If ever there was evidence that our nation still has a soul, it’s this day.
If ever there were a need for this day to impact the soul of our nation, it is now.
If ever a day could inspire our nation toward hope and healing, it’s this day.
It’s bigger than a football match. It’s more than a moment of solace. It’s larger than a journey to a foreign land. It’s grander than a medal acknowledging bravery. It means more than a bible verse quoted out of tradition.
If ever we needed the words ‘We will remember… Lest we forget.’, it is, this and EVERY day.
The spirit of Anzac Day lives only through the soul of a nation that each day declares it’s truth.
This and every other day. Word. Deed. Heart. Soul.
As another year comes to a close we turn our thoughts to the rush and tumble of Christmas, and I have to confess that I do love it. Amidst the high-paced madness found in buying gifts, meeting friends and consuming food there is so much fun to be had. I mean, Christmas gives us an excuse for parties, presents and feasting, and who amongst us doesn’t enjoy such things?
That said most people will find the silly-season a little overwhelming (or completely all-consuming) at some point, and if you’re anything like me you may also find yourself asking… ‘why?’
Why am I so stressed?
Why am I so busy?
Why am I so time-poor?
Why am I so debt ridden?
Why am I so preoccupied with everything other than the things that really matter?
Why am I subjecting myself to the chaos of Christmas yet again and when will this madness end?
Whilst I understand that such questions emerge as we are faced with all things Christmas, I do think we are being a little bit hard on ourselves. Make no mistake the very first Christmas was chaotic! A pregnant teenager and a shocked father-to-be homeless and on the road, it doesn’t get more messy than that! One can only imagine what they must have been experiencing. (Check out the short clip below made by my good friends at YesHeIs.com for a modern day spin on Mary & Joseph’s journey).
G O D W I T H U S
I’ve often pondered what Mary and Joseph must have felt as they approached that very first Christmas. Perhaps the chaos as we know it today is not that different to those who lived out the very first Christmas? And if this is the case, perhaps we have more in common with those who were expecting the birth of Jesus than we care to admit?
You see, when a child is born (expected or not) EVERYTHING changes. People pause to stare at new-life and they believe for a moment that hope is somehow real. Their hearts soften. They marvel at the beauty before them, a new-creation with the freedom to write a new story through a life unfolding. The blank page of possibility reflects from their blurry big eyes and it’s unlike anything else ever seen. This is true for newborns today, and this was especially true for the Christ child born in Bethlehem.
For many, a baby born in a manger two thousand years ago to a teenage girl and unsuspecting father is completely unbelievable. Even more unbelievable is that this child is claimed to be the Saviour of the universe – the Messiah, Immanuel, God with us. Some were unsure about this at the time of Christ’s birth, and it comes as no surprise that people today would still find this difficult to believe. I mean how could a perfect God be present in such an imperfect situation?
I happen to believe that ALL of Christmas, even the manic crazy and chaotic aspect of it contains something of the subtext of Jesus’ coming into this world. I guess no matter which way you look at it Christmas can only ever be about Jesus. Preparation for His coming, His arrival, and His life-giving presence all point us to the redeeming nature of God in this world. And I believe that God can be found in this time, even in the lives of unlikely, unmarried, expectant teens.
(c) 2014 The Babes Project, photo taken by Kipindi Photography. Used with permission.
U N L I K E L Y H E R O E S
There are thousands of young women and men in Australia (and abroad) who enter this season as Joseph and Mary once did – experiencing all of the doubts, fears, and anxiety known at the very first Christmas. They too are about to become parents. For them it’s messy, challenging, unexpected and perhaps we owe it to them to offer an alternative perspective of their situation?
If it was good enough for the God of the universe to enter human history this way, maybe it is possible these struggling parents-to-be also bear the image of the same God in the context of their circumstances? Perhaps we would do well to point that out rather than pointing the finger and adding further condemnation to their already difficult situation?
I have witnessed first hand the work of organisations like Compassion* and The Babes Project* who continue to do exactly that. They offer practical support and care to young people facing crisis pregnancy. Their efforts extend beyond giving them stuff (although they do this too and it is extremely helpful). They offer love, acceptance, care and hope. Their resounding message is ‘you are not alone because we are with you!’
It is their presence alongside these often frightened and vulnerable people that is the reaI gift of hope.
I can only lament that these incredible people and programs did not exist when I was faced with the prospect of becoming a Dad for the first time, for if ever there was a sign of the hope of Christmas they are it!
