How to overcome your addiction (yes, yours)

Hi, my name is Nils and I’m an addict. And so are you.

Most of us don’t have the obvious addictions like drugs, alcohol, gambling or sex. But we all have attachments, certain beliefs about ourselves and the world. Everyone of us is addicted to certain patterns of thinking. If you’re not sure about that, a great book to read about it is Addiction and Grace by Gerald May. 

We live in a society that places way too high a value on feeling good. When that happens, especially at the expense of relationship and connection, addiction thrives and shame eventually sets in. We substitute feeling good about ourselves for feeling good.

In our culture, addictions take many forms. We are addicted to our smart phones, to shopping, to making more money, and it is killing our souls. If you don’t think you are addicted, try stopping for a few weeks and see how you feel.

Research is now showing that there is a definite link between the lack of connection in our society and addiction. As the above TED talk points out, in the United States, the number of people who can say they have close friends to call on in a crisis has been diminishing since the 1950s. The same would be true in Australia, as we are a very similar culture which is enormously influenced by the US.

Johann Hari, in the above talk, also says this:

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How to recover from your FOMO

camp, marshmallows, fire, smoke, burning, wood, roasting, toasting, outdoors, camping, stikes, desserts,

“Wherever you are, be all there.” – Jim Elliott

Do you ever have the attitude that, no matter where you are, you want to be somewhere else? I do.

A friend and colleague of mine has been talking a bit lately about FOMO – Fear of Missing Out. It is the disease of the age. There are so many options in our lives these days, so many things to do, people to see and places to go, that we suffer from choice anxiety.

What this results in is an attitude of “keeping our options open” so we don’t miss out. But in the meantime, we end up not really experiencing anything properly because of our fear of committing. Continue reading

What I learned about love at 38,000 feet

276924317_6285a7c0e9_oRecently I’ve been feeling a lot more troubled at the state of the world.

When listening to songs about the struggles that ordinary people go through, I find myself just tearing up. The same is happening more when I hear songs about justice and the passion for this world to be made right. It’s just been getting to me. I think it’s an answer to a prayer asking for God to transform me. Maybe I’m finally developing the suffering heart of God that is broken over the problems of the world.

But at the same time as I find myself weeping over the state of things, I find a similar, though ugly, side of me being revealed.

It happened on a flight to Sydney recently when I had my headphones on and was listening to some music about things close to the heart of God. The person sitting next to me started making comments about the great views of the land below that we were flying over. This person didn’t seem to realise that I was otherwise occupied. Every minute or so would come another comment about how beautiful this or that piece of scenery was. Continue reading

Song for Charleston and the world

The recent tragedy in Charleston highlights again the tragedy of mental illness and the darkness that envelops much of people’s lives. The media feeds us with fear and stories of despair, but we rarely hear the stories of hope and goodness in the world.

John Mellencamp wrote this song more than 20 years ago, and it seems more relevant than ever in 2015. I’ve been listening to this song a bit recently. Some of the lyrics have been sticking in my mind, and they are even moreso after the tragedy of Charleston.

In particular, the second half of the second verse strikes me as prophetic to this time in our lives:

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The pitiful weakness of death

I hate death. I just hate it. 

I went to a funeral this morning of a friend who had been sick for quite a few years. I didn’t realise how emotional I would be throughout the service as people reflected on how much they loved this man.

It was also wonderful being back at my old church. It’s an inner-city church with a ministry to people living on the edge of society. It is a church of love in action, and I saw once again in this dear place that love is most seen in the midst of suffering.

As I shed tears at the memories of Alan, I was reminded of Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, who also wept. For him it was at the death of his friend Lazarus.

What is it about death that makes us so sad? Is it the sense of finality, the knowing that we will not see this person again in this lifetime? And is it a slight doubt – for us who believe in God – that what we believe might not be true and that therefore we will really never see this person again, ever? Or is it the sting of death, that there is simply nothing any of us can ever do about it? The fact is that all of us will die one day, unless Jesus returns in the meantime. And we simply have no control over it.

But the great hope of Christian faith is that death is not the end. The sting of death will finally be defeated one day. In fact it has already been defeated; the war has already been won, it’s just that there are still battles to be fought. As St Paul said famously in his first letter to the Corinthian believers, death has lost its sting. It has been defeated forever.

The hope we have is that one day we will see Alan again. We will see his cheeky face and his chirpy demeanour. His dear wife and daughter will be reunited with him, and the joy will be unspeakable.

In the meantime, we live in this mortal coil, with death as our fate. Make no mistake, death is awful. If it wasn’t, why did even God himself weep when his friend Lazarus died? But let us remember that, on that same day, Jesus demonstrated his power over death, declaring to the grieving Martha that he is the Resurrection and the Life. 

Death did not have the final say that day. Lazarus was raised. And death did not have the final say today. Yes, Alan is no longer with us. For now. There will come a day when we will see him again, when the One who is the same Resurrection and Life will raise him and all who have gone before. And it will be the greatest reunion party there ever was.

 

Why I’m giving up my Christian identity

Jesus_is_So_CoolI’ve been a Christian for 30 years. People know me as a Christian. Most of my friends are Christian. For a long time, being Christian has been my very identity. And that is a problem.

I am known by many people for being good at theology. I am good at explaining theological ideas and biblical concepts. I can quote verses and other things people have said, to illustrate points about being godly and Christlike. I can tell people why the kingdom of God is central to Jesus’ life and teaching. And that can be a problem.

You see, being Christian and having my sense of identity come from that can be an idol. And, as has been said by many people over many years, that which we worship we become.

The problem with having our identity in the fact we are Christian is very subtle. We can be comfortable in the fact that we know all the Christian stuff, but our identity might not be in God.

There is a sense of course in which our identity is never fully in God. Until the day we die we will always be drinking from wrong wells. But we can spend years thinking our identity is in the truth of God’s unconditional love for us but actually be relying on something other for our sense of wellbeing.

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50 lessons of life by Regina Brett

4719290483_6fdca4668e_oI’m currently in middle-age, which I don’t really mind. The fact that I can’t really do anything about it actually helps me to just accept it.

It was when she was 45 that Regina Brett put together 45 lessons of life that she had learned. Since then she has added five more. I first saw these lessons a few years ago and they make me very reflective. Here they are, with a comment of my own in italics beside some of them:

1. Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.
2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.
3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.
4. Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
5. Pay off your credit cards every month.
6. You don’t have to win every argument. Agree to disagree. It’s more important to be loving than to be right.
7. Cry with someone. It’s more healing than crying alone.
8. It’s OK to get angry with God. He can take it.
9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.
10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.
11. Make peace with your past so it won’t screw up the present.
12. It’s OK to let your children see you cry.
13. Don’t compare your life to others’. You have no idea what their journey is all about. A consistent challenge for me.
14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn’t be in it.
15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don’t worry; God never blinks.
16. Life is too short for long pity parties. Get busy living, or get busy dying.
17. You can get through anything if you stay put in today.
18. A writer writes. If you want to be a writer, write.
19. It’s never too late to have a happy childhood. Brilliant. I first heard this from Rowland Croucher. But the second one is up to you and no one else.
20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don’t take no for an answer.
21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don’t save it for a special occasion. Today is special. I’m not really into wearing lingerie, but I hear you!
22. Overprepare, then go with the flow.
23. Be eccentric now. Don’t wait for old age to wear purple.
24. The most important sex organ is the brain. It all starts there.
25. No one is in charge of your happiness except you.
26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words: “In five years, will this matter?”
27. Always choose life.
28. Forgive everyone everything.
29. What other people think of you is none of your business.
30. Time heals almost everything. Give time time. But time only heals if you put effort into the healing.
31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
32. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will. Stay in touch. Another consistent challenge for me.
33. Believe in miracles.
34. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn’t do. Knowing that heals your shame.
35. Whatever doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger.
36. Growing old beats the alternative – dying young.
37. Your children get only one childhood. Make it memorable.
38. Read the Psalms. They cover every human emotion. Yep. Raw, brutal honesty. I love them.
39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.
40. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.
41. Don’t audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.
42. Get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful or joyful.
43. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved. Matthew 22:36-40.
44. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
45. The best is yet to come.
46. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
47. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.
48. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
49. Yield.
50. Life isn’t tied with a bow, but it’s still a gift.

Love anyway

love-anyway-shevon-johnson“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

– C.S. Lewis

Love, by its very nature, involves a level of pain, because it is sacrificial. It’s very essence is to give, thereby leaving it open to betrayal and abuse. But to love is to live; it is the only way to have joy in life.

I find it fascinating that, in the moment of his greatest betrayal and desertion by his best friends, Jesus spoke of his own joy (John 15:11). This is the only time in all the gospels that Jesus speaks of his own joy. This was also the night before the agony of his crucifixion, which was also his greatest act of love.

For Jesus, love involved great pain. But he loved anyway. And within it he knew joy.

This all reminds me of another quote from a person who knew what it was to love. Mother Teresa once said this:

“People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”

Love anyway.

The Easter anguish of Jesse Adams

Aime-Morot-Le-bon-SamaritainWe are so fortunate that God has come to Earth in the form of Jesus. If we want to know what God is like, we need only look at Jesus.

How did Jesus treat people? He went to the outcast and the poor. Most importantly though, he went to those who were hated and despised by mainstream society.
I’ve recently been reading the Australian novel, The Songs of Jesse Adams. This fascinating story is about what it could be like if Jesus came to Melbourne in the 1960s.
What has struck me about the story is something that is not often emphasised by Christians of a social justice persuasion. It is the magnitude in which Jesus seemed to upset and offend those who had a vested interest in the status quo. Everywhere he went, those in power felt threatened by this upstart young preacher who had the audacity to claim the most outrageous things about himself, and who had the gumption to love those who didn’t deserve it: the morally loose and low lifes of society.

In the novel, Jesse Adams, the Christ figure, manages to offend people at the very top of power, from the Premier of Victoria to the head of a major commercial television network. And he does it by going to the poor and resolutely resisting the lures of power, wealth and fame that any up and coming star who is supposedly in their right mind would jump at.
What this novel shows us is that Jesus is no moralist. He doesn’t go around telling society it is going to hell by pointing out its sins. What he does though is expose the folly of selfish power and violence by living out a life of absolute love, and it is his love of those considered unworthy of and beyond love that Jesus is most comfortable with and the powers that be are most uncomfortable with.

Jesse Adams shows this by spending his time in places like King’s Cross in Sydney, amongst the low lifes, the alcoholics, druggies and corrupt. Interestingly, when Jesse does his equivalent of turning the tables over in the temple, it is done in the form of going to a porn cinema and ripping the projector out of its socket, dragging it bouncing down the stairs and throwing it into a fountain. He does this straight after talking to a young woman who has been lured into porn. Continue reading

The redemptive oddity of Alan Turing

Enigma-plugboard“Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things no one can imagine.”

And so – as this tagline of the brilliant movie, The Imitation Game, describes – it was with Alan Turing, the man who was abnormal, who was different, who no one imagined anything of.

This man, it turns out, was responsible for shortening the Second World War by two years and for the saving of 14 million lives. How’s that for a boast when you get to the Pearly Gates?! (never mind some suspect theology behind that last statement, but I think you get what I’m trying to say).

The Imitation Game is the story of this man who did what no one thought was possible; breaking the Nazis’ Enigma code during World War Two. Brilliantly played by Benedict Cumberbatch, Turing’s social awkwardness is revealed during his school years as he is bullied by his peers. It is during these years that he also strikes up a close friendship with fellow student, Christopher, a friendship that also reveals Turing’s homosexual orientation.

The team of codebreakers at Bletchley Park (where Turing built his magnificent machine) have become famous in the last decade or so for their contribution to winning the war, but it is Turing himself who is the hero of this story. This is a wonderful tale of how it is not always those who we think will be the heroes who actually are. The heroes are often those considered most unlikely by the majority.

The wisdom of the world is often foolishness to those who live in reality. And so it is that Turing, with all his social awkwardness, his arrogance and his stubbornness, is the one who is – quite literally – the mastermind behind the shortening of the war.

This movie also highlights many ethical dilemmas for those who fight the good fight. Just after Turing breaks the Enigma code, he and his cohorts realise that there is a ship that is about to be bombed by the Germans in a matter of about 30 minutes. It turns out that that very ship has, as one of its passengers, the brother of one of the Turing’s colleagues who helped break the Enigma code.

The obvious solution is to notify the Allied authorities to get the ship out of the danger area so it will not be sunk. Turing though thinks otherwise. The reason becomes clear in the movie, but it is a poignant moment which highlights the fact that issues of morality and ethics become much more than mere issues when someone we know is right in the centre. When they become personal, then principles suddenly seem a bit cold.

It is this very problem that occurs with the revelation of Turing’s homosexuality. Whatever our views on homosexuality, they seem to change when there are people we know who have a homosexual orientation. If we have any compassion, it is then no longer merely an issue. It is no longer distant; it hits much closer to home because it is now about someone’s life. It is in situations like this that we see that Christian faith is not about principles but about love.

And so it is that this movie highlights the tragedy of Alan Turing’s life. Forced to go onto hormonal therapy to “cure” his homosexuality, the full extent of the inner torment that Turing faced is distressingly revealed at the end of the movie. The man who saved 14 million lives and shortened the war by two years ends up taking his own life at the tender age of 41 because he can no longer cope with the demonisation he is forced to endure because of his sexual orientation.

Sadly there are Christians today who will still demonise the Alan Turings of this world over their sexual orientation, while conveniently overlooking the fact that he saved the lives of 14 million people.

It is those who are not considered normal by the world who God uses to perform the greatest acts of love. As Turing’s close friend Joan Clarke (played elegantly by Keira Knightley) affirms towards the end of this excellent movie,

“No one normal could have done that [broken the Enigma code]. Do you know, this morning… I was on a train that went through a city that wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for you. I bought a ticket from a man who would likely be dead if it wasn’t for you. I read up on my work… a whole field of scientific inquiry that only exists because of you. Now, if you wish you could have been normal… I can promise you I do not. The world is an infinitely better place precisely because you weren’t.”

And, as St Paul so brilliantly says, “now these three remain: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love”. When we see love in the Alan Turings of this world, rather than abnormality and oddness, we will all better reflect the image of God in which he was made.