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Sunday, June 26, 2016

When It’s Time to Turn Back Home (to God)

RECONCILIATION is life’s end point if God has anything to do with it.  That all transactions would have their logical conclusion in it, and all truth would be requited fairly and justly; that above all, love would abound, one for another.
I’ve taken to the term when it’s time to turn back home as a way of describing this reconciliation balancing act.
Reconciliation has reached its aim when someone has recognised their need to set things straight on their own account.  Reconciliation always puts relationships and situations more together, bringing life to the fullest fulfilment of hope, joy and peace.  Life’s not about division.  It’s about integration.  It’s about inclusion.  And it’s about results and outcomes that prove better than anyone involved could have imagined, because only God can do that.
God’s best miracles are the relationships
He puts back together, where kindness,
empathy and understanding shine forth.
Turning back home occurs when we realise we’re wrong about something.  Or, it involves knowing someone else was wrong, but that wrong is forgiven them; that we rise above that wrong to love them anyway, because we understand how prone we are to being wrong.  Turning back home occurs when we’re ready to make a heartfelt apology, make amends, do better next time, and seek forgiveness.
Turning back home occurs when we realise that staying depressed or in grief involves more pain than the pain of changing; of lifting out of the mire.  (Which is no slight against clinical varieties of mental illness, for which nobody should judge, and only the qualified should advise.  Nor is it a slight on those who have experienced excruciating loss, for which grief is the normal and necessary response.)
Turning back home occurs when God has spoken, even in rebuke, and we receive correction with a glad heart profited to growth.
Turning back home is repentance — to change tack by 180 degrees, with immediacy of attitude and alignment of behaviour.
We enter a time of turning back home at salvation — every moment henceforth is to be a step in the right direction.  That inevitably leads to many challenging events and situations, some humiliating, some inspiring, all learning.
How delighted must all heaven’s host be when we finally turn back home!
Christian faith is about endeavouring to please God within Christian community.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

The Impervious, Holy, Gracious Nature of Love

Woken with thoughts I knew not where from, I decided to rise, to write them down, to endeavour to make sense of them.  Here they are:
Love Enmeshed In Truth As It Becomes Its Own Fora of Wisdom
Love argues a debate of reason without resorting to sarcasm, censure or name-calling, remaining ever kind and true to all sides of the debate.
And so such a thing as love is wisdom, choosing words and manner, not of decisive victory, but of truth each step of the discussion.
Loves argues a slow course, assigning its way to integrity, valuing unity of spirit, compelled by a vision of victory in the oneness of humanity.  All winning or nobody winning.  Nobody losing or all losing.
Love therefore has the final victory, because it thought not of victory, but because it valued truth.  It loved the idea that God alone is right, that His ways alone are just, and that fairness is ever the imperative of the moment.
And truth never advances without love by its side, because that in itself would constitute a lie.  Love cannot lie.  It will not compromise truth.  It stands integrally with the truth, real for the moment, every moment, at all times, eternally.
Love is its own wisdom; a wisdom of integrity, and the integrity of wisdom.
Trustworthy and true, love is found in victory, where there is nobody defeated but the lies propagated by the evil one.
Love’s purpose is wisdom, of integrity, of truth.  Love is impervious to crassness, holy beyond the trappings of vice, gracious ever in the nature of itself.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Men, Cursed to Privilege, Blessed to Respect Women

