Nils von Kalm

My take on faith, life and how it all might fit together

Category: Hope (page 1 of 5)

How I got through a stressful week

I had a difficult week last week. It was one of the more stressful weeks I’ve had in a long time. But I got through it because of the support of good friends.

Humanity is not meant to live alone. But you wouldn’t know that from living in our culture where the so-called freedom of the individual is thought to be more important than the collective good.

There were two events during the week that brought that home for me. One was the Federal Budget, with its annual bribe of tax cuts and “what’s in it for me?” items. On one of the news sites the next day, there was a very long, thoughtfully set-out article on how the budget would affect you. In that long article there was nothing whatsoever about the annual decrease in our overseas aid budget. The overseas poor don’t vote, so they don’t count to many of our politicians when budget time comes around. And most of the media obligingly spreads their mantra.

As Josh Dowton said so well, the dominant narrative of tax cuts reflects a culture of individualism over the greater good.

The other thing that happened during the week was a talk I attended by a guy called Johann Hari on the human need for connection and relationship.

This guy, a self-declared atheist, is a secular prophet. Don’t let anyone tell you that non-Christians can’t speak God’s truth. All people are made in the image of God, so who are we to say that God wouldn’t speak through someone who doesn’t believe?

Here’s some of what Hari said in his talk:

– Only one other country in the world takes more anti-depressants than Australia. That’s Iceland. Every year for the last 40 years the rate of depression has increased.
– The Amish have very low levels of depression.
– Seven of the nine known causes of depression are not biological. The causes are in the way we’re living.
– Depression is not caused by low serotonin. Anti-depressants are not useless but they don’t solve the problem.
– We need belonging, meaning, a future that makes sense. Our culture is getting less and less good at meeting these needs.
– We are the loneliest culture that has ever lived. We are the first humans ever to try to disband our tribes, to try to live alone.
– In our culture we are all homeless. Home is when people notice you’re not there. Too many of us are lonely. Home is not your four walls.
– Our epidemic of depression, anxiety and addiction are signals that are telling us that something is wrong in our culture.
– We have an individualistic belief about what it is to be happy, whereas other cultures have a collective view of what it is to be happy. In an experiment done in the US, Russia, China and Japan, they asked people that if they tried to be happy for two hours a day, what would they do. In the US, people did something for themselves, while in the other three countries they instinctually did something for someone else. The people in the US were the only ones for whom the people didn’t become happy in the experiment.
– In the UK, the average child spends less time outside than maximum security prisoners, who have to spend 70 minutes a day outside.

Johann Hari might not realise it, but he was echoing the sentiments of Jesus 2,000 years ago. What does it profit you if you gain the whole world but lose your very self? Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. And in response to the Good Samaritan who was a neighbour to the one in need, we are told to go and do likewise.

At church each week, we say grace before lunch by going around the group and each of us saying what we’re thankful for. Today I said I’m thankful for the support of friends.

We were never meant to do life alone. We simply cannot live without each other. I’m thankful for the people who’ve had my back this week. The ones who said I could call them anytime if I wanted to chat, who showed their care for me, who gave me sensible and wise guidance, who asked me what support I was getting. It’s that care and concern that gave me what I need this week, not being bribed with another tax cut.

Are people evil?

Recently I watched the movie, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. If you haven’t seen it, it’s not a movie with a happy ending. That’s the whole point of it; it left me just staring into space, shaking my head at the horror of our inhumanity towards each other.

I’ve thought a lot over the years about the sickness of humanity and what it means for us. I was reading in Jeremiah just this morning where it says that the human heart is deceitful above all things.

What does it mean to be sinful? Are there people who are actually evil? Or are we all just broken people who have forgotten what we all really want? Was even Hitler, with all his deplorable actions which can only be described as evil, was he actually evil? Or was there something even in a madman like him that wanted redemption? Was there something forgotten somewhere in his heart of hearts that had the capacity to respond to love?

Millions would of course say that, no, there was nothing redeemable in the heart of such a monster. And if you are of Jewish descent, to even raise the question of whether Hitler could have been redeemed would probably be insulting.

But then I look at my own depravity. I have done some terribly hurtful and selfish things in my life, but I believe that even I am not beyond redemption. So where do we draw the line? Where do we say that one person’s depravity is redeemable but another’s isn’t? If I was living in Germany in the 1930s, would I, like millions of my countrymen, have blindly followed a despot into justifying the attempted extermination of an entire race of people? Would I, a Christian, have aligned myself with the German Christians movement and turned a blind eye to the satanic policies of German nationalism and openly supported them?

The human heart is indeed deceitful above all things, and when I want to make a judgment, I must always point the finger at myself before I point it at others.

I certainly believe there is evil in the world. There is a level of evil that exists that political policy can never remedy. Whatever social programs are instituted for the benefit of the poor in society, the human heart still needs changing.

