Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Time for Everything: A Time for Now

“God makes everything happen at the right time. Yet none of us can ever fully understand all he has done, and he puts questions in our minds about the past and the future.” –Ecclesiastes 3:11 (CEV).

Indeed, with God all things happen according to his will and purpose. If the seasons fall into compliance and the planets obey, how much more are we, small as we are, going to correspond? To each person God has planted something of a spiritual time clock. And it ticks away.

We’re drawn to thought and then to decision, and the decisions are never easy. The work required to get us there--to change--seems enormous, yet that is our individual and collective lot. Life is hard yet who wants to be dead? Even those who opt for suicide would prefer that life was better--they’d prefer to be alive if life was liveable for them. Life is a conundrum for all at some point or other.

We make our plans as bold as they are, filled with hope for sustained change. They do align with God’s; he’s prompted us thus far. We’re merely moving in tune with him half the time. The time for change is now. It has to be today, not tomorrow. Tomorrow never comes for Change, there is only today.

For change to mean anything tangible in order to bring an effect different from that experienced in the past, we must change, and do things differently, being prepared for the mild to serious discomfort effecting change might bring. Change is worth the discomfort provided we adhere to the pre-determined agenda.

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

We Live By Faith Not Sight: We Do What We Think We Must

“All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.”

-John F. Kennedy (Inaugural Address, Washington D.C., 20 January, 1961)

Having only part of the picture is fine. Some nearly forty eight years on and the future of the planet is a lot different to how those in 1961 would have thought of it back then. No one could have comprehended back then what we know now regarding the use-by date of planet earth at the present rate relating to our use and abuse of her. We seem to be on the downhill run; it’s like we’re on a roller coaster and there are no brakes to stop our rapid descent.

In 1958 when NASA was first set up, the main priority was competing with the Russians who were then the world’s major security threat. It is rather ironic but very poignant that the biggest threat now is not one single country but the future of the home we all call home--the planet. How timely it seems to be, looking back at it now, was the embarking on of this space program that continues today, and it is certainly our brightest hope of universal survival.

In life, we do what we feel is best if we have the courage. We set our plans never always knowing what will happen and what the outcomes will be. Yet we forge ahead in faith. And this is what it means to be human. It’s the very essence of our humanness, that we intelligent creatures have the innate sense for survival and transaction.

There are no guarantees in life. We get a moment and we work with it. We get a moment more so we continue on. After many years of moments and doing our best to survive and thrive we could be forgiven for investing too much in the plan believing that we’ll always be here. There are no such promises.

We don’t really know where humanity is headed, but there is one thing we do know for sure; whilst there are God-fearing people on this planet--people who live by faith and not by sight; people who love and try not to hate--there will be a role for ‘endeavouring,’ exploring. We do what we think we must, and having only part of a big picture is as much as we need in continuing any great work for the betterment of what we believe is God’s purpose and plan for his creation.

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

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Some People Are Just Beyond Reach

The ‘rock bottom’ is the moment (or moments [plural] if we are slow at learning) in life when we come face to face with a tragic destiny all our own stupid making. It’s when the ‘birds have come home to roost’ as the popular saying goes. This is personified Wisdom’s take on things:

“Wisdom calls aloud in the street, she raises her voice in the public squares... ‘If you had responded to my rebuke, I would have poured out my heart to you and made my thoughts known to you.

‘But since you rejected me when I called and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand, since you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebuke, I in turn will laugh at your disaster; I will mock when calamity overtakes you--when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you.’”
-Proverbs 1:20, 23-27 (NIV).

Wisdom is personified in Proverbs so we can understand the character of life. If we don’t heed the warnings that come, the ‘whacks of life’ will certainly come. Then we will not be able to return to the ‘pre-whacked’ condition or position no matter how much we complain, stamp or protest. And the character of life dictates that it will mock us simply because there is no return, and because we will say, ‘But, I’m ready to change now’--‘Too late,’ personified Wisdom (i.e. life) with say.

The classic feature of the alcoholic or chronic overeater or drug-dependent person is they don’t know how to yield, and give way to stimulus that says ‘stop’! They also don’t want to stop, because in Dr. Phil McGraw’s terms, they’re getting good rewards from their behaviour. The costs of stopping and changing seem to be higher than the costs of continuing with the harmful habit.

Rock bottoms are tragic to witness or hear, but they’re also quite motivational when someone’s used the rock bottom to learn and succeed from i.e. when they’ve escaped from the life of bondage. Anyone who’s ever been involved in group therapy could probably attest to this when listening to someone with a ‘rock bottom’ to share. It’s a tragedy or a triumph, and anything in between. I’ve heard stories of one imprisonment after the other, assaults, and deaths etc as tears of devastation are shed. Or there are the failed relationships because one warning after another after another was not heeded and desperation turned to despair and a walking-out. But then there’s the person who really did turn their life around--these are the walking testimonies of faith, strength, courage and hope.

Some people are simply beyond reach--there’s nothing we can do to love them in ways they’ll even begin to receive it. And I wonder if these people are like this because they’ve never known true love. In other words, they’ve never bonded to a parent or known their love; they’ve possibly never been nurtured unconditionally.

If my proposal is correct it’s a sad fact that some people will never respond to our overtures no matter how loving and caring we are. All we can do is pray for a softening of their heart to respond to the truth at some point.

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

When Given the Chance, “I Hope You Dance” – Lee Ann Womack

There’s certainly a sense of wonder we experience when we’ve bucked the odds successfully in a life situation and surprised people, including ourselves. It’s the serendipity that does it. There’s the hope of good result yet our expectations are tinged with the realism of all the other possibilities. And this is what makes it all the more special; it’s a victory-over-self to achieve something meaningful in spite of the odds.

The words and music to Lee Ann Womack’s classic song, I hope you dance, take us and our imaginations beyond our present into the unknown possibilities of the future and provide us with encouragement and confidence to take life on. It’s a love song from a parent to a child or a mentor to mentee.

Possibility and risk. This song is all about resilience risking for opportunities regarding love and life. It’s about having courage to follow-through with our instincts, going with our gut impulse. It’s too easy to sit out the dance. It’s too easy to get bitter or give up in life. It takes character, resolve, courage to risk, and ultimately, effort, to live the sort of life this song talks about. It’s every parent’s loving wish.

Lest we ever take one breath for granted... we should instil this into our children and those we mentor, and not the least, ourselves--the modelling of gratitude. Feeling small beside the ocean when at the beach is merely the appropriation for what is real. It’s frightening at times how small we are. It is also healthy to know how fragile life really is. It merely reinforces the attitude of gratitude.

Ultimately we could say though, this song is one of transferring the learning of life experience--with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. That’s why I think this song is the parent’s heart for one’s child. Our kids will always be our kids at the end of the day; we’ll hopefully never let go of the concept of the little girl or boy inside each one of our children.

Here below are the words of this utterly beautiful ballad:

“I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat
But always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed
I hope you still feel small
When you stand by the ocean
Whenever one door closes
I hope one more opens
Promise me you'll give faith a fighting chance
“And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance
I hope you dance
“I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Living might mean taking chances
But they're worth taking
Lovin' might be a mistake
But it's worth making
Don't let some hell bent heart
Leave you bitter
When you come close to selling out
Give the heavens above
More than just a passing glance.”
Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Being Kicked Out of Home – Psalm 137

We have the image set before us of an errant and rebellious teenager rejecting the rules of the family home and the statutes of their parents. They’ve abused and hurt their siblings, they fly into unpredictable and uncontrolled rages, and possibly have an unresolved drug problem; and the final straw, they’re absolutely unrepentant--they are unceremoniously chucked out of home, and only allowed to return home when they’re prepared to mend their ways. The final act leaves the teen on the street in a totally foreign and very threatening environment.

This is approximately similar to what the exiles of Judah must have felt when they were finally and comprehensively carried off by the Babylonians into exile from Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. They’d been warned by prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the latter carried off ten years earlier as part of the Jehoiachin’s Deportation.[1] Ezekiel continued to prophesy in exile for his contemporaries to repent, but his countrymen and women did not heed his graphic warnings--the rest, as they say, is history. The Judean’s were carried off finally by Nebuchadnezzar.

