Unstoppable Force vs Immoveable Object

 

I love a good argument.tweet

Mind you, I would run away from a fight as fast as I could in real life. But, while I flee in haste when any type of confrontation arises, it’s a different story on Twitter.

This hit me when I was scrolling through my Twitter feed the other day. I had chosen to argue with a well-known controversial Australian political figure. He sided with Aussie Rugby start Israel Folau and argued that we must have legal protection so people like Izzy could safely tell every LGBT person that they’ll burn in hell forever without threat of reprisal (in his case his multi-million dollar contract being torn up).

I asked him if he would afford the same freedom of speech to a Muslim person who advocated jihad against Australian ‘infidels.’

His response to me: ‘You’re an idiot.’

I looked at his feed and saw that several hundred tweets had protested his false logic and I was so tempted to strike back with some smart, well-thought-out response.

But it was then that I realised that here was an immoveable object and our collective tweet-attack was like an unstoppable force.

He wouldn’t budge an inch.

We wouldn’t let up.

Stalemate.

So what good is Twitter anyway?

I concluded that Twitter is great to let off steam and offers a chance to find like-minded haters in the fight for right. But, as far as actual change goes, it is a rather ineffective and useless tool.

*  *  *  *  *

Contrast that with the work of David Fleischer of the Los Angeles LGBT Center whose work has been to change people’s minds regarding LGBT inclusion. His work method has exploded on to the scene since his appearance on the public radio broadcast This American Life.

He comes from a place of awareness that it is a very rare thing to change someone’s mind simply by a well-crafted argument or by logical thinking.

I recently listened to an interveiw he did with HumanizeMe’s Bart Campolo. Using the Californian Prop 8 referendum as an example, he demonstrated how all manner of logic and emotion was thrown at the people of the state to convince them that marriage equality was a proposition worthy of their ‘Yes’ vote.

The proposition failed.

He and his team went back to the drawing board.

In their work of evaluating what went wrong, they studied on their method of canvssing the general population and revisited electoral districts that had overwhelmingly voted against marriage equality–this time using a different strategy: one of connection. Rather than bombard the resident with facts and appeal to their sense of justice, the canvassers tried a different approach: having a comnversation with the person and drawing out from them their story, building trust, and then sharing their own story in such a way that it relates to that person’s own emotional connections and relationships.

It worked.

Using the new technque, they were actually able to convince far more people that marriage equality was something worth considering based on the new relationship they had formed.

Essentially, Fleischer discovered that prejudice can be overcome with relationship built in a non-threatening way using conversation.

I have read accounts of the same thing working in conversatons between African-American folks and KKK members, between youth and the elderly, between Christians and Muslims, and between Israeli and Palestinian people.

What Israel Folau, Mark Latham, Lyle Shelton, Pauline Hanson and others like them must come to realise is that it’s only in the context of relationship and connection with others that trust can be built in such a way that people begin to understand you and your message. No bashing-over-the-head-with-a-Bible can build consensus in anywhere near the same way as a heartfelt, sincere comnversation that addresses underlying feelings, emotions and experience. Our stories are so different, but in them is a point of intersection where we can agree and connect and understand each other.

I’m all for dialogue. And yet I let my need to be right get in the way too many times. My first thought was to delete my Twitter account and start again. But when I had time to collect my thoughts, I realised that I don’t need to be part of that unstoppable force that expends its energy trying to shift that immovable object. I can back away from the comments section. I can refuse to scroll. I can, instead, ask sinecer questions about folks and their closely-guarded beliefes and, somehow, I may be able to make some small difference. Twitter is full of angry people. Maybe we need to become an unstoppable force of kindness that, as kindness often does, breaks down piece-by-piece seemingly-immovable objects.

Songs of My Life: Arms of Love

Music is a language that can often  express what a heart feels better than any words.

Even better when well-crafted poetry is added in the form of lyrics to a moving, compelling melody and appropriate harmony.

There are songs that have not only meant so much to me, but clearly defined moments in my life or seasons. They have shaped my response to struggles and events. They have lifted me up, comforted me, motivated me, brought new meaning and clarity or grounded my life in uncertain times.

