everything is going to be just fine

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?xmas-540x405

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.

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(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.

“All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).”

For when it’s all said and done everything is going to be just fine. A baby has been born.

Merry Christmas.

BK

*Not sponsored. I simply admire their work

3 simple words that could save your life – part 3 of 3

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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.

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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).

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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’ reminds us of our worth.

Saying ‘I need help’ moves us toward others and an experience of connection and belonging.

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.

BK

If you’re in need of immediate support or medical assistance call 000, or contact:

Lifeline    |    Beyond Blue    |    Man Therapy    |    Kids Help Line    |    Headspace


3 simple words that could save your life – part 2 of 3

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As the adage goes ‘no man is an island…’ and don’t we know it to be true! Whilst every human being is unique and valuable it is also true that we are not able to exist entirely on our own.

In part one of this three-part-post we explored the concept of I. We discussed questions of identity, personal value and life purpose (if you haven’t already, you can read part one here). In this post I want to look at the second of my three life saving words to further explore a simple yet profound truth about what you and I really NEED. But, before we begin let me remind you of the journey we are all on and reiterate why I’m writing these posts in the first place:

“If you are ever conflicted about your existence, especially to the point of thinking that it’s not worth living I want you to remember these three words – I  N E E D  H E L P . Say them out loud, to others and to yourself. Say them louder, again and again especially if you think that others have not seen you, heard you or understood you. And keep saying them for as long as your life depends on it. These three words might just save your life. – I   N E E D   H E L P !” 

So let’s continue the conversation – NEED.

I  W A N T  T O  D I S A P P E A R

I love going out to listen to bands. Something special occurs when people get together to feel the raw emotion of live music and engage in a couple of hours of hero-adulation. The musicians, the crowd, the venue and the music all intertwine to create something of a spiritual experience for me. It’s more than a ‘gig’. There’s a connection that occurs, or at least that’s what I think is going on.

I recently got to see one of my favourite Australian artists, and as I stood there and listened to her music with about a thousand other admirers I began to think about how great her life must be. I mean she gets to experience this feeling, this connection, as part of her every day working life!

She began to share something of her story and how it informed the next song she was about to perform. I listened as she completely dismantled my perception of her life. She talked about loneliness, disconnect and feeling ‘invisible’ a lot of the time. She then performed a song inspired by her celebrity musician existence that tells the tale of having many admirers, but few real friends – long flights, always away from home, she lamented

‘If one more person looks through me I could disappear… It could be sweet release, but I don’t want to cry, not here…’ – Kate Miller-Heidke, Nightflight

I looked around the room and people nodded with solace as if to identify with every word she said.

It seems my favourite celebrity muso is not that different to the everyday regular person. People today are more connected than ever. With the click of a button we can discover personal information about pretty much anyone. There are over a billion active FB users worldwide, hundreds of millions active Twitter users, over three billion hits a day on YouTube… LinkedIn, Google Plus, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr… the list goes on (and some people still use MySpace!?). But for all this connection and ability to engage with the world around us it seems we are not much better off. Some of the biggest challenges facing people in the 21st century stem from issues related to loneliness and isolation. It would seem that despite of our over connected technologically obsessed society, many within it feel completely… and utterly… INVISIBLE. Just like my favourite artist, we are surrounded by crowds of people and the more that others look through us, the more we feel like we are disappearing.

connected and lonelyI  S E E  Y O U

So when did we shift from being a culture that esteemed the worth of people and become a society where people are consumed, accumulated and ignored? And more importantly how can we recover from this? Maybe we could learn a thing or two from cultures that seem to do this better. Perhaps the best way to ensure that people don’t feel invisible is to truly ‘see them’.

I love how Zulu people exchange these words upon greeting. One says Sawubona, (I see you) the other says Ngikhona (I am here). Some things are lost in a literal translate of this conversation, because what is actually being said in the midst of this exchange is,

until you saw me I did not exist.

Seeing people is more than just looking at them. To really see someone is to recognise that what stands before us more than just flesh, and blood and bones. Seeing people requires an intentional and honest look into the life and being of another human. It’s more than a passing glance, its pausing long enough to be present to those who are before us, to acknowledge their value simply because they ‘are’. Here’s the thing, when we truly see another person, we give them permission to see us and then begin to connect in quite a profound way. Perhaps that’s how it’s supposed to be?