This was brought to the fore during the Global Financial Crisis a decade ago. The banks were bailed out in some countries, and checks could have been put in place to regulate the unfettered market capitalism that caused the crisis. But the same thing will happen again one day unless the hearts of people are changed. The human heart is too sick to change on its own. It needs outside help.

I see evil as a sickness that pervades every one of us. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, the line dividing good and evil doesn’t run through nation-states; it runs through every human heart.

The recent furore over comments made by our Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, exemplifies this. Dutton’s comments cannot be explained in any other way than that they were racist. But is Dutton an evil individual? I would say no. His words were insensitive and insulting and undiplomatic, and putting what he said in place would be evil, but they would not define Dutton as an evil person.

Humanity has the capacity for both the most despicable evil and the most selfless altruism. The problem with evil is that it not only dehumanises those we commit evil against; it also dehumanises the perpetrator. As I watched ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’, that thought struck me. A brilliantly acted movie, the hatred and stiffness in the faces of the Nazis as they brutalised Jews just because they were Jews, was a contrast to the loving innocence of a little German boy who just wanted to be friends with a little Jewish boy. Inhumanity in intelligent adults contrasted with humanity in little children.

Hatred is rooted in fear, and it hardens the human heart. Hatred makes us less human. Love, on the other hand, softens us and makes us more human, more able to feel, to respond with passion and energy to life. Love makes us happier.

In a few weeks the world will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the passing of Martin Luther King. Like many preachers of love, King was cut down by the forces of hate, but the message he preached will never be cut down, because it is a message that comes from a higher place, from a place that hate can never penetrate. Though it wins victories now, hate’s war on love is lost. This was the message that King preached throughout his short life.

Though we all possess evil within us, and we too often succumb to it and hurt each other, love has already won the war. It won the war when Jesus defeated evil once and for all on the cross and in his defeat of death through rising from it.

Evil is real, but it doesn’t have the final say. While evil is in the world, we grieve and mourn and cry, but we don’t lose hope, because evil’s days are numbered. No one is beyond redemption; no one is so evil that they can’t be changed. If that was the case, then evil would be stronger than love. But it isn’t.

When I shake my head at the horror of the Holocaust, or the racism of our Home Affairs Minister, I am forced to look first at myself. There is evil in my heart, and it needs changing and renewal just as much as Peter Dutton’s. God help us all to be more human, just like you.

The strength of vulnerability

SIGHT-SEEING: THE STRENGTH OF VULNERABILITY

In 2010, researcher and speaker, Brene Brown, gave a TED talk on vulnerability which quickly went viral. It has now been viewed more than 33 million times. Why did Brown’s talk have such an explosive impact? The simple answer is that she touched something deep inside people that spoke to what they were feeling but somehow couldn’t express, something we all intuitively knew.

How NCIS restored my hope

I was watching an old episode of the TV show, NCIS, tonight. At the end of course, Gibbs and his team once again solved the crime, put the bad guys away, and right won out.

It reminded me that, as we enter a new year, I am convinced that the Christian story is still needed for our society. We need to be constantly reminded of the story that good wins in the end, where evil is never worth it and where we know it in our bones, just like we know that we need air to stay alive.

I don’t think our society has hope in ultimate goodness; we haven’t had it for a long time. Deep down we know we want it, and we teach our children about it. But we are so bombarded with the incessant messaging that money, sex and fame will give us what we want that it is no wonder that we chase these fleeting seductions to our deaths. The glitz, lights and glamour blind us to the reality that we are careering towards a powerful waterfall, getting ever closer to the edge.

When we see immature people get elected to positions of world-influencing power, and other powerful leaders line the pockets of their rich mates while the battlers continue to struggle and get sold lie after lie about how they just need to suck it up and wait, it is easy to forget the ultimate story of goodness triumphing in the end.

Martin Luther King’s famous line that the moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice, is the hope the world needs today. We doubt this story, both in our own lives and through the avalanche of daily news we are confronted with. We become addicted to behaviours, substances and ways of thinking, desperate to regain that lost hope we once had. We are told that life is about economic growth because we no longer have hope in ultimate goodness.

I literally need a daily reminder of the story of goodness winning. Otherwise I forget. A line of a song from the brilliant John Mellencamp expresses it best for me:

“Hey Jesus this world is just too troublesome for me. I try to fight off all these devils but I’m just too weak.”

I need to be reminded daily that goodness will win in the end, that while the arc of the moral universe is long, we really will see ultimate justice one day. That’s why the end of the Book of Revelation, that most misunderstood and terribly misinterpreted of books, is so pivotal for me. In the second last chapter of the whole Bible, we are told that, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the bold order of things has passed away.” Then we are told that he who is seated on the throne is making everything new.

