There, but for the grace of God

In memory of my late grandmother, Nita Pearl
who loved poetry & the colour purple.

“There, but for the grace of God go I”, it once was said,
For another’s path of darkness
Could be mine or yours instead.
No soapbox to be stood on;
No high ground to be claimed;

I daren’t think too highly of myself
Lest I be shamed.

“There, but for the grace of God go I”, it once was thought,
For I know not of his story,
Or the battles he has fought.

Was birth or creed or race or greed
At fault most in her past?

Did she choose the leading role,
The script in which she’s cast?

“There, but for the grace of God go I”, we used to say;
My heart may not seem quite as black,
But it’s a least a shade of grey.

Perhaps his script was golden,
But he improvised for worse;

Does he deserve redemption,
Or forever to be cursed?

“There, but for the grace of God go I”, we rarely think;
“Perfect? No, but good at heart,”
We say without a blink.

Pride and greed and lust and rage
Ignored at least in part,

When visit unexpected,
Betray the blackness of our heart.

“There, but for the grace of God go I”, we’d think once more;
That before we speak our hearts are scanned
For blackness, to be sure.

For if we wish to throw a stone;
Point out another’s sin;

We might first see the roles reversed,
And find grace for love to win.

There’s a Whole Lot in a Word

Good communication inspires, encourages, challenges, entertains…
or at the very least, gets a point across.

Great communication makes you wrestle.

Wrestle with an idea, your thoughts, an emotion… it matters not the topic: great communicators get under your skin & inside your head, and cause you to wrestle with something, leaving you changed.

Last week I wrote the post What’s in a Word? and no sooner had the “publish” button been pressed, than I started wrestling with my own words now floating through the interwebs. Not in disagreement with what I had written, I simply felt that a piece of the puzzle wasn’t sitting in its place. The picture was incomplete. So I wrestled – all week – to flesh out what I loved, what I had gotten wrong, what had gone amiss.

Black & white?

We love black & white – it makes us feel safe & secure. Clean lines. Boundaries. Fence lines to keep out & protect. But life is all kinds of grey, and the beauty of nuance colours our lives with far more than 50 shades of grey.

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Nuance. The missing piece of the puzzle. Ashamedly so.

Indulge me, will you, as I add a nuanced post script – a few shades of grey to colour in the lines of black & white.

Let’s be brave enough to commit to being ruthless with ideas, and kind with people.
Let’s be big enough to know the difference.

So what does that actually look like?
It sounds simple & even has a good go at being clever, but perhaps some more language might be helpful.
Not in the form of answers, but questions:

If I am going to be ruthless with ideas and kind with people, have I first started with the ideas residing within myself? To which of my ideas won’t I invite scrutiny?

Am I contending FOR an idea, or just against one – an idea which others may still have their identity tied to?

What is my motivation for contending for this particular idea? Am I motivated by fear, or by love? For the good of humanity, or by my ego?

If I decide to contend for this idea, can I do it without damaging the heart of another person or breaking relationship with them?

Will I be able to articulate my idea without disparaging someone’s identity?

How am I going to present this idea so that the delivery builds up everyone in the conversation?

What have I placed at the centre of the conversation: the idea or the person? Am I more committed to the person, or to the idea?

Am I committed to peace, or to being right? Do my words reflect that?

What else would you add? What shade of grey would you like to see in the arena?

I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments – let’s have a conversation!

 

 

What’s in a Word?

Bullying. Bigot. Snowflake. Nasty. Leftie. Stuck in the dark ages….

Words and phrases such as these are being thrown around with increasing vigour, often in response to a person stating a belief based on a long-held socially accepted norm, or an opinion that is contrary to the opinion held by the reader. (Afterall, it’s usually only observable on social media – very rarely do you overhear two people shouting at one another, face to face.)

