Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Gift

At my most cynical, it's the shopping that saps me. I don't mind browsing, but choosing is agonising, and any time spent at the shops in December is uncomfortable. I care too much about buying the present that will delight.

We all sit around the pile of presents that dwarfs the tree. We've eaten chicken and ham and all the healthy vegetables, drowned in gravy. Now for the presents. The wrapping is torn off quickly and the excitement never quite satisfies. Are gifts a reminder that nothing in this world will ever fill our gaping hearts?

In the midst of Christmas spirit, giving is fun and the presents a ritual that brings us together. Advent is like a parade passing two warring factions in the middle of town. The howls of commercialism and my recriminations wave streamers on my left. The delight of enjoying good things and blessings from our maker shout from my right. There's no easy straw man here because we live in a world of things and expectations and people whose bread is bought by Christmas dollars. Take care with judging, I tell myself. My sister-in-law says I look tired, so I nod. I'm not sure if I am physically tired, but this moral mire drains me. Is this why Christmas fills me with both excitement and dread?

Family and giving and having my cooking on show lays me bare. I see my dependence on praise from others, my fear of disappointing, my pride. The gift I need is grace.

My daughter painted me a picture and my son found me a colourful tin at the op shop. No other gifts can compare in value, and I boast gently in them. Truly, I am blessed.

We cling to these Christmas rituals, don't we? Impressing each other with our hospitality or our generosity. Getting Christmas done earliest, being ready for it. I do it every year. And then I remember that we're celebrating a late arrival baby in a messy stable. How could we ever really be prepared?
It's such a time for love and acceptance. That it's OK when my roast potatoes are a bit cold and soggy. Or just plain underdone. That I didn't actually get you your favourite present, but you're glad to spend the afternoon with me. That your being unprepared or flustered or just tired is fine with me.
What about this gift? The capacity to sit amongst this mix of delight and expectation, impatience and weariness, with grace and patience. To let it be, without wishing it were something else, because God is here. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Gold

I look out at the soft buttered morning. The sun has her head on the pillow while she blinks into consciousness. I sneak out the door. The dogs don't bark, so nobody wakes and I can see across a thousand, thousand trees to the blue-streaked ridge.

I'm the only person alive and my feet crunch the gravel. This gold is the palest kind. The early morning misted sheen that caresses me awake and mingles perfectly with silence.

Later, it's more brazen and the shadows more defined. The morning is louder and the sun alert. Lustrous, hot gold.

There's endless permutations of light, all touched with gold. At the moment I love the early morning softness and the twilight orange-purple-gold. But I've flirted with different shades before.

We are built to long for light. To flourish in these golden rays. And at Christmas it's the gold that really matters. The emergence of light.

It's the summer solstice here in Australia, the day of longest gold. It's the longest visit we'll get this year, the time of greatest clarity. The northern hemisphere is buried in darkness and December 21 is the birth of light. But for us, we miss that tender link. Instead we are overcome with light in Advent and we glory in it. It is not so much an emergence as a flood, like the radiance of an army of angels in a midnight sky.

Some days it feels like this gold is ephemeral. Like it's just the background to a creaking, grumbling, churning world of darkness. To think the anxiety I have for my children is justified. To allow the obsession I have with myself to be acceptable. To give up hope for the hopeless. To go through the motions of caring.

It's so easy to think the light is pale, or fluctuating, because it's weak. That it's slowly drowning. But look again at the fading and surging, of days and seasons. Look at the remembering over and over again. I need to travel this path of emerging gold again and again. To let it burn in my core, so that I trust it's power, when the world says it's faded.

This gold is shining in the darkness. This light will not be overcome.

Linking with Amber and Emily.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


'We shall be celebrating no beautiful myth, no lovely piece of traditional folklore, but a solemn fact. God has been here once historically, but, as millions will testify, he will come again with the same silence and the same devastating humility into any human heart ready to receive him.'
J. B. Phillips, 1963.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Real family

Christmas is coming and everyone asks if I am looking forward to it. Whether I am ready. To be ready for Christmas, can mean so many things and I'm usually up late on Christmas Eve wrapping presents. So I don't think I'm ready. No.

I'm trying to prepare myself for the Christmas that is God coming to dwell among us. The Christmas of Immanuel and babies born in inconvenient places. A baby loved and longed for - by generations of God-followers. A baby in a feed trough and angels that bring joyful news. A God who gives all for his people. His stumbling, small-faithed people.

I'm putting off the shopping because what do I really need to buy anyway?

Tonight we sang carols and Christmas songs. The curious blend of hymns to a child who brings grace and peace for all, and songs of a bearded, red-suited man who brings a list of naughty and nice and only rewards the good. No presents for me, then, Santa.

It is strange that we love Santa, the legalist, that he makes us cheer. And that we admonish our children with his gracelessness. Is it just that worldly push to measure and compare, to be able to be good enough ourselves? Does Santa speak to that part of us? Or is it that he demands so little of us? Nothing but a carrot and a glass of milk once a year.

We long for a jolly-faced man who visits with presents, out of the blue. Somehow Santa is a symbol of mystery and magic and the 'universe' blessing us. It is the love we long for, the belonging we seek. The comfortable lap of the one who lets us tweak his beard and nestle on his knee.

Again I come back to Romans 8. It's about belonging. To Christ and his father and finding real life and real family. This father lives in us. It's not just a visit each Christmas. It's God with me every day, hallowing my struggles and blessing my small joys with his presence. He's welcomed me into his family, with an embrace and the privelege of affectionately speaking his name.

This curious mix of awe and familiarity seems paradoxical. But it's real family.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children.
Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” 
Romans 8:14-15.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Cinnamon

I come from a line of aromatics.

My grandmother packed her shelves with tiny jars of dried fruit and nuts. She would lay out a plate of crisp, sliced vegetables with fresh molasses bread when I dropped in. She is here as I pull fresh loaves from my oven. She is next to me as I lather Pears transparent soap. Sawdust and enamel coat my childhood Saturday afternoons.

I watch my mother gradually develop the same papery skin and elegant jowls, the same slightly bowed shoulder set and the same row of tiny jars. Visiting is brushing past the gardenia near the gate and the welcome of a cool, dim hallway on a hot sun-bleached day. She can sense us coming and pours blackcurrant cordial for us all.

In the mirror, my hair has the same unruly corners. The same white streaks. The same droop to the edges of my green eyes. Something of each of us revisits in our daughters. And the sensory memories draw these women out as they course through my cortex.

