Nils von Kalm

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

Category: Meaning (page 1 of 6)

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.

Wisdom

I’m so thankful to have people in my life who I can learn from. Here are some things I’ve learnt about life in my 48 years:

– Wisdom is not knowledge. I think I know a fair bit about life, but I have a heck of a long way to go before I am wise. Knowledge puffs up; love builds up.

– Surrender your ego. Accept the paradox that we get happiness by not looking for it. We live by dying to ourselves. Trying to fill your life with externals will never give you what you are looking for. Never.

– I am not God. That sounds like the bleeding obvious but I need reminding of it a heck of a lot.

– Life is not about me.

– Let go of your resentments quickly. You will feel a lot more relaxed. Pray for people you resent.

– Surrender your right to have life go your way. Learn to live life on life’s terms. Write out the Serenity Prayer and put it up somewhere so you can be reminded of it regularly.

– Be humble; don’t be arrogant or proud. You’ll be much more at peace. Humility is the acceptance of reality.

– Always look to see how you can love others. Be outward looking. Pray for an attitude of service. A prayer like that will always be answered in the affirmative.

– Love others. Just do it. It will make you happy. Even more than that, it will give you joy, which is deeper than happiness.

– Go to AA meetings every now and then. Let their humility break you. It’s the broken ones in recovery who have the most to teach us about life.

– Wisdom about life is always gained through suffering. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it when it comes, because it will come.

– Ask God to break your heart. It’s a scary-as-hell prayer, but when your heart is broken, you will become more loving.

– Take calculated risks. Do what you don’t want to do. Don’t just follow your feelings. Do what is right.

– Meditate for 20 minutes every day. In our 24/7 connected culture, we need meditative people more than ever.

– Read Proverbs 4 and ask God to help you become like that.

The pleasure of just staring out the window

Electronic devices, shops, lights, noise.

Sometimes you just want to get away from it all. But here I am right in the middle of it. By choice. I’m sitting in Auckland airport waiting for my flight to LA to visit my brother and his family.

I’ve been on my computer for the last hour, oblivious to the sights and sounds around me. But now I just want a break, so I have some dinner with the phone put away, and I stare out the window. Straight away I feel a bit more relaxed.

Why didn’t I do this earlier? The pleasure of just staring out the window, looking at the cloud formation as the sun sets over this land of the long white cloud.

Research shows the benefits to the psyche of just being out in nature, being present instead of bound by the thieves of time. Being in the moment instead of wanting to be anywhere else except where you are.

Other research shows the damage that too much screen time does to us. The loneliness, the anxiety and the depression – the disconnection that ironically comes from being too connected.

The recent shooting in America has links to mental illness. The shooter had a history of depression and behavioural problems. It wasn’t just about guns. It was guns and mental illness. You don’t just go and shoot people if you don’t have a serious psychological issue. And then the easy access to guns just exacerbates the problem.

We could all do with some regular time just daydreaming. It has enormous benefits, and not just for your mental health. I recall a story of a new CEO of a large organisation who was being shown around. He walked past one office where a man was seated at his desk with his feet up just looking out the window. When the new CEO walked past again a few days later, there was the man again, feet up and looking out the window. The CEO asked one of his executives if that guy in there ever does any work. He was quickly told that this guy was paid to do what he does and it was his ideas that had the made the company so successful.

One of the most inspirational talks I ever heard was about the fact that history belongs to the dreamers. In a few days I will be in Washington where, 55 years ago, one man’s dream inspired a nation to take steps to get serious about justice for its African American people.

Take some regular time to stare out the window. We need more dreamers; they are the ones who change the world.

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.

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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Oils at the Bowl

I almost made the calamitous mistake of choosing not to go and see Midnight Oil on their current ‘Great Circle’ tour. I figured I had seen them a couple of times previously, and I could do something else with the $100 that was the ticket price. I won’t make that mistake again. What was I thinking?!

So, when the opportunity came up last week to grab a ticket, my impulsive nature made an uncommonly good decision. I paid the price and got my ticket.

