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Friday, July 10, 2020

Only a global pandemic affords THIS opportunity to all

You know those verses in the Bible that start out like, “Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds...” (James 1:2) and you go like, “What?”  This article is an attempt to press into the opportunity in trials.
In the recent article that I wrote titled, the only wise way of responding to suffering, I took a bite out of Hebrews 12:7 quoting, “endure trials as divine discipline.”  Do you realise that we are smack-bang in the middle of a global trial; every single person is under the effrontery of the coronavirus.  Nobody goes one day without thinking about it.  And so many of us have been entangled in the anxious plight of wondering what-if, particularly if we have vulnerable loved ones, our jobs are at stake, or we suffer from the effects of isolation, and most poignantly if we become infected.
It may sound weird to say this, but we require a trial if we hold out any hope of growing in God.  None of us can grow without a massive enough challenge.  We all need something that tests us before we can embark on a journey of humble trust.
The world might call faith ridiculous, but we who have grown through our trials can make a mockery of what this world sneers at in the name of our God, simply in applying the eternal principles contained in the Word — principles that are farthest than ever from 21st Century Western, first-world life.  Per Hebrews 12 we come to learn that the word “afterward” has enormous meaning.  Go and locate it now if you need to.  It’s right there in verse 11:
“No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening — it’s painful!
But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for
those who are trained in this way.”
Nobody appreciates being disciplined but the one who has faith that good will come of it.  That is the essence of humility; that there will be some fruit of growth and some tangible benefit for what it costs in terms of pain.  Few people appreciate becoming disciplined, because that too involves the painful process of sticking to a plan that promises no early reward.  Discipline demands faith.
The present coronavirus comes sponsored by the condition that it is here for a while.  It is up to us to take advantage of the opportunity and see it as the trial that facilitates growth.  It comes in the backdrop of such ambiguity it demands our faith just to survive with hope.  We can either use it as the opportunity to check out and eat like gluttons and become couch potatoes, or we can use it as a very instrument of preparation that God could’ve ordained from the beginning of this terrible global situation.  If we go to the former route, we risk dying a slow death, because obesity, heart disease, Diabetes Type 2, etc, are ours for the taking, if only we sow lazily, not thinking of the future and the legacy we are leaving.  This is only one tangible example in terms of physical health.
What about our spiritual health?  What about how healthy our relationships are?  What about what we are sowing into the lives of those who are dependent on us?  What about what we can contribute to the world, not least through our workplaces, if indeed we are working?  What about the work we can do to gain income?  Desperate mouths will always be fed, and those who do the right thing will find good things to do to fill their bellies.  (Obviously, this is heavily contingent on the socioeconomic situation a person finds themselves in — go to a slum in the developing world that is imperilled, and nobody has influence over their starvation.  So if we’re ‘blessed’ to have our basic needs met, gratitude may cause us to grow in an otherwise stifling environment.)
In this global pandemic, where this disease reaches to every corner of the globe, and where first world nations grapple with finding a vaccine, there are still threats to the success of the mission.  Nationalism, for one, together with the lack of bipartisanship within nations, and the global scourge of outrage, where everyday people are tossed and tumbled on the seas of extremes, we must come back to the age-old principle of humility to get through these harrowing times.  Pride will get us as individuals nowhere, and it will absolutely end our world if our leaders and influencers operate that way to the extent that the virus conquers us.
Right now, we stand on the cusp of opportunity; the coronavirus, and all the challenges that it brings with it, is the very seminary of suffering that we need in order to maximise our very lives, even if it was the last thing any of us expected.  We thrive or we allow it to crush our hopes.
As we endure trials as divine discipline, the very seedbeds that will magnify our need to rely on and force us into the heartland of God, we can see what this divine resistance training is doing; it is giving us the opportunity of being humble, which requires courage to do the work that is before us to do.  It’s nothing like impossible.  Yes, we’re capable of this.  If we are not afraid of work, we will move through this coronavirus period and emerge as stronger persons, readier than ever for what life might throw at us, for now and for future.  This does not necessarily mean that we become more powerful.  Why would we want more power when we have access to divine power?  No, what this present period will teach us is a capability that we will need for future times.
We can consider it pure joy that we are alive at a time like this, because the training ground is provided, and we can only grow if only we can be humble.  And humility isn’t hard.  All it requires is the acknowledgement of the power of God and our definite need of that power.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

