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TRIBEWORK is about consuming the process of life, the journey, together.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Making a Courageous Pact to Live Honestly

“Put our [suicide] plans down,
and we let them be blown off by the wind.”
— Pastor John Wilmot
BROTHERS and sisters are not just of flesh and blood, as if DNA had a say over a kin relationship.  I have a brother who has been so courageously honest to publish a video where he makes a pact not to end his life.
Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve had only four serious suicidal ideations — one so close to being converted to reality — enough to know that dim wretched place of soul where hope has gone to the bleachers.
His pact to continue living, to not abandon his family and friends, is met, of course, with more relief than any solitary life can know.  Indeed, it’s his agreement with pain — to subsist within it, to be honest in its presence, and to be valiant especially in the quieter, loneliest times — that is so brutally inspiring.
Life is pitiless.  But God isn’t.  And yet, as we live this life, we get that sense that faith doesn’t help that much, unless we’re courageous enough to set the truth free.  God can help us, but only if we can help ourselves to the simplest, rawest knowledge — what smacks us in the face every moment of our existence.  There’s nothing to be gained from a life lived abiding in lies.  The honest person is the winner who takes it all.
Pastor John’s inspiration ought to be shared over the globe, but it also needs to be replicated over and over again just to prevent even one of those many thousands of suicides each day.
Let us be proud of each other’s honesty.  But better still let’s be blessed by God, for the fruit of honesty is peace, even within pain.
Australians have a word for courage that gets to the truth.  Courage is about guts.  Pastor John, you have guts!  Pastor John, I love your guts.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

It’s Not the Whole Story

GOOD news.
Whatever we know in life, it’s not the whole story.
It’s good news for this reason: life opens us gloriously when we acknowledge the powerful truth that only seems to disempower us.  The beginning is at the end.  When pride is at an end, true life opens up.
Your life in my view, and my life in your view; it’s not the whole story.  If we see each other either at the heights of success or at the depths of failure, or in the myriad places between, we don’t see the whole story.  If we hurt each other, because we ourselves are hurting, it’s not the whole story.
Nobody knows or appreciates the whole story.  Nobody but God.
If we don’t believe in God or don’t care much for Him, we still need to admit that the record of our lives is a historic fact.  All the itty bitty events of our lives, our breathing seconds, too, are facts.  We exist in all our entirety, and we’ve been places and done things and interacted with people and the earth that the universe attests to have happened.  We cannot ignore this.  These things that have happened didn’t just occur in our imaginations.  Some of what we’ve done we’re ashamed of.  Some we feel guilty for.  We struggle to accept or forgive ourselves.  Regardless of what others might have done to us, there are things that we’ve done wrong.
But it’s not the whole story.
The Whole Story of Our Own Lives
You and I don’t even know the whole story of our own lives.  Only God does.  None of us know.  None of us has a memory of our times as infants, or of our sleeping and dreaming, or, in many cases, of our twilight years with dementia.  None of us can begin to describe the fullness of our perceptive experience.  Sure we may attempt to reflect, but we miss many aspects of our lives that we have actually experienced.  None of us knows why we feel like we do at times.  None of us knows with an established fullness just why we are here on planet earth: our definitive purpose.  The closer to the whole story of our lives we get, the further away we actually appear to be.
Some of us judge ourselves too harshly, whilst some of us are too harsh on others.  We’re not as bad or good as others think we are.  We’re not as bad or good as we think we are.
Perception is a villain when it’s allowed free reign to judge.  Perception is only part of the story, yet perceptions (yes, plural, as in opposing perceptions) are crucial to the overall revelation and representation of the truth.  And yet perceptions can only contribute to the truth when they are brought together, where the wrestle is real and respectful, and the object of truth is sought and the truth is actually gleaned.  (And sadly, how rare that is!)  Perceptions only add something to the object of reconciliation when we can validate each other’s perceptions.
Now is probably the right time to say…
We Can’t Know the Whole Story of Another’s Life
If we can’t possibly know the whole story in our own lives, how are we to possibly know that whole story in another person’s life?  Actually, we can only judge when we have the full truth before us — the full recognition of the information available.  We cannot even judge ourselves fairly, so why do we think we are even positioned to know?  We can only know so much less than their own knowledge, and yet they, like us, cannot know everything about themselves.
We don’t know what they’ve been through; what their perceptive experience was.  We can only imagine our fears imputed on them, and how horrendous some of their situations could have been for them.  We imagine them having a better or worse life than ours — but it’s not that at all; it’s just different, and, to that end, incomprehensible to us.  Should we not revere such a dichotomy?  It should mean that respect for the other is implicit.
It’s a key and vital knowledge to have, that we don’t know what we often presume to know.
We behave in ways that implies that others should know better, only to be disappointed when we feel betrayed.  We have actually been betrayed by our own fractious expectations based on scant knowledge.  How terrible is the sin of ignorance!
What God Sees That We Can’t
It’s a fact of life that we can’t see it all.  But God can, and does.
God sees the struggles we’ve made of life, the bad choices, the fears that were enacted upon, and times we failed, and He saw the fuller picture that we couldn’t see.  This caused Him pain.  As He watched us compromise on important matters He wanted us to choose differently, but He understood we couldn’t see everything.  If we could have, we would not have made the same mistakes, we would have chosen better.  But we don’t have the whole story.
God sees not only the mistakes, but the secrets, too.  Just let that sit…
All the grubby little secrets and wicked thoughts I’ve engaged in, and continue to participate in.  (I speak in the first person out of courtesy to you.)  All these God sees.  He stands there, even as I grovel in sin, and revel in idolatry, and He sees, and not only accepts me, He loves me!  Even as I’ve felt ashamed for many things, He looks on me as the New Creation I am — because of Jesus — because Jesus died and was raised to resurrection life, that my sins would be forgiven, and that I, too, could live a whole life… a whole life that I cannot appreciate.
Even in the partness of this whole life I can begin to imagine the consummate depths of His grace.  I can begin.  I can’t get much further, because I don’t have access to the whole story — the depths, the widths, the heights, and the depths of grace that saves the lost when they had no chance, and had absolutely no claim on salvation.
We don’t see the whole story, yet God does, and He not only forgives and accepts us, He loves us.  God sees more than we ever could, including our every sin, and yet, because of Jesus, He cannot not love us.
Grace so amazing,
So wonderfully kind,
Jesus comes a raising,
A saving God-designed.
Grace so amazing,
So wonderfully kind,
Today I can’t stop praising:
He saved me when I was blind.
Grace so amazing,
So wonderfully kind,
His love ever blazing,
For my heart to find.
Grace so amazing,
So wonderfully kind,
No matter my gazing,
His love’s too big for my mind.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