Imagine the shock of this once holy nation; God’s chosen having been rejected by him. Certainly, however, the intent of Psalm 137 is indignance at the Babylonians and Edomites, and a prayer to God for him to bring them to eventual ruin--for God to ‘remember’ them in his holy judgment.

Remembrance is the thread of the psalm. The Judean’s are forced to remember the joy they felt (and agonisingly so) when singing the songs of Zion; they are also forced to imagine what life would like if they forgot the LORD, their God. And there is the irony. This is exactly the reason they ended up in exile--they sinned against God. How tragic to finally recall what not to do when it is all together too late! Regret is the emotion in one word.

But how would they have felt? They suddenly found themselves, dreadfully so, in a foreign land and totally captive to not only a hostile people, but a people of pagan means and spirituality at best. They were taunted as a people, by the rivers of Babylon, to sings songs of joy when all they would have felt is shattering sorrow.

But the clincher is this. Jerusalem was the home of the LORD. By leaving they could not experience God, commune with him, or worship him. They were totally estranged from the Rock of their salvation; the basis of their knowledge of being.

Going back to the beginning, I wonder how our teenager feels exiled from the family home. I wonder what sort of judgment they might be praying for. I wonder if they would sing songs of communal lamentation like the Judean exiles did, to remember Zion. (What would be the teen’s ‘Zion’?) To sing songs of joy in Babylon would have been a betrayal against the LORD.[2] So we can see quite plainly, lamentation (recalling an entire book is devoted to this in the Old Testament) was an incredibly loyal and faithful part of the liturgy for the exiles toward their God, Yahweh.

What about the 21st Century exile? Do they remember the parents; do they mourn for home? Do they think of a return? Is this a necessary part of ‘the journey’ as it was for the Judean exiles? Who knows, but as a parent we would have to keep the door ajar wouldn’t we, hoping and praying that, as the Judean exiles did, our child might repent and turn from their hazardous ways. Our open arms should always remain.

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] Bill T. Arnold & Bryan E. Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House Co., 1999), p. 409.
[2] James L. Mays, Psalms – Interpretation Series: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 1994), p. 422.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Do We Need to Find Another Planet?

I was reading the New Scientist magazine just recently and was drawn to a discussion of humankind’s role in space. The question was, “Do we belong there?” There was a quote by Sir Richard Branson that sparked my imagination. His take on the issue was if we wanted the human race to survive we’d need to embrace space, and not just that, we’d need to find another habitable planet. He said “If we do not have a place in space, then we have nothing to live for.”[1]

Branson then paraphrased famous British physicist, Stephen Hawking whose actual quote is:

“I don't think the human race will survive the next thousand years, unless we spread into space. There are too many accidents that can befall life on a single planet. But I’m an optimist. We will reach out to the stars.”[2]

I find it an amazing concept that one day we might have humankind on two planets, or at least in an environment within space. How we would live in comparative means to how we live on earth now is a tangible a bit hard to grasp at this stage. And it’s even too hard to predict how things might progress in these technological ways within fifty years, let alone twenty years from now, such is the rate of progress.

And how will the human race survive? How will ‘the good’ continue to triumph over ‘the evil?’ In the 1930s and 1940s we had Nazism as the great threat to humankind; roll forward to the 1980s and it was the Nuclear arms race (which continues to be a threat, albeit a sleeping giant); in the 1990s it was the AIDS/HIV epidemic, and whilst the Western world have it controlled, parts of the world’s population are still being wiped out to it. Now it’s the issue of Global Warming and climate change, but also terrorism--is this the most major threat?

Aren’t we threatened with making ourselves extinct? Or will we continue to successfully negotiate these issues that threaten our existence? Can you imagine living on a space station or on another planet? Well, that’s a possibility for our distant future descendents. Space appears to be our destiny, if we make it that far.

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] New Scientist, 8 September 2007, Volume 195, no. 2620, p. 53.
[2] Wikipedia, Available: "Colonies in space may be only hope, says Hawking" by Roger Highfield in Daily Telegraph (16 October 2001).

Over the Hedge, Under the Screws: Safety at Work

The 2006 animated classic, Over the Hedge, is a very funny movie; like its contemporaries, it’s filled aplenty with societal digs and nuances. I particularly like the scene where RJ the raccoon opportunistically coaxes Hammy the squirrel into acting like a rabid, rabies-infested animal in the plan to get some girl guides to relinquish their supply of Girl Guide biscuits which are packed neatly onto a cart (which RJ wants too!). At one point, when Hammy’s attempt at scaring the girls backfires, and he’s getting a hammering from them because they’re scared to death, his mentor, Verne the tortoise says to RJ, “He’s under attack!” RJ’s quick retort is sharp but predictable, “He’s working!” How many workplaces are like this?

The above dialogue reminds me of the occupational health and safety issues that many find themselves placed in with unscrupulous, greedy "RJ" employers taking advantage--prepared to deny the obvious in order to make more money or save costs.

Yet, it’s a game of Russian roulette. Not only do irresponsible, negligent employers face both criminal and civil law action in this game of chance and risk, they damage their own safety cultures. Their employees cooperate with the production over safety goals, and commitment to safety wanes.

The ‘systems approach’ to safety is fine but without a commensurate effort in the ‘culture approach’ the vast majority of the work is in vain. And it further destroys employer credibility in the light of edified employees. It’s no good having a fine OHS system on the shelf, called the ‘Safety Management System.’ It probably won’t save you one injury or illness. It will be more about having things looking good rather than the safety system actually being an effective injury and illness prevention program.

One thing I’ve learned about employees and safety is this: employees don’t know what they don’t know. If they’re not brought up to value their safety, they won’t--it’s the default. It’s as simple as that. They’ll take stupid risks for the employer or to make their work easier without even thinking of (or being swayed by) the consequences--it’s our human nature. When the consequences are so often soon, certain, and sizeable, safety doesn’t stand a chance, as the chances of injury or illness are low in comparison to the odds of getting away with ‘calculated risks.’ Irresponsible, ineffective employers and companies will then seek to blame injured or ill employees, not recognising or acknowledging their safety culture as the major influencing contributor.

The family values represented in Over the Hedge are very applicable to the workplace regarding safety; the ‘brother’s keeper’ type of program where experienced workers look after those less experienced under the guidance of caring supervisors and managers (playing the loving parent role) is how workplace safety was always supposed to work. No amount of manuals, procedures and policies will ever replace care and concern for fellow human beings.

Companies who structure safety like a family looking after its own (like Verne does in Over the Hedge) are on the right track as far as I’m concerned. Safety culture is most tested when the chips are down and the pressure’s on for production. When safety is the genuine first business priority, even after push comes to shove, safety culture cannot be anything but healthy--employees see that management is serious and full of integrity and courage for humane ideals. And this is also strongly linked, obviously, to employee morale.

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

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Lose Weight by Drinking More

This is certainly one of the simplest nuggets of truth around. In all the froth and bubble of life there’s a flurry of bargain purchasing of exercise equipment and a plethora of weight-loss diets, yet this simple technique goes relatively unnoticed. And it’s such a shame. When we learn to drink more... water, we find for several reasons we’re more likely to lose weight and keep it off!
Water has no calories but it fills our stomaches, giving us the full feeling so we don’t need to snack on calorie-laden food stuffs.

- Water hydrates us so fats are easily and readily sent packing, flushing through the kidneys and excreted out.

- Water, drunk in plentiful quantities, keeps us active in going to the toilet--more exercise.

- Water helps us perspire and giving the body the means to stay efficiently cool.

- Water also assists with the formation of our stools, so constipation and rectal bleeding could be a thing of the past.

Water is so underrated. And all that gets in our way is the lack of willingness to form the healthy habit of drinking 4 litres or a gallon a day for men, and 2-3 litres or half a gallon for women.

