Lost Art of Community

We live in a time and place where nothing bad really happens. People can go months, years even decades without experiencing anything closely related to trauma. In fact, I’d wager that there’s no shortage of people out there, in their 20’s and 30’s who’ve never experienced abuse, loss or even death. Sure, bad things happen to everyone, but in our western bubble we’ve manged to insulate our daily lives from suffering.

And at first glance, this might look like a great thing, and at one level it is. Safety, security and a dramatic reduction of danger are all a result of affluence. Today we are far more easily able to collect and accumulate personal possessions and wealth then previous generations. In turn, we are far more individualistic then previous generations.

If our society has perfected the art of buffering individuals and groups from harm, why then is this generation one of the worst affected by mental illness? Why is this generation one of the worst affected with behavioural disorders?  We are witnessing a generation rise up who, despite having every comfort, are for the most part the unhappiest generation ever. It is affected with some of the highest rates of depression, schizophrenia, poor health, anxiety and chronic illness in human history. Why, in all our technological advancements in health, security and communication, are we one of the most disconnected and lonely generations of all time? How can we live surrounded in urban environments, some of the densest residential dwellings known to the human race, and yet feel deeply, even dangerously alone?

Maybe, we’ve pursued all these great things and neglected ‘community’ along the way. What if accumulating affluence comes at a cost… What if it decreases our dependence on other people… What if it decreases our motivation to contribute to other people or groups within our society… What if…

What if… humans are built for hardship? What if humans were designed to thrive on it. We live in a time and place where nothing really bad happens. But it comes at the cost of experiencing something of what it means to be human. How do you become a mature adult in a society that doesn’t ask for sacrifice? How do you become a mature adult in a culture that doesn’t demand courage?

We are in the midst of a  generation of ‘adults’ who, for the most part have never been required to sacrifice. A generation that doesn’t know what loss or daily hardships are. So when tragedy strikes, (and it strikes everyone), it’s no wonder that a growing number within our society don’t know how to deal with it. It rapidly escalates and becomes overwhelming, pushing people beyond their limits. It would seem that rather than acting as a buffer, the modernisation of our societies has fostered mental health concerns.

One observation I’d made during my time as a medic in the Army, is that very few soldiers suffered mental health concerns ‘during’ their operational deployment. The soldiers I knew, young men and women, had been thrown into hideous circumstances, exposed to all kinds of traumatic situations, and in the moment, they cope exceptionally well. These young adults, to mention a few things, were dealing with life changing injuries, death, killing, murder, racism, religious extremism, prolonged separation from family and the uncertainty of hidden and indiscriminate enemy explosives. Yet, their health and well-being in the midst of this tribulation was almost always good.

Again, from my observation, there were two primary things that held these soldiers together. The first was a deep sense of comradery amongst the ranks. It was a bond that brought men and women together as brothers and sisters. It was a community that was as close as family. When one person struggled, everyone struggled with them. The second was in that environment everyone had a purpose. There was a obligation to contribute to the collective, and permission to lean on the collective when needed. There was a great honour in being strong, but at the same time there was no shame in moments of weakness. Everyone had a role to play and that role, in the community was meaningful.

But skip forward a few years, and the picture is far more grim. We lost 6 soldiers in combat on our operational deployment, and since then, at last count, we’ve lost 6 more to suicide. There are countless more suffering with ongoing mental health problems such as moral injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and so on. And since returning home, the two things that soldiers relied upon are almost entirely neglected by our affluent society.

Our western culture is highly individualistic. When we get home after work we close the doors and windows and tend to ourselves and our family. The system honours those who work hard and succeed on an individualistic level.

And, as a consequence of heightened individualism, our culture has perfected the art of making people feel unnecessary. People are almost always regarded as indispensable. People aren’t required to contribute to a larger group, and people don’t therefore, have permission to lean upon someone else without feeling a sense of shame.

When a soldier is removed from their tribe-like community, they find themselves overwhelmed by the burden of their experiences because they no longer share it with their peers.

