Friday, October 31, 2008

A Momentary Lapse of Reason

It happens; a moment of cerebral dimness. You’re in a meeting at work and suddenly you’ve said something inappropriate or untimely or laughed at something that demonstrated poor character. You’re suddenly hyper-aware of it during the ensuing seconds; pangs of regret form immediately in the heart and little beads of sweat form on the brow--sure fire signs that you’re a physiological being suffering guilt of an ‘act unbecoming.’ It’s a momentary lapse of reason.

It’s at times like this that I’m reminded that I’m not perfect; that I slip up from time to time. How easy is it to be caught unawares? Perhaps the issue is also the fact that being Christian means I’m held up to a much higher standard of attitude and behaviour than the majority of my counterparts. Being what I call a ‘secularian’ now, and reluctantly so, I can’t help be around lots of people who are scantly spiritual; there’s a great rarity of humility in these circles, as people of undisciplined and even gross natures are brought into contact with the more refined. The lowest common denominator effect seems to generally play out, unfortunately.

Then I think about the reason God has me in secular life. There is a purpose in it even if I occasionally forget it and organise my own pity party in the midst of a slightly different type of momentary lapse of reason. There might just be a good reason I’m thrust into this worldly environment. I could be there to speak justice, righteousness and fairness into my working environment; to be salt and light as Jesus mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount.

The psalms are a great place for one feeling guilty. I immediately think of king David and Psalms 51 and 32 where he was crestfallen and bereft of soul in the former, yet how great an encouragement for the truly penitent is found in the latter. Then there is also Psalm 19:12-13 and 90:8 where even the hidden sins lie open and captive to our all-knowing God. Yet, these sins of restraint and lack of prudence highlight not hidden things but the cost to God’s glory in failing to grasp the opportunities.

Now, it must be said, it’s truly a blessing to know this form of guilt as I’ve mentioned above as it’s self-regulatory and surely part of the Holy Spirit’s refining role in and through our characters. And we can go to a passage like Philippians 3:13-14 where Paul admits he hadn’t yet taken hold of the prize Christ had for him. When he wrote the letter he had to be satisfied with ‘forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.’ James too talks about the person who ‘perseveres under trial.’ In 1:12 this person, though imperfect, receives the crown of life.

The truth is we can get altogether too despondent; we feel hopeless when we’ve blown it yet again; the only hope we have is to hold onto the vision we have of an all-forgiving God, who forgives absolutely. Isn’t it truly amazing to think that nothing we can do can separate us from God? Nothing we can do is that bad. He wants us to be resilient, bouncing back after atoning for these errors. We must keep looking forward by doing all we can to repair any damage, and then simply “keep moving forward” in the words of the late Walt Disney.

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

“The Four Freedoms” and You

Former US President Franklin D. Roosevelt (a.k.a. FDR) lived and served in tumultuous times, his life ending at the death throes of World War II in April 1945. He was held to say, “It is a very good thing to demand liberty for ourselves and for those who agree with us, but it is a better thing and a rarer thing to give liberty to others who do not agree with us.”

Freedom presumably meant something both tangible and intangible to FDR. We can read from his “four freedoms” on the FDR Memorial Wall that freedom came only with a high price tag. One can only shrink at the devastating costs of freedom in such a campaign as WWII. FDR’s four freedoms are:

Freedom of Speech

The quote of Roosevelt’s above testifies to the truth of this ideal in his own estimations. If only each side of any conflict would submit more to the other, offering liberty, reconciliation would be a far easier goal to attain. When we consider that the commonalities are what draws a man and a woman together before they marry, only for them to find out how different they really are post-marriage, we begin to realise, if this can happen to a married couple how divergent are 6.5 Billion people (from all cultures and walks of life) going to be? Tolerance, in one word, is the requirement for this freedom to have any chance of becoming reality.

Freedom of Worship

All religions seek converts. Christianity is no exception. There’s the temptation for all religions to want to put forth their unique views as superior to others. Perhaps the religion most worthy actually should seek to meet the ideals of FDR’s ‘liberty’ quote above. Freedom to worship is more than ‘my religion is better than yours,’ and it’s more than mere toleration. It is seeking to rise above anything negative, truly loving all ‘believers’--that is true spiritualism--it transcends the barriers and limitations of humanness.

Freedom from Want

Doesn’t every single life on this planet deserve basic food, water, sanitation, shelter, basic medical care, fellowship with other people, education, love, and joy? Yet the scales are continually out-of-balance in this broken world. One of the joyous ironies of the recent global financial meltdown was the perceived impact on Wall St ‘fat cats’ until we learned that it was Joe Public with a mortgage that was most affected. Most of us Westerners do not know the reality of this freedom; we take it for granted.

Freedom from Fear

Perhaps one of the most relevant freedoms is this one, barring the previous (i.e. freedom from want), for obvious reasons. Every single person deserves to live with hope for a good future and with love holding sway over the dangerous mindsets of fear. And those who cause fear should be crushed and brought to a swift repentance. God’s will be done and may freedom (as defined in the sentiment of Roosevelt) reign.

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Two Indispensible, Powerful Soul Traits - Purity and Courage

If there is one thing that epitomises Kevin Sheedy it is courage in the face of staunch, stubborn resistance. Not that this wily sixty-year-old is much tempted to submit to ill-feeling justice; he’s had far too much practice at bucking the system for real truth and often the underdog. But something is needed to temper the courage we ought to show, the courage that is altogether seemingly absent in the secular world today. Something must cool the intense heat of boldness and the all-guns-blazing approach. The answer I find is purity.

The biblical writer James is quick to point out the importance of purity; “the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure.” (James 3:17 NIV) In other words, proper wisdom, the sort that works and is based in the reality of truth, is absolutely set apart and holy. It has no biases and could easily be interchanged for ‘love.’ This sort of trait manifest in us brings about neutrality and distinguished deportment; ‘a noble reserve of bearing that cannot be mistaken.’ (A.W. Tozer)

This reminds me of an underlying and driving presence of epieikes, a Greek word used in the New Testament for courageous submission based in faith in God. The word translated “gentleness” (epieikes) “signifies a humble, patient stedfastness (sic), which is able to submit to injustice, disgrace, and maltreatment without hatred and malice, trusting God in spite of all of it.”[1] It is “a certain kind of willed, self-effacing [or modest] kindness.”[2]

What could we achieve with this combined frame of bearing--purity and courage? We’d love, as Eugene Peterson says in his Message paraphrase, “as if (our lives) depended on it--because (they do).” (1 Corinthians 14:1) We’d make sure we said that thing to someone--that thing that needs to be said; but it would be tempered in the purest sense of care and grace, and wouldn’t offend them. We’d also protect ourselves from thinking too minimalistically i.e. about ourselves rather than the broader landscape of life. (Acknowledging it takes courage to reject our own wants, desires, and needs for the greater good.)

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] Fritz Rienecker (orig.) & Cleon Rogers (trans.), Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1976), p. 560.
[2] Don A. Carson, Basics for Believers, (Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1995, 2004), p. 109.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Merging the Public Life with the Private

Ever hear of stories of respectable professional people who were leaders in their craft, and even effective leaders of people, yet when they were caught out as paedophiles, drug users or alcohol abusers, or wife bashers they almost instantly self-destructed? Once the closet door opened they were seen for what they actually were behind the thin veneer of their public persona.

The vast majority of us live slightly differently behind our closed doors (i.e. at home) as opposed to how we live in the very public world. I know in safety terms it is common for people to behave safely at work, but then almost totally disregard it at home--as if there was no chance of them suffering an injury whilst doing essentially the same activity. The same can be said for how we treat people in our private lives as compared to how we operate publicly. I mean, can you really say, if you’re a parent, that you treat your kids as courteously as you do your work colleagues? Do you treat absolute strangers better?