Above is the transcript of a ‘privileged’ male taking his ‘banter’ far too far.
Dating one of my girls, a privilege for any man lucky enough to have not just one daughter, but three, the concept of privilege came up… white male privilege.  I talked about a fact we both knew about — me through burgeoning awareness; her through life experience.  Male is the safer gender.  Female is the at-risk gender… at risk of violence and ridicule, to name just two.  Males more commonly transgress females than the other way around.  And men learn as boys interacting with girls how women can be, in many cases, allowably mistreated.
Times like this — now I’m in my late forties, and on a date with one of my three princesses — I’m ready to pour the acid over myself for all the silly and insensitive and disrespectful things I’ve said and done against women, usually inadvertently, though still done.  Like the time I had sex with a girl and promptly bragged to my mates about it.  (Later, I was required to pay some restitution for this sin through a varietal of ‘tribal’ justice.)  Sure, I was only eighteen, but the point was I’d been disrespecting women (girls) most of my life by then.  Don’t get me wrong.  It wasn’t something I was brought up to do — my parents would’ve frowned on the many ‘boyish’ things I’d done, that most ‘boys’ do.  I was probably not the most misogynistic male going round.  Just a normal male kid.  Just a regular male man.  Just a typically misguided human being.  That’s the point; my disrespect of women was emblematic of the attitude of society’s men.
A ‘thing’ took place.  A man with a lot of influence in Media took a stab, with his matey mates, against a woman who happens to be a journalist, and threatened violence, as “banter,” which is another way of saying, “I want to get you back without having to suffer any of the consequences of my actions, and, because I’m using humour, I believe I’ll not only get away with it, my matey mates will think I’m a hero, and everyone will know how funny a bloke I am.”  Trouble is the expense of that “banter” on the innocent party involved — and all women, even to every minority.  Mocked by a man joking about violence.  Mocked by being scapegoated through the vicarious involvement of his matey mates.  Several days of deafening silence as they all almost get away with it.  Probably many around who did not want to point the finger at Eddie… “He’s Eddie!  Eddie can’t be violated.”  Retribution issued as a joke; a barb with a fatal sting issued by an inoculated violator.  The propagation of the worst male privilege typical of an outdated, The Footy Show, genre.  “You [women] want equality… I’ll show you equality, and treat you like I treat my mates, because that’s equality” garbage.  Men behaving like men think men are, but not in the same galaxy as men.  And don’t know what they’re actually to be apologising for, which makes the issue the size it actually is.  They don’t have any idea what they’re doing wrong!
So I share with my adult daughter just one thing I’d done to disrespect women.  Cringe.  But what’s been done has been done.  There’s no excuse to go there anymore.  It’s time to change, and if we won’t change nothing will change us.  My daughter understood.  She’d heard of that sort of thing before within her own cohort.  She forgave me in an instant, for she knew the condition I, like all men, suffer — we’re more privileged than we often give call to realise.
I’m a man who has three daughters.  I put it this way, because as a father of daughters I feel like a man — not a father, but a man — a man who’s not always worthy to be called a man, let alone a father, for some of the things I’ve done — as a privileged male — in my time.
Men, we need to stand up and no longer rest on the excuses that reveal we really don’t understand nor truly care about what women face.  Change needs to happen in us and it’s our women who ought to have given up praying for that change by now.  But we can change, one man at a time, to cause a revolution to take place; a revolution of understanding: because of the male privilege we men have, we’re to treat women differently to men if we’re to treat them the same.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Monday, June 20, 2016

