Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Get out of your mind – a song, a prayer

The last time God gave me a song — literally a whole verse — was 2015. Until this morning. I’ve been battling my mind of late. Nothing too much of a concern; just haven’t had the free flow to peace, hope and joy I normally do. Here’s the song:
Get outa your mind,
Leave the world behind,
Chase the One,
You wanna become.
That’s it!
I’m going to attempt, in my flesh with the Spirit’s help, to create some verses, given that as I read it, it sounds more like a chorus:
Oh, there’s that feeling in me again,
How do I start all over, and when?
Ever chasing that broken dream,
God, what does all this mean?
It’s that very same lane,
I’ve been driving down,
Waking with the same pain,
With this constant soul frown.
And God said…
Get outa your mind,
Leave the world behind,
Chase the One,
You wanna become.
What do I make of my dream?
What can it really mean?
Where is this taking me?
Who am I going to be?
So I sit here in this place,
Doing my best to seek your face,
Inclined to know you [God] once more,
Show me how to open the door.
And God said…
Get outa your mind,
Leave the world behind,
Chase the One,
You wanna become.
I’m no song writer. But in writing it down, maybe there’s something to ponder?
Here is what the chorus means to me:
This is the clarion call to leave the prison of the mind and to open our hearts to new possibilities. In direct view, as we steer out of the miry clay, is the Kingdom of Christ.
This is no escape clause; no excuse for checking out in a variety of ways one might choose. This is the direct opposite; to stop looking, envying, comparing, contrasting, judging and condemning. It’s to leave all that behind and look larger toward those things that are above (Colossians 3:1-4; Philippians 4:8-9).
With all the tenacity life will allow, within the constructs and boundaries of this relational life, where we cannot worship God without loving others. Life is a chase, a hot pursuit for goodness, or it is nothing.
Jesus. Every follower of Jesus wants to become like him.
Here’s the hope I draw from honest laments. For whatever reason we’re challenged, God is close to the broken-of-heart. The closer God is, the more we seek our Lord, the closer to peace we are.
God calls to each our hearts: keep searching and never give up.
For you who are weak this day, hear God say, “I who AM ultimate strength will be weak with you.”

Photo by JR Korpa on Unsplash

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Great minds think alike… Actually, not so much

Wow, I love it when God does that — proves me wrong. I wonder if you can relate. I just read a comment on a thread: “great minds think alike.” Just rolls off the tongue doesn’t it. It has been uttered by myself many a time I can tell you.
What if great minds thought differently such that the greater knowledge might be a collective knowledge? What if we were meant to rub up against those who have different views, experiences and personalities to us? What if groupthink (look it up in connection with the 1986 Challenger Disaster), which is a collective consensus where everyone is forced by social pressure to conform, was wrong?
What if?
What if there was a place for the proverbial devil’s advocate? What if someone was congratulated and praised for bringing a different viewpoint instead of criticised and condemned? What if a different viewpoint was actually encouraged instead of frowned upon? What if organisations incentivised different thinking that challenged the status quo? (By the way, some have.)
What if?
It would mean we would need to debunk our false reliance on power and control.
It would mean we wouldn’t always get our own way.
But it would also mean that a broader knowledge could be embodied within the thinking system. It would mean that people would fear being on the outer less. It would mean less social anxiety and other mental illness. It would mean less fighting, arguing and senseless wars. It would mean that we would make space for another person. It would mean that in giving someone this space, that that space might be returned to us occasionally. And it might mean we would be able to cohabit this world with more peace.
And it would also occasionally mean that people who have power over us would think differently to us. Yes, that is an uncomfortable thought. We might hope they would respect what we have to say, but that doesn’t mean it will shift their view.
For me, great minds think vastly differently. But great minds in my view can step into another person’s view and appreciate it, genuinely, without castigating it. Yes, great minds are wise enough to see that the relationship is bigger and more significant than the issues that separate us are.
Just a thought.