The walk from my house to the top shops is two hundred metres up the hill. A gentle slope with a set of lights and too much litter. I walk past the fruit shop and the newsagent, skipping the chemist, too. I'm headed to Jacob's, where he and his wife line the walls with spices and huge bags of rice. Fresh made samosas are in the bain marie and Bengali DVDs are for hire. I'm almost out of ground coriander, and I turn the packet of star anise in my hand, wondering if I will brave that on our dinner table. The last packet I add to the pile is the cinnamon, atop the paprika and cummin, and I carry home a houseful of enticement.

The rolled cinnamon bark, like curls of decadent chocolate, waits in the darkness until I make something fit to bear its splendour. Cinnamon, the scent of waiting, the aroma of joy to come.

Linking with Amber's December Absractions.

A Broken Hallelujah

I am joining with Prodigal Magazine and SheLoves Magazine to explore A Broken Hallelujah.
There's a big link-up so go and check it out for lots of different takes on the theme.

She apologises. She can't come because of the funeral, and I nod, that's fine. Please don't worry. I ask a little more and she tells me of a young boy's death. She whispers 'suicide' not wanting to tempt, by saying it aloud. Perhaps if the word is swallowed, unspoken, it will not have happened.

Family draw around as his mother bears and breaks. She bears as a mother should never have to. To imagine the loss of a son is not enough, but it is all, at this moment. To carry a little of the pinching, endless discomfort of walking in her shoes. The complexity, the mystery, of bearing one another's burdens.

I feel it too, with my friend as her shoulders shrug and fall. 'What can I do?', says her helpless, uncomfortable expression. We are so like animals, who retreat to tend their wounds, because we do not quite know how to be broken in company. We are reluctant to be a bother, but it's being broken together that makes us family. That bonds us indelibly.

Judas hung himself, you know. Matthew said so. And he did it after the men who paid him washed their hands of him. "That's your responsibility" they said and would not accept the bribe back. The temple door slammed in his face.

So utterly alone. Left with his own failure. Unbearable. And he could not contemplate asking another to help him carry it. This is despair. To be so separated from community that no one can reach you to help.

And the paradox of desolation is that, in the midst of the deepest need for community, the desolate one feels an ocean away from everyone. How do we reach them? And how do we recognise who is desolate? There is no simple answer for recognising risk and who is really despairing. Psychiatrists struggle to predict suicide risk, and despairing people do not want to cause us inconvenience, so they do not let us see their struggle.

Our sensibilities make some subjects harder to talk about and I think that despair and suicide are difficult topics to raise. I think we would learn more grace if we could allow more despair to be acknowledged. If we could listen to more struggle and allow our community to help us carry burdens. Sometimes soldiering on and covering up struggle teaches others that despair and brokenness are not acceptable.

There is one broken hallelujah we could look to. Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, asks his friends to pray with him because he is sorrowing to the point of death. He does not hide his despair or withdraw from support. He is hungry for it in his time of need.

And I'm preaching this one to myself.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


I am trouble and strife.

I am Sarah. I am Hagar.
I am Rachel and Leah.
I am Bathsheba. I am Ruth.

I am stumbling.
Short-sighted and slow-witted.

I am wielded. I am poured.
Tapped and driven.
A formation tool.
My blemishes smooth away your corners.

My lateness is making you patient.
My forgetfulness is making you flexible.
My need is making you self controlled.
My hasty tongue thickens your sensitivity.

Tonight I long for distance.
My closeness makes for more bruises in you.
Tonight I long for proximity.
Your closeness comforts me.

I wrote this a few months ago, after seeing the pain I cause my husband. It burned me that he understood the pain and hard work of marriage. Through being married to me.

Again and again I realise that perfection, goodness, praiseworthiness is out of reach. That I long to be the one who excels, with ease and with pride. That if I succeeded at this I just might be insufferable. And that I make others suffer already.

And then I know (with a whole-body, whole-heart, deeply-relieved knowing) perfection is not mine to grasp. That we share need, my husband and I, because we let each other down. That we also share the intimacy of failing each other and it being OK. That I am his trouble and strife as well as his joy. That we clumsily love the other to show a tiny glimpse of God's perfect covenant love for each of us.

Tomorrow is our 14th anniversary. I'm not a sentimental blogger, but these years have been slowly teaching me the science and art of being known and what covenant love is. Truly I say, marriage is shaping me. Making me.

A curtain hides glory, truth and faithful love from us. My husband has lifted the bottom corner, beckoned me over and shared a peek with me.


The Ornament

Santa chastises a wooden angel. He is held in one hand and the angel in the other. They tip and rock, back and forth in small hands, talking at each other. Who will stop and listen? Later, the pair are driven in a truck, right across the lounge room, parked next to the bookshelf. They lie awkwardly on their backs, staring at the ceiling.

The laden tree is a cast of characters for a three year old's imagined dramas. They migrate down from their perches, clutched in tiny fingers, and come to life.

It was hot the day we pulled Christmas out of hibernation and I was grumpy. Concentrating on untangling was an excuse to say little. A martyred attempt to stop myself from smothering the Christmas cheer. Twining tinsel round the bunk bed ladders was mindful, too, and I let myself get a little infected by the spirit. Just a little.

The children, the angels, the tiny gruff santa were Christmas. And I can resent Christmas. It's insistence, it's relentlessness, it's demands for peace and goodwill, and family and giving. I am selfish and ornamental and I hang from the tree of life with rigid thrust-out arms, a painted on halo and bizarre green hair. I am stubbornly stuck with the same smile on my face, year after year, as I am taken out of the box, dusted off and suspended by the string in my head.

The children, the angels, the tiny gruff santa are the today of a two thousand year old story. The flesh of a God who refused to leave us alone. The ornaments that remind us of a squalling child in a dirty barn, and the inconvenience of life. The ephemeral enticement of selfishness.

Christmas decorations at the shops are just window dressing, but these ornaments are part of the family, joining us again and again. They've been battered and broken by the laying out, the imaginary play and the packing up. They are family. They know last year's secrets and they've heard our prayers as we whisper them each evening in December. They witness to the miracle of Christmas. They've seen grace enter into my stubborn, grumpy heart. Year after year.

Amber has suggested writing on a concrete word - using it to flesh out the abstract. The Abstractions in December begin with The Ornament.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Shame and Vulnerability

It's the moment when you think, "I'm not good enough," that it's got you.

