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

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

In Courage Meant

ENTITLEMENT is the theme of John Townsend’s book, The Entitlement Cure (Zondervan, 2015).  Part way through the book (pages 38-42) he mentions some of the problems with praise.  His thesis is, when we praise and reward people:
1.     For what takes no effort;
2.     For what is required;
3.     Non-specifically;
4.     For what demands special ability and creates identity;
5.     Based on unreality.
We end up empowering a sense of entitlement in people; a bad outcome.
In other words, we take them away from growth, healing and wholeness, which is perhaps the intention, and we take them into narcissistic entitlement.
Sometimes praise can actually be bad for us.
But there are many times when praise, in the form of encouragement, can take us from what I’d call the opposite of narcissism (a lack of self-belief) into growth, healing and wholeness.
Townsend’s book talks a lot about pain, hardship; the hard way; that, the hard way is the better way to live.  So these are the people we ought to encourage — those who are not doing it easy in life.
We know that praising in the wrong way is bad for people.  But praising people is good when:
1.     They ‘turn up’ especially when life’s brutal;
2.     They’re in a development phase and the learning curve is steep;
3.     When there is something — even a little thing — that is remarkably noteworthy (just by saying “I saw that great thing you did”);
4.     For the heart and innovation behind something, and not the actual good deed itself;
5.     When a person has faced a stark truth and not shied away from it.
Encourage others when life is tough, when they’ve done something terrific, and when they’ve faced the truth.
Encouragement is power for good that keeps on giving.
En-courage-ment: in the courage goes, because it’s meant well.  In other words, encouragement means the courage we give others goes in, because it’s meant well.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Strength of Faith in the Midst of Depression

THOSE in the grips of the black dog, depression, would hardly agree, but from safe perspective, to step forward into a day when we’re depressed is to show great faith.
The harder the climb to the precipice the more accomplished we feel having ascended the peak.  Much is the same when we’ve had the most horrendous day and we slump into bed in victory!
Depression may rule our conscious moment, but it’s faith that signifies our journey.
Any mentally healthy person with a semblance of compassion, who looks upon a person seized with depression, who shows up on life’s doorstep each day, to have a go; that one sees a hero.
Against all the odds, the person immersed in depression overcomes every obstacle by sheer faith.  They must.  They have no possession of hope.  No anchor is theirs, and those lumpy seas are awash in a perfect storm, and those depths are unfathomable.  But such is their faith!  And even if they give up, they must inevitably keep breathing and moving and trying.
The will to survive, in and of itself, involves such great faith.
The one sensible in their faith sees the one who has no grip of sense, and they see spiritual toughness that’s the envy of those who take their faith for granted.
So, great is your faith if you get up any morning swathed in dread, and yet get to work on the work of your life, however small a task it is.  And even if you can’t, you inspire those who, with compassion, see the inroads you’re making in the living of life.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

You Are Right Where You Are, For A Reason

DISCOURAGEMENT is a state of being more routine than a state of fear is for me.
But recently I had a day where panic rose up to the point I thought life, as I presently enjoyed it, was over.  You know one of those days of dread where you feel every good foundation in your life is being rocked and you don’t know why?
Then a friend — a strong-in-the-faith friend — encouraged me with a Word from the Spirit, Himself.
She said, “He has you right where He wants you.”
Every now and then we need to be reminded, don’t we?  It’s not like I have a struggle believing it.  If we call ourselves Christian, we’ll have a firm understanding that we’re anointed for the places and times of our present lives.  And yet no matter how firm that understanding is, we’re bound to be encamped with doubt occasionally.
Not only does God have me and you right where He wants us — notwithstanding the circumstances of trouble we find ourselves in — but He knows where He’s leading us. 
God knows how our arduously unpalatable present equips us for our hope-established future.
So if the present is equipping us for our hope-fuelled future we had best be encouraged as the present empowers the future.
By faith we venture intently by wisdom, and by wisdom we step with discernment by faith.  Faith encourages wisdom, and wisdom equips faith.
And by faith and wisdom we have a way of feeling comfortable that we’re in the right place at the right time, even if we don’t enjoy it in the present.
God knows what we need, has placed us where we are, and will take us to where He wants us, all to achieve His purpose.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Being Home In the Company of Others

