Friday, July 3, 2020

5 shapes of wrong Christian faith

Occasionally I’m reminded of the mythic attitudes of draconian Christians who make outrageous statements like, “You don’t pray enough,” or “women can’t preach,” or “You can’t wear those clothes here,” or “Some people are ‘more equal’ than others,” and “antidepressants are of the devil.”  I mean, where do such relationally divisive attitudes come from?  And when I say “mythic,” I really mean, we hear of these attitudes, but rarely do I personally encounter them.  But very many covet these attitudes deeper down, which is why these attitudes don’t always appear so prevalently.
1.             “You don’t pray enough” – who does?  Genuine faith is not about how much we pray, but prayer is still a great indicator of how healthy our faith is.  When someone says, “You don’t pray enough,” they are boiling down your problem to something you have caused, when realistically there are always a myriad of potential reasons our faith may be struggling.  Grief is just one tremendously valid reason.  Surely when we hone in on one thing to the exclusion of all the others we miss the others; we miss the greater portion of truth; we miss the mark, and yes, we sin.
2.             “Women can’t preach,” a person says.  What, not even the woman who preaches like Rachel Held Evans  (1981–2019) or Barbara Brown Taylor or Dr Brenda Salter McNeil?  What does different anatomy have to do with the doing of a particular task?  It just seems so nonsensical when there are many voices, male and female, who God made to be heard.  Surely we set ourselves up to miss out when we exclude 50% of the population, cart blanche.  We should’ve learned long ago that blanket rules really don’t work in every situation (or even most situations).
3.             “You can’t wear those clothes here.”  Of course, we are not talking about someone walking into church wearing only lingerie or a thong.  It’s like me toying with the idea of going shopping in my pyjamas — (which I would love to do one day).  That’s not what we’re talking about.  We are talking about the finer points of special even unspoken rules that are made to exclude people based purely out of what they wear or don’t wear or how they wear it.  Nit-picking like this is unbecoming.  But it’s the same issue if you insist people wear a particular thing to make them look more cool.  Skinny jeans and Converse shoes.  The latest hairstyle.  Hats.  “Put a little make up on...” or, “No you don’t!”  There are so many extraneous things that aren’t worth talking about.  They take the focus off the more important things.  The more important things are about spiritual life and death, releasing people from oppression of spirit, social justice, the least of these.
4.             “Some people are ‘more equal’ than others,” is said beneath the veneer of a lot of humanity, and it is birthed in dangerous ignorance and paucity of empathy.  You get a lot of this in racial discrimination where white privilege really is a thing.  When any human being sees itself as superior to another human being that human being is its own god.  He or she is blind, entrapped in the most heinous disability — the inability to love their neighbour.  There are many who say they are followers of Jesus who think like this, and perhaps this is one example where Jesus might say in the end, “Get away from me you evildoers” (see Matthew 7:15-20).  Of course, the same may be said about those who reject people on account of their same-sex attraction, bi-sexuality, transgenderism, and their lifestyles to these ends, etc.  The bigoted are captive to their own spiritual self-elevation.
5.             “Antidepressants are of the devil.”  Like the above statements, these are not only silly statements, they are downright dangerous.  You mean to say that your spiritual opinion is more important than a medical practitioner’s — one who has given 7-10 years of their life to the study of objective medical science?  Who owns more truth on this particular stage?  I’m going with the physician, the doctor who has the greater portion of society’s trust.  Here, we can attest that God owns all the truth, all the wisdom, even the secular wisdom.  God owns the science.  The science vindicates the truth that we’re biochemical machines who very easily go out of balance.  To say such a broad sweeping statement, that certain pharmaceutical preparations are evil, is tantamount to absurdity.  Such beliefs are fit for conspiracy theorists, not doctors of the church.  I praise the Lord for the many pastors and leaders in the church who have partaken of these pharmaceutical preparations and are advocates for the therapy they give.

