Thursday, September 21, 2017

Loving Everybody in the Same-Sex Marriage Debate

Photo source: Unknown.

I WAS going to call this article, Why Everyone is a Loser on the Topic of Same-Sex Marriage, but it is too divisive.
This article is probably not what you think it is. I’m not ‘hating on’ anyone. I hope that’s what comes across. Or, perhaps I’m hating on everyone? Of course, by having a view — however neutral I think it is — I may inevitably be polarised into both camps. But here goes…
I think everyone’s a loser on the topic of same-sex marriage in Australia presently, because whatever side you’re on — and there are four I can see — you probably find yourself frustrated.
The question:
Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?
If you vote ‘yes’ you may not understand how others cannot see this as a moral / human rights / fairness / justice issue. You may only see bigotry and homophobia in the ‘no’ camp. If you vote ‘no’ you may not understand how others cannot see the threats posed beyond a continuation of, and consequences within, rewriting the law. If you’re neutral, you may not understand how others cannot see the importance of people respecting each other’s views. A fourth group constitutes those who have flexible views and may be undecided. You may not understand how others cannot see the complexity of the debate, and your right to be undecided, and you are probably silent.
Actually, silence is an important response to explore. You may be silent because your views don’t sit well with some you love and / or respect. Your silence might be because you don’t want to be shouted down. There are many reasons why people are silent, the worst of all, perhaps, that the circumstances of hateful behaviour on both sides of the divide have silenced you. You don’t want to upset people and therefore yourself. You desire peace over principle.
Over the years I have tried to look at all dimensions of this incredibly dynamic and complex debate and it confounds me as to how all-consuming it has become. Everyone seems stressed about it. (Although I’m sure there are some / many who aren’t.)
A THEOLOGY FOR LOVING DEBATE
I wonder if I can introduce the following quote as emblematic of the concept of love as it meets conflict:
“When you give and expect a return, that’s an investment.
When you give and don’t expect anything back, that’s love.”
— Unknown
When people on all sides of the debate engage in ways that expect others to be convinced of their views, it’s not love. But when people can engage with the freedom for having their view — feeling safe within a community of two or more to hold those views as sacred — without judgment or recrimination either way — love is encountered.
Whenever we expect others to think as we do, we fall short of love, no matter how ‘right’ we are. But when we appreciate a person amid the right they have for their view, we meet love.
***
The SSM debate is so divisive because sexuality is fathomless in its complexity.
Firstly, everybody’s sexuality is complex. Maybe nothing proves our innate brokenness than our vulnerability regarding our sexuality.
Secondly, our human biases see our sexuality as either superior or inferior to others’ — sexuality in a broken world is inherently shaming unless it is valued and treated as redemptive. Yet, as sexual beings, none of us is inherently better or worse than anyone else.
Thirdly, our brokenness either deforms our views or it compels us to redeem our views. The redemption of views results when all persons are seen as bearers of God’s image — all as equally precious in God’s view — all as deserving of their sexual dignity.
And there is a plethora of other views that could be considered, but for brevity here, won’t be.
***
Perhaps the key response we can make is to have empathy for how the SSM debate is affecting individual persons — whatever their views are — whatever their stake is or appears to be or feels like, for them, not us.
If we can appreciate another person’s truth — what is real for them — we begin then to meet love, because we’re meeting them. From such a place, trust emerges and truth can begin to coexist with love in the realm of conflict. The endpoint, the perfection of understanding, is truth as love — both seamless within each other.
Every view expressed respectfully has value, but it’s people on the opposite side of their view who determine whether it’s respectful or not. If it is respectful, and it appeals to a context of truth, i.e. it has logic about it, whatever the content of the view, it is loving.
SOME SYMPATHIES
I feel for the gay man, the lesbian, the bisexual person, the transgender person, and others of sexually diverse groups. You deserve to be loved and respected as much as anyone else, and perhaps in your vulnerability more so. You deserve more than my or others’ ignorance.
I feel for the conservative, for their fears whether well-founded or not. Your true views that you may be scared to voice ought to have their place.
I feel for those who represent other important societal issues, drowned out because of the heat within the present debate.
I feel for anyone who genuinely feels indifferent or frustrated or something else.
I feel for the peacemakers and peacekeepers on all sides of the debate, who hate the stress it places people under.
It’s good to conclude on the concept of love.
ABOUT LOVE
Many bandy-about the words of Jesus as if they have the market cornered on love.
Well, love was never meant to be a thing, a philosophy, a statute of right-and-wrong. Love in this context is a verb, it is observable; a behaviour. The use of Bible verses by all sides of the debate to convince, compel or conquer is not love; it’s a doctrinal activity aimed at edifying others, and it can clearly be done ignorantly or arrogantly, which, pushed to its extreme, constitutes spiritual abuse.
Love is only given as it is received. Love is not love if it isn’t received as loving.
Love is always more about the other person than it is about the giver of, or how they, love.
We cannot say we are being loving if it isn’t perceived as loving.
Jesus is plain: in all things, love. Especially in conflict. Especially when solutions are beyond our comprehension. Especially when there is space for a divergence of views. And there always is.
Only then is everyone a winner. That’s when love finally is love.
Love seems so far beyond us in the vast divergence of views and presented maturities.