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It has now become almost impossible to state a contrary view in the public square without receiving some form of abusive response, causing many to refrain from entering the square at all. Granted, so much rides on the delivery and context of the original comment, but how have we managed to get to the place where conflicting ideas cannot be acknowledged, tolerated, or held in tension?

To further complicate our ability to achieve this, we are actively changing the meaning of words by their repeated overuse, weakening the value they hold. Some parted ways with their original meaning long ago: awesome, amazing, legend, to name a few.

How many times have we used the word “awesome” to describe a situation or person, but in reality they aren’t actually inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, or fear within us?
They did something helpful or good? Sure. They’re awesome!

And that’s ok – but we must recognise the word’s departure from its old meaning as well as our part in birthing this new creature, leaving us without an adequate linguistic distinction to communicate two very different meanings.

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One such word whose misuse has been frustrating for some time is the term ‘bigot’.

Bigot: a person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion.

Usually hurled as an insult to shut down an opposing view so as to avoid the need to articulate a better view, the misuse of this word often exposes that exact character flaw within the person using it.

Even more concerning as we continue to step further into this brave new world unfolding before us, is the misuse of the word ‘bullying’.

Bully: a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people.

Bullying: to act the bully toward; intimidate; domineer.

Recent online misappropriation of this word surfaced around penalties being applied after families knowingly breached a school uniform policy. Those jolly teachers, enforcing a clearly stated policy. Who do they think they are? Bullies!!!

An important issue for society to grapple with, bullying deserves attention & addressing. That anyone is affected by another person habitually intimidating them is thoroughly disheartening & unacceptable; we must all continue to defend the weaker, the smaller, the helpless… because as much as we try to address bullying behaviours, bullying will never be fully eradicated. Bullies are often hurting & wrestling with something difficult inside themselves.

However, we do vulnerable people no favours by applying the word “bullying” to the wrong context: 

It is not bullying to enforce clearly stated boundaries.

It is not bullying to hold or state a contradictory view.

It is not bullying to want to advance a contradictory view.

If it is bullying for you to simply state an opinion or belief that is different to mine, is that to be considered as offensive as someone who habitually intimidates another person, often to the point that they cave in to a position of surrender? No – they’re two very different things, requiring different descriptive words.

This graphic by Jennifer Astles helps to bestow greater meaning to the spectrum of negative human interaction, at a personal level:

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Indeed, we may think twice before saying something because it’s mean or rude or will cause unnecessary conflict… but the term ‘bullying’ should be reserved only for actual bullying behaviour, lest its use in itself becomes an act of bullying.

Holding the tension

If we want to navigate the unfolding world before us with maturity:

learning from one another,
cooperating with one another,
advancing alongside one another,
thriving in an increasingly challenging environment…

We must be able to separate ideas from identities.

If my identity is tied to an idea, any time that idea is challenged, my personhood will feel challenged.

If my identity is tied to an idea, I will always be looking for validation of that idea before I can begin to accept myself as a valid human being, just as I am.

If my identity is tied to an idea, whenever that idea is scrutinised, criticised, or attacked, I will feel scrutinised, criticised, or attacked.

You matter. I matter. The other, matters.
But we won’t live in that reality if we won’t do the work of separating our identities from ideas. Each influences the other, but neither is tied intrinsically to the other.

As a very good friend of mine once said, “Every me matters.”

Every ‘me’ is equal. But not every idea is equal… and we must commit our ideas to the arena of public thought so that they can be tested and assessed for validity, entirely separate to anyone’s personhood.

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Let’s be brave enough to commit to being ruthless with ideas, and kind with people.
Let’s be big enough to know the difference.

Love and peace.

Looking for a Leader

Dialogue: it’s one of the most significant vehicles for sharing life with another person. Humans love to engage in conversation, from the weather and sport, through to personal successes & disappointments. It’s fundamentally how we understand our humanity, a piece of each heart and mind invested in the process of creating the exchange.

