Saturday, March 30, 2019

How to create a culture of non-reporting

As a safety advisor for 15 years in the corporate world, managing the fallout from incidents, the commonest thing I had to ‘evangelise’ about was, “Report, report, report… we cannot do anything to reduce risk if we don’t know what problems happen, how often they happen, and how and why they happen.”
This was complementary to proactive efforts to observe operations and interact with employees before incidents occurred. I was either a member or a representative of the management team, but also kind of a chaplain to workers. My experience in helping manage safety was organisations genuinely sought to improve safety culture — management genuinely wanted to manage the work well.
Now, I realise that in this context we’re not often talking about sexual abuse — we’re talking workplace issues. But I can tell you, workplace issues do become highly emotive. High stakes are involved. Unions are involved. Clashes occur. And abuse happens within workplaces, too. A lot. And there were several workplace abuse issues investigated under my watch.
Then I read about a university that sets their reporting culture up under four words:
You Report. We Decide.
Whoa!
You Report. We Decide.
On a report form for people reporting cases of sexual abuse!
I can tell you what kind of culture you’d be driving if that was the succinct message you’re sending out. Don’t report. [This is really what we’re saying] [Well… you can try to… but remember, we decide.] [We have the power to do that, and, even though we won’t say this overtly, we want you to know that.] We have the knowledge and skill to properly investigate the matter. [Well, we think so, and our biases and interests will surely run contrary at times to the truth.] Trust us.”
Many kinds of incidents, of which abuse is a good example, require independent investigations, by competent authorities, who deal forensically and discover the truth.
When you say “You Report. We Decide.” you drive a culture of non-reporting, because you’re going to drive truth underground. Anyone who would report abuse is already wondering about the wisdom in such action, no matter how right it is to do such a thing.
Nobody ever reports abuse thinking,
“this is a wise thing to do,”
because culturally they’re already thinking,
“I’m not going to be believed.”
We faced the same opposition in the workplace. People don’t want to draw negative attention to themselves even if the management team are genuinely trying to make an operation as efficient and as safe as possible. And good management teams understand this.
All organisations — churches, not-for-profits, and ministries included — must know that the human norm is to not report, for fear of repercussions.
Reporting abuse is always a risk for the person reporting, because, in exposing truth they expose themselves to further, and even more potent attack.
Healthy organisational cultures will endeavour to work with these frailties of human vulnerability, seeing justice as the opportunity to manage well.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Build Faithfulness and Justice Will Come

When God delivers the reality of a vision given years ago, and it’s today, it’s a day indeed!
We never can see how the Lord does what is done, how it is being done, or why it was done in the way it was done, but the fact it was done reminds us that our God is alive!
Only God can orchestrate the things God does. Our Lord does these things in these ways because our Lord wants us to know it not of human doing; it’s of unimaginable God doing.
All God asks, having given us the vision, the metaphor, the word, the dream, is that we build what the Lord requires as the scaffold, prepared for this work of divine doing.
Build the backdrop and God will provide the pantomime. The drama cannot take place without the set being in place, just as a beautiful portrait looks flat without the depth of field perspective to bring it to life.
Build your character and God will bring the test. When God brings the test, God knows you have what you need to pass the test, and so do you, as you apply your humble courage, and then toast victory, but never as a boast. Unless it’s to boast about God’s incomprehensibility.
You built in faith and trust and that faith and trust is repaid in an opportunity, which, until you get it, you have no idea about. When God makes it known to you that your justice has come, God alone will be glorified through it.
Build it and it will come. Prepare for the day, and though it could take years, the day will come. It has been promised and so it will come to pass. Trust the one who is wholly trustworthy. Not one word uttered by the Lord comes back void.
Build a structure of faithfulness
and God’s justice will furnish it.
And when you’ve built what God asked you to build and you’ve built it faithfully, and you’re waiting patiently, be careful not to lose patient or let your faith falter, though it will. It will because it takes years to unfold. Don’t lose heart in your losing heart. God is surely bringing justice to you. God is bringing justice out of every situation where we build what the Lord has asked us to build.
God is faithful and just and will complete the work that the Lord alone started. Build it and it — whatever was destined from long ago — will come.