A Tale of Three Kings – A Study in Brokenness

Storyteller, pastor and evangelist Gene Edwards’ A Tale of Three Kings: A Study in Brokenness is a little book.  But anyone dismissing a book of its wisdom for its size would miss its anointed, secreted gospel message.
94 pages in all, not including the Discussion Guide.
I must say, I read it just in time.  But really, it could be read by any of us, anytime, and we’d benefit.  It’s not just a book for pastors, but it should be required reading for all pastors.
My method is to go through the book and to locate its highlights and provide some commentary:
PART ONE – Saul and David
Two kings are profiled: the Lord’s anointed, Saul, who the Lord rejects, and the Lord’s newly anointed, David, who must suffer a mad king (Saul) until the Lord is ready to install David to the throne.
David is anointed with oil by Samuel (chapter 2), and the king-elect gradually grows in stature, but, and this is important, having been anointed, “this remarkable event led the young man not to the throne but to a decade of hellish agony and suffering… On that day, David was enrolled, not into the lineage of royalty, but into the school of brokenness.” (p. 8)
David was set to learn many indispensable lessons about spear throwing from an insane king.
David served the mad king, and the better he did, the more jealous the king grew.  David knew he was now the Lord’s anointed, so why, when Saul threw spears, didn’t David throw them back?
David began to understand, that, in not throwing the spears back, God got what He wanted… “God did not have — but wanted very much to have — men and women who would live in pain… God wanted a broken vessel.” (p. 12)
So who is the Lord’s anointed again?  Saul or David?  One is but doesn’t act so, and one isn’t yet still has charge.  Who is the true king?  If he’s the type that throws spears, he may well be king… and quite mad!
“God has a university.  It’s a small school. 
Few enrol; even fewer graduate. 
Very, very few indeed.” (p. 15)
“… all students in this school must suffer much pain.  And as you might guess, it is often the unbroken ruler (Saul, in David’s case) (who God sovereignly picks) who metes out the pain.” (p. 15)
“As the king grew in madness, David grew in understanding,” as if sanctified by what he suffered.  David chose to submit under the oblivion of lunacy, and thereby, in his brokenness, spiralled down into a deeper hell.
So David was perplexed… what am I to do when these spears whistle past my head?  Of course, any man or woman’s logic is to grab that thrown spear and throw it right back where it came from… an eye for an eye.  After all, David, you’re a warrior!  Are you chicken?  Goaded by men and by conscience, there did seem something amiss in this logic — to avenge the attack is to avenge one’s kingship.
Yet, David would not throw those spears back.  He was not a king after the order of Saul.  David had learned something absurdly counterintuitive; it is always better to pretend the spears didn’t even exist… and if they did hit, it doesn’t matter, even if they pierce your heart.
Now to change tack: we have to ask ourselves, continually and constantly, if we’re the Lord’s anointed… and, if so, are we after the order of King Saul.  If we are, we’re destined to miss the mark.  Asking this question is perplexing, for only God knows the answer.  But it is still vital to ask the question!  “Am I a king who fights for my own justice?”  “Am I a spear thrower?”
Something that pierces worse that Saul’s spear is the searching eye of the Lord, from which nothing is hidden: Saul, he is in you and I!  And there’s nothing we can do about it unless we’re inculcated in the same curriculum as David was.
In that broken place, with spear wounds all over, we must leave the battlefield with not a single friend.  We must leave alone.  We leave that kingdom without defence… not one spear thrown… wounded… to enter the cave… a very inhospitable place… where we’re inclined to enter a season of bitter pity… pities given not to another man, but to God, in psalms of lament.
In David’s darkest hours, as if labour pains of suffering birthed in him humility only possible from brokenness, through being shattered, again and again, he led a band of hoodlums to sobriety.  “David did not lead them,” but they were led by him, alright!  They were amazed, as are we, that true kingship comes when nothing is forced; when the leader submits to violence and allows what God will sovereignly allow.
David, the Lord’s anointed, has no defence.  He insists, there will be no defence!  Sounds crazy.  He trusts God.
Yes, God gives the unruly and the unworthy his power.
“He sometimes gives unworthy vessels a greater portion of power so that others will eventually see the true state of internal nakedness in that individual.” (p. 41)
In the fact of wicked leadership all are able to see that God is poorly represented.
Remember Saul.  He is in each of us!  We think we’re Davids.  But, in fact, unless we act as David did, and the vast majority don’t, we are kings after the order of Saul.
Here is the twist: David never minded if he was about to be dethroned.  David had authority, but in that very fact, that fact didn’t ever occur to him.  He who had all power acted as if he had none.
That’s what the school of brokenness taught David: if you don’t attack from a position of weakness, when you have strength, power is nothing to misuse.
Remember, Saul — he’s in me and you.  We’re kings after his order if we flunk God’s school of brokenness.
PART TWO – David and Absalom
Two kings are profiled: the king in residence, David, who is about to be overthrown, and Absalom, the king-elect in the fashion of his own making.
The reverse of the situation of part one takes place.  Absalom is usurping the kingship.  Will David treat Absalom like Saul treated David?  And, if so, will Absalom respond in the same way as David did to Saul’s treatment?
In a man who seemed noble and pure, Absalom, a “rebellion was ignited.” (p. 60)
Absalom had the numbers, the ascendency, the favour of the people.  Still every kingdom has its portion of discord.  And if Absalom is to become a tyrant, his new kingdom will not last.  David’s ponderings with Sage are deep and spiritual.  History will tell.  It always has.
Joab was sought and he and David pondered the imminent rebellion.
Was David to mount a defence?  He only had his experience of youth to draw on.  “What course [of action] was that?” asked Joab.  “To do absolutely nothing,” replied the king. (p. 68)
Alone.  When you’re about to be overthrown, you’re alone.
David ponders, this time with Abishai: “Shall I be a Saul to Absalom?” to which was the reply: “He has been no young David to you.” (p. 70)
Absalom has minor grievances, whereas David had major grievances with Saul.  David had never been unfair to Absalom.  Yet David was losing a kingdom.  So many conundrums.
David refused to learn the ways of Saul, a second time and temptation, through unlearning the ways he learned with Saul.
Absalom promised to make a splendid Saul.  He was already a Saul, for he had no understanding of the wisdom from which David was made kith and kin.
“The motives of the heart will eventually be revealed.  God will see to it.” (p. 86)
Then David reflected over Moses and Korah: “At the age of forty, Moses was had been an arrogant, self-willed man, not unlike Korah.  What he might have done at forty, I cannot say.  At eighty, he was a broken man.  He was…
“The meekest man who ever lived… [whoever] carries the rod of God’s authority should be.” (p. 87)
Absalom claims the kingdom!
David said, “The throne is not mine.  Not to have, not to take, not to protect, and not to keep.” (p. 94)
Then, “the true king turned and walked quietly out of the throne room, out of the palace, out of the city.  He walked and he walked…
“Into the bosoms of all men whose hearts are pure.”
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Friday, June 17, 2016