A wisdom activity is merging both lives, public with private. If we’re seen to be polite and politic, gentle and patient in public, why would we not operate this way with our families and closest friends? It’s the same with our vocations. If we truly love the work we do, it will carry into the private life and influence it for the better.

Rev. Tim Costello says that “the vocational commitment of a soul-searcher will be... transferrable... if we are genuine in our search, we cannot afford to be constrained by the rigid definition of a traditional role[1]... a soul-searcher’s reward is to see his or her work as a brush stroke in a broader picture.”[2] In other words, we ought to be so engaged in our work (as an extension of ourselves) that it has its own intrinsic rewards and we can move between, and not be constrained by, traditional roles. It’s also about having sufficient ownership in our work, but not to the expense of disregarding the overall picture--we are but part of a very big whole.

The main point I want to make is we have this one life and it should not be lived two, three or seven ways. We should passionately find what we want to do in this world and then do it in every form of life whether that’s in public or private. Our demeanour, energy, and passions should be consistent. What we’re known for publicly should ring true privately.

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] Tim Costello, Tips from a Travelling Soul-Searcher (St. Leonards, Sydney: Allen & Unwin), p. 59.
[2] Ibid, p. 78-9.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sam Sparro – “Black and Gold” - A Spiritual Interpretation

Sam Sparro’s Black and Gold is a bold, legible song all about truth. It asks the critical question… ‘Why this world and all things in it?’ If not God, if he’s not here, nothing actually matters.

In the first and second verses Sparro takes a dig at the evolutionist in my view. If evolution was a relevant life theory things would continue evolving; i.e. the failure for things to continue to evolve would bring this theory undone.

If the fish swam out of the ocean
and grew legs and they started walking
and the apes climbed down from the trees
and grew tall and they started talking
and the stars fell out of the sky
and my tears rolled into the ocean
now i'm looking for a reason why
you even set my world into motion
If Sparro is looking for a reason that God’s set his world in motion, he’s simply curious about what would make any normal, rational person, curious. Why are we here? I’ve been a Christian for quite some time now and apart from believing I’m here to mould my character toward Heaven, I still don’t know why… and may never know. The meaning of life, like so many things is very esoteric in my view. This does not cause me to lose hope. On the contrary, I am full of hope that I can do so much good in God’s name whilst I’m here: that’s my purpose.
'cause if you're not really here
then the stars don't even matter
now i'm filled to the top with fear
but it's all just a bunch of matter
'cause if you're not really here
then i don't want to be either
i wanna be next to you
black and gold
black and gold
black and gold
i looked up into the night sky
and see a thousand eyes staring back
and all around these golden beacons
i see nothing but black
Black and Gold is about space; golden beacons shining forth on that ‘black’ background of nothingness. When we have a good look some time at the starry night sky, we can’t help but notice how very big the universe is and how commensurately small we are; it’s the biggest dichotomy.
i feel a way of something beyond them
i don't see what i can feel
if vision is the only validation
then most of my life isn't real
Anyone half spiritual knows that not everything visible is real. We can see fear in a person, yet what they respond to is not necessarily real; it’s only ‘real’ for them.
'cause if you're not really here
then the stars don't even matter
now i'm filled to the top with fear
but it's all just a bunch of matter
'cause if you're not really here
then i don't want to be either
i wanna be next to you
black and gold
black and gold
black and gold
Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
I was inspired to look into these lyrics from a spiritual viewpoint from the insightful reflections provided of my daughter. Isn't it great how young people can teach older people?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Beating Stress At Work

Occupational stress is becoming an increasing problem and the links between workplace and familial stressors, health and productivity are becoming better recognised. Whilst it is normal for us all to feel pressure from time to time at work, if this pressure exceeds our ability to cope, or we don’t have the social support, and the state of distress continues for a long period, we can easily become ill and suffer health effects as a result. There will also be impacts at the organisational level.

It is acknowledged nowadays that there are two key health affects from excessive distress:

1. direct effects on autonomic responses and neuroendocrine pathways, featuring two thirds of the problem, and

2. indirect behavioural impacts of stress like poorer diet, less exercise and excessive drinking, featuring one third the problem.

Acute Stress Responses

People are affected by stress in one of three ways:

Psychologically – like when bullying or harassment are issues, our thinking is affected. This is a direct avenue to illness if it is not handled properly. Psychological impacts include depression, anxiety disorders and the like.

Physiologically – our bodily responses at the cellular, tissue and organ level happen without our control, and many times this is linked with psychological antecedents toward psychosomatic (mind-body) signs and symptoms; another direct avenue to illness, for example, elevated heart rates and blood pressure leading to hypertension and coronary heart disease.

Behaviourally – when people are not comfortable with their lives they tend to go off track; routine health behaviours take a slide as people compensate with more of this and less of that. Comfort eating and binge drinking are common.

A Model for “Job Stress and Organisation Impact” was presented by Professor Niki Ellis of the University of Queensland at a recent conference. This ‘stressbuster,’ a foremost occupational safety and health physician, spoke how eleven (11) important occupational considerations or stressors relating to 1) the way work is organised, and 2) the way work is managed determine the “health” of work systems’ efficacy regarding stress.

These job stressors lead to acute stress responses (mentioned above) and lead subsequently to 1) organisational impacts and 2) illness. Factors impacting this causation flow include:

- Individual factors like personality and stage of the person’s career development

- Non-work factors like finances and family/marital dynamics

- Buffer factors (mentioned above) like coping abilities and level of social support

These factors above are the difference from one individual’s response to the next. One can imagine a sliding scale regarding these three (3) important inputs. Someone who’s got a strong, resilient personality and is not particularly pressed in adjusting to their present career development situation, and has good family support and little financial pressure is less likely to succumb to an acute stress response and therefore the risks of organisational impacts and the likelihood of illness will be lessened.

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

The History of “Teenagers”

We don’t tend to think in terms these days of anything other than a stage of life called ‘the teen years,’ thought it appears that at least some of the population choose to refuse teens their unique role in today’s society--that they actually are different.

I was flicking through Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages of Teenagers recently when it walked right into a short history of the term ‘teenager’ and how this phase of life actually came about. Prior to the Great Depression in the 1930s there was no opportunity for people of teen ages to act like teenagers--they would usually end up very quickly in the workforce with the industrial revolution in full swing. With the huge unemployment teens suddenly found themselves redundant to society.

US President Roosevelt engineered the National Youth Administration (NYA) and finishing high school suddenly became the reality for the majority of kids who would’ve otherwise gone straight to work. The public high school “created the social setting for developing a separate ‘teenage culture.’”[1] This culture has been part of Western society ever since and probably always will be.

The ‘public identity’ of teens became, for the first time, something completely different to the “family life and adult responsibilities,” which was the traditional way. Music, dancing and fun were soon on the radar and a language and fashion their very own emerged. Most of our grandfathers and grandmothers were exposed to the very same sort of culture that our teens are today!

There have been many authority figures who’ve advised parents to ‘immunise’ their teen children from the teen culture; it seems that some immunisation is a good idea but cautioned exposure should be a good thing. I’m unsure whether wrapping kids up in cotton wool is a good idea. It’s good to encourage them and train them to think for themselves around the natural consequences for their actions.

Teens are different. Isn’t it good that they challenge conventional ideals? The truth should be able to stand for itself, and adults ought to be able to respond to barbs and rebellion in mature ways. Parenting teens is hard work and anyone venturing into this territory should heed the fact that teens will test the most mature of parents and guardians. The best advice is to ‘get equipped’ to do the job the best we can. Knowledge is power. Chapman’s book is an excellent start.