I went to the interview with my resume clutched in my hand. I'd forgotten to send it, so brought it myself. I'd not thought much about it's inadequacy. Not until he said in passing - "This is your abbreviated CV?"

The smart-mouth me thought, "No, that's all of it. Entirely." But I didn't think that till much later. Don't the best answers arrive much too late to use? Between the offhand query and the answer were a few hours of shame.

Don't get me wrong, I still drove home, cooked dinner, chatted with my mum, laughed with the kids and kissed everyone good night. My husband, too. But there were moments peppered through the evening of shielding my face with the pressure of my hands, feeling exposed, and calling myself an idiot under my breath. I remembered every clumsy answer, replayed unbidden.

Shame re-imagined is vulnerability.

The interview was important to me. Being seen as competent mattered in that place, with people I do not know. Making myself available for judgement exposes me. And this judgement is always harsher in my imagination than anything that happens in the actual moment. No one could ever measure me as harshly as I do myself when I say "I'm not good enough".

At it's heart, shame is a fear of rejection and disconnection, and when things matter to us, when we expose our heart and our true selves, we are vulnerable to it. But Brene Brown would say, that if we avoid shame, we avoid wholehearted living.

You may have already seen this talk. But if not, listen here. It has some really useful things to say about how perfectionism and controlling our lives can be a way to avoid vulnerability, and hence miss out on real connection with people.

Listen, too, to her comment that we make the uncertain certain to avoid vulnerability. I would like to think about this more in relation to the truths of the gospel, and the way we try to make some areas certain that are actually uncertain - perhaps this is because we feel vulnerable - questions can make us doubt the ability of God to stand up amidst uncertainty.

I also ponder the idea of believing that we are worthy of love and belonging, believing we are enough. On it's own, this lacks a degree of substance - I cannot quite grasp it. But in the light of God's love, it falls into place. His love and grace to us mark us as worthy of love and belonging. I am enough because I rest in God who is enough.

Watch her second talk, too, if you have time...

It's paradoxical, isn't it? - that by protecting ourselves from shame or vulnerability, we actually limit our opportunities to really love, to really serve and to really experience God's work in our lives.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Give it away

image from here on flickr

I walked up from underground last Friday, emerging onto the city street. I'd arrived on a train the minute before and joined the crowd of tunnel-visioned commuters, through the Central ticket gates and up the stairs to sunlight. We marched sharing purpose and pace.

I have my morning habits so while I filed away my weekly ticket, I got out some change for a coffee.

Near the coffee stand, by the fence, three men were playing funk music and the crowd stopped rushing. We hesitated. The music changed the context and I stood to listen.

Strangely, I'd noticed another busker only two days before. I suspect I've passed many more without registering. It had sparked a thought about the generosity of playing music in public. Playing without a guaranteed return.

Perhaps it needs to be music you appreciate. Most of us only give attention to buskers who are good, ... or under the age of eight. It's like karaoke - we ignore it or block it out if it's average. But occasionally someone who can really sing gets up and I focus because I don't want to miss it.

So I stood at the kerb, turned back to the band and let the music enter my morning. My coffee money ended up in a stranger's guitar case and the exchange was complete. I walked up the hill, stopped to buy my coffee, the music carried with me for the day.

I love that they were there playing. That their abandon and fun touched a crowd of morning commuters. That the keyboard player's hair bounced with the music. That strangers can share connections, and that creativity is generously given.

What if we could all seek moments to give what we make or who we are to people? What if we could find opportunities to step into people's everyday rhythms and give them some fun? Be a blessing just because we can.

That moment of music has got me thinking. Got me looking for ways to deliver unexpected blessings.

image from here
Sharing with Emily at Imperfect Prose.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Did you see that? on Facebook?

It might just start with a status update. The comment appears within five minutes and it bites. Were you itching for the argument or did this just tickle a sensitive nerve? That is a world away from the update I *heard*... I see my friend answer graciously, as only she can, but it sets me thinking.

On Facebook, simple statements can be incendiary to someone reading from another perspective.

There's so much more than the words, to what we hear. Even on a screen. Can typeface have body language? Or is it just that the language I use, in this moment, draws on a million different conversations I've already had? And you've had a million of your own to activate besides.

Sometimes it's hard to hear the unadorned statement in the midst of all the triggered memories and associations. And most of the time that context and subtext makes words way more interesting and powerful.

Then there's times when I struggle to listen and not be ruled by my gut reaction.

To not bristle as he accuses me, or not wilt as she dismisses me. To hear a rebuke and not ignore it completely as inconvenient or unjustified.

It's easy to harden my heart, and in the process, stick my fingers firmly in my ears.

And that's when I miss the most.
Opportunities to understand or to change or to bless evaporate.
I long for a heart that doesn't harden, and ears that really hear, in the midst of the blaring context.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

What happened in the 31 Days?

I've dropped it somewhere down between the cushions on the lounge. My clarity.

Thoughts, like disorderly books, resist my straightening. Their gentle jumble is familiar. Home is a welcome backrub and the scent of orange peel on my thumbnail. We eat lasagne from Aldi and talk school.

I'm scattered by the attempt to be in so many different places. This happens periodically and guilt rises. The next step in the dance is to criticise myself for being here. So let's not.

I'll tell you the good news.

I've been sitting with the Book each day, and the Book's been reading me. I haven't been able to compose words about it these 31 days, but I've been thinking on the pure and right, the noble and praiseworthy. Pondering the race laid out before us - not life lived for success, but life lived to be made holy and presentable by grace.

The background is that I struggle to be religious in anything. It's my nature to resist helpful habits. Like a baby, the moment I seem to find routine, is the moment I change what I'm doing.

But through some inexplicable work of God, his word has entrenched itself in me. In the last couple of years, reading the bible has entwined with joy and contentment. It has been my breath, and the breath of God in me.

And be sure that I don't say this to boast in me. I am actually mystified about the reason for this deep stirring. I am not a holy or particularly godly person. It is purely grace from God to me. I don't really tell many people because it seems like a weird thing to share...

"God has made me passionate for his word. It makes my eyes prick with tears and my spirit soar."

My earthliness chuckles "What the...?", while the word whisperingly leads me into the truth. That this is the most precious thing that could ever grow in me.

linked with Emily's Imperfect Prose.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Do you ever wish there was a simple answer?
If only we could stop doing the things that destroy us.
If only we could know how our efforts to connect can be so inappropriate and prey on the vulnerable.
If only we could know how to say what needs to be said, without offending.
If only we could decide to do something difficult, because we know it will yield a better life.
If only telling people they are loved were enough - that they would know it core-deep.

