Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Under Constant Observation

There I was, waiting for the hearse to arrive, and though it was a beautifully cool summer’s day, God reminded me, through the finality of death, that I’m under constant observation.
We are never fully our own. Ever. Though life tempts us with the thought, our control is ours, it isn’t.
Then I read Psalm 139. Read it right here. If we read this psalm and get any idea other than we’re under constant observation, we’re probably missing something. Sure, we have the assurance of God’s radiant Presence in our lives, and we’re never beyond his care, and he that knows me knows me with an incomprehensible knowing. In other words, with more of a knowing than I can be aware of.
All of that.
But there is more.
Nothing we do, and nothing that is done to us, escapes his notice or knowledge. Nothing.
Everything we previously thought was secret will be shown in the light. Every justice and injustice we do in secret is done in the full vision of the One who sees everything. Every little and good deed he notices.
Why then would we pretend that we’re getting away with anything when we’re not so good. This may not be very encouraging to you, but at least it’s the truth. There are unknowable dimensions all about us in this spiritual of spiritual lives.
The Christian’s theology might as well be believed, for it has not only grown into the world’s religion, it protects us from an unconscionable outcome — that God might judge us severely and damn us to hell for the dark secrets we hold and the travesties we’re performed. Thank God for the cross of Christ!
When I’m reminded that I’m under constant observation I’m thankful. This is because I’m given important information about the potency of the moment; that I might ‘show off’ a little before the Almighty — that translates into not letting my left hand know what my right hand is doing (see Matthew 6:3-4), which are the best of secrets saved only for God’s knowledge. To conceal a good deed from humanity.
In doing secret things that are holy, especially prayers, I’m shown the eternality of God’s Presence, and by eternality, I mean how God is absolutely and cosmologically ever-present at all times in all ways, always!
Death is a reminder of this indelible truth:
we come into the world,
and, then just like that,
we leave the world.
That is a tremendous thought that ought to wake us immediately from our spiritual slumber.
The fact that the world was here, and as far as we’re concerned, always was, and the fact that the world will be, and as far as we’re concerned, always will be, and yet we’re here for just a finite time, suggests there is something bigger than us overseeing it all, overseeing us all.
The idea that I can look at a tree or a beach or even a street or a building and see that they were here before me and will be here after me makes me feel appropriately small.
The fact of my death reminds me that I must trust it.
Death is the invitation to learn how
to surrender before that act is demanded of us.
Death teaches us profound wisdom
if only we will avail ourselves of its lessons.
Death has its purpose in reminding us that we’re not God. Death is instructive. And though there is no sense in fearing death, this fear too is something also of an invitation to overcome.
Most of all, death teaches us
that we’re under constant cosmological observation.
The certainty of death teaches us
that everything we ever did or didn’t do has significance,
for every human being is aware
of the possibility of judgement.
Why then do we live pretending that life doesn’t matter?

Image: The Helix Nebula Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Benefit in Being Faithful