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

[1] Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages of Teenagers, (Chicago, Illinois: Northfield Publishing, 2000), p. 254.

Not Flying, But Falling With Style

During the 1995 animated classic, Toy Story, Woody the cowboy action figure says to Buzz Lightyear, the intergalactic space ranger superhero, “Buzz, you’re flying,” having already established that he was simply an action figure like himself. Buzz replies, “This isn’t flying. It’s falling with style.” Earlier in the movie, before they recognise they’ve got common goals, Woody uses this same phrase to ridicule Buzz’ assertion that he can actually fly.

Buzz says this with such strength; he’s both aware that he can’t fly yet he’s taking advantage of the opportunity to do just that, negotiating the flight as he goes.

‘Falling with style’ could be, for us, the act of doing something successfully we thought previously we couldn’t do. It’s the achievement of any stretch goal that might appear beforehand somewhat beyond us. This is why I love these animated classics--they can fire the imagination and inspire us to achieve. What are your goals:

To be a better husband or wife or father, mother, son or daughter?

To be a more loyal and effective employee?

To lose weight, get healthier or get toned?

To be more spiritual?

Whatever the goal is, and no matter how many times we’ve failed in reaching it in the past, today is significant in that today holds as a fresh and unique opportunity to reach one step closer to the realisation of the precious goal.

Falling with style is a way of getting there; when we don’t know how to fly but we have a perfect intent on our side. We can take heart from the Toy Story epic and achieve our dreams if we’re prepared to take some genuine risks relating to having that pinch of faith in ourselves. The Buzz Lightyear character also reminds us to accept the situations and realities with which we find ourselves, and to make the most of these.

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

A Wheel Of Wisdom: A Philosophy For Life

As a muser about life, I have attempted yet again to formularise it. I know this is quite a forlorn prospect as it attempts to grasp something that can’t be grasped in its totality by mere words or symbols. Yet again, however, I’ve tried. This ‘Wheel of Wisdom’ as I will call it, does however present a legitimate aspect or perspective or way of looking at life.

The basic construction:

We have a couple of circles enclosing essentially three triangles, but its initial appearance reveals a circle enclosing a single triangle. There is much spiritual symbolism here. The circle comprises life and its ongoing nature through the realm of time. It continues to evolve and re-create itself though we perish. Spiritually, however, we continue to live as this circle demonstrates. The three sides to the triangle are parts of life. We can see them as ‘recovery-unity-service’ as those in Alcoholics Anonymous or other 12-step recovery programs might. Equally, from a Christian viewpoint, we could see these sides representing a ‘Father-Son-Holy Spirit’ Holy Trinity picture. (Actually, the former AA symbolism of ‘recovery-unity-service’ is Christian; recovery from sin; unity of fellowship in the church; service as ministry to the church and beyond as mission to the world.)

Working from within then:

Wisdom is the very centre of the construction. It is the output and the outcome. There are a number of determinants, however, that bring fruition to wisdom; that make it relevant:

Life Strategies:

Resilience – we cannot survive in life without a growing, burgeoning level of resilience to meet and grow from life challenges. What swallows us defeats us. I suggest that the two principal values of diligence and trust are required to bolster resilience. We must first diligently hold onto situations, whilst showing trust (faithfulness and courage), for resilience to work.

Relationships – these are keys to life. We cannot survive or thrive without relationships. It is pure and simple. Two principal values that make relationships work (among others) are shalom and balance. We must have peace in our relationships for them to work and we must make time for relationships and order them in the schemes that are our lives. Certainly there must be trust and respect, and diligence and prudence in them too, but it is shalom and balance that come to the fore most of all; we must be comfortable with people to want to relate, and to do it successfully at that.

Sacrifice – our lives will never truly go well until we learn the skill of sacrifice. This is a ‘heart’ thing; we sacrifice because we want to and because it feels right; it is voluntary. The two key principal values most relevant here are prudence and respect. Prudence because wise and appropriate sacrifice requires shrewdness and respect because it sees itself as no more important than the other person. Together, prudence and respect guide and ‘carry’ sacrifice.

Simplify-Focus-Overcome: A Life Resolution

Working anti-clockwise within the inner circle these headings come to the fore. If we simplify our lives at key junctures we gain perspective and we get to keep the whole. Again, focus is about confining ourselves to the important things; it’s limiting our thoughts and actions to those that are appropriate and relevant, discarding things that are transitory and wasteful, for instance. To overcome is a key life outcome. We must be overcomers to succeed in life.

There is relevance to the positioning of these three: we must desire simplification of our lives in order to be able to sacrifice; to relate well we must have focus; to overcome we must have resilience.

The Circle of Life:

Four key things are shown here. Two are life metaphors and two are involved in the cause and effect nature of life.

Living Sacrifice – to be a living sacrifice means daily giving of oneself to others or to Another in order to meet needs and wants that are not our own.

Exemplar of Maturity – this simply means to be a model of Adult maturity; that is consistently responsible, reasonable, rational, reliable, and logical. Consistency is the key.

Cause and Effect: “Preparation for Opportunity”

We fail because we do not recognise or respond well to opportunity. This is the point of wisdom; we are getting close to wisdom as an outcome--the pointy end. Wisdom is all about preparation for the key opportunities, every opportunity in fact. All of the above descriptors are about preparation for opportunity.

This ‘wheel’ is a neat (albeit, not all-encompassing) paradigm for approaching wisdom.

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

A Wheel Of Wisdom: Graphical Representation

Friday, October 24, 2008

Kevin Sheedy On Leadership, Teamwork And Consultation

Why did it take 2,000 years for humankind to invent wheels on suitcases? It’s because people are like that. As people, we miss opportunities to make improvements all the time; for Kevin Sheedy, this is one way to describe the act of leadership: it’s making things better, resisting the very human default drive to be staid in our thinking.

We’re typically “slow to take up leadership opportunities… slow to think quickly.” At meetings, Sheedy sees people behaving negatively (i.e. in his terms, slow in thinking) and metaphorically ‘straps his pads on and reaches for his bat,’ to use cricketing imagery.

His loving disdain for typical executive structures and their ‘sameness’ in any field of life releases him to debate with fervour any reticence and negativity to the new idea. He thrives on the challenge with a glint in the eye.

Name any innovation to have hit the Australian Football League in the past 25 years and you can bet Kevin Sheedy’s had some involvement, and generally he’s been the instigator; from the birth of indigenous recruitment to women in footy to the recruitment and training of fulltime AFL coaches to the overseas AFL promotional machine to the Anzac Day Blockbuster… Sheed’s has been there and paved the way.

Leadership snippets:

- Leadership is about thankfulness and invitation; see the opportunities and seize them!

- A simple idea… creatively acted upon, that’s leadership.

- Leadership is not about how I feel, it’s about how “they” feel.

- It’s trying… you might not get your idea across but you should put it up; that’s leadership.

- On the job… on the ground—making things better; that’s leadership.

- When things are going wrong, everyone starts looking out for themselves; except the leader—they continue thinking innovatively.

- Leaders make decisions.
Finally, leaders “chase knowledge and share it.”

World Financial Crisis – What It’s Telling You

As we look around us, in this present hour, we see people about us whom we’d normally expect to provide leadership at the highest (financial) level crumbling at the sight of circumstances bringing the Westernised market-economy society to its knees. It almost does not appear real and the universal impacts certainly do not bear thinking about. What has brought us to the brink of a worldwide recession? Violent swings in both directions on the money markets over the past few weeks have left us in turmoil and uncertainty sweeps the globe.