I’m not a mental health professional, and I’m certain that many victims of trauma suffer very real and prolific mental illnesses, but what if sometimes it was less about the trauma itself, and more about the way we as a society prepare, and deal with trauma as a community?

From my own experience, as a Christian, my worldview expects suffering to happen. It gives permission for bad things to take place. The way I look at the world legitimises suffering. I have permission to have good days and bad days, permission to feel lonely and sad. But I also have a hope, that being human isn’t limited to my physical experiences. This way, in the bigger picture, traumatic events don’t undo my entire universe. Sure, for a time they suck, but the fabric that my world is constructed on remains in tact. As a Christian, my suffering has a purpose, even if I can’t see it at the time.

I also found that having deep spiritual and familial connections enabled me to better process the trauma that I’ve experienced. There were nights where I couldn’t sleep as I wrestled with deep injustices that had been committed against innocent people. There were moments were overwhelming sadness came upon me as I wrestled with the concepts of life and death. There’s been times I’ve been was torn to shreds over relationship troubles, but I’ve always found comfort in meeting with like-minded people, allowing them to comfort me and knowing that I was a comfort in return. I found comfort and value in community.

Maybe as a result of all this, we need to be less concerned about immunising ourselves from any risk of suffering, and more concerned about learning how to experience it in a healthy way. Maybe we need to give ourselves permission to struggle and do more to accept others as they struggle.

The White Western Perspective on Masculinity

I was at a men’s forum this week, and was thoroughly challenged to think about the white, western perspective on masculinity and the extended period of adolescence into adult years. My thoughts are clearly rudimentary and I’d love to hear yours. Comment below.

In our current culture there are three imperative stages of life in manhood. Being born. Reaching puberty. And death. (You could argue that menopause is a fourth for women). The result, is a large group of adolescence aged ~30-70. An example given was Australian personality and sporting star: Sam Newman.

It was suggested that our culture is missing Rites of Passage into manhood. Well not entirely… the closest thing we have in Australia is ‘Schoolies Week’, but alcohol, drugs, sex and violence aren’t really challenging boys to be men. Thus, so far as maturity is concerned we are left in a constant state of neither being a child, nor an adult.

You might agree that we see this daily in our communities. Adults incapable of accepting responsibility. Parents burying themselves in financial debt because they want everything, and they want it now. Father’s who express sadness and futility by abusing against their families in temper-tantrum-like behaviour. Road users who use their vehicles as weapons and their hands as abusive communication devices because they feel that they are obviously more important than their neighbours. The list is endless, we could go on with any number of examples of where adults have failed to grow up.

In generations past, education was focused on learning about your parents’ life experience and replicating it, hopefully at some point extending it. Yet with the industrial revolution and the working class moving into factories, the father-son unit was split, and something had to be done with boys too young to work. Boys were sent to school to learn how to work in and manage factories. They were expected to graduate as men, but the system had failed. Academia does not equate to maturity. The point being, that adulthood was being delayed.

And now, according to our culture, it’s viewed that we can’t get an honourable job until we’ve completed 12 years of schooling, and 3 to 4 years of post-school training, either technical or academic. The point being, that adulthood is further being delayed.

It is a generalisation, but there are now several generations of Australian men who have avoided maturity. Now, for my Christian brothers and sisters, please don’t here me in the light of our good friend Mark Driscoll. I’m not calling for more machoism. I’m certainly not asking for more testosterone. I’m suggesting that what we need is to go back to the root what masculinity is. We need to embrace maturity and rediscover what it means for men in today’s culture.

At the forum this week it was discussed that youthful men typically take pride in their ‘maleness’. But as they become older, they tend to soften becoming more even tempered. They develop a caring nurturing side to their maleness. They find increased value in family and their experiences tend to be filtered with the lens of subjectivity rather than objectivity. Thus, as far as a cultural definition, (albeit misguided), males tend to start off more masculine and grow increasingly feminine with time. Unfortunately our culture doesn’t have a positive process for this to happen, and these changes take place in the midst of various forms of trauma. War. Abuse. Neglect. Depression. Physical and Mental Trauma.

