Sunday, March 31, 2019

It’s the subtleties of conflict that tear us apart

One thing we don’t grasp about conflict, until this kind occurs, is just how damaging the subtle stuff is.
To frame the discussion, imbibe the following quote:
“One doesn’t have to operate with great malice to do great harm. The absence of empathy and understanding are sufficient.”
— Charles M. Blow
Great malice is done against people. It does great harm, no question about it. But far more common a situation it is that great harm is done through ambivalence and indifference. Indeed, some have postulated that the enemy of love is not fear or hate, but indifference.
Especially in the world of Christianity, where followers are assumed as saved — as allegiants of the Lord Jesus, adherents of the gospel of peace, aligned with loving neighbour as self, acquitted and regenerate of heart — we expect that there will be due diligence given in the matters of relationship.
On the one hand, we agree that we’re all sinners, fallen in nature, bound to disappoint, hurt and betray; on the other hand, being convicted of this, and committed to being subject to Jesus, we may live not for ourselves, but for him, which is to live for others, provided that living for others doesn’t mean we lose ourselves in the process because we’ve fallen foul of a toxic system within a relationship.
Christians sin. Everyone does. But Christians at least understand that they need a doctor. To not understand this is to not truly be Christian, i.e. a Christ follower.
Well, that is the theory. Knowing that the problem of sin resides deep in the fissures of the heart — the emotions, the intellect, the will — and accepting at salvation that Jesus must now be ‘Lord’ — we hopefully realise that this faith in Jesus is a heavily relational faith!
Relationally speaking, we are called to peace,
and we are called out from confusion,
for God is a God of peace and not confusion.
Yet, there are varying degrees of even us knowing our sin. We all have blind spots in some cases.
Knowing our hearts is something that comes only when we give up what we cannot keep to gain what we cannot lose. In terms of Luke 14:25-33, to follow Jesus is to count everything but Christ loss, to commit to an exclusive loyalty to the Lord alone, and to commit to a superior love — that which is received, a perfect love, is also given. Everything else that is good is given unto us for putting Christ first (read Matthew 6:33).
These are what we strive for.
As our hearts become more and more transformed into the likeness of Christ, our sensitivities for others become more sensitive, where we recognise the absence of empathy and understanding are as heinous as other more vocal sins.
Indeed, we may even bear upon ourselves the harsher damage done because people turned away, deliberately it often seems, from the very opportunities they were presented with to love us. This compels us even more to love others with the kind of compassion we did not receive from those we thought were well equipped to love well.
We see how damaging indifference and ambivalence — a lack of interest, care or passion that ordinarily should be evident — are. For those who say they’re acquainted with Christ, we’re gobsmacked they don’t know their gospel; that they may cherry-pick verses in or out to suit them.
It’s the chosen subtleties of selective, arbitrary, factional love that hurt the most.
It’s that someone might choose not to care or to refuse to attempt to understand that hurts the most.
It hurts most when a person we thought would care much couldn’t care less.

Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

Friday, March 29, 2019

Suffering and the Eternal Recompense of Compassion

It can be a tired and worn cliché, that God wastes none of our pain. We wheel it out at our earliest inconvenience, when we are stricken with the awkwardness of being presented with a case of someone else’s suffering, hardly realising the damage we may cause.
There is, however, the weight of eternity in genuine loss
that calls us to cry out to heaven above.
How on earth are we supposed to genuinely implore God without having precious things ripped from our covetous grasp? This is not the reason we experience loss, but it is God’s open-door invitation to venture eternally amid such loss.
Could I proffer an opinion based on the theology of experience?
Could it well be that we have no idea about the significance of life and eternity until we have suffered?
Could it be that the urgent hope of life is that our lives would be swept away?
Only when we completely lose our lives do we have the opportunity of gaining eternity. This I liken to a revenant experience. And without wanting to sound superior, there is something that only those who have suffered can gain.
It opens our eyes to what is just beyond our comfortably convenient and oftentimes luxurious world. I say just beyond, because it is literally over the cusp of the moment. It is in the offing for anyone who lives and breathes. Those who don’t know this, oh what a shocking, life-ending reality.
I can tell you I had no idea until I was 36 years, one month, and 19 days old. With one life gone, a new life emerged. And life truly hasn’t been the same ever since. For the losses I bore, there were gains that could not have been realised otherwise. From a shallow and immature perspective, having been brought to my knees for the first time in my life, I suddenly realised my life was not my own. That is true for every single one of us, yet we hardly realise this. Think about how tenuous the living breath is!
You and I live by the graciousness of God alone,
whether we recognise this or not.
God gives and God takes away.
Such is life.
I discovered as I was taken over the precipice and into the abyss of loss that I was truly nothing without it. All of me that had substance was being wrought out of the twisted metal of my disaster. How incredible it was to realise that nothing I had within me amounted to anything without God. With everything stripped away, I could finally see a clear and level site from which to build the foundations of a life made for God’s inhabitation.
These last few paragraphs have possibly nauseated some sense of reason from within you. I want to use the rest of the article to connect suffering with compassion.
What has always mystified me
is that suffering is linked to compassion.
Both words — suffering and compassion — derive from the same root (pass-/pati-), in Latin and English and Greek, and possibly other languages. There is a definite linkage between the two.
The person who has no compassion has not suffered, which is not to say they haven’t experienced pain. To truly suffer is to submit to it, without denying it or reviling it, but to have truly been crushed by it. There are many in life who may go one way or the other in avoiding it, into some form of resistance away from where growth in compassion beckons.
But the person who is lambasted by the loss, floored by what has them floundering, the person who is weak beyond resistance, stands to find the God of compassion amid their turmoil and despair. Of course, they usually need to tap into the compassion of another, but not always.
What they lose is incalculable, and so what they gain, as a measure of God’s generous and compensatory grace, is an eternal weight of glory that is poured into their life, in the quality of compassion that transcends this life and connects with the Ages.
This compassion comes to bear
in a presence they carry about
within them, that they exude.
We encounter in them a true and rich and real person. They are no threat to anyone, and they cannot be threatened, but the fearful are threatened by such a person, because they have an intangible eternal magnanimity about them that is from a worldly sense impossible to reconcile.
Look at the person with compassion and make a study of them. Where have they suffered? How has suffering deepened their perspective of life? Why has suffering unearthed such compassion?
Having suffered,
you know what suffering involves,
how much it has cost you,
yet, how much you have gained,
and, in sum, how it then connects you
with compassion, which connects you with others.
Compassion is the gift given to those who have suffered.
And compassion is the embodiment of Jesus.