Spending time with friends is one of the best things about enjoying life. Recently, while we were with friends over the holiday period, I was given a vision about faithfulness.
I was shown just how powerfully good an encouraging time of connection with people can be.
I was shown how much soul-abundance experiences of friendship give; how fundamentally impactful a seriously good investment of time with other people is.
And I was shown how humanness is epitomised in such dynamics of connection that build remarkable intimacy, bearing the hallmarks of the safety of a ubiquitous trust.
In a word, faithfulness. The perfection possible as a state of relationship.
The best thing about faithfulness is it’s easy enough to do. But it does take consistent trustworthy behaviour over time.
Faithfulness is consistent trustworthiness. And better than that even is the halcyon feature of faithfulness that achieves the pinnacle of intimacy when conflict has been negotiated.
But that requires HUMILITY — and none of us ever master that! Humility enough to believe in the bigness of relationship over the smallness of the issues that would divide us.
If relationship faithfulness were the ascent of Everest, without conflict the relationship is just reaching base camp. But when a relationship survives conflict and faithfulness is intact, the peak is in sight. At the summit, the relationship has survived the potential perils of conflict, and faithful cooperation will get the relationship down the mountain to oxygenated safety.
Although all human relationships bear within them the constant possibility of moral failure, faithfulness doesn’t end when moral failure impinges to the point of hurt or even betrayal. Within relationships is the redemptive quality and capability of restoration after things have been broken.
Here are some ways where faithfulness is necessary if we’re to live the God-willed life well:
There’s faithfulness to God. No secret thing we do is unknown to God. God knows. Read Psalm 139 anytime lately? Faithfulness to God isn’t about being perfect and blameless. It’s about being honest.
Yes, that’s right, it’s how faithfulness is manifest — through confessing and repenting of deeds where we haven’t been faithful. God is faithful and just and forgives our transgressions and we’re cleansed of our unrighteousness as much as we acknowledge our fault (1 John 1:9). Faithfulness in our relationship with God is achieved when we’re honest about our unfaithfulness.
There’s faithfulness to others. Within relationships that last, for instance, within marriages or best-friend relationships, there is the characterisation of trustworthiness, which doesn’t preclude failure.
Faithfulness in relationships with others is much more about negotiating conflict successfully than having no conflict at all, especially where we might be tempted to avoid conflict.
This requires humility in both as each person ideally owns their contribution to conflict where it occurs.
Relationship perfection occurs, paradoxically, through bilateral confession of individual imperfections.
Determined diligence beats charismatic feats.
Quiet achievement meets, and faithfulness completes.
Relationships mature when both sides own their respective fault.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of any human relationship is its capacity for restoring what was previously damaged; trust and intimacy and faithfulness can ultimately grow through conflict.
There’s faithfulness to ourselves. Let’s talk about the fruit of self-control. How many Christians sin against their own bodies. I’ve been a typical Western-cultured binge-eater. It’s taken me many years to realise I can’t get away with being unfaithful to my body and to recognise what I need to faithfully do. There are myriads of examples where we’re challenged to be faithful stewards of ourselves.
Again, faithfulness is not particularly difficult; it’s tortoise-beating-hare consistency over time. Reliability beats charisma. Quiet achievement beats impressive feats.
There are some who cannot be faithful. Narcissists for one. Faithfulness, therefore, is the one reliable vital sign check on character. A faithful person, a person committed to self-honest reflection and regular repentance, overall is a safe person to be in relationship with.

Photo by Lukas Robertson on Unsplash

Sunday, January 6, 2019

A Funeral Prayer

This is a widow’s prayer. I recited it for her at her husband’s funeral:
God, give us strength to hold on and strength to let go,
courage to go forward and courage to look back.
Thank you for the joy of memories that are held in the heart,
that bring loved ones alive although we’re apart.
Her prayer, with a couple of minor changes, is shared here with her permission.
This prayer reflects the paradox that exists especially in loss; that strength and courage are available, albeit in burgeoning, threatening, paralysing weakness and fear; both are possible in two spacial ways.
Wisdom, compassion and humility give us strength to hold on when our world is falling apart. But there is also equivalent and relevant strength in letting go. It takes strength to let go; the strength of faith. Yet, it takes strength to hold on. Both dimensions of strength work in unison and are mutually inclusive. One without the other exacerbates grief.
Likewise, courage is required in letting go of our loved one’s physical presence; we do this — though we must, because there’s no choice — to move forward. Just the same is true about looking back when it seems easier to deny our pain. Don’t deny your pain. Both dimensions of courage, like strength, work in unison, one complementing the other.
Engines work because their pistons go back and forth. The downward stroke and the upward stroke are equally important; the engine cannot work without them both. Whether it is holding on or letting go, moving forward or looking back, accepting the past or hoping for future, one cannot exist without the other.
Blessed is the capacity to move forward and to look back, to have no regret for past nor anxiety for future; for God to give affirmation to such a prayer, by his equipping, must surely be the greatest of all needs satisfied in grief.
This prayer also holds aloft the sanctity of our memories — those very real possessions we have that are held surely and securely in our heart by our mind. Memories that cannot be erased do surely bring the people we miss alive even though we’re cosmically apart.
If our memories remain intact, possession of our loved ones cannot be taken away. They just become spiritual possessions rather than physical ones.
Acknowledgement for the first line to Leunig.