That’s why I thought it would be a good idea to share with you a few songs that have spoken into my life and made a profound impact along the way.

Arms of Love  (Amy Grant on Age to Age, 1982)

Lord I’m really glad You’re here
I hope you feel the same when You see all my fear
And how I fail
I fall sometimes
It’s hard to walk on shifting sand
I miss the rock, and find there’s nowhere left to stand;
I start to cry
Lord, please help me raise my hands so You can pick me up
Hold me close
Hold me tighter

I have found a place where I can hide
It’s safe inside
Your arms of love
Like a child who’s helped throughout a storm
You keep me warm
In Your arms of love

Storms will come and storms will go
Wonder just how many storms it takes until
I finally know
You’re here always
Even when my skies are far from gray
I can stay;
Teach me to stay there

Written by: GARY W CHAPMAN, AMY GRANT, MICHAEL W SMITH / Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., CAPITOL CHRISTIAN MUSIC GROUP

How clearly I remember having this song on repeat on my CD player and lying on the living room floor bawling my eyes out and praying like never before. How clearly Amy’s words matched with my struggles at the time.

I was going through a rough time. I had just finished College and had a part-time job but I was struggling financially. I was having a difficult time meeting my rent obligations and was living from eviction notice to eviction notice. I lived on two-minute noodles and corn flakes. I didn’t know where my life was headed. I had problems dealing with simple, everyday things. Today I would most likely be diagnosed with depression but, being from a strict Christian home, depression (at that time) was not something to treat with drugs or therapy but with prayer and Scripture.

And this song became my prayer.

Through it, I admitted my failures, my fears, my uncertainty. In its simplicity I found peace knowing that, even though I couldn’t see what the next day would bring, I could still rest in the truth that I would not go it alone.

It didn’t fix everything. But, as music often does, it comforted me with the knowledge that somebody bigger than me cared about me.

I still get a melancholy feeling when I hear this song. It brings me back to a less fortunate, less-awakened time. In retrospect I would say this song marked, for me, a milestone in my journey to becoming a responsible adult. Yet, it also nurtured my faith and helped me to understand that there is always a safe place in the shelter of God’s love.

Minimalist Spirituality

I’m a big fan of minimalism.

Those of you who follow me on social media probably know this. I like a lot of posts by folks like Joshua Becker, Be More With Less and The Minimalists and follow people like Marie Kondo, Greg McKeown and Leo Babauta. Each one of these has a unique take on what constitutes a minimalist lifestyle, achieving balance and experiencing contentment in life.

There is one commonality in all interpretations of minimalism and that is that we humans thrive best when we only hold on to that which brings meaning and sparks joy.

I’ve often thought that minimalism would also serve us well in our spirituality. As I reflect on past expressions of my faith, theology, and spiritual practice, it is clear to me that many things that once served a purpose for me no longer meet that need. There are principles I once held dear which, over time, have become, for me, spiritual clutter–clouding my vision, distracting me from what is important, or just taking up space in my soul that would be better given to meaningful pursuits or joyful contemplation.

Whatever we choose and however we practice our faith, juxtaposing it against a minimalist mentality has helped me personally to clarify what is essential to my spiritual wellbeing and what is simply excess baggage that I would do well to discard.

CatPigeonAnd here’s where I may be setting the cat amongst the pigeons.

Over the past twenty-or-so years I have found myself gradually re-forming many of my previously-firmly-held beliefs about God. And that, in many circles, may now classify me as somewhat of a outsider. I believe still in the unconditional nature of God’s love, but I have now defined this as truly unconditional.

PreviouslyI would have stated with not a small amount of cognitive dissonance that God’s love was unconditional as long as I am not gay, I am not fornicating, I attend the right church, listen to the right music, read the right Bible, say the right words and ‘accept Jesus as my personal Saviour’ (not a Biblical concept by the way), or as long as I keep the hundred-or-so rules that ensure God doesn’t reject me. I would even twist my understanding of “unconditional” to say that I put my own conditions on God’s love by sinning (a classic ‘blame the victim’ stance that is characteristic of a fundamentalist mindset).