Photo by J W on Unsplash

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

There is coming a time

On a day when another puzzle piece fitted so neatly into place, I heard again the echo of the God of eternity remind me of the goodness of grace and justice.
There is coming a time when ashes will be turned to beauty as that fine dust takes the form of life once again, or perhaps, indeed for the very first time.
A time is coming when every loss we suffered or continue to bear deeply and heavily, especially in those caverns we’re triggered into, will not only be recovered but redeemed; a perfect consummation of the pain and compensation for the losses incurred.
A time is coming, and is even appearing when God will gather the advocates, surround us with people who know and connect with our struggle, and speak cogently into it by their listening, even as we listen and encourage one another.
A time is coming when depression and anxiety and trauma draw us closer to healing and health and wholeness. Not by denying the struggle, but by validating it as real, and by giving space for it, even as it subsumes us, making us fathoms more compassionate and empathic.
A time is coming when what we have experienced will be believed, where our experience will count as real in the court of our peers. A new peer group is emerging and is arriving, and will breathe life into us as we look unto a group that we cannot believe we’re part of; what a blessing to be part of such a group of comparative luminaries.
A time is coming where our dreams for our children and our young may bear fruit on the promise. If not now, certainly in eternity as God brings justice to bear where children have suffered under some terribly unkind tyranny.
A time is coming when rest will be imminent. Where one’s last sigh will be a breath of peace that will last forevermore. And that reality is something we will steer near by even as travail this wearisome life.
A time is coming where joy will fill the air, where sadness will be seen and met and embraced, and yet joy will be with the sadness and it shall overcome.
A time is coming when the true freedom you’ve always hoped for will become the reality you’ve sought. You know it and you see it and you can even touch and taste it. It’s time to go after it.
A time is coming and will surely come to pass where goodness and mercy and comfort will be ours.
The time has come to colour in
the untold corners of your own story.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

When the going gets tough…

… the tough get going, right? Yes and no.
There is a beautiful idealism sketched in the truth that when things truly get tough, the properly tough person gets going… on the work ahead; they make the forays required in forging the path to success.
But it was shown to me recently that there’s another way to see this truth — a truly sad reality for so many.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going… right away from the problem. In other words, they depart. They leave. They up stumps and never return. Or, they simply take their leave, or cover their ears, or pick up a drink or drug or other distraction, or just check out — “this is not what I signed up for!”
This can happen in conflict, it can happen when life is overwhelming, it can happen anytime a person decides they cannot (or will not) do something. And many of these feelings are to be understood. Everyone gets overwhelmed. Nobody lives this life without being pushed beyond their limit.
But, in being pushed beyond despair, we learn a lot about ourselves and others.
When the going gets tough, the tough may wilt and have doubts. They may look at what’s in front of them and shrink in genuine fear, but it’s hoped that they would try to manage what is overwhelming and seemingly impossible.
Climbing the mountain that is the process of grief looks too arduous; if we look at the mountain and don’t see it as a long series of manageable steps, even if some of them are excruciating. Dealing with tragedy, too, looks impossible, until we stay our desire to run, and simply do the best we can, one hour at a time. The long grind of life does wear us down, but it’s from the pit we rise.
The genuinely tough person, the one who is resilient, will normally buckle under the weight of additional stress, until they acclimatise. Until they assess the weight, simply staying and resisting the temptation to run. There’s nothing fancy about the way they do it. Indeed, it’s probably the case that they will look dishevelled because of the added burden.
But they persist. They persist because they see it is their only real option, because they consider the easy out as the fool’s way — no real option at all. They would rather try and fail than walk away without trying — because there’s integrity in that, and when you’ve got nothing else, integrity is an awesome companion.
Chances are you may be reading this, and either be facing a tough situation and considering a boycott. Or, you might be on the receiving end; your partner up and left, or they bailed at a moment you most needed them, or you’ve hit rock bottom and your friends have disappeared (yet some of the unlikely ones have stayed to pick up the pieces with you).
If you’re considering giving up, and leaving the extra burden with someone else, have another think. This decision could be a major loss for you. Your opportunity to hold your head high, having helped when you could’ve back out, is real. Just for an attitude to try, to take your responsibility, to make good on the trust others have placed in you.
When the going gets tough and you do get going, you will lose, even as others you care about lose.
But when the going gets tough and you prove you’re tough by getting on with the work, you and everyone else you care about prospers.
If you try and fail, you have failed well, and even in failure there is hope for what might still be achieved.
The massive disclaimer here is in cases of abuse. In cases of abuse, leaving is many times the only option. The persistence here, the tough thing here, is to get going!
And, of course, this article is pointed first and foremost to men who leave women too easily or bail in many different ways on their responsibilities. It certainly happens to men, too, but it’s usually the other way around.

Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash

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