What does it mean for us? We inevitably face this question, thinking of the personal, familial and community impact of such times; most often we think in terms of unemployment which is set rise markedly, investments which may be threatened, inflation skyrocketing, or suicide rates climbing due to lower premiums on life during these quite frantic times. There is an unfortunate “human” problem approaching. Our safety and security is under threat.

I heard an analyst say that part of the problem was “opportunism based on either greed or fear” and was much to blame for our uncertain, rocky markets. I thought from a spiritual context this is saying something of the times that we should stand up and listen to. Certainly world leaders are responding, but will their response be effective enough?

There is a biblical rationale here; one little verse of Pauline Scripture that highlights the awful human plight of self-sin... the base reason for the present predicament is the short-sighted greed of humanity. Instead, we are implored at this present moment to align with the following text:

“Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” –Philippians 4:5 NIV. Another version has it, “Let all men know and perceive and recognize your unselfishness (your considerateness, your forbearing spirit). The Lord is near [He is coming soon].” (Amplified)

The word translated “gentleness” (epieikes) “signifies a humble, patient stedfastness (sic), which is able to submit to injustice, disgrace, and maltreatment without hatred and malice, trusting God in spite of all of it.”[1] It is “a certain kind of willed, self-effacing [or modest] kindness.”[2] This quality is missing in today’s turmoil; it is at least barely visible and must be restored.

We’re supposedly driven to epieikes because the frightening thing is ‘God is near.’ His judgment on all us awaits (based on the selfishness of the few) and it does not look pretty. Despite this fact of God’s proximity, we’ve (humankind I mean) stepped away from the spiritual ideal toward greed; the greed of a few has brought many to judgment.

Certainly world leaders must restore this epieikes (i.e. gentleness, forbearance, selflessness) to society; to markets, to whole communities. Trust must be restored that every person is not out there for themselves and that there are broader human objectives at stake. Risks are not to be taken in the name of greed, but in the name of salvific action, courageously sacrificing now for a better tomorrow.

There is a lot more at stake here than money markets; the future of Western civilisation is dependent on it. This situation calls for strong leadership and a coordinated, highly accountable international response of universal cooperation akin to the outpouring of love we saw during the aftermath of the Boxing Day 2004 tsunami. We must be taken beyond our typical human condition, setting aside pathetic, transitory personal agendas for the greater good. This must start with me and you. We must be prepared and willing to accept some collective short term pain to get out of this mess.

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

[1] Fritz Rienecker (orig.) & Cleon Rogers (trans.), Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1976), p. 560.
[2] Don A. Carson, Basics for Believers, (Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1995, 2004), p. 109.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

You’re About As Happy As You Choose To Be

The following two quotes appear on consecutive days in my FranklinCovey planner and struck me as incredibly lucid reminders of our chosen mindset though we’re apt at forgetting:

“Most of us are just about as happy as we make up our minds to be.” –Abraham Lincoln.

“Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours.” –Richard Bach.

And one more...

“It is easy to get everything you want, provided you first learn to do without the things you cannot get.” –Elbert Hubbard.

Choice is a word that can’t be overstated. Yet we tire of old truths that never change. They seem to bore us. We make a goal to choose to be happy, for instance, and we do so well for a few weeks and then little by little we forget and have a day or two, or week, where it’s all to no avail; then we start from scratch.

When we’re discontented over our lives or what we have or the roles we have or the roles others play in our lives, we ought to remember that we still have a choice; to be content or to be discontent.

Philip Greenslade[1] calls this phenomenon of contentment “the secret of adequacy,” seemingly calling forth the Elbert Hubbard quote above. He cites Horatio Spafford, who after losing four daughters tragically at sea, wrote the famous hymn, It is well with my soul. Whatever his lot, Spafford had learned a contentment beyond reason. Greenslade goes on to cite yet another story; that of Clark Poling who willingly gave his life belt to a fellow sailor aboard their sinking ship in World War II. Poling’s prayer to his parents, written in a letter, was:

“I know I shall have your prayers; but please, don’t pray simply that God will keep me safe. War is dangerous business. Pray that God will make me adequate.” [2]

Happiness really does lie in our own hands. Perhaps as the Apostle Paul mentioned in his letter to the Philippians, our goal should be to end up in this position: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (Philippians 4:11 NIV) He follows this with, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13 NIV).

And who is this “him” that Paul draws his contentment from? How can a person give someone contentment? It’s true; the person of Jesus Christ and his Spirit can give contentment like no other. Imagine being able to be contended no matter the circumstances. Choice for happiness comes down to allegiance. We choose Christ and he can create this within us, if we are willing.

Like Paul, Spafford, and Poling, we too can live this life of un-reason-able contentment.

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

[1] Philip Greenslade, Rejoice: The King Is Lord: Cover-to-Cover Bible Discovery (Farnham, Surrey, England: Crusade for World Recovery, 2003), p. 119.
[2] Philip Greenslade, Ibid, p. 119.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What Exactly Is Spirituality?

It’s amazing the questions that are posed during a work meeting, especially with one’s manager-once-removed! A cup of coffee and a coaching/mentoring session can dredge up almost anything, which is part of the beauty of taking time out to simply ‘relate’; a luxury not often afforded busy ‘secularians’. At the end of the session, walking back to the workplace, knowing my penchant for things spiritual, the question came: ‘So, what exactly is spirituality?’

I found it strangely difficult to answer this question, but seeing the rare opportunity I had to seize it, like a seagull on a chip. Here are some of my own reflections on the answer to such a broad question. Spirituality is:

- Looking at life through the guise of your death--a platform for joy and thankfulness at the very least;

- The opposite of materialism--we can’t see it or own it;

- The mind offering therapy to the heart and vice versa—in psychology circles this would be explained as ‘thinking us into acting differently’ or ‘acting us into thinking differently’;

- Eternal and ongoing as the material is temporary and fleeting;

- Our inner world--the speaking of our souls;

- Knowing we’re sinners and knowing we need a Saviour i.e. that we need God’s forgiveness and grace to experience the full life.

According to Dorothy M. Neddermeyer, PhD, “Spirituality is the God related science of developing or freeing the God made innermost being”.[1] I’m inclined to agree--it’s the sanctifying and possible saving of the soul through self-God-revelation. The Free Dictionary has it as the “Preoccupation with what concerns human inner nature (especially ethical or ideological values) ‘Socrates’ inwardness, integrity, and inquisitiveness’” –H.R. Finch.

Perhaps the spiritual can be described as heaven, and the material, hell. “In Heaven all is bliss, in Hell all misery. On earth, between the two, both one thing and the other. We stand between the two extremes [on earth], and therefore share both [whilst we remain here].” –Balthasar Gracian.

At the end of the day those who cannot ‘get’ spirituality are like the person Paul wrote to the Corinthians about: “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” -1 Corinthians 2:14 (NIV).

Why do people reject God? Is it fear of submission, or spiritual blindness, or pure greed? From a spiritual person, I sense genuine sorrow in my heart for people who have not yet found peace with their real self spiritually. The ‘trick’ of true spirituality is this: Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” –Mark 8:34-35 (NIV).

The great paradox of the gospel is we must be prepared to lose our life to save it. This is what it means to be a ‘living sacrifice’. This is the essence of true spirituality. It’s beyond altruism.

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

[1] Neddermeyer, D. M. (2007, January 25). Spirituality and Spiritual-Definition. Retrieved October 21, 2008, from

"A noble reserve of bearing that cannot be mistaken" means…

"A constant and inherently noticeable outward manifestation of personality and attitude possessing outstanding or regal qualities with regard to superiority of mind, character, ideals and morals with sufficient held in reserve (retained or held over or set aside or set apart) to reinforce the constancy of its capacity and value."