W O L F  P A C K

We humans are highly social beings, pack-animals if you like, and I don’t believe it was ever intended that we live in isolation. A large portion of personal meaning is discovered in belonging, so it comes as no surprise that without positive interpersonal connection we’re bound to struggle. It has been well documented that loneliness is one of the most significant issues in our day and time. More people, young and old report as feeling isolated and lonely than in any other point in history.

Whilst food, water and oxygen might keep our heart beating and our physical well-being in tact, it would be fair to say that these essential elements on their own are simply not enough to sustain us. We NEED meaningful contact with others, friends, relatives, even contact with strangers is important.

Developing meaningful connections can be a complicated business and this is all the more reason to ensure that we are intentional with our efforts. In a recent visit to Australia Dr. Daniel Sweeney (George Fox University, USA) was asked what do people need in order to connect meaningfully and belong. His response,

Everyone needs to know that someone is  H E R E  (present to them in body and mind).

That someone is  L I S T E N I N G  (fully attentive to them).

That someone  U N D E R S T A N D S  them (identifies with them and their circumstances).

And that someone  C A R E S  (demonstrates like or love of them in some way by their response).

In other words what we really need to know from our interactions with others is

“I see you. I hear you. I understand you. I care for you.” We all NEED this.

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A strong relational connection to an individual or community is crucial to everyone’s health and well-being. You might be ok as far as a roof over your head, food for your belly, stuff in your garage, but if you are struggling with thoughts of suicide and self-harm it’s definitely time to revisit your relationships and broader community connections. We all NEED to belong, especially when we’re struggling. And when we’re not struggling we NEED to see, hear, understand and extend care toward others. It’s confronting to think that we might be just what someone else needs to survive their current circumstances, but I suspect it is true more often than we realise.

In my final post in this series I will look at what it means to offer and receive HELP, but for now it’s over to you. Where do you find positive connection and belonging? How is this NEED met for you and how do you meet that need for others? I’m always interested in your thoughts!

BK

If you’re in need of immediate support or medical assistance call 000, or contact:

Lifeline    |    Beyond Blue    |    Man Therapy    |    Kids Help Line    |    Headspace


3 simple words that could save your life – part 1 of 3

BLOG_IneedHelpBannerThe recent suicide of Robin Williams is tragic on so many levels. Many have written reported and commented on the details regarding his struggle with depression compounded by his recent diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. My heart breaks for Robin and his family and I cannot begin to imagine what they must be feeling right now. I do not wish to add further comment to the circumstances surrounding Robin Williams death, but needless to say a life lost to suicide is always tragic.

This phenomenon is not isolated to Hollywood e-news. When we look a little closer to home we see that at least six Australians end their lives every single day.

That’s 42 every week.

183 every month.

A whopping 2190 people take their own life every year.

I am not a therapist, counselor or health professional. I am not qualified in the formal sense to dish out advice to those who are really struggling (incidentally if that is you please stop reading and contact your nearest health professional or helpline). But for the record I find it heartbreaking to think that anyone should feel so helpless, hopeless and worthless that they would want to end their lives. I am not ok with suicide and I’m not about to accept that this social scourge cannot be different.

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Stats source: beyondblue, Suicide Information Paper, 2012 (Internal Document) cited on http://www.mantherapy.org.au/man-facts/man-stats

You see I have stood at the graveside of people who have ended their life. I have also found people who were in the process of attempting suicide. I have attended the funerals of young people for whom it became all too much, and also visited with communities and families who are dealing with the reality of this devastating occurrence.

No matter which way you look at it suicide is all too common in our culture and the effects are far reaching and devastating.

It seems that as long as life exists there will always be people who want to end it on their own terms. But… what if it didn’t have to be that way? I want to suggest that there are some simple words that can make the difference between life and death. Three powerful little words that can be a pivot point toward freedom a and a gate through which healing can be sought.

If you are ever conflicted about your existence, especially to the point of thinking that it’s not worth living I want you to remember these three words. Say them out loud, to others and to yourself. Say them louder, again and again if you think that others have not heard you. And keep saying them for as long as your life depends on it. The three words?