I T ‘ S L I F E , B U T N O T A S W E K N O W I T
Pondering the first Christmas a friend of mine once mused,
“… I was struck by the outrageous way that the reputation of Christ born into a patriarchal society, was tied in with that of a young unwed woman. Why wasn’t someone chosen of more proven moral standing? Anyone wishing to deny Christ only need deny the character of a teenage girl. It’s not the most watertight basis for a claim of divinity. But isn’t this like our God that he throws his lot in with the unproven and stands in solidarity with the unlikely? And when the character of those he stands with is rubbished, his image is tarnished too.” – Laura Florisson
New life is always a gift. This is true today and we can be sure that this is true of Jesus born over two thousand years ago. A baby born is always good news and Jesus birth is the Ultimate good-news story of the day. It was (and is) God screaming to all creation ‘you are not alone – I AM with you!’
In your fears, I AM with you.
In your anxiety, I AM with you.
In your shame, I AM with you.
In your pain, I AM with you.
In your uncertainty, I AM with you.
In your brokenness, I AM with you.
In the chaos of Christmas, I AM with you.
The great I AM comes in the form of new-life and new-life is to be found everywhere. Can you see it, even amidst the chaos? Because paradoxically the joy and peace of Christmas can also be found there. So pause. Remember Him. Examine His life. His words. His actions. Look for the many signs of new life all around you. Oh… and of His birth? Consider what it is His birth represents.
A Youth Worker a Nun and a drunk are seated on a plane together… I know, it sounds like the beginning of a bad joke but the story I shared in the short clip above is 100% true. I (the youth worker, just to be clear) found myself in a near impossible situation stuck in the middle of two people with whom I was unable to connect with or escape. To the left of me, a person who was about to share the inside of their stomach, to the right of me a person that represented all things good and wonderful and holy. And then there’s me, completely and utterly stuck in the middle.
Everyone feels stuck from time to time. Life has a way of sometimes taking us to some very tough places. We look one way and we see challenges and struggles, it feels as though the proverbial bile of the universe is moments away from dropping into our lap. We look in the other direction and we see all things good, beautiful and wonderful, we desperately want to find our way there but it seems as though there is no conceivable pathway to get there.
Stuck somewhere between the fear that our challenges will never ease and the hope that maybe one-day we will somehow come through the other side. You know the feeling?
Like when we crave the restoration of a relationship gone wrong.
As we deal with the rejection of a lost a job whilst trying to find another.
Like when we face the bully who won’t go away.
Like living in a period of ill-health without a foreseeable improvement.
Or just feeling ‘blah’ for no apparent reason. All of these can leave us feeling totally and completely STUCK with no way out.
Situations like these might take us to the end of our tether, but they do not need to be the end of the story. There’s more to be written. A new script. A new day. A new story. Full redemption is possible and it begins with a conversation.
It’s exactly at this point that we need to call on the most valuable of all our assets. We pull out the big guns, the high-end ammunition and attack it with the full arsenal of weapons at our disposal –
W E A S K F O R H E L P
So I’m sitting on a plane, stuck between fear and hope. My anxiety was paralyzing and my feelings of panic were off the chart. What did I do (aside form panic) you might ask? Well I did the only thing I could do. I reached out and hit the button. I called out for HELP. The flight attendant came to my aid, ushered the spanish speaking Nun from her seat. I was able to get out, the vomitus vixen to my right was able to get to the bathroom and do whatever she needed to do. Shortly after we all resumed our seat and continued on the journey. Problem addressed. Sometimes all we can do is call out I NEED HELP and sometimes that is enough. But how will we ever know unless we speak up?
I have felt really stuck many times, and many times I have had to ask for help. On one occasion it saved my life. I suspect that you might be surprised at just how many people there are who are also willing to help you. But in order to unlock this support it’s possible you need to speak up. Talk to a friend, your family, your parents, your doctor. Or if you prefer contact one of the many HELP lines available (I’ve listed some below).
The bottom line is you’ve got to seek some HELP and now is the time to do it. Coincidentally today is R U OK? day, so consider yourself asked! Should you need to I hope you can answer with these three simple words:
I N E E D H E L P
Say them, repeat them, type them, write them, send them to someone, SCREAM them if you have to.
I N E E D H E L P
Oh… and if someone trusts you enough to share these words, please respond well. Sometimes it is as simple as just listening as they talk about what is troubling them, but this simple act can indeed save a life. (You might like to check out the R U OK site for some excellent tips and resources for both helpers and those seeking help.)
Saying ‘I need help’ is an important step toward hope, change and becoming un-stuck.
So remember these three simple words. They could very well save your life.
This is the last of the three post series on the topic. Thanks for hanging in there with me, I know it’s been pretty heavy. As always, I’m keen to know your thoughts. Where have you found help? What or who gives you hope? When have you said ‘I Need Help’?. Lets keep this important conversation alive.