Remind me that I'm not trying to scale Mt Sinai.
I'm climbing Mt Zion.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


There are words made specially for theology textbooks. People polish them and bring them out on silver platters for special occasions - when they want to look smart in a debate or prove they know lots of stuff.

Then there was the time someone talked about courage and introduced me to imputed.

I've read the story of David and Goliath before. I've taught it in Sunday School. I've heard other sermons on it. You probably know it, too.

Consider who you identify with in the story.

David arrives in the midst of frightened Israelites. No one wants to face the giant who never loses and so they all hang back. They discuss and ponder and plan and wait and in truth do nothing at all.

Young David doesn't understand the quandary. He just wants to get out there and finish it. They laugh at his innocent assertion that God is on their side. Of course it's not that simple. They know better than this naive young shepherd. This baby brother. Haven't we all thought better of our own opinion than our baby sibling's?

Alone he stands. Courageous. Trusting God to live up to his promise to rescue his people. Inflamed by the insults to his Protector God. Ready to kill the enemy.

Am I that little guy full of courage? Am I out there defeating giants in the power of the LORD? Is that the application?


I am the cowering, fearful Israelites. I am sitting in a tent, offering David my polished, paraded, unused armour. The protection he couldn't wear because he was immobile within it.

Perhaps I'm putting a pillow over my head so I don't hear Goliath killing him. Me of little faith. Perhaps I'm sipping a cocktail as we watch him skip out to face the warrior. Observer of the real combat. Perhaps my armour has immobilised me.

I have to get them to repeat the news that he killed the giant because I think I've misheard. He what?

Then we're celebrating victory - won by a barely-armed shepherd boy, who delineates our lack of faith and bravery, by using his raw, unpolished courage. By trusting God.

I am suddenly being rewarded for his courage. If courage were a blanket, an entire Israelite army snores beneath it that night. One man has the courage, but a nation is blessed by the victory.

David's courage is imputed to the Israelites.

Here we go...

It's not just a shepherd boy and a giant and an embarrassingly cowering army. Here's where it all leads. It's the one righteous man whose purity is the blanket. There's no cover for any of us to shelter under but, miraculously, his righteousness blanket stretches out for us.

I'm crawling under and it's folds seem boundless. This imputing is good because finally I'm covered. I can rest in its warmth and my struggle to make a blanket of righteousness for myself is over.

I never was any good at conjuring thick warmth out of tattered, transparent threads. You?

Am I ready to finally trust in the efforts of the innocent? To stop obfuscating and prevaricating and pontificating? To accept the victory won by someone else's righteousness?

To let it become mine and finally change me.

31 Days - Being read by the Book                   and linked with Emily.

Monday, October 8, 2012

31 Days - Being read by the Book

October has 31 days to fill with ideas. I'm starting late but not letting it get me down. I'm not an every day blogger so I'll dip in and out of the pool. I'll be living 31 days this October, and writing when I can.

The Bible Society have a great campaign this month, too. A call to read God's word every day, for 31 days. Go and check it out if you're wondering about ways to get into reading the bible.

Since July, my train trip to work has lengthened from 15 minutes to 50 minutes. The struggle to get to work punctually is easily matched by more time to read. Mornings are for bible reading and afternoons for other reading. This is structure!

More train time means more books shuffled off the list of yet-to-reads, and more space on the overstuffed shelf. Sometimes, furtively, more little packages from betterworldbooks arrive.

As I read God's word, it's tempting to tick more verses off (...done) but I'm starting to double and triple back. I can read the same words three mornings in a row and each time amble a little further on. It's not as defineable as two steps forwards and one step back back, but we're in that region somewhere.

Paul wrote 'For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.' (Philippians 2:13)

"How is God working in you?"

I rolled back and forth over this question for days. Not sure if I actually spoke the fear that God is not really working in me. It's the word of truth, but am I in it? Is it in me?

A week to realise the latter part explains the former. Quite a labour, to give me inclination and ability to please God. It's been a prayer, each day, as I read it.

Sometimes I wish bible-reading was just ticking more off and getting more done. Reading the verses, then getting on with the real living. But this is not another book to shift from want-to-read, to read-it. This book is a double sharp sword, the path of a consuming fire, an instrument of grace and truth, hewing me to shape.

I'll read this book for all the possible days of my being and barely start. It will burn back and forth in my thoughts, in my heart, in my dreams and my living. It will cut my self-satisfaction and self-delusion and self-obsession. Do I really want that? It will stoke the fire of my desire to see life in truth. The truth will totally deflate me, while it reminds me I am limp and wan without it's breath within me. It will gently build me and nudge me forward. Send me in unexpected and surprisingly sweet directions.

I am fooling myself to think I can read the bible. It's the bible that reads me.

And I am so defended from it power, so blinded to its clarity, that I have to press back and forth over its words to get their imprint onto my skin.

So I'm back to my question - How is God working in me?

He is slowly decanting his wisdom into me. He is turning my flitting heart to his steady rhythms. He is supporting my hands as they falteringly do the love-work they are formed for. He is stilling my nervous, inner chatter to hear his faithfulness and listen to his children.

Slow and patient is his work. In me, it needs to be.

How is God working in you?

Monday, September 3, 2012

This moment

The magnolias are expectant hands. Fleeting cupped promise.
Midday warmth drips honey slow and enormous petals extend out, somersaulting down.
Silken soft. 
White heart brave. 

Longing to live with such blatant abandon.
To pour my everything into rampant, gorgeous crowns of life
that fall effortlessly to the ground,
becoming humus for next season.

Is this how we bear fruit in keeping with repentance?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Blangst, navel-gazing, call it what you will.

In blogging, I'd rather be artless, than artful. I'm not a writer and I struggle with self-revelation. I'm naturally a listener and the contents of my heart stick in my throat.

I spent a weekend with kind, comfort friends, sisters of many years standing and it was a gentle massage to my soul. Susan asked me about this blog, and I nodded that I'd been a little quiet. I'd like to ask more of her opinions and thoughts, but its hard to let anyone know that I worry what they think. That I know I struggle in relatability and funny stories. And I lack focus.

Here's her opinion. That people would be interested in hearing more about the life of a doctor, who works with people who have psychiatric problems and addiction problems, who has four children, is a baptist pastor's wife and lives in Macquarie Fields (yes, there was a riot). In hearing more about my life.


