Heard us on the radio?
This month, we’ve been partnering with 98Five Sonshine FM to bring you some new spots where we’ve been thinking about the state of the world around us; the fracturing in political and social spaces, the rise of the neo-nazi movement – and we reflected on how we can be people who speak truth and offer hope in these times. We’ve come up with some short reflections to share with you, we hope they bring a breath of life, hope and courage into your daily routine. Here they are in written form, in case you want to take a closer look. Have feedback? Click here to get in touch, or come by and visit us at our beautiful campus.
Conflict. We either go out of our way to avoid it, or we jump in, stirred to our core ready to prove we’re right or to defend our opinion. I must confess, I’ve spent a lot of time internally rehearsing the perfect responses to other people’s statements I don’t agree with.
But something changes when we make a choice to listen with curiosity instead of judgement when challenged with a strong, alternative opinion. In Proverbs it says “… the wise learn by listening.” That’s where respect and connection are birthed.
Author Ann Voskamp wrote …what if today we were the ones who gave the Gift of Listening — like it was our job? To someone who disagrees with us & we disagree with them. Listen. Lean in, look into their eyes & really listen. Because everybody just wants to be heard & understood.
I like that. We don’t have to agree, but to seek a greater understanding with curiosity instead of a quick response is a great discipline to cultivate.
I’m keen to try if you are.
Reading the room
I think there’s 2 types of people in this world. Ones who come to life in social situations – they’re completely at ease with engaging with people they are yet to know. And then there’s me. The somewhat awkward introvert. Feeling overwhelmed and socially challenged by the sheer number of people in a room, whilst I quietly dream of a book, my comfy chair and a peppermint tea.
One of my social go-to’s is in the subtle changeover from asking what someone does, to asking them about their story. What’s the difference? I think there’s a few things that happen. The person begins to share their journey, instead of their occupation. It’s personal and far more interesting, and as a result, I’m less self-absorbed. And with the emphasis off me and my internal dialogue, I’m connecting and engaging with someone new, which is the gift of sharing stories. And our call to love one another.
If I’m really honest, it’s those conversations that make our lives richer, when we choose to step outside what is comfortable. It shifts the focus from inward to outward, it leads us to new friendships, it widens our perspective and community.
So, when have you taken an uncomfortable step lately and asked about someone’s story? The peppermint tea and comfy chair can wait another day.
Doing the right thing…
Ever found yourself in one of those situations where you know what you’re supposed to do, but also know that it’s going to hurt? Perhaps you have to stand up for a work colleague. You might not even like them very much, but you know what is being said isn’t true. And you also know that if you come to their defense, the gossip might turn towards you.
Some of you might say – that wouldn’t bother me. I don’t care what others say about me. But it’s not true of most of us. Other people’s opinion of us matters more than we would like, and the possible disapproval of others cow many of us into silence.
So how do we find the courage to speak up?
For myself, I find it when I remember the ‘plus 1’ factor. Wherever I am, God is also present – and also sees and also hears what takes place. And in the deepest part of my being I know I want to hear God’s ‘well done’ even more than I want to hear it from everyone else. And I also know that if I give God some space, God gives me the strength and courage to do what is right.
What others become
People often say that they would like to make a difference in the world. Their thoughts usually turn to great schemes – like ending world hunger, or bringing peace to all. Worthy though those goals are, they are unlikely to be achieved by our effort alone.
Sometimes it is more fruitful to set our aim on more modest targets – like making a difference in the lives of those around us. It doesn’t have to be that hard. Taking the time to really listen to someone not only reminds them that they matter, but helps us to understand their world. And when we understand their world, we might find that we can help them to make the most of it. A word of encouragement, remembering to compliment an overlooked skill, or simply helping people remember that no matter how tough the present moment, tomorrow brings new possibilities – can make a real difference.
Strangely when we take our eyes off ourselves and start to notice the lives of those around us, we are set free to make a difference. For as Jesus said, when you’re willing to lose your life you find it, and ever so often God comes to us when we are willing to spot Jesus in the stranger.
Addiction and connection
One of my favourite authors has an expression that she uses from time to time, “there is no such thing as other people’s children”. The thought behind this idea is that we all belong to each other; we are responsible for each other. In a world that is becoming marked by fear, division, the rhetoric of hate and polemic, the need to reach out to and connect with others is still as vital today as it was when our physical survival depended on it. We now know, thanks to studies done in the fields of psychology and psychiatry that in fact, our physical survival still depends on connection. The opposite of connection is not disconnection, it is addiction. When we are connected in meaningful ways with those around us, we thrive. When we weather trauma, loss, suffering and hardship without the support of a network, it is then that we become vulnerable to addiction; and with it, shame, guilt and fear. Jesus said ‘I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly.’ Today when you have a choice to disconnect, be encouraged that to be connected to self, God and others is to be alive and woke to the world.