To establish the healthy habit of drinking lots of water, it pays to get used to the feeling of a full bladder. And we also need to carry a drink bottle with us.

Remember the more coffee or alcohol we drink the more water we’ll need. The best situation is to live on water alone--now that’s simplicity.

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

Psalm 39 – A Breath Away from the Lord

The ChurchTogether event held in Perth recently featured a guy by the name of John Bishop. John, who hails from Oregon, spoke on destiny and how the worst day in a person’s life can in fact turn out to be their best day (as so many are saved into the kingdom of God this way [like me, for instance] can appreciate). We heard that John had had a serious accident and his life literally hung by thread. It was decision time for him; God pressed him for an answer. He highlighted that we’re destined (as we believe) to die only once, then we are to be judged[1] for what we actually did and did not do. And he alluded to the fact that when we all (yes, all) come face to face with God, he might actually say,

“Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' –Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV).

Do we want to be recognised by God or not? That is the question in truth; we may have confessed with our mouths and even given a lifetime of service in his Name; yet it could all be for nought as Jesus is truly only ever known through the heart. I, personally, can vouch for the false, incomplete, pharisaic faith--I spent thirteen years there! Humbling isn’t it? Where are you? Seek a 'heart-full' of the Lord now while there is still time; he will cause you to repent.

Psalm 39 recognises some facts of life regarding our acts and eternity and the Psalmist seeks to reconcile himself to them. He is fervently watchful of his tongue though he knows it’s only a matter of time before he’ll be pressed to blurt out something, later to be regretted; in this he acknowledges his need for God and the fact that his life is but a whisper, a wisp of air--his days numbered.

And that’s the fact for us all. There is the humbling brevity of life, echoing the sentiment of Job and Ecclesiastes. Who of us really wants the bad news, yet that is what the Psalmist begs for. For most of us, our lives are significant--but of what significance is most of what we choose to do in light of God’s plan. To state it more plainly, what would we do, or not do, if we had more of a plain view of eternity at mind and at heart? Our days are numbered. It’s a fact. So what are we going to do with the rest of them? Are we ‘redeeming time,’ making the most of every opportunity, as Paul urges us to do in Ephesians 5:15-17?

No matter how resolved we are to keeping our mouths closed we always end up spilling the beans in one or another don’t we? Socrates, called Scholasticus, met a plain man called Pambo for bible study sometime in the 5th Century. They opened up to Psalm 39 and read about not sinning with the tongue; Pambo went off enthusiastically after his first lesson vowing to not return until he mastered it--he returned forty-nine years later and still hadn’t mastered it.[2] James devotes a whole half chapter to the deadly tongue, the scourge of humankind. Indeed, our hearts grow hot within us and we don’t contain them; we can’t, though we try, and we can and do get better, but we’re destined to imperfection this side of the wall.

Verse 7 jumps to the present. The Message paraphrase is strikingly similar to a vision of God I had in a dream recently:

“What am I doing in the meantime, Lord? Hoping, that's what I'm doing—hoping...”

It is a hoping for salvation--that the purposes of life that are true, in God, won’t be missed. In all the turmoil that the Psalmist experiences, he places his hope directly upon the only one who can save. This is real ‘fear of the LORD’ stuff; the discipline and rebuke to hasten and chasten us beyond our own small minds and hearts. It’s a terrific brush of truth.

This is a psalm of the second chance. Not only does he seek reconciliation and ongoing relationship with the living God, but he seeks opportunity for some life experience before he leaves for good. Any opportunity to rejoice and gain strength to live would be good. And we want more strength and we want more success; we live for it. It spurs us on.

This is an outstandingly rich psalm of biblically epic proportions. It calls forward to a time and a theology of salvation, yet it speaks beyond the past back to the very reaches of time into eternity.

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] See Hebrews 9:27.
[2] W. Graham Scroggie (1877-1958), A Guide to the Psalms (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1995), p. 230.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What We’re Fighting Against

Today was like every day of my life; there was something about it that I observe, feel and know through my experience every single day. And my life is no different to yours if you’re reading this. Chances are that you’re reading this because you’re a caring person. You care about people, our planet, and yourself, for instance. And you see the same thing I do each day. It’s part of life, frustratingly so.

That thing that we see each day is the motorist that thumbs their nose at the road laws, or the adult that abuses or neglects a child, or the legal system, which yet again, decries the victim. One feels for authorities like the Police and Customs who are at the pointy end of the cursed life where things routinely get just plain ugly. We could certainly understand a hardening of attitude in these circumstances over years of one person’s career. There’s no immunity. But, we all taste this life because none of us is immune to it.

What we’re fighting against each day is a lack of justice and respect and often a sense of gross unfairness. Only today I had to counsel a couple of contract employees for horseplay--that phenomenon we don’t see much of these days. Horseplay is not only “rough and boisterous play,” as the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it; in the workplace it’s often a reckless endangerment to parties beyond those engaged in it.

The types that engage in this rebellious behaviour normally take a dim view of being taken to task, and they normally have a rampant distaste and disregard for authority. And we might ask, ‘How did they get these attitudes?’ There are probably many reasons why the minority don’t respect authority figures, and thrive on injustice to others, creating the sort of inequity of fairness that leaves us outraged, if not simply bewildered.

Is there a comparison we could make here to the typical spoilt child? Perhaps these people have never been disciplined and trained to conform to societal norms, i.e. sacrifice of self for the benefit of the many. We look at parents of young children who can’t control them and we just want to take over and be firm; and this is where I believe it starts. These children who’ve never been exposed to strong, firm but fair parental discipline will either be disciplined by others who love them less later in life (and this is rare) or not at all.

And then there is us. We are the people left to deal with the problem. We ought not to give up and get despondent--although there are times when we will, inevitably. We need the support of our own; people who will encourage us to go on in our good work in the defence of justice, respect, and fairness. That’s what we’re fighting for.

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

Public Speaking: Getting Those Butterflies into Formation

Nerves come in all sorts of ways and can affect us at the most inopportune times. We want to say something at a gathering, or we’re just about to do a performance, or there’s that end-of-semester exam we’ve studied the past fortnight for... the list of things where nerves play their part is never ending. And the trick we’re told is harnessing the nervous energy.

I have often used the quote of Dr. Rob Gilbert’s,

“It’s all right to have butterflies in your stomach, just get them to fly in formation.”

So, let’s acknowledge this is the goal: to get our butterflies flying in formation and actually giving us a performance edge instead of ruining the show altogether. It’s fine to have a goal but that won’t get us there. We need a practical method or process to do that.

Perhaps it’s a mute point but I think everyone needs to find their own process through trial and error... so the best basic attitude is one of courage.

Courage is variously defined as strength of mind and will in the face of danger, opposition, and hardship (in short, fear). It’s meeting the stiff challenge in a constructively resilient way. Being courageous is not about a lack of fear. Fear is part of the mix. It’s working with it. It’s harnessing it.

Here are four (4) tips to assist in getting the butterflies flying in formation:

1. Focus on the importance of what it is we have to say: most people speak up or need to engage in public speaking because they have something important to say. You are probably in your role in doing public speaking because you represent a larger concern--people who are relying on you and your leadership. It’s awesome to be charged with this responsibility as others look up to you to do something bold--something they might not be able to do. Stay positive with that.

2. Focus on the needs of those listening: these people need to hear what you have to say, right? You know it, but they don’t know it yet. You could try visualising the people listening to you and their edified response. We must believe that what we’re saying is for the benefit of the listener. If it helps jot down three (3) points why they need the information and focus and meditate on these. Doing this could possibly help at a time during your talk or presentation when self-belief evaporates without warning. You’re doing this for them and their need.

3. Ignore the record (your awareness) of your nerves: most people won’t be able to tell that you’re nervous if you don’t give way to the nerves. This is where being courageous is most important. Your nerves will actually work for you and give you a positive presence if you boldly charge through them. Just about every good speaker gets nervous; to start a little nervously is forgivable--don’t dwell on it. Stay positive within yourself and your body language.
4. Preparation is the key: there is no substitute for good preparation. Know what you need to say, in what order it needs to be said, and if possible, practise your delivery. Practise it enough to become proficient at it. This way you open your energies up, keeping them available, to simply delivering your message; the technical details i.e. your information and media, should not be consuming any of your thought at this late stage. Trust your preparation. Don’t doubt your preparation. And also don’t make last minute changes unless you can nail them easily.