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Inspiration drawn regarding this vision of character is from a quote of A.W. Tozer's.

1 a: possessing outstanding qualities :
b: famous , notable 2: of high birth or exalted rank : aristocratic3 a: possessing very high or excellent qualities or properties b: very good or excellent4: grand or impressive especially in appearance 5: possessing, characterized by, or arising from superiority of mind or character or of ideals or morals : lofty 6: chemically inert or inactive especially toward oxygen — compare base 6a

1 a: to hold in reserve : keep back b: to set aside (part of the consecrated elements) at the Eucharist for future use c: to retain or hold over to a future time or place :
defer d: to make legal reservation of2: to set or have set aside or apart

1: the manner in which one bears or comports oneself 2 a: the act, power, or time of bringing forth offspring or fruit b: a product of bearing :
crop3 a: an object, surface, or point that supports b: a machine part in which another part (as a journal or pin) turns or slides4: a figure borne on a heraldic field5: pressure , thrust6 a: the situation or horizontal direction of one point with respect to another or to the compass b: a determination of position cplural : comprehension of one's position, environment, or situation d: relation , connection ; also : purport7: the part of a structural member that rests on its supports

, deportment , demeanor , mien , manner , carriage mean the outward manifestation of personality or attitude. bearing is the most general of these words but now usually implies characteristic posture .
suggests actions or behavior as formed by breeding or training . demeanor suggests one's attitude toward others as expressed in outward behavior . mien is a literary term referring both to bearing and demeanor . manner implies characteristic or customary way of moving and gesturing and addressing others . carriage applies chiefly to habitual posture in standing or walking .

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Managing The Moment: Endure And Enjoy

How frequently do we lose control of a situation and only realise it when it’s too late? Regrettable actions highlight the tremendous value of managing the moment. We all have our weaknesses when it comes to being present and reacting to life stimuli adequately and appropriately.

There are at least three (3) reflections in this sort of discussion:

1. Opportunities to make wise choices each moment

Choice. Everything we do bar dying is a choice. As we traverse the moments of each day we have fresh opportunities to respond in one of many different ways. Making the most of our opportunities is a wisdom activity. This takes knowledge, awareness, diligence, discipline, and prudence.

2. Endure the tough moments

Though they might appear longer than a moment, most of our tougher times in life (most, not all) are little more than a moment in all reality. They might last a few minutes, or an hour or two; a day or so at most. If only we’d have the foresight at the time to simply endure it. From this viewpoint we have a choice. Either we endure the tough moment and enjoy reflecting on our wise act later, or we submit to the situation and regret later not acting more appropriately.

3. Enjoy each moment

When it boils down to it, life is to be enjoyed the best we can. Certainly, some of life must simply be endured, but most of life can be enjoyed. It bodes us well to approach life positively. Again, it’s a choice.

Our lives in totality are not much more than a series of moments; one moment followed by the next, and the next, and so on. Sure, we sleep in between, and we engage in other ‘maintenance’ activities too, but we have only so many of these moments, then it’s all over!

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Strengthening Our Weakness

We all suffer crises of the heart or constitution or resolve. Then we find ourselves entering our weakness. Periodically we’re singled out for testing and re-proving; this to me seems to be a fact of life for every person. The following aphorism by Balthasar Gracian makes clear sense but I have broken it up into chunks in quotation marks to further explore, ‘How we overcome perplexing difficulties in life?’

“In great crises there is no better companion than a bold heart, and if it becomes weak it must be strengthened from the neighbouring parts.”

We know it to be nothing short of miraculously inspiring when we conquer difficulties with a bold heart. When we’re not so bold, awareness and decisiveness seem to be the keys. My own reasoning suggests the only ‘neighbouring part’ that might assist the heart during weaker times is the mind; but that the mind might also facilitate other parts. The mind can be helpful because it can be grown strong, decisive, and wilfully patient. Decisiveness, other than awareness, is the big issue here.

“Worries die away before a person who asserts themselves.”

Here is a sharp and poignant lesson: Never again should we not assert ourselves. Fear, anxiety and worry all evaporate in the sight of faith--the courage of faith to act beyond what is seen in the here and now. Now it’s a matter of training in same. We must repetitively remind, train, even ‘brainwash’ ourselves to respond with assertion and faith as much as we can when we’re confounded with difficulty. As Oswald Chambers said, and I love to quote, “If there is no strain, there is no strength.” We cannot overcome if we don’t try.

“One must not surrender to misfortune [losing hope], or else it would become intolerable.”

What carries on from this is obvious. A sinkhole effect is produced. Simply put, we go down the gurgler. Once we have lost hope our very essence is removed and all meaning disappears. We’re forlorn and embanked with sorrow at the soul level. Surrendering to the situation is clearly the wrong thing to do, tactically.

Enter the paradox...

We should surrender however, but... We should surrender only to one thing--the being and will of God; for his grace and strength is more than enough for us. People who know the Holy Spirit and know how to tap into this enormous energy reservoir can do the most miraculous things (with very limited resources) in the name of their God.

“Many people do not help themselves in their troubles, and double their weight by not knowing how to bear them.”

Bearing under something takes me directly to the ancient meaning of the equivalent word for patience in Greek. Sometimes what helps is getting out of the way. If we add our own negative perceptions or lack of patience to the problems at hand we make life even harder. Patient endurance is the answer. If we endure the present moment we will live to laugh about it, not regretting our actions, wasted thought or energy.

“The person that knows themself knows how to strengthen his or her weakness, and the wise person conquers everything, even the stars in their courses.”

Nothing stands in the way of the person who can (and has) readily strengthened their weakness. And to do this, one must have been courageous enough to get to know their true self intimately, being honest about the faults they saw. This is no small step. It cannot be understated. It’s a journey all must take, alone. It takes us a significant portion of courage to bear with the true picture that is “me, and what is my weakness”. We don’t like to see it. It takes courage to get there and not run away and simply deal with it.

Once we commit to identifying and addressing or strengthening our weaknesses, one at a time, we can grow as persons. That is obvious; though how many people grasp the opportunities? Do you? Will you?

Quotes modified to provide gender inclusivity.

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Coaching Leadership Style

Imagine this scenario. You go to your manager or supervisor at work because you have a problem. This is no ordinary day-to-day sort of problem. You go there for his or her help because it’s perplexing. You get one of two responses. The first is a ‘pat’ response suggesting a course of action and so you leave very quickly with ‘the answer’; the second response is a querying interaction where your supervisor listens to understand then asks some thought-provoking, challenging, probing questions. You leave challenged even perhaps a little uncomfortable.

Given the choice, how would you rather be led in the workplace? To be told what to do as per the first response or to be asked what we should do as per the second? The coaching leadership style is characterised by the second method of asking and is much more akin to contemporary leadership. The former method is a more directive style, and is not favoured for a bunch of reasons, mainly because it is a form of telling.

Coaching: Problem Solver or Merely Helper?

The coaching style of leadership helps people solve their own problems through astute and targeted questions, driving them to push themselves regarding 1) motivation, and 2) direction as most problems emanate from poor prioritisation, lethargy or procrastination, or from a lack of insight or creativity.

Telling Usually Doesn’t Work

It’s quite often linked with simplistic answers to complex problems. Most mature adults (and younger people for that matter) appreciate a more affiliative or collaborative approach. The very nature of coaching is asking more and more targeted questions the longer the interaction goes; the coach must therefore achieve understanding before he or she can help the person being coached.

