Nils von Kalm

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

Category: Identity (page 1 of 2)

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.

Loving yourself by loving others

Love – no fear

“There is absolutely nothing about shame and honor and fear in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

“The god that most people fear, the god who can’t wait to punish and torture you in an eternal hell is not the God of the Bible.”

I need to have this drummed into me over and over again. And I suspect many of you do too. This article will hopefully help.

Love – No Fear · Christianity Without the Religion/Plain Truth Ministries

1 Corinthians 13 is a chapter many have come to know as the “love chapter” of the Bible. 1 Corinthians 13 is arranged in three separate sections, two of which we will briefly examine: The first section, in verses 1-3, is about love as being indispensable.

All we have is today

As I move forward in this life, I realise more that I can’t take for granted the personal growth I have already attained. I can’t rest on it. As I’ve said previously, the human heart is deceitful. When I’m going well I can fool myself that I can sit back and be complacent and rely on myself when in fact I need to stay out of the way of my own penchant for self-protection rather than love.

The good I did yesterday certainly counts, and it strengthens me, but it doesn’t guarantee that I will be surrendered again to God today. In the same way, if I was selfish and hurt people yesterday, that doesn’t guarantee that I will stay in that today. That is the great thing about forgiveness and grace. You can get up again anytime, straight away. I don’t have to stay in the shame of my past actions. God wants us to live. You can’t do that when you choose to stay stuck.

All we have is today. There is a saying that talks about living just for today. There is no point ruminating about yesterday’s mistakes, its aches and pains. Yesterday is gone and is never coming back. Similarly, tomorrow is not something we need to be anxious about; it hasn’t arrived yet. We can’t do anything about it. We can live surrendered today and therefore be stronger tomorrow, but it’s today that is what matters.

My past, good or bad, doesn’t define me. We are not what we do, and we are not what our minds often tell us. That’s where Descartes (‘I think, therefore I am’) was wrong. When our minds tell us that we are not worth getting to know, we can reject that for the lie that it is. You are not your mind.

I read an article yesterday about how the latest brain research says that we can physically rewire our brains by retraining them with the truth of who we are. When we get into the habit of retraining our brains, new neural pathways are physically created in our brains so that, the more we practise good habits, the easier they become to do.

What defines us is the fact that every single one of us has inherent dignity. The destructive things I have done in my life don’t mean I’m a bad person. Likewise, I can’t rest on the good things I have done in the past. I can easily undo them much faster than I built them up. That’s why I need to be in touch with myself every day.

Living for today is what matters to me. That can be misunderstood in terms of sucking the pleasure out of life and not caring about the consequences for tomorrow. That is exactly not what this means. That is actually being destructive and living out of our false self. Our true self, the us that God made and wants to release, is the self that lives for today without worrying about the shame of yesterday’s misdeeds or the uncertainty of tomorrow. It is the self that is present today, present to love, to surrender and therefore to joy no matter what life throws at you today.

Learning to live is learning to live on life’s terms, not on the terms I demand. The greatest prayer that I know to help with this is the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept what I can’t change, the courage to change what I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

It’s a prayer of living in love, in grace, in forgiveness, in the present and in courage. I’m thankful that God answers such prayers, because I can’t do that on my own. I need outside help. And I only need to do it today.

Finding ourselves in a lonely world

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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Book review – Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions

Russell Brand is an addict. That doesn’t define him, but it is what he identifies as, and what he has to remind himself of every single day.

Most of us would know Brand as the eccentric comedian and movie star with the slightly annoying Cockney accent. But his new book, Recovery: Freedom from our addictions, tells the story of the real Russell Brand, the man behind the image, and the one whose life was a complete mess until 14 years ago.

Identifying as a drug addict, alcoholic, sex addict, and as having various other addictions, this book reveals Brand as humble, brutally honest and a man revelling in the new life that has resulted from him vigorously living out the !2 Steps every day of his life since he came into recovery in 2002.

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A time to be still

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

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