A Short Essay on Violence

EARLY in my life, like everyone is, I was introduced to the inevitable concept of violence, and not only the concept — the myriad manifestation of violation in my life.
Don’t get me wrong.  I wasn’t ‘abused’ as a youngster.  I ‘suffered’ quite as normal a childhood as any child could be blessed to have experienced; certainly the love of a father and mother doing their best to love each other, and their children. 
I use inverted commas above not to annoy you, but to emphasise the fact that, even though it wasn’t abuse I suffered, I did suffer the violence normal to the average human existence.
The concept of sin explains this suffering well.
I do not pretend that there aren’t more horrendous childhoods.  There are!  I see events in my life, weekly if not daily, where children suffer the ‘normal’ (emotional) violations of their parents, let alone the violations that would rend their parents’ hearts if only they knew their children’s actual perceptive existential experience.  We adults tend to forget how vulnerable children are, yet we only need to tap into our inner child and realise how vulnerable we still feel in the presence of violence.  And, indeed, there are abominable upbringings where violence in key developmental phases interrupts a child and their life is destroyed before it’s even begun.  That destruction leads to further destruction as the ripples of violence tend continually outward through waves of fear.
The distance we are to God explains both our vulnerability and propensity to sin.
We’re surrounded and inculcated and embodied by forces of violence.  And until we see our reality for what it is we’re helpless to change it.  We need to remain hopeful, but hope only has veracity when we stare the truth in the eyes of life, and wrestle cheerfully with it in the hope of peace — for which we must believe.
Violence is not just about violent husbands and family violence, or unjust judicial structures, or corruption, or child detention.  Violence presents itself around us and in us all the time, if only we’re honest.  What I’m saying is sin is violence from a relational perspective.
Let us consider some forms of violence that we participate in.
I think of the unintentional violence my two-year-old son brings to me, albeit in the name of love, like running up to me with force into my crutch.  It hurts, and in being violated I need to be steady within myself not to violate him through an angry response.  He doesn’t understand how his behaviour violates me or others yet.  It’s not his fault.  Yet, I and other people of the maturity to understand how a two-year-old interacts with the world need to understand him, so as to not violate him by a reptilian reaction we’re all so capable of.
Many benign situations in workplaces, families, communities, and in broader society, become the breeding ground for violence, and I’m not even talking about visible violence.  As I sit atop this uncomfortable stool typing these words, the seat violates my backside, and the flow of blood through the back of my legs is interrupted.  If I remain here long enough, without shifting position, discomfort propagates disease.  Poor design is violence.  The rowdy patron in this kindly coffee shop violates may spirit; my soul seeking its heavenly rest.  Yet, in his intrinsic joy he has no idea how he violates me.  Inner senses of frustration mount when the breeze stops and perspiration develops.  Suddenly my soul feels challenged and possibly violated.  Uneasiness in a key relationship is a violation — a friend-if-not-family-person, whom I dearly love, comes to mind that I violated through a less than helpful countertransference, although with the intention of helping.  I have been forgiven, even in the event itself, but can I forgive myself that violence?  If I don’t, I continue a violence against myself, and my core values are challenged.  (Oh the catharsis to give words to the inner experience!)  Of course, reconciling violence is an intrinsic mantra for me.  How could I otherwise continue doing what I do?  God has gifted me the maintenance of His grace.
Fear, and the Vital Matter of Awareness
If someone close to me talks with me about something uncertain that impacts me directly, I have to watch the flow of my thoughts henceforth.  The enemy finds a way to discourage through overwhelming us in fear.  Fear comes cloaked.  It stalks, and the Spirit beckons to us, “Be attentive to this!  Deal with it.”  Awareness is the key.
Yes, I note the role of fear.  When I’m fearful I am in the process of becoming violent.  If I don’t manage my thoughts in order to make myself feel safe I will move in the direction of violating someone.  And when I manage my fear through productive reflection — a personal form of prayer — God comes through every time, restoring to me my hope.
If we hope to be safe, and to be a safe person as we interact with our world, we must become aware, continually, of stimuli to violence because of fear.
Fear undergirds violence.  Given our broken nature we’re condemned to interact with violence — as violators and as the violated.
Now, thankfully, fear-producing-violence is not where this ends!
The Prince of Peace comes — this Easter, and every Easter, and eternally ever — to remind us that He bore violence and absorbed it.  And look at the fruit borne: salvation for all humankind who accept that salvation.
Having accepted our salvation, our task is to be honest about violence; to absorb and process violations, and to end violence so far as it depends on us.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Prayerful Practice of Procuring Everyday Miracles