Coaching Challenges Sensitive Issues In Safe Ways

For the leader who coaches there are less issues of courage required. Sure, the questions we might ask might perhaps skate the thin ice and probe issues that are difficult to discuss, but whilst we have a questioning mindset and approach the employee can’t really feel intruded upon. Therefore, sensitive issues can be approached from a position of relative safety.
A Threat With The More Directive Style Of Leadership

One of the threats with direct leadership is the response we get if we give an untenable answer; consider that it is easy to get it wrong if we don’t understand the core issues. We won’t have helped the person who came to us; they could leave even more frustrated.

The coaching leadership style is perhaps best for the fact that it assists without taking any of the ownership of the problem. There’s no better outcome in leadership than for the subordinate to come up with their own answers. That’s an inspiring outcome. They will love us for it!

Think about this. How many genuine coaching styled leaders have you seen? And how good are your coaching/questioning skills? Remember that in some respects, skill equals application. What we use we develop.

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Relationship Makers: Take Your Time

There are fewer more enjoyable things in life than mixing with people and forming positive, rich relationships. These are the very things that we’ll look back on at the end of a long life--it’s not the things we’ll have accumulated, but the ties with people that we’ve made that will characterise our lives and provide meaning.

The thing that often gets in the way of real relationships is time. Time pressure, whether it is real or self-imposed, robs people and relational situations of their potential. These below are three impacts when time pressure is the key driver in the lives of people:

We don’t listen

In computer terms, Random Access Memory or RAM is taken up processing information; the more information to process, the slower the computer goes. When things weigh us down time wise our mental capacity is taken up in our own world and we have less to ‘memory’ to invest in the world of another person--this is the primary objective of listening--to enter the other person’s world. We simply can’t listen very effectively with stuff on our minds.

We don’t think

With so much on, people’s mental focus is usually quick to desert them. When we can’t focus and concentrate in the moment we don’t stand much of a chance having an authentic exchange with another person.

We don’t report accurately

When the pressure’s on, plastic platitudes and clich├ęs are the order of the day as there’s not enough time to have an authentic conversation. When we are under pressure we’re less likely to risk honesty with people and we’re less likely to stick to the script.

Now, it’s crucial to be able to report accurately, especially in business and work life; so why do we load people up so much? And why do people load themselves up so much?

Divergent priorities and busyness are chief reasons for not having time for people and relationships, whether they are formal friendships or casual friendly ‘hallway’ interactions which are just as important. When we are too busy we can’t listen very well, we struggle to think efficiently, and we don’t communicate as truthfully as we potentially could.

There’s no substitute for time in forging relationships. Taking our time is a vital life choice. The promises of busyness never bear fruit in the longer run.

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

2 Effective Listening And Influencing Skills

There are piles of effective listening courses and books available; a myriad of information and resources on the subject, yet there are very few shining examples of how to do it well. And there are several reasons for this disparity. One of the chief reasons is the lack of relational rapport or credibility, with people trying to influence change from a very poor position. No wonder there’s scant success. Here below are two very simple and effective ways you can achieve huge influence:

Listening requires sacrifice

There’s no way around it; listening means putting our needs to one side for long enough to fully understand the other person. This has the additional benefit that the person we listen to can actually sense our authenticity as we listen intently. Stephen R. Covey said, “What happens when you truly listen to another person? The whole relationship is transformed.”[1] It’s a genuine empathy we’re trying to achieve--actually seeing the world from their eyes and unique viewpoint.

Genuine effective listening can only become a skill with lots of practise, determination, and focus. Improvement doesn’t come without much time invested for it to develop, so we need to be patient with ourselves. It takes several months if not years to notice improvement, but it is worth the hard work. People love to be listened to and understood, period.

Try Going “One Down”

Influencing people is made quite easy when we’re focused on seeking their help. In this way we’re going to them ‘cap in hand’ and deliberately taking the ‘underling’ role. This again means being genuine and authentic. Faking our need of someone, or being anything less than genuine, will be seen through instantly and will render our efforts to influence the person null and void. People love to be needed. It’s amazing what we can achieve with some humility. This is the essence of the leadership paradox.

When we try exercising some vulnerability it’s very heartening to see people respond and actually want to help us. Making mistakes is fine; we can even share our weaknesses with others without feeling ashamed. People want to help when they see us as we really are.

There is no substitute for authenticity. Simply, be real.

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

[1] Stephen R. Covey, Seven Habits Revisited: Seven Unique Human Endowments, November 1991.

The Meaning Of Despair Within The Realm of Fear And Anxiety – 101

Anxiety is a state in which a being is aware of its possible non-being.

So, what is being? Answer: all we do, all we are, all we’re to become and plan to become.

Fear is placed on an object – there is an object of fear – very tangible. Love can conquer the known.

Anxiety – its object is the negation of every object.

Despair is the ultimate or “boundary-line” situation.

The pain of despair is that a being is aware of itself as unable to affirm itself because of the power of non-being.

It wants to get rid of itself—and it cannot!

In view of this character of despair it is understandable that all human life can be interpreted as a continuous attempt to avoid despair … this is mostly successful.

The COMMON DENOMINATOR of all theories on anxiety…

Anxiety is the awareness of unresolved conflicts between structural elements of the personality. (The tension between drives, perception and experience.)

Courage does not remove anxiety…

Since anxiety is existential, it cannot be removed but courage takes the anxiety of non-being into itself.

Courage is self-affirmation “in spite of,” namely in spite of being.

He who acts courageously takes, in his self-affirmation, the anxiety of non-being upon himself. INTO and UPON are metaphorical.

Anxiety turns us toward courage… because the other alternative is despair.

Courage resists despair by taking anxiety into itself.

The antithesis of courage is Neurosis, which is the way of avoiding non-being by avoiding being.

He who is NOT capable of a powerful self-affirmation in spite of the anxiety of non-being is forced into a weak, reduced self-affirmation.

… he affirms something which is less than his essential or potential being!

Reference: Paul Tillich, The Courage To Be, 1952.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

How To End That Marriage Of Yours...

“High maintenance!” Rod barked, as he told me all about his former partner of a decade or more. “I just got to the point of realising that women aren't worth the amount of work and upkeep required,” he continued, bitterly, though in a calmly resolute and philosophical fashion. Rod has three teen-aged children to his former defacto spouse (Denise) and they’ve been separated for five years now. He says the kids have rebounded very well and life’s never been better for him. Life is “simpler.” Denise, however, has since married again and then divorced, and is now in his words, ‘broke.’ She has her problems in his view. He doesn't listen sympathetically... he tries to stay out of her business. I get the impression he chuckles within himself whenever she is proven to struggle; perhaps his sentiment is, ‘She brought it all on herself.’ After all, she initiated the break-up in the first place.

I asked him how he’d adjusted, and how he coped with the separation; I listened intently myself, interested to see how other men have dealt with a similar situation that I’ve had to deal with. “I had to harden up,” Rod said. “I was lucky, very lucky, that I had some guys to guide me who’d been stung badly (financially) and that wasn’t going to happen to me... they advised me to get a good lawyer... I don't think a lot of women realise how much work it takes to give yourself to a business and to work hard and the sacrifices it takes... when it came to having lots of legal stuff chucked at me I was quick to engage the best lawyers to give her a fight she asked for... she didn't see it coming... and it cost me $40,000, but I won much of what I fought for.”

Rod feels convinced that he responded in the best way, and perhaps in his mind, the only way. His angle was ‘don't get mad, get even.’ One truly wonders, however, if this way is really the best way.

I wonder who the winners are from this situation; and perhaps the best way to define the winners from a situation like this would be to identify the losers.