If you’re in need of immediate support or medical assistance call 000, or contact:
“If less people were concerned about attaining greatness, we might actually see more truly great leaders.”
I frequently speak with extraordinary young leaders that are genuinely capable of setting the world alight, and are well on their way to doing so. It always leaves me hope-filled when I have the privilege of listening to their dream for a better world and what they are doing to take some serious steps toward that possibility. Inevitably we’ll talk about their goals and what it is that motivates them, we’ll discuss their vision, their strategy, their short term and long term plans and then marvel at how, if it all comes together, they’ll get to the end of their life and be receiving the nobel peace prize in their chosen field!
There are few things more exhilarating than dreaming with another how the impossible can become possible. But the more time I spend with incredibly gifted and talented leaders I am increasingly aware of the potential for their shadow-side to dominate their motivation. Leaders are ambitious by nature and for the most part this is how they get (good) things done.
“There is however a fine line between noble ambition and the pursuit of personal acclaim.”
It is not uncommon for me to discover that a carefully articulated dream with seemingly good intention turns out to be a catalyst motivated more by an individuals desire for personal greatness. Don’t get me wrong, I am NOT anti-personal-achievement. But this desire for notoriety is a game changer, and not in a good way. Here’s some reasons why I think the pursuit of greatness can work against you.
1 – The pursuit of personal greatness is perversely counterintuitive
In his book Humilitas John Dickson unpacks the virtue of humility (check out the clip below). He articulates, brilliantly I might add, the sentiment that the most influential leaders are those who understand that it is not ALL about them, and with genuine humility live as though this is true. I tend to agree with him. A genuine focus toward the other communicates that the leader is motivated beyond personal gain making them and their dream incredibly attractive. The opposite to this is of course equally true, no one wants to be led by a self obsessed glory seeking monster, and the quickest pathway to becoming that is the pursuit of personal glory.
A leader cannot achieve their goals without the support and contribution of others. If they are to accomplish a desired outcome they need followers who will buy into their dream and be a loyal to them in pursuit of that. This requires high trust between the leader and follower/s and a clear understanding that ALL are integral to the success of the mission. It also helps if they stand to benefit from the success of the dream (or their version of it) as much as anyone else does. The quickest way for a leader to lose that support is to communicate either in word or deed that the goal is actually for the personal gain of the leader and the leader alone.
2 – Greatness is a bi-product of ones actions, it cannot be strategically attained.
When I think of some of the greatest people to have lived I immediately think of those that were committed to a bigger and better dream for all of humanity. People like Mother Theresa, Ghandi, Einstein, Mandela, Sir Douglas Nicholls. Some might argue this is also true for some of the greatest business leaders of the modern era like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates for example… neither list is exhaustive nor any of them perfect, but they are certainly people that can be described as having achieved greatness in their time. They simply lived in a way that would bring about their dream for humanity – and others followed suit as a result.
There is however a common thread to each of their stories. Each life demonstrates the common theme of sacrifice.
They did not set out to be great. They did not plan to attain riches and royalty as a result of their greatness. In fact history records many truly great leaders refused to embrace the accolades thrust upon them as a result of their achievement. They did however count the cost, lay down their lives and decide each day to live their vision into reality.
The best example of this in my humble opinion is Jesus of Nazareth. Regardless of your religious persuasion it cannot be ignored that that his sacrificial life modelled what it means to be truly great. Two thousand years later and billions of followers over time… History would suggest that he probably knew what he was talking about. I’ll let his words alone speak:
3 – Personal acclaim requires self-preservation, greatness demands risk
Truly great leaders will try new things and be prepared to fail. There is a hint of insanity to this. It goes against mainstream culture to try things that are not yet tested, proven, and accepted as fact. And why? Often because leaders view failure as the antithesis of greatness and with risk comes the possibility of failure. As a result RISK has become a four letter word (check out my previous post on RISK avoidance and its effect on creativity for more on this).
Yet those that have done truly great things have been prepared to take risks, be they small or large risks, there is an acceptance that it will require attempting the untried and believing there will be a positive impact for the greater good. They’ll risk failure, they’ll risk reputation, they’ll even risk their freedom. But they do it with the greater good in mind. They know that there is an alternative reality to attain and they put it all on the line in the hope that it will come to be.
Perhaps greatness does afford certain privileges but it can certainly be argued that the truly great were not enamoured by such things. I resonate with the words of William Arthur Ward to describe the key attributes of greatness:
I am convinced that more leaders must prioritise these attributes. Goodness, humility, service and character are evident in ones everyday small decisions. One must choose these virtues over immediate pleasures and more convenient options. To live this way requires faithfulness to the cause and a decisive intentionality.
“We can indeed choose to live this way today, but whether or not we choose these attributes will surely determine whether greatness chooses us.”