3 core dynamics that make or break relationships

We bring ourselves into everything we do, especially into our interpersonal relationships.  This heralds the possibility of blessing, but it is also a warning.  If we or the other person are not in a good place it will inevitably affect the relationship dynamic, and worse if we are both not in a good place, relational disaster beckons.  Within the discussion so far, we have already identified three core relationship dynamics — what is going on in them, what is going on in ourselves, and the dynamic between the two of us.  It is really good to be aware of these dynamics.
There is a dynamic that one individual brings into all of their relationships, and it affects all three dynamics where one has negative influence with the other.  The empath-narcissist coupling, which we so often see, features a dynamic between the two where one is forced to take more responsibility than the other, where one is blamed for many of the things that go wrong (and even for things that don’t), and where one is caused to even question their own sanity because their memory of accounts is doubted and even disputed (AKA, gaslighting).  When one in the relationship cannot or will not bear their responsibility, and worse, they project this problem onto the other, it leaves the other in a tenuous position.  They can try to hold their own, and so many do before they become worn down.  One thing is for certain, none of us can influence an abusive person.  They are so right in their own eyes that they make it near-on impossible to relate.
This is one example of a relationship dynamic where one’s negative personal power is so dominant in the transaction between the two that the other really has no choice but to succumb.
The ideal mix of relationship dynamics in interpersonal relationships sees two individuals, both of which are capable of holding their own, of bearing their own responsibility, of giving consistently to the other, of reflecting insightfully in account of the truth that respects the partner, and of forgiving the other having experienced their repentance.  Justice in this kind of relationship dynamic is done when a sincere apology is given, as is modelled frequently in this dynamic of partnership.  Both people in such a relationship are capable of an apology that admits error, acknowledges hurt, addresses shortfalls in some focused way, and promises to learn for future.  They identify patterns and they are capable of real attitude and behaviour change.  These are relationship dynamics that make relationships strong, sustainable, rewarding, pleasurable, and overall, a force for good.
Hearts are broken, however, well before relationships are broken, when the tragedy is realised; that one isn’t capable or adequately motivated to give fairly or evenly to the relationship, and this is seen most visibly in their taking.  It is always one-sided, because, through one’s entitlement and privilege, they insist upon having the lion’s share of the favour go toward themselves — they begin and end at the level of individual and they cannot couple.
This can be extrapolated into any number of abuses, and without going into them in any detail, it isn’t too much of a stretch to see how one person’s negative personal power robs energy and vitality not only from the relationship dynamic, but actually steals something precious from the other person; something they can ill afford to lose or go without.  Such a theft cannot be amended from within the relationship.  It is usually afterwards that the injured party can gradually be healed.  Out of the toxicity of a dynamic that never worked as a unit is supposed to.
What we are describing here in effect is the biblical concept of yoking, i.e. of oxen.  Yoke a weak ox with a strong one and the team doesn’t and can’t function.  We have been brought up to recognise unequally yoked relationships happen because one person in the couple is Christian, and the other one isn’t.  It would be far better to imagine unequal yoking to be truly more the kind where one takes responsibility and the burden for the relationship and the other doesn’t.  In anyone’s language, this kind of situation is a travesty.
The beauty of interpersonal relationships is “a cord of three strands that isn’t easily broken,” as in the Ecclesiastes 4:12 parlance.  Indeed, we can see that the third cord is the link between two relationally capable individuals; persons who in their own right are ready and able for the responsibilities and the burdens of relationship.  There is a harmony of push-pull between them, where both are found to carry their weight overall.  One is dependent on the other at times, and at other times the other is dependent.  There is a mutual dependence, or what we call interdependence, or balance of dependence.  A cord of three strands that isn’t easily broken is contingent on the previous line: “two can defend themselves” — meaning, they are both capable, and it isn’t a relational situation where only one can defend themselves, or where only one is allowed to defend themselves.  Both individuals in such a partnership can and are allowed to defend themselves.