I recall the first time I preached with any sort of confidence and positive emotion that touched a congregation. Whilst I am not an experienced preacher by any means I have done enough public speaking (professionally) to know what works for me and what doesn’t work for me. This journey was one of much trial and error; and failure before success I might add.

If we don’t give up we will master it. That’s a fact. Belief... in yourself is the key.

It’s the best feeling when you walk off stage having nailed the talk, sermon, speech or presentation.

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

Monday, November 24, 2008

Life is the Learning Ground

The ultimate purpose of life on this earth is character development. Life is essentially about growing up and becoming mature, just like fruit about to be picked is rapidly maturing. The issue of fruitfulness is fundamentally linked to the image of maturity. And we don’t become fully functional as human beings without becoming relatively mature.

Paul talks much during his prison epistles[1] about maturity; perhaps because that was where his maturity was to be most tested. And James, of course, has a fair bit to say on the subject too.

“Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” –James 1:4 (NIV).

At the end of the day, “Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” –James 1:12 (TNIV).

Rick Warren in his Purpose Driven Life[2] Christian classic says that life is not about our comfort; it’s about our character development--that this life is merely the dress rehearsal for the real life to come; the life that worships God fulltime in Heaven. Warren says about his ‘Purpose No3’ that we’re “created to become like Christ.” It’s the purpose of discipleship--the process of following Jesus, our Rabbi.

He discusses how becoming mature involves knowing how we grow; that it’s about being transformed by truth and trouble, and learning to grow through and defeat temptation. Finally, he says the process of maturation takes time, so we best be patient with ourselves. Certainly God is in no hurry for us to transform; he doesn’t care much for shortcuts, and that is why we find ourselves learning the same lessons over again until we do finally learn.[3]

Becoming committed to the process of transformation, growth and maturation is a very sensible and wise choice in life; I can’t think of a worse outcome for someone than for them to arrogantly walk the journey of life ignoring obvious growth opportunities. Warren quotes reformationist, Martin Luther, “My temptations have been my masters of divinity,” as a way of saying that the worst things that happen to us can in fact be the best things, as far as learning and growing more mature is concerned--provided we see and grasp those opportunities.

Perhaps we could add the word ‘mature’ to three others: truth, love and wisdom. All these endure.

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] See Ephesians (4:13), Philippians (3:15) and Colossians (4:12) who were written when Paul was kept against his will.
[2] Rick Warren, Purpose Driven Life: What on earth am I here for? (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2002), pp. 171-227.
[3] Warren, Ibid, p. 219.

The Gratitude List – 100 Things to Be Grateful for

This is an “antidote for complaint, worry, and for those who are depressed.” It is not a foolproof or perfect answer by any means, but it works at least to some extent on everyone. It’s the art of being grateful and the exercise is simply one of creating a list of one hundred (100) things we’re grateful for.

My present gratitude list goes like this:

1. I have the most beautiful and gorgeous wife in the world.
2. My three daughters are healthy and happy.
3. My children are growing and developing so well.
4. My parents are still alive, and my brothers too.
5. My parents-in-law and my wife’s family love me and I love them.
6. Overall, I have a wonderful family.
7. The house I live in has modern facilities and keeps me sheltered from the weather.
8. My wife likes spending time with me and I like spending time with her.
9. I know Jesus Christ.
10. I have hopes to have more children.
11. I am free to worship God in any way I wish to.
12. I can walk.
13. I can talk.
14. I can read and write.
15. I can think and have thoughts and time with myself.
16. My five senses work well still, unaided (presently).
17. I can see, not only through my eyes, but also through the eyes of my heart.
18. I live in relative luxury, in freedom, and in a just society.
19. I have two days off per week most weeks.
20. My employer is wonderful.
21. The job I have is both stimulating and varied, and I’m valued for my work.
22. I have good managers and co-workers.
23. I attend a church where people love me and I’m allowed to love them.
24. I have the time to write.
25. I can drive a car... I own a car.
26. I have many great tools that help me live my life.
27. My personal library is bliss; every book hand picked.
28. We have not one, but two computers in my family.
29. I have both the inclination and ability to plan ahead in my life.
30. We have access to seemingly unlimited electricity, water and food, and other resources.
31. I really don’t mind washing dishes anymore; in fact, I love doing them!
32. I love Proverbs, Psalms, Ephesians and Ecclesiastes… actually, I love the whole Bible.
33. I can talk sensibly and sensitively to my teenage daughters (most of the time).
34. One day rolls into the next for me; Wednesday’s are just as important as Sunday’s.
35. I have been blessed to have the second chance at tertiary education.
36. Trade qualifications, knowledge and skill have always been handy.
37. I see my parents at least each fortnight and have a great relationship with them.
38. I’ve got three beautiful nieces and two handsome nephews.
39. I have a sense of humour (most of the time).
40. Even when things don’t go my way, I usually see the good things out of it.
41. I have a wonderful view outside of my office window of a serene operational harbour.
42. I’m living in the present; at the very cusp of time. I’m not dead yet.
43. The part of the earth I live in is such an inhabitable place climate-wise (most of the time).
44. I have the ability and the inclination to love--people and living things and my experiences.
45. I have a telephone so I can talk to people a long way away.
46. I have pictures of my lovely family I can look at; at home, at work, in my wallet.
47. I get to meet interesting people almost every day.
48. Living near the beach--there’s nothing quite like the white noise of the surf.
49. There is clean water available for me to drink right now.
50. There is a plant I am responsible for and it hasn’t died yet!
51. I have fish oil tablets and other vitamins to complement my diet.
52. I have the powers of self-control most of the time and the drive to improve.
53. I’m a member of a gymnasium.
54. The academic qualifications I have and study I’ve done have helped form my character so I become the person I’ve always wanted to be.
55. I can make a unique contribution.
56. I have a positive self-image and I’m thankful I’ve worked on it.
57. There is work I can do to keep me stimulated.
58. I can feel pain; most of the time this is good for pain is generally a healthy sign.
59. I have a watch, it looks good and suits my style, and I can tell time.
60. I have over three (and nearly four) decades of memories of living; the good, the bad, and the ugly.
61. Being in a western-most place means the sun sets on the horizon with the water in the foreground--that’s pretty special!
62. There are plans that I’m making and have made--therein lies hope.
63. I’ve met some famous people and high-achievers and been inspired.
64. Coffee. I love it, and I can drink great coffee every day if I want to.
65. I earn money enough to give some away to those less fortunate.
66. Music. I really appreciate it. (And I think I have good taste--I’m allowed to say that.)
67. Enthusiasm and zeal for life and learning; I have it most of the time. I’m still excitable.
68. I have suffered loss and have survived it--it’s actually made me a better person!
69. People honour me at times when they come to me for help.
70. To have achieved forty years of age… the best is yet to come.
71. I live in times of (relative) peace.
72. I have a passion for cricket and Australian football and follow both ardently.
73. This time I live in is dynamic; excitement abounds.
74. I love pizza, seafood and ice cream plus many other good foods.
75. I see miracles occur most days. Most people would call these things ‘normal.’
76. I can rest and take time out to smell the flowers almost whenever I want.
77. Words and their meanings excite me. Language and communication are art.
78. Freedom of choice is something I appreciate and try not to take for granted.
79. I’ve overcome dependency on substances, for instance, cigarettes.
80. ‘Creativity of thought’ is a gift I’m appreciative of.
81. I can travel in a modern train any day I want and see the sights.
82. There is a reliable public transport system in the place I live; I feel blessed almost every time I use it.
83. A wife’s or daughter’s smile… what more could I say.
84. My ‘encouragement file’ is growing; people encourage me almost every day.
85. Mentors who’ve invested their time and effort in me--I’ll be eternally grateful.
86. Reminds me of Maxwell Smart. I can watch television because I have one.
87. Mathematics. The sense of numbers makes sense to me.
88. The desire to keep growing throughout my life pleases me.
89. Wisdom. I see it in others and others at times see it in me. I love its truth.
90. My family’s safety thus far; I try not to take it for granted.
91. I get ongoing education through courses, seminars, conferences and workshops.
92. Science. I marvel at it. It’s got be intelligent design.
93. My heart is saddened by some things I see--I’m glad about that.
94. Health. My overall health, whilst not perfect, pleases me.
95. Movies and dates: I can date my wife, and love watching movies with her.
96. The range of shopping centres at my disposal is amazing.
97. I get to be “me” for all of my life. Now that’s not bad.
98. I can wear whatever clothes I own; I can also dress myself.
99. One day I might be blessed enough to have grandchildren and perhaps great-grandchildren.
100. I might make it to 100 years of age by God's grace. I’m “not out” so far.