(It might be seen that the opposite is true with women, they often are conditioned by society to be more ‘girly’ as children, playing with dolls and being pre-occupied with cooking, make-up and clothes, but as they grow older becoming parents and grandparents, they develop masculine traits such as stoicism and resilience).

As males culture places us on a spectrum of genderness, and our culture defines what is acceptable depending on our stage of life.

With all respect. I think this is ludicrous.

As a Christian I believe that God has created everyone unique. Neither individuals, nor the human collective, is at the centre of the universe. (Sorry to burst the bubbles). Every being in heaven and on Earth was created to worship God as the centre.

In God’s grand design he chose to make ‘male’ and ‘female’. We have discovered that He chose to take a combination of both a father’s and a mother’s genetic code and transfer that to a conceived child. Thus, each individual is going to express both masculine and feminine qualities. There are many influences on this in the pre-natal, early developing, and adolescent stages of life.

It’s time Australia stopped trying to cookie cut males into testosterone fuelled men. It’s time Australia starting embracing men for who they are and helping them to become who they were created to be. For the Christian community it’s time to share the love of Jesus which has never been dependent on sexual disposition. The current white, western perspective on masculinity stifles our culture and stops us moving into a new era of manhood.

On an aside, but an important one. I advocate the accuracy of the Bible. I affirm innerancy and divine inspiration. The scriptures are clear that corruption has infiltrated all generations of humanity. Sexuality, especially manhood, has been warped by sin. The result is: Confusion. Loneliness. Depression. Hate. Anger. Violence. Abuse. Neglect. Rape. Even same-sex attraction.

I believe God is deeply troubled by sin. In fact, he was so concerned for those he loved, that he demanded that his Son, Jesus, receive their death sentence. A demand that He willingly obeyed.

But, I believe that scripture is less concerned about the individual sin, and more concerned about the broken relationship that it causes with God. No matter how much damage you’ve caused with the weapon of masculinity, God is more concerned about your relationship with Him.

Men, no matter where you fall on the spectrum of masculinity, and no matter how you express yourself, the gospel is still true. And it’s still calling you to action. God has the power to restore hurting and broken people into a new and beautiful reflection of His glory.

Love Revived… How Should Christians Treat the LGBT Community| John Reid

I reblogged this video from John Reid. I found it while reading a blog he wrote titled 6 Ways Christians Can Love Homosexuals Better.

I very much agree with his point of view. It does raise some further questions for me, but overall it’s quite clear and the tone is perfect… It’s an outright apology, and that’s the way it should be.

I too am sorry for ever offending anyone from the LGBT community by not being as loving as I should be. I have little doubt that I have unnecessarily hurt people by trying to share my faith with them. For that, and many other reasons, I am a sinner and in need of God’s grace. If it’s you that I’ve offended, then I want to take you out for a meal and apologise in person.

Skin Deep Beauty

This stuff pisses me off.

A 14 year old girl, as part of the competition on a talent show, gets taken to a plastic surgeon. The surgeon tells her that although she is 14, she actually looks 30. And to break into the entertainment industry she needs cosmetic surgery. (Article, and original music audition is here)

At least her mother’s response was ethical:

“We teach our children to be proud of who they are, that they should be judged not by the colour of their skin but by their good actions,” said Ruanthi, who come from Sri Lanka. “Suddenly, my daughter was told that her skin, her nose, her face are not right; my heart was breaking.”

In a world that screams that beauty is skin deep, how important is it that we teach our youth that our true identity is not found in the way we look but in the person of Jesus Christ? That Jesus Christ accepts people of all sizes, colours, races and genders. We have been created, as we are, for a purpose.

True beauty is found in a loving nature, a caring spirit and sacrificial service of others. Let’s encourage young people to find real beauty in the way they carry themselves and not the way they flaunt themselves. Let’s teach young Christians that God looks at the heart, and not at the skin. That clothes and shiny jewellery don’t add beauty they only enhance what’s already there. Let’s teach that living a life under the love of Christ is the only thing that eternally matters.