Photo by Joel Overbeck on Unsplash

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Compassion to suffer with, patiently, kindly, faithfully

Nothing quite speaks ministry like the capacity to suffer with.  In essence, that is the shortest definition of the word compassion: to suffer with.  We only have to reach back to those times when people ministered to us, by suffering with us, to understand the power of ministry in facilitating our healing.  Even as we became individual witnesses to the power of the Spirit, as we were healed, and then became healers in our own right; wounded healers.
Whenever compassion is truly experienced, which is a gift someone gives us in their care when we are at our most vulnerable, we are converted therefore to compassion.  Once compassion has been ministered to us, we cannot help but to minister by compassion to others.  Compassion begets compassion, even as a Jesus-figure walks with us, suffering with us, patiently, kindly, faithfully, much to the extent that we could not have previously imagined that style and abundance of care.  Surely it is true that we could not have conceived we would need that depth of care — until we did.
The capacity to care with compassion — the steadfastness of patience, kindness and faithfulness to suffer with — is authentically a heavenly experience, and a person gifted to us to this extent is always a Godsend.
They sit with us, and they are available, and they serve in such abject humility you would hardly imagine they had any needs at all (when of course they do; they’re just fed elsewhere).  They don’t require anything of us, whilst they are happy for us to need them.  Their compassion is a strength that we can depend on when our strength is gone.  They are the epitome of faith when our faith has been vanquished.  When we might be about to give up on Jesus, they become Jesus to us.  They ride the waves of the tears and tumult, the anxious times, and the times we’re triggered.  They always seem to turn up with a gentle smile, and then exude calm.  We fear that we overstep the mark, yet they reassure us that we’ll be fine.  They stand in the gap for us.
It’s having experienced this in living flesh that gives us the desire to pay it forward.  We, the benefactors, have seen as witnesses within ourselves, bearing the testimony, the majestic power of care to carry us from a relentless suffering through the passage of the vacuous and painful in-between through to a place of resurrection life — the likes of which can only come from God.
It truly is an honour to suffer with people enduring great anguish.  To serve them patiently, kindly, faithfully, so they may experience Jesus through us.  A most compelling evangelistic device, discipleship runs deep where compassion tends to an open wound.

Photo by Zac Durant on Unsplash

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Red flags and the impact of narcissism in relationships

What is it that a person needs to be capable of in holding a relationship?  People may presume that because we can all have relationships, that we are all capable of holding a relationship.  But this isn’t the case.  The fact that we live in a world and we’re surrounded by people is one thing; it doesn’t mean that just because there are people all around, and that we cannot escape people, that we or they are capable of holding a relationship.  Just because a person craves a relationship doesn’t mean they’re ready for one.  In reality, it takes a lot of preparation of character to be ready, because part of readiness is the readiness to continue in humility.
Without humility in both parties the relationship will be dysfunctional.  And many dysfunctional relationships end badly.  Quite plainly, dysfunctional relationships should not be.
Just because a person finds themselves in a relationship doesn’t mean they are capable of tending to the relationship.  And the evidence of all of this is the amount of relational breakdown that occurs; 50% of all marriages end in divorce, and yet marriage is just the tip of the iceberg, because we know there are so many other varieties of relationship breakdown that occur beyond marriage.  For every marriage relationship, there must be ten or twenty other different kinds of relationships, and all of these require humility on both sides for them to work.
If we accept this premise, and it is good to really comprehend how much work of humility is required in making any relationship work, we will take care to only enter into relationships with genuinely humble, safe people.
But the world is a perilous place, full of people that we cannot know, and we cannot know anyone until we genuinely get close to them; by then it is too late, because we see the red flags very nicely from hindsight, when beforehand we would’ve been completely blind to them.  This is why we need to humbly listen to those wise ones who love us; those we ought to be able to trust.
The tragic irony is how often we seem to be called into or drawn into relationships either with unsafe people and/or those who press our triggers.  It is a very sad reality to comprehend that no matter how much humility we bring into a relationship, if the other person isn’t humble, if they seek to blame others instead of taking their own responsibility, and worse if they have the skill to pull the wool over our eyes and the eyes of others, we will end up harmed.
So what are the qualities of those who are capable of a relationship, and let’s remember this isn’t just about marriage, because inevitably any partnership, any friendship, is a kind of marriage — wherever a broken relationship causes a world of pain:
§     they will not always be right; they will accept being wrong – the very best in all relationships is the ability for both to be wrong on occasion
§     they will be able to hear dissension and not feel they are being betrayed – we should all be able to bear people disagreeing with us
§     they will allow us to have relationships with other people, and they won’t get jealous or envious – or if they are, they will be honest about it, being able to communicate why they feel this way in a way that isn’t threatening and has some logic about it (and don’t be gaslit into them convincing you they’re ‘logical’ if you don’t feel they are.  Trust your gut)
§     they won’t cause us to be constantly doubting ourselves – they won’t be destructive forces bludgeoning our self-esteem or self-image – in short, they won’t be gaslighters
§     the word “no” will be an acceptable term in the parlance of the relationship – “no” will have reverence about it, and “no” will be respected
§     if there are reasons to review the relationship – because it isn’t working – two adults will be able to discuss this respectfully – there is no ownership of the other in relationship
§     there will be neither goading or being goaded – neither party will goad the other and in not being goaded there will be no response of goading the other (goading = inciting, provoking, needling)
§     in conflict, there will be a preparedness to see one’s own part – the practice and proficiency of heartfelt and repentant apology
§     There won’t be the charming-controlling dichotomy present – charming initially, controlling when you truly get to know them – their charm then has others hoodwinked as to ‘how good a catch’ they are (when you know they’re controlling but they have the capacity to conceal this)