Even though we can’t all subscribe to every item on this particular list of mine, it illustrates the important point that each of us has specific and very detailed reasons to be extremely thankful. Where you perhaps cannot list certain items I have, I am sure you might have items I could not list.

There really is no limit to this list when we think about it.

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

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Greatest Miracle of Your Life Is NOT What You Think

We’re very apt to whinge and complain about our lots and the things we miss out on. It’s our human nature, particularly when we compare ourselves with others--in keeping up with the Jones’s. A simple illustration is the tall poppy syndrome. How often are people who’re more successful than we, targeted unfairly out of envy? We’re a fickle lot at times.

We don’t very often consider that the biggest miracle of our lives is probably the very remarkable things that don’t happen to us. These are the devastating and catastrophic events that seem to happen to other people--this is not to lessen the issue for those who have been affected by life-changing events. Most of us are truly blessed to live unremarkable lives at least as far as things like the National News is concerned.

Now, whilst this might be true, we don’t acknowledge it in thankful ways very often. We’re always looking for more. Recently I achieved a much better level of fuel economy in my car; the improved performance was short-lived, however. When for some reason I ended up with the previous level of fuel economy I was somewhat miffed. I could have been grateful for the elevated performance that I did get. The same phenomenon is known when we get a bargain we didn’t have to haggle for... we think we should have offered an even lower price when the seller sells too easily and appears too happy.

We’re a pretty miserable lot. We don’t look for the silver lining to our clouds. But, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t. There’s plenty of suffering out there in the world if we take a look. There are stacks of examples of things we should be very happy for.

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

The Coaching Moment

There are a lot of things we can learn about coaching from one simple game of under-12’s tee-ball. On one particular day I witnessed some very insightful and opportunistic coaching and also some things not to do. I found it intriguing how much there was to be observed during this one game, let alone the catches, hits and throws. The coaching was the highlight in my view.

One coach used every opportunity to not only encourage his team and the individual kids within the team, but he would use the little things they either did or didn’t do to further their education and knowledge of the game. But he didn’t stop there. He also made the connection with the application of these principles to the more mature-aged game of baseball. But, the key was his style. He was a natural. There was nothing contrived about his feedback and communication--it was all genuineness. And his timing was impeccable.

At the same game I witnessed another coach encourage his kids with just as much passion but he lacked the genuineness of authenticity and care of the other coach. There was a hint of desperation in his voice as he coached the plays; remember, this was with a bunch of ten and eleven year olds. In transactional analysis terms, this coach went into the parent-child mode of communications and his implicit emotion i.e. his body language, had a negative effect at a particular time in the game when an umpire’s decision was being verified. Emotions of both sides’ coaches then became slightly tenuous for a minute or two. It reminded me that there only needs to be one person in this sort of role who loses it to compromise things. Fortunately, there were enough adults behaving like adults that nothing bad transpired.

A few years ago I witnessed a junior coach in the same situation lose control and get upset; his cussing could be heard by parents and officials alike, and then he abused another coach, totally losing it; he later resigned in disgrace--an entirely regrettable situation for all concerned, and not the least of which for this guy who was a respected school teacher.

The character of the coach is paramount, particularly in children’s sport. It is woeful when parent-coaches get overly serious and lose their adult faculties, even temporarily. Coaching-for-kids methodology needs to be underpinned and characterised by safe and positive adult interaction and guidance for the children. This can only happen when there’s an all-ruling sense of respect for everyone in the coach. The coach very simply needs to be relatively emotionally intelligent. Children’s sport should always be fun. The higher the standard of competition the more professional the coaching needs to be to keep things positive.

Every interaction should be constructive. Coaches must put their own desires well behind them in serving the greater good of the kids, parents, other spectators, and importantly also, the officials, who’re often volunteers and parents themselves. The coach is the crucial leader. He or she has the power to inspire or crush. If you’re a coach how would you like to be remembered?

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

How Answered Prayer Restores and Substantiates Faith

One of the most mysterious subjects of the Christian faith is prayer, particularly regarding how it works, and how it is answered. Many unbelieving people simply cannot entertain the logic of prayer. It is clearly something that must be experienced very personally. But, how does prayer actually work? How is it answered? There is probably no simple or succinct answer. But, let me take you into one way how prayer is answered from my own personal experience.

I’ve prayed recently, for several weeks in fact, for an extra portion of epieikes (pronounced 'epee-aa-kes'), the character quality of spiritual forbearance, gentleness, and reasonableness, which Paul talks about in Philippians 4:5 and 2 Corinthians 10:1. What led me to this prayer is I recognised within myself a lack of gentleness and grace in certain situations--to not endure situations patiently is to fall short as a Christian; it is God’s will that all Christians grow and mature in epieikes.

I focused on the meaning of the word, journalled about it, set daily goals, and finally, asked God, not once, but several times over several days and even weeks. Before long I felt his presence helping me in situations where my patience was tested. I felt a peace that transcended my own understanding. I understood it as God helping me; answering my prayer.

Yet, I was not being given more patience to be gentler; but, I was prompted or reminded and made more aware when I needed to be gentler and more reasonable. Then it seemed to be more simply a matter of my will; did I want to decide in that moment to be gentler and more forbearing? The answer was of course “yes,” as I’d resolved to cooperate with God. There is no better feedback than getting through a challenging situation successfully. This is how God answers prayer; he goes through the challenge with us. His Spirit then encourages us and we grow in confidence and we’re better prepared for the next challenge.

Our faith is summarised by a relationship with the one and only living God: 1) him talking to us, mainly through his Word, and what that says to our minds and hearts--and it’s us listening and obeying; and 2) it’s us talking to him, in reverence and in wanting to please him by wanting him to fashion our characters closer to his--this is freedom because it is freeing ourselves from ourselves and our selfish desires.

On the subject of need, it is said by the apostle James,

“If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded (literally ‘double-souled’) and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” –James 1:5-8 (NRSV).

We see God at work in prayer when we’re seeking to join with his agenda and we’re willing to do our 50 percent by being fully committed to the goal. God will always grant us an affirmative answer if we’re praying in line with his will and we’re willing to make the right decisions in cooperation. I think this is part of the intent of John 15:7 where Jesus says, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (NRSV) We only see prayers go unanswered or answered non-affirmatively when they go against the grain of God’s will. We also must remember the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ are also different. God might grant the prayer, but how he’ll do it and when might not always match with our expectations--yet God’s purposes and reasons are always perfect.

God knows what is best for us. He won’t give us things that are not good for us. Praying for a Mercedes Benz, as Janis Joplin sung about cynically only days before her death, is futile as it’s not in line with our best, spiritually. Prayer is a spiritual medium for spiritual reasons for spiritual gain. It never works materially--that would be luck. And luck has no science or logic to it, and it definitely has nothing meaningful to say regarding spirituality.

Jesus said finally (from The Message paraphrase),

“Don't bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This isn't a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we're in. If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? As bad as you are, you wouldn't think of such a thing. You’re at least decent to your own children. So don't you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better?” –Matthew 7:7-11.

