Kiss my kids on Christmas Day

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Michael Buble. Mariah Carey. Hi-5.

We’ve all got our go-to Christmas songs. Whether we’re driving around with the kids looking at Christmas lights or in the kitchen cooking a frenzy of melted chocolate and brandy soaked fruit treats, we all seek out the soundtrack that makes us feel ‘this is Christmas’.

It probably wouldn’t surprise you to know that faith, belief and spirituality play a big role in my life. And it might surprise you a little to find out that my two all time, “it’s-not-Christmas-until-I-listen-to-this-song” favourite Christmas songs have nothing – nothing at all to do with the birth of Jesus. No stables, no cribs, no gold, frankincense or myrrh. In fact, one of them is actually pretty anti-Christian (and the differences between Tim Minchin’s worldview and mine is a topic for another post!)

My second favourite Christmas song is by Aussie comedian Tim Minchin. It’s an ode to the simplicity of family, of time together. There’s a bit of an ache there as well. The chorus speaks of “seeing my dad, my brothers and sisters my gran and my mum / we’ll be drinking white wine in the sun”. As Minchin sings to his baby daughter, he tells her that “these are the people who make you feel safe in this world”.

Safety. Connection. Relationship with those who love you without conditions.

And my number one go-to, the song that combines the complexity of family, trust, the ache of loneliness and a quintessentially Aussie recipe for gravy. Paul Kelly’s song grabs each of us for so many reasons we may not be able to articulate. In his inimitable storytelling style, Kelly sings of Joe. Joe is in jail and he’s writing to his brother Dan. When he asks “won’t you kiss my kids on Christmas Day, please don’t let them cry” we sense the heart of a dad, yearning to be with his kids at Christmas. Desperately regretting his actions and terrified of losing the ones he loves the most.

Yearning. Connection. Love. Brokenness.

So why, in a whole world of tinsel, jingle bells ringing and Yuletide joy am I drawn to such melancholy Christmas tunes, written from perspectives with which I’m not familiar or deeply disagree?

I think the ache, the yearning for love and the strong bonds of family reflect so much more what our hearts are searching for, not just at Christmas, but the day after and the day after that. And while no human relationship could ever be perfect or ever totally provide the safety and love we yearn for, at Christmas I treasure the beauty of those imperfect relationships. Of my dad buying my mum cherries. Of my mum baking my sister-in-law’s favourite rum balls. Of those times that you can never plan but will always treasure, drinking white wine in the sun.

And more, so much more, the perfect love of a Saviour. Born to a broken world in search of love, of connection. Of forgiveness and grace beyond any tradition or carol.

And that’s a beautiful song, too.

 

 

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Family life, worldview and grace

Over the weekend, I was so challenged and encouraged by a sermon preached by Pete Adlem on worldview and sharing the gospel. In brief summary, Pete outlined the following world views and explained their context and meaning.

Shame and honour – relationships are based on a pursuit of honour and the threat of shame. This is particularly evident in some Middle Eastern and Asian countries and is associated with close family connections and responsibilities

Fear and power – relationships are characterised by a more powerful force who governs by fear. This is particularly evident in more tribal or animistic cultures and can be associated with fear of malevolent spiritual forces.

Guilt and innocence – Historically speaking, the guilt and innocence worldview draws its origins from modern Western rationalism and the judicial system. In this worldview, there is a fixed and knowable moral code and people are held to account for their actions.

Pleasure and pain – this worldview focuses around the mission to maximise pleasure and minimise pain. While this perspective has found expression in a number of ways in the past (particularly hedonism), it is particularly evident in the western, 21st century context.

As I listened to Pete’s sermon exploring how we can connect the gospel with people who are influenced by different aspects of each worldview, I was so struck with how we could understand parenting, and family life, using these worldviews.

When we parent using honour and shame, our kids might moderate their behaviour because they don’t want us to be disappointed in them. Their best moments are when they’ve made us proud.

When we parent using fear and power, our kids behave themselves when they are frightened of the consequences.

When we parent using guilt and innocence, our kids have a clear sense of what is right and wrong. They strongly connect their actions with their morality.

When we parent using pleasure and pain, we can sometimes be helicopters. We want our kids to be happy, so we strive to protect them from pain and make decisions based on what would please them.

It is so clear to me, yet so complex. There isn’t a right or a wrong way with any of these approaches – but it seems to me that when the pendulum swings to the extreme in any of these worldviews, we head for a dangerous place.

In his consideration of virtue ethics, Greek philosopher Aristotle championed the concept of temperance; that is