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The recent Federal election campaign & ensuing anti-climax of the vote result has caused the nature of our collective communication to turn from proactive, life-building dialogue to the more elementary arming and lobbing of thought-bombs across the sociopolitical divide; the chasm growing larger with each trip to the ballot box, again possibly resulting with the uncertainty of a hung parliament. As we anticipate the eventual composition of the group of Australians who will govern us, the general tone of the broader conversation underlines the expanse of our diversity…

“The Greens are godless, childish morons who can’t fund or sustain their ideas.”

“The Libs are only in it for themselves, on the payroll of the big banks.”

“Labor is held to ransom by the Union movement & only know how to spend.”

Such is the typical nature of commentary surrounding an election campaign as battle lines are drawn; nothing new here. However, there has been a new arrival in the land of rhetoric – an infant of thought to be sure, but rapidly growing in stature.

 “There’s no place in Australia for ideas such as the ones that XXXXX are putting out there.”

This may sound noble to some, but many Australians share those ideas and are part of the national conversation. If there is no place for an idea held by hundreds of thousands – or even millions – of Australians, what are we to do with such an idea? With such people? Silence them? Exclude them? Make them feel inferior in the shadow of our superior, self-righteous level of thought?

Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.

~ Albert Einstein

If conversation is the vehicle for understanding, and if dialogue requires more than one voice, how are we to expand our understanding – and ultimately our collective peace – through silencing, exclusion, or self-righteousness? Clearly this is a deeply flawed approach. We understand someone only when we allow them to speak, listening to their unique perspective with an open heart & mind, extending them the dignity we afford our own thoughts. After all, the best way to overcome a bad idea is to present a better idea with conviction, empathy, and a clarity of argument to withstand the most vigorous rebuttal.

It is true that some ideas, whilst sounding good to some, are such that would reduce us as a whole – usually ideas that are birthed out of fear. Fear of evil. Fear of others. Fear of the future. Fear of death. Fear of loss. Fear of failure. Oh for leaders who would start building our faith instead of pandering to our fears: faith for the future… faith in each other. We all have fears, so in the absence of external faith-driven leadership, we must lead ourselves in restraining our fears lest they ultimately rule us.

So, what are we to do with our (often-legitimate) fears? Sure, legislation can help to address real issues: societal order, protection, equality, welfare of citizens. But no government can address the fear that grips our hearts & drives our thoughts. There is only one antidote for fear: love.

All human actions are motivated at their deepest level by one of two emotions – fear or love. In truth there are only two emotions – only two words in the language of the soul…

Fear wraps our bodies in clothing, love allows us to stand naked. Fear clings to and clutches all that we have, love gives all that we have away. Fear holds close, love holds dear. Fear grasps, love lets go. Fear rankles, love soothes. Fear attacks, love amends.

~ Neale Donald Walsch

Rather than looking to our civic leaders alone for social leadership, we must realise that we play a greater role in both contributing to and solving our collective problems than we care to admit. Instead of waiting for politicians to take the lead, let’s start building a tone of conversation that includes everyone – whether we approve of their ideas or not – and that seeks the greater good of all. “Lead upwards”, as it were.

We have the amazing privilege of living in a country in which ideas can be fiercely exchanged without violence. As we are confronted with something that perturbs us, perhaps we could take a moment to ask ourselves:

“What specifically am I concerned about? Is it driven by fear for myself or love for others? Is there a way that I can respond with love so that everyone affected is enlarged & the situation improved for all?”

Then, let’s get about actively creating the world we envision: engaging in a life of love toward others – those with whom we disagree, or even loathe, included – instead of one driven by fear. We must proactively dismiss the seeds of fear that would embed themselves in our thoughts, for thoughts become beliefs, and beliefs become actions.

Imagine what we might create acting from faith, hope, and love! Apathy will see fear imagining the opposite for us, creating our world by default.

There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life – fear of death, fear of judgment – is one not yet fully formed in love.