God wants what is truly best for us, even though we might not understand at the time. Isn’t it ironic what Jesus said next... “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” (v. 12)

And, now, what should we pray for?

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

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Cycle of Feast and Famine (and Our Current Financial Woes)

Throughout history there have been cycles for all sorts of phenomena. Just as one time or season comes, another follows. We see it in nature with spring following winter, which followed autumn or fall. Fashion, an extension of our humanity, is the same. Garments that were in vogue thirty years back are now back in fashion (as fast food chains would say, for a limited time only). Everything has its time and season and reason. And it’s no different regarding our money markets.

In Genesis 41, Joseph is called upon to interpret Pharaoh’s dream if you recall. Pharaoh saw seven plump and very attractive cows and then he saw seven ugly, scrawny cows. Joseph correctly interprets the dream as seven years of prosperity for Egypt that would precede seven very difficult years of famine. He advises that Pharaoh exercise great prudence and store up resources such as grain (taking a fifth of the harvest) in preparation. (It is history now that God used Joseph to lead Egypt through a very arduous time and this period was instrumental in his reconciliation with his family.)

The cycle of ‘feasting’ is sure to follow a time of famine; it is unfortunate that a painful time of recession is coming to all, but it must be endured.

So, what should we have done to prepare for this time of coming hardship? Perhaps some of the following are appropriate:

Employment: this is about having a good job that pays well and gives us job satisfaction and having held it for sufficient time to prove our worth--regarding involuntary lay-offs, there is still the last-on-first-off rule to consider. Our employment is the biggest asset during famine. It is the unemployed that truly suffer. Many who’ve treated their employers and their employment with disdain during the good times stand to suffer most--or they simply must conform. Some, unfortunately, will lose their jobs due to no fault on their behalf.

Savings: for many, this present time--and for some years now--has been a time of reaping; a suckling from a great sized cow. The amount of material prosperity that normal working-class people have enjoyed has been pleasing (but it has not come without its social problems). At this time, for those who’ve earned a lot of money, it’s hoped that they’ve had the wisdom to save for the rainy day.

Relationships: just as it holds for financial times, feast and famine also occurs in our relationships. If we don’t have enough points in our ‘relationship bank account’ (Stephen Covey) and a famine of relationship proportions hits, we stand to endure much loneliness for a time. If we’ve used our ‘riches’ to the detriment of our relationships during the feast, how loyal will those people we’ve mistreated be during the famine time?

Joseph advised Pharaoh well and he governed well too when he was put in charge. He planned for time of plenty and of not. And so can/should we. The golden truth is this: “The abundance (i.e. the good times) will not be remembered (positively), because the famine [might] be so severe.”[1] It is time to prepare.

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

[1] Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis – A Commentary (with Cathi J. Fredricks) (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2001), p. 532. See Genesis 41:31.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Unseen Costs to the Injured or Ill Worker

Did you know that a study of partially-disabled injured/ill workers in the United States concluded that their incomes on average drop by 40 percent over the following five years? That sort of financial pressure contributes, amongst other factors, to the breaking of many families. Did you also know that worldwide there are 2.2 million work-related deaths[1] annually? And that was the figure in 2005. That’s a startling figure. There is an opportunity for organisations around the globe to focus more convincingly on serious/fatal injury prevention.

There is also the matter of the unseen costs to employee health, particularly mental health, in light of physiological and psychological issues and affects underlying work systems in this day.
When we bring in change to a family like a seriously injured mother, father, son or daughter there are ramifications that interrupt family dynamics, sometimes changing things forever. Not many in the typical workplace ever see these issues; they’re often managed behind closed doors where the family survive in shame, guilt and disempowerment.

At the recent WorkSafe Forum, Tony Cooke, Chair of the Commission for Occupational Safety and Health in Western Australia said organisations shouldn’t “erode a good safety culture with externalities.” The externalities he alluded to included the heavy focus on systems compliance without the commensurate attention to augment culture and safety behaviour. Worker behaviour and overall safety culture is an organisational responsibility. Externalities can also be the drivers of business from the market economy we’re entrenched in as part of Western society. Human life should always surpass the economic bottom line, though sadly, in reality, it often does not. This is a challenge for the chief executive and senior management of every organisation to courageously resist a plethora of external and internal drivers that prove to be barriers to good safety and health outcomes.

We don’t often think of the personal impacts of injury or illness until they strike us cold at ‘4 P.M. on some idle Tuesday,’ as the Sunscreen Song puts it. We ought to bear it more thought. It can happen to any one of us in a moment… we do have brothers, sisters, friends, mothers, fathers, children that we love, don’t we?

Let’s not take our safety for granted. The costs (both seen and unseen) are potentially huge and life changing.

[1] There are many sites that give this information. One of them is

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Christmas Is Coming

It’s a month away and the cycle of consumerism, debt, acquisition and joy will soon hit--even with gloom of recession hanging over us--big time. The shops are getting busier as lists are being made for presents for dear ones. Depending on what area of the world you’re in it’s either going to be summer or winter; hot or cold climates bring the opportunity either to swim or ski. Christmas is a time for family and leisure. It’s a time, in the midst of all the craziness of the ‘silly season,’ for us to take some time out and reflect on what’s truly important.

And what is truly important? Life is about people, important people. It’s about time with people and finding it within ourselves to be our best with them and for them. These are eternal moments that are written in the annals of history; we can’t undo anything we’ve done. But, there is one way to make our history, history. It’s Jesus.

Jesus--his ministry, life, legacy and salvation--is the reason for the season. His coming, his life, his ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension were prophesied numerously in the Old Testament and it was little ole Bethlehem in Judah that would host the birth of the Saviour. The eighth Century B.C.E. prophet Micah stressed the appropriateness of the humble origin of the “true shepherd of the people.”[1] The King of kings and the Lord or lords ironically had a humble birth, life and death. Nothing about his life, with the possible exception perhaps of the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (see Luke 19:28-44), was royal in the traditional sense of the word. Yet he and he alone, is above all.

The Christmas story is the commencement of a lifetime of miracles surrounding Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world. It’s a fantastic story that bonds people together in love. It’s a story rich in history and spirituality--and some might say, mythology. God came to us and dwelt with us. And it all began so humbly and meekly. This is the answer of life for all who have ears to hear and eyes to see. Real strength and divinity is known paradoxically in peaceable, humble means.

The real message of Christmas hence, is peace, love and joy. It’s about having the heart and committing the resources and time to help the poor, hungry, and thirsty; it’s about visiting those in confinement and in prison; it’s about caring for widows and those who’re less fortunate--it’s about being the upside-down picture of God to others that Jesus showed us throughout his life and teaching, and most of all, his death.

Christmas is a time for giving, not getting. For that matter, our year should start from this point, choosing to give each day--in the spirit of Jesus’ love.

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

[1] William S. Lasor, David A. Hubbard, and Frederic W. Bush, Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form and Background of the Old Testament (2nd Ed) (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eeardmans, 1996), p. 275. See Micah 5:2-3 and Matthew 2:6.

The Wonder of Consciousness: Locked-In Syndrome

It is bizarre was one can become instantly involved in when in a Veterinary clinic waiting room; I picked up a copy of the New Scientist magazine and was drawn to an article on the devastating condition known as Locked-In Syndrome titled, Still Waters Run Deep.

Sufferers of Locked-In Syndrome have complete consciousness and can think and reason but they can’t speak of move. Essentially they’re ‘locked-in’ and are only able to communicate via blinking eye movements.[1]

The author of the article had recently written a book called The Quick, and based the book on the Syndrome.

What surprised me about the article was the claim it made that “90 per cent of locked-in people said they were glad to be alive.”[2] It was thought that sufferers of the Syndrome, given time, adapted to their new states of disability even though they were “unable to communicate [their] sensations to the world.”[3] Scientifically, the amygdala[4] in the brain (a part of the brain responsible for emotions--part of the limbic system) plays a role in recent ‘lock-ins’ as there’s a level of hyperactivity suggesting emotional trauma and adjustment; the evidence is apparently equally clear that the amygdala returns to normal in due time, suggesting a rather full emotional adjustment takes place--the adaptive response.