There's a few difficult spots.

I don't do advice - I find it hard to look at my life and tell you what you should do with yours.

I don't do contentious issues - I am not spilling my partisan beans about women's roles, Calvinism, creationism, same-sex marriage, schooling choices, denominational issues - yadda yadda yadda... Call it my concession to fence-sitting.

I don't do design or fantastic images or cool stuff. I am extremely un-hip. I am everything Frankie magazine is not. I dream about having a funky blog design. But I'm sure just as I get totally white/pastel/multi-image and have interesting fonts, hip blog design will have moved on anyway.

I do write about the following - emotions, anxiety, failure, grace.

I plan to write more about - listening, complexity and paradox ('nuance' as Tim Keller would say), not having all the answers, faith, and my work.

I am also open to suggestions or opinions or pointers from you. What are you interested in here?

Finally, some self-revelation - to engage you ;)

I love to skim gossip magazines, but I hate to buy them. Perhaps this reveals my tight fist and the messiness of my heart. Or that I like my vices surreptitious and almost acceptable.

I never put money in shopping mall rides. Never. Even when you have put money in for your child and let my kids ride too, I won't reciprocate. Thanks for your grace to me and mine.

I am not a good person. Even if you think my job sounds altruistic or hard, or wonder how I listen to people. Stop. I bet I couldn't do your job, or cope with your kids.

I love being alive. I revel in cheek laid on cheek, full-blown magnolia blossoms, beer-battered fish, passionfruit pulp, striding uphill in the city, patterned tights in boots, short-legged dogs running to keep up and footballs kicked hard past the goalkeeper.

I enjoy my 3 year-old's story, told in his bunk, about Simon the purple apple and Jude the green apple. My stories for him are lame in comparison.

Just saying.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

One less have-to

Of course it's somebody else's fault. Telling himself that, makes it easier to be angry, to feel ripped off. He's the victim of his whole existence and taking responsibility for his own life is like a walk across the ice to the south pole.

We call it having an external locus of control. Psychological terms bring distance and a framework and they're an acceptable way to judge people.

How do we ever escape the power of sin?

Being human can feel like a trap, that we have to live out our passions or our mess. That no matter what we do, we'll always end up with a raw deal or having hurt someone.

But here is the truth. We may have a multitude of pressures pushing us to sin, but we don't have to. God's spirit in us frees us from the have-to of sin.

Therefore, dear brothers and sisters,
you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do For if you live by its dictates, you will die.
But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. Romans 8:12-13.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

What is it to be blessed?

My head is full of grumbles when I sit down to ponder being blessed. My heart, well it's not that full. It feels kind of like my wallet after cleaning out all the loyalty cards and frequent sippers. Floppy with unintended, empty space.

It's not that I feel un-blessed. I know my glass is overflowing. But is being blessed really just having a middle class peachy life?

I can list all sorts of things that remind me how nice my life is. I'm uncomfortably silent when someone calls me a good person. But I don't laugh at the idea.

Is it just a way to stoke my home-pride fire? Is blessing meant to make me feel more secure and safe?

What if today's blessing is the grumbling dissatisfaction? The one thing between me and self-satisfaction.

The blessings I rely on make me educated, professionally employed, fertile, loved and appreciated, well-housed, optimistic, frequently hugged, respected, encouraged, healthy and well fed.

And the dissatisfaction, it's not a frequent pang. But I need it to long for heaven because I could easily be fooled that I'm already there.

Have you ever prayed that you won't be smug?

I want to be the one who cackles at being called good. Not me - my goodness is full of holes and crinkles. Everything I have is unearnt and undeserved. Given to me by the only one who is truly good.

And even more. What if the following is true?

That my greatest blessings are my inabilities. My losses. My uglinesses. The bits of me that spark shame. My anxious moments, my lateness, my impatience and my laziness. They are where grace and mercy smoulder. They are my possibility. The place where God can truly work, maybe because I can't interfere there.

Perhaps it is the place where my reliance on me is defused and I begin to rely on God - who is infinitely more trustworthy and gracious. And able.

I am a poor, blind, captive slave. I am blessed because someone has come to bring me favour and set me free. Isaiah's promise has been fulfilled. Today. In my hearing.

Linking with a synchroblog (?#*@?) at Imperfect Prose with Emily.

Monday, July 9, 2012

"We are dawn people."

I've been getting up early to go out and exercise. It's cold and the pumping of my arms warms my cheeks and fingers. Our lithe little dog runs back and forth to keep pace with me as we go around the block, through the park and up past the local pool.

I can see early morning headlights rising over the train line and slowly-filling carriages thunder past sometimes. The sky is navy with a couple of tardy stars and a rumour of daylight. I try to run rather than shuffle, while dawn happens.

I am acqainting myself with the transition of night to day. Enjoying the emergence of light.

Later, I listen to Tim Keller talk about being dawn people. We are people of the light but the darkness lingers. One day we will live full in the sun, but while we wait for that fulfilment, we are walking in the pale, dark sunrise.

That's why we struggle with living the triumphant, sunshine life. That's why our thinking drifts to darkness, and we cannot find the way sometimes. That's why the light gently draws us on - nudging and caressing us into the day.

Have patience. Be ready. The sun is rising amongst us. We are the people of the dawn.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Resurrection is a mystery in an evidence-based, see-it-to-believe-it world. A single case report exists, from a reputable journal and it still get citations, two thousand years later. Is that enough to convince you?

There's a woman I know, whose body is wasting daily from pancreatic cancer. She wears pain like a well-loved cardigan and squeezes every last skerrick of life from the tube. Her family talk of hope that only resurrection can give.

A child fights aggressive neuroblastoma and the treatment itself is scorchingly toxic. Sometimes life has barely lost crispness when it flits away. Her parents will sit empty lapped and wonder. Perhaps a miracle, but often not.

We inhabit these bodies briefly, and they break so easily. But we are not alone.

I cling to the promise that mortality will end. Not only does God's spirit live in me now, but I will be resurrected from my death. When this body, this life fails me, I will be raised as Jesus was raised. One instance of new life will be multiplied thoughout humanity. We will finally see the reality of life without death. What a revelation it will be.

The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. Romans 8:11.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Conversations about getting old

"When my dementing mother dies, and if there is a heaven, what will she be like there?"

It's put to me as a dealbreaker. Could God answer such a question? Can he solve the ambiguity of human deterioration and eternity?