Photo by Bobby Rodriguezz on Unsplash

Monday, December 31, 2018

The Dividing Line

Photo by Thomas Quaritsch on Unsplash

You won’t have thought of this very often, if at all.
The dividing line exists at the moment of death. One moment we exist in a physical sense on this side of the line. The next moment, another reality commences. This reality of life, when it comes to an end, is not the end.
This is something that can happen in the very next moment. And, yet, none of us think about it often enough or consider it seriously enough. We all live assuming it will never really happen. We may think of it fleetingly at a funeral or when we interact with someone who has incurred loss, but we don’t think about it enough — and we can’t think about it too much. This is a paradox. It’s because we’re set here, in a life that demands we live, on the one hand. And, yet, on the other hand, what comes next moment or eight decades away is coming as surely as anything comes.
Being set in this life is a danger we need to be aware of. We are more prepared to argue the toss on ‘significant’ issues in this life — many of which will have no bearing on the life that’s coming. We are more prepared to party and act the fool than to consider the consequences of our acts on the other side.
What’s coming is more inevitable than anything in this very physical life this side of the dividing line. To even contemplate such a thought ought to compel us to fear. Not a sort of fear that scares us in a worldly or earthly sense. A fear that compels us to think about how we live this life right here.
The dividing line is as obvious as death. And death is inevitable.
You will be at your funeral one day. You will be the only one there who is no longer alive. Everyone else you care about will be there. And there is nothing you can do to avoid this fact. None of us can.
These thoughts are the ultimate in vulnerability.
But these thoughts can motivate us to live our lives a certain way.
How will consideration of these thoughts challenge and change the way you live?
Death causes us to reassess our lives, realign our priorities, and recommit to live.
If only we would live more often from these reassessments, realignments and recommitments.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Beware that most dangerous word, ‘Sorry’

Some years ago, when I had entered into a helping relationship with a person, I became aware of a troubling pattern in their demeanour. Just about every communication I had with this person involved them using the word ‘sorry’. The problem was, I got the distinct impression they were never actually genuinely sorry. Ever. Their saying sorry was a habit; their ‘sorry’ seemed to mean something different to the meaning of the word.
Unfortunately, this pattern of caustic relational behaviour isn’t as uncommon as we’d like to think.
For some people, ‘sorry’ is part of a transaction. It buys them the other person’s favour. The person who hears ‘sorry’ often feels obligated to forgive. Even if ‘sorry’ is used from the motive of manipulation. This skews the appropriate intention of the word.
The true test of whether someone actually feels sorry is to press them a little. A good illustration of this comes from my marriage. If I’d done the wrong thing, in apologising, my wife used to ask me what I was sorry for. She was checking whether I was genuine, but she was also checking what level of understanding I had regarding my misdemeanour. More than once I had to do some more thinking! Was I really sorry?
There is nothing wrong with questioning someone further
after they have said ‘sorry’.
If they’re genuinely remorseful, they will sense the opportunity to transact with you to establish understanding. On the other hand, if someone says, “Hey, wait a minute, I just said sorry to you…” (in other words, “I just said sorry, so now you must forgive me”) be very well aware that they’re not truly sorry at all. We have to watch ourselves, though, that we don’t exasperate someone who is genuinely penitent. But there’s nothing wrong with a little gentle pushback. If someone resists that kind of process check, they probably need to do a bit more thinking about whether they’re really honest about using the word ‘sorry’.
When Sorry Means Something
Sorry means something when ‘sorry’ stays ‘sorry’.
What I mean is this: the issue anyone says sorry about they’re always sorry about. It was wrong that they did it. And it will always be wrong. It is on record as wrong. Nothing they can do will absolve that unless, in having said sorry, they’re forgiven.
It’s the person who forgives who absolves the sin.
‘Sorry’, in and of itself, is no absolution. The person who is given the opportunity to forgive another’s transgression is the one who ought to hold the power. They have been wronged. For the relationship to be restored, things need to be evened up.
‘Sorry’ means something when the person saying sorry throws themselves upon the mercy of the person they’ve transgressed. It’s the only time ‘sorry’ means anything. And then the power in this word materialises. It says to the other person, “I want this relationship, and I’m prepared to relate with you in truth, and need you to know that my love for you means more than protecting my ego, and our relationship is worth me being vulnerable enough to help restore ‘us’.”
The moral to this article is simple: don’t be the person who says sorry and doesn’t mean it. It’s a very powerful word in the English language and anytime we don’t mean it, we employ manipulation which is relational cancer.
It’s even more a manipulation when people use ‘sorry’ very regularly and expect to be forgiven. There are two sins of manipulation there. Healthy relationships with people like this are practically impossible.
The ultimate in maturity is the capacity to be wrong and own that reality.
More on genuine apology at PeaceWise: What makes a genuine apology?