A misshapen, sincere faith is infinitely better than a slick BS gospel

The church can often feel uncomfortable about its own reputation.  In our craven desire to be contemporary, we can easily give up the eternal gift we have to give in the name of the Lord for a pot of lentil soup.
Controversial Lutheran minister, Nadia Bolz-Weber says, “You have to be really deeply rooted in tradition in order to innovate with integrity.”  Did you hear Bolz-Weber there?  
Two things in tension: tradition with innovation.  Tradition without innovation seems tired, and we know that not all church traditions are healthy traditions.  So traditions need to be challenged.  And innovation without tradition seems tacky and plastic.  People see right through it.  Rachel Held Evans (1981–2019) herself said, when talking about how inauthentic consumerism is in the church, and how much of a turn-off it really is, “... we have very finely tuned BS meters, right? ... We are not looking for a hipper Christianity; we are looking for a truer Christianity.”
Our faith must lead us to what Barbara Brown Taylor would say, “a certainty with great big cracks in it.”  The ignorance must continue to fall away in all of us.  The only viable certainty is truth, and that quest is inevitably elusive unless, by intention, we look relentlessly for where we’re wrong.  Only when we are open to the lies we covet ourselves, within the cloak of pride that keeps us insulated from the coldness of the truth, will Jesus open our mind’s eye to the truth.  Anything less is not good enough for Jesus.  Gee, doesn’t that sound like legalism?  But note this: it is not legalism if it’s about moral doing versus just doing.  Jesus seeks to transform us morally; to make us vessels where the living God inhabits, purging us from being mere activity creatures.  There is no piety in activity, but only in asceticism — quite literally activity’s opposite.  And yet we cannot build God’s kingdom without some highly focused activity.  We will find we are doing the work of building God’s kingdom through the very things that Jesus transforms us through.
We will meet and encounter the authentic Jesus where two or three are gathered in his name, where we serve the least of these, where we congregate with the maimed and depressed, with those who genuinely comprise the ripe fields for the plucking; those who know they need Jesus.  They are out there!  We were.
Let us trust Jesus as we embark on a journey into our world that suffers for the lack of Jesus, who, would only prosper for the gentle touch of his Spirit through those of us who would embody him within our skin.  All we need to remember is that we touch lives in Jesus name one life at a time.  Let us reject every thought that we need to build massive churches.  To be part of one miracle in one’s lifetime is enough, and yet do we think that God will stop at just one miracle?  No, God will give us many more opportunities, if only it isn’t a massive church or Twitter following we’re seeking to build, or books to author, or doctorates achieved, or litany of speaking engagements and other accomplishments that we have done.  We must all learn to embody the life of John the Baptist, who strived to become lesser so Jesus could be greater.
Let’s become lesser together, so Jesus can be greater in our midst.  Let’s become unknown so Jesus can be famous.  And let’s not get hung up on extraneous issues that lead people away from the Kingdom and not into it.
Transformation awaits even as we’re tempted to settle for a faker faith that will only set us apart from God’s work.  It’s one or the other.  We cannot have both.
Transformation awaits those of us who are open and more fully engaged in following Jesus.  There is a chasm between those who believe in Jesus and those who follow Jesus.  Those who follow Jesus are not afraid to lose what they cannot keep in order to gain what they cannot lose, to use the famed Jim Eliot (1927–1956) phrase.  We must learn to spend our lives for the sake of Jesus alone.


Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The only wise way of responding to suffering