LGBT and Christianity’s Collision Course With Itself

There is a splintering occurring, and I see this more internationally than nationally, though nationally the transition is occurring at light speed.  The splinter factions are from within the church itself — mainly the visible church.  This is why I feel Christianity is on a collision course with itself.  Every person believing upon Christ will, in the final days, be asked to take a side.  And in taking a side we will side against Christ.  In taking a side we will side against love.  And having said that, we will find it almost impossible not to take a side.  These are heady days!
My question is, are these the last days of Christianity?  Not the church, nor Christians, nor faith… but of Christianity — as we have come to know and refer to it.  Are we now not tearing ourselves apart because of the divisive methods we engage in that take us far from love — its own wisdom?
Talking Sin
There seems to be so much debate these days as to gender, sexuality, among a range of other things ethically, and sin — as if issues we may have come to feel definitely wedded to in our identities couldn’t or shouldn’t be called sin, even if they are wrong.  We feel we’re beyond sin or sinning; that it’s an offence to call something that people feel strongly about, or entitled to, “sinful.”
Sin is an ugly word these days.  It should have always been, but since the grace of God’s gospel rained down on us from heaven through the cross and resurrection, sin and the devil no longer have a sovereign word; God does.  Sin merely highlights God’s goodness; His grace, ours!  But what is the gospel to us if we do not believe we’re sinners?  Then we have no need of Christ and the good news of God.  We choose our own salvation and become, of choose, our own saviours.
If we hope to go on in our relationship with God our sin will always be central and others’ more peripheral.  Yet as soon as our own sin becomes less apparent, so does our relationship with God become less apparent, and where His grace in our lives is less apparent, what becomes more noticeable are other people’s sins.  Then we begin to take sides…
And depart from God and His will for our lives, which is that we would relate with Him.
Taking Sides
The very point of this most urgent time is not to take a side.  When we take sides we have chosen to love an allegiance.  We have forgotten that it is for people that we love.  It may seem we choose His Word or Christ Himself when we take a side, but side-taking is, of itself, a betrayal of Christ and His Word.
We venture forth a view, that, because truth is unambiguous, we must be unambiguous, but truth is God’s, not ours, and much truth (that we don’t and can’t see) will only be revealed when we meet God.  This is not a matter of siding with postmodernity — that monstrosity of the abstract — either.  We opt not to commit to having a view, because that view might be a deceived view; a view that, in its portrayal, betrays love when we, in fact, have endeavoured to love.  Just because we advocate for truth doesn’t mean we always hit love’s mark — most of the time we advocate for truth we miss love’s mark!  So much relational damage has been inflicted because we advocated for the truth.  We’re in territory where love and wisdom merge and fuse in God.
The taking of sides and the holding of views is tenuous, because we don’t know when those views skew into sin.  Even a good thing, done for a good reason, can turn sinful.
Transcending side-taking, love holds out for a higher purpose, seeking to see as God sees.
And yet we cannot afford to miss the truth by venturing naively into tall stories.
Tall Stories
The greatness of God is how He compels us to look honestly at ourselves.  We’re naked in the garden, and, knowing He’s there, we pretend, “There’s nothing to see here!  All is as You would have it, just as You designed it, Lord!”  He watches on and simply says, “Really?”  We cannot and will never fool God, and more fool us if we are so self-deceived to let our lies be.  We cannot reverse the events of the fall, but thankfully God has reversed its consequences.
We have the conscience implicit of being bearers of His image, yet, to the very same intrinsic extent, we cannot go close to living up to the expectations such an image would hold us to.
We’re all tellers of tall stories.
We’re all sinners, not a single one better than the worst of us.
LGBT people are merely poignant examples of all of us who are all equally poignant sinners.
The fact that many pious people rail against these truths shoots home the point; we’re all too easily offended these days.
Quick offence is the end of our Christianity.
Christians who cannot own their own sin will be the first to take offence and, therefore, to take a side, believing so quickly their own, and others’, tall stories — if they attend only to their own biases.  Sides will cancel themselves out.  And there will be similar numbers on both sides.  And tall stories vanish into the ether as if they never were, because they never were.  All this side-taking may end Christianity as we know it; our human hope of seeing Christ’s Kingdom come through us.  But it won’t be the end of the Church.  The Church transcends humanity’s Christianity.  The Church is God’s.  This is a testing time.  God watches on and His Church is alive and well as it’s always been.  God is absolutely Sovereign.
Those who take offence cannot love, and those who cannot love are not truly of God.  Those who take a side miss the point.  Loving people happens independent of the biases we have.  The biases hold us open to sin.  Whether we’re pro-LGBT or anti-LGBT is irrelevant.  If we straddle the fence is also irrelevant.  If we’re vocal about either we miss the point.  If we’re ‘pro’ we attempt to dispel God’s concern for sin.  If we’re ‘anti’ we miss the opportunity to see as God sees.
And love is a most confused concept.  Love is tougher than we think, yet it never misses a compassionate beat.  Love is truth in action, for love never advocates for a lie.  But love is a rebuke that sheets home a message with respectful meekness — “a bruised reed he will not break” (Isaiah 42:3).
Will we own our own sin, seeing God’s more interested in that than our taking of sides?
If we can relate with God, and allow His Spirit to speak very personally to us, side-taking won’t find a place on our agenda.  And God will be pleased.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