Photo by Keegan Houser on Unsplash

Sunday, March 17, 2019

A Just Culture and the Substitution Test

This may not interest you, but I’m led to write it anyway. So here goes nothing.
Years ago, 1993 to be precise, I began my journey in total quality management. Along the way, as I sought to be a competent technician, and on the way to becoming a risk advisor, I picked up a suite of tools and skills in using them. By the early 2000s, I was auditing to established national and international standards, and I was investigating and analysing the causation of industrial incidents, where people could have been disabled or killed, and where there was potential for great property loss and environmental harm. These processes would involve me facilitating a multidisciplinary process, with numerous stakeholders and professions, whereby management decisions would be made.
(I hear me saying at this point, c’mon, get on with it.)
Inevitably in every incident there was either one human being at the pointy end or several. Part of incident analysis is establishing causation so decisions can be made about how to performance manage people. And the key tool we used was called a ‘just culture model’. It was developed by Professor James Reason (University of Manchester). It was a rules-of-fair-play model, and, given that every organisation I worked for was legally required to manage ethically, they endeavoured to have a just culture.
The theory was that nobody would be dismissed unjustly.
And, in around a hundred incident analyses,
I never personally saw it fail.
The best part of the model, I could see, as I put myself in the position of the person who could easily be blamed for the incident, was the substitution test.
The substitution test runs like this: could a different person (well-motivated, equally competent, comparatively qualified) have made the same error under similar circumstances (determined by their peers)? If “yes” the person who made the error is probably blameless. If “no” were there system-induced reasons (such as insufficient training, selection, experience etc)? If not, only then should negligent behaviour be considered.
The most interesting thing about the substitution test is how it challenges the thinking of those who would normally have the power of veto — the one who would dismiss the employee; the manager-once-removed (the manager above the employee’s manager), ordinarily.
I personally never saw one single case where there was negligent behaviour. In every case that I saw, there were managers and executives wanting reasons to move employees on, but every time they could not establish a case. This is because, quite frankly, if a peer were put in the same position, with the same qualities and the same situation and the same perception, they would have done the same thing. And if this weren’t the case, could it possibly have been a system-induced reason that caused the employee to behave the way they did? In my experience, I never met a manager or executive or situation that even got close to suspecting a case of negligence. This is not to say negligence is not possible, for it is, it is just extremely rare in well-cultured organisations that recruit and train well.
What is the point I want to make?
The point is this: by and large we never have human performance problems through malevolence in organisations with good culture. Everybody who is working for someone is trying to do their best. There are exceptions, but they are few, especially in organisations with good culture. There are employment situations, though, where doing your best won’t be good enough. This is an example of an unjust culture.
When it comes down to managing people, we must first understand that people mostly want to do the right thing. People take their work stresses home with them and may work themselves into a flurry of anxiety to please their boss and do their job well. It most often isn’t people failing the system. It’s the system failing people, and a just culture in any organisation (secular, Christian etc) is a wise culture to the extent that it understands the human dilemma within the system of work.
When people work in an organisation with a just culture, they go above and beyond because they know they are supported. But when people go to work and have no idea what to expect, in other words the culture is unjust, they live in fear and are bound to fail sooner or later.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Becoming Woman