Monday, September 18, 2017

New perspectives on Time

HEXHAM ABBEY, I recently learned, was built in 678 A.D., which is an astonishing thought — that an original church building is over 1,300 years old. There are church buildings elsewhere in the world that were built as early as the Third Century.
Think of all the persons in all the centuries, all the generations, and all the decades who have come and gone; how many moments. There are 31.5 billion seconds in one thousand years. There are forty generations over the same time period. And even though that sounds inordinately long, and that we only ever witness four or five generations in any one life, all those seconds tick dutifully by, one after the other, with inevitability. Sometime soon, it will be one hundred years from now, and almost all of us who breathe air now will have expired.
If I look back over the time experiences I’ve had in recent days, I see challenges that were overcome, accomplishments made that seemed to breed stress at the time, but now simply weave a story. Three days ago, an early start, anxiety for what I needed to do in a short time period, many people dependent on my role, and yet now I look back at it as simply an interesting event, a blip in my account of lived experience. What if heaven provides a perfect account of every reconciled memory — like a movie library of the ratified days of our lives?
If one of the purposes of our lives is to reconcile time, we have the motive to go back through our days and make an honest account of them. To investigate our attribution of these days’ experiences and make of them an outcome of acceptance.
Time waits for no person, we know this by the fact of a death that seems as an ever-present possible reality — the longer we’re alive, the more that reality bears down in truth. So, we have the rest of our lives — seconds or hours or months or decades — to decide the things we must decide and to do the things we would like to do. But we do this without ever knowing how long life will last. It’s good to bear this truth in the front of our minds.
What can we do with our time now that we cannot do when we’re gone?
How can we further challenge our understanding of time in the realm of experience?
Why are we so willing to deny our finiteness in this world? What fears do we have that are simply interesting?
When is it possible to come to new understandings of time around revelation?
Who told us we had to live from the paradigm set that we have today?
Where is the challenge ahead to debunk futile philosophies of time that do not serve us?