Photo by Alex Radelich on Unsplash

Monday, March 25, 2019

Seed sown by God will rise and thrive

Sometimes God sends us through a trial to save us from something worse. It can, however, take us a long time to see it. When we do, it is our ‘a-ha’ moment. And every ‘a-ha’ moment has God’s fingerprints all over it.
But after the trial comes a planting we can trust.
Take this analogy:
It’s not until you’re planted in a safe place, where you’re appreciated, valued, encouraged and in sum accepted, that you can even realise something that happens when you’re in such a place. You grow, don’t you? You cannot help but grow. You’re free to become who God has ordained you to become. All the fetters are off and you’re able to go where the Lord has purposed for you to go.
Many wander through their lives and can never work out why their lives appear to them to be going so wrong. Sometimes they’ve endured what has quenched the spirit within them. How could they possibly grow in a place where trauma is an occasional or potential reality, let alone a daily prospect?
For some, there is the urgent reality of the valley of decision. Stay in a toxic seedbed where growth can hardly occur or break clear?
As the seed is sown into safe, fertile, well-seasoned soil, that dead root rests there for some days or weeks and then springs alive, slowly rising north, climbing out of the mud into the fresh oxygenated air. The moment it breaks the crust of earth, having been buried and deprived of life, it breathes forth the beauty of creation. Perhaps plants can’t think, but if the plant can feel, it feels imbued by hope. And in continued safety it grows and blossoms and becomes — all it was destined to become.
There are times when our lives are like that seed that had to die before it could come alive and have the opportunity to thrive.
Sometimes we have to be planted deeply, and it’s ages before we can see the emergence of what will ultimately blossom. It’s cruel that out of death comes what looks like utter futility, and yet that is exactly the stuff of resurrection. Jesus was as dead he could be before he rose from that grave. Entombed in the deepest darkest hell, from there he arose. And it’s the same when we’ve been plucked out of the clutches of what seemed like a hell we could no longer endure.
People may well point the finger our way and say all kinds of disgusting things. Such a formula for humanity is nothing new. When people do evil, they are not doing much new. The truth tarries, and it might be some years before that dead seed in us that was planted somewhere safe begins to emerge… in the fullness of God’s time. Not a second beforehand.
In the meantime, if that seed is in us, we hold out hope. That seed is hope. It is buried deep within us and what is dead can no longer die, and what is destined to rise will at God’s time thrive. Here, in this seed, is that knowledge we have that all will turn around for our vindication. As we look at that ‘a-ha’ moment, we come to see it as an indwelt memory buried deep in our psyche. It was always there! And in that is the reality that God was there at our beginning — he sowed that seed in there before the days that were written in his book ever came to pass!
Let me say it again…
Sometimes God sends us through a trial
to save us from something worse.
It can, however, take us a long time to see it.
When we do, it is our ‘a-ha’ moment.
And every ‘a-ha’ moment has
God’s fingerprints all over it.
The trial we may despise may be protection
from something interminably worse:
compromise and complicity.


Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Friday, March 22, 2019

MINISTRY MANIFESTO

Like most who call ministry a career, my pastime that came to a crossroad some time ago has now taken a definite turn in a definitive direction. I’m glad of it. But it has meant I’ve had to let some very precious things go… actually, that’s a process and I’m not there yet. You may relate.
Ever since I was abused for the first three years of my apprenticeship (1984 – 1986) I’ve had a solemn resolve to be an advocate. Many times, I’ve been appreciated in this role, but not always. And I haven’t always deployed the role right, in the appropriate ways, or at the correct times, but my heart has endeavoured to be true.
My first career in what I always considered was an advocacy role was in industrial safety and health — injury and illness prevention and recovery. I always felt it was crucial to my role to see where risk was and to mitigate it. Everyone has the right to go home in one piece. I built systems and processes, audited compliance, trained practitioners in the psychology and systems, responded to industrial-scale emergencies, and investigated and analysed incidents. I was trained to find the systems error and to endeavour to understand the human factors where there was loss. That made sense. Eradicate the repeatable patterns, in reducing the severity of loss events and the likelihood of them re-occurring. Risk management in a nutshell.
The safety and health role had components of proactivity for prevention of incidents — before things went wrong — and reactiveness for the recovery of incidents — when things actually went wrong.
My second career where I consider myself an advocate is as a minister (broadly speaking) within the Christian environment (now extending beyond the church) also has a proactive and reactive focus.
The proactive focus is through the peacemaking ministry, PeaceWise. The reactive is through what I’m learning and have learned through counselling practice, and through my own negative relational experiences. The reactive is more where relationships become toxic, often beyond the reach of peacemaking. The reactive involves abuse and trauma. Peacemaking requires reasonable minds that are prepared to venture into the idols of the heart we all bow down to. Both are needed in a concerted effort to restore the imbalances that occur because of and through conflict.
Now, this may stun you,
but Christians don’t behave as Christians should
— we behave like the sinners we are.
That creates problems we must address.
Often people don’t realise they’ve done wrong and think it’s all the other person’s fault. That’s almost the norm. Through peacemaking principles, many can see their own contribution, and this empowers them to seek to reconcile with their aggrieved party; to restore the balance that was once a feature of the relationship, or to even create a superior sense of balance, for mutual satisfaction.
Occasionally, however, no matter how much help is given, a person or persons cannot or will not see their fault at all. This polarises conflict and into the arena of abuse we go.
The proactive work is in equipping Christians to negotiate conflict before they encounter it, so they can have a restorative influence on their relationships. The reactive work is in helping those who’ve been hurt, traumatised and scarred from either what turns out to be reparable or irreparable conflict. Here, I recognise the right everyone has to feel healed, and to be at peace within life.
This ministry manifesto outlines what I do. I do what I do because we’re all equal under God. Yet, whether by accident or intention, people go around acting like they’re more equal with God than they are with others.
In conflict we become unequal, and,
where relationships are out of balance, life is wrong.
Christ came that we might be reconciled to God through himself. In a manifesto of commitment to work to the ends of “righteousness and justice and equity, every good path” (Proverbs 2:9) for all, I continue that call afresh.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

How do we argue lovingly without slipping into hate?

I’ve had several goes at this… let’s try this again, this time in the context of a quote by Miriam Veiszadah: “If you play a role in giving a platform to hate, you are complicit.”
Miriam is quoted by lefties — right, left and centre. By the way, I’m more left than right in many of my views. But we have a bigger problem, if we’re indeed Christian?
We’re going headlong into a time of violence by attitude — “out of the abundance of the heart,” which was being referred to as a bad thing, Jesus said, “the mouth speaks.”[1]
If what we see is mockery, scorn and derision,
we know that the heart beneath it is cold and hard.
God cares for all creation, for every single human being, and must detest it when both sides sling their vitriol at each other, as if words weren’t violent. They are! You cannot say that, “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” If that were so there would be a lot less trauma in the world, for there are far more varieties of abuse than those that do physical harm alone. And all abuse is violent.
Anyone who is venturing into mockery and selective reporting and politicking, among other forms of influence, aimed at wresting power for one side of the argument to the detriment of another is doing violence, because they’re not loving their neighbour.
Doesn’t God have an awesome sense of humour in creating neighbours who we find it easy to despise? The point is, love is not easy. It isn’t just one view. If we romanticise love then we have missed the point, even as we pretend to have worked God out. God is inscrutable.
You cannot love your neighbour and poke fun at them at their expense at the same time.
Do I have a solution? No, not really. But I do want to call self-righteousness from loud and large voices, though; people who won’t necessarily read this. Yes, self-righteousness from both/all sides when they’re right in their own eye amid such complex ethical problems.
Complex problems are never solved by one voice. Enigmatic dilemmas can only be resolved when a range of voices come together. Can you imagine that happening in our highly fractured, instant media, viral world? And while I’m there, perhaps just reflect a little before you share your left- or right-wing propaganda — you’ve been spun, and you’re spinning others in your sharing.
We need a broader discussion without throwing verbal grenades at each other. But that is only possible when we recognise the hurt and the hate in our own hearts. Yes, you and me. It’s there.
We must stop pandering to our own biases and recognise we don’t have the market cornered on wisdom.
I just find it so ironic that many people who decry hate in the world do so in hateful ways.
And yet, I say it again: I do not know how to solve this and I’m not actually that smart in this arena. Just wanted to make my point.
And finally, to those who I rile up or upset with this article, all I hope for is that it might cause you to just be still for a moment and reflect. In 560 words I cannot possibly have covered it all.