It was the opportunity of a lifetime but truly it was the end of one life, as that life plunged into the abyss of irrelevance. Suddenly, however, without any anticipation, there was a glimmer of hope out of the grip of death, and when you’ve lost everything, that’s how you feel — dead — indeed, worse than, because you’re still alive. It is a revenant experience nobody can endure without being transformed.
The opportunity was this:
become woman.
Not physically obviously. But to somehow get inside the psychology of woman. Not of another woman, but to truly endeavour to be woman — the woman I would have been had I been born female. Why? Why on earth would a man feel this way, or even want to or need to do such a thing?
To somehow become a better, more rounded man. I had failed a marriage. I had missed the mark with my then-wife. I had three beautiful daughters. I had hopes to marry again. My mother had been a solid model of womanhood to me. Suddenly, those who came alongside me, among the men, were women, important ladies who had wisdom and qualities men didn’t have in the main.
God had literally told me to my spirit that, “I am giving you a second chance.”
But God required me to get ready. Now, 15 years ago, was the time to get steeped in preparation.
I had to find out, as a man, how far I was from becoming fully human. I had to find out how much I had to learn; in not being one gender I was not fully the other. In not being woman, I could not truly be a man. I was learning to be completely open. (That journey continues, because one thing you learn is it’s a process of progress, not perfection.)
Simply put, I had to become what I was not.
I had to learn what the most obvious flaw I had was. I had to address how I just could not see. I had to become what I so seriously lacked. Overnight I began to crave understanding about what was at that time an enigma. And just as God is faithful, I was granted the ability — which is no destination at all, indeed, it is farthest from destination as ever. (This is woman thinking as opposed to man thinking.)
Men tend to fix problems, whereas to accept that
you cannot ‘fix’ some problems is to be woman.
That is but one facet that men
miss out on in not becoming woman.
I lacked the strength, the perspective, the empathy, the vulnerability, the care of woman. And more. Those specific gender qualities I lacked. Those qualities of God and the fullest capacities of humanity embodied in Jesus.
What was I missing? I had to erase the overweening pride of chauvinism that undergirded fear that compelled me to quietly master the people in my life. I had to let go of it all as I saw how heinously fear was driving me. Needing to be in control masters us and I fear that, as a man, it was driving me.
I looked strong and capable, but it was a golden veneer.
I had strong attitudes but a weak character, and character comes out when it’s tested. I was convicted, but by the wrong things, or when it was the right things, I was convicted in the wrong way.
There was something wrong. For years. Actually, all my life to that point. And, for me, the answer stared me in the face and didn’t become apparent until time was called on that old life; when someone else saw through what I’d become. When she did, and when I was flummoxed, I too took a step back, made an honest 12-Step assessment and couldn’t agree more.
Many men and many women will possibly not understand what I’m saying here. And that’s okay. What I suppose I’m calling men to is a reality of being that is more fully human.
I could not become more fully man
without first becoming a little more woman.
It’s interesting what generates this article: out of a session of deep therapy with another man journeying in the same direction as I had, I found myself asking him, “Can you become woman?”
Of course, the question left him staggered for a response. Notice how the best questions do that? They lead us to the unanswerable place of stillness. A place where we cannot solve the problem. This is a good place to enter a deeper spirituality. Where our pride cannot survive.
And that is another quality of becoming woman that is hard for a man; but not impossible. He will get there if his heart is open. And he will know God more because of it.
Even as I reflect having written and having posted this article, I still feel it is inadequate, which is possibly a great fortune, knowing I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. But the search is like that, isn’t it? We’re compelled to keep plumbing the depths of God to understand more and love better. And I truly hope it is even appropriate to share this with you; I don’t automatically assume I have license to share into this area.

Photo by Artem Kovalev on Unsplash

Monday, March 11, 2019

Focus on what you have, not on what you don’t have

As someone poor in spirit, who cannot survive without God’s leading and provision, like yourself I am sure, through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come.
So many times, I have regretted my past, or felt bitter about how certain things have worked out. Yet many other times, I have experienced the freedom of knowing all is as it should be. Things ended well. And it is an utter paradox that some of the hardest things were easy, while some of the easier things, as I look at them even now, have been the hardest.
As I reflect theologically, I know that God places before each of us a Tower of Babel kind of life that we cannot work out; that thwarts pride and prevent us from becoming conceited. If such a theology worked in Paul’s life, see 2 Corinthians 12, surely it can validly work in our life as well. To our chagrin.
At a recent crossroad, as I prayed earnestly to God,
sensing I was making too much out of a small thing,
even though small things are inevitably big things,
I sensed God shake me awake.
It wasn’t even eight in the morning. I was already awake. But I needed to be woken up. I needed to be shaken out of my emotional slumber. I needed to wrest back my mind.
And it was as simple as a few words:
focus on what you have
and not on what you don’t have
I don’t normally focus on what I don’t have, but occasionally I have lapsed into wondering ‘what if’?
We have been so blessed over the past 12 months or so. Welcomed into a new community, a new home, new relationships, deeply enjoyable family times, vibrant church experience, polarising conflicts that have been resolved, fantastic work experiences, a challenging new professional role to look forward to, and a life that is on the up and up.
Yet there are those I know and am close to, those who I have supported, who have had similar experiences to that which we have had, as if some of the experiences we have had — involving great pain and grief — have an ongoing purpose. As I travel back with these people I inevitably travel back into my experience, and it can occasionally prove hazardous.
Yet, this is what we are called to do, is it not? It feels as if nobody really tells you how much ministry will cost, yet truth be told the Bible is littered with words of warning.
Sometimes we just don’t want to hear. Fifteen years ago, I would have blocked my ears.
The big things are small things, even if they are big things. The past is less important than the future is. What we hold in the present is the key to tomorrow. Into all our hands has been placed a great deal. More than any of us can really contemplate. So, we need to be satisfied and content with our lot.
Not that the past is irrelevant, but to know that the past is done is helpful. It cannot be done over.
As we stretch out into the future, using all the wisdom of our plenteous life experience, being aware of our baggage, we lay hold of the hope with which we possess.
We look to a brand-new day, and use what is in our hands without thinking about what isn’t.