Making new friends is like starting a new adventure. If we can be our real selves, and we find we’re safe in that, what a journey’s started!
Now, friendship takes on many different nuances in life.  Sometimes we are granted friendship from the least expected source.  God surprises us, and our hearts are kindled with joy.
I found myself invited to two birthday parties on a recent day off.  As my wife was off working, my two-year-old son and I set off.  The first event was a 30th birthday breakfast at a swish cafĂ© for best friends I’d married less than twelve months earlier.  They had exciting news and we praised God together, in the midst of chasing after my two-year-old.  Still, a great time was had; to re-establish connections with new friends amongst the other guests, too — brothers and sisters in Christ.  The second event was a one-year-old’s birthday party, about 45 minutes’ drive away.  More new friends to meet, and more people I wanted to know better.  Later we went for ice cream.  A big day all-round.  Then we went out to a people’s place we’re only just getting to know.  All new friends; all new experiences.
Everyone in this busy and confused life wants to feel they can be themselves — which I liken to being home.
Friendship is feeling home in the company of those we can safely trust.
And that’s what the church is about.  It’s a place where the people of God can gather, to be fed, to heal, to be included, to grow, and most of all to feel at home.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Let the Lord Carry You

GRACE has brought us to a place of faith and now the task is to submit to our Lord’s carrying of us.  He will carry us if we let Him.  If we go in our own power, however, He will not be allowed by us to carry us.
The true verbal faith is to be carried; over the cusp of our fear, through heavy moments, past our lethargy, and under the heinous clouds of despair.  To be carried is to be assisted.
God carried Israel through the great Exodus, and He attempted to carry the Israelites in their desert journeying; but they would not submit.  Ours, as theirs, however, is to submit.  Not that submission is an easy thing.
It’s hard in the flesh, what’s easy to do in the Spirit; for, nothing is impossible through God.
To submit is to be carried.
Like the woman of eight cancer years; a person carried serenely, where fear and despair courted, yet wasn’t quite her existential experience.  She experienced a peace transcendent of her situation and understanding.  To see her smile was to see and know and understand, somehow, that she was carried; by the prayers of the saints, and by the sublime nature of her faith.
We know something of this experience, to cast every burden and care into the lap of the Lord.  When we’re pitted against all odds, and nothing can be comprehensively reconciled, and when rationality is absurd, we have but a choice of all choices available to a being in eternity.  We can still gleefully surrender.  When we faced the imminent death of our infant, Nathanael, we chose not to seek to understand, for, as with cancer, understanding can never be gleaned.  Who can ever grasp a mystery?  Yet, grasping the mystery, even if that were possible, is to miss the point.
Faith is in not needing to know the answer; to accept the moment as it is, unfettered and wild as reality is.
Yet, God’s empathy is ever copious.  As soon as we give up needing to know, God’s grace prevails over us like a cool breeze on a warm summer’s day.
Haunting are the situations in life that present as vacuous.  Spiritually, they seem empty.  But they, the extraneous moments, are verily full of the grace we need.  Every spiritual thing is there, free, and viably accessible.
The key to unlock God’s carrying grace is a humble and gentle surrender.  He who is Grace Personified will come and furnish us with the grace of faith for whatever we face.
He has so much grace for us.  We only need to be open.  And there’s no effort in that.  Our efforts only come into being as a barrier to God’s grace.  We get in His way, when there’s the opportunity to get out of His way.
The harder we try to be carried by faith the more elusive grace will be.  But if we let go, God will come in, and, with the prayers of the saints, He will carry us the entire tumultuous journey.
Grace carries the afflicted believer through every hellish passage by faith and prayer.
Unfailing love and power, known as Grace, carries us, if we’ll let it.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Hope for a Season of Soul-Sinking Despair