If there is any time in the history of our lives to respond as God would have us respond, it is now.  Never before in our lifetimes have we seen such universal ambiguity, financial upheaval and concern for physical welfare.  The world is changing before our eyes.  The new normal isn’t a static destination we have arrived at yet.  Indeed, the new normal is a state of constant flux.  The burgeoning, now ever-present ambiguity leaves us feeling hypervigilant in our vulnerability.  With our backs against the wall, even more than ever are we counselled to trust God.  There is no other way to succeed.
I have found myself situated in Hebrews chapter 12 for the past six months; before COVID.  Perhaps it was prophetic direction, or perhaps I just needed it anyway.  The wisdom in this chapter is the word for today, because today we are faced with a suffering that is neither directly nor indirectly caused by our own negligence.  We are exhorted in verse 7 to “endure trials as divine discipline.”
We far too easily resent being placed in situations and circumstances that are unfair.  Of course, this is our human nature, and we have all fallen into this temptation.  You may well ask, “How on earth is anything that isn’t my fault a form of ‘divine discipline’?”  It’s a good question to take up with God one day, but in the meantime, we can be comforted in the knowledge that God won’t waste the suffering we accept as a mystery, being children of God.  Accepting any suffering that we endure on account of it being the situation and circumstances we have been placed in is accepting a mystery, and it can only be done in humility.  Indeed, we can see here that God has engineered the choice: be humble or fall; be humble and find our way through the suffering; be humble and grow.
See how pride causes us to sin in response to the suffering we are called to endure, even as we didn’t cause the suffering?  If we didn’t cause our suffering, if we didn’t sin in it coming about, then why are we responding through a response that causes us to suffer more?  Of course, it is understandable to not be at peace in these times.  To experience the fullness of grief outbound of loss in faith that it won’t kill us.  Not being at peace is the invitation to work through the period of privation patiently — “accepting hardship as the pathway to peace,” as the long form of the Serenity Prayer has it — in faith that through our eventual resilient response we will grow through this divine discipline — which is training, not a beating.
Such a discipline isn’t necessarily about receiving a rod across our back as chastisement, but it is more so the discipline of training.  When we haven’t caused our suffering, we’re not being disciplined, but by responding humbly we’re becoming disciplined.  See the difference?  The suffering that we endure is a conditioning for now and the future, and what it is teaching us is and will be indispensable for now and for the times ahead.  Like Job, when we suffer innocently, we’re being refined through the hardship because humility causes growth.  You read that right: a suffering we did not cause sets up the opportunity for growth when we humbly accept the suffering as if we did cause it.  There is no surer way to entreat the Lord’s blessing.
See how we can “consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds” per James 1:2-4?  We can’t grow otherwise.  Of course, this is not to say we can ever glory in our hardships.  They will be hard!  Harder than we can ever contemplate.  So hard they will break us... many times.  Yet, God raises us.  Nothing can defeat us when we suffer humbly overall.
The only sensible lens through which to view suffering right now, or at any very difficult time, is through the lens of discipline.  Not through the lens of discipline for being naughty, but through the lens of discipline for training.  Suffering with endurance has the goal of teaching us faith.  It is designed to strengthen us further.
There are two temptations, below, to be wary of in responding through either pride or despair:
“Do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, [pride]
and do not lose heart by it either, [
despair]
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, [we do well to know God loves us that much!]

and God corrects everyone our Lord embraces.”  (Hebrews 12:5b-6)
If only we can keep a straight gaze and stick to the narrow way through these tremulous times — whatever cross we’re called to bear — we will avoid the slippery slope of falling away to the sides of “damn you, God!” or, “This isn’t happening,” or, “God, I’m too stunned to go on.”


Base Photo (not words) by Parsing Eye on Unsplash

Sunday, June 28, 2020

What makes empaths most vulnerable to narcissists?