Friday, September 8, 2017

Light Shines Brightest at Night

THERE are foundational salvation truths we learn only in our darkest days. We never expect to be blessed at a time that seems so irretrievably cursed.
But we are.
If we can let go of the threads that bind us to what was.[1]
If.
The most significant word: if.
Of course, it’s easiest to let go when those things we could never let go of are ripped out of our grasp. Such situations are the hardest realities. So what we find in the hardest of authenticities is the easiest of choices, for choice is a luxury we’re not afforded in cataclysmic loss.
And still we must make the choice to suffer as much as possible without resistance.
That must be the key to entering the revelatory world: where light shines brightest at night.
And what a revelation that is! To suddenly discover the existence of upside down realities we always suspected were true, yet had never experienced. And now they’re real. This is where the déjà vu Spirit communicates things we always knew but didn’t know until we did. Then we recognised we had already had a sense of knowing them.
This is the rare life that Christ came to reveal to us, epitomised on the cross. So few Christians, however, have experienced such revelation that precedes Kingdom transformation.
This is because there are two steps: the first step, loss; the second, humiliation. Loss polarises many into wastelands of bitterness and resentment. There is a refusal to be humiliated as Christ was. Whether we deserve humiliation or not is not the point; Christ didn’t. Our flesh must be crucified, regularly and often. None of this is easy to write or read. But unless we’re crucified, regularly and often, we cannot grow into wisdom through revelation.
Humiliation teaches us humility.
Then it is in that night humiliation where the light that shines through is brightest. Because there is now nothing that can come against us that hasn’t already set itself against us. There is no longer anything more to fear. If we survived the worst that life can throw at us, nothing can hold us back in our hope for a restoration some time off.
See how if Christ is for us, nothing is against us?
We could never learn such experiential truths until we 1) suffered loss, and 2) suffered well the humiliation of our pride.
We know we must lose our life to find it.
At darkest point,
at dimmest hour,
let God anoint,
you by His Kingdom power.
Allow the darkness to brighten the light, and God will enlighten your sight.



[1] Even as we let go of that which we never could otherwise, God never truly takes it away. We find later that, spiritually speaking, what was once ours, is always ours.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Trust That If God Called You He Will Use You

It’s always a fear held irrationally, that if God has called you yet then ceases in using you, what does that mean? Will He no longer use you?
There are times in all our ministries for God when the brakes are put on, and we’re called into a silence — so much worse when we’re not ready for such a moratorium — when the identity crisis we suffer is so fundamentally necessary, for it calls us to our dependence on ourselves and not God.
Pride increases friction at the pivot point when God’s use of us diminishes and we fear God’s call is over. Notice the coalescence between pride and fear. The latter is the manifestation of the former. Yet, fear is plainly pride’s revelation.
When God calls us, He uses us. He Who calls us never goes back on His Word.
Nobody used once is then put on the scrap heap. If He used you once, He will use you again. And even in the time of abeyance, watch, for that time of silence He is still speaking.
But there is still fear, perhaps. This is simply a sign that there is still too much dependence on ourselves. We needn’t feel vulnerable nor ashamed. It’s a journey we’re on. We needn’t be in any hurry to arrive, for God has assured us there is a time for everything.
It is important we keep the faith in what God spoke into our hearts long ago.
You did not get it wrong. He said it, alright. “The one who calls you is faithful, and He will do it,”[1] i.e. complete the work He started in you.
He who has called you continues to call, whether you hear His call or not. Stay faithful to His call.


[1] 1 Thessalonians 5:24.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Valuing Most what is typically Valued Least

MYSTERIES prevail in life. To be confounded is to be wrestled down with a liberating truth: an invitation to the Something Else.
There is always Something Else; the thing we’re missing, everything we do not see, and that which God would have us know if only we were to will our will away.
As I write, I’m listening to music that has been slowed down. 800 percent. It is marketed as angelic. It does sound angelic. But it isn’t angelic. But it influences my thinking as I’m cajoled into a sense of shalom, yes, even as I press these keys, as my mindset is challenged and invigorated.
If only we could see what we ordinarily do not see.
Enter grief. As a for instance.
Loss takes us into a realm of pain, which by function, is an area of experience replete with newness. Nothing bad per se. (If we could be free of reacting to judge the pain.) But everything is new and foreign. Everything. And all this newness is frightening, and the soul imagines how vulnerable it is; anxiety is felt.
Little wonder grief feels like we’re regularly blindsided by overwhelming emotions.
Through grief God shows us how potent the Kingdom is for realising spiritual peace that confounds what would ordinarily confound us. See the mastery of God in that? God giving us access to rethink the unthinkable.
The Spirit within us reigns when we secede our will. And then suddenly God gives to us the powering of seeing; not a strictly or purely visual phenomenon. Of seeing something the prophets of old might see. God speaking through our experience.
We might see some of the following:
ü the wisdom within someone with an intellectual disability.
ü the possibility of unknowable dimensions within our present-day experience.
ü the riches of experience in a homeless person.
ü the pain behind a person’s smile.
ü the folly in material wealth gained inappropriately.
ü a range of possible decisions instead of just one or two.
ü the prevalence of suffering in the world and a way of entering into it.
ü the obviousness of one’s imminent demise (yes, death) and the choice to order life in accordance with such a resounding truth.
ü the importance (and acceptance) of difficulty as a proving ground for character.
ü the vision and hope resplendent in children.
ü the ‘Lux’ soap bar (pictured above) one’s son gives to his father with great joy on Father’s Day.
Jesus’ Kingdom is home most within us when we learn to value most what the world typically values least.
Peace has a way of being hidden. We find it when we let go of what we deem as valuable.
We can find peace when our hearts are open amid confusion. Only when the Kingdom is home in us can we understand that through experience.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