Over to you. How have you seen greatness in others? What do you think it takes to be truly great? Feel free to comment below… I’m keen to know you thoughts.
Many a time I have told the story of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. After serving twenty seven years for daring to stand against apartheid, he was finally released. February 11, 1990. It was a remarkable day. A day where a man walked into freedom and the world was there to greet him. Even more remarkable though was the freedom his nation would inevitably experience as a result of his release. On that day chains were broken, eyes were opened, wrongs were acknowledged and lives were set free. Whilst it would take another four years before apartheid was officially over turned, his release was indeed a catalytic moment in the future redemption of his people. Nelson Mandela walked the path into freedom and he carried the freedom of his country with him.
He was beaten, but not defeated.
He was muted, but never silenced.
He was isolated, but never alone.
He was abused, but not beyond repair.
He was imprisoned, but has been and will forever be… FREE.
I dreamed of one day meeting him, shaking his hand and thanking him for leading one of the most significant human rights movements of the modern era. Not that my thanks as a white Australian is as warranted as one of his fellow countrymen, but as one committed to the betterment of humanity through the restoration of of the world I have always been inspired by Mandela. I would have given anything to look him in the face, to see the lines on his skin caused by years of faithfulness, to listen to the stories of his life, and to look into the eyes that stared adversity in the face; and won. It just seems right that I would say ‘thank you’. Mandela is a hero of mine, a beacon of light who reminds us that it is possible to make a significant difference in the world even when our enemy has us backed-up against the wall.
As the world mourns the death of Mandela, I’m fascinated by the many articles and media reports that are circulating regarding his extraordinary life. Some are honouring of him and his cause, some are indifferent, and many simply reporting his death as another piece of news because he is a world leader. I have to wonder, does this typify the opinion of the average person and the general population toward Mandela? Is it possible that someone as remarkable as he can become simply another news item to be reported? Surely not. Surely the life of Mandela is worth far more than that.
Nelson Mandela has taught me many things, but probably the single greatest lesson I have learned from this great leader and spiritual giant is that
Freedom is determined by our state of mind as much as it determined by a physical space…
You see it is possible to be free yet live as one imprisoned, Mandela knew this well. The day he was released from prison he was confronted with this reality. Mandela had every shade of human dignity removed from him over the course of his twenty seven years in prison. It was recorded on his day of release that he emerged an angry and bitter person. There was however a ‘moment’. As history records it, Mandela was informed by thirteen words that would forever change his life, his nation, and the world as we know it. Those words?
‘Nelson… now that you are free, do not let them make you their prisoner!‘
The life of Mandela serves as a constant reminder that imprisonment is not just about physical restriction and isolation, his life demonstrates the power of a person that is prepared to pursue an alternative future motivated by hope. And this is freedom.
Freedom from a system that would otherwise continue to control him.
Freedom from his own demons that would otherwise continue to torment him.
Freedom from vengeance that would otherwise thwart his cause.
And freedom from evil that will triumph when good people are not free to live different!
It seems our culture is somewhat confused about freedom. Many are afforded freedom yet frequently make choices that cause them to live as though they are imprisoned. Others seem more concerned with their right to be free, than they are concerned for actually living free. Either way, the outcome is the same. A distorted view of freedom that will not breathe life into the lifeless and bring light into the darkness. And then there is Mandela… A man who knew what it meant to live free and to be a giver of light and life in order that others would also be free.
Vale Nelson Mandela. In my mind you were not just a freedom-fighter, you were freedom-giver. May your dream live strong, and may your legacy be found in our freedom.
It isn’t easy to be true to ourselves. I know this first-hand. It seems everyone has an opinion as to how we should behave, what we should think and who we ought to be. Sometimes these opinions are loud and obvious, but more often than not they’re subtle, yet relentless. Think about it; the music we listen to, the movies we see, the experiences we pursue, the friends we keep… they all play a part in shaping who we are, and can therefore also say something about the person that we want to be known as. I mean, do we really believe that our true self is valuable and worth discovering anymore?
What do ABBA, Cliff Richard, Celine Dion, Katrina and the Waves, Gina G., and t.A.T.u all have in common? Each one owes a debt of gratitude to those who voted them winners of the euro trash contest that helped further (or launch) their career, EUROVISION!
That’s right people, it’s that time of year again and I couldn’t resist writing about it. Every year since 1955 Europe broadcasts to hundreds of millions around the globe a combination of kitsch pop, questionable fashion and the worlds worst television hosting. Some of the acts are… well… just plain embarrassing. Yet it is still one of the most watched and influential music contests in the world.