~ 1 John 4:18, MSG

Just for Today… and Every Day.

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Credit: Getty Images

Here we are, at the start of another fresh year: our hearts caressing hope and perhaps guarded anticipation for the turning pages of an untold story. If your New Years Resolutions record is as remarkable as mine, you’ll be at least as experienced in stumble & surrender as progress & proficiency.

Nevertheless, there remains inherent value in the enlarging of our hearts & minds so that we remain active as both the co-author & the protagonist of the unwritten pages of our evolving story.

Goals are the links in the chain that connect activity to accomplishment.  ~ Tom Ziglar

We are mistaken to dismiss New Year resolve & goal-setting as folly. However, it is equally foolish to set achievement-based goals exclusive of intrinsic values. In his book Today Matters, John Maxwell lists twelve commitments we should make today… and each day of our lives. Whilst audacious, Maxwell’s list of commitments provides us with inexhaustible opportunity to grow into a life of stability & favour, living present within each day: free from both condemnation of the past & worry for the future.

Just for today…

1. Just for today, I will choose and display the right attitudes.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others.
Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.
Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Philippians 2:3-5

2. Just for today, I will determine and act on important priorities.

So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do.

Ephesians 5:15-17

3. Just for today, I will know and follow healthy guidelines.

Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honour God with your body.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

4. Just for today, I will communicate with and care for my family.

But those who won’t care for their relatives, especially those in their own household, have denied the true faith.

1 Timothy 5:8

5. Just for today, I will practice and develop good thinking.

Get wisdom; develop good judgment. Don’t forget my words or turn away from them. Don’t turn your back on wisdom, for she will protect you. Love her, and she will guard you.

Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do! And whatever else you do, develop good judgment.

If you prize wisdom, she will make you great. Embrace her, and she will honour you. She will place a lovely wreath on your head; she will present you with a beautiful crown.

Proverbs 4:5-9

6. Just for today, I will make and keep proper commitments.

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.

No, dear brothers & sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Philippians 3:12-14

7. Just for today, I will earn and properly manage my finances.

Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness! The more you have, the more people come to help you spend it. So what good is wealth – except perhaps to watch it slip through your fingers! People who work hard sleep well, whether they eat little or much. But the rich seldom get a good night’s sleep.

There is another serious problem I have seen under the sun. Hoarding riches harms the saver. Money is put into risky investments that turn sour, and everything is lost. In the end, there is nothing left to pass on to one’s children. We all come to the end of our lives as naked and empty-handed as on the day we were born. We can’t take our riches with us. And this, too, is a very serious problem. People leave this world no better off than when they came. All their hard work is for nothing – like working for the wind. Throughout their lives, they live under a cloud – frustrated, discouraged, and angry.

Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life – this is indeed a gift from God. God keeps such people so busy enjoying life that they take no time to brood over the past.

Ecclesiastes 5:10-20

8. Just for today, I will deepen and live out my faith.

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow Him. Let your roots grow down into Him, and let your lives be built on Him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.

Colossians 2:6-7

9. Just for today, I will initiate and invest in solid relationships.

Since God chose you to be the holy people He loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.

And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom He gives.

Sings psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

Colossians 3:12-17

10. Just for today, I will plan for and model generosity.

Give freely and become more wealthy; be stingy and lose everything. The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.

People curse those who hoard their grain, but they bless the one who sells in time of need. If you search for good, you will find favour; but if you search for evil, it will find you!

Trust in your money and down you go! But the godly flourish like leaves in spring.

Proverbs 11:24-28

11. Just for today, I will embrace and practice good values.

Teach me your decrees, O Lord; I will keep them to the end. Give me understanding and I will obey your instructions; I will put them into practice with all my heart. Make me walk along the path of your commands, for that is where my happiness is found.