[1] Matthew 12:34 (NRSV)

Photo by Morgan Basham on Unsplash

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

contempt for self-righteousness, contemplation of trust

A self-portrait this might as well be, because I relate intimately with what I say here. But it’s not just about me.
In today’s world, there is far too much Pharisaic self-righteousness and posturing going on in plain view. Especially by ‘God’s strong/powerful/anointed/anything-else-pumped-up-full-of-pride-you-want-to-add leader’. Such a leader, though they may not see it, is becoming a dinosaur.
The Pharisee is self-righteous, claiming their truth is God’s truth, claiming their right to say it as it is, collateral damage be what it may, which is code for, “I’ve got every right to communicate what comes to my mind.” They will not be dissuaded. And anyone who’s had a modicum of success in their chosen field, and has remained successful for quite a time, is most susceptible to this gravest of flaws of self-deception.
You cannot rest on your past achievements in the postmodern world. Society will rip everything you ever had right out of your grasp the moment you’re seriously exposed.
Is this hard to hear or detestable to read? Possibly. Better this than the pit of fiery hell. Better look at something heinous as a possibility than look the other way and potentially miss some maleficence present.
Don’t worry. I’m there. I know it eventually when I travel down that lane. As I share my thoughts with my wife, about externals that rile me, whether there is a hint of right-thinking in it or not, it all comes out wrong. I am right in my own mind, yet unequivocally dangerous if unchecked. My wife adds no attention to it, and God speaks through a deafening silence: “Stop it, already… it’s not the issue anymore, it’s your attitude… I’ve got the issue, trust me to deal with it, but drop the attitude.” Everyone around us can stink the attitude but ourselves.
Why are we resting in our performance, what we’ve achieved, the books we’ve read or authored, the people we know or please, the possessions we control? These are all taken away in a flash. All they are is cheap jewellery, and none of it can be taken with us.
Here is the paradoxical dilemma: awareness of self-righteousness offers the opportunity of confession and repentance — the way of light and of life, through the purging of pride and conquest for the receipt of humility and wisdom. Whenever we’re unaware, or choose to remain unaware, our lack of insight will drive us down a path toward destruction of others and of ourselves.
Hear that? Self-righteousness is a road to ruin for others and ourselves. Nobody wins. Abuse occurs. And, possibly worst of all, dozens or droves are deceived into the bargain, as blind guide leads the blind into the path of self-righteousness that forges a calamitous path of destruction for all, without anyone ever knowing it.
See this acronym of T.R.U.S.T. to contemplate:
Totally
Rely
Upon
Sovereign
Truth
Trust is a matter of a total reliance on that which is always sovereignly true. We have nothing. God has everything. Let’s be honest.

Photo by Arthur Miranda on Unsplash

Monday, March 18, 2019

Which ‘spirit’ spoke that to my spirit?