Photo by Erik Witsoe on Unsplash

4 ways we get stuck in our grief recovery process

The grief process as it is commonly known has five components: denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance.  Denial for shock, bargaining for disbelief, anger when the reality sets in, depression because we cannot change our circumstances, and ultimately acceptance because, for the most part, we learn we must move on.  These of course are generalisations, and generalisations don’t cater for nuances of peculiarity, especially when we consider that we can get stuck in the stages, that many people struggle to traverse the entire process to an acceptance mythically called closure.  I say acceptance is mythically called closure because there really is no such thing as closure.  But because this article is focused on getting stuck in the other four stages of grief let’s examine them.
The first, most basic, and commonest sticking point is denial.  How many people deny their losses, refuse to enter their grief, and drink their lives away?  Or, perhaps you can substitute the drink for some other ‘pleasure’ that hides the pain.  Many people of course choose to deny their pain without ever picking up a drink, and you wouldn’t know they are stuck in denial, unless you were a loved one, and you can see the complete reticence to be truthful about what cannot be changed.  The thing that dissuades people in denial to do their grief journey is they must start at the beginning, and they imagine that pain to be unbearable, and for the most part it is.  But it can be borne.
Too easily we get stuck in the bargaining phase of grief.  “If I do this, God, I know you will do that,” is the sentiment.  Or, if we’re not spiritual, we might rationalise that life will give us what we want if we give life what it wants.  Realistically, bargaining occurs at a level usually well below our consciousness, so we must enquire deeply of ourselves to see whether we are reassuring ourselves about a certain outcome that will surely take place, when realistically we have no such assurance.  See how bargaining sets us up for disappointment?  See how we are making promises to ourselves about how life will work out?  Almost every bargain we make with life will come to nothing, sad as that reality is.
So many people who grieve cannot get past the anger stage.  They become bitter and resentful and stay there.  How many people go on angry rampages when the deeper cause of their anger really is grief?  Again, like those who are steeped in denial, many varieties of sedative are used to dull the mental and emotional pain the aggrieved are called to bear.  Indeed, it is foreseeable that many people who refuse to do their grief process flip between denial and anger, utilising denial most of the time until the reality cannot be denied anymore, and when reality is pressing, the anger rises.
Then, of course, there is the depression stage, and so many who get stuck in this stage endure the torment of a depression or series of depressions.  The sadness and overwhelm truly become us when we’re here, and it may take years to ascend.  Still, again, addictions can become sticky in the stickiness of depression.  But being stuck in depression is one stage further on than being stuck in the earlier stages of denial, bargaining, and anger.  Not that it feels any better.  At least while we’re in depression we can feel our feelings a little more, and we are no longer denying the reality.  It floors us.  It consumes us.  Hopefully we become so desperate we begin to reach out for the support we need.
Of course, in discussing all the stages apart from themselves, we haven’t contemplated the grief that amalgamates them all in one day, or how they meld together randomly through the process, and this is very common.  So I have taken some liberty here in discussing the components of grief as separate stages.
Being stuck isn’t catastrophic.  It’s actually an important recognition.  It can be just the thing that causes us to reach out for help.  There’s no shame in getting help.  It’s the wise people who do.
The most important word in the title is recovery.  We can recover if we do the work of recovery.  This doesn’t mean ‘closure’ or anything other than being able to find some contentment in life again.  It is very much worth the effort.

