Friday, March 31, 2006

henri nouwen on prayer

Henri Nouwen on why it's so hard to pray:
Prayer is the act by which we divest ourselves of all false belongings and become free to belong to God and God alone. This explains why, although we often feel a real desire to pray, we experience at the same time a strong resistance. We want to move closer to God, the source and goal of our existence, but at the same time we realize that the closer we come to God the stronger will be his demand to let go of the many “safe” structures we have built around ourselves. Prayer is such a radical act because it requires us to criticize our whole way of being in the world, to lay down our old selves and accept our new self, which is Christ.
Amen, Henri.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

commonwealth games rugby 7s

The first thing you notice is the security. My goodness, what security. Efficient, but massive. We got there 10 minutes early, and looked for a while like getting in at least half an hour late. Luckily the no-bags line was empty, so even though I had a bag, I was waved through there. At that point, I had to remove every object from my pockets, and lay it out on the table. Everything. Then they searched my bag, and I'm not talking a cursory glance - I mean they pulled everything out of it and shook it. Then they went over me with one of those metal detector wand things. And they did this for pretty much every person who went through (though I undoubtedly got it because I look shifty).

So we got in there only about 5 minutes late, meaning we missed the first half of the first game. No matter: there were still 11 and a half games still to play, and by the end of the night, I was well and truly done.

Rugby 7s is pretty intense at the best of times, but when you watch it for four and a half hours, it does get a bit much. Having said that - wow. For just fifteen bucks we got four and a half hours of rugby. And not just rugby - 7s rugby, which is faster and more intense than regular rugby, with the same amount of scoring in roughly 1/6 of the time. Seven a side, for seven minute halves. So good.

We saw the pool matches, so we saw every side in the comp play at least once, and several of them twice, including the Aussies. Poor Sri Lanka were just awful, although it was lovely to hear the crowd back countries like them and Uganda and others who really were comprehensively outclassed. It was slightly amusing to watch them backtrack down the field when they had the ball though.

Fiji are the world champions, and looked it, even though they ended up with bronze (beating Australia for it). England and New Zealand ended up playing off for gold and silver, NZ triumphing impressively.

I did discover though that I have waning, if any, patriotism. I remember after I did my honours year in philosophy, I was invited to a discussion with a bunch of Masters/Doctorate students, who were supposed to encourage us to go on to their heights. I found it interesting at the time, and obviously still do, but one of them was doing their thesis on the concept of nationalism - allegiance to others based on what are essentially fairly abstract ideas like the fact that I live more proximately to you than others. This is less obviously strange in Australia which is relatively isolated, but it's positively bizarre in places like Europe, where even my ethnic group could well extend across the border of a particular country - yet I'm still supposed to have some allegiance to my country over those people. It's an interesting idea, and that was the first time I'd heard it questioned. Now I tend to agree in a lot of ways - I'd far prefer Fiji or Samoa or someone to win than Australia. Does that make me unpatriotic? Maybe. But somehow it doesn't bother me.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

being saved

Turns out it’s happening after all.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw Craig Turley (ex West Coast Eagles player) on Compass, talking openly about his own spiritual journey. He’s been through some really rough patches, and continues to struggle, but has come out the other side with a rather interesting and beautiful spirituality. At the end, the interviewer asked him, “Are you happy?” It’s a perennial question: the subtext being (at least for most of us), “Does this spirituality really work?” His answer was fascinating, and while I don’t remember his exact words, it was along the lines of, “I don’t seek happiness. Happiness is a fleeting thing; fulfillment is what I’m after. Sure, I’m happy sometimes, I experience joy, but those times don’t last and it’s not realistic to expect them to. I seek fulfillment.”

It coincided with an article in the Age talking about how the idea that life is about maximising happiness is a relatively new cultural phenomenon, perhaps only a hundred or two hundred years old. Yet this is the overwhelmingly predominant view in our society; not just that we should seek happiness, but that we have a right to it. We are entitled to be happy, and that’s all we should seek to do or to be.

Interestingly (as an aside), I read today (again in the Age) that there is a direct correlation between how fearful people are, and how much television they watch. The more television someone watches, the more likely they are to own a gun, have security on their house, and assume that they will be victims of violent crime. Happiness, it seems, is not to be found with television (but you already knew that ;) ).

So we had a bit of a tough week this week, one that culminated with the confronting question, “Why have I been expecting this to be easy?” What kind of screwed up view of the world made me think that we’d achieve our goals quickly and easily, without pain or suffering, without despair and discouragement at times?

I mean, this feeds into everything I’ve learnt (in my head) recently about Christianity – that it’s not about the absence of suffering, finding the easy road – indeed, it’s very often about your proximity to suffering that makes for a healthy, fulfilled, well-adjusted Christ follower.

Part of that was helped by Leunig’s prayer (from my previous post). When you’re broken, down and out, defeated – that’s when you relinquish control and gain perspective. If only we (I) could cultivate such humility more often, that perspective would remain.

When I ask myself “Why do I assume that life will be easy?” the answer is basically because I believe, deep down, that I am entitled to be free from pain and suffering. And that’s a fool’s quest – at its best, it’s delusional; at worst, complete arrogance.

So I started running again yesterday. I’ve been wanting to be fitter physically for a while (read: less overweight) but frankly, I’ve been a little scared of what I do to myself when I go after physical fitness. One of my personality traits (which, as with everything, is both a strength and a weakness) is that I find it difficult to do things by halves – it’s either all or nothing. So I tend to exercise until my legs want to drop off. Thus, I have developed an aversion to exercise – or at least the kind that means I end up hurting. I’ve tried going the other way and starting slowly, but have found that I end up doing very little at all – certainly not enough to have an effect.