Give me an eagerness for your laws rather than a love for money! Turn my eyes from worthless things, and give me life through your word. Reassure me of your promise, made to those who fear you. Help me abandon my shameful ways; for your regulations are good. I long to obey your commandments! Renew my life with your goodness.

Psalms 119:33-40

12. Just for today, I will seek and experience improvements.

So get rid of all evil behaviour.
Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.

1 Peter 2:1-3

Yes, it’s a list painted in broad brushstrokes, expansive as the sky. No, it’s not definitive or measurable. It is, however, a resolute framework – just for today – upon which extrinsic ambitions will rest & build over a lifetime of being fashioned into the image of Christ… a sure foundation.

But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have,
we must wait patiently and confidently.
And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness.
Romans 8:25-26a

In whichever ways our lives are enlarged this year, let us extend the same measure of love & grace to ourselves – and those around us – as God does.

Love Indeed Wins

“It was not Jesus’ present purpose to condemn men. He would come to condemn the guilty at a future time. At present He came to save them. Hence He did not now even pronounce decisively on the condition of those who rejected Him, but still gave them an opportunity to be saved.”  ~  Barnes’ Notes on the Bible

It might be a poignant time for us Christians to take some time to remind ourselves exactly what the gospel, the good news, is. 

It’s pretty clear to each of us that none of us is perfect. We’re all the same – all flawed. But what is God’s solution? More rules to follow? Indeed, eternal & civic laws apply universally to all of us & choices will always have consequences. But again, what is God’s solution to our inability to attain perfection – His once & for all time solution? For a wholly deficient humanity, it is very good news! 

It wasn’t Christ’s present business to be concerning himself with judging civic matters. The Pharisees had that well & truly covered.

No, Christ’s sole concern was in redeeming humanity.
And in providing the way for that redemption, according to His own words recorded in John 12:47, He amazingly offered himself to the world unconditionally. In this age of grace that has since followed, the door of opportunity remains open.

Mark Yarhouse articulates our mandate for redemption well in the article Understanding the Transgender Phenomenon:

Most centrally, the Christian community is a witness to the message of redemption. We are witnesses to redemption through Jesus’ presence in our lives. Redemption is not found by measuring how well a person’s gender identity aligns with their biological sex, but by drawing them to the person and work of Jesus Christ, and to the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us into His image.

As Christians speak to this redemption, we will be tempted to join in the culture wars about sex and gender that fall closely on the heels of the wars about sexual behaviour and marriage. But in most cases, the church is called to rise above those wars and present a witness to redemption.

If you’ve had anything to do with a Christian similar to me, I’d guess that the message of redemption has not always been one clearly resonating with singular focus. For that I apologize unreservedly, and as an ambassador of Christ, I offer His words to you today, wrapped in luxurious grace, delivered with the smile & the embrace of unconditional love:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  John 14:6

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”  John 11:25-26

The apostle Paul summarizes the gospel clearly:

“… that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once…”  1 Corinthians 15:3-6

As a Christian, I am a witness to the message of redemption. If you are interested in checking out this radical, real, redeeming love, I would be delighted to chat with you more about it. And if not… no worries!

Pursuing best-practice OHS {Obedience Health, not Safety}

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A long life would be nice. I would most certainly enjoy it.

But I have no interest in making safe arrival at old age my goal. For though the two are not mutually exclusive, what is to be gained from length of life trumping expanse of spirit? What value is height without depth?

I am no thrill-seeker; quite the opposite. And indeed, much of significance is built tediously, in the mundane. Yet as I am given this gift of life – with its joy and its sorrow – may it be lived at full extension: breadth of heart, of mind, of spirit, of courage, of passion, of kindness, and of love.

No, not safety. The goal instead becomes a life of obedience: imitation of Christ, defying doubt, shaking off stumbles.

And if in living such a life I should miss out on the golden years, celebrate with me for I will not be disappointed to have graduated.

And so, I press on…

~ Philippians 3:13-14 ~
… but I focus on this one thing: forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.