Photo by Claudia Wolff on Unsplash

Friday, July 3, 2020

Transforming consumerist, bigoted, racist, legalistic faith

Occasionally I’m reminded of the mythic attitudes of draconian Christian leaders who make outrageous statements like, “You don’t pray enough,” or “women can’t preach,” or “You can’t wear those clothes here,” or “Some ‘races’ are better than others,” and “antidepressants are of the devil.”  I mean, where do such relationally divisive attitudes come from?  And when I say “mythic,” I really mean, we hear of these attitudes, but rarely do I personally encounter them.
“You don’t pray enough” – who does?  Genuine faith is not about how much we pray, but prayer is still a great indicator of how healthy our faith is.  When someone says, “You don’t pray enough,” they are boiling down your problem to something you have caused, when realistically there are always a myriad of potential reasons our faith may be struggling.  Grief is just one tremendously valid reason.  Surely when we hone in on one thing to the exclusion of all the others we miss the others; we miss the greater portion of truth; we miss the mark, and yes, we sin.
“Women can’t preach,” a person says.  What, not even the woman who preaches like Rachel Held Evans (1981–2019) or Barbara Brown Taylor or Dr Brenda Salter McNeil?  What does different anatomy have to do with the doing of a particular task?  It just seems so nonsensical when there are many voices, male and female, who God made to be heard.  Surely we set ourselves up to miss out when we exclude 50% of the population, cart blanche.  We should’ve learned long ago that blanket rules really don’t work in every situation (or even most situations).
“You can’t wear those clothes here.”  Of course, we are not talking about someone walking into church wearing only lingerie or a thong.  It’s like me toying with the idea of going shopping in my pyjamas — (which I would love to do one day).  That’s not what we’re talking about.  We are talking about the finer points of special even unspoken rules that are made to exclude people based purely out of what they wear or don’t wear or how they wear it.  Nit-picking like this is unbecoming.  But it’s the same issue if you insist people wear a particular thing to make them look more cool.  Skinny jeans and Converse shoes.  The latest hairstyle.  Hats.  “Put a little make up on...” or, “No you don’t!”  There are so many extraneous things that aren’t worth talking about.  They take the focus off the more important things.  The more important things are about spiritual life and death, releasing people from oppression of spirit, social justice, the least of these.
“Some ‘races’ are better than others,” is said beneath the veneer of a lot of humanity, and it is birthed in dangerous ignorance and paucity of empathy.  When any human being sees itself as superior to another human being that human being is its own god.  He or she is blind, entrapped in the most heinous disability — the inability to love their neighbour.  There are many who say they are followers of Jesus who think like this, and perhaps this is one example where Jesus might say in the end, “Get away from me you evildoers” (see Matthew 7:15-20).  Of course, the same may be said about those who reject people on account of their same-sex attraction, bi-sexuality, transgenderism, and their lifestyles to these ends, etc.  The bigoted are captive to their own spiritual self-elevation.
“Antidepressants are of the devil.”  Like the above statements, these are not only silly statements, they are downright dangerous.  You mean to say that your spiritual opinion is more important than a medical practitioner’s — one who has given 7-10 years of their smart-brained life to the study of objective medical science?  Who owns more truth on this particular stage?  I’m going with the physician, the doctor who has the greater portion of society’s trust.  Here, we can attest that God owns all the truth, all the wisdom, even the secular wisdom.  As someone with a Bachelor of Science I know God owns the science.  To say such a broad sweeping statement, that certain pharmaceutical preparations are evil, is tantamount to absurdity.  Such beliefs are fit for conspiracy theorists, not doctors of the church.  I praise the Lord for the many pastors and leaders in the church who have partaken of these pharmaceutical preparations and are advocates for the therapy they give.  I am one.