Eurovision always delivers – exactly what it delivers is debatable, but you can be sure that 2013 will be no different. What can we expect to see you might ask? Of the many things I love about Eurovision the main things I look forward to are:
Interesting fashion… I obviously use the word ‘fashion’ loosely. Eurovision usually resembles a fancy dress party with a hybrid eighties/futurama/horror/formal-wear theme. If you think I’m joking, just think back to 2006 and Finland’s Lordi performing Rock Hallelujah dressed as creatures from another world.
Next we all enjoy the entry featuring a goat herder of sorts playing a wind instrument we have never seen or heard of before. Generally speaking I think world-music is sensational, but, where on earth do they find these people? Oh wait, that’s right… they find them in Europe.
Then of course there are the hosts. The formula is simple – pick two very attractive people, tell them to speak english (even though it is clearly their second language), read the tele-prompter, show your teeth, and get more crowd cheers than your co-host. Every year they look and sound more awkward reminding me of Victor and Sveta of Fast Forward fame rather than the celebrity clad models they apparently are.
All that said this thing is BIG. Very few events on the planet gather as much attention and media coverage as Eurovision. The question is, umm, why? What is it about this contest that makes it so popular? Who can say, but this is an opinion piece so for what it’s worth here’s my thoughts. People love Eurovision because:
1. It’s so very bad. Western culture is bombarded with ‘perfection’. We are frequently exposed to slick presentations, perfectly edited commercial quality viewing that is full of attractive people looking and dressing like we probably never will, selling us products promising we will look like them if we make a purchase, and we generally don’t feel very good about ourselves as a result. Enter something like Eurovision… some of the performers are not what we would expect, the hosts frequently fumble through, some of the outfits look a little on the odd side, some of the performers don’t quite nail it… It is any wonder people enjoy watching this! It is easy to feel good about oneself when watching Eurovision. One can be less than perfect and still be liked – popular even!
2. Another reason people like Eurovision is because it is a little bit hipster. Take European art, bizarre fashion, and performers not known in the mainstream, and you have a new fad waiting to occur. Of course the minute we all cotton on to this brilliant new-thing it becomes ‘so last minute’.
3. Finally, the power of ‘shared experience’ (on peptides in the case of Eurovision) leaves people feeling connected to a bigger story. It matters not what the context and content of the gathering is, if people come together around a common focus they feel connected to others and part of something bigger than themselves, which is incredibly important for one’s sense of belonging. Seems we are a lonely bunch and something as simple (and strange) as Eurovision can bring people together in ways they otherwise would not.
So… should we watch it? absolutely! It helps us to feel better about ourselves, we are drawn into the world of ‘weird and now’, and we get to experience something of global proportions along with so many others. When you think about it the characteristics of Eurovision resemble that of most major historical culture-shaping phenomenons – it does not make sense to me but it sure is entertaining. A friend of mine said it like this,
“What’s not to love – bad music, dodgy dance moves, cringe worthy conversation between the hosts, a rigged vote count where allied countries ‘surprise surprise’ vote for each other??? It all equals one heck of a night of amusing entertainment ;-)”
And I agree with her! So get with your friends, dress like a goat herder, and watch it on SBS this weekend. To put you in the mood check out Ireland’s 2008 entry below, three cheers for Dustin the Turkey!
It might shock you, but I have been foolish enough to carry a big little secret (or two) in my life.
There was the time that I accidentally vacuumed up part of a deceased persons ashes and then proceeded to do my best to cover it up.
Then there was the time I stole a friends watch and pretended that someone gave me one just like it.
Then there was the time that I hurt someone dear to me through a dishonest and deceitful act.
Then there was the time I had lied to others around me regarding a significant personal character issue.
All. Embarrassingly. True.
It would be easy for me to write this post and focus on all the public figures that have been caught out living a lie in recent times. Who would blame me? Celebrities are often very easy prey. Their lives are out there for the world to see feeding our insatiable appetite for peering into the private lives of others, and indeed we feast when they appear to be failing.
This need to see others at their most broken has always intrigued me. I mean, if I want to look deep into a life that has a history of wrong doing, deception, and foolishness I need look no further than my own life. I suspect many of us could say the same. Why look to others? The answer to this is rather simple,
focussing on the foolishness of others takes the focus away from my own failings and insecurities, and for that moment I am deceived into thinking that I am somehow better, especially better than the likes of (insert latest celebrity failure here…).
It is amazing though how secrets seem to make a way out, even after a VERY long time in hiding. And the ramifications are usually dire. It would seem the longer one prolongs the inevitable uncovering of the truth, the greater the impact and long term effect. Little secrets have big consequences. One thing we can be sure of however, is that everyone has a secret. Whether it is a secret the size of a giant squid lurking beneath the surface of our lie ladened ocean with consequences stretching like tentacles into multiple areas of our life, OR, whether a simple personal and private faux-pa, it is fair to say that most people have a skeleton or two in the closet.