Relational or interpersonal psychology involves many nuances.  These are things we can study deeply over a lifetime and still never fully grasp.  Part of the complexity is we are not dealing just with a dynamic between two or more persons, but we are dealing with many hidden dynamics within individual persons, not least ourselves.  These are enigmas upon paradoxes upon conundrums.  Imagine if only we had a fuller command over our own deficiencies — awareness of same — and the courage and capacity to overcome these deficiencies.  Alas, life is never that easy.  But this is the quest of discipleship or growth over the lifespan.
We have come to consider the narcissist a person full of catastrophic shame, a person given to an illogicality of weakness; i.e. someone who may present anything but weakness and shame in image, but a person who is unable to identify their self-pathology, and is not the least bit interested, thank you very much.  We may idealise the empath — the narcissist’s opposite who is all too often attracted to and by the narcissist.  But the empath, too, has their weaknesses.  And these weaknesses of the empath run beyond the narcissist-empath dynamic to creating problems in their relationships with those people who are not narcissists.
The idea I want to explore here is the much often unconsidered point that empaths can be prone to a blind spot involving, or all things, pride, where they believe their empathy has the power to transform a narcissist.  Where they’ll admit this — that they hope upon an outrageous possibility that they, themselves, can fix people — they may ultimately overcome their pipedream and escape from or learn to safely endure the relationship.  This is not the only reason empaths are vulnerable to narcissists, but this reason may be core to empaths losing control of their ability to be realistic about their relationship with the narcissist.
Before we go into the empath-narcissist dynamic, let us explore what an empath is.
WHAT IS AN EMPATH?
The simplest definition of an empath is that they are capable of much empathy.  But there is so much more to recognise.  They are capable of sensing or intuiting what other people are feeling, and in feeling what others are feeling with compassion, they are able to empathise.
It doesn’t necessarily mean that all empaths are healthy individuals or always healthy, because these resources of care can often be deployed through the breaking of boundaries, through manipulating situations by intruding, for instance, where others (non-narcissistic types) would prefer not to be ‘read’.
The ideal example here is the empath who feels convinced someone is suffering when the person themselves is convinced that they aren’t.  That kind of ‘empathy’ is not a blessing.  This comes from what psychologists call a hyperactivated attachment system.  The empath can become fixated on attachment, when, in many situations, people don’t desire such a bond.  It is unwelcome.
Empaths are also so highly agreeable (a psychological measure of personality) that they people-please, and they are also their own worst critic, which is a real problem in relationships with narcissists, because narcissists exist to blame others.  The empath, therefore, stands condemned.  Being that their default is to self-criticise, they will accept and even wear the narcissist’s unfair criticism.
I hope you can see that being an empath is not always the logical better person than the narcissist.  Indeed, the empath serves as food for the narcissist.
THE EMPATH-NARCISSIST DYNAMIC
Empaths are easy prey for narcissists, because each meets the other’s need in the unhealthiest of ways.  The narcissist needs an alter-ego, and the empath provides it when they give ascent to the tragic bond.  Within the early idealisation of the relationship, where the narcissist is particularly charming, a strong bond is developed with a dangerous person where the empath usually has very little insight into what they’re getting into.  It feels wonderful and red flags are ignored.
When it comes to empaths who are in relationships with narcissists, there is the temptation to several problematic dynamics.  One of these is to see how they may begin to believe that they have such Jesus qualities in them that they can actually heal the narcissist.  Of course, this is a dangerous belief to nurture, because it keeps us hopeful for change in a person or people who by hook and by crook won’t change, and it keeps us in potentially dangerous relationships, when humility would have us face the reality that we cannot change people.  Only God can change people.  Let’s linger there.
ONLY GOD CAN CHANGE PEOPLE
God changes people by convicting their heart, by convincing them of their need to change for themselves, by themselves, through a power they can only access through a commitment to change.
The sad reality that we are all wise to accept is that, though everyone has the capacity to change, most people never change.  Everyone dabbles with it, change.  But few surrender to it.  And yet, we can all change — if it’s in our heart to change.  But the narcissist, by their very nature as the most obstinate of persons, cannot and will not change.  By definition the narcissist expects everyone else to change.
ADVICE FOR ALL EMPATHS
The best thing for an empath is to be real about both their weaknesses and their limitations.  Empaths are so attracted to relationship they are prone to creating unwelcomed bonds with non-narcissists and dangerous bonds with narcissists.
Sure, empathy is a great and godly quality to bear in the personality, and it is potentially great for others, but it is much more likely in a relational dynamic with a narcissist for an empath to have their life sucked out of them than for them to transform a person through their empathy.
We must remember that empaths attract narcissists, or perhaps it’s better put, narcissists seek out empaths.  Empaths need to be aware of this, and just as much be ready and disciplined around boundaries.  Empaths need to be very careful not to overstep boundaries in relationships with people who aren’t narcissists.
The empath has in themselves a weakness, a blind spot.  Paradoxically, this blind spot is the pride that believes, in some sort of Messiah-complex way, that they can transform the narcissist into becoming a caring, loving person.  Of course, this is a fallacy, and a very dangerous one at that.  Such a hope will inevitably be dashed.