To me, having gone through the valley of doubt and deconstruction, discovering a God whose love is not only beyond our comprehension but is as the very core of the universe was mind-blowingly liberating. As my eyes became adjusted to these new lenses, I began to see the spiritual clutter that lined the walls of my spiritual home:

  • The feeling of not being good enough
  • The rule book of other’s expectations
  • The tally board that kept score of all my wrongs
  • The tally board that kept score of everyone else’s wrongs
  • The blinkers that once kept me from looking at those in the margins
  • The reasonable arguments that convinced the faithful ones that their understanding is the one, definitive, correct interpretation of the Holy Bible
  • The smug feeling that I was one of the faithful ones
  • The judgemental spectacles through which I viewed all those who did not fit into my understanding of the Divine

Like minimalism, my spiritual minimalist journey has brought my focus into those few truths that truly bring meaning and spark joy in me:

  • God = Love and all love is from God
  • Sin is our choice to live outside of the love of God and in no way affects God’s unconditional and eternal love for us
  • There is no need for us to prove anything to God.
  • God is in the process of reconciling all creation to God’s-self and sometimes–often–chooses to use us in this process
  • Our humanity is a gift, not a curse
  • Our togetherness is God’s design and needs to be nurtured
  • Our differences are chances to show love and develop our understanding

I still believe many of the truths which I was raised to value such as the love, generosity and grace of God, the incarnation of God revealed in Jesus who died and was raised to life by the power of God, the importance of Scriptures in shaping my faith, the creation of this amazing universe by God–although I would nuance these understandings differently than perhaps you would. No, I’m not turning into a Buddhist monk or a Zen master. I am not choosing to live as a hermit or monastic. I am not even working on my new age guru skills.

I am also not devaluing those truths in your spiritual house that bring to you meaning and spark joy in your heart. As we are all different, so is the way that God speaks and relates to each one of us. What I may view as ‘clutter’ may be your most valuable asset. For some, a systematic theology might indeed spark joy, or having a certainty that your Scriptures are infallible and factual may bring meaning. Maybe there’s other forms of spiritual clutter that you need to cast out of your home. Rules that were good to form healthy habits but no longer serve any purpose. Ideas that once brought joy but now provoke feelings of uneasiness or regret.

In the end, the object of living a life of love is to recognise this and, in the midst of these differences, still choose love, because, above faith and hope, it is still the greatest abiding presence.

Rest for a Weary Soul

I’d like to introduce you to my friend John.

I went to university with John. We had the same major and I shared a class or two with him. He was also a fellow music-minded person and was in my choir for several years. He was a “small chat” kind of friend and our conversations never much got past the weather, classes and events around us.

He was quiet, studious, easy-going.

We graduated the same year and went our separate ways.

He moved to Ohio. I returned to Australia.

I found him on Twitter about 10 years ago and followed him. I started having conversations with him about the usual–weather, old school days, current events.

He would recommend me websites, sermons, books–I think he thought I was a lost soul his mission was to convert. Sometimes he did so gently; other times he was not dissimilar to a street preacher with fire and fury.

Come to find out he had married but was now divorced. He had been working for a Christian publishing company but lost his job. I joked with him when his suburb, Euclid, hit the news in Australia as the global financial downturn hit the area hard. His house wasn’t worth a fraction of what he still owed on it.

He had applied for several jobs–I remember one at Ken Ham’s Ark Encounter which he was particularly hoping he would be offered, but wasn’t. I’m not sure if he ever was successful in regaining solid employment.

His politics were far right. He stood for everything I didn’t. His remarks to those who believed contrary to him were caustic. He was highly intelligent, but quite narrowly-focused in his thinking.

We parted ways around 6 years ago when he unfriended me on Facebook and lost interest in Twitter. This happened after a particularly bitter tirade about politics and how, in his opinion, nobody who called themselves a Christian could vote for a Muslim, foreign-born president, especially for one who killed babies.