MEETING a mentor down at Rockingham foreshore on a bitterly cold winter’s night.  We chatted for two hours.  I felt no better when we finished than when we’d started, but I did have some food for thought regarding the next steps to take in what had become my disastrous life.
It was 2004 and I’d become victim of a marriage break-up beyond my control.
I left that meeting, my fingers aching because of the cold, yet my fingers might as well have been in a furnace compared with the ache in my heart.  I felt, at this stage, eight months down the track, as if I’d made precisely no progress.  Zilch.  Nada.  I felt I was back at square one.
I arrived home that night and went upstairs in my townhouse and had a bath, just to warm up.  I was so beside myself with despair I wondered about falling asleep in the bath — just sinking under the water.  It would fix this treacherous anguish that ravished my heart.  I was in a really dark place.
That night was like so many back in that day, but so many of those nights were different, though equivalently desolate.  I got out of the bath and walked into my bedroom, still wet, and flopped onto the bed, slunk down into the covers, and just sobbed.
That night I was broken once again — my defences of pride were smashed again to smithereens.  Anguish covered my whole demeanour, and pain etched its way through every neuron of my consciousness.  I blubbered my guts out.  I howled.  I wailed.  My face and eyes ached and I cared not an iota.
I wrote in my journal, around that time, “Do you know that the emptiness of separation never really leaves.”  I couldn’t see any hope at all.
And yet, the truth is, there is hope.  There is a tomorrow.
The Bible is true in the hope it expounds.  We can trust it because it’s true to life in the experience of many who’ve gone before us.  But we have to trust it.  Now, with that said, I feel despair has an important function to break us, unless if that breaking involves self-harm.  It didn’t for me, and ultimately, eventually, I prospered, but many people are less fortunate.
These are my observations for hope during a season of soul-stirring despair:
The harder a day is, the more we lament, the less we resist denying our despair, the more God can use our pain.
What feels utterly hopeless is turned to good provided we continue to wrestle.
The greatest hope in despair is that it doesn’t kill us, and when the sun rises the next day, the despair is not the same.
So hold on in your despair.  Life will turn around if you don’t give up.
God rewards us ultimately for our enduring of despair.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Declaring War On Violence Via the Weapon of Demeanour

DOXOLOGY is the praise of God, and sin is the absence of praise, and it might well be true that violence is relationship without doxology.
Violence is sin, but it’s also accurate to say that sin is adequately described as violence — the two are synonymous.  Seeking to be in relationship with another can range from anything from a bliss-filled seeking to love the other, selflessly, to needing the relationship in order to abuse the person.  Sin runs rampant in the absence of right relationship.
Violence is all about violation — the transgression of a boundary that, in doing so, does not bring glory (praise) to God.  Anything that hurts anyone is violence, and that means anything, no matter how small, that brings about any harm requires remediation.  Of course, that takes not only awareness, but courage, and if we don’t fall short in the first area, we may well choose to turn a ‘blind’ eye to the intervention needed to correct the violent matter.
Let’s hope we’re humble enough to redress situations where we’ve violated people.
As Christians our avid concern is to not sin.  We agree that we’re called to love one another.  And if we agree that sin is violence, because in effect it’s the opposite of love, then we’ll become passionate to chasten away to the last dregs any semblance of violence from our lives.  We might also be keen to call attention to it in situations we witness directly.  And that is our Christian mandate.
Let’s consider that violence (sin) is any practice that does not have the praise of God in the front of its mind.  It’s any time we think even ambivalently about another person; it doesn’t need to be overt violence.  It only needs to be a falling short.
And this is the problem with much of our modern day church.  It’s not the overt things we do to aggress people, but it’s the little pieces of inaction we don’t take.  Or it’s a missing of the mark by just a half degree.  Yet, a half degree might as well be half a mile.
Violence can even be trying to maintain an appearance whilst not genuinely setting out to answer the call of love.  (Remember the Pharisees and their fasting and almsgiving in Matthew 6.)  Violence, this way, is the running of an anti-relational agenda in the guise of a real interest in the relationship.  It looks like love is front and centre, but, tragically, there’s much violence done when ‘love’ is done only for appearance’s sake.
We’ve talked fleetingly about the problem; let’s now proffer a solution.
The only way to defeat violence is to declare war on it through peace; by nonviolent activism, which is an active form of submission, and the exercise of love that transcends the fear that violence seeks to generate.
Love is the divine accompaniment for life, and the only accessory that adorns violence in a way to resolve it through reconciliation.
And there’s no better way for love to be expressed than through the peace of adult demeanour — being rational, realistic, reliable, responsible and logical.  Reactive emotions like anger, fear, disgust, and even surprise, are actually violent reactions.  The only worthy response in declaring war on violence is to fight without fighting; to return love for the violence experienced.  And it’s not only possible to do this, it’s also the best way to live under God’s power.
It’s futile fighting with a person who won’t fight back; who insists on loving.  And that’s the only way to have victory in a war on violence.
The person who declares war on violence believes love is not only bigger, but that love is also able to win the violator over to its compelling agenda.  The simple fact is, when we’re won to love’s agenda, when we operate under its persuasive power, we see the folly in violence.  Violence’s folly is in the fact it doesn’t have all parties at heart.  Love knows that it wins hands down because love looks after everyone.
Declaring war on violence is done best by loving through unemotional adult demeanour.
Violence cannot survive as it is when it’s faced with mature adult responses.  It has to change.  So the key to winning a war over violence is to find a way to fight with love, which is patient, kind, nor greedy or boastful.
When faced with violence, love responds not out of fear, but out of its own confidence that its way reigns supreme.
The only weapon to conquer violence is nonviolent activism; to challenge the violator through a peaceful demeanour.
And yet, with all this said, there are situations of violence that will confound any form of love we’ll bring.  We can only but try!  And it bears noteworthy consideration, this does not apply to intentionally evil family and domestic violence — I will leave that as a disclaimer.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Understanding the Drives In the Aggression of Bullying

“When tempers are raised in family fights and peer-group conflicts, the rage that is experienced, and the aggression that inevitably follows, may stem from unconscious ancestral drives.”
— Dennis Lines
NEUROSCIENCE and physiology may explain why we — in our default communities of proximity — end up displaying aggressive behaviours toward others, even at times when we apparently do not wish to.
Take, for instance, the neural process — the thalamus receives an image, which is promptly shunted to the pea-sized amygdala in the bottom-centre of the brain, and more slowly to the visual cortex.  The amygdala does its work: emotions are put on high alert.  A fight-flight-freeze response is generated.  Lagging behind, yet now finally there, is the neocortex (the conscious brain) sees a more accurate (and less emotionally-tainted) image to process a more calculated response.
What this describes is the mental-emotional war that goes on inside our brains when rage or fear strike.  Our emotions tell us one thing, and our rational minds tell us another.  Unfortunately for too many of us, the emotions often win out, and we react with a flash of rage or run in fear — and the true stimulus may not be anything at all harmful.  We’re fighting our physiology.
These are important factors in understanding aggression as responses, not simply to the environment, but to the science that explains our base animalistic nature.  Bullying may not always be as intentional as it often seems.  Explanations may be attempted through understanding many factors.  But, what is clear is that human beings have motives and intentions that animals clearly don’t have.
Humans have the capacity of a higher, rational mind.  And this is our hope; that the virtues of patience and self-control might be engaged with and learned in order that the neocortex might catch up, so our conscious thinking might powerfully correct the original (and flawed) emotional response.
What does all this mean regarding bullying behaviour?
It means we all have the capacity to bully people.  It means some of our aggression we may not be able to explain, and some of it we may not even mean.  Some of our aggression will be justified, because we have no need to doubt our intent.  And that’s where aggression that becomes bullying becomes a problem; it becomes justified when aggression is never really justifiable.  All through an apparent lack of awareness or acceptance of our animalistic drives or because we feel we have the right to respond aggressively.
What is important, in human systems of communication, is that people everywhere have access to knowledge and training on how the neuroscience and physiology works.
It’s important that we understand the role of the parts of the brain that inhibit a mature response, just as it’s vital we understand why rational behaviour is not our default.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