And for God’s sake: Can the adults of this generation please start leading by example?

1 Peter 3:3-4. “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewellery, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.”

Proverbs 31:30. “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

1 Samuel 16:7. “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Father of aborted child charged with murder…

So this has been bothering me for a while. Why is it that an aborted fetus is disregarded and incinerated as medical waste, yet a miscarried fetus is treated with human-like dignity?

Additionally, if you’re at fault in a car accident and an unborn child’s life is lost along with the mother’s… You are accountable for two accounts of murder/manslaughter.

I’ve been bothered that the value of an unborn life is determined by how ‘wanted’ it is by it’s mother.

Then I found this article. An American man has been charged by authorities for tricking his spouse into receiving an abortion via a pill.

The man is being charged with falsely impersonating a medical professional to attain the medication, and also with murder. He has admitted guilt and settled for a lessor punishment.

The agreement spared him from a potential sentence of life in prison on the original charge of murder under the Protection of Unborn Children Act.

Obviously what he did is wrong… But I can’t help but to think, why is it not murder if the woman chooses to take the medication. What if the roles were reversed? What if he wanted to keep the child and she didn’t?

How can governments be pro life yet pro abortion yet punish people for practicing it…? I’m confused.

Id like to tack on the end here a little about redemption. There’s a great book called ReDemption by Mike Wilkerson which is part of the ReLit series forwarded by Mark Driscoll. It talks about recovering from physical and emotional abuse. I don’t want to be the guy who condemns people for their choices. I am pro life and anti abortion, but I’m not the guy who sits back and judges people for their actions. If you’ve found this blog post and are struggling with abortion related problems, I’d really encourage you to give this book a read and see where you end up at the end. Many blessings.

My failed VoIP convo about [R]eligion: If I had my time again!

So yesterday, I’m hanging out on Mumble  (VoIP) with some mates that I’ve met through an online game I play far too much of. They all know I’m in the Army and also studying to be a chaplain. ‘Gramps’ (her nickname) decides to ask me about ‘my view on religion’.

I figure this is my element and start to rattle off a few clichés like “I think it’s good to tolerate everyone’s religion, and therefore I expect people to tolerate mine” or “Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs and I don’t expect everyone to agree with mine”. I did chirp in a doctrinal statement like “My personal beliefs are found in the Christian scriptures”.

And with that I was done. The conversation had moved on and someone was talking about their athiestic views (which were entirely valid and came from a well thought through position).

To be honest, I was pretty disappointed with myself. I had 2-3 minutes to talk about my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and what I think about the world’s religions. What I did talk about was a wishy washy, all accepting, blasé, water-down version of how everyone should stop arguing and live in harmony. Man I sound like a Greeny.

I left the convo feeling that I had failed not only myself, Jesus’ message, but also my friends. They genuinely wanted my opinion, and for some reason, I hardly touched on what I really thought about Religion.

So here goes. Gramps, If I had my time again here is what I would say about Religion.

To start: what religion isn’t! It isn’t a CRUTCH. It grinds my gears when people say ‘You’re a Christian because it makes life easier’. Or, ‘You’re a bad person and therefore need religion to control your behaviour’. I can understand why people might think these things, but Christianity hasn’t made my life ‘easier’. I’m still a bad person (maybe not by the world’s standards) even after my religion is considered.

Religion isn’t a means to violence and war. People have undoubtedly used religion to fuel war, and there have without a doubt been wars based on religion. This doesn’t mean that the bible condones it.

Religion doesn’t give ignorant people the right to fight with educated people about things like science. There are undoubtedly things that where written 2000-4000 years ago that contradict a modern understanding of science. The bible wasn’t written as a scientific account of the world. [Edit: It does however tell the story of how humans can become part of God’s family. It is divinely inspired, 100% of the bible is accurate, non-contradictory and scripture always serves a particular purpose, which is often not what people use it for. ie. to justify persecuting the LGBT community.]

This is what the bible says about religion:

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:27.