“Stop writing, just stop it,” I felt a spirit say. I thought it was God’s Spirit, but later I have come to discern it to be another spirit, and every spirit other than God’s Spirit ought not get a second’s hearing.
But they do.
We ‘hear’ many a thing
and many a thing we act on,
without wondering if
the ‘voice’ is a benevolent one or not.
I wonder if God is about to say something. I wonder if in being so discouraged, so oppressed by this spirit, that I’d be prepared to lay down and go completely ‘off the grid.’ God has been saying to me, “Go gently.” He has been saying to me, “Keep repenting.” And I have heard God say, “Get prepared.”
But at no time has God been saying to stop writing. Why am I writing this?
Like usual, there is a flurry of salient thoughts circling through my mind. Any and all of which I could write on. But the biggest matter of discernment is what and how to write — to simply write is easy. Please forgive me for the many times I miss the mark when my discernment is a degree or three off.
What I write won’t be for everyone. There seems to be a narrow band of humanity that resonates with what I write. I’m on my own journey about this. It is much more important to me that I write what’s right than what tickles certain ears, but in saying that I’m often tempted to tickle ears. That said, I’m simply blessed to be allowed to write — that I haven’t been barred by now.
I am still getting to my point.
We all have the huge spiritual task of discerning what we say (or write), think, and do. Soul deception is part-and-parcel of being human. We’re all tempted to go those places within ourselves where angels flee. And we wouldn’t go there if we knew it were wrong or stupid. But we do find ourselves in situations where we instantly regret finding ourselves there.
I was reminded by a friend recently, in her study of Deuteronomy 28, that the blessings are written succinctly, but the curses are written in a long-winded fashion. We do find that our lives are enormously complicated for the times we ran, like Jonah, far from God. Yet, life is inordinately simpler (though not always ‘simple’) when we endeavour along God’s narrow path.
The world is amess with spiritual conflict. We too are like lambs before our slaughterer, but for the grace of God that has already gloriously accounted for us. In the meantime, before glory, there will be trial and temptation and tumult. We will discern wrongly. We will miss our way. We will do things that reveal to us our idolatry. We will stumble and we will occasionally fall. And yet we’re already saved. We’re already secure. We have nothing to fear other than a lack of awareness of our fear itself.
And yet we’re free as birds,
to cavort with God’s Spirit and Presence
as much as we trust.
As we listen within the context of our lives, discerning the best we can, our opportunity is to inquire, “Is that you, God, who is speaking to me… or is it some other spirit?”
I struggle to find a way of describing God’s benevolent voice, but I know an example of what the opposite spirit is like: it’s when we’re right-in-our-own-minds, convicted and convinced to the point we’re no longer able to dialogue, and when we’re set in our view, unable even for God to jar us open.
God loves a contrite spirit within us that is vulnerably courageous and open. Into such a spirit, God speaks, without a semblance of our soul’s resistance.
When our hearts battle pride, however, faith is seen to give way to fear, and another spirit may speak.
Stay soft even when life is hard,
and God’s Spirit will be your guard.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Don’t be troubled if you find yourself troubled

Television commentary and the conversation between a Newsagent and their customer summarised the consumption of our lives now. Only one thing bears talking about. We’re at a loss to make any sense of the tragedy.
We want to use our words, but they fail us. How can it be, with thousands of words at our command? But words are finite and pliable to the understanding. Words mean nothing if we cannot understand what happened.
We want to expend vitriol for vitriol, reminding ourselves, if we’re wise, to not even go there. There is such a term as a ‘troll’, and trolls don’t just attack to pierce the front guard; many attack by subtle mind-bending means, and others are just plain brutal in their pathological honesty.
We want people to stop saying silly things, but we also recognise that all of what this dredges up is complex. The more we plumb the depths of ethics, the more ethics comes back at us with conundrums we cannot reconcile.
We want these events out of our minds, but we just cannot seem to escape them. But likelier we’ve felt guilty for not wanting to bear an infinitely easier burden than those close to the scene or heart of the victims.
We want life to return to normal, but again we feel guilty for thinking this, and we somehow compensate by raising the tragedy to communicate, not least to ourselves, that we feel disgust, empathy, horror, ashamed, sorrowful, powerless, useless — and myriad form of other words to express emotion — all at the same or varying times.
We want people who stand for these atrocities to suffer — anything really to make it feel a bit righter. But there is no way we can even begin to right some wrongs. And these people who say such insensitive things (and that differs markedly, depending on where our sensibilities lie) make us incredulous.
We want some end to the suffering that humans bring on humans. We cannot stand it when preventable tragedies happen. Each of us wants it all to stop! “No more!” can be heard echoing as a bellow from deep within our souls.
One thing we can know is this. In being troubled in any number of ways, some of which we cannot even be conscious of, we must face that we’re being overwhelmed. We must become aware of this. We must wrest a semblance of control back. We must turn from rage and disgust and indignation, which are all understandable emotions. We must turn and run from these secondary emotions into the primary emotions of our fear, our sadness, being honest about how vulnerable we feel, and run to the only thing that can soothe us — love.
What we think about most, grows, as Dr Caroline Leaf says. As we venture backwardly, step by step, cautiously and trepidatiously, avoiding the precipice we were about to plunge over, may we hear the Echo of the Ages — “Come to me, child, and be comforted. I will heal your moment and each continuing overwhelming moment, as they each rise.”
Honesty and humility will take us inevitable to love. There are so many things we can never hope to control. 