‘Big deal’ you might say…
‘So people have a few skeletons in the closet, what business is it of mine? If someone is stupid enough to take performance enhancing drugs, lie about it, and then get caught, they deserve everything that’s coming… why waste time on this? why does this matter?’
If only it were that simple. Whether we like it or not our actions have far reaching consequences – good or bad. They have a direct effect on ourselves, on those closest to us, on that which we represent, and also on the culture we form.
1. Every culture is formed by the collective stories of the people that make up that culture.
Think about it… when your life and experiences combine with the lives and experiences of others, a bigger experience (or story) is formed. Whilst it is possible to live a totally isolated and disconnected life, when we do participate in life with others we develop common threads and common points of connection. For example, in the early days of Australian settlement convicts would support each other as they faced mistreatment and discipline by the authorities. the Aussie spirit of supporting the underdog began and today we still take great pride in supporting the ‘Aussie-battler’, those who are fighting against the odds. How we understand and experience each other (and ultimately ourselves) completely informs the culture we develop. So it stands to reason that;
When the stories of the individuals don’t represent the truth of their existence, our collective story becomes distorted. This means that (culturally speaking) we become influenced by things that just aren’t real.The result of this is that cultures develop patterns of operating, systems, expectations, and social norms that inevitably encourage others to become distorted images of their true selves as well.
Think about the effects of this on our families, our society, our organisations, our businesses, our churches and our communities. In the case of Lance Armstrong people the world over celebrated a man who had ‘achieved the impossible’, who had overcome great odds and who then earned millions of dollars telling that story. And many aspired to do the same. Of course this actually was impossible – even for the one who had supposedly done these things!
2. It’s never just the wrong-doer that is affected by their poor behaviour, the action becomes another reason to not trust what it is they represent.
Many have said they can never trust another champion cyclist – in their mind the sport of cycling has been forever tarnished as a result of Armstrong’s dishonesty. The same can be said for anyone that has knowingly misrepresented themselves.
For the politicians who do a backflip on policy promises – yet again it proves that politicians and political systems can’t be trusted…
the minister that is stood down for moral failings – another reason for people to never trust the church…
the CEO that didn’t pay their taxes – another name on the list of greedy business owners…
the wife that cheats on her husband – further proof that the institution of marriage is doomed. You get my point.
On the other hand, people and cultures that practice honesty and truthfulness, are freed of the shame of their failings and can cultivate a future based on possibility. Their personal (and collective) story is usually one of humility, openness, grace, acceptance and healing. Such cultures have a more accepting view of people and society, and therefore they’re better equipped and better placed to develop forward (rather than simply trying to maintain that which is not real). Consider for a moment the incredible healing that has begun for Australia as a nation and our indigenous people after the Prime Ministers ‘sorry speech’. On this particular issue there is a long way to go, but that moment which acknowledged all that was wrong, covered up, and misrepresented marked the beginning of restoration for many individuals (some would say a whole country) affected through the events of the stolen generation.
3. It may be cliche but I still believe that ‘honesty is the best policy’
Admitting we have done the wrong thing and then living as though we mean it is not only better for individuals, it is better for relationships, families, communities, cultures and humanity at large! In old school terms we call it confession and repentance – not simply a discipline for the Christian, it is just good plain and simple common sense. There is healing in the sharing of secrets. That shame, that embarrassment, that pain… it can be dealt with – I’m living proof of that. The writer of James put it this way…
I happen to believe that God wants us to be free of our secrets, what ever it is. This is not a free pass form the consequences of our actions, but it is a promise of freedom from a God that is first and foremost about grace. There is healing in sharing our secrets. So… before we jump to pointing the finger at the likes of Lance Armstrong, Peter Slipper, Arnold Schwarzenegger or whoever else you might like to add, we would do well to pause and remember the time we made a mess of things. It is for times such as these that these words were penned…
So… What’s your big little secret? Might I suggest that now is the time to fess up and begin the work of healing? If you’re brave enough, start right now. Tell someone. If you’re really brave, you can tell us right here, right now and comment below.
As a naïve young punk (which was many years ago now) I visited a designer label store on Southbank. I spotted some fantastic looking clothes in a shop window and decided that they were worth a closer look. I could see the shop assistants inside the store and therefore figured the shop was open. I went to the shop door and then realised it was locked. I managed to catch the shop assistants eye and she came to the door looking a little jaded. She hesitantly opened the door, looked down her immaculately manicured nose and spoke to me in the most pretentious tone, ‘Do you have an appointment?’ she said. I looked back at her completely confused and asked ‘Why? Do the clothes have somewhere to go?’ Needless to say, she was NOT impressed.