To the opposite degree, the church can often feel uncomfortable about its own reputation. In our craven desire to be contemporary, we can easily give up the eternal gift we have to give in the name of the Lord for a pot of lentil soup.
Controversial Lutheran minister, Nadia Bolz-Weber says, “You have to be really deeply rooted in tradition in order to innovate with integrity.”  Did you hear Bolz-Weber there?  Two things in tension: tradition with innovation.  Tradition without innovation seems tired, and we know that not all church traditions are healthy traditions.  So traditions need to be challenged.  And innovation without tradition seems tacky and plastic.  People see right through it.  Rachel Held Evans herself said, when talking about how inauthentic consumerism is in the church, and how much of a turn-off it really is, “... we have very finely tuned BS meters, right? ... We are not looking for a hipper Christianity; we are looking for a truer Christianity.”
Our faith must lead us to what Barbara Brown Taylor would say, “a certainty with great big cracks in it.”  The ignorance must continue to fall away in all of us.  The only viable certainty is truth, and that quest is inevitably elusive unless, by intention, we look relentlessly for where we’re wrong.  Only when we are open to the lies we covet ourselves, within the cloak of pride that keeps us insulated from the coldness of the truth, will Jesus open our mind’s eye to the truth.  Anything less is not good enough for Jesus.  Gee, doesn’t that sound like legalism?  But note this: it is not legalism if it’s about moral doing versus just doing.  Jesus seeks to transform us morally; to make us vessels where the living God inhabits, purging us from being mere activity creatures.  There is no piety in activity, but only in asceticism — quite literally activity’s opposite.  And yet we cannot build God’s kingdom without some highly focused activity.  We will find we are doing the work of building God’s kingdom through the very things that Jesus transforms us through.
We will meet and encounter the authentic Jesus where two or three are gathered in his name, where we serve the least of these, where we congregate with the maimed and depressed, with those who genuinely comprise the ripe fields for the plucking; those who know they need Jesus.  They are out there!  Even though we may tell ourselves that everyone is on the take.
Let us trust Jesus as we embark on a journey into our world that suffers for the lack of Jesus, who, would only prosper for the gentle touch of his Spirit through those of us who would embody him within our skin.  All we need to remember is that we touch lives in Jesus name one life at a time.  Let us reject every thought that we need to build massive churches.  To be part of one miracle in one’s lifetime is enough, and yet do we think that God will stop at just one miracle?  No, God will give us many more opportunities, if only it isn’t a massive church or Twitter following we’re seeking to build, or books to author, or doctorates achieved, or litany of speaking engagements and other accomplishments that we have done.  We must all learn to embody the life of John the Baptist, who strived to become lesser so Jesus could be greater.
Let’s become lesser together, so Jesus can be greater in our midst.  Let’s become unknown so Jesus can be famous.  And let’s not get hung up on extraneous issues that lead people away from the Kingdom and not into it.
Transformation awaits even as we’re tempted to settle for a faker faith that will only set us apart fromGod’s work.  It’s one or the other.  We cannot have both.
Transformation awaits those of us who are open and more fully engaged in following Jesus.  There is a chasm between those who believe in Jesus and those who follow Jesus.  Those who follow Jesus are not afraid to lose what they cannot keep in order to gain what they cannot lose, to use the famed Jim Eliot (1927–1956) phrase.  We must learn to spend our lives for the sake of Jesus alone.