Well, the winners could not be any of the family in question; for starters, Rod probably has never dealt with the emotions of the event, and the emotional consequences for his family, having focused whatever emotional investment on his legal action and ongoing tacit resistance toward his former partner. Now he’s missed the boat to deal with it. Instead of choosing to get better, he got bitter. His defacto spouse has not achieved anything of what she hoped to achieve by the sounds of it; she is no closer now to being loved in the way she’s always wanted to be loved than when she was with Rod. The children could not be winners either. No matter how you look at it the family did not win. They all lost.

So, who won? Well, the lawyers got a healthy sum didn’t they. Are they winners though? Did they advance their profession, or did they advise vexatiously? What about Rod’s ‘trusted advisers?’ Did they help him? Finally, what happens when children see their parents at war with one another? Do they see role models of how to ‘do life’ in marital relationships?

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

When Life Is... “I just don’t want to wake up anymore”

“Sometimes we have to get lost to find ourselves.” –Stressed Out: Australia’s The Place To Be campaign.

We seem to live in ways--in our existence--as if we were never not here. Then when we are stricken with the searing pain of loss we suddenly realise life is not quite like we’re used to. It’s raw, dirty, and even too real, if that could be said. This is what the Lapthorne’s will have experienced; something quite unreal and tortuous, yet it is very, very real--it’s a reality that could come to any one of us. It’s a reality that punctuates life making it almost realer than real. Certainly, this sort of reality would seem almost too hard to bear.

If you’ve never lived through a time in your life when you didn’t want to wake up anymore to face the ongoing nightmare that was (or is...) your life, you might be truly fortunate on the one hand, but on the other hand it could be said that you’ve not truly lived yet. Having survived one of these times, which in essence lasted a few months--though not years--as is the case for some, I can attest to the fact that it opened me up to how raw and painful life can be.

Life like this is still life, however. For everyone around us, life is normal. It only appears abnormal for us whilst we’re in this state of raw suffering.

The fact is many of us never really find the real “us” until something urgent and searching hits. Not that it needs to be this way. But it’s human nature to run with the rub of the good life; no one welcomes testing times with open arms.

The reality is these times can come at any time and they never come with warning. Death, or the threat of death, is the key event driving a lot of our pain, whether it is our own death, or perhaps worse still, the death of a loved one like a spouse or a son or daughter. It could even be the death (or finality) of a relationship like a marriage. Wesley Fuerst said, “Death is clearly the major problem, which intensifies and exacerbates all others; the specter of death mocks the brave plans of the living. Man cannot argue with this specter, and cannot combat it. It will win in the end.”[1] Death is the living truth. It’s like the adjudication of a competition; the Judge has his final say and no correspondence can be entered into.

But, think of things this way. What if each day you deliberately set out to envision your own death, or the death of a loved one, the death of a vital relationship, or the ... [fill in the blank]. Wouldn’t it make us a little more circumspect? Living life through this perspective gives us true reason to be thankful for the day and the relationships we have. It may appear to be a morbid thought, but exactly the opposite occurs--it’s a way to better life.

And if you’re in the midst of torment where simply waking up is when the nightmare actually begins, hold onto what little hope you presently have; the sun will come up tomorrow and the end of the suffering will come--and, at that time, which is perhaps months or years off, life might just become better than ever. That is the reality for many thousands of survivors of critical life-shaping experiences.

The key is clinging onto the little ray of hope that might not even be felt, but is that life-force within that says, ‘Keep going.’ Don’t give up; the best is truly yet to come. You’ll see.

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

[1] Wesley J. Fuerst, The Books of Ruth, Esther, Ecclesiastes, The Song of Songs, Lamentations: The Five Scrolls (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), p. 151. Cited in Barry C. Davis’, “Death, An Impetus For Life” in Timothy J. Demy & Gary P. Stewart (eds) Suicide – A Christian Response: Crucial Considerations for Choosing Life (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1998), pp. 329-47.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Perfect Supervision

“If you try to over-control the (creative) process, you limit the process.” –Brad Bird (writer of Disney/Pixar’s Ratatouille (2007)).

Leadership is a complex supervisory process. At one point it’s about empowering and encouraging those junior to produce works and outcomes toward the objective; at another, it’s also about providing an endless stream of feedback to ‘steer’ the process.

Brad Bird makes the observation that he’s always seeking perfection in the production of his animated classics; bringing to life the scripts and characters at Disney/Pixar. He says, there are “so many people who have greatness in them, [he’s the one who has to] coach it out of them.” It’s about keeping the creative process going, and going in the right direction.

His key direction though comes back to the quote at top and this is his leadership secret that sees people who work with him not turned off, but committed to perfection. It’s a real knife-edge balancing act not seeking to get too pedantic with what we say and how we say it to our charges. Perhaps it’s a case of giving a couple of points of specific feedback and trying elicit some osmosis regarding what is generally required.

We need to treat people well, respectfully, as if we’re on the same team. Yet there are a lot of supervisors and leaders who don’t get it. They’re the boss, and the team member is definitely sub-ordinate. The Brad Bird model, however, seems to demand performance out of their team through motivating them to achieve toward the common goal. This type of leader simply has a different job; they’re not so much the boss, just the customer who needs to have their needs met.

Sometimes when we get too directive and too controlling we stifle the creativity of someone who might just have the right ideas that we don’t. The Brad Bird model seems to be to “get people excited about what [he's] excited about.”

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

"More Money Than Sense" – Mobile Phone Culture and Young People

Isn’t people’s use of money a good sorter of them, and their relative positions, in this life? Some people are so unyielding with their money, they hold it tightly to their chests, the proverbial moths escaping whenever they open their purses and wallets; you can see the literal outplaying of a heart bent on being ruled by money. The other extreme is just as concerning; young people especially find it difficult to grasp the value of money and often use it too flippantly.

I remember as a boy my mother referring to people with ‘more money than sense.’ These people would throw good money after bad on some of the most forlorn ventures. Having committed money and seeing it go bad they’d often not think too harshly of themselves saying, ‘Oh, well, better luck next time...’

It reminds me of the mobile phone industry today and its obvious target; the young person with limited income. They have high needs regarding communication with their friends with MSN Messenger, MySpace, Facebook, SMS and other ‘instant’ services. It’s a very “now” environment for today’s teenager and person in their early twenties... even ten year olds nowadays have prepaid phones and are often talking in terms of, ‘Got no credit.’

Exorbitant phone bills, broken phone equipment a few months into a 24-month contract, communications forays and gossip sessions are but a few of the problems. I see it directly; it’s all around me. The mobile phone industry has revolutionised life in some respects but it also has a lot to answer for.

Sure, from a young person’s viewpoint, a mobile can bring you into contact with your friends but where does it end; they’re constantly not with the people they physically with, to spend the majority of their time with friends via this electronic media.

For parents they’re handy for security; the theory is you can contact your kids whenever you want. The reality is somewhat different. People are only contactable when their phones are ‘on.’

The biggest trap here is the expense factor. Young people are notoriously naive when it comes to money. And what is the parent’s role here? To protect to a certain point, and certainly to advise, but at the end of the day most later teens will do as they please and must be allowed to make their own mistakes if they insist that this is the only way they’ll learn.

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

The Need Of Time To Grow Anything Good

“The wisdom of the scribe depends on the opportunity of leisure; only the one who has little business can become wise.” –Sirach 38:24 (NRSV).

This proverb makes very clear sense in the first reading of it, but still bears more thought. There are so many of us with passions we don’t engage in fully or that we don’t develop. This is because we have to make decisions based on our time. We have limited expendable time and in our time we need to earn income to live and to give us the life we wish to live.