I understand the dilemma. Is it the me who dies who goes to heaven, or the best possible me? Is my brain part of my soul as much as it is part of my mind? Do resurrection bodies have neurofibrillary tangles or Alzheimer's plaques?

The answer comes as we share a cuppa and she talks about visiting her grandmother in the locked ward. It's to stop her wandering since she kept nipping out to the shops and getting lost in her last nursing home.

My friend cries and tells me her dad loves his mum so much that he sits with her and reminds her of all the little details she forgets. He tells the same stories again and he leads her gently by the arm to the same places. He's tender and careful. And so patient. She's fading and sometimes querulous, but he loves her. He sees her spirit, her history, and it transcends her failing brain.

So in heaven, there'll be healed memories. Resurrection brains won't deteriorate. And your dementing mother will be the woman of youthful vigour and care-worn wisdom that you love.

The fingerprints of this life may be on us, but the light of heaven will be within us, among us.

Somehow. God knows.

linking with Emily at Imperfect Prose.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Travel and Memories

Prodigal magazine are having a link-up about travel stories. They included one of my posts last time in the living a better story link-up. I'm joining in again...

If you've ever caught the Bundeena ferry on a sun-soaked afternoon, then you know. That low-lying slow chug, past slope-hugging houses with private beaches and moored runabouts. It's a little like walking on water and absorbing Sunday afternoon through my skin. And I can taste a Golden Gaytime ice cream.

Cook Strait from Makara by Timon Maxey (original artwork)

Patrick's mum points out the picture on the wall at preschool. I asked about their trip to New Zealand, and her smile is part shyness and part pure bliss. They crossed the Cook Strait in a huge ferry and drove as far south as possible. They picnicked with seals and penguins and felt like they were spectacularly alone.

Now they're home, she goes to work and Patrick goes to preschool and the holiday is woven in their days by memory. She's crossed two thousand kilometers in an instant and I can watch it play in her eyes. The impulse passes to me and I'm standing on the same ferry holding a six month old son in the cold ocean wind. Leaning on a rail, looking to the south island. We smile.

There's a hunger to see new places that drives our travel. Sometimes it's acquisative, the desire to have "been there". For others it's a search, to discover more. To somehow know more of ourselves by seeing more of 'the other'. Sometimes it's the revelling in beauty, the lure of new.

But what about the travel driven by escape?

Spurred by persecution or loss.

One woman tells the story of sitting with her three children on a crowded, leaking boat. Sitting preparing to die. And she's one woman in a boat of two hundred. Two hundred on a boat that fits forty.

Sharks circled the boat. Dead travellers were thrown overboard. There's no space for the luxury of respect on a boat of desperation. Now her children wake in the night shaking. Nightmares of lurking sharks and thirsting in a cramped wet corner. She tells me it's a miracle that they survived.

Their journey is indelibly burnt in memory, and it haunts them.

I wonder if it's a miracle that they lived for months in detention on Christmas Island. Whether its a miracle that the family struggles to overcome the disorientation of settling in Australia. But she's right. It's a miracle they're here.

Where did this journey begin? I can only imagine the moment when one decides to run from familiarity forever. Bizarrely, political torture and persecution is dwarfed by the terror of almost dying on a boat to freedom, or enduring the process of seeking asylum. Escape is harrowing.

I don't know the answer, certainly not one that is politically expedient or easily popular. Australia is lost at the moment.* We need wisdom and steadfast, compassionate hearts.

Let's dig into our memories of times we've been desperate. Where has it taken us?

Perhaps we're not so far from getting on a leaky boat, frantically grasping for escape, for life.

*Australia needs audacious solutions to help asylum seekers. Boats are sinking, people are dying.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Back to Romans 8 - remember?

image from here

Jean posted about memorising bible passages and I squirmed because I've been neglecting my brainfood. I've been reading ahead and noting all the similarities and repeated phrases. Is there any way I could memorise all those different ways of saying Jesus lives in me? And put them in the right order?

Memorising is long work - repetition and then more repetition. Like the three tips to get better at any skill...practice, practice and practice. Laying down the memory happens by following that network of synapses again and again. And well, repetition is boring. I'd rather be eating Mint Slice biscuits. Wouldn't you?

This is why it sucks to be human - I just don't care about stuff that is careworthy. I couldn't be bothered working for the good stuff, for treasure that doesn't get mouldy. I'd rather have a Mint Slice. But try those babies after an eternity with the packet open.

This body is going to die, that is certain. All chocolate biscuits will get mouldy and perish. But there's one thing that will give me life - being able to rub noses with the God of the universe. Him making me a place to hang out and cleaning up all my sucky human-ness, so that I can never get mouldy and live forever in the non-perishing heart of God. Amen.

Now for a little repetition...

And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. Romans 8:10

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Conversation over a haircut

photo from stock.xchng

I made one of my infrequent visits to the hairdresser. She's pleasant to chat with, and accepting of my lassez faire, low maintenance attitude to hair. My ignorance of product. We compare stories of my children and her grandchildren. I update her about work and it starts her talking about refugees and migration.

Politics and religion. And immigration. #thingswedon'ttalkabout

She tells stories of people she knows from other cultures - all friends, all sympathetic portraits.

Then asks my opinion about refugees. And Islam and fundamentalism and burqas. She took my hesitation as an invitation for her opinions. No worries, I can do listening.

And she's quite happy to share.

Deep down, it's fear. Fear that refugees are extremists in disguise, that they'll get powerful before we realise it and they'll rip us all off by defrauding Centrelink. That burqas hide disdain and contempt for us. That refugees are different, they're not us and we might not like living next door to them.

I preferred her stories of people she's really met.

But sitting in her space, I found it hard to collect a coherent response. Since than I've formed a few ideas, but it's a long time till my next haircut.

I want to tell her about most of the refugees I've met. That they've been victims of religious persecution rather than perpetrators. That they don't want to leave their home country, they have to. In order to survive. That they spend months, years, days on end, mourning and missing their homes. Grieving the wives or children or siblings who were killed. Trying to forget the wounds they've received or the horror-filled memories seared into their brains.

That most of the Arabic speakers I've met are from Christian minority groups, and that the Iranians are those who have protested the Islamic state. That the idea of refugees promoting fundamentalism, or racial hatred when they bear its scars is oddly ridiculous.

That when she talks of pride in Australia and protecting our Australia, maybe the pride and the protecting rob of us the opportunity to be a nation of strength of character and true compassion.