This suggests that our human nature dictates we’re “immensely adaptable” creatures, and “we can come to terms with situations others would consider intolerable.”[5] This is a great corrective to the plaudits of euthanasia; at least as far as trauma which isn’t chronically pain-related is concerned.

A personal note of reflection on Locked-In Syndrome: this is perhaps the loneliest of worlds. There is perhaps no-one to share with, and certainly any bi-lateral learning is a painstaking process (but certainly not without its rewards!). It gives me much reason to thank God today that I have so many so-called ‘normal’ faculties. The common link between me and the locked-in person is consciousness; they can still feel, sense, perceive. That can be simultaneously a comfort and a burden. The wonder of consciousness is a shared attribute. If you know a locked-in person or are one this gives us cause for a common empathy, a ray of hope. Here’s to our common sensual worlds--the world of consciousness is the world of humanity.

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, NINDS Locked-In Syndrome Information Page. Available online:
[2] Laura Spinney, “Still Waters Run Deep” in New Scientist (18 August 2007), pp. 40-41. Spinney’s book The Quick is published by Fourth Estate, 2007.
[3] Laura Spinney, Ibid, p. 40.
[4] The Amygdala “is a set of subcortical nuclei that is important for perceiving in others and having in oneself emotional or affective behaviors and feelings (e.g. fear, anger).” Source:
[5] Laura Spinney, Ibid, p. 40.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Servant Leadership: Role - Organiser, Catalyst, Steward

"Rugged individualism, a cherished value in American society, can cloud our vision, causing us to forget that leaders ultimately serve others."
-Delorese Ambrose.
We too easily forget when climbing our towers, achieving our own version of 'greatness,' of the people beneath us and how we depend on them. Truth be told, they too rely on us, but how often does the modern leader truly cherish his or her own subordinates? This, however, is the challenge of true leadership. For the processes they're charged with to grow the leader must recognise decrease, and the workers' increase. It opens the leader to true delegation of power and freedom of reign--joined with a faith that their unique contribution as 'leader' is enough.
How many of us yearn to be led like this. For the boss to say, "C'mon Steve, show me what you can do." It's a risk to truly let people go and in the same breath say, "Is there anything I can do to support you... I want you to succeed."
Wikipedia is a fantastic resource isn't it? I found the link on Servant Leadership a wealth of information...
What do people see in true servant leaders? A whole heap of virtues that are rarely seen in this day, or any day for that matter. It's the honesty, humility, integrity, faith, resilience and courage, and 'self-effacingness' that intuits admiration from the onlooker and follower. It communicates respect and a love for the other person that is so much more powerful than all the flattery in the history of time. Everyone wants a leader who will give of themselves as impetus for a personal lift to another person.
The Wikipedia reference states: "Servant Leadership instead emphasizes collaboration, trust, empathy, and the ethical use of power." It is recognising the good and getting fully behind it, encouraging, coaxing, cheerleading. It is broader picture stuff--much broader than most people's vision. Servant leadership is saying, "I'm here, I believe in what we're doing, and I'm going to be right behind this venture/person/group until the job's finished." And this person deflects the kudos, but not in a false way; they simply see the role of the one/group who actually did the work.
Servant leaders are many things, not the least of which 'organisers, catalysts, and stewards.' They produce results by funnelling resources responsibly, efficiently. They recognise areas of potential for growth due to their vision; they act. They communicate effectively, and always seem to have their emotions in check because it's not their pride on the line.
Servant leaders are first and foremost, trustworthy. You'd mortgage the house, going surety on them. Again, what we'd do for more of them?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

When Justice Just Don’t Cut It

“Justice is human, but gracious-magnanimity is divine.”[1]
– Dr. John Sentamu, The Most Revd and Rt Hon
The Lord Archbishop of York (2005- )

Christianity is much more than the law. The Archbishop of York states very plainly the fact that there are often times when decisions are made according to the law yet the moral right is transgressed--and that’s not love. And so often does the world and so-called Christianly people do this.

The Archbishop puts it like this:

“The apostle Paul is saying to his Phillippian (sic) friends: ‘Let your moderation, patient mind, softness, magnanimity, gentleness, graciousness, forbearing spirit be known to all. The Lord is at hand.’[2]

“Put differently, ‘Let all the world know that you will meet a person half-way.’”[3]

The key word in the above verse, epieikes/epieikeia (Greek), means “fitting, suitable, reasonable, fair. When applied to authorities it denotes... lenience. It also denotes a humble, patient steadfastness, which is able to submit to injustice, disgrace, and maltreatment without hatred and malice, trusting in God in spite of [what is happening].”[4]

The intelligence of God is required in order for us to discern when the moral wrong would be discharged in serving the legal right. We know this when we ‘do the right thing’ yet are left uninspired and when we actually hurt people in the process; in other words, there’s a win/lose outcome. Win/lose outcomes seen through the eyes of epieikes/epieikeia is actually lose/lose. In fact, the owner of epieikes/epieikeia prefers to lose so another can win, if that’s the only way--now that’s love.

Justice at times is gutlessness. Take for instance the woman caught in adultery in John chapter 8; Jesus went over and above the law to not only absolve the woman in the light of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, but also to restore her... and her reaction? She was riveted by the grace she saw in Christ. Compassion and an exhortation to leave a life of sin, not condemnation, was what she got. Justice would have seen her stoned to death. The radical action of forgiving the guilty act of a penitent woman brought her miraculous life.

There is the example also of what the Archbishop calls ‘the parable of the loving father,’ commonly referred to as ‘the parable of the prodigal/lost son.’ The real hero in this story is the father. I believe, along with the Archbishop, that the father exemplified the Father’s heart of watching and waiting in positive anticipation, keen to forgive and forget; for the wasteful son it is commendation for returning, not condemnation. And there is a glorious lesson in this for us and our relationships where people transgress us. Are there not numerous opportunities to forgive and actively forget every day? And, do we get trampled on when we issue God’s grace plentifully like this? Hardly. The forgiven are keen to make amends and return favours (not that we’d need them to) and their joy cannot be estimated. And even when we don’t receive anything back, God can fills our hearts to brimming overflow through the Holy Spirit (see Romans 5:3-5, The Message paraphrase). So, if they don’t feel joy we do!--for being obedient.

Gracious-magnanimity, as the Archbishop puts it is a subjective love richly dwelt in wisdom, catering to the subtle nuances of the actual situation at hand, sensitive to the creative and innovative loving solutions that are possible. It’s the great corrective to legalism and Pharisaic custom. It’s owned by grace and the powerful realm of the Most High, God. It is so far above us, yet through the Son we can claim it in his glorious name. To practice the gracious-magnanimity of epieikes/epieikeia is to approach the throne of God and to know salvation in the living God’s name. Surely salvation can come no other way?

Coincidentally, the secular world sees the display of epieikes/epieikeia in either one of two ways: it’s either totally absurd or a wonderful stroke of courageous leadership. Go figure.

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] Go to the site: for the whole sermon, Epieikes and Epieikeia: More than justice.
[2] Philippians 4:5 (paraphrase).
[3] Ibid to footnote (1).
[4] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers (ed.), Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1976, 1980), p. 485.
Note also that the key word to epieikes is the adjective and epieikeia is the noun.

Stories: the Power of Leadership

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King had it, Sen. Barack Obama has it, and in fact, all great leaders have it according to Rev. Tim Costello; it’s the ability to tell a good story. The is a quote from Costello from his book, Tips from a Travelling Soul-Searcher:

“The distinguishing mark of a great leader… is his or her ability to tell a good story--one which encompasses enough of human experience. It must acknowledge pain, anxiety and crisis, but then it must transcend the self-pitying aspects of this so that it lifts a person to new ground with hope and a fresh map for the way forward.”[1]

In a slightly different way Stew Friedman from Harvard Business Press says the same thing:

“Effective leaders use their imaginations to connect the actual stories of their pasts with the hoped-for stories of their futures.”[2]

This quality of story-telling is not simply the art of oratory or skill in engaging the heart. It is however, ostensibly about demonstrating a compassion and empathy of people and struggle through an actual happening as a way of projecting hope out of a despairing situation.