A Story of Cancer, and Courage Through Community

Arriving a few minutes late to a youth girls Bible Study I run, having all sat down at the pergola where we meet, I asked, “Let’s check in… how is everyone… who’s going to go first?”
One of the girls, brimming with excited news, couldn’t contain herself.  Her demeanour wasn’t unusual.  This girl is often at the forefront of things.  But there was something different.  She had a smirk on her face that belied what she was about to share.
“Fiona (not her real name) has got cancer!”
I had one of those moments where I felt I was being fooled, but I knew being fooled (if I was being fooled) was a better outcome than to ‘call’ this teen girl for joking about something so serious.
She wasn’t joking.
Fiona had cancer.  A type of cancer that young people get.  A cancer they think they got in time.  But she’s got a series of chemotherapy treatments to endure; indeed, she’d started.  And she’s got some massively invasive surgery ahead.
I invited Fiona to share information with the group about the cancer.  I asked her to share how she was going mentally and emotionally… and spiritually.  She was going well, and everyone could see it.  Only baptised months ago, having grown like many of the girls in this program do, she was motivated to see how God might use the fact she’s got cancer; to use her story for His Kingdom.  She said it made her feel her faith was real.  I asked the rest of the group to share.  “How do you others feel?”  Each shared as they had warrant to share.  One girl simply said she was still in shock.  We talked about the grief process; loss.  As we often do.  But this session was different.
The girls’ humour was clearly keeping Fiona both upbeat and grounded.  I mentioned that in Romans 12 it talks about the love of community, where we mourn with those who mourn, and rejoice with those who rejoice.  If they laughed with Fiona, they’d certainly weep with her.  Everyone quietly agreed it would be so.
I’d come to this Bible study prepared to share on Matthew 6:25-34, where Jesus says, “Do not worry for tomorrow, for today has enough problems for us to deal with, and don’t worry in any event, what you’ll eat, drink or wear, for God will provide all your needs.”  The Holy Spirit had gone before us all.  As I read out the words of this passage the area was stony quiet — Fiona was especially pensive.
Fiona taught me something.  The girls taught me something.  They showed me again; community empowers us to wrestle bravely adversity that would floor us if we had to travel that tough journey alone.
None of us pretend that everything will go well just because it goes well in this abovementioned moment.  There are many tough and insurmountable moments ahead for Fiona and her friends.
Loss teaches us that the moments are unpredictable; that we never quite transcend grief’s reach, until one day we look back and ask, “When did the grief go?”
But in community, adversity is made more palatable.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.
Permission was sought and received for the sharing of this story.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Brokenness-Pride Growth Paradox