It is fair to say that I have since developed in my appreciation of fashion (at least a little bit). Let me be clear… I am not a model, I am not a fashionista, I’m not wealthy enough to buy designer labels, and I am not someone who follows closely the glamorous world of catwalks and haute couture. I do however believe that everybody can and should shout the immortal words uttered by Will Ferrell’s narcissistic fictional character Ron Burgundy,
“I look goooood… I mean really good… Hey everyone, come and see how good I look!”
Let me explain. The fashion industry gets a pretty bad wrap, and to be fair, at times it probably deserves it. It isn’t always respectful of social conventions and has unhelpfully perpetuated significant social issues. But, like many significant cultural phenomena that has been distorted over time, it actually has positive and humble beginnings.
1) Fashion as art
The first recorded fashionista was Englishman Charles Frederick Worth, who lived and worked out of Paris. Revolutionizing how dressmaking had been previously perceived, Worth made it so the dressmaker became the artist of garnishment: or as we have come to know them – a fashion designer.
While he created one-of-a-kind designs to please some of his titled wealthy customers (including royalty), he is best known for preparing a portfolio of designs that were shown on live models. Invited guests would inspect his handiwork, make their selection, specify colours and fabrics, and have a duplicate garment tailor-made in his workshop.
Worth moved fashion from simple dressmaking to art-design. For Worth, fashion became an expression of creativity intended to enhance ones beauty. As a result, consumers began to look to him to decide what was worthy of purchase.
2) Fashion as confidence builder
The first Fashion Week event took place in 1943 in New York City. In the midst of World War II the fashion industry was unable to travel to France and invest in the current trends of Paris. Fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert created “Press Week” to direct attention to affordable American innovations and fashions in New York. Whilst it was an opportune time to distract buyers away from the dominant Parisian fashion industry, it was also an attempt to build confidence into people (during a time of war and economic challenge) by showcasing affordable and attractive clothing.
People felt good about themselves, they could still demonstrate something of their unique beauty. They weren’t just victims of circumstance, they were ‘people’, and their clothes helped them communicate this.
Needless to say the success of the week spread like wildfire, and since then many have followed suit.
It would seem that what people wear has the potential to build them up and enhance their spirit. It also has the potential to confuse ones perspective of self-worth and personal value. The difference? We must keep our attitudes toward clothing and our understanding of self in their right place. Fashion should seek to serve the self, and not the other way around.
So how can we avoid this common pitfall? It may seem obvious but I’d suggest we need to remember…
1) Beauty is never just skin deep
It was Mark Twain who said
“Clothes make the man, naked people have little to contribute to society.”
Not sure that I totally agree with that. Metaphorically speaking, a ‘naked person’ i.e. one who does not hide behind garments – is transparent, honest, truthful, open, and real. In short their personal character is more important than their clothes. A person who lives like this will probably make anything they wear look good! You don’t simply wear these things, you are these things. Clothes can’t replace or alter ones personal integrity or true nature.
2) What you wear does not determine who you are
The fashion industry can be guilty of dictating our clothing preferences, and in extreme cases it dictates the shape of the body that wears them.
Clothes were once designed and made to fit people. The unfortunate tale of today is that our culture is sometimes guilty of trying to make people to fit clothes.
Beauty, colour, light and life exists in every person, regardless of shape and size. We ought to dress in a way that allows these inherent attributes shine and never believe that we are somehow unable to do so. By allowing the fashion industry to dictate your shape, decisions and value you begin to distort the truth of the beauty that is you. I happen to believe…
You are enough.
You are valuable beyond measure.
You are known.
You are loved.
The universe was clothed in colour, beauty and wonder at the beginning of time, and the Creator’s refrain was ‘it is good… it is good… it is good…’ Then, speaking of humanity created in God’s own image it was said ‘it is very good!’ If you like, God looked at His creation and in a moment of delight shouted ‘Hey everybody… come and see how good I look!’ By all means dress well and take pride in your appearance, but more importantly understand who you are and whose you are.
The Creator’s delight in creation has not changed, and when we are able to look deep into our being and see the beauty wonder and presence of God our appearance takes on a very different meaning… few things trump the beauty of a person who is seen through the eyes of the Creator. It is possible to see ourselves and others in this way and I imagine the world might be a very different place if we were intentional about this.
So… whether you are known to be a fashionista, for your fashion-faux-pas, or anywhere in between, may you embrace the truth of the Creators refrain and give rise to the beauty that is you.
When was the last time you did something different? I mean truly different? I’m not talking about a tweak on the status quo or a slight adjustment on a pre-existing thing, I mean a brand new idea that you dreamed up and then committed time to implement it.
