Nils von Kalm

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

Category: Identity

All the lonely people

The other night I had dinner with a group of friends after church.

I wasn’t too keen on going at first. The introvert in me wanted to go home and get on my laptop, scroll through Facebook for a bit and generally just be on my own. But after being with my friends for couple of hours, discussing all sorts of things from life to ethics to travel, I went home marvelling at how much I had enjoyed my time with them.

As I drove home thinking to myself about how much I had enjoyed the evening, I started thinking about how our society encourages isolation and individualism, and what that breeds. Australia has some of the worst sets of social statistics in the world. Our rates of depression, anxiety and loneliness are through the roof. One person takes their life every three hours in this country. It’s a staggering and sobering statistic.

At the same time, Australians have never been better off materially. We live in the richest time in history. According to financial institution, Credit Suisse, Australia was the second richest country in the world, per capita, last year. We have been in the top three for the last few years.

In a culture where we are told that happiness is just a lotto win away, where freedom is getting away from your loved ones and being out on the open road in your new car, and where life would be perfect if we just had that next promotion, the promises are not delivering.

I remember some years ago speaking to a work colleague who is from Kenya. She had recently come to Australia to live and she couldn’t believe how many people live alone in this country. In many African cultures, community is just a way of life.

I have long been fascinated by the African concept of Ubuntu. It is the idea that we gain our identity by being part of a group. In most Western cultures, we see our identity as individuals; we are very ‘I’ centred. Ubuntu, on the other hand, says, ‘because we are, I am’. I get my sense of who I am from being part of a group. It is about belonging to something bigger than ourselves.

There is a story of an anthropologist who conducted an experiment with some African children. He put a basket full of fruit near a tree and told them that whoever got there first won the fruits. When he told them to run they all took each other’s hands and ran together, then sat together enjoying their treats. When he asked them why they had run like that, as one could have had all the fruits for himself they said: “Ubuntu. How can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?”

There is something deeply biblical about this. We have been created for relationship, for community. However in our churches we talk about our faith in an individualised sense. We talk about our own personal relationship with God as if that is the only way we relate to God. The early church saw things differently. They saw life as lived in community. In Acts we are told that the believers had no private ownership of their possessions. They shared everything, and as a result, no one was in need. Apparently it was so important that it is mentioned twice, in Acts chapter two and chapter four.

The church needs to rediscover its prophetic counter-cultural stance. We are just as consumeristic as the rest of the culture. Meanwhile, Jesus whispers down through the ages, “’What will it profit you if you gain the whole world but lose your very self?’ and ‘Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions’”.

In Mark chapter 10, verse 30, Jesus says that no one who has left everything for him will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields. This verse can often be taken as a justification of some sort of prosperity thinking, but that just shows how our consumer culture has shaped us to think individually. What Jesus is referring to is just what the early church lived out: living together in kingdom reality, where people relate to each other in love. It is a taste of the kingdom coming on earth as in heaven, as Jesus taught us to pray.

We live in a culture that sows the seeds of its own destruction. And Christians largely go along for the ride. Let’s ask for the courage and love to be filled with the Spirit of Jesus so we can be part of God’s work of renewal and not add to the problem.

This article first appeared on Christian Today on 24 August, 2017

Navigating these strange days

Mark Sayers has a knack of articulating what many of us deep-down know to be true.

Here is my review of his latest book, Strange Days

Nothing else matters

Life is short. When you see the deterioration of people in old age and you realise that, while you’re not old, you’re not young anymore either, it makes you think about how you want to leave this world.

As I see people wither in old age, people who you’ve always seen as somehow invincible, you realise how fragile life is. We are dust, and to dust we return. It makes you think about the meaning in your life, and that we really haven’t got long to make a real difference. I wonder if it’s impossible for a young person to really realise that. When you’re young, it’s all ahead of you. It’s a young person’s world, it was said to me once.

It’s only the experience that comes from years; either that or great suffering in your younger years, that allows you to see that life really is fragile. A pastor once told a story of a man he visited who had just turned 65. The man wondered how he got to that age so quickly. It was like he woke up one morning and all of a sudden his life was almost over, just like that.

Life is not a dress rehearsal. It is to be made the most of. As I get older and see the frailty of the elderly, I feel anxious about getting old and I feel more of an urgency to leave the world a better place. It’s not about leaving a legacy; whatever people think of you doesn’t matter. It’s what you actually did that matters, whether people think it was good or not.

I think of the great sermon by Martin Luther King, ‘The Drum Major Instinct’. It’s about true greatness. Being great is fine. Be great at serving, be great at loving others, be great at not needing recognition for your good deeds. Just do them, whether people notice them or not. That is greatness. It’s the contribution that matters, not the recognition of it.

We are here and gone in a puff of smoke. But what we do lasts forever. Eternity is in our hearts. It is our destiny to leave a contribution that matters. Nothing else measures up but to have done your bit to improve the world.

Life is too short to be selfish

Excerpt from Running Up the White Flag

placeit-2Sight Magazine has published an excerpt from my ebook, Running Up the White Flag.

Click here to read the article and here to buy the book on Amazon. I’d love you to leave an honest review on Amazon as well.

The myth that poor people are happy

person-woman-sitting-oldScott J Higgins has posted a wonderful piece today shattering the myth that poor people are happier.

As with any myth, this notion contains a kernel of truth. It goes to the idea that they have more of a sense of community when compared to the rampant individualism of the affluent West. It also comes out of the idea that living simply leads to less anxiety. There are many people living in poverty who exhibit much joy in their lives.

Despite this though, it doesn’t take away from the fact that poverty is awful.

Poverty is about identity, a sense of being “less than” and trodden on. Not that riches make people happy; the social statistics for people in affluent countries are awful in different ways. Having some money though provides access to things like health and education, each of which enhance wellbeing.

Some points to take out of this are:

  • Poverty is miserable, which is why it is incumbent on all of us who can, to do all we can to eliminate it.
  • Neither a poverty mentality nor a riches mentality is Christian. I am reminded of Proverbs 30:7-9 which describes the temptations of both poverty and riches.
  • Martin Luther King said that everyone has the right to realise their human potential, and poverty severely diminishes that possibility.
  • It all shows me that the human family can all learn from each other.

Here is Scott’s post:

Who are the happiest people in the world?

Upon their return from countries with high levels of poverty I often hear people say “they might be poor, but they seem so much happier than us.” It’s a comforting thought for those of us who live with great wealth. But it’s not true.

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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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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