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Leadership of Kindness

Photo by Andrea Tummons on Unsplash

The world needs more kindness. Not only do you know that, but that’s always been the case.
It’s too easy to locate the problem as one of there being not enough kindness somewhere else.
The truth is our own aspirations for kindness mar its course.
In spruiking kindness, I too often react with incredulity at what I perceive to be a lack of kindness toward me.
In other words, I find it easy to be kind when people are initiating kindness. Or, when they reciprocate my kindness.
But I’m perplexed when people prefer, in my estimation, to be unkind or lack in graciousness. Toward me.
Sure, I’m a sensitive kind of person. I not only think kindness costs nothing, but that it is our human obligation, our human dignity. 
The trouble with my thinking is it’s limited. My thinking doesn’t anticipate consistent unkindness in others, especially those with whom I have ongoing and unavoidable contact. My thinking is too caught up in receiving justice for justice.
If I can trust myself to be kind with those who share my value of being kind to others, then I’m wiser to spend my effort and energy responding better with those who don’t seem to share my value.
Why do they seem unkind? They may see it as superfluity. They may value honesty above love; seeing that truth is the ultimate love. They may also, however, lack the capacity to be kind to themselves. They may not desire my/our kindness. There could be any number of other reasons, many of which we may never be privy to. The truth is, the reason doesn’t matter. It is what it is.
Leadership is influence. If leadership cannot or does not influence, then it lacks the vital sign of the life of leadership. 
The leadership of kindness therefore comprehends the challenge before it.
It doesn’t contend for change with those who engage with kindness. It contends for change with those who resist.
Any lack of kindness toward those who remain unconvinced shows them our lack of resolve.
We must find a way to tap into the power of kindness in the very situations we find are hardest.
The key decision we come to consider is, will we be kind without need of reward?
Will we see that being kind when we’re treated harshly is its own reward, for it is the power of God? To forgive with a forgiveness beyond our human desire for justice.
Will we see that the only opportunity we have to lead with influence is when we react with joy and genuine gladness when someone has repelled us in our kindness?
Every supposed influence is dormant until we meet resistance with unconditional love.
So, today we may make a fresh commitment; to those who seem to war with kindness; to seek out those opportunities that are dynamic; to not be satisfied with benign overtures of kindness that are met, like for like.
The leadership of kindness is overcoming the temptation of being offended by being prepared to meet offence with a grace that can only come from God.
If we’re going to lead with kindness, we will always need to be undergirded by a grace that cannot come from us; a grace that accepts there is a hidden reward stowed whenever we endure injustice; a grace that trusts faith patiently, that good can come from the injustices we bear serenely.
This is a grace that patiently endures hardship for a better prize than what can be won for fighting for our own justice. This is a grace that teaches us as we engage in it.

The more we refuse to be offended, the less overall offence the relationship bears, and the more kindness can grow.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The best thing about the unexpected Christmas gifts you got

Photo by erin walker on Unsplash

Painted onto my face, I have come to accept, is the question, “Go on, would you tell me about your day/life?” I don’t always feel up to pursuing conversations with others, especially at times when I’m out of role, but more often than not I trust myself and the other person to have the 15-minute chat that usually runs deep. When we chat, people open up, and we have encounters.
I never planned to be this kind of person. I planned to be a much different person. I have had to learn to accept who I am. It’s ironic that, in the process, God seems to work consistently with good effect without any effort from me. I just have to avail myself.
When I was young, I didn’t have the friendship support I seem to have now. I would often leave times with friends and say, “I’ll show ‘em!” I had all sorts of plans to prove my friends and associates wrong when they prejudged me.
I think it helped enormously as far as motivation was concerned. And to some extent I still use the “I’ll show ‘em” method to inspire results I might otherwise find hard to achieve.
I have found it rather enigmatic that though I’m a hard trier in life, the things I’m best at come without much effort. I didn’t need to work hard on being relational to the point that people open up without even thinking they’re even doing it.
It’s apt that at Christmas when we’re thinking most about the gifts we’ve given or have received, that I see the value in a gift I would not have initially sought. I do what I do because I connect. I’m a connecter, and yet I’m so abundantly happy in my own space without interruptions. I mean, as far as the spiritual gifts are concerned, I would not have coveted the pastoral care gift.
I would have coveted the gifts of achievement, of success, of self-actualisation. But, not to be.
Christmas reminds us that there are gifts we get that we don’t initially appreciate, but that mature upon our acceptability over time. We give gifts that we think will be perfect, and to our surprise, they aren’t received as we thought they’d be. Then we give and receive gifts that exceed our and others’ expectations.
Christmas is a day and time of surprises as far as the giving and receiving of gifts is concerned.
Even though we don’t always get what we want,
Christmas does promise good things,
and if we remain open to what might come,
we are at times serendipitously blessed.
And there’s no sense in not being open to what might come. If we prejudge our experience at Christmas, and I have done it so many times, we only disappoint the people who love us, and we lack gratitude for that which we may well later come to be thankful for.
The key task of growing up is taking what we might momentarily dislike and being patient with it, not prejudging it, having faith for what might come of it.
Another task of maturity is accepting and being thankful for the gifts of self that God has indeed given. The best of the gifts God gives is the ease with which we may execute them.

