of a church’ and so without the Judeo-Christian values that have traditionally been the basis for our society, many children are growing up without the guidance to develop within these accepted norms of behaviour. For many, no biblical values result in no social values.
The influence of America
The behavioural problems of ‘broken Britain’ aside it is the lack of values that leaves so many children searching psychologically for something they do not even know they are missing. Al believes that Britain is too closely tied to America, beamed daily into British homes thanks to the broadcasting of large amounts of American programmes and films. In Europe many countries still make programmes in their native languages and so are able to reflect their own culture and values but through Britain’s ties to the televised influence of America which is generally ‘more’ of every aspect of our culture we slavishly follow their path. More violence, more drama, more glamour, more poverty, more bad language, more guns, more medicalisation. This world that is not our own is made so by people repeating the influences they see on TV and so we blindly follow a path that does not have to be ours.
At the heart of the American influence is the pursuit of the ‘American Dream’ which at its core is selfish. It is all about me, myself and I so whilst the work ethic may be admirable, the achievement is all about personal wealth and material gain. This is bad news for family life. Al points out that as most men reach the peak of their working careers, and so are working longer hours with more responsibility, they are spending less time with their families. This is usually during the teenage years of their children when a fatherly influence is needed more than at any other time in their lives. In America, many people work 50-55 hours a week with 4 weeks holiday as standard. There is nothing family friendly about that – there is little to be personally gained by that; working for a lifestyle you don’t have time to enjoy makes no sense and is reflected in the rates of marital and family breakdown because key figures are absent from their relationships.
As the second generation of MTV grows up more and more studies are showing the long term damage of the TV generation. Children – now young people and adults – that do not have basic conversational and social skills, that have limited understanding of concepts such as social justice, social or corporate responsibility….how far do you want to take it?
The missing link
The missing influence of fatherly guidance during the early years can leave people feeling lost for the rest of their lives. Girls seeking love from men which should have been the non-sexual support and encouragement of their fathers leaves them seeking solace from the men who father their teenage pregnancies. Men seeking meaningful relationships are drawn to girls who flatter them and make them feel like men, when the actually need love and support of male role models to encourage them to explore their masculinity through non-sexual activities. Much has been said and written – but little appears to be changing at community level.
Some of the simplest things to say are some of the hardest things to do; to say children need love, respect and male and female role models is, surely, blindingly obvious. But it is not the reality for too many families. Al points out that there are periods in people’s young lives when they require very specific influences. A young child may call out for the comfort of its mother when it falls and hurts its knee but a young adult is more likely to cry out for the guidance of its father when searching for its identity, its life-long morale compass. Problem is, the latter cry is silent.
What can the church do?
Some of the big issues facing the church, indeed any organisation attempting social engagement, are how to offer help to people who do not want help, who do not know they need help. Few people actually want to ‘get their hands dirty’ – to actually offer practical help and support to single mothers so that the next generation is raised in an atmosphere of love and respect because it is only by showing these attributes to the parents that they can know and then demonstrate these attributes to their children.
Many people in society are crying out for help…children, parents, teachers, social workers, midwives. However, without grassroots movements to reunite society with the values of love and respect little change will be long-term and sustainable. I can only respect and admire figures such as Al for their daily work at the cold face of reality, offering help where it is needed and proffering the hands of love and respect even when he is rejected.
Is there hope?
There is always hope. Religious or secular, hope gets most of us up in the morning. For individuals, for families, for society nothing has to remain as it is. No trench is too deep that it cannot be climbed from. Some people can do it alone by sheer will power and some need help.
So many problems are behavioural which means they are an attitude, they are ‘in the mind’. Deciding to be positive, to encourage, to use gentle words of love and support, to believe it can and will get better are fundamental building blocks of making change and moving forward. This may be nearly impossible for people feeling at a very low ebb, it is easy to think problems are structural and no amount of mental change will bring about realistic change. But it is seldom so and that is when help should be sought, from books, hands on charities or government bodies. Even hanging out with friends who are in a better personal space can raise morale (just don’t let it have the opposite effect of highlighting inadequacies!)
To such enormous problems discussed here, there are no trite quick-fixes. But there is hope, there is help. Al mentioned a wide range of authors and research projects in the course of our conversation many of whom put forward solutions and suggestions for positive action so once I have read my way through my Christmas list of requested books I look forward to sharing his guidance further.