Photo by Philipp Pilz on Unsplash

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Coming out by going within

“Be who you is, because if you is who you ain’t, you ain’t who you is.” —Larry Hein 
One thing I’ve always appreciated is the courage that’s involved in coming out.  Whether it is about one’s sexuality, or a phobia, or one’s experience of hidden abuse, childhood or otherwise, or whether it’s about some other self-reconciled form of commitment to one’s irrefutable truth, doesn’t matter.  There is something palpable about the freedom we entreat as we ‘come out by going within’.  It’s a truth-telling exercise, and it’s a practice of faithfulness to your being; an activity of worship to the Creator who made you.
There are so many forms of coming out by going within, and it is applicable to every narrative, and because every person has a narrative, it’s applicable to every person.
Ultimately it is the journey inward to God as a means of coming out as you and I.  It’s a journey of becoming, and whilst there is always a sense that we never fully realise the potential of coming out as more fully ourselves, we do experience many little tastes of this reality as God teases us with the promise of completeness from within, even as we so wish to be complete outwardly.  There, in us, is the wish of heaven, but we’re not there yet.
Yes, this is both exciting and frustrating.  Glimpses meld with mirages as we enter into self-honesty, fearing nothing about journeying inward toward the recognition of falsehoods we carry in our persona, even as we carry these non-truths out and upward to the surface, releasing them in the exchange that is the acceptance of our current selves.
We all project something of what we wish we were outward and onto our worlds.  We all deny some essential truth of who we truly are.  There is always some facet of incompatibility between the reality of who we are and who we wish we were instead.  It’s the falsehood that must go.  It is also the dirty stuff that we reject about ourselves — that stuff we just cannot face.  We need to go in, upon the quiet, and meet ourselves in the pain of ‘there’.  Nobody can do that for us.  It is necessarily awkward and uncomfortable.
It’s probably why most of us completely hate the idea of meditation and authentic contemplation.  It sounds ‘cool’, but truly, for so many, it is torture.  To be quiet and still, though it promises the bliss of peace, manoeuvres us into the territory of disappointment.  It’s a place we go that feels as if it should bring much, and initially at least it delivers nothing, and often times worse.  To go down and deep within, to face our demons, to be at one with the boredom, to strive to stay apart from stimulation, to walk away from the drink or the drug or the tasty morsels; all these are examples of ways of conspiring with freedom.  These are the places we meet God — when nothing else apart from God will do.
Coming out by going within is the practice of an authentic spirituality.  And we can know it by the truth that we dredge up and bring as the spoil of authenticity to the surface.  Going deeply within isn’t about the experience of peace down there in the depths.  Peace comes from reflecting later how we had the strength somehow in our weakness to stay there and encounter God in the throes of that darkness.  The more we go there, the more we return with peace, the more we descend again and again, more and more fearlessly it seems, to wrestle with the vestiges of a darkness that cannot truly harm us.
It’s our story that we’re entering into.  It’s the process of spiritual nostalgia.  We must face who we were to become who we will be.  Going into the places adjacent to the discomfort, the places of life and love sandwiched between the panels of pain, we begin finding our way to the surface again.  And if there are few of those in our story, we know that God was there, so we meet God there again at the depth.  Oh there, our Protector, Sentinel God.
If you’re scared, and you’re allowed to be, perhaps you need a companion; someone who, like God, won’t abandon you in the cavernous moment.  Someone who walks with you gently and won’t disrupt the fine china ornaments that reside in the preciousness of your heart.  Someone who knows it’s God’s job to speak, not theirs, even as together you listen for the unknowable touch of the Spirit who will heal.

Photo by Dave Hoefler on Unsplash

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Moving from ‘Why doesn’t she leave?’ to ‘Why doesn’t he stop abusing her?’