Monday, December 24, 2018

When and Why you may have Peace

Photo by Alex Guillaume on Unsplash
TIME is a constant in all our lives.
Time is something we cannot impact, control, influence or change. Time we can simply but accept. And yet time is what procures our peace; when our lives are in harmony with time; when our use of time feels worthwhile and purposeful, then we have peace.
But peace is more than that. It is the sense of our soul’s momentary completion, when we feel fulfilled; yet importantly, not life filled to the brim — that would be the antithesis of peace.
When everything matches what is right in our mind and heart, when there is that kind of completion within the complexity of life, there is the moment’s peace to be enjoyed.
When everything is structured and ordered according to what your soul deems as right. This is why self-knowledge is so important; to know thyself. Peace is being honest about what we like and don’t like, becoming aware in the first place, not judging any of this as wrong or inappropriate (unless what we like is morally wrong!), and bringing what we like into being.
It is just as important to know the things that cause dissonance and frustration within us personally, where we are undone and rendered incomplete. We must know and accept what we lack so we know and accept what causes us to feel at lack. The more we pretend we are perfectly tolerant of everything, the less peace we will possibly experience. We need to be honest about how flawed we are and, importantly, how those flaws manifest. This requires a very solid sense of self.
But there is an incontrovertible limit to this kind of peace. It is limited by time. A self-engineered peace cannot last. Change comes with time; day folds into night, night into day, bad weather follows good, and so forth.
Peace is heavily conditional. Unless we learn the practices of God. That’s a journey! It involves a pilgrimage within the long passage of loss.
In sum, it involves coming to an implicitly accepting attitude. That’s not a place anyone just arrives at. It’s probably a place that many will never arrive at. And most people, again, only land in this place for short periods of time. But if peace is our goal and our game, we will build peace upon peace.
The task of life is to do all we can to nurture a sense of peace within ourselves, so that peace is not only enjoyed personally, others too can benefit.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Is there such a thing as situational narcissism?

Photo by Laurenz Kleinheider on Unsplash

I have an innate interest in all things people, and particularly the outliers. I cannot hide my amazement and adulation having witnessed those who are paragons of virtue out of the distress of living their ordinary life against the odds. Equally, I’m captivated by those at the other end of the spectrum — those who have innate weaknesses that damage others’ lives; the centre point, narcissism.
Someone asked me recently, ‘do you think so-and-so is narcissistic?’ My reply without thought was, ‘I think we’re all a little narcissistic…’
Now, the truth is my response was part diversion from answering truthfully. Part of that was about who was asking and part of it was about who they were asking about. It wasn’t appropriate to answer with what I actually thought.
But the more I’ve thought about it the more I’ve thought there’s credence to the idea. How on earth can all of us somehow feature narcissism? Well, we are all sinners. And here’s a classic irony for you: the person who feels most insulted in considering there might be some narcissism in them is possibly most narcissistic of the lot.
It is a great strength to be able to bear the spiritual discomfort of wearing your wickedness. We’re all capable of it. We all have it in us. Just think of some of the things you think…
The other fact is this, and the enneagram tool helps us understand this: we all have the capacity to be very healthy, of normal health, and of ill health. Two to seven years ago, for a range of reasons as I reflect, I was in varying degrees of ill health, and I think I was at times during this five-year period situationally narcissistic. I don’t think where I was planted was helping, but I acknowledged that, as Dr John Townsend would put it, I had a pocket entitlement. I felt I deserved to be respected, understood and praised. Sure, I needed these things, as we all do, but they had become idols and I began to demand them. This led to ill health in some pivotal relationships.
It’s only when we get back into better mental health that we see how bad we might have been; and how our behaviours have negatively impacted on others.
I do think that there is such a thing as situational narcissism. I think we all have the capacity to react badly from situations where we don’t feel adequately supported. Think of the Pygmalion Effect.
It goes to show that if we encounter someone narcissistically, surely we can at first empathise and simply ask if their environment has something to do with their attitude and behaviour.
This is not to say that there aren’t full blown narcissists. There are. They’re dangerous and the only thing for these people is boundaries. In many situations, it’s about removing them from our lives altogether. In many cases, it is wise to be rather mercenary about it, something empathetic people find almost impossible to do.
Flowers bloom best when they’re planted in fertile soil. It’s the same with people. Could it just be that some we might see as narcissistic are that way because of where they’re planted? It’s not always the case. But I’m sure it does sometimes happen.

It is a fact that some people, perhaps many in this day, are falsely called narcissists. Let’s save the label for those who genuinely deserve it.