As I stood on the lawn of the Sidney Myer Music Bowl as the band came onto the stage, storm clouds were gathering around Melbourne and the rain was gaining momentum. The cool change had come and I was getting wet. But it didn’t matter. I was glad that stupidity hadn’t gotten the better of me by knocking back the chance at being here. This was the Oils at the Music Bowl. I looked around at the crowd, represented by a few generations as Peter Garrett broke into the famous, maniacal dance moves that only he can do. I couldn’t get the smile off my face. You know when you’re glad you’ve made a wise decision, and this was one of those times.

I first started following the Oils as a 13 year old. They have been part of my life for 35 years, and they are as good and energetic today as they were back in those heady days of the early 1980s when songs like ‘US Forces’, ‘Short Memory’ and ‘Read About It’ became legendary Australian rock anthems almost as soon as they were released.

The aura that Midnight Oil have had about them comes down to a few factors: no-nonsense, intelligent, unflinching political and social commentary which is as prophetic as it is bold, a tall, bald singer whose dance moves are uniquely natural and at the same time almost out of control, a passion and energy that brilliantly complements the lyrics of their songs, and finally, just really, really good, raw, authentic (non-manufactured) rock ’n’ roll.

It is a sad irony that many of their songs which were made so famous in the ’80s and ’90s are suddenly relevant again. ‘Blue Sky Mine’ is now an indictment on the Adani coal mine, and ‘US Forces’ brings up nightmarish images of Donald Trump’s massive spending increases on the military and his fawning of nuclear weapons.

The other thing that grabbed me about this tour was the impact of the legacy of Peter Garrett’s own political career. All now seems forgiven after he was seen by many to have sold out by entering the bureaucracy of the political machine in Canberra as a Minister in the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd Governments. People just wanted to come along to hear legendary Aussie rock. I think we are all just glad to have the Oils back doing what they do best.

Midnight Oil captured much of my generation in the ‘80s, and 30 years later they have captured some of the younger generations. I just hope that the younger people in the crowd at the Bowl during the week are able to appreciate what the Oils are about, and the impact they had on this country back then. They have always had their own sound, their own presence. It is theirs; they have never tried to be anyone they are not, from when they first started out in the Sydney pub scene in the late 1970s, to when they famously wore their ‘Sorry’ t-shirts in front of a global audience of 2 billion at the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000, to today, when they are rocking the world again, both musically and with their powerful criticism of injustice and environmental degradation.

When passion is combined with the goodness of a cause, the energy that is exuded can be breathtaking. Midnight Oil are the quintessential example of this. You know a band has legend status when they can play their greatest songs and the lead singer can just stand back, hold the microphone to the crowd and let us sing, and we all know every word. It is a reciprocal gesture of respect and giving. The Oils have given so much to us over the decades, and we want to keep turning up to their shows and give back to them.

Midnight Oil have been a major part of my inspiration to be a part of the solution to the problems of the world since I was a quiet teenager. Who would have thought that a lanky, bald, tall singer with a crazy dance routine, and his band of brilliant musicians, could influence so many? You wouldn’t read about it.

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

How our culture breeds addiction

I’ve just finished listening to Russell Brand’s new book, Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions, and it’s got me thinking.

Russell is a very astute social commentator as well as a quite eccentric comedian, and his take on the influences on our society is quite profound.

What struck me as I listened to his book was the extent to which our culture is a breeding ground for addiction.

Russell Brand would know. He self-defines as a drug addict, alcoholic, sex addict and as having various other addictions that pretty much wrecked his life. Drugs were his main form of addictive behaviour and he is now 14 years clean.

In his book, Brand talks a lot about how we live in a society that bombards us daily with the message that we can be happy filling our lives with externals, whether they be the more obvious addictions like the ones Brand has struggled with, or the more subtle and acceptable ones like consumerism and the obsession of fitting as many experiences into our lives as possible.

In truth, we all have addictive patterns of thinking and behaviour. We all use externals to fill our lives with things designed to make us feel better. Franciscan priest, Richard Rohr calls these our programs for happiness.

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