What also limits our decisions to go with our passions is faith or lack thereof. To work in an undeveloped passion often requires a risk to income.

This work of Ben Sira’s notes plainly in this section how much time, effort, and focus is required in acquiring and attending to a trade or craft. Any one of us who are engaged in professional or trade life knows how demanding this life can be, and this severely limits other ventures that might engage the heart more. We’re left to muse and ponder what might be.

The point is this: to become good, even exceptional, in that thing that we’re passionate about requires a regular time commitment and a time period with which to grow. The vocation needs space to grow. The vocation of passion, your calling we could term it as, also needs time for sufficient reflection and performance review, and planning. All of these things swallow time.

We can’t hope to become good at anything without investing time in it. The quote at top actually refers to the quest of wisdom as a craft; to become wise. If anyone is too busy they can’t be or become too busy. Part of the scribe’s business was wisdom; yet the paradox is he’d grow little in this department if he was too busy.

What does this mean for us? What dreams lay dormant. What potential venture, with time, could be explored? What are really here for?

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Do Not Be Carried On The Backs Of Fools

Advice we can all do with relates to how we should handle the foolish.

And if we have any interest at all in succeeding in relationships and life then we should attend to wisdom about the foolish.

Balthasar Gracian says, “Do not carry fools on your back.”

“He that does not know a fool when he sees him is one himself: still more he that knows him but will not keep clear of him. They are dangerous company and ruinous confidants.”

We are surrounded by them, if we take a good look around. These are the loud and the vexatious as well as the quietly proud who think themselves too good. They trip up endlessly but attribute it to others and therefore never learn. They’re destined for the same mistakes though they know it not. When we curry favour with fools we tread dangerously, especially when we constantly entertain how easily we could go onto the next thing, never actually doing so.

Gossips are by their very nature, fools. They give themselves away in a matter of seconds. Recently at a KFC store as my daughters and I ate, I heard one to my rear, and the sound and tone of her voice spoke it clearly to me within seconds. I knew it was only a matter of time before she started betraying her confidences and I was right. I felt sorry for her. She obviously did not have the right models of behaviour to draw from. She dominated the conversation with two young men who clearly did not know what to say. Ripples of relief exuded from their table to my rear as she left them.

“They cannot help another’s credit who have none of their own. They are most unlucky, which is the Nemesis of fools, and they have to pay for one thing or the other.”

Another sign of the fool is their reputation; if it’s tarnished there’s a reason. We hang with fools and our reputations too will suffer; we’ll be guilty by association. For every fool’s been ‘unlucky’ enough to get the raw deal; life’s plain not fair for these one’s so easily afflicted. The proof is in the pudding they say and surely if someone is wise enough to not continue in the foolish way their fortunes do eventually return at some point. And this is the point. It’s about the ability to learn; fools won’t and don’t in the general sense.

“There is only one thing which is not so bad about them, and this is that though they can be of no use to the wise, they can be of much use to them as signposts or as warnings.”

Fools are good for us if only in this above statement; they assist our way as we use them as buoys and channel markers; beacons to steer clear of. They can show us the right way through their presence as the wrong way. If they were not so clear, discerning the right way would be more difficult and that’d mean we’d surely fall for foolishness more. We’re all apt toward foolishness without attending to the right direction.


We can choose our friends but not our family; but if we make the wrong choices or even if we don’t have that luxury i.e. family, what do we do when faced with rank foolishness and selfishness? We employ the same methods as espoused above; we steer clear of them as much as possible whilst they’re like this. Foolishness should not be contended with. We can see that this might mean very little time with some people... we can even engage in this sort of behaviour in someone’s direct presence. Think about it.

Foolishness is countered effectively most of the time with the virtue of prudence.

All quotations in this article are from Balthasar Gracian’s, 197th Aphorism, “Do not carry fools on your back.”

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

8 Great Greek Word Concepts For The Soul

1. "Faith" or Pistis

This word is about faith; a belief of firm persuasion. It’s about a firm conviction. It’s a word linked with trust, being true and genuine, and truth (Greek: aletheia). This is the basis of commitment. Commitment or loyalty is such a necessary concept for the soul in life.

2. "Courage" or Tharseo

This is such a great word to engender empowerment. In the midst of trouble, it means to be of good courage, and to be cheerful despite the impending dire circumstances. It’s about confidence and boldness in the face of fear. Closely linked to the Greek: tharreo, (to be confident and courageous), it gives us the ability to believe in our capability and capacity to achieve.

3. "Overcome" of Nikao

This precedes the next and alludes to it. The Greek root nik is enshrined in ‘victory.’ To overcome and subdue the enemy (whoever that might be) and come off superior is not the objective unless we’re fighting the good fight i.e. upholding the principles of righteousness, justice, and fairness.

4. "Patience" or Hupomone

Strong’s #5281 is used for endurance, perseverance and patience. It is actually two words combined to make a special meaning. It is Huper, as in ‘super,’ ‘over,’ ‘beyond,’ and ‘above,’ together with Monos, which means ‘alone,’ ‘without accompaniment,’ ‘singly existent,’ and ‘only.’ The full word, hupomone, traditionally means to ‘bear under,’ or ‘put up with,’ something ‘over me.’

It also therefore seems to me that this word, hupomone, stands for “overcoming oneself.” (Over/beyond + me/alone) It is self-mastery. Is that not patient endurance? It is a faithfulness to not give in to the powers of the situations over ourselves. It is bearing with the total pressure over us.

5. "Royal" or Basileion / Basilikos

This word is about royalty. It’s about being above the gossip of the world whilst being intrinsically part of the mesh and grind of it. The word it leads to is Sophia i.e. wisdom. Royals are supposed to be the pillars of wisdom in society. That is to be prudent, learned, philosophical, and enlightened.

If we therefore wish to be wiser, we should try to be more regal in our behaviour. This is not so much about being toffee-nosed; it’s more to do with the poise and charisma that comes from a quiet confidence and a “noble reserve of bearing that cannot be mistaken.”[1]

6. "Living Sacrifice" or Zosan Thusian

This, according to Paul, is the way to please God. Think of it as the daily process of dying to one self’s often rampant desires and giving that energy to others and to our general existence. It is being consistently altruistic, philanthropic, and humanitarian. This one’s linked heavily with faith i.e. commitment.

7. "Slow down" or Bradus Kato

This word Bradus can mean ‘slow to understand,’ as well as ‘slow, not hasty.’ I’m referring to the latter. Kato simply means ‘down.’ We all tend to try and keep pace with this busy world and that can have the inevitable health impacts.

Slowing down to smell the flowers regularly is a good life choice. We see a lot more when we choose to walk than we do when we drive a car. When we slow down we reduce the pressure we self-impose. Decisions are better and our relationships benefit.

8. "Thanks" or Eucharistia

Oft-quoted is the Cicero, “A thankful heart is the parent of all virtues” contribution. It’s the ‘grand-daddy’ virtue over all others. It’s gratitude and cheerfulness. When we’re thankful, our lives and all of those around us get better. We don’t take things for granted. Grace would be the seal on everything we’d do.

G.K. Chesterton’s signature quote was, “Nothing taken for granted, everything received with gratitude, everything passed on with grace.” If only we could achieve this. To get close we must set out after it.

Over all these soulful words and concepts we place love, the greatest thing of all.

[All transliteration and interpretation assisted by The New Analytical Greek Lexicon, Wesley J. Perschbacher, Editor, (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1990).]

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

[1] Source of quote: A.W. Tozer from Lyle Dorsett, A Passion for God: The Spiritual Journey of A.W. Tozer (Chicago, Illinois: Moody Publishers, 2008), p. 184.