That was the kind of person he was.

Today I was looking through my Facebook account and saw that we had both liked Bryan Duncan (former lead of the Sweet Comfort Band and a chart-topping CCM artist of the 80s). Just for old times’ sake, I clicked on his profile pic and scrolled down his newsfeed.

And then I stopped in disbelief at a comment made on his latest Cruz2016/NeverTrump-branded profile pic:

“RIP my friend.”

Obviously, others had the same bewilderment as I.

“What are you talking about?” was one response.

“John committed suicide.”

Oh man! Really?

Evidently, life became too much for my friend. I don’t know the circumstances he faced nor the pressures that he felt every day. I have no idea how he dealt with his past and how he reconciled is ultra-Calvinism with the apparent out-of-control world around him.

I really didn’t know him that well.

I don’t know if, given a reboot, I would have taken the chance to understand him more. We were poles apart.

hAYNESBut he was a good man and a beloved child of God. It is obviously that he touched many lives and will be missed by the same. His family grieve as all those in loss grieve.

Regardless of what drove my friend to take his own life in what should have been his prime years is beyond me. God knows.

He is at rest now. This tortured soul as found peace. Whatever his politics, religion or societal status, he has been embraced by everlasting Love.

Rest in peace.

*  *  *  *  *

For those who struggle with thoughts of self-harm or suicide, there is help.

Lifeline (Australia) 13 11 14

Beyond Blue (Australia) 1300 659 467

Suicide Prevention Line (USA) 1-800-784-2433

 

Becoming

As I write this, it’s a beautiful autumn day outside. After a week of extreme heat, today is a desperately-needed refreshment. It rained lightly last night and the smell of rain is still hanging in the air. The sky is cloudy with some spots of blue daring to peep through from time to time. Some leaves on the trees are starting to change colour, but I think this is more due to the recent heatwave than to the new season, which is not even a week old.

AshWedesdayCrossIt’s also Ash Wednesday.

Traditionally this is the day the liturgical church declares the depravity and mortality of humankind.

As a cross of ash is made on our foreheads, we are reminded of our transient state:

“Remember you are but dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Or, instead, we may be challenged:

“Repent and believe the good news”

Or, in different words:

“Turn from your sins and follow the Saviour.”

Ash Wednesday contains in its essence both a reminder of who we are and also a challenge to become who we are meant to be.

While our own mortality is something we all must learn to deal with (death happens to all, no exceptions), turning from a life of self-fulfilment and self-pleasure to walk in the way of Jesus is counter-intuitive at its best. Giving up what we want? Letting go of what we have? Forsaking the identity we’ve forged for ourselves and lived out all of our life?

In the words of Coldplay:

Nobody said it was easy
No one ever said it would be this hard
Oh take me back to the start

(The Scientist)

It’s always difficult when we are called to give up, let go and forsake. We must come first to the place of recognition that there is a better way. We must then go through the process of casting off the old and exposing ourselves–being vulnerable–in acknowledging the part we have played in who we are at the present.

But then . . . but then! We are privileged to be able to start again. No matter what we have done. Regardless of where we have been. Despite all our past.

In this moment we are made new. The slate is wiped clean. We begin again.

We start on a journey as we, through humility and courage, move forward in the way of Love, becoming who we were created to me.

I’m not a big fan of the institutional Church nor of what Christianity has become. There is no argument that organised religion has a lot for which to answer, both in the past and in our world today.

Yet, the symbolism attracts me and speaks to me in ways no catechism, no systematic theology, no rules or standards ever could. And in accepting the symbol of ash in a sign of the cross on my head, I am accepting that I have not yet arrived at where I need to be, but, every day I am changing, growing, learning, loving . . . becoming.

This is where I need to be today.

And, on Ash Wednesday, this is my hope and prayer for you:

Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.

All things work together

lightbulbI had an epiphany this week.

Oddly enough, it was while listening to a podcast recorded on Epiphany, the day on which the liturgical church celebrates the appearance (unveiling, revealing) of Christ to humankind.