“I just experienced a miracle,” I said to my wife, having within hours overcome a struggle I’d tussled with for weeks, by God’s grace.  “I didn’t even pray for it!”
My wife murmured, “Well, you may not have been praying… [but I have been].”
It’s a little thing.  But little things are also big things in the Kingdom of God.  And little miracles are like little sins — there’s no difference — a miracle is a miracle, just as a sin is a sin!
Everyday miracles are changes of mind over something wrestled with at a heart level.  And prayer undergirds them all.  I may not have had the discernment to pray, but my wife and others did — regarding this particular issue — and I had been released of the bond of disobedience.
The effect of the miracle was my peace was returned to me.
In reflection, I had reflected.  I had been open.  That was my contribution of obedience.  But it was others’ prayers that brought the grace of God’s favour into practical being.  For these prayers I’m mighty thankful.
For the peace we experience, there is peace that important others in our lives also experience, because we’re at peace.  A miracle that occurs in one life has the effect of benefitting others’ lives.
Miracles occur in the vivacious Christian life, and most when faith is stretched, life is uncomfortable, and hope in God is tested.
God is somehow realer and closer when we depend on Him to get us through.  And such a dependence makes faith facilitate His gracious favour; the experience of divine provision — a miracle — something we, in our own strength, could never procure.
Through prayerful practice, and through reflective obedience, we procure everyday miracles, yet only by God’s merciful grace.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Monday, March 14, 2016

How Gracious Understanding Makes Forgiveness Easier

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906 – 1945)
THERE appears to me to be levels of learning around forgiveness.  My first significant lessons surrounded a profound initial grief, and God gifted me with the ability to focus on what I’d done wrong as opposed to bothering too much with what the other person seemed to me to have done wrong.
But in the recent few years my Lord has upped the ante.  He wants me to learn more.
I’ve found that the root of bitterness — for which I thought naively I was immune — came to be operant.  I tussled for the grace to forgive certain people in certain situations.
What God showed me, albeit very recently, is these situations are a mirror opportunity for my growth.  It’s not about them (my perception of them) at all.  God is like what my mother always told me when I grew up — I’m not interested in what the boy next door is getting away with.  God says, “My sole interest is you and your growth!”
As soon as we focus on us, and what we can do to effect forgiveness, forgiveness gets easier.  God equips us with gracious understanding.
We cannot evade God — shower others in our judgment — and come away unscathed and growing.
Our detrimental behaviour toward others always leads to our detriment.
And yet, this article, as prefaced by Bonhoeffer’s riveting quote, is not about me or you at all.  It’s about how we’re to view others that helps us shower them in the gracious understanding they deserve from us.
If we truly want to forgive people more instinctively, we need to get inside them to be connected with who they are, and not be hoodwinked into focusing on what they do or don’t do.
Everyone — every single human being — is suffering.
It doesn’t matter whether we’re ‘blessed’ in material wealth, by our country of birth, or by anything else.  Everyone suffers.
The key to forgiveness is a pliable heart, and the heart’s pliability depends on empathy.
If we have the capacity for empathy — to be interested in another person — we have the ability to care.
Care is pivotal for the ability to forgive.
We can only truly forgive someone if we genuinely care about them.
If we care enough to see another’s suffering, God will also give us the care with which to understand and accept our own suffering.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.