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

Thursday, March 22, 2018

What I’m thinking as they drive off in the distance

Photo by Nicolas Cool on Unsplash

Having said our goodbyes, the car reversed out of the driveway, last waves were had, forward the wheels rolled down the road, before turning the corner and going out of view.
The loaned reality of sorrow struck once more. It won’t always be like this. I won’t always have the privilege of seeing this, of having had these visits, even though I know I take them for granted. Even though these events of interaction seem to be ongoing and never ending, one day — one day too soon — it will be all over.
The heart longs in gentle anguish when it ponders what it cannot control.
I can’t remember when I first had the vision, but I’ve had it so many times, and almost every time my parents leave our home.
As we stand there waving from the bottom of the driveway, I look at my son, just as I used to look at my daughters who are all now grown up, and wonder what he’s thinking. As my parents’ car disappears from view, as he runs back to me from the corner, and we make our slow walk back to the front door, God causes me to reflect on the eternity in that moment.
What happens routinely we’re meant to take for granted.
It would be so draining on our energy levels if we were to be so highly attuned to our emotions all the time. In this way, we are saved from emotional exhaustion, but we also pay for our having taken these things for granted when we experience loss. And that is okay. Provided we understand that loss brings grief and grief means pain, and this pain we bear, because it is love’s fault. And how can we criticise love?
My parents won’t be around forever. I know that. I mourn that fact, even now, still while they’re alive. What I’m granted is the precious gift of vision that may inevitably make their passing more palatable when that time comes. I am enamoured of the concept of life and death because, for example, what my parents mean to me, that I cannot keep them forever. I think of any family member in the same way.
It is good that we make the most of missing our loved ones before they’re gone.
This way we prepare ourselves for the inevitable; for that time ahead when they do actually go. When we miss them now we don’t tend to put off as much of what might never otherwise come to pass. We take action now, while we can.

We never know when life will change. Immeasurably. Irrevocably.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The problem of Racism and the Repentance to ponder

Photo by Anthony Melone on Unsplash

I have always considered myself against racism. Then God showed me how racist I’m prone to be. I was shocked, then relieved. Can you identify?
A snapshot of the problem
My problem is I am so for our indigenous aboriginal people that my heart wishes to treat them as more special than they would want to be treated. I feel our Nation is in a kind of eternal debt scenario to our aboriginal people for the atrocities they’ve suffered historically at the hand of government policy. I felt the weight of The Apology. I felt it was a landmark beginning.
My problem is the kind of problem with the opposite effect than normal racism outcomes — I patronise the aborigine I encounter by trying to be too nice and too accommodating. If they’re discerning they’ll feel it. My attempting to try too hard can potentially hinder the trust I so seek to build.
The truth is our aboriginal people don’t want special treatment; they just want to be treated fairly, with dignity and respect, as human beings with the same needs and rights as the next person. Whenever we treat someone special because of their race or for any other reason, we miss the individual. We objectify them. In trying to elevate them, we insult them. It is racism cloaked in flattery.
Where Christian repentance fits in
Just about every view we have in life is attached to some value or other. Where we discern values are awry, we’re tempted to correct them. The truth is we’re under-correcting and over-correcting all the time. And that is a form of repentance — to turn back to the correct way where we’ve strayed.
This is what repentance looks like in the situation at hand: I am compelled to even out the transgressions of my heart in being more partial than God wills me to be. I am compelled to treat the aboriginal person as they wish to be treated, without grovelling, which I can be fooled to think is favour. I am compelled to understand that it’s also people of other racial backgrounds different to mine (Asian, African, European, etc) that I attempt to ingratiate. I am challenged to become present in every interaction I have with persons I feel tempted to favour. I am challenged to treat everyone the same; to love all with all the love I have.
Jesus is important because He stood up for equality — not that everyone get the same thing, but for everyone to be valued equally — loved not better nor worse than anyone else.
I think that we will still be tempted to overreact for the aboriginal people, for women, for children’s rights, for refugees — advocacy for all of which is necessary. This highlights even more why repentance should be pondered constantly.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Husbands, love your wives like Christ loved the church… but

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

We live in a topsy turvy world, and but one example of this is it is misogynistic one moment, feminist the next. The former treat women with disdain, the latter hail the glory of women at times to the derision of men. Both situations are overreactions, and I see them weekly if not daily.
Being prone to being more feminist than misogynist, I favour the closing of the gap in inequality between women and men, but not to the extent that men are significantly disadvantaged in the process — that itself is the inequality borne of overreaction.
Let’s extend the discussion and focus on marriage. Here is what I think is theologically true:
Christ died
so that we may live,
Without burdens put on us
He’d never give,
We bear our cross
But let’s be aware,
Of the devil’s plan
Because perfection’s his snare.
The apostle Paul instructed husbands to love their wives just as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25). Remember though who Christ is — perfect and sinless in every way. Husbands are exhorted to strive for the standard, daily, but not to be beholden to it. It is too much for anyone to attain perfection. But certainly this is what repentance is for; when we fail to live up to biblical standards.
I know I have made the error in the past of suggesting that husbands in weak marriages do what is impossible even for husbands in strong marriages. No husband can attain to perfection, nor can any wife, so why would we hold either partner accountable for failing to reach an impossible standard.
No, it is for husbands to strive for the standard and simply repent when they inevitably fall short. That, there, is the glory of the relational gospel — that a husband might confess his wrong to his wife, so he may be forgiven, and that reconciliation might take place.
There is nothing of the gospel in a wife saying to her husband, ‘Hey, listen buddy, you are not exactly loving me as you should, as Christ loves His church.’ The husband would be well within his rights to say back to his wife, ‘So if I could love you as Christ loves His church, then Christ died for nothing.’
The way the gospel peace works is through individual revelation of sin, confession, and repentance. It is getting the log out of our own eye. The gospel of peace has nothing to do with pointing out others’ faults, but dealing with our own, in faith that the other person will do the same, but for which we really don’t have a say or a responsibility.
So, husbands and wives relax. Expect no level of perfection from one another. Expect to mutually submit in the ways of confession and repentance, that’s all, in holding only yourself to account. Then your partner is free to love you without fear of your judgment.
Christ died
so that we may live,
Without burdens put on us
He’d never give,
We bear our cross
But let’s be aware,
Of the devil’s plan
Because perfection’s his snare.
Christ’s call for both men and women in marriage is to bear their respective cross. It would only help marriage if we threw out all the complicated theologies about gender roles that only add the pressure of expectation. We only sustain these precious methodologies because human beings like designing systems. Don’t forget God has made it possible that we can achieve the same result in different ways.
Let’s not be held to a teaching that seems particularly difficult to achieve when mutual submission meets the gospel aim.
I think marriages are best blessed when husbands arrive at the balance between striving for and aspiring to love their wives as Christ loved the church. They strive for that standard, realising it is aspirational, knowing it is unattainable, accepting they are fallen, yet they are always trying, and always committed to reconciling their relational realities.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The empty nester’s grief

When my eldest daughter turned 18 I carried around one of her baby photos for two years, every day gazing at it — where had those years gone? You would think I would have adjusted to the grief of a child leaving home and living their own life when daughter two reached adulthood… and when daughter three graduated from adolescence.
I didn’t. In fact, it got worse. With three children all leading their own lives it can seem as if that part of my life never existed. The memories are all that remains. Even as I watch my nearly-five-year-old grow, I see that one day he’ll be on his way too.
Here is a vulnerability that I haven’t always allowed myself to be in touch with. The empty nester’s grief is real. It’s not the kids’ fault. It is what it is. They need to lead their own life, and I want (and need) them to lead their own life.
But it can be tough. Nothing could’ve prepared me for this. If anything, I couldn’t wait for the day when they were all grown up. Just like the paradox of being frustrated and rushing small children to bed only to regret my lack of patience with them when they had fallen asleep.
It’s such a bizarre feeling being so thankful for an adult child’s independence yet feeling you’re no longer required. There are still many times when I am needed, but it’s not like it used to be, and the weird thing is I used to resent it at times being so needed, thankfully, mainly in the early years.
I know that God is teaching me something in all this.
It’s that the important times are the times I felt tempted to rush and overlook — that I actually didn’t always appreciate the moments as I should have. It’s also that I did make the most of many opportunities, but like all things, the end comes, and ultimately things change. I have to accept it.
But it’s good I’m aware of my sadness, so it needn’t morph into anger, as at times my sadness does. 
Most of all, we need to make the most of our time with children.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Jesus in the Least of These

Have you ever pondered the idea that your every thought is potentially wrong? That what you think you know could all be a lie. I have. Very recently. And it was a picture that did it. One image.
It is an image connected with the image shown above: of the Lidice children of World War II.
These children are depicted moments before they’re shipped off in a train for the gas chambers.
Their faces are chilling. Their eyes soulless. Wee small children. The look of death in their demeanour. Eighty-two souls. Exterminated on a whim.
Now to Jesus: recall Him teaching about how people are to follow Him as Lord. Who does Jesus identify with and as? He is a hungry or thirsty person; a stranger; a prisoner; a sick person; a person needing clothing… a person in need. He is the person who has nothing, and who is completely reliant on another person’s compassion.
In Matthew 25:45 Jesus berates the world and the church for treating with disdain the person He identifies as. “I am telling you for a fact: in failing to do these things for one of these who are least important, you failed to do them for me.”[1] The consequences for the sin of favouring the more important people are spelled out in verse 26.
Did Jesus identify as a successful, affable, popular person? No, He was in the least of these. To these Jesus calls us.
Out of such a context, Jesus does not call us to grow His church with people we choose not to disciple, nor wow people with our impressive entertainment sets, nor have us show off our sophisticated pastoral processes and systems. He doesn’t call us to performance management, recruitment of the best pastor, nor even to facilitate the most streamlined members meetings. The church has fallen in love with secularised ways of doing things, these less weighty matters,[2] even in places where I have seen direct evidence that leading secular organisations have long departed from staid ways of doing business. The church can never be about business. The church has a sharply social agenda.
Jesus calls us to love.
The Lidice children. That’s who Jesus is. He is one of these forgotten ones. He is in the child that is being horribly abused right now. He is in the disabled child and special needs adult. He is in the homeless beggar that we cannot stomach the smell of. He is in the prisoner who has been rejected by all-and-sundry, except the compassionate prison guard. He is in me and you, because we, ourselves, are so awfully broken inside — when every other reliance is stripped away, and all we truly have left is God.
In a Lidice child there is a courage we have perhaps never had to contemplate — a sense of hopeless forlornness that one must experience the moment before life is snuffed out. Jesus is in the least of these; the one without brother or sister; the loneliest of them all.
This is the ministry He is trying to connect us with. A ministry that searches deep inside another soul to ensure beyond knowing that that person is not missed, not abandoned, not misunderstood, not patronised, nor assaulted in any way, but loved to the measure of Christ. That no matter how well adjusted and normal they look, that this one before us is met with the eyes, ears, hands and feet of the Saviour.
This is why it is imperative that we no longer trust our own thoughts, but bring them captive to Christ,[3] to ensure we are never flippant about eternal things, and, that where we are, we hold ourselves to sharp spiritual account, having the conviction of the Holy Spirit dwelling richly within. Ours is not simply the fruit of faith, but crucially the fruit of repentance, also. These are matters of life and death before us.
Jesus turns our world upside down. Let us not miss the full gospel in this age of settling for some of it. Jesus’ kingdom is an upside-down kingdom — we must look to the least of these in all matters of life, and not least, where we, ourselves, are the least of these — where He most wishes to heal us.

[1] From Under the Southern Cross, Australian English 2014 version.
[2] See Matthew 23:23.
[3] See 2 Corinthians 10:3-5.

Monday, March 12, 2018

5 Opportunities in Emotional Coaching

Photo by Laith Abuabdu on Unsplash

Dr John Gottman’s book What Am I Feeling is a little masterpiece. It helps parents map their parenting style to move from dismissive, disapproving, and laissez-faire styles to the emotional coaching style.
But as we read the following opportunities regarding emotional coaching, there are broader opportunities extending to all our relationships:
1.      Be aware of presenting emotions. In your child, in the child (if they’re not your own), in you, and in other adults. We are all emotional beings. There is a child in each one of us. Just because we grow up doesn’t mean we suddenly gain a grasp over all our emotions. Emotional responses are nothing to be ashamed of; but they pique the awareness. Awareness is central to learning. Accepting our emotions is important. Learning to moderate our emotions is about listening to ourselves, becoming aware of our triggers, and planning wise responses for when we’re most vulnerable. Imagine how much more help a child needs in becoming aware of emotional triggers; all the more reason for the patience of grace.
2.      Emotions are an opportunity to connect. Connection makes the living world go around. What we most need when we’re vulnerable enough to become emotional is connection — for people to move toward us, or for us to have the courage and humility to know what we need, which is to move toward others. We least want to do that, however. The challenge is to overcome pride. Our moments of vulnerability can be resolved and healed when we embrace our vulnerability. This can take enormous emotional intelligence. Imagine how much more a challenge this can be for a child.
3.      Listen with empathy. It takes energy to be interested. If others are emotional, how much better is it for them if we’re interested enough to help. Empathy is shown in listening, in sparing judgment, in resisting quips of advice, in simply showing understanding. ‘That must be horrible… I remember feeling like that once… mmm… it is understandable that you’re feeling this way… but I understand you not wanting to feel this way…’ These may be the only things you say in an hour’s session listening to someone bare their soul. We may find that children can help themselves if they are simply listened to.
4.      Help in naming emotions. When we label the emotion, we distance ourselves from the feeling being about us. The truth is we all feel all emotions — they are not us. Nobody is ‘angry’ or ‘sad’ as if that is all they are. But we sometimes feel angry and sad. Children need permission to feel negative emotions like the rest of us do. We all need to know that the emotion doesn’t characterise us.
5.      Set limits and find good solutions. Once people are heard they usually don’t have a problem adhering to limits. They also don’t mind looking at ways to solve their problems. Even children in the main are happy to look beyond the problem once they have been truly heard.
Everyone needs permission to feel, and no one can truly be alive without feeling. Indeed, our worst problems surface when we refuse to feel.

**Dr Gottman’s book can be ordered here.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

How ordinary is romance?

Photo by Zoriana Stakhniv on Unsplash

THIS article is actually about another article; an offering so bright about such an oft dull topic: marriage. “Dull?” I hear you say… yes, Dull!
But isn’t dull good? Seriously.
Yet I don’t at all mean dull in the sense of boring. I mean dull in the sense of utterly imperfect as in seeing yet not seeing . . . as in what the apostle Paul mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13:12a, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.”
Marriage, now, is dull, and with our partner we see dimly at best, as do they, but one day soon, when marriage is superfluous, because we shall no longer need it, we will see the Lord face to face. Our marriage with God will be delight.
Now, I am sure there are those who will read who will say, “What planet is the guy on? My marriage is magnificent!” Of course, it is. I am so thankful for mine, too. My marriage is magnificent. But not in the ways I thought it would be magnificent when I first said, “I do.” Your marriage may be sheer bliss, every moment. You do have an extraordinary marriage! But isn’t every marriage extraordinary? Every single partnering with a commitment ‘til death do us part’ is a miracle of righteous romance.
Magnificent, yet dull. We are marred by our human condition, and as a man I must confess that marring is telling and fatal. It is as terrible as it is certain. My wife loves me, there is no question in that, but the fact is, she deserves more; much more than I can give. Some men say they ‘married up’. Well, we all miss the mark by a significant amount.
My thesis is that romance is ordinary. It lasts a few fleeting moments and then, as a vapour, it wafts away . . . but the real romance is dullness endured. That’s the real love story. Will you sit there while I cut my toe nails? Can you endure my bathroom odour? Are the errands of life something we can do together? Shall I tell you what disgusts me? Do please help me clean up the children’s messes. And . . . what will you do when I say, “Leave me alone?” Will you stay?
Dull, but good. Dull, magnificently dull.
How magnificent that, though we see dimly, we still have the decency to see it through to the bitter end. Through thick and thin, that is love. That there’s nothing you can do to dissuade me!
Magnificence in marriage is saying, “I am, all of me, all yours!”
Love is both partners smiling amid the truth: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Friendliness for Fighting and Freedom

Photo by Elijah Henderson on Unsplash

Friendliness is a wisdom that wins every fight. It is impossible to fight someone who insists on being friendly. It refuses temptation to hurt or be hurt, continuing to hope for the best in the other person and the relationship.
Friendliness insists on the relational ideal: I am no threat to you and you can be no threat to me.
It thrives on the belief that all things are possible through believing in the other person’s capacity to respond to and in love.
Friendliness must surely be a form of godliness. There is nothing in it that can be restrained, for it is free to love as surely as if there was no such thing as hurt.
Conflict is something that potentially breaches both parties’ trust, but if a gentle and confident form of friendliness is present in one, the other soon has the freedom to trust again.
Perhaps simply being friendly is a beautiful mix of gentleness, kindness, meekness, patience, and compassion that equals love. If I cannot be threatened and I can prove I am no threat to you, we are both in a safe and good place, together.
Of course, friendliness has to be underpinned by a good dose of humility, because pride is too easily threatened. It must have faith to walk forward believing the best in another person who is potentially assaulting us. It should also be impervious to fear; worry for reputation and regard is not the domain of a person given to friendliness.
Friendliness transcends the option to fight, opting instead for decisions that promote freedom.
Those with the gift of friendliness must be wary, however, for everyone has the potential to be burned.

** Big disclaimer here as far as abuse is concerned. There are people for whom friendliness won’t work.

The courage to be weak

Photo by Rachel Walker on Unsplash
This was a recent epiphanic prayer: God, give me both the willingness and ability — the humility — to be weak, especially when I try to be strong. Amen.
Then I realised what it would take: courage. Nobody wants to be weak. We all want to show how strong we are. But being willingly weak, admitting we are weak when we are, takes courage, which is real strength. Here is an irony:
See how there is strength in vulnerability and weakness in a façade that covers the truth?
The good news about weakness is this: God gives us all so many opportunities to be willingly weak. Yet, most of the time we are most willing to press on through our masquerade. Of course, we live in a society that deplores weakness. Society expects of us a masquerade.
If we can be leaders in living our truth with dignity, especially in weakness, we empower others by our example. We will then be seen as safe persons, and the world can always do with more safe people who resist the power ploys any of us are free to engage in. There is too much power and too many power grabs in the world.
This is license for us to be real, to engage with our weakness, and yet not to leave it there. When we are raw and real, we invite the empowering Presence of God to come in and help us.
God blesses us in our honesty. He sees our courage and says, ‘I remove your fear — here, have my strength for your faith!’ Or, equally, He might be heard saying, ‘I see you in your fear; here is My comfort!’ Then, feel it.
Because it is harder to live as God wants us to, the Lord blesses that risk we take to live an authentic life. Engage in this and see. Of course, we will meet resistance, but resistance only comes from those who are threatened by God’s strength in our weakness.
We’re more a blessing to others in our weakness than when we’re strong because of our courage to be honest.
The weakness we discuss here is not pathetic. Weakness that wrestles with reality in faith that God’s strength might be known is the realest strength. Indeed, weakness that wrestles is strength.

Do you see your strength rising out of your weakness?

Monday, March 5, 2018

Making the Most of our Time

Photo by Agê Barros on Unsplash

I heard a man tell a story on Sunday of being at a funeral on the Tuesday – for a man advanced in years who was well known to his Men’s Shed community. They were celebrating his life with another man present who, little did anyone know – least of all the man himself, passed away suddenly on the Thursday.
Life is precious. We never know when our time is up.
How can we use this as reason to do all we can now to make sure our lives are in order?
ü forgive those who have hurt or harmed us – then be at peace
ü make amends for the hurt and harm we have done – then be at peace
ü do the things we’ve always wanted to do
ü have the conversations we’ve been putting off
ü make a list of regrets; put them to rest or do something about them
ü do something this week / month that we’ve never done before
ü tell our loved ones we love them
ü give those people our physical presence who need it
ü give our fullest attention to people (put the device down)
ü commit / recommit to know, love, and live for Jesus
ü invest for your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health
Sometimes we don’t think the above sample of items are worthy to spend our time on. It’s not until life changes irrevocably that we have cause for everlasting regret. It’s not just us. It’s everyone who experiences this.
We are still so sure to take our lives for granted, but the occasional reminder of death is a good thing to re-order our priorities. Life is so fleeting.