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Impact of Stress on Relationships, Mental Health, Life

We’re usually unconscious of the impact of stress on our relationships, mental health, and our lives.
We simply do not reconcile the role of stress and how it affects our mind, body and soul.
We do not see how our thinking is compromised; how we become somewhat disabled cognitively, and no matter how much we normally bear chaos well, stress pushes us over the precipice. We feel overwhelmed, at a loss, out of control. We lose equilibrium. We panic. We stop trusting.
Think about the role of stress on relationships. Imagine if our thinking is burdened by a problem we just cannot solve; worse if it’s several. No matter how much we want to spend time with a loved one, we simply can’t be present with them. And then when the loved one seeks our opinion on something, we reveal ourselves as not being with it, because we cannot think about the matter. We don’t have the mental capacity. We cannot give ourselves to them and to the present moment.
They may instantly think we do not care,
hardly imagining the stress we bear is consuming us.
Even if they can understand, there must be resentment or sadness at the very least, that we are there in body, but we present as a shell. They think it must be about them. This annoys them or sends the message that we don’t love them. But, of course, we do.
This doesn’t just impact on them. It impacts on us as well. We, ourselves, are disappointed that we can’t be present in this important family situation, which causes our stress to compound. We feel guilty and ashamed for failing them. We are to be understood for getting angry. Even getting angry at our loved one, who we least want to be angry with, but it just happens to be they’re in the firing line, because they’re the ones we’re with.
We have a situation where both people are feeling hurt, and without the capacity to apologise, in being bravely and humbly honest, there is a recipe for entrenched conflict. All because of stress. And nothing because we didn’t love each other. Indeed, it’s because we love each other that we trusted each other with how we felt — and with stress, that’s messy!
The fact is stress impacts every single one of us. Nobody has full control over their life. In every single person there are buttons that can be pressed, no matter how composed others see that we are. We all have vulnerabilities.
Stress impacts on our mental health. It has a role in contorting our self-image, where we can come to doubt ourselves, and even come to a crisis of self. If we bear stress too long, it impacts on our mental health and sense of wellbeing. And many of us know what it’s like when we’ve been ‘too strong’ — in other words, stressed — for too long! It erodes us, like cancer to our bodies, stress seems to metastasise in our soul.
~
What can we do about stress? And can we manage it so that it doesn’t disrupt our relationships, and mental health, and other facets of our lives?
Awareness is key. Even as we keep tabs on how we are going mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, understanding the role of time and priorities within the context of our needs, we will benefit. We all need time to exercise and sleep. We all need to eat correctly. And we all need time to reconnect with ourselves and with God. We all have needs, and these that are mentioned are the tip of the iceberg.
I think stress is destined to keep us busy through circumambulation. What this means is it is a constant in our lives. We keep coming around to the same place. It’s as if God is trying to teach us how to correctly deal with stress. Just like, as a peacemaker, I believe that conflict is an opportunity, so too I believe stress is an opportunity; to observe in ourselves and others, to learn from, and to grow through, as a means to ultimately mature.
What could be the vision be in harmonising the stress in our lives?
That we would have the patience and the forbearance needed when we are stressed, to just back off ourselves a little. That we would anticipate the stress would arrive sooner or later, and not be so surprised and annoyed about it. That we might also understand the role the stress in others; bearing with them in their terse responses, and through kindness, give them gentle cause to reflect on their lack of grace, without ever coercing an apology out of them.
Remember that grace is undeserved favour, and just like we would like to be forgiven when we overstep the mark, we ought also to forgive others when they may do it.
~
For the stress we bear,
for any lack of care
or angst we share,
let’s receive what God gives,
knowing the person who receives lives,
because our Lord forgives.
So we ought to forgive
ourselves and others too.