When the Kingdom comes it will confound you

WE ARE hard to please, us Christians. We want to be used by God, effective in His Kingdom, but we never realise what it will cost.
We never quite take Jesus at His Word: “If you wish to be my follower, you must love me more than anything else; even more than your own life!”
When you’re used by God it’s the most frustrating, stretching, taxing time of your life, because you feel constantly pushed and pulled and completely unable to predict what is coming next. You’re fundamentally undone any given moment. It’s just what the Kingdom demands, and the only way we ‘succeed’ is if we approach life as if our own desires were truly non-existent; as if we had died already.
Whenever we’re pressed into all sorts of shapes of fatigue tending toward burnout, and we didn’t arrive there because we chose to, we’re in the familiar territory of the saints.
God will choose for us our particular idol and He will smash it — if we’re truly purposed for His Kingdom. If we were looking into our lives as if we were someone else, we would want it no other way. But it’s our life, and no matter how devoted we are to God it always comes as a shock that God would take our spoken devotion so literally. But it’s important to us, from eternality’s perspective, that He does.
The secular world will want to reinforce its best attempt at effective management, and so the mainstream church follows the programmatic way of doing things. Sabbath, for just one instance, becomes a rule when under the New Covenant it is a state of being.
We can’t expect not to be pushed to the absolute limit in our faith when we’ve told God our devotion is limitless. God takes us at our word.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

How losses are gains in disguise

TRANSFORMATION or tribulation. Every moment of our lives is a choice and a consequence for one or the other.
Losses are disguised as gains to be had. They’re vital vehicles for transformation, though they seem marked at every point, ‘Tribulation’. Indeed, we never seem ready for transformation until we’ve suffered something we cannot reconcile. And even as we embark one footstep into the perilous way of grief, tribulation seems the only way to run.
But it’s not the only the way! Tribulation usually heralds transformation.
Praising God amid loss seems unthinkable, but such a concept is not estranged to biblical content. Indeed, it is bizarrely familiar. “Consider it pure joy… whenever you face trials of many kinds,” the Bible says in James. I’m not cherry-picking verses here, the Bible is full of verses about remaining faithful in loss, because the Bible acknowledges the reality that loss is not all there is.
It is possible to see beyond the pain of loss in the mode of grief itself. Though it is tormenting, grief itself holds us aloft and away from our ego. Comfort has been thwarted at every level and finally God has our attention, and we have His.
Many, many people despise these words because they cannot entertain a concept of God who doesn’t lavish them. It would be truer to say God lavishes us with more (more power, more truth, more capacity, more grace, more wisdom, and certainly more love) when we lavish Him with our presence, which is easiest to do when we have no god to elevate before Him. And, in loss, finally there’s no barrier we set up to God.
So faithfulness is more important than the experience of comfort; diligence more important than arriving; progress more important than perfection; the means more important than the end. Focus on the means, and the end takes care of itself.
Losses are gains in disguise. How else do we explain the phenomenon of the possibility of growth through grief?
If we’re ever annoyed about messages like this one, we invest precious energies into bitterness rather than redeploy them in betterness.
The choice is always simple, and the effect is profound: Go with God in grief and He will make purpose of your pain.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Five Reasons to Embrace Grief