President-elect Obama has his work cut out for him with the Global situation as it is; yet it is his job, as much as anything else, to remain the eternal optimist, embracing the unknown with power and resolve during each day of his Presidency.

He will have to use all of his stories, and many others he learns about and can connect to, to inspire a generation of people who are flailing with a sense of despair for what is in front of them. He will need a team of leaders behind him who know too, how to tell a good story to inspire hope and positive change.

The refrain from Obama’s acceptance speech seemed to be “Yes we can,” employing much the same technique as Rev. Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech in connecting people to a simple meaning. Refrains connect people listening to the story to a simple truth. For Obama, and the picture he’s presenting to the American people, anything is possible. His election is proof of that.

Story-telling in leadership is way of engaging people through the use of imagination. It’s about engaging the heart as well as the mind. Inspiring leaders all around the world and in all different spheres learn of the implicit need to connect with people, their people, in ways that inspire hope, courage and faith--the broader good.
[1] Tim Costello, Tips from a Travelling Soul-Searcher (St. Leonards, Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1999), p. 167. The chapter this quote is taken from is called, “the public and private anatomy of leaders.” Costello offers a fresh and a not-necessarily-secular take on leadership.
[2] Stew Friedman "Obama's Authentic Leadership -- And Yours” in Better Leader, Richer Life (posted November 6, 2008 2:38 PM) available at:

Monday, November 17, 2008

Thoughts from the Inspirational Quotes of John F. Kennedy

Commentating on quotations is always fraught with danger as there is inevitably the threat of murdering exegesis. At odds with my own common sense I can’t help but want to stare down some poignant quotes from a wonderfully inspirational leader and ex-President of the United States, John F. Kennedy (JFK).

These quotes are found from wikiquote.[1] The following quote recognises the limitations JFK himself recognises; in that, there is peace. He freely and humbly admits the admissible:

“In short, we must face problems which do not lend themselves to easy or quick or permanent solutions. And we must face the fact that the United States is neither omnipotent nor omniscient, that we are only six percent of the world's population, that we cannot impose our will upon the other ninety-four percent of mankind, that we cannot right every wrong or reverse each adversity, and that therefore there cannot be an American solution to every world problem.”
-Speech at the University of Washington, Seattle, (16 September, 1961)

The following quote is an inspiration because JFK is choosing the hard, if not impossible, goal. He chooses to stretch the minds and sinews of his nation:

“But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

-Rice University Speech, Houston, Texas (12 September, 1962)

The arts lead us to truth every bit as much as the sciences. The sciences may be more objective but they quickly lead us to delusion too when pursued without appropriate perspective. The greatest art is the art of creation. Less than a month from his assassination, JFK finds art the medium for respecting life:

“When power leads men towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man's concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.”

-Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts (26 October, 1963)

What a way to begin office. The boldness and brilliance of leading into the unknown, not swayed by the enormity of the task at hand:

“All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.”

-Inaugural Address, Washington D.C. (20 January, 1961)

Copyright © 2008, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] Sourced online:

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Protecting the Vulnerable Worker from Injury & Disease

As we were driving past my daughter’s workplace recently she mentioned that she had placed out the twelve wheelie bins that were on the verge. I got to ask her how she did that and she told me how; she dragged two bins (probably weighing over 50lbs each) at a time. I asked her if her shoulders or arms hurt afterwards and she said that they had. On another occasion she came out from working smelling of bleach. I asked her if she used any gloves or other protective equipment and she hadn’t.

What my daughter represents is the vulnerable worker: those predominantly aged 15-24, those with disabilities or impairments, seasonal and holiday workers, and those from either culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) or non-English speaking backgrounds (NESB). She fits neatly into the first group.

Being involved in occupational safety and health (OS&H) is a privilege because it’s about people, relationships and caring. Finding solutions to problems is the means to augmenting positive ends. It’s also about protecting disempowered workers and groups, or those who had a lack of empowerment in the first place. When we recognise that vulnerable workers are often at a profound OS&H disadvantage and are ordinarily exposed to hazards at much higher levels of risk than we’d wish to tolerate, it should shock us into action.

If there’s one thing I’m passionate about it is protecting young workers because my daughter is one of them. So, the remainder of this article is dedicated to this issue.

Some key hazards that young people are vulnerable to are:

Decision-making – requiring young people to make judgments and decisions on the spot is asking for trouble. It is well recognised that a young person’s brain does not mature around decision making until the mid-twenties. (Go to the following link for more on this topic:,-Driving-And-Life-Risks?--Explanations-Here&id=944972)

Manual Handling – at times young people look stronger than they actually are and this can be a trap if we expect their bodies to be as resilient as a mature adult’s. Occupational overuse syndrome (OOS) and various types of strain and sprain injuries are likely. Every now and then we should ask them how they feel physically... ‘Any aches and pains?’

Repetitive, Unpopular or Paced Work – we’ve probably all had the worst tasks at the workplace as a young person. Repetitive work without the right ergonomics, including rest breaks, heightens the risk. Paced work places pressure on young workers and they’re more likely than most to take short cuts, because they don’t as readily think of the consequences like most mature adults do and they’re more keen to impress and don’t want to ‘let the boss down.’

Noise, Vibration and Heat Stress – young people love loud music; a hazard often brought into the workplace. Whether it’s music or not, young people don’t often think much of the consequences due to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Information on NIHL and constant reminders are necessary. In hot environments they’re less likely to drink water as a preventative not knowing how tenuous the human body’s coping systems are. Again, information on the consequences of heat stroke and worse is really critical.

Driving – there are obvious risks here and some not so obvious. The article linked above “Risk in Teenagers” certainly attends to these issues.

Violence and Bullying – young people are normally easy targets for bullies. A young person can even feel bullied when it’s not readily apparent to the perpetrator, making this one of the most difficult OS&H issues to resolve. Most young people will be bullied, but if we can anticipate it, the likelihood and consequences of psychological harm can be reduced and possibly eliminated.


OS&H should be about identifying hazards and implementing solutions. For young people it is even more important that the legislative mantra of the ‘employer providing information, instruction, training and supervision’ be the case.


The most basic requirement is the OS&H induction. This is a generalised collection of information only. Assessment to ensure understanding of the information provided is the key. The induction is a very basic tool and without the support of the following three controls the situation is fraught with danger. Expecting a young person to take a booklet home and read it in their spare time is ridiculous. Give them the time at work and assess for understanding.


This is on-the-job training in the actual tasks, procedures and working environment the young person will be exposed to. The goal is that the young person will know the workplace well enough so that they don’t place themselves unknowingly at risk. This is where ‘orientation’ to the workplace is different from the ‘induction.’ Orientation is more about ‘this is where the toilets, emergency exits, muster points, and tea and coffee making facilities are.’

Again, it is important that the instruction is followed by some level of informal assessment and monitoring. Instruction manuals, where used, should be easy to understand and have more pictures and illustrations than words.


This is a broad topic. There is safety (hazard) specific training and there’s training in the use of equipment or processes or materials. We would never want to send a young person into a confined space or have them work at height without the correct level of hazard awareness and equipment training. Training does not necessarily equal competence. Young people should be excluded from any unsupervised activity until they can demonstrate competence; even then there is a higher risk and some level of supervision is a must.


This is probably the most underrated OS&H control for the young worker at the end of the day. The supervisor must care enough to mentor the young person and if he or she can’t, they should employ a buddy system, using a trusted and skilled worker. Supervision at its best is about a caring relationship. It goes without saying that the best supervisors are ‘people’ people, and the best of these for young people are those who’re passionate about being positive models to (and advocates for) young people in the workplace.

Inspiration for this article was via a WorkSafe Western Australia 4Thought Lunchtime Information Session titled “Keeping Vulnerable Workers Safe / Communicating Safety Messages.”