Image by Milan Popovic on Unsplash

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Caring for someone when you’ve got nothing left to give

It is uncanny how often I’ve known of someone who is in the caregiving position who has also been burning out. It seems very likely that anyone who cares for someone else will, at some point, find they are in crisis themselves.
The carer themselves needs a network of support.
What gives when the resources in the caregiver start to give out? What happens when the person who is relied upon can no longer be relied upon? I know what happens in the caregiver. They panic. And in such a desperation, a crisis forms, the person being cared for stresses out, and anxiety can consume the whole situation.
To impossible moments comes a friend, called desperation.
As we cry out, there is a kind of desperation that facilitates a new mindset, if panic hasn’t taken over completely.
Whether we are being cared for or we are the carer we must somehow remember, that in moments of crisis we are no good to each other if we panic. But we are better for each other, and better as a team, if only we could still the moment of angering and saddening stress, be with each other and for each other, as we work with each other to overcome, or survive through, the trial.
Many times, it’s the carer who alone can impact this, and they must accept there are some things they cannot change. But…
We must endeavour through faith, even when hope is hard.
Very often moments of desperation supersede the attainment of what we need.
It is amazing out of how many crises comes the way forward. And usually this is because the moment of desperation forces us out of the comfortable, lazy equilibrium where we are satisfied to do nothing; where we find we have put up with what wasn’t working.
The person who gives care also has, as part of their role, the job of caring for themselves.
At certain times it feels like an onerous responsibility — it feels too much. The carer may easily have been sucked into feeling like they must be the answer to everything. Even as a carer may read these words, the light might go on within them, and they may say, “Yes, that’s right… That is how it has become.”
Of course, a situation like this cannot be sustained. Nobody can be the answer to everything. And the pity for carers and those who are cared-for alike, is there is an unwritten expectation within both that may well be unrealistic, impracticable, and even unworkable.
Everybody needs respite.
Through no fault of the other person.
Caring for someone when you’ve got nothing else left in you is a dangerous situation for everyone in that system of care. Something will give if it is not tended to. Extra support must be sought and received. And there ought not to be any guilt for either or any party because of it.
Systems of care must ooze care.
They must be backed up and back ended and thought thoroughly through to this end. They must imagine the unlikeliest scenarios and have planned-for workarounds. Most of all, a flexible and stable approach, where reasonability is at the forefront, must underpin the approach.

Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash

Monday, March 4, 2019

Please stop telling people to forget their past

When I see quotes like, “Your journey will be much lighter and easier if you don’t carry your past with you,” this one by Brigette Nicole, I get a little frustrated for the message it sends. I get what’s being said, and I agree to a point, but it’s unrealistic and unattainable — at least the way it’s suggested — and, besides, it continues the myth that whatever is ‘easier’ is best.
Are we supposed to forget who we are
or where we have come from?
Is anyone even able to do such a thing? If not, it’s a silly thing to say, and it sows unrealistic hope in vulnerable hearts. Carrying our past with us is inherent in being human. We cannot undo our memory. We cannot choose what we remember, just like at times we cannot retrieve what we would prefer not to forget. We just don’t have that sort of control over our minds. This sort of quote sounds good, and we would all love it if what it said were possible, but it doesn’t match up with many people’s reality. It therefore betrays them, making them feel inferior.
The reason why such wrong teaching clings to our minds is that we want what we cannot have. So much so at times we’re prepared to believe what isn’t possible to pretend we can transcend our reality. If only we could.
What we cannot have, we imagine we could have, because we think others have mastered it. In some cases, they have. But mastery is never achieved through denial. And I sincerely wonder if authors of these sorts of pithy quotes live what they write.
There is a second problem with the quote, before I make the point I wish to make.
We’re caught up in a postmodern world
that worships ease.
This is a big problem, because life is not easy. We’re destined for despair when we reduce faith down to what it can do for us. Faith’s main product is to enable us to live as we ought to live. It’s only a by-product of faith that we’re blessed with peace, hope and joy in the process.
But in our modern day, we’re so attached to ease, we prioritise anything that might alleviate discomfort, and at times we can miss the very things that God facilitates for our growth. But let us also not make ourselves ‘champions’ because of what we suffer. Magnify God, alone, for what our Lord may do despite the horrendous circumstances we find ourselves in.
What if you cannot just leave the past behind?
The main issue I have with the quote is where it leaves those who have experienced trauma, unparalleled loss, chronic illness, relationship breakdown, or any other circumstance of past that doesn’t or won’t get better in the future. Their pasts don’t leave them.
With a tremendous amount of therapy and other supports and a journey replete with courage and growth, a trauma survivor can learn coping mechanisms, but they can never forget their past. They continue to carry it with them. Heaven knows, it becomes part of their purpose if they so wish or feel so called. Nobody ministers better with those who have trauma than someone who’s worn those scars.
Then, there’s loss. It’s like the fact we lost our infant son. Whilst it isn’t a trauma, that loss we can never undo. We continue to miss him. We continue to lament that his older brother is kind of an only child — with sisters that are 15-21 years older than he is. We continue to have mixed feelings whenever we hear of pregnancies and beautiful births. We keep seeing children of the age he would be today, and always we think, what if? We cannot undo what has happened to us. Our past informs our present and future.
I am on the Board of a charity for children with Pallister-Killian Syndrome (which our son, Nathanael, had). These parents tell me all the time that there is a grief they continue to carry with them, because their children will never reach normal milestones. Their children face issues of society’s rejection constantly. These parents are more prone to depression, anxiety, fatigue, burnout and despair than parents with ‘normal’ children. Then there are parents who have children with disorders. I can tell you from personal experience, as a parent, you continue to compensate for and grieve your child’s situation even amid the acceptance you do reach. For so many parents I talk with there’s guilt they feel borne out of love, of wanting better for their children, and they’ll often concede that they truly bear no fault, yet still battle guilt.
Besides all this, we all have things we regret. Many times, life compensates us in some different way, and we move on. But not always does this happen. When this doesn’t happen, the past can loom large. And how many of us — fully devoted of faith — have had significant seasons, lasting years or even a decade or more, where the past was irrepressibly present?
Our past is the hugest part of who we are.

Photo by Laura Fuhrman on Unsplash

Friday, March 1, 2019

Bothered, besieged, burning out, broken?

“Beware of anything that competes with loyalty to Jesus Christ.
The greatest competitor of devotion to Jesus is service for Him.”
— Oswald Chambers (1874 – 1917)
Give up your Christian service.
If your service for God is the barrier to your surrender. If your surrender is to things and tasks and demands, which have become idols.
If you find yourself in the common position of being lost to all the works of love that seemed so right long in the past, if they’re a distant memory and that’s all, run away from your service for Him and run back to Him. That is, Jesus.
If I’ve lost my first love, I cannot reclaim that first love back without first getting back to the starting blocks, and I cannot do that unless I empty myself of the power that has clung to me. And power does cling. Power saps everything of the Spirit. Power is deceptive, toxic, carcinogenic.
People come to rely on our service. And we find ourselves of value; for our service, for what we can do, for who we know, for our status, for our relationships and our rapport, for the perks or fringe benefits, for our gifts and what we can achieve, and what we have achieved.
We become indispensable — or we think we are. And for any of us who are champions of religious popularity, watch out. That successful ministry you have. That reputation you’ve fought to attain. We get hung up on being needed, on being capable, on being useful, on being worthy — but in whose eyes? None of us is indispensable, and this has to come as a rude shock. It’s rather cruel when we first realise. Well, it feels that way. Those who think they’re indispensable are due for a wake-up call and pity those who don’t get it. The wake-up call is the light of Christ purging us of a darkness that can only destroy us.
Achievements are a stench against God unless they’re done for God. And if not, they will not last.
There comes a day for each and every one of us; that day of reckoning when our works beyond those that have been sown solely for the glory of God will putrefy. They become nothing, because they were nothing. They will evaporate and all that effort will be a waste.
If you have many responsibilities, you may need to plan how these will be done as you seek time out. Amazingly, as we entertain dropping the ball, because we cannot sustain the output that we recognise is not for God, we receive fresh revelations, because we’re prepared to walk away from idolatry and back to the living God.
At the moment of burnout, I have found it’s imperative to stop and to remind myself that I am more than what I do.
I am more than someone who must deliver something to someone else, whether they be a family member, a boss, a colleague, a parishioner, a client, a friend.
I am more that my flurried and overwhelmed mind. I am more than a broken heart.
I am more that everything I am currently consciously aware of.
In disarray I recognise how close I am to God, because I’ve walked so far away.
Even though at these times I feel less than, truly I am more because for a brief moment I face the truth. All I am and everything I have is because of God. And only after I fully accept that am I worthy to serve Him who suffered for me.
Above all, in every circumstance,
I am saved regardless of my service.
I linger on that and I smile.
I’m free. An unrestricted free agent
to love my Lord whether I serve or not.
At this point, service, I find is irresistible,
because my motivation has been imbued by rest in the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Keep this ONE THING in mind