AMID the tempest of grief outbound of loss, love builds in the heart and wisdom forms in the mind, when we can allow the present to be as it is.
Here below are five reasons to embrace the inevitable when it comes:
1.      God transforms us in our pain. But, we may never wish to be transformed. None of us do. We may see it as an invasion. We view pain through eyes of cynicism. But pain teaches us what no pleasure can. Only after we’ve been transformed by grief do we see its vast benefits (not that we wouldn’t ever prefer things as they were — for that is understandable). Pain makes us able to see more truly.
2.      Loss is simply loves situational opposite. We experience loss because we have loved. Such experiences of love and loss teach us to magnify the one whilst we endure the other as patiently as we can, which can seem impossible at times. The one we magnify will be ours again. And that’s a hope we can never lose. We just cannot stop believing that life will turn to our fortune again. Such hope is life. Such life is resilience. Such resilience is purpose. Such purpose is hope.
3.      In grief, God reveals much that we wouldn’t ordinarily see. He reveals the suffering aspects of life. Hence, compassion comes when were taken to the abyss. We see more truly. He reveals others; those who care from those who dont. Those who do care show us something; the fundamental gift of care, and then we’re ever won to the power in caring. In those who care against those who don’t, we see people as they are, no longer as we thought them to be. Of course, God also reveals much more of Himself through our grief, when we’re open to what He has to show us.
4.      Grief forces us to reflect. Were easily stuck in thought patterns of how good our life was. But just as easily we can resolve such thoughts by simply being still. Only when we allow God to bring us to the end of ourselves are we then blessed by our practice of reflection.
5.      In the sea that is life, loss is the ebb tide and the flood tide is love. Endure one wave and enjoy the next. Loss is the ebbing of a wave of comfort, and that wave will flood in again via God’s compensation. All of life is an ebb and flow; of loving and losing, good fortune and lack, of health and ill-health. Grief teaches us this pattern, and if it weren’t for loss, we would probably never become aware of it. What maturity teaches us is acceptance and awareness.
***
There are benefits to grief, not least of which is the wisdom that sits aside life, learning the ability to remain open to God’s purpose in it, fulfilled in some cases in the life to come.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

You are LOVED, NOT for what you do, but for WHO you are

THIS world is about competition — being better than others, or being good enough for others. There aren’t many places we can go where we are welcomed and safe as we truly are. And it’s not always others forcing us up or down the social pecking order. We ourselves are the ones who feel driven to compete or to conform.
We place that kind of unrealistic pressure on ourselves.
Universal acceptance is something God is calling us to: self-acceptance, our acceptance of others, and, not least, our acceptance of God.
This is the principal reason God in Jesus came: to herald and to inhabit the good news; to let us know that we’re loved, not for what we do, but for who we are; that, we’re not judged here in this life for what we’ve done (our sins against God and others); that, we’re not condemned for the sin that is in us; that, in Jesus He sees us, and the Father is for us. As we immediately are. Unconditionally. Relationship. It’s about love. That’s about losing power:
There’s only one thing that really matters. Relationship. ‘Do you love me? Do you love me as I am?’
— Jean Vanier
Only when we have accepted people as they are will they be inspired to become better than they are. Only when we are accepted are we bravely curious enough to look at role models to become better ourselves.
Growth is contingent on acceptance,
for only when we’re free to be who we are
are we then enabled to become.
When we’re constrained within the vast chasms of division in this world we’re far from the Kingdom of God. Our thoughts are chaotic and awry and senseless. But when we loose our thoughts from judging and condemning, when we can let each and every person have their place, their view, the Kingdom of God comes immediately into sight.
Here is a fact for the naysayer of God:
You are loved by the Creator
of the universe and you,
yes, just as you are!
If only everyone knew.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Grace, the gift of right relationship with God