I  N E E D  H E L P

So lets start with – ‘I’

Humans have been asking ‘Who am I?’ for as long as they have existed. For the person that is finding life especially difficult this question plays like an iTunes track on repeat. The dulcet tones of negative self-speak ring louder and louder the longer they’re left unattended and at the centre of this script are the core questions of personal identity, value and purpose. Whilst there are many variations to the words we might use, in one way or another we are essentially all asking the same few questions.

10455700_10153074533941959_9054346836794167956_nW H A T  A M  I  L I K E ?

We can’t help but compare ourselves to others as we endeavor to better understand the self. This is not all bad, however when we do this we risk missing the incredible beauty, creativity and capacity that exists within each individual. Perspective is useful, but measuring our own sense of self in comparison to others can be risky business. Inevitably we begin to notice the best of others and weigh it up against the worst of ourselves and ultimately we can begin to take on attributes of others that are not indicative to our true self. The result of this is this? The I (that is you) dies a little bit more each moment until you are left with very little.

I’ve addressed this more thoroughly in my previous short video post Create or Copy, but for what it’s worth,

“You are a full colour one-off original, be careful not to become a second rate grey-scale version of everyone else.”

W H A T  A M  I  W O R T H ?

I do not believe that personal value is as subjective as many would argue. In my humble opinion every life is priceless because it is a life – your life, my life and every other person on the planet. We fight for life because we know that life is valuable. People, governments and corporations spend billions of dollars on health care and biomedical sciences, because life is valuable. A rational healthy human exhibits a desire to live and will do everything they can to preserve that life and the lives of others around them, because life is valuable. You are valuable beyond measure, even (some would say especially) when you don’t feel as though it is true.

W H A T  C A N  I  D O ?

If your basic premise is that I don’t matter, then it follows that what I do does not matter. This could not be further from the truth. Every person has a contribution to make to others around them and therefore the world at large. Part of the problem is that we frequently confuse our purpose (and therefore our meaning) with the expectations of our culture. I’ve heard it said that the grand narrative of our culture is this:

You WORK… in order to ACCUMULATE… so that you can CONSUME… then you DIE.

That’s it. Nothing more nothing less. Kind of depressing if you ask me.

10626564_10153312687311959_397179055589727105_nEven those who conquer this pattern of living still struggle with their own sense of self. Note where and with whom this post began!? Some of the most competent, wealthy, and successful people on the planet are the most desperate, lonely and lost. It stands to reason that here has got to be a better way. If it is true that we crave the opposite outcome for our lives, then perhaps there is good sense in a counter-cultural approach to living. What if we flipped this way of doing-life on its head?

That is rather than simply ‘working’ we pursue our true V O C A T I O N.

Rather than earning just to accumulate money and possessions we are G E N E R O U S with our lives and our stuff.

Rather than consuming as much as we can we could endeavor to C O N T R I B U T E  to the needs of others and the world at large.

And perhaps then at the end of our earthly existence we don’t just die, but we are far more likely to leave a lasting L E G A C Y that continues to have a positive effect long after we’re gone.

Now that sounds like a life worth living. Not easy, not trouble free, but certainly meaningful and a far cry away from the devastating place of ‘I don’t matter’.

At our best we know that there is incredible value in I. We generally believe that I matter, that I am unique to others and this is good. We inherently know that I am valuable, that I can and do make a positive contribution to others and the world at large. We know that I can live a fulfilling and purposeful life.

But when this script changes so does our overall well-being. We lose our sense of identity, value and purpose and at that point we are not left with much. At our worst we begin to think that I am not worth fighting for, that I am a hassle to those around me and that I may as well not exist. The I becomes inconsequential and irrelevant… Heartbreaking.

BLOG_IneedHelp I.002We need to recover the value of I and in doing so address our existential crises through a lense of hope rather than a lense of despair. So next time you find yourself pondering the question ‘who am I?’ and its many variations, remember:

“I am valuable beyond measure.”

“I am worth the effort to live a full and healthy life.”

“I can do whatever it takes, whatever is needed, for as long as it takes to get there. And that is one of the best contributions I can make to this world right now.”

If the I seems less than valuable to you right now please hear this – the I matters… and by I… I mean YOU.

You are valuable, you are wanted, you are loved, and you need to be here. This is why you must speak up, say it loud, say it again, say it even louder –  I  N E E D  H E L P .

Those three simple words may just save your life.