I need to hear that for my own life, in my brokenness when I am yet again faced with my flaws. And I believe the world needs to hear it and believe it, to let it sink into our bones, that there really is hope, that we really can believe that good wins in the end, that we don’t need to doubt, that we can be freed from our compulsions and live for good because it is ingrained into us.

That is my hope and prayer for 2018.

Christmas loneliness

Christmas.

For some of us it conjures up images of family, laughter, connection and fun. For others, just the very word triggers stress, busyness and just wanting it to be over with. And for others it only triggers pain, loneliness and dread.

A former pastor of mine used to remind us every year that Christmas is a time when the lonely are lonelier and the poor are poorer.

As I sit alone in my apartment, I know what it is to be alone, and sometimes I feel lonely. But then I sit still and remind myself that I am actually not alone, not in the sense of ultimate aloneness. I am loved, I am ok, I am good.

It can be hard though if you don’t have family around, if you’re old and no one ever visits, if you feel forgotten. Loneliness is an epidemic in our busy culture, and Christmas is the loneliest time of all for thousands of people.

As one of my new favourite songs says,

“Sometimes
The air is so anxious
All my thoughts are so reckless
And all of my innocence has died
Sometimes
I wake at four in the morning
When all the darkness is swarming
And it covers me in fear
Sometimes, sometimes, sometimes
Full of anger and grieving
So far away from believing
That any sun will reappear”

When you wake in the middle of the night and there is no one next to you; that’s when you feel it. And all you can do is lie there with the aloneness. You can pray and sometimes you might have a sense of God being close and sometimes you might just feel like your prayer stops at the ceiling. It can be hard when you’re alone, especially at Christmas.

If you are lonely this Christmas, you are in good company. The baby whose birth we remember also found himself alone a lot in his life. From the very time of his birth, he was hunted. The Christmas story is good news, wonderful news, news of hope, but the occasion of Jesus’ entry into the world was nothing like what we see in the nice, saccharine, sickly Christmas cards in our shops.

Jesus was forgotten, denied, betrayed, and still he went forward in love. He personified what love is, because love gets rejected; love is often lonely because it is not returned. Jesus opened himself to rejection because he loved. And that rejection came, and he was lonely. He reminded his best friends of that when he said that “when you are hated by the world, remember that it hated me first.” He knows what it is to be lonely.

If you are alone you are never ultimately alone. And it’s because of Christmas. You are remembered, you are loved; in fact you are cherished.

It’s in the difficult times that I remember I need God, that I surrender and find the home my heart craves. Christmas is the greatest news in the world. If you don’t feel loved this Christmas, this is a love like no other. You are understood, you are heard, you are seen. And you are never alone.

Finally, read Romans 8:38-39.

Why do we run from love?

Why do we run from love? Why do we run from what’s good for us?

In this life of contradictions that we are, sometimes we embrace love with all the courage in the world, and other times we run from it out of sheer terror and fear. I often tend towards the latter.

Deep down we don’t believe that we’re really worth loving. So we sabotage something that is really good, or we isolate ourselves when we’ve been invited to an event with good people who love us.

There is a profound little scene in the gospels where Peter has just caught a huge catch of fish after Jesus told him to put his net over the other side of the boat. Peter is not gobsmacked at the unbelievable amount of fish he has just caught; he is gobsmacked by the unbelievable generosity that Jesus showed him. He is so gobsmacked he can’t handle it. He tells Jesus to go away “for I am a sinful man.” Peter expresses the deep down belief of most of us, that we don’t deserve such outrageous love, especially when we haven’t done anything to earn it. But Jesus believes in Peter, knowing that Peter will stuff up (as he does later on, big time). Jesus says, no, I want you, with all your flaws, all your faults. Because I love you. In fact, you’re going to be the leader of this movement when I go. And Peter does, knowing his own weaknesses, but trusting in the love he has been given.

I heard a preacher say once that when we get to the end of our lives, one of the biggest things we are going to say is why didn’t we take more risks? We spend our lives turning ourselves away from love, keeping ourselves safe from hurt. Love is always risky, by its very nature it is open to hurt because it might not be returned. But as Mother Teresa said, love anyway.

C.S. Lewis said that we can lock ourselves away in our cocoon, safe from the world. In that cocoon we won’t be hurt, we won’t need to take any risks, and we can be sure that we will be safe. But in that cocoon you will slowly die, you will slowly rot away from who you really are, because you won’t know the freedom of living. Yes, when you love you will be hurt, but you will be alive. A heart that hurts is a heart that beats, sing U2, the band that more than any other has written the soundtrack of my life.

We run from love and find ourselves running toward the hell of our own loneliness. I do it so often I don’t even realise it. I don’t want to get hurt, I can’t bear the loss of rejection. But when I remember that love is the only way forward, and that I don’t need to prove my worth to anyone because I am already loved, then I can love others and be ok when that love is not returned. That’s not to say it doesn’t hurt; it does and I hate it. But I can cope.