ONE of the profoundest word-gifts I’ve ever been given was when I was told to ‘enjoy the gift God has given you’.[1] Astoundingly simple, unfathomably deep. The gift.
As Christians, we do not make as much of the concept of grace as truly we should. That is because we cannot wrap our heads and hearts around it. There is too much theology to contain it. Grace is too much to contemplate. The gift is too gargantuan to comprehend. Grace is a gift that gives a spiritual reality of overwhelming eternal abundance.
But indeed, we’re blessed by studies like the one in present focus — that God’s positive work of redeeming humankind has not an iota of recrimination about it. Although we should rightly be condemned, and without Christ we were, our justification at the hand of Christ has now no longer anything to do with our criminality.
We are bequeathed right relationship with our God, just as if God looks at us and sees Jesus — no spot nor wrinkle of sin, though we’re still spotted and wrinkled; no condemnation, though we know we still deserve it. How irrevocably good is this gift?
For the matter of putting Christ at the head of our lives, to live according to the faith of trust in Jesus, right relationship with God is the decreed consequence. This is the good news. Not that we’re given easy lives nor are we promised joy at every turn, but, much more meaningful, that we’re ascribed worth as sons and daughters of God.

Acknowledgement to Dr Richard Moore whose life work has involved the study of Paul’s Concept of Justification: God’s Gift of a Right Relationship and the production of the first New Testament in Australian English.



[1] With credit to Elaine Olley, wife of Old Testament scholar, Dr John Olley.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Peace Amid the Anxieties of Daily War

DAYS off are not necessarily a blessing, nor are days at work necessarily a curse. Peace may evade the one, but be positioned centrally in the other. Yet, as per joy, peace is an enigma. So much of our peace belongs to the mind; procuring and possessing it through mastery of thought, of letting go, amid experience. And only for the now.
Like many of you I suspect, I’m easily confounded by time and task pressure; the whirlwind of competing priorities and the contracting concertina of time. At the one extreme I’m bored, at the other I’m barraged. And it’s a fine line that separates the two.
It’s humbling how fragile I am when it comes to the circumstantial. And yet, without such relentless stimulus, the life unabating, I would never have learned the powers of the mind that can superintend, and be salubrious for, the vulnerability of my heart.
Peace is an enigma, a paradox, a never-ending conundrum. Yet is it ever available. Those realities seem genuinely opposed, but they’re once and at the same time true as contradictions of reality.
Peace seems impossible when the present brings several competing pressures simultaneously, but that circumstance is merely the invitation to slow down and enter the phenomenon of process — doing one thing at a time through attentive discipline.
The goal of peace within the limits of time and space makes us face an irrepressible reality. We cannot shift dimensional law to come into conformance with our whims. Expecting these laws of time and space to bend our way is absurd, but it’s common that we get frustrated when we find we cannot cram more into less. We simply need to see how futile it is to expect the impossible.
When we accept life is a war, peace is the armistice we go wilfully into battle for.
Peace and Anxiety
For peace to be our possession there first needs to be the awareness of our anxiety.
Denying anxiety is pointless. Acknowledging it is the first step of embracing it as the next step toward reducing it. To common anxiety we can say ‘no!’
The simple effect of employing calming strategies that are within continual reach proves we can lessen anxiety or nip it in the bud for the definitive moment. Of course, there’s no long-term solution other than the mastery of that which we easily devise and employ; but, that which is only for now.
Accept that peace and anxiety are possessions of the now. We may have one as much the other. Peace takes no more work. So why do we allow anxiety free reign?
Prayer for Practicing Peace
Father,
as I come before you,
help me accept my war,
to You Whom all is true,
give me peace now to explore.
AMEN.
Life is a war, but it’s not to physical death that the battle seeks to take us. It’s a war of attrition. Life’s purpose is not to wear us down. Its invitation is for us to reconcile the tensions and arise, acknowledging anxiety as the precursor to peace, for without the one we wouldn’t passionately seek out ways to attain the other.
What better way to address anxiety than look up into the skies and ponder possibilities.
***
We can only find peace within the eye of the storm. It’s the only place amid chaos that’s dead calm. It’s the place of the mind at the core of the heart. When chaos swarms and threatens to overthrow all rationality; where reasonability seems impossible.
In the storm, move toward the eye; the stillness within the fury; silence in the howl. That place is found in the absence of our mind. Experience through the senses.