In part two of this three part post I want to address our NEED for experiencing positive connection and belonging. But for now, hit me with your thoughts. How do you understand the elusive I? How and where do you find personal meaning and purpose? I’m keen to hear your thoughts.

BK

If you’re in need of immediate support or medical assistance call 000, or contact:

Lifeline    |    Beyond Blue    |    Man Therapy    |    Kids Help Line    |    Headspace


Roses, Roller-coasters and Unfailing Love

In 2012 the most frequent question asked of Google was ‘what is love?’ Seriously!? Of all the thoughts and ideas and facts to be devoured in our information saturated world the most desired enquired and sought after topic was,

The mind-altering-behavior-bending-soul-breaking-loneliness-elixir, THE BIG L, that’s right I’m talking about ‘that word, say it clear now, L.O.V.E. love.’ (whatever happened to the Rockmelons anyway? Hehe.)

It’s either really important to lots of people, or, we’re all sitting at home on the weekend lonely as all get-up seeking comfort from a search engine – totally legit reason I guess. Oh… and for the record in 2013 we asked Google ‘what is twerking’ more than any other question. Wow. No. Comment. Necessary.

So at the risk of alienating half of my reader-list I want to talk about LOVE. The nasty the wonderful and everything in-between. I figure that if we’re interested enough to seek wisdom from an inanimate object then I’m probably justified and qualified to comment.

L O V E  I S  C O N F U S I N G

Now… before you roll your eyes at yet another love-blog-post I challenge you to take a moment and consider what it is you actually understand about love. For those of us in an English speaking culture we’re a little disadvantaged when it comes to talking about love. Many cultures use multiple words to describe the different types of love that can be expressed and experienced. But aside from adding the occasional adjective to help clarify our use of the word, there is only one word to describe this life altering state of being. It’s any wonder we attribute and equate love with all sorts of different things.

I think it is fair to say most people think a lot about the subject of love, and you can be sure there are as many different definitions of love as there are people who consider it. Why does this matter? Because what one understands about love informs how one experiences love, which will inevitably affect how one holds the love of another. And EVERYONE has an opinion and an experience of love. It’s fair to say that the confusion about love is often because people are speaking a different language even though they are using the same word!

I love you more than...

You see the way I love my brother is different to the way I love my children, but to both my brother and my children I say ‘I love you’. The way I love my parents is different to the way I love my wife. But to both my parents and my wife I say ‘I love you’. And whilst it is true that I love my brother, children, parents and wife, ‘I love you’ means something very different to each of them as they receive those words from me. It’s any wonder we get confused and desperate to understand love.

So on our quest to better understand and describe love we turn to metaphors of contrast. People refer to things like the ‘white knuckle relationship roller coaster’. You know that feeling? The terrifying and exhilarating experience as we travel at breakneck speed clinging on for dear life through the love induced relational highs and lows? Or perhaps you identify with the more romantic amongst us who like to think of love as a rose. A symbol of searing beauty with velvet red petals inviting us closer with its alluring sweet scent. We reach out to take hold of this prized beauty only to discover that is has the power and potential to cut deep with its viscous thorns (thank you Bette Midler… if you’re under the age of thirty you can Google that too). It seems there is no end to imagery and art dedicated to describe the paradox that is love.

P L E A S U R E  &  P A I N

Love is enchanting. Love can cost. Love fills us with passion for another. Love can make us furious with anger. Love is beautiful and to love is also to risk pain, rejection and hurt. Love discovered is wonderful, and love lost is excruciating. It really is bizarre, and it leaves me wondering how one emotion can cause people to behave in such diverse and opposite ways?

Heaven knows that I have made a mess of love often enough, but…

“I have come to accept that much of how I experience life is directly related to how I hold love and what I expect of it.”

So I ask you again, what do you understand love to be? How do you hold it? And what do you expect of it? Because sometimes it sure feels like love can fail us.

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A loving husband fails a hurting wife with a careless word.

A parent’s love fails an abused child and their world is no longer safe.

A son’s love fails a lonely and aging parent when they don’t call.

A loving woman fails her self by giving into the expectations for love from others.

A man fails his closest friends when he is found out to be living a double life.

And we begin to think that love has failed us.

L O V E  I S  A L W A Y S  G O O D

But is it possible for love to fail? I’m not so sure. Love is in essence always good, but it’s important to remember that love is always outworked and controlled by people – fallible, broken, and imperfect people. Whilst it is true that people may fail in their endeavor to love-well, I would argue that Unfailing Love still remains.