Why do I walk away? Why do I run from love? There is something in me that doesn’t want to take that risk. But when you do, when you move forward in courage, you will be ok even if that love is not returned, or if it is thrown back in your face.

We love because God first loved us. That’s the incredibly fortunate position we are in. We don’t have to make the first move. It’s already been done for us. You have nothing to prove. We already have what we crave; we just need to accept it. And when we reject it, we can get up again because that love never leaves us. Nothing can take it away.

Martin Luther King said the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. It also bends towards hope and love.

I refuse to believe we are a meaningless conglomeration of atoms in the cosmic dark. I believe there is purpose in this universe, despite the hatred, despite the lies, despite the despair. Despite my brokenness, despite my lies, despite my judgmentalism, my fear, my resentments and my demand for affirmation.

God help me to run into the arms of your love, and to be not afraid to be held, to be weak, not afraid to give up my illusion of control. Help me to not run from love, but to surrender.

Book review – Drop The Stones

 

Sometimes you read a book and you get a sense that you want to be the sort of person the author is writing about. Drop The Stones is just such a book.

The author, Carlos Rodriguez, is a pastor, teacher and blogger who loves to write about his love of Jesus and of the grace he brings to broken people. This, his second book, is about the grace and forgiveness we see Jesus display in the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8:2-11. Interestingly, this is a story that almost didn’t make it into the gospel narratives, and some think it may have been added later. Whether it actually happened or not, it is entirely reflective of the love and grace of Jesus and gives us a wonderful look at just who Jesus is. And it is this that Rodriguez wants his readers to discover.

The book is divided into three sections. It looks at the story through the lens of the woman caught in adultery, the Pharisees who wanted her stoned, and Jesus who refused to condemn her. The emphasis of the book is on the fact that each of us can see ourselves in all three characters at different times in our lives. I know I certainly can and have, and the author is the same. That is actually one of the attractions of this book; Rodriguez is disarmingly honest and humble about his own weaknesses and where he has failed to be Christlike in his attitudes and actions at various times in his life. At the same time, he is glowing about others, especially his wife and others in his church community.

The other attraction of this book is that each chapter is only a few pages long and is generally told as a story of someone who has shown the love that Jesus showed to the woman. The shortness of the chapters makes the book easy to read and get into.

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Songs of Experience – a review

There is something about a U2 album that speaks to your heart, that goes deeper than most other music does, that reaches where other music can’t or daren’t. That has always been their gift, and Songs of Experience is destined to go down as a classic of this type.

This album really does come across as a group of songs of experience, the experience that only comes from years of living in this mixed up world. Bono has recently remarked about his own sense of mortality as he gets older. He has talked about some occurrences in his life that have made him realise he is not invincible. These songs reflect that. These are songs of maturity, as well as the typical songs of hope and defiance in the face of an unjust world that have set this band apart for nearly 40 years.

It’s interesting that an album like this is being released just after the band completed its Joshua Tree thirty year anniversary tour. These new songs of experience complement well the songs of righteous rage that were so profound on that landmark album all those years ago (and which, sadly, are suddenly relevant again).

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What the Manus Island refugees have taught me about following Jesus

The human tragedy that is the situation on Manus Island has horrified thousands of Australians. Personally, I have never felt so angry and disbelieving that our Government could be so cruel and unjust. What the ongoing tragedy has also confirmed to me though is that the life of following Jesus, the life we experience in following Jesus, is gained by going out of our comfort zones. Let me explain.

Last week I called the offices of some MPs about the abandoned men on Manus. I don’t like making phone calls like that. I get nervous about how I’m going to come across, and I procrastinate. After the first call, I was surprised at how uncomfortable I felt doing this. I feel much more comfortable behind my keyboard on my laptop writing to an MP rather than calling their office to express my disgust. It’s part of my dislike of conflict. So, when I decided to call, I just wanted to get it over with.

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On being an acrobat (I’m an expert)

I’d join the movement
If there was one I could believe in
Yeah I’d break bread and wine
If there was a church I could receive in
‘Cause I need it now
To take the cup
To fill it up
To drink it slow
I can’t let you go
I must be an acrobat
To talk like this
And act like that

U2, Acrobat

I was talking with some friends tonight, and we got on to opening up about the contradictions we live with inside ourselves, how we can appear all righteous on the outside but have the darkest of thoughts on the inside. And they can happen from one minute to the next.

I am amazed often by my own contradictions. I can be incredibly loving to someone, and then minutes later have thoughts that are so selfish I wonder where they come from. I can relate to the acrobat in the song quoted above, talking like this and acting like that. I know my own hypocrisy, how I appear to so many people, but how I at times feel like a fraud. There’s that voice inside me that tells me that a genuine person would never have thoughts that are that egotistical. It’s the voice that says you’re never really good enough.

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