Brokenness is something we should know is biblical — that God works upon our brokenness to restore us through His grace.  It’s how God transforms us spiritually from mere pupa through chrysalis metamorphosis to butterfly.  So brokenness seems essential to true heart-penetrating Christian growth.
But there is a paradox we must be aware of.  We must hold in tension two forces: one of the fact of our brokenness, due hardship circumstances of life, with the other, the fact that we wish for God’s revelation to show through us.  In other words, none of us wants to be broken, yet we need to have suffered[1] or we have no basis for God’s transformative work.  Again, we may be so keen to show that we’re truly disciples we make more of what brokenness there is in us.
None of us is keen to suffer, yet a genuine sign of growth in the Lord is the resplendence of a humble hope, that through suffering, there is growth.
As human beings with the capacity for pride, we may want to be trail blazers for the Lord, but our humanness is scared for what that genuinely requires of us.
So we straddle this paradox: wanting growth and not wanting it; asking God for it, yet resisting His work when it comes; unable to praise God for that which we resent, but knowing we need to.
Fortunately, God has a plan.  In the crushing circumstances of life, taken obediently, allowing for some vacillation through bitterness, growth is manifest.
And when we have some brokenness to show for our pain, we’re then tempted to show it off as ‘a sign’ of rare Christian growth.  Pride sullies the beautiful work of God’s restorative grace.  Vanity comes in to spoil the virtue with which God has equipped us.
Enduring our brokenness lets God’s grace in to heal and restore.
Let’s be humble about what happened, prepared to share, but not so keen as to make more of it than what was.  I’m not sure about you, but with these words the Holy Spirit speaks to me.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

[1] In rare individuals there’s the capacity to draw deeply inward the sufferings of others where compassion grows, blossoms and matures.  Otherwise, God uses our pain to make us more aware of the pain all through His world.

Monday, June 13, 2016

4 Questions to Avoid When Your Head and Heart Hurt

Would you describe yourself as an analytical thinker; someone who keeps thinking endlessly about problems you have?  I am.  And if the problem is stressful it can cause both the head and heart to hurt so much as to create anxiety and depression.
For some several years now I’ve been able to regulate those thoughts so they don’t hurt so much when I continually ruminate over an issue.
Here are four questions to avoid if your head and heart hurt because of the stresses in your life:
The first is the ‘why’ question.  Why did it happen?  Why did they hurt me?  Why isn’t God answering my prayer?  Why did so-and-so get the job I wanted and not me?  Why did my family member get cancer?  The list goes on.
There’s no value in asking the ‘why’ questions of life.  We might come up with our attribution as to the answer to the ‘why’ question, but there’s a good chance we’re not in the right galaxy.  Just about every ‘why’ question is a mystery.
The second is the ‘when’ question.  When will I get promoted?  When will this pain cease?  When will they start to treat me fairly?  When will my life partner arrive on this scene?  When will this arduous season be over?  When will I get that cash settlement?
Like the ‘why’ questions, the ‘when’ questions are open-ended.  Whenever we ask the ‘when’ question, we ought also to hold in tension the ‘if’ question.  ‘When’ and ‘if’ go together.  One is about certainty some time off, the other is about uncertainty or possibility some time off.  ‘If’ stretches our hope too far, but ‘when’ we can deal with.  But ‘when’ is tantalising when ‘if’ is equally applicable.
The third is the ‘what’ question.  What does he or she want?  What can I get for this thing?  What will it take to win that job/contract/deal?  Some ‘what’ questions can be answered through enquiry, but most of the time ‘what’ questions can only be known after the event, when all of what’s knowable is revealed.
The fourth is the ‘how’ question.  How will I make it through to payday?  How can I fix this thing?  How am I going to be in two places at once?  How does this thing work?
‘How’ is a problem-solving question.  If we face something that’s basically impossible, fixating on ‘how’ will send us into exasperation.
Over-analysing problems gets us nowhere, so it’s best to not ask the ‘why’, ‘when’, ‘what’, or ‘how’ questions ad nauseam.
© 2016 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

When the Conversation Stops at ‘How Are You?’

Fellowship has its barriers within any community of care.  But this could be the chief of them.  It begins as the very first words are uttered from the mouth of a would-be, could-be, or sadder an actual, friend.
Those words are, ‘How are you / going?’
Don’t get me wrong.  Those three or four words can initiate a wonderfully intimate conversation, except for two circumstances where they break intimacy in half.
1.     Where the conversation stops at ‘Good, thanks,’ and there’s no more enquiry entered into, apart from ‘Okay, great,’ more as to say, ‘I don’t have the time for you,’ ‘I don’t have the time right now, and generally don’t ever,’ or ‘I wasn’t really interested in any more of a response than “Good, thanks” to begin with,’ there’s a problem.  The problem should be obvious.  Should the question have been asked to begin with?  Should we feign intimacy?
2.     Where the conversation stops because, awkwardly, the person being asked doesn’t feel comfortable answering honestly.  That’s okay.  Nobody should apologise for needing to avoid the question.  The answer could be a polite, ‘I’m well, thank you,’ if indeed they were well.
In both of the above situations, there is a way to advance intimacy.
In the first situation, if we’re asking the question, we actually need to be interested in their answer, to the extent we’re willing to ask clarifying questions as we enter into meaningful listening dialogue.
In the second situation, we need to discern any sense of awkwardness and respect the space the other person requires, and not be offended that they can’t commit more than that.
If we ask the question genuinely, we could begin to go deeper than simply the offhand ‘how are you?’ which we tend to experience everywhere in our fast-paced world.  The exception is where we don’t feel comfortable, for which the code response could be, ‘I’m well, thank you.’
Our communities of care would be much better places of fellowship and growth if only we took seriously the question, ‘How are you?’
How much more would we care if only we meant it when we asked, ‘How are you?’
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