Just a few ideas. What can you add?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


I was seven months pregnant when I realised it. The waiting wasn't just for bones to get long enough, a heart to beat reliably or lungs to blossom into countless sacs of diffusing membrane. I needed the waiting too.

The unsettled pregnancy sleep prepared me for waking to someone else's need. And the inability to be relaxed and comfortable in my skin for nine months made me appreciate returning to being me. Somehow, the waiting is how I gradually prepared myself to care for a tiny being. For the emotional reality of it.

Plenty of people are happy to remind me that change is hard. Sometimes marathon hard. Sometimes hit by a semi-trailer hard. And waiting is a way to build up for the struggle of change. A long slow drink before we walk out onto an unknown path.

I have been waiting.

And waiting is not a passive time. I wait with my family amidst the squabbles and raucous laughter, the scrapes and the home reader books. I stopped blogging for a few weeks and didn't miss it. Waiting was busy and absorbing. I am getting ready. Unsure for what.

Caught in that moment of knowing preparation is necessary, but bewildered about how to get ready.

I started to think about the group of faithful waiting in Jerusalem. They didn't really know what for. Just told to wait for the gift. They had no idea what would happen to them.

“Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 1:4-5.

They could not have anticipated seeing the flames of God, hearing the wind of his presence and the flurry of talk amongst them. How could they have understood what Jesus meant about a counsellor coming to be with them? That God himself would come amongst them in a new way. A reinvention of the tabernacle.

The pastor reminds me that this is the one festival that the early church celebrated - Pentecost.

 As I wait, I am sharing in that mysterious expectation. I am preparing myself to see God flaming in the world, to hear him blowing past my ears, to witness him bring understanding.

Waiting is the time to pray for eyes to really see and ears to truly hear.

Are you waiting for something?

Linking with Emily at Imperfect Prose

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Join the Story

I read Donald Miller's book A Million Miles In A Thousand Years last year and Prodigal Magazine are linking some posts about what it means to live a good story. Here is my link...

At the moment I'm working here and part of my job is to listen to stories. Messy stories. Tragic, heartwrenching stories. Stories that make me angry. Or start me wondering how people can do what they do. Think people driven from their homes by war or invasion. Centuries of enmity that spill into personal attacks.

These stories have usually left people anxious or depressed or numb. Sometimes they are desperately grieving and thay struggle to catch their breath. Sometimes coming to another country for refuge brings rejection or extreme poverty or ongoing insecurity.

Their stories should not have happened. They are extraordinary in their barbarism. They are stories where death seems imminent and then somehow the storyteller survives. This brings its own surprises, like guilt or shame or gut-wrenching anxiety.

The temptation of hearing struggles is to try to fix them. To have an answer or a solution. Then we could all feel better. And move on.

But I can't fix these stories. I can't undo them or cure them. And 'moving on' is a lifetime's work.

We so love to do, don't we? Sometimes more than we like to be.

My part in the story is to listen. To hear, to acknowledge and to try to understand. To feel the helplessness. The loss. The indignity. And there is a redemptive power in listening. As the story is shared and known. People invite me into their difficult stories.

Listening is my attempt to live a better story.

One of the things I love most about God is that he invites me to be part of his story.

At a conference last Saturday, I heard the biblical narrative summarised as God working to restore his dwelling among us. That we originally shared an intimacy with him that is lost to us in this broken world. That the temple, Jesus and the church are glimpses of God living in the neighbourhood with us, now. And that the climax of God's story will be the new heavens and the new earth where he dwells among us in a new, restored way.

It is only through this bigger story of redemption and restoration, that I can find meaning in the difficult stories I listen to.

Perhaps you struggle to find meaning in the story sometimes?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Blog fast

It's been a long time between posts and I have chosen to justify it by calling it a fast from blogging. I've been trying to study and I've had little of worth to say (online anyway). Real life has been the priority.

The one thing I have been wanting to post is this You-tube clip. Not because it is wonderful or poignant. Rather because it is brash, it is fitting for the National Year of Reading, and because I am chastened by the comment that if you interrupt me, you'll see the 'nasty me'. Too often that is true.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Does Jesus live here?

Romans is reminding me about that great divide between being forgiven and being perfect.

I am no longer dominated by my sinful nature but I still have lapses into selfishness or greed or envy or impatience. At what point does the amount of sin outweigh the Spirit living in me and freeing me?

Perhaps I'm too pedantic and literal in my approach?

It's not measured by my mistakes. It's not weighing up my strengths. There's no movable cut-off point or comparative marking.

Just yes or no to this question.

Does Jesus live here? (~points to chest~)

Do I see actions in my life that are prompted by Jesus? Do I listen to him as he guides me, teaches me and pushes me from within? Do I spend time with him? Do I take every opportunity to know him and to nurture his spirit in me?

Jesus can only live in me if I give him space in my life.

But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.)
Romans 8:9

Saturday, April 7, 2012

We need someone to carry the pain

It's a day to ponder suffering, with a crown of thorns and a whip laid on a table saying CRUCIFY HIM!

And I'm trying to understand that a man can see his father tortured and executed, while his hands cannot escape the grip of their captors. How he must have fought to free them. That his tearing guilt is for failing. And surviving.

He goes back, he tries to help. He cannot keep away from the place that wants to kill him. He cannot surrender. His sleeplessness torments him. His gut-turning memories are more real than now. He's there, rather than here in the room.

It feels flat and strange as I turn it in my mind. And I think I'd find it hard not to giggle because I do that when I can't believe what's happening. I concentrate on symptoms because the story is too terrifying to let it be the focus of  my attention. I'm protecting myself. I make a plan to hear more and let this installment slowly absorb into me, at a manageable pace.

His story is just a sock in my load of washing. I heard it at one-thirty and there's another by three. I fold it and lay it on the orderly pile. Ready to be placed in the drawer, because compartmentalising is the way. And I'm just putting away the stories that I listen to. There's millions more. How many of the seven billion stories contain pain?

Could one man carry all that pain? that guilt? all those stories? Perhaps that why he cried out, forsaken.

I have to shut drawers and pack carefully for my listening, otherwise I would disintegrate. Perhaps you do it, too. We're surviving, aren't we?

Sometimes we need to stop. Ponder the suffering. Then we can really see what this world is about. That we need someone to carry the pain. And it's not humanly possible.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Men get depressed

She's never called it depression before. I know it's taken me years to say it.