TRIGGER WARNING – the title suggests the content could be triggering.
Why is it that our society continues, over and over again, through the media and mainstream thought, to blame survivors of violence, and not zero in on the perpetrators?
Even though the title suggests this is about male perpetrators and female survivors, I hope we all know that there are occasionally male survivors and female perpetrators.  It is devastating for anyone caught in the violent trap of a relationship of dangerously unpredictable proportions.  It’s even worse when the patterns of violence are tragically predictable.
We must change our language, our tone, our support.  It is time we started to change the narrative to make the perpetrators account for their behaviour.  It is no longer good enough, and it never was, to place the onus for change, and worse the blame, onto those who survive the violence.  And isn’t it ironic that we need to use the term ‘survivor’, when far too many people are killed (even a single person is too many!) within their homes; women, children, and some men.
But many survivors do survive.  And what they are looking for are more models of society placing the burden of responsibility on the perpetrators of the violence.  Survivors must be supported, and entire structures of policing need to be deployed in sociological support for the traumatised, as well as have the capacity to come down hard on offenders with consequences that work, the measure of which must be scientifically valid.  Yes, we need far more research in the area of family and domestic violence as well.
We really must flip the script to make sure we don’t blame mothers for cowering in the corner when the last thing they want is for their children to be exposed to a violent partner or family member — for her children to witness such reprehensible and trauma-evoking behaviour that can never again be unwatched.
Some of the things we need to start seeing:
§     less, much less, blaming of women who face the violence and more, much more, onus on the men who propagate the violence – women in many cases are just so frightened for their lives (and for their children’s lives and safety if they have them) that they switch instantaneously into freeze mode and are rendered defenceless and are at the mercy of madmen
§     less shame, much less shame, to be placed on perpetrators who can be found to be genuinely ashamed of their behaviour, who have the capacity to change, who may run further from their problems because of their shame, who know and accept their behaviour is wrong – as a society we must have systems in place to capture these people (small in percentage as they are), because they have the capacity to change, and they may be equipped to deal better with their emotions and change their thinking so they produce no harm
§     the identification of those who are recalcitrant perpetrators, who need to experience legal and financial consequences for their wilful behaviour – for such a lack of contrition they use aggressive influence to blame-shift and scapegoat those they abuse – everyone is intimidated by the raucous offender, because nobody will have their number or measure
§     a guilty until proven innocent method of working with offenders – recovery is a long, long road, and many perpetrators of violence will seek to hoodwink therapists and pastors alike – many tears of ‘regret’ doesn’t equal change; only time and evidence of heart change over time does that
§     much better understanding for men caught in intimate partner violence, either through their women or other male partners or family – there is so much shame for men caught in situations of violence because of the ‘tough male’ stereotype that men feel they need to maintain – the fact is, many males hate violence, and these men, like everyone, deserve to live safe lives
§     predictive systems for children and their trauma – adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are incredibly common and very many of the men with serious anger issues are themselves survivors of violence – but that’s no excuse for them to promulgate their trauma in behaviours of violent anger – they must learn to be disgusted by violence, all violence
§     education and support for children in schooling situations, especially when early warning and assessment may take place in schools across the board – children are never pawns to be used, but very often children will tell other trusted adults of the problems they see – these children must always be protected first and foremost 
§     patterns of assigning contributions of blame must stop – a woman who is violated is zero percent at fault; it’s the same for a man who is violated – nobody asks to be violated – contributions of fault in abuse situations is a fallacy – perpetrators are always fully responsible for their violent attitudes and acts
§     whole societies need to grapple with the fact that some of the worst violence isn’t just of the physical or sexual variety or physical or sexual in nature, but it can be deeply psychological, not to say that physical and sexual violence isn’t psychologically impacting, because they are – all violence has a soul-destroying element to it
§     attitudes to policing need to change, because far too many law enforcement agencies and officers consider domestic and family violence as, “don’t worry, it’s just another domestic; they’ll get over it soon” – it is far too easy to externalise the issue by considering that it is somebody else’s problem – so much of the time a survivor of violence is encouraged a tremendous amount simply by being believed, and indeed, to believe them is about the best thing that another can do for a survivor of abuse
§     in direct contradiction to the above point, there are also law enforcement agencies and officers completely frustrated with their hands tied – I just want to acknowledge that our services are often overstretched and impotent
§     there needs to be spaces created for dialogue for these incredibly shaming situations and events – survivors of violence almost always feel ashamed and paradoxically partly (and much worse, solely) responsible, when being responsible should be the farthest thing from their minds – being there, having been subject to the violence, is enough for them to feel responsible – when they are zero percent responsible
§     for good and final measure, let’s not forget our black brothers and sisters, for whom are often survivors of violence through similar societal elements of prejudice and discrimination – there should never be a problem with saying Black Lives Matter
§     all the above applies equally to elder abuse and any family situation where vulnerable persons are exploited through overt and covert violence
This is just a short list.  There are many more I could have added.  If you think of any salient ones, please add them on social media comments.
As whole societies we need to change our language and put the onus of responsibility back on to the one who is responsible, and take it from the very people who would never have violence done to anyone, and who already bear too much responsibility.
We must all recognise what is going on in our societies.  Women are treated worse than men in general, as are the minorities, and it isn’t fair or right.  If you’re weaker, you get less and you’re treated poorer, whereas people who are strong have privilege.  It’s the way it is and it must change.
Acknowledgement: to my daughter, Zoe Wickham, who is about to graduate (mature age) with a Degree in Social Work, who gave me significant guidance in the writing of this article.
Some Resources on Anger:

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