Photo by Riccardo Mion on Unsplash

Monday, March 11, 2019

the only ‘Special’ Christians are Supposed to exemplify

As Christians, especially if we’re leaders in any capacity, we have a task — to exemplify a fundamental, biblical quality. We’re to be ‘special’ in only one regard — in how ardently we carry our cross as we follow Jesus.
There is nothing more unique
especially in this Twenty-First Century day
than a person who bears their cross.
This, we call holiness…
~
There is nothing more common
than a person, Christian or otherwise,
who falls for the common deception
of their own narcissistic specialness.
This, we call sin…
The problem can be this, especially in organisations with church in their name: that leaders and members and attenders see their church, their denomination, their movement as special. It’s a paradox.
This is because the only specialness they can bear, biblically speaking, is they would deny their specialness in favour of bearing their cross. Their denial of their specialness, their awareness and their rejection of it, in favour of preferring the specialness of Christ, is what marks them as special. Their behavioural response will be to bear their cross, which is an uncommon glee that is only possible through Christ.
The Problem with Specialness
“When a narcissist is exposed, their horror is about the damage
it will do TO THEM to be accused
and they believe that others are failing THEM
by getting in the way of their ability to live out their specialness.
— Diane Langberg, PhD
It’s this quality of narcissism. Far too many churches and church leaders see themselves as special; inwardly, within themselves, as more special than the church and church leader down the road. Far too many Christians are ‘fans’ of popular church leaders. And heaven help you if you cross someone trying to live out their specialness.
This devotedness to a particular church or church leader’s specialness is sickening. In glorifying the leader or the church or the message we fail to glorify God.
God does not get what God deserves,
and a human or human system
gets what they don’t deserve.
Beside this fact, such adulation is unhealthy
for the humans and the human system.
In glorifying a certain leader, we highlight their God-nurtured talent and God-given gifts, all too often without highlighting the Talent Nurturer and Gift Giver.
In glorifying a certain church, by making one entity ‘special’, we highlight what is ordinary and average and unbecoming in other churches.
All churches and all leaders
and all followers of Christ are equal before God,
not for what they do, but for whose they are!
The problem with specialness is we begin to read and believe in our own press. It gets the better of us, because we are all susceptible to pride. Any leader who has open reign for an extended period needs to be doubly aware, because they are especially susceptible. (Read the Old Testament lately? Nothing makes us any better than any of the sinful rulers of Israel. As they were human, so are we.)
The Specialness we’re Called to
We are special, but not for the reasons in the previous section. We will never get our heads around how special we are. But we do get close when we open our Bibles regularly. If we were to open up to Luke chapter 14, and read those impossible words of Jesus’ in verses 25-33, those words about what the Kingdom requires, we will soon learn the specialness that the Kingdom values most.
The specialness we are called to is
the specialness that highlights
to others their specialness.
How often do we succeed in attaining to the specialness that we are called to? I can tell you, personally speaking, not that often, which is a good thing. If I was constantly aware that I was succeeding, I might focus on how well the specialness of the Kingdom works through me — and that would breed only pride. See how tendentious and how precarious this is?
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God knows we are all special. And what should be obvious to us is the fact that our specialness to our Lord is not a specialness we are to boast about. We are special because we are made in the image of God. Every single person. And this specialness is enhanced only by a behavioural specialness that sets us apart from the rest of the world — the fruit of faith and repentance that looks not to self, but to God and to others, elevating others for God’s glory.
Only as we live this life fully devoted to Christ can we bear the full weight of our cross: which is to live as if we have died, so that others may live basking in the glory of divine favour, and may simply ask, “How might I die to self in order that another might live?” — of a sense, using what has become a worldly concept, albeit uncommon, to pay their love forward.
Until we give up what we cannot keep to gain what we cannot lose, we will never truly understand the Christian life, and the abundance that has been set before us, with which we are to take hold.
How will we know we are living the true Christian life? We will know this when we are truly delighted in not getting our way.
In order to reach this halcyon way of life, we must attain awareness of those times and situations of our specialness apart from God. These truly separate us from God’s Presence.
Our Lord can only abide with those who no longer wrestle and wrangle for their own way.
The moment we fully jettison our sinful cravings,
is when God’s Presence fully joins us in the moment.

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash