Life, death, love and grief

white flower

A former colleague and friend of mine died last week. She was too young, and left behind a husband and two kids.

People who were closer to her than I was have been comforting each other this week in their grief. It has been terribly sad to witness.

The times in my life when I have known people who have died have been times of bonding with other loved ones of the deceased. It is not shared experiences necessarily or shared happiness that bonds people. It is shared suffering. When you grieve together over the suffering of a loved one, love comes to the fore.

It’s ultimately what life is about, really. Life is primarily about the experience of loss, ultimately to the loss of our life. 

Martin Luther King said once that suffering is redemptive. What he meant by that is that it is not meaningless. In a friendly universe, where the moral arc bends towards love, suffering can always be turned into good.

Jesus was known as a man of sorrows, one who was familiar with grief. He cried at the death of his friend Lazarus, he agonised over his coming suffering and death in the Garden of Gethsemane. and he cried out in desperation as he hung limp on a Roman cross. Jesus’ suffering was real, but it was not meaningless. Continue reading

Why you need to chill out more



This little clip from ABC News 24 speaks to the common disease of our over-stressed age.

A common comment we ask people when we greet them is “Are you busy?” I do it myself sometimes. It also goes to something I have mentioned before: FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out.

We live in a culture where we have so many options that attract us, where advertising is designed to make us perpetually unhappy by creating felt needs in us to the point where we are never satisfied until we have that next product.

A culture which is built around the god of economic growth, where the economy is king, is a culture that will quickly become addicted to making money and getting ahead.

And speaking of addiction, when we have so many options available to us, so many options to titillate us and satiate our insatiable appetites for more, addiction will be rife.

Long may we remember what is really important to our psyches, to what Christians have often called our souls (though we have incorrectly understood our souls to be that which will go to heaven when we die. Jesus never meant the term “soul” to be understood in that way).

Indeed, what does it profit us if we gain the whole world but lose our souls in the process? In a culture that is fixated on the self as number one, the old wisdom of denying yourself, embracing life on life’s terms and following in the footsteps of Jesus is not popular, including in our success-oriented churches.

What is central to being human is relationship and connection. In a word, love. Loving connection with a Source of Love outside of ourselves and greater than ourselves is what the soul needs. And when that love is then directed in connection towards others, humanity lives at peace.

Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. It is much more interesting than that. The words of God in the flesh 2,000 years ago ring true in our over-busy and over-stressed 21st century culture.

Peace in Hiroshima

“Strike a bell in Hiroshima park
You know that we can’t see in the dark
We try and we try and we try…”

– Midnight Oil, Hercules

Hiroshima_Peace_BellAs the world remembers the most terrible day in Japan’s history, and one of the most terrible days in our planet’s history, it is just unbelievable that the world is closer to nuclear armageddon today than during the Cold War. And the other problem is that no one is talking about it.

The attack on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945 showed the world that, for the first time in human history, we knew we had the ability to destroy ourselves. Today that ability is closer than ever. In October 1962 we came incredibly close, but with relations today between Russia and the West as they are, the Doomsday Clock has been closer to midnight only once in its history.

The late Ross Langmead used to sing a song simply called Love One Another, in which the opening lines were,

Some trust in nations, some trust in war

But trust in my love

For I am the Lord

Stop all the fighting

Let the wars cease

For I am your God

The Fountain of Peace

During this solemn day, I am reminded of another song, Peace on Earth by U2, or John Mellencamp’s Now More Than Ever (“the world needs love”). Most of all though, I am reminded of the Prince of Peace, the source of love. As Ross Langmead goes on to sing in the above-mentioned song, the great hope of Christian faith is that war will one day be over forever, fighting will cease, and the kingdom of peace will reign forevermore.

May Hiroshima never happen again. The world must not forget. Life on this planet depends on it.


If 85% of the world is religious, why are secular countries happier?

030815-M-2375M-502If 85% of the world’s population has a religious underpinning to their lives, why are secular countries happier, according to the latest studies?

Dutch philosopher, Evert-Jan Ouweneel says that these countries are generally happier as long as circumstances are going well. Resilience though is lessening.

Ouweneel also says that the world is becoming more religious, not less. 85% of the world’s population has a religious faith. If we want to promote human understanding, cooperation and relationships, we need to understand religion and how it underpins the lives of most people in the world.

Finally, Ouweneel faces the common criticism of faith-based organisations working to alleviate poverty, that they give food from one hand as long it’s with a Bible in the other. There are a lot of myths going around about this, and they are well dealt with in this fascinating interview on ABC Radio National.

Listen to the interview here.

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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