I often ask leaders and teams that exact question, and you might be surprised to know that most of the time the answer to that question is ‘never’. Even more interesting is that many don’t actually see this as a problem. I hear leaders regularly tout the words of Solomon ‘there is nothing new under the sun…’ as if to find some kind of comfort or solace in the realisation they are void of the responsibility to dream the impossible and initiate a unique and alternative response to the myriad of issues people face today. It would appear that our culture’s ‘cookie cutter’ approach to living has informed the way we do ministry, that we have forgotten the place of innovation and creativity in our work. Personally I find this really disconcerting.
It leaves me pondering ‘what happened?’ When I consider the early church and the creativity and innovation they had to employ (for the sake of the gospel and the survival of the church), I can only wonder why we are so reticent to do the same. As I read through the gospels and the Acts of the Apostles I am constantly confronted with the incredible risks people were prepared to take in response to the Creator, His work through Jesus and those who would be brave enough to follow. There are countless stories in scripture of people pursuing the impossible, displaying incredible innovation and creativity for their time, and seeing extraordinary outcomes as a result. So again I ask… what has happened?
It would seem that our image conscious age has impacted our ability to innovate and take creative risks. For many people in today’s context and culture, RISK has simply become another four-letter word! The worth of an idea is measured by the maxim ‘will it work?’. An important question, granted. However such a question does not allow for the possibility that the dreams and desires that well up within us (on the rare occasion we allow them to) could actually have something more to offer than that which simply ‘works’. Unfortunately,
we have replaced our creative yearning with market research, popular opinion, and projections of estimated outcomes. Innovation is deemed too risky if this holy-trinity of marketing is not in alignment therefore willing us to continue.
Furthermore, feeding this image conscious psyche is our incessant pursuit of perfection. Creativity and innovation on the other hand are usually far from perfect. It can be a messy and sometimes un-measurable process. As a result the average person finds it very difficult to put themselves out-there and attempt something that might come off as less than perfect. And who can blame them? After all, we are constantly bombarded by high quality creativity. Think about it… The music aired on commercial radio has been designed rehearsed recorded edited produced market-tested and refined… TO PERFECTION. Only then is it shared with others. And so it goes for most creative endeavours in our society. The art on display, the fashion we buy, the movies on show, the technology we use – it is all manufactured to perfection long before it becomes available to the public.
The effects of this is that we have come to believe that something with humble, less than perfect beginnings, is simply not worth pursuing. Of course the flow on effect for those of us in leadership is obvious. We pick and choose from the seemingly perfect range of products and apply them to our situation at will. Do we consider the possibility that there might be a better way? An original response? One that serves the need and inspires others by its own merit?
The influence of the must-fit-in culture of our age demands we take on a persona that is tried, tested and current. We may well desire the creative but in actual fact we have settled for conformity. This is a shame, because very few things in life begin as ‘perfect’. But who is to say that perfect is the goal anyway?
If we are looking for perfection in creativity (by the worlds standards) we are missing the point. Creativity is meant to be experienced first hand as much as it is observed. We are meant to create because within this process the creator is offering something truly original, and this is a reflection of the beauty and imagination of The Creator. This unique expression of the true self is in essence innovative. No one has done it before, it is inspired and it cannot be replicated as it is first experienced.
The ministry we are entrusted with invites us to enter the creative mind of God and partner to see The Kingdom come. It is important to learn to think this way because all ministries will be faced with future challenges that current forms of thinking are simply inadequate to address. The core values and ministry priorities may not change, but the method will change in response to our rapidly changing context and culture. Indeed one cannot solve a problem with the same mode of thinking that helped to create the problem in the first place! It will require a new set of eyes, a new way of thinking, and a different approach altogether.
One of the best ways to begin the process of creative expression is to spend time with fellow imagineers. As the adage goes ‘when the elements are right, a spark ignites into a flame’. It’s vitally important to have people who will dream with you and encourage you to take risks for His sake. There are many places this can happen. I am particularly thankful for the support and encouragement I receive through the Youth Vision network, and the inspiration shared as I spend time with like-minded people at events like The Road, AND festival, and The National Youth Ministry Convention. These are great places to connect with others on similar journeys and be inspired with creative thinking and innovative practice.
So… when was the last time you did something new? Maybe it is time you for you to put aside time and energy to explore some new possibilities? Maybe it’s time you tapped your creative well? Maybe it’s time you inserted this four-letter word into your vocabulary? Maybe it’s time to put your good (albeit risky) ideas into practice? It’s time to get started… This short clip might help you.
**This is a rework of an article I wrote for YV.Q published October 2011