My light-bulb moment, however, wasn’t in any way related to the magi visiting baby Jesus nor was it inspired by the words found in the gospel text about the precious gifts they presented to him.

But it was about a gift: life. And it’s a precious gift that we often take for granted. Or we get side-tracked from living it because we’re caught up in trying to work out all the bad things that happen.

A loved one receives a terminal diagnosis.

A marriage breaks down.

A “sure thing” bet on the stock market collapses.

A house burns down.

A business fails.

In all these circumstances, we, as Christians, have had a terrible track record of glibly offering platitudes and cliché-ridden comfort to one another.

“God has a plan.”

“God is trying to teach you something.”

“All things work together for good.”

That last one really hits me because I’ve used it and heard it used so many times, thinking it was a simple affirmation that meant all would be well, or that this too will work out for the best in my life.

Then the light switch was turned on.

All things work together.

Good things. Bad things. Health. Sickness. Happy times. Sad times. Life. Death.

All things work together.

Those life events that stress us, debilitate us, humiliate us, frustrate us, weaken us, work together with those circumstances that encourage us, heal us, empower us, bring us joy and strength.

All things work together.

And this statement that we can find in Romans 8, verse 28, does not mean that all will work out well in the end. Nor does it mean that everything we experience results in what is best for us. It simply means that all things we experience work together and, for us, this is good.

That loved one with the cancer dies.

That divorce still happens.

Our credit record may never recover.

We may find ourselves living in poverty.

This verse is not a cure-all, grief-healing, success-guaranteeing platitude. It is s statement of fact.

Life is a gift. We may choose to focus on the bad or, like Pollyanna, be happily optimistic about everything we face. This does not alter the truth that life is still a gift.

And whether it be good or bad, happy or sad, it is still a precious gift.

And like the gift of all of God’s creation, it is good.

This is Love

heartI am writing this on Valentine’s Day (the Feast Day of St Valentine,, for the purists out there). Traditionally, it’s a day when much of the world celebrates love–particularly romantic love–with all its trappings: cards, flowers, chocolates, romantic dinners, and actions that show how much we love those who have a special place in our heart.

In our collective lives we are inundated with the theme of love. It makes headlines as those in the public eye hook up with (or unhook from) other famous people. It’s celebrated in tabloid magazines. It’s the reason why most music is written–at least most country music. It’s the theme of nearly every movie, every novel, every story worth telling. It’s on every channel of our television sets, every night.

Love Island.

The Bachelor.

The Bachelorette.

Married at First Sight.

Perfect Match.

We get so addicted to the drama of romance. Perhaps this is because we have an inner longing to find ourselves that perfect soulmate, the One who will solve all our problems and satisfy all our desires (in and out of bed). Or maybe its simply a residual trait from a long evolutionary process where the fittest of our ancestors were those who procreated the most.

Or maybe not.

Regardless, love is, as immortalised in song, is all around me, is in the air, is a battlefield (a little like ‘choose your own adventure’). Love is all you need, it will keep us together, it’s more than a feeling and it ‘ain’t for keeping.’

At the heart of our desire for the love of another, I believe, is the need to know another and be intimately known by another, and accepted regardless of what that knowledge uncovers. We all crave a relationship with someone who will love us in spite of our flaws, our bad taste, our sub-standard looks, our dad bod/dad jokes and our annoying habits.

And when we find that person, we are not afraid of what that relationship will bring because we know that we are truly loved.

As St John wrote two millennia ago, “Perfect love casts out fear.” In the embrace of a genuine, accepting, forgiving and including love, there is no room for nor necessity to be afraid. You are loved.

The opposite of fear, then, is love. In the absence of fear, love thrives. In the presence of love, fear flees. You cannot have both.

And we know from the same biblical letter, that God is Love and anyone who truly loves (loves with the generous, fear-scattering kind of love), is of God.

So on this auspicious day of the celebration of love, may I offer this blessing:

May Love bless you, and keep you.

May Love shine upon you and give you peace.

And may the blessing of Love–Father, Son and Holy Spirit–be upon you and remain with you always.

Amen.