A Quick Sojourn Through C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed

A red-hot jab, as in a fireiron cauterising flesh.  A salient image of a felt experience.  Certainly attested to by Lewis.  Those who know grief must also attest.
Amidst the prevalence of grief, Lewis asks, “Where are You, God?”  No sign!  He makes those of the faith a laughingstock, yet only those with faith get through grief unscathed by cynicism.  We’re not alone, he says.  Even Christ said, from Psalm 22, “Why have You forsaken me?”  Feeling forsaken, yet knowing the opposite, makes faith possible, but it doesn’t make faith any easier to understand.
To ask some things, irredeemable things, is to ask in folly, and grief makes us ask such impertinent questions.  Grief makes us feel foolish.  No answer from God.
Going into grief’s feelings makes us interact with shame, such feelings seeming unreal and unbecoming, wrestling with logic and the illogical, reason and irrationality.
Does ‘processing’ grief make any healing or harming difference… another conundrum in the midst of it.  (We know it does, but we cannot know in the thicket of indulgence, which implicates faith as necessary in the starkest winter.)
Self-consciousness meets others’ self-consciousness — can we talk about this nemesis?  Awkward silence, never really ourselves anymore, and we may be even a reminder of death’s curse itself.
Missing a loved one gone, in a bodily sense, is like feeling less than human.  They’ve died, and part of us vanished that day, too.
Oh, and the fear again; the inescapable fear!  Such blistering fear is hell itself.
Grief reminds us that our mysteries rekindle our aloneness.  We can never truly know ourselves, let alone someone with whom we were married.  How cheated we feel in grief.
Does death bring us back to a doubting of life?  Or, the efficacy of life?  Grief takes us to such perplexing landscapes of soulish bitterness.
And does the memory recall something vibrant in the eye; not so, it’s dim, and that’s grand larceny on an eternal scale.
To cast a glance on our reflections repeals disgust.  How can truth be so vile?
Life, “… a mean joke.” (p. 17)
Losing grasp of the one we love without wanting to, as if they slip away from memory like a waif swept out to sea.  Once the grip is lost, it’s irretrievably gone.
The phantom of the lost loved one’s presence we wish driven brusquely away; for one breathing moment in their attendance.
Our memory is as horribly convincing as it is false.  We forget people’s true presence, as our imaginations make of their memory something quite innovation… still false!
Live on in the memory…” — such a creative concept without the guarantee of veracity.
The utter vacuum that is the loved one’s death leaves us to ponder despondently evermore.
“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life or death to you.” (p. 21)  And, same page, “Only a real risk tests the reality of a belief.”
The where-is-she-or-he question soon arises.  Another journey into nothingness.  The journey to God makes of them as of God — incomprehensible and unimaginable.
Time is but a reminder of death, where heaven is a manifestation of the fact that former things have passed away.
The truths and duties of religion are one thing; to believe.  It’s another thing entirely to speak of the human ability to relish God’s consolations, which are mere flickers, at best, and that’s all.
“It astonishes me, the way we are invited to apply to ourselves words so obviously addressed to our betters.” (pp. 23-24)  Grief seems to remind us how much more we’ve loved our lost than God Himself.
Cliché is disgusting.  Grief teaches us never to say silly things again, no matter how ‘biblical’ they sound.
Grief demands we question the ‘goodness’ of God.  Perhaps we can only know God is good by holding onto that idea faithfully.
The grace of prayer can actually be a preparation for torture.  We’re advised to be careful about what we pray for.
Of course, God is good, and our grief reminds us of our celled depravity we’re continually seeking to run away from.
Pain is irreconcilable.  “The drill drills on.” (p. 29)  It makes us constantly edgy, forever missing a part of ourselves.
Work and conversation are light relief from the grief observed.
Over the feelings, well over them, we feel, feel, then feel some more.  Too much feeling!
Amazing.  We’re promised suffering in our Bibles, but until we do actually suffer we never see those words.  They’re written in invisible ink, until sorrow befalls us one innocent moment.
We ‘trust’ God, only to find in our grief that we never did, and now that we don’t, we find we have to.  Suddenly behind the eight-ball.  Better that, however, than before.
We have to be “knocked silly” before we can come to our senses. (p. 32)
Getting our real thoughts off our chest, as the lamentists did, helps for a moment.  It’s a moment of raw human experience, showing us that even those who wish to be pious get angry.
Grief is a bomber squadron bombing mercilessly, and when you’re on the ground there is no time to regroup.
Grief tells us we actually know nothing, and suddenly it all makes sense — our thoughts are not His thoughts.
That we lost him or her was bad enough, but now this grief.  “Is it not yet enough?” (p. 35)
If God executes pain because He loves us, how much more do we feel hated for having been loved?  This grief insists there is another world to come!  There has to be.
Then comes the distancing; a time we’re part through the grief and perceive the lightness of healing.
“You can’t see anything properly until your eyes are blurred with tears.” (p. 37)  Such eternal truth we cannot know until we made that gut-wrenching trek.  Yes, grief teaches us to loosen our grip a little.  Desperation is a folly.
Look, the door isn’t so jammed shut!
Grief shows us the frustration of a flurry of impulses that are habitual — as if arrows of thought, feeling and action — uncontrolled in their array toward us, in our experience.
Grief forces us to reflect, and it engages us as students of our lives.
The only way we can realise that our lives are a “house of cards” is for God to knock it down.
Grief feels like we’re getting over it, when, in fact, there is more coming; just a little reprieve, along with a promise, and a hungering, for what will come, but not quite yet.
But feeling better comes with its own fresh confusions.  More to work through.  Guilt for happiness, but one.
Compassionate grief will inevitably separate us from the memory of the lost, but not before we’re willing and able.
And then, most the way through the grief, an attack worse than any previous other!
Sorrow is not a state but a process.  It’s more connected to our narrative than it’s connected to a locatable place.  It’s a wistful thing like grasping oil in the hand.
Grief, and the nuances of life, invite us into successive modes and states of happiness.  A previous happiness seems strange, never quite a possession as it once was.
The “jottings” show progress, yet not as much as Lewis had hoped.  Still, content with such an observation.  No use not being so.
Praise is a prize part way through grief — “the mode of love which always has some element of joy in it.” (p. 49)
Grieving for a lost one is an invitation, through a cavernous investigation, into falling in love, truly, with God.
Even as we ask God for an answer, most the way through grief we get “rather special sort of ‘No answer’.” (p. 54)  The door isn’t jammed shut, but neither is it open.  There is a silence as in a mystery, and we’re invited into it.  And into the mystery we go, and in that, there, is a healing.
Postscript: all the words here are mine and not C.S. Lewis’, unless shown by quotation marks.  I have written based on the words I’ve read, and written these reflections according to the Holy Spirit’s leading.