When Love Abounds in the Totality of Warmth

FIREPLACES, just the image of them, usually project the idea of cosiness, but my friend’s (pictured above) exudes warmth.  And not only does that fit with her personality, warmth fits as a metaphor for an unconquerable love.
Whenever I think of warmth as a metaphor for love I always think of Carl Rogers, the founder of person-centred counselling.  He would say that three components go into effective counselling outcomes: warmth, empathy and congruence.  Warmth, for him, was simply a matter of being warm with his client so that, together with empathy and congruence, they could establish a special caring relationship implicit with safety and trust, where both could enter into partnership in the business of the client’s healing.
Warmth goes a long way toward helping us be empathic, and to feel congruent (on the same page) with another person who is in our presence.  None of this can be taken for granted; it all involves a lot of work — a labour of love.
But, if it’s a loving thing, what exactly is warmth?
Warmth as an Expressed Kindness of Love
As Warmth strolls into the room, we immediately feel safe and at ease, for warmth is inherently respectful, perceptive and considerate.
Warmth makes everyone feel valued and honoured and special; it is the epitome of love.
When love abounds in the totality of warmth, it projects a hearty heat that warms the soul.
As love radiates its warmth throughout the space of a room, the heat conducts a healing relational energy, and people are freed to be themselves, in order to enquire of God, “What more?”  Oh, what a relief from a frigidly cool atmosphere where people are never and nowhere home; where tenterhooks are the norm.
Love penetrates through the whispers of secrets to a place where facts can be known and fear is subjugated to a place we no longer ever need visit again; carried off to the land of Shinar (Zechariah 5:11).
Warmth is an expressed kindness known as a manifestation of love; and we all know that warm person who, like the fireplace, warms us from the inside out.  We’re safe in their presence!  And we’re dutiful and obedient to thank God for them!
Love is jealous for nothing except for the missed opportunity whereby its warmth could otherwise have reached in and facilitated a healing moment.
And serious warmth has no reason to fear that the relationship in question could ever approach something inappropriate — to defy the glory of God would be to cool the warmth of love, and what is by nature, warm, must stay warm.  So Warmth seeks beyond itself, for God, in every matter under the sun.
Warmth is the beauty of love, the gentleness of attentive care, the concern for the other, and the comfort of God.
If we were to set our hearts to love, let us set our minds to being warm persons.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Icebergs, Mirages and Crucial Conversations

ONE thing I’ve come to notice more and more in the science of human beings interacting is the amount of data and information not communicated — whether it be through miscommunication, disinterest on the part of the receiver, distrust on the part of communicator, etc.
There’s literally an iceberg effect in the science of communication — most of what should be communicated, isn’t.  It flies under the radar, and it becomes fuel for conflict later on.  The iceberg effect should be obvious, but in case you don’t know, most of the iceberg is under the waterline — we can’t see it.
In the case of communication, if most of the information isn’t communicated, or it isn’t communicated with clarity, then miscommunication happens, and then does conflict, and certainly intimacy suffers.
One key issue is what’s not communicated is open to a broad expanse of interpretation.
Trust Facilitates Understanding
When trust prevails,
What’s to be said is said,
When trust fails,
What’s unsaid is misread.
Trust facilitates courage in that we’ll check what needs to be clarified so what’s to be said is actually said.  There’s little left open to interpretation — the making of assumption.  It’s good when we feel safe enough in a relationship that we know we can ask an awkward question and not be harangued for it.  If we don’t feel so safe, we’ll probably let the opportunity slip.
Safety and trust are linked in that we trust when we feel safe, and trust facilitates understanding.  And without understanding we cannot nurture trust.  Then when we enter the fray of what are termed ‘crucial conversations’ we enter on a dangerous footing, because there are high stakes, high emotions, and opposing views — three key dynamics working against us.
Not Letting Assumptions Reign
Not everything to be said,
Is given forth in interaction,
What’s left unsaid,
Should be cause for distraction.
Yes, this is the iceberg effect.  If only we would detect that there are things left unsaid.  Then we’d pursue such things with caring curiosity, understanding would develop, and trust could be enhanced.  And yet many don’t seem interested in such relational clarity.
Every good leader, and certainly every diligent human being, ensures they keep short account of how much assumption they allow to develop within their minds.
What’s left unsaid should, indeed, be cause for distraction; it should bother us.  In fact, great credit should go to the person who acts on their suspicion that something’s not quite right.  They will pursue the matter with both curiosity and care.
Blessed is the one who doesn’t allow a mirage to go unchallenged.
Crucial conversations are aided when we stay interested in what isn’t communicated that is important information.
The higher the stakes are, the less likely we are to trust a marginal relationship with key information, especially if we don’t have to communicate it.
Communication occurs mostly below the waterline. We’re blessed to listen more for what’s not said than for what’s said.
Communication polarises intimacy; we either trust and enter into intimacy, or we cannot trust and intimacy is broken down.  And it all rests on communication.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Henri Nouwen, Carl Rogers, and the Love of Personal Concern

PERSONAL concern is something we all need; to receive, but also to give.  But what is meant on the subject of personal concern?
These two quotes by pastor Nouwen (1932 – 1996) and counsellor Rogers (1902 – 1987) help frame the discussion:
If there is any posture that disturbs a suffering man or woman, it is aloofness…  (Nouwen)
… what is most personal and unique in each of us is probably the very element which would, if it were shared or expressed, speak most deeply to others. (Rogers)
Nobody who hasn’t traversed the grating journey of grief can lead a suffering person through their abyss, through touchstones of comfort, to their eventual adjustment and acceptance of a new normal.  There will be those who will disagree with that statement, but it’s the wounded healer who’s best positioned to heal the wounded in Jesus’ name.  That’s in essence what the Nouwen quote refers to; personal concern is something that enables the mourner to mourn in a way that approaches truth, accepts reality, and heals in time.
Be Vested Into the Other Person
Whoever the other person is.  It doesn’t matter who we’re with.  Being vested in the other person means that we’re free from the bonds that restrain us in our selfish selves.
Aloofness’s problem is it’s too vested in itself to endeavour vesting itself in another.  And the person who has never suffered much in life is possibly given most to aloofness.  Such a person in ministry is probably a danger to people in real need, though there are some who have the capacity of personal concern who haven’t suffered, yet have learned through their observations of others’ suffering.
So, as Henri Nouwen would say, a needy person ought most to avoid the person who would avoid needy people.  A person who has needs would be better to take their needs to an unqualified person who has suffered some of the injustices of life than take their complaints to someone life hasn’t yet wrestled with or who hasn’t yet wrestled with life.  And there are those in helping positions who, drawn by possibly by power, image or comfort, are not character-qualified for the ministry.
It’s a great test of a minister; their real interest and capacity for others’ issues and problems.
Don’t Be Afraid to Share What You Most Fear About Yourself
We’re set apart by what is uniquely ours and us.
We have to get over our embarrassment and self-consciousness, for the sake of the Kingdom of God.  God knows he needs us — each one of us.  Not that God relies on us, but in his love he’s designed a Kingdom, and that Kingdom is built by people — mere human beings like you and I.
When we have the courage to share ourselves, as Carl Rogers observes, then we find we’ve got a unique contribution to make.
The love of personal concern says that people gravitate toward those who are courageous enough to share their concerns personally.
The love of personal concern is the desire to go at depth with another person.
When we share our suffering with another, we want the other person to see through the lens of their own experience of suffering.
When we share what experience of life that’s uniquely ours, we want to be heard, valued, and respected for what we’ve endured.
What we’ve found profound in life is likely to speak profoundly to others.
When we encourage others to share their concerns personally, we’re able to show our love of personal concern.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.