Saturday, June 13, 2020

Letter to the Racism denier, the one against Black Lives Matter

Dear denier
I come to you from a position of seeking to be humble, knowing and conceding that I am part of the problem.  Not only do I have a problem with you not seeing the problem, but I also have a problem in myself that, in not wanting to be racist, I overcompensate by trying too hard, which is its own kind of racism.  I admit, I’m not where I want to be.  I come to you openhanded and openhearted, seeking that we would come to dialogue over what we probably both disagree about: that is that I think that racism is a great example of the most important matter of our time, and of all time, and that is justice for minorities so there can be justice for all.
As a world I’m not sure if we’ve ever been so visibly divided before.  And division cannot be as poignant or fractious as the divide between cultures and races.  I hear you saying, “there is no such divide in my heart.”  But the statistics beg to differ.  The statistics will tell us that there is a deep trench of racism within the majority of caucasians, and we can only expect that there will be a similar mistrust in those of colour, because of the discerned racism that caucasians bear.
From one such Australian report[1] itself:
“New analysis which found that three in four people hold negative views of Indigenous Australians is ‘shocking, but not surprising,’ researchers say.
Key points:
·            ANU researchers analysed responses from over 11,000 people since 2009
·            The data shows an implicit negative bias towards Indigenous Australians “is not imagined”
·            Ethnicity, education, religion, occupation and gender appear to have little impact on people’s implicit bias
Studying data collected over 10 years from over 11,000 people, academics at the Australian National University (ANU) found there was a ‘negative implicit or unconscious bias against Indigenous Australians across the board … which is likely the cause of the racism that many First Australians experience’.
The data was collected online through the Implicit Association Test — a joint initiative created by Harvard, Yale and the University of Sydney.
The test determined people’s implicit bias by measuring how quickly participants matched positive words like joy and love, and negative words like nasty and hurt, with images of Indigenous and Caucasian Australians.
The test found that, overwhelmingly, people held a racial bias against Indigenous Australians.”
How are you feeling now?  Pfft?  I know when I raise a study, you will find a study to refute it.  It’s just the way we argue about science.  But if only we are truthful, we can improve things.  If only we can admit that there is a race bias in us, we can train ourselves to check ourselves in order that we repent of our bias in the moment it arises; just being aware of it is a miracle of God in a person.  Or, would you say that you bear no such biases?  Would you deny the psychology that finds our humanity wanting? Would you have the gall to say biases don’t exist in you?  Would you put yourself above it?  Can you not see that those of us who are in the Black Lives Matter camp find such a phenomenon quite the classic response of supremacy — do you think you’re better than other humans?  That you don’t have biases, including racial prejudices?  Or, is it the case that you’re unaware of your implicit biases, yet you subscribe to thinking of yourself as beyond it?
This is a quest for honesty.  This whole issue of Black Lives Matter is a test of our honesty; of actual inner awareness.
Let’s make some parallels for honesty’s sake.
For me, being a very heterosexual man, I see a pretty woman and I notice a pretty woman; I notice a woman’s appearance; every woman it seems.  It doesn’t matter that I’m married.  I notice because a woman is inherently different to me.  I notice the pretty woman because she is pretty.  And I work with a lot of pretty women.  It’s up to me what I do with that.  It’s not the fault of an attractive woman that I am attracted to her.  And it’s not something for me to be ashamed about.  But it is something for me to own; to take responsibility for, and to ensure that I am fully aware of this as I work with each one, to all of them, and to not betray the relationship with some dishonourable attitudes and behaviours that seek to make more of the relationship than what God designed for it.  As a matter of process, I check in with myself very often before God.
It’s the same, for me, when I interact with a gay man.  I immediately notice my bias.  My God tells me to.  Given my culture and upbringing, my bias has a lot of baggage to get over in terms of people with what I might call a complicated sexuality — gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, +.  Even to suggest the word ‘complicated’ is enough to suggest bias.  Yet, God says it’s my responsibility to become aware of my biases and to own them.  I can’t hide under some rock of bigotry any longer, and you may scoff at that, and say, “Hey buddy, I’m not a bigot,” but the fact is, if we have biases that are unchecked, we do harbour bigotry — always from a place of superiority.  We can’t DO ANYTHING to serve the gay person before us if we aren’t first honest about what we are lacking.  Can you see this?  Or, do you come back with, “Of course, I treat them no differently!” when we both know that you do have a big problem with ‘that lifestyle’?
It’s the same with race.  We notice our physical differences.  If only we could be honest, we might not only acknowledge the biases we’ve got (seeing how far from God’s ideal we are), but we might also notice the prevalence of biases in others, and how very prevalent racism is in too many of our interpersonal contexts.  I know in an Australian context, I hear it regularly, and it always bothers me, yet I haven’t always had the courage to speak up.  These days I do, however.  Do you see them?  Can you see them when they arise?  Don’t you have a problem with these too?  Can’t you see these biases inherent in us and our society?
Racism is everywhere, very implicitly, under the radar.  And it is incumbent on us to do all we can to change the status quo.  The first step in this is to become aware of our implicit bias, amongst the range of other biases we have in simply being human.  If we believe in God, and we follow Jesus, it’s a matter of course to be committed to the truth about ourselves, about where we miss the mark, acknowledging that it’s only in repentance that we and our indigenous/black brothers and sisters stand a chance to relate fairly with each other so that race is no longer an issue, as far as it depends on us.
I’m really hoping something here has challenged you, as we collectively seek to commit to living out the Kingdom on this earth whilst we are alive.  Also, will you help me when I overcompensate?  But please, I beg you, please see WHY I overcompensate.
I trust that you are challenged sufficiently enough to go on your own journey of discovery about the realities of racism.  It’s there.  It’s real.  It cannot be denied.
Thank you for reading.