Religio- “to bind up”
When we look at the world around us, we see the need for healing everywhere, don’t we. In our marriages, our families of origin, our churches, our communities, our schools. Every schism, every breach of trust, every betrayal carries with it the unseen ripples which continue to be felt long after the event is behind us. Sometimes its the people we trusted to care for us who end up doing the most damage. The etymology of the word ‘religion’ tells us that at its heart, the task of true religion is to bind back up again that which has been broken between the divine, and the human. Prophets in the ancient Jewish tradition tell us that true religion can be seen best in the care for the poor, the outsider, the widow, the orphan – the vulnerable. Miroslav Volf takes this a step further: ‘by embracing the outcast, Jesus underscored the ‘sinfulness’ of the persons and systems that cast them out.’ When you are cast out, betrayed or abandoned by those who you have trusted, remember that the cross of Jesus Christ is the symbol of God’s identification with the suffering and abandoned; and that through it, you, too, have been delivered into freedom.
Faith in public
Have you ever come away from an evening of chatter feeling immensely frustrated? You spoke so many words, but if you’re honest, you didn’t really say anything – not anything that actually matters that is. And no one said anything to you that made you think, or that challenged you to become a little more.
How is it that we so often miss each other when we try to talk? Do you have those conversations in your head where you say the things you would like to say and that you feel you should say – but when the crunch comes the words remaining floating in your head – never actually spoken.
It can be worth taking a conversational risk. Instead of just going with the flow of the conversation you could say: “Mind if we do an abrupt topic change. I’ve been thinking about… and I’d like to get your views on it as well.” With people you love and care for, you might need to dive in deeper. “How about we talk about us for a while. I’ve really been wanting to say…”
Sure, timing is important. The write of Ecclesiastes says that there is a time to speak, and a time to be silent. Knowing the difference is a skill worth learning. But here’s a clue… if you plan for your words to be gracious, kind and generous, it’s usually the time to speak.
When to speak up
Ever been in a situation where you’ve felt compromised by what has gone on around you. Perhaps someone expressed a view you really disagree with – but you kept silent. Or someone did something you thought was unkind, but you didn’t challenge it. You try to console yourself by saying “Well I wouldn’t have said that” or “I wouldn’t have done that” – but for all that you feel really ineffective, as though your inner world has been crushed by the tacit agreement of your silence.
While we can’t go through life picking fights every time we disagree with someone, it’s worth thinking about what it takes to be a person of integrity – someone whose inner world and outer actions merge together seamlessly.
It can help to learn a few skills along the way – like reframing contexts. So when someone puts a negative slant on something, you can reframe it in the positive. While those who love to sensationalize bad news might find that frustrating, it can change the tide of a conversation. Instead of being people who jeer and belittle, we can be those who see things in a wider and more hopeful context. And if our inner life is shaped by the hopefulness given through faith in Jesus, why wouldn’t we want to be people who do just that.
Seek first to understand
The Prayer of St Francis, though written hundreds of years ago, continues to inspire and challenge us today; ‘Lord, make me an instrument of your peace’, it begins. ‘Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon, where there is doubt, faith, where there is despair; hope, where there is darkness, light and where there is sadness, joy. Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand, to be loved as to love.’ As we work to integrate our inner reality with our public, lived reality, may we know deep down that we are people of hope; people who have been given to the world to bring comfort, to offer understanding, to bind up the broken-hearted. May our own inner wounds be attended to and healed so that we can in turn offer that healing to others around us. May we be people who embody the mystery that to die to ourselves is to be born into the abundant life offered freely to all who will have the courage to enter into it
What does it mean to be a person of integrity? One of the dictionary definitions of integrity is ‘the state of being whole and undivided’. In that sense, integrity can also be expressed as a state of living courageously and wholeheartedly, owning our whole story for what it is. Being authentic about who we really are with a few trusted people is both critical to our integrity, and terrifying. Will they still love me if they know who I really am? What I really think? We get about as far with God as we are willing to go in our most vulnerable human relationships, and at some point – if we want to be people of integrity, we need to risk telling the truth about who we are, and hope that those around us will steward our trust faithfully. Jesus said ‘do not give to dogs what is sacred, and do not throw your pearls to pigs; if you do, they may trample them under their feet…’ which sounds like a pretty obscure thing to say, until you think about it in this context. Lets be people who both risk, and are trusted when others risk. Lets be faithful stewards of the messy realities of our loved ones, and in so doing, bring integrity.