Last week she said he's depressed and I nodded because my soul gets stretched like that too. Depressed husbands make themselves push through. They twist their heart darkness into any other possible shape. They call it frustration or they label themselves "the melancholy type" or they just constrict to the necessary, hiding in bed but barely sleeping. They don't say "I'm depressed" very often.

Some have such rigorous self standards that they face a mountain of daily disappointment. Some wrestle with inadequacy bred into their bones and they doubt every urge or idea. Doubt paralyses them, and risking new notions fills them with terror. Fear that they cannot admit or perhaps cannot see.

Grace is the only solution. But depression conceals grace because it is born of self-criticism and failure. Failure to be what we long for, failure to see another's love for us.

So we talk about counselling and 'strategies' for self-care and the last thing he needs is strategies. He's all strategied up and he's worn out because it's another way to 'do the right thing' and be a good husband or father or person. His fear is of giving his all to God and finding nothing left for himself. That God would steal his soul if he offered it.

Someone else fears that God has nothing good to do through him. The fear robs him of passion and motivation. It leaves him misunderstood, dissatisfied and frustrated with himself. Another friend thinks others don't really like him and that man's wife reflects that she's 'a bit of an annoying person'.

It maddens me, this blindness. That we measure ourselves along such human scales, and our inadequacies become an obsession. Arrogance and pride can be about our achievements. But self- criticism is a type of pride too.

I see us all carrying self-critical burdens and they sap the life from us. God wants us to be free of this. Maybe freedom would come from seeing them more clearly and being willing to give them up. Willing to stop defining ourselves with them. To stop letting our imperfections be the barrier to God using us.

Let's turn the measuring around. Stop applying it to ourselves. Put it up against God, measure the life of Jesus. Start looking for achievement and adequacy where we're guaranteed to find it. Give up the flurry to be good enough. Accept ourselves, not to excuse failures but to stop the distracting internal war.

God is not stealing our souls, he's renewing them. We'll never find ourselves empty or soul-bereft trusting him. He's doing more than we can imagine in us (and through us), if we'll let him.

*NB. I write this, not knowing your particular experience of depression or self-criticism. Please forgive me if this does not ring true for you. I'm just reflecting on some things I've been thinking lately. This is not an exhaustive treatise on depression.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Paradox and Pain

We always laugh at Wesley in The Princess Bride, "Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something." Buddhist rhetoric buried in a fairy tale.

No one wants to have pain. It's uncomfortable, distracting and makes most of us feel miserable. Chronic pain can lead to depression and stops many people from working.

No wonder we fight it. Or numb it. Or try to forget it. We're desperate to escape it.

What if it's all the fighting and avoidance that makes pain unbearable?

The third wave of behavioural therapies advocate accepting, rather than fighting, pain. A paradox is emerging. That softening our approach to pain, entering into pain is a step towards lessening it.

Does chronic or repeated pain make you feel tense or upset? Do you fight it?
Try an experiment next time. Instead of becoming distressed, notice it and accept it. Turn it over in your mind and describe it to yourself. Rest in it. Do a careful scan of your body, noting where there is pain and where there is no pain. Don't judge it, just focus your awareness on it.

Let me know what happens.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Surely human/sinful nature isn't that bad?

Sometimes I forget the mess we are in. Dinner turns out well, or Simon kicks a goal at soccer, or we have a fun Saturday night with friends.

Strange how insular I am. How inward-looking.

Then I see a woman who cannot breathe as she cries for her murdered son. And another who believes she can never recover from abandonment and loss. I read a prayer message about an under-thriving baby who probably has fetal alchohol syndrome. And...(insert your example here)

We are torn by our natural hostility to God. And nothing I do can protect me from the ugly possibility of this world. Nothing I do can make me pure, or holy, or wise or truly kind.

Paul carves it in rock here. He needs to shock us, so we stop trusting we can be good enough. We just can't. Human nature is hostile to God - it fights and resists him, it undermines him and lies about him. It struggles to even know what is right, and then forgets to do it.

That's my human nature, my heart - I struggle to know right. I often forget to do it. Sometimes I even decide not to do it. I didn't drink so much that my baby will struggle through life, but I am so enthralled with my own needs that my children have to shout for my attention, and my husband sometimes doubts that I care for him.

Listen to Romans 8:7-8. God, we need help.

For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


"Humility is the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself.

More simply, you could say

the humble person is marked by a willingness to hold power in service of others." Humilitas, page 24.

This is John Dickson's definition of humility, in his recent book, which aims to explore the ancient meanings of humility and it's role today. It was transformed from it's roots in humiliation, an imposition, to a loftier virtue springing out of choice.

Dickson gives many examples of great or famous people who have lead with humility. They are people who have no need to boast or to remind others of their power, instead they act graciously to everyone. Despite insisting he has few credentials to teach on leadership, John Dickson has provided a really clear exposition of the role of humility in good leadership. Perhaps my own ignorance of the leadership literature is evident in this comment. But what more can I say other than I learnt something and that there is a level of scholarship and understanding which is needed to explain concepts simply. John Dickson has that gift.

I wondered if the book was an attempt to sell humility by explaining its value - ie. it makes a good leader into a great leader, so if you're keen on being a great leader, get some humility. Despite the history of bad press, there's some evidence it is the secret behind some business success stories.

There is an uncomfortable tension about finding the reason for humility in greater achievement. I think it discounts the value of humility in small communities and in relative obscurity. It buys into the myth that true human value is found in fame and world-renowned attainment. I've reminded myself before that there is value in living a quiet life and that being seen by the one who sees everything is what matters. What is the value of famous leader humilitas to me? Of course that is a caricature, but it is a possible end-point of this book. And perhaps it is the danger of concentrating on the powerful to explore humility.

Having said that, there is no simple way to explain humility, without encountering paradox. The biblical archetype of humility is Jesus. He began this humility paradigm shift from humiliation to the choice of power surrendered in humility. He is the most powerful being we can imagine, and yet he suffered degradation and was murdered. He never doubted his purpose or his mission, and yet he wept in pain. He rebuked people who got it wrong, but forgave sinners.

And I like John Dickson's upfront way of acknowledging the paradox. He's right, the idea of writing a book on humility and holding oneself up as an authority on it is a little ridiculous. But he tackles that one in the introduction, and aligns himself among us - the ones who struggle to grasp the wind. True humility is elusive and fleeting, and difficult to pursue without running right past it. I believe it is found in seeking to serve others rather than in seeking to be humble.