Anger that is harnessed is fuel for rage that rallies against fear in faith that converts to resilience. This is not an anger that violates anyone. It’s a force that turns what angers us into fuel for goodness.
And by resilience I don’t mean some buzzword that has been here for some years but has a use-by-date like everything else. This is a truth of the ages. It’s nothing new. I’ve found it has served me well personally throughout various stages of my life when I have used it.
It’s biblical as it happens — try these, for instance: “You are more than conquerors through Christ who loved you…”[1] “Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds…”[2] “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me…”[3] and “Do not fret; it only causes evil…”[4]
When I do this one thing when fear threatens to entrap me, I begin to see the wile of the enemy.
When I’m overwhelmed, though it might take a moment to refix my gaze, I can and therefore, I’m one decision away from — “I do.”
When I’m aware of the naysayer, I choose to believe God, who knows me, who believes in me, who has a plan for me. Immediately I can be content and relax. All is in hand. All will be as it will be. Nothing need change. God wins and therefore so do I. And everyone who is on God’s side. And at these times I don’t need to defend myself. Indeed, I see the folly in it.
When I see my circumstances thwarting my goals, frustrating my aims, turning over my expectations, I’m reminded of the pride that rises without my accounting. The bedevilling circumstance simply reveals my need to turn it over as another thing I cannot control. At this point I must remind myself that everything will work out fine.
This one thing: “if God is for us, who could be against us?”[5] So, therefore, we can know this. We can rest in this unchanging knowledge.
Nothing can threaten us, just us we’re to threaten nothing.
Indeed, this is why this knowledge earns us victory even as we sleep…
From John Chrysostom (349 – 407) … please linger on this:
“Yet those that be against us,
so far are they from thwarting us at all,
that even without their will,
they become to us causes of crowns,
and procurers of countless blessings,
in that God’s wisdom turns their plots
unto our salvation and glory…
“See how really – no one – is against us!”
See what this is saying? I have always seen this as saying, the more someone is against me, the more God turns their plots toward me if and as I get out of the way. The more someone despises me, the more blessed I am when I take the opportunity to refuse offense. The more someone or life circumstances set themselves against us, the more we’re primed for a victory that was predestined, from before time began, for those who leave their justice to God.
When we accept this truth that is embedded eternally in the Word, without any doubt, the power inherent in God becomes us, because we are weak!
Not because we pretend we’re strong.
But because we admit we’re weak,
knowing full well that weakness doesn’t disqualify us;
it qualifies us!
This spirit in us that says, “Well, I shall prove them wrong” is not a spirit that we just made up. It has its roots in all humanity, in eternity, in God no less. Every chapter of the Bible echoes victory out of the clutches of defeat — and indeed the gospel of the cross is its magnum opus.
Nothing can defeat you. If you choose to give up the fight, turn the anger in upon itself, and just do what God requires.

[1] Romans 8:37.
[2] James 1:2.
[3] Philippians 4:13.
[4] Psalm 37:8.
[5] Romans 8:31b.