I’ve realised that it’s not the tendency to exercise hard that’s the problem – it’s my attitude to the pain it causes. So that’s what I’ve altered. And while I must say it doesn’t make the pain any easier to bear (running 7kms on legs that haven’t run more than 10 metres in the last 5 years was never going to be easy) it does make persevering worthwhile. And hopefully in the process I learn more about what it is to deal with pain and suffering in a constructive way.

Friday, March 03, 2006

the KKK took my toilet away...

Sorry for the thinly veiled Ramones reference (maybe it could refer to those Krazy Kids from the Kouncil?), but they finally came today to remove the portaloo from next to our house. Police are looking into the disappearance, but so far they have nothing to go on *snigger*. Thus ends the saga known as “Portapalooza”.

Goodbye, old friend.

no portaloo

Thursday, March 02, 2006

leaders' demons

The other day I was having issues and came across this passage in Let Your Life Speak. It just struck me as incredibly and deeply true of me, and so I keep it here for future reference.

If we, as leaders, are to cast less shadow and more light, we need to ride certain monsters all the way down, explore the shadows they create, and experience the transformation that can come as we “get into” our own spiritual lives. Here is a bestiary of five such monsters…

The first shadow-casting monster is insecurity about identity and worth…When we are insecure about our own identities, we create settings that deprive other people of their identities as a way of buttressing our own…

A second shadow inside many of us is the belief that the universe is a battleground, hostile to human interests. Notice how often we use images of warfare as we go about our work, especially in organizations. We talk about tactics and strategies, allies and enemies, wins and losses, “do or die”. If we fail to be fiercely competitive, the imagery suggests, we will surely lose, because the world we live in is essentially a vast combat zone.

Unfortunately, life is full of self-fulfilling prophecies. The tragedy of this inner shadow, our fear of losing a fight, is that it helps create conditions where people feel compelled to live as if they were at war. Yes, the world is competitive, but largely because we make it so. Some of our best institutions, from corporations to change agencies to schools, are learning that there is another way of doing business, a way that is consensual, cooperative, communal: they are fulfilling a different prophecy and creating a different reality.

The gift we receive on the inner journey is the insight that the universe is working together for good. The structure of reality is not the structure of a battle. Reality is not out to get anybody. Yes, there is death, but it is part of the cycle of life, and when we learn to move gracefully with that cycle, a great harmony comes into our lives. The spiritual truth that harmony is more fundamental than warfare in the nature of reality itself could transform this leadership shadow – and transform our institutions as well.

A third shadow common among leaders is “functional atheism”, the belief that ultimate responsibility for everything rests with us. This is the unconscious, unexamined conviction that if anything decent is going to happen here, we are the ones who must make it happen – a conviction held even by people who talk a good game about God.

This shadow causes pathology on every level of our lives. It leads us to impose our will on others, stressing our relationships, sometimes to the point of breaking. It often eventuates in burnout, depression, and despair, as we learn that the world will not bend to our will and we become embittered about that fact. Functional atheism is the shadow that drives collective frenzy as well. It explains why the average group can tolerate no more than 15 seconds of silene: if we are not making noise, we believe, nothing good is happening and something must be dying.

The gift we receive on the inner journey is that ours is not the only act in town. Not only are there other acts out there, but some of them are even better than ours, at least occasionally! We learn that we need not carry the whole load but can share it with others, liberating us and empowering them. We learn that sometimes we are free to lay the load down altogether. The great community asks us to do only what we are able and trust the rest to other hands.

A fourth shadow within and among us is fear, especially our fear of the natural chaos of life. Many of us – parents and teachers and CEOs – are deeply devoted to eliminating all remnants of chaos from the world. We want to organize and orchestrate things so thoroughly that messiness will never bubble up around us and threaten to overwhelm us (for “messiness” read dissent, innovation, challenge, and change). In families and churches and corporations, this shadow is projected as rigidity of rules and procedures, creating an ethos that is imprisoning rather than empowering. (Then, of course, the mess we must deal with is prisoners trying to break out!)

The insight we receive on the inner journey is that chaos is the precondition to creativity: as every creation myth has it, life itself emerged from the void. Even what has been created needs to be returned to chaos from time to time so that it can be regenerated in more vital form. When a leader fears chaos so deeply as to try to eliminate it, the shadow of death will fall across everything that leader approaches – for the ultimate answer to all of life’s messiness is death.

My final example of the shadows that leaders project is, paradoxically, the denial of death itself. Though we sometimes kill things off well before their time, we also live in denial of the fact that all things must die in due course. Leaders who participate in this denial often demand that the people around them keep resuscitating things that are no longer alive. Projects and programs that should have been unplugged long ago are left on life support to accommodate the insecurities of a leader who does not want anything to die on his or her watch.

Within our denial of death lurks fear of another sort: the fear of failure…The best leaders in every setting reward people for taking worthwhile risks even if they are likely to fail. These leaders know that the death of the initiative – if it was tested for good reasons – is always a source of new learning.The gift we receive on the inner journey is the knowledge that death finally comes to everything – and yet death does not have the final word. By allowing something to die when its time is due, we create the conditions under which new life can emerge.

I'm particularly guilty of the fear of failure and functional atheism bits. But then, as the cliche goes, knowing is half the battle.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

happy birthday to me

Every year my Nana manages to find the world’s best birthday card. Each year is better than the last, but this year she hit a new high with this one (read the first part before moving onto the second):

front of card


Happy birthday to me indeed.