I think the world sees a good religion as one that helps those around itself. Caring for the sick and needy. Helping the poor. A religious person is one who has a high moral regard, and cares deeply about how the present themselves to the world. They don’t talk trash, gossip, lie, steal, murder etc etc etc.

But that being said, it’s REALLY IMPORTANT to draw a line between Religion and God. Religion as the world experiences it doesn’t represent God. The local priest, trainee chaplain or crazy religious nut on Reddit.com fails to represent God in all His Glory. Some do a better job than others. But all fail at some point. So if your question is: ‘what is my opinion about religion?’ then my answer must be that “religion is trying to make a difference in the world based on a single persons, or groups ‘religious’ beliefs and values. This doesn’t have to be about a god or spirit or whatever, but I think it also includes people who hold so tightly to their beliefs that they make it ‘their religion’. ie. A animal activist that devotes their whole life to saving animals and would be willing to lay down their lives for that cause. That in my opinion is their religion. A soccer player who dedicates their whole life to being the best and will sacrifice friends, family and loved ones to achieve their sporting goals. That is their religion. I reckon some people have got their beliefs right, I reckon some have got their beliefs wrong, and 99% of everyone are somewhere in-between.

So why do I try and make a difference in the world through MY RELIGION. Because I’m called to be like Jesus. I and YOU and WE ALL are created to imitate Jesus. Yes, Jesus tolerated the other religions, but he didn’t accept their beliefs as truth. Yes, Jesus loved all the people around Himself, but He never let that love compromise who He was or what He stood for. He did this to the point of dying. He stood firm in His convictions. And this is I think the true message of Christianity, that Jesus died so that we can have a relationship with God. We should imitate Christ, in everything, including anything up to and including death.

Christ didn’t ‘do religion’ to be a good person, He didn’t do it for the money, cars, animals, women, fame or even for himself etc etc etc. He did it for God. His message and life was to show everyone else that life is all about God. For me, Religion is all about God. My opinion on religion is just this: its a means of glorifying God.

Maybe if your interested you could ask about my opinion on God and Christianity, the convo will be alot different and I’ll try and do you more justice in answering that one on Mumble. 🙂

[Insert your deepest darkest thought here]

How would you feel if your deepest and darkest thoughts were transparently projected over YouTube. What would you do if your secrets were shown to your friends, family… to the world.

[Insert your deepest darkest thought here].

The bible shows that we all have inappropriate desires. You most definitely have desires and secrets that you try to hide from the world. What are your desires? What things have you done that you would do anything to keep secret?

Ten years ago, I felt helpless to control my desires. My need for self-gratification left me in a state of dis-repair. No matter how hard I tried too improve, I found myself in a downward spiral. Every time I thought I’d found a solution to my lack of satisfaction, I would find another way of hurting myself, or someone around me. In the time that I spent with a complete disregard for God’s purpose for my life, I collected physical, spiritual and emotional burdens which are still with me in today’s walk. Like me I’m sure there’s tonnes of solid Christians who would agree that the addictions, behaviours, and attitudes of their youth still weigh heavily upon them today.

So whether you are like me and are still dealing with the decisions you made ten years ago, or you are in the midst of making decisions that you just know aren’t right, now is the time to grasp to some truths that can potentially liberate you from the unhealthy desires of your heart.

Maybe it’s something that you haven’t done, but something that has been done to you. What is it that you couldn’t tell anyone because of shame, guilt or fear? Who hurt you so bad, that you feel guilty because of it?

Mike Wilkerson, author of Redemption, writes this:

“it’s not our raw experiences that determine our lives but the meaning we make of them – the stories we tell an the stories we believe. Out of those stories we live our lives”.

Mike encourages his readers to look at abuse, addictions and other assorted troubles through the lens of scripture.  The problem isn’t that God has abandoned us in our pain, but that sometimes we refuse to face it without him.

It’s important to know that God hasn’t just rescued us from our sin, but also our fear, our doubt and our guilt.

I’m not writing to give you the answers, but just to point lost people to the bible. It does have the answers.
A good place to start is to realise that despite how you feel, God loves and cares for you.

Psalm 23

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.