When life, relationships and experiences feel like shifting sand beneath our feet it is important to remember that Love has not shifted with it. Love can be known, held well and experienced fully. It is found in the One who is described as ‘pure love’. Whilst there are not words adequate to completely and comprehensively describe this love heres a few words that work for me:

Unfailing Love is…

Strong – Humble – Sacrificial – Intimate – Hospitable – Generous – Committed – Gracious…

There’s more to be said but that’s not a bad start.

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I don’t know about you, but I could do with a love like that. I know that I can’t always be that for another, nor should I come to expect that others can always be that for me, but I sure will try. And I’d like to think that others will also try to extend this sort of love in return. Inevitably we’ll fail to do this well but it’s then that I choose to remember the One who has and does extend love in this way.

The song at the beginning of this post is wonderful, I really do like it* (kudos to Jess, Dan and the Insideout team for writing and recording such fantastic music). It reminds me of some of the most beautiful words ever written on the subject of love. That in spite of the fallible nature of human affection there is such a love that demands my attention and embrace, that there IS such a thing as Unfailing Love.

May this inform how we hold, understand, and offer love.

BK

*Not sponsored

How great thou aren’t…

“If less people were concerned about attaining greatness, we might actually see more truly great leaders.”

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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.

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There is however a common thread to each of their stories. Each life demonstrates the common theme of sacrifice.

Extreme.

Personal.

Cost.

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:

Jesus called them together and said,‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’

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).

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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:

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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.

BK

Now that you are free…

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.

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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.

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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.

BK

Create or Copy

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?

I’d love to know what you think… Enjoy the vid!

BK

Eurovision won’t change your life, but it’s bound to make you feel better about yourself

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!

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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.

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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 hostsThe 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.

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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!

BK

The counsel of the wise…

As a child my grandfather educated me in the ways of the track. His advice was clear, simple, and straight to the point “Don’t gamble, you won’t win”. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. He was a bookmaker. His wealth (or lack of it) depended on the highs and lows of a day at the track. It was either an exhilarating day of triumph and conquest or an anxiety pit driven by the hope of a win that would put things right. That said, as a bookmaker he usually came out on top.

I can’t help but wonder just what my grandfathers earnings (my future inheritance) represents. I wonder how many families suffered because of the addict that bet on great-odds with my grandfather? I wonder how many groceries weren’t bought, how many relationships dissolved, how many jobs were lost, how many drinks were drunk, and how many people took their lives because of the pain of searing loss? Whilst I have no control over this, I am a little more aware of what occurs in the world of the gambler. This is mostly because my grandfather who made a living from an industry that is set up to cost the consumer more than their money, used to say to me with complete conviction “Don’t gamble, you won’t win”.

If only he understood the wisdom of his counsel. When I think of the gambling industry in Australia, and especially the five hundred million dollars Aussies will spend at the track today, I wonder just what is it we are gambling? Study after study tells us that the effects of such an event are just not positive. Crime rates increase, alcohol related violence increases, sexual assault rates increase, drink driving charges increase, hospital and emergency admissions increase, and all for what? The opportunity for a day at the races and the possibility of making a quick buck? Again… the prophetic words of my grandfather ring in my ears “Don’t gamble, you won’t win”.

Whilst the juxtaposition of a bookmaker telling a child not to gamble is somewhat confusing, it does make a very bold statement.

“At his core, my grandfather knew the evils of the gambling industry well. He was taunted by them and yet at the same time strangely dependent upon them”.

He wanted his grandson to know better and to not live in the same struggle. He was an elder advising a student in the school of life and the more I think about it that little piece of advice I am convinced it is just as relevant to every sphere of society. To the individual, to the family, to the local community, to the state and the nation, “Don’t gamble, you won’t win”. The costs associated with this day and the gambling industry at large are big, probably far bigger than we care to admit.

Friends, we’ve heard it said that the counsel of the wise brings life, so please heed my grandfathers warning. He lived with the tension as one entrenched in a system that he knew was ultimately damaging. Families… please listen to his counsel… Communities, please understand the breadth of the impact… Australia, please consider the story we are writing and the huge cultural implications that ensue.

We call it the race that stops a nation. It is frightening just how true that is, on so many levels.

BK