[1] Midena, K. Three in four people have an implicit negative bias against Indigenous Australians, study finds (Australian Broadcasting Corporation [ABC] News, Melbourne) Available online retrieved June 13, 2020: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-06-09/three-in-four-negative-bias-against-indigenous-australians-study/12335184


Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Friday, June 12, 2020

On the spiritual abuse of, “It’s sinful to make comparisons”

I always hope that mine will be an honest voice, and I know I’m not alone in holding to that goal.  I always want to call out attitudes and behaviours that cause us consternation — like, “Do NOT sin; try harder!” — particularly because people with them fail to accept our human condition.  I know we can certainly not try hard enough in life, and we all have those days, and many of us have had entire seasons like this for that matter, but I find that most people struggle more often with trying too hard.  We seem to have the opposite problem.  More is it the case that we need to speak life through realism.
When we as people are trying harder than ever, there are default attitudes and behaviours that we all struggle with.  Some people will deny it, but I think this is woven into our human psyche.
Here is one fact.  It tends to be our habit.  We all make comparisons.  It’s silly to say we don’t (or shouldn’t), because we all look over the fence to notice whether the grass is growing better over there or not.  The key point is more, WHO are we comparing with and WHY.
It’s too easy for a leader, mentor or friend to tell you to stop doing something.  It might be okay if you have the capacity to stop doing the thing they are telling you to stop doing.  Well, ideally, there would be no telling.  Guiding isn’t telling.  Guiding is, “Here’s what has worked for me; you are free to try it or something similar, but that’s up to you.”  But too many people take it upon themselves to be insistent that we stop doing something; in this instance it’s to stop comparing ourselves with others.
It does us no harm to compare with others, if we accept that we will do it, whether we are told not to do it or not.  Rather than wholesale change, it would be better to be coached on who to compare with and why.
There is always a dilemma with making comparisons, because we tend to make comparisons with the wrong people.  If anyone has hurt us, especially where the hurt isn’t reconciled, there is a strong temptation to compete with these individuals through comparison.  Of course, this isn’t healthy, and we know it.  They are the last people we want to be comparing ourselves to, yet deep down we may want justice to catch up with them.  Or, at times we’ll compare with a contemporary who’s had more success than we have.  Again, it’s about competition.  Not a good comparison.  Not the right WHO or WHY.  The right WHO is about a person who calls us to a better self, and the right WHY is about being better followers of Christ.
If a particular person catches wind that we have made any comparisons, however, we know how they’ll respond.  We’re met with their disapproval, which is supposed to convict us.  They will expect that we’ll repent of the deed of comparison, as they admonish us: “It’s sinful to compare with others [sense their legalism], you know that — we’ve discussed this before — try harder [again, sense their legalism] from now on [to be perfect].”  They make no account of our humanity, and these kinds of people expect a level of perfection that is unattainable.  These kinds of people help create the berating perfectionist in us.  Little wonder many of us have struggled in our relationship with ourselves.
It would be far better if we accepted the drive within to observe others amid our observation of our own lives, and ponder a healthier model, like making comparisons not so much with people we might otherwise compete with, but with people who are worth emulating.
Have you noticed that if you compare yourself with Maya Angelou or Desmond Tutu, you will only get better?  There is no envy, no striving, no lack of peace.  Emulating other people we admire isn’t unbiblical.  We follow another person as a mentor as they follow Christ.  Paul said that in 1 Corinthians 11:1: “Follow me as I follow Christ.”  Emulating the right people is a very godly activity.  See how trying to stop all comparison is both nonsensical and even unbiblical?
But a legalistic person, heaven help us if they are a leader, will insist that no comparisons be made, and the only way they will be pleased — because they insist on being pleased — is if we feign what is the reality for us all.  And the worst kind of this variety of leader is the one who only allows comparison with themselves, as if they were Christ themselves.  Such a narcissist will be impossible to please, and they are exactly the wrong kind of person we should be emulating.  Indeed, some people will insist we refrain from comparing with anyone, unless it is them we are comparing ourselves with.  We need to be aware of these people and avoid them.
So don’t feel guilty if you catch yourself comparing yourself with others.  Instead use it as a reminder that there are plenty of people worth comparing to; those who call us, by their example, to follow the example of Christ.


Photo by Daniel Norin on Unsplash

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

The longer effects of grief that some want you to get over too quickly

One of the best pieces of wisdom I ever heard was from a New Zealand pastor, Craig Vernall.  He said it took his family three full years to overcome their grief when his daughter’s husband died tragically.  It got me thinking about my own experience.  It takes us much longer than we anticipate, and much longer than is convenient for others, to process our grief.
We want the pain to be dealt with, and we straddle two realities that cannot ever be reconciled: to have life back as it was and/or to have life be free of pain (comfortable) again.  Cruel as it is, loss permits neither.
One thing the world does not understand is that we will need support for a lot longer than they are prepared to give it to us.  Our grief is still there and just as prominent as ever when their memories of our loss are long gone.  Many (though not all) employers are in this position where they just move on. They just want their worker back; they want them back to full productivity, and not assailed by panic attacks, full of brain fog, forever distracted within the burden of grief, and often questioning the purpose of life now.
The person who is grieving will not be themselves for a very long time.  And the world needs to understand this.
So what do we do when our world doesn’t understand this, because whether our world needs to understand it or not, the sad reality is, our world more often than not won’t.
If it will take us the notional three years to overcome the situational days of sorrow and paralysis, where we will not be ourselves, and the world is ready to move on in a matter of months, we have a problem.
We will need to anticipate change, because we will experience the tragedy of betrayal.  Whether our world sees this as justifiable or not, betrayal is our felt reality.
Our world will move on, and we inevitably will feel that we’ve been left behind.  It’s just the way I’ve seen it work on so many occasions. It doesn’t mean all people will get it wrong.  In fact, there’s a lot to be learned from those leaders and friends who understand grief to the point where they make the required allowances.  These people, no doubt, are Kingdom thinkers, with compassion that joins the purposes of God to transcend worldly paradigms.  They don’t have a productivity mindset, but they surpass this in the faith that journeying faithfully with us will produce beautiful results in the long run.  Indeed, these faithful friends are procurers of healing for us in God’s holy name.  They would rather stick with us through thick and thin than throw the baby out with the bathwater.  I couldn’t write this if I hadn’t have experienced it myself.
But many have experienced the opposite, whereby there is no understanding about the grief, what it has cost, what it continues to cost over time, and the complexities borne in simply making life work.  Too many people lose patience with those who are grieving, and they leave them behind, rather than graciously and generously carrying them forward with them.
Think about this for a moment.  What if you who are not grieving were to commit yourself to carrying one grieving person forward with you who you’re in relationship with?  What if you committed before God to never give up on them?  What if you gently made allowances for the times they were incapable of producing what they had previously produced?  Or are we too utilitarian for that?  Would you commit to making extra time to seek to listen to them?  Or simply to be with them.  What might happen is that God could show you something about the divine nature as you journey with someone who, for no fault of their own, is bearing enormous pain.


Photo by Mateusz Stępień on Unsplash

Monday, June 8, 2020

If black lives are to matter to white people, privilege must go

The Black Lives Matter movement is a scary prospect to the privileged, for they stand to lose power.  It is reprehensible that a black man is strangled to death by a policeman in full sight of many onlookers who catch the vision on their phones.  Yet how many more have been murdered, brutalised, assaulted that never saw the light of day?  There is a global culture of silence and acceptance, ignorance and ambivalence.  The rich get richer, and that kind of thing.  Until now.
When we think of closing the gaps in mortality, where indigenous and black peoples die 10 to 15 years earlier on average than white people, where generational trauma is the outworking of generations of institutional, systemic and systematic abuse, where a section of the community is overpoliced, and where so much covert racism of the subtlest kinds occurs, we barely scratch the surface of the common struggles that are inescapable for the majority of non-whites.  I know there are so many of us who count privilege a great stain on the perceptions of our lives — even though we carry that privilege, we feel it only appropriate that everyone  have that privilege.
So, what’s so bad about white privilege?
§     It’s the subtle acceptance that receiving more favour than others (for no reason other than skin colour) is okay
§     It’s pretending that we all have life equally hard, whilst completely negating the fact that many people live life unimaginably harder just because their skin colour is different.  All have life hard, but life’s harder for some than it is for others
§     It can be about believing that black lives matter, but with complete ambivalence; where we’re not prepared to do anything to support it, or we support action that actually maintains the status quo
§     It’s turning a blind eye to racial and other injustices to stay safe and comfortable
§     It’s almost impossible to see, as white people, that we are born to privilege – this is why some people will never be convinced even though the privilege is very apparent in them
§     It’s the assumption that having greater/better access to power and resources for some is okay
§     It’s seeing that everyone is equal, but with the subtle nuance that people of race are people of race – they’re somehow different
§     It’s missing the point that white privilege is ‘in us’ and needs to be acknowledged first before anything can be done about it
§     It’s failing to acknowledge we are the way we are – privileged – for systemic and generational reasons; (it’s neither our fault nor is it something we can deny, which leaves us with the positive burden to change it)
§     It’s failing to understand that violence doesn’t happen in a vacuum, where privilege sets some apart as being inherently reprobate because of skin colour – I mean, how on earth-as-it-is-in-heaven can that be?!
§     It’s a resounding evidence that silence in the face of injustice is violence
§     It’s ‘tolerance’ of those of colour by white people when it is convenient, to look good, but when tolerance turns into truth, the privilege is seen in the full light of day – this is called covert racism
§     It can be a complete denial of the disparity between black and white, confusing the belief that because all are created equal that all are treated equal – thinking they are one and the same when they aren’t
Rejecting our white privilege will mean sacrifice for us white people.  It will mean entreating discomfort, augmenting change that will touch on the disconcerting.  If we’re not ruffled, there’s not enough happening.  Only when it costs us something will be see change.  We ought not to lament this.  Only now whilst we’re alive can we be part of something akin to what William Wilberforce achieved — and perhaps more.  If we’re going to achieve this, we must be prepared for it to take a generation and more of sustained effort.  The movement must continue to gain momentum.
We’ve all seen injustice in myriad forms, and so many of us have tasted it.  This has served to open our eyes to the plight of our black brothers and sisters.  But open eyes must become ready hands, willing to do what must be done.  Opinions must generate resolve and resolve must generate action.
My point is that black lives must matter if any and all life is to matter.  Unless we get this concept, we don’t get the rest of the concept.  Unless we’re interested in eradicating the worst injustice, we’re truly not bothered by any injustice.  When black lives matter, when we see it, our eyes are then also opened to the fullest gamut of the broad and global cast of injustices that occur in this life — only when we can see a paucity of heaven on earth will we demand we need more heaven on earth.  For a time, we are overwhelmed with grief, but then something happens.  When we see these injustices, our heart feels compelled to help in some way to relieve the pain, to provide acceptance, sanctuary, a safe space.  It is a journey to achieve the right balance of care and concern that doesn’t rip our hearts to shreds because of the grief we bear, with the will to action that change necessitates.  If we who are white have grief to bear in these ways, how much more grief do black people bear?
Black lives matter.  Period.  It must begin there.  We must do better.  We must get the work of racial equality done.  We must overbalance to get equilibrium.  While we’re there, it mustn’t stop there; neither at our words nor on this particular issue.  It mustn’t stop until there is no more injustice.  And it mustn’t stop at our words.  This means we all have plenty of work and prayer to do.  Some thoughts to this end include:
§     MARCHES: Vast numbers all over the world are gathering in marches of protest.  What about Covid?  If not now though, when?  If we go to a march, we go there as a first step, a first commitment.  We show up in numbers to unify with our black brothers and sisters, to focus on unity and not the division.  If we seek elevation for all, we must provide the right to peace for all, acknowledging nobody’s children ought to see their mother or father, aunt or uncle or cousin injured.
§     ACCOUNTABILITY: We must, as individuals, call out every occasion of racism, whether it is obvious or implied.  If we stand for justice we cannot attack the person, but we can attack their policy.  All we need to do is calmly and quickly point out, speaking the truth in love, that their words and behaviour are inconsistent with a shared humanity.  This is a basic level personal commitment.
§     GOODWILL GESTURES: I think we also need to come up with a goodwill Black Lives Matter gesture we can show black people we don’t know to overwhelm them with our solidarity toward them.  We need highly visible ways of showing them that 1) we’re safe and, 2) we support them. Is it some kind of safe upraised forward-facing fist — with a smile?  Whatever it is it needs to be made famous.  It needs to be known over the whole world.
§     PUNISHMENT FOR RACISTS: We also need to deal somehow with the recalcitrant element in society.  This is partly about exercising our personal responsibility, but this is where the law must come to our aid.  It’s up to governments to come on board and come up with policy to support Black Lives Matter.  There needs to coverage of this issue at the highest level at all times.
Acknowledgement: I’d like to acknowledge Alex McKellar without whose help I could not have written this and certainly would have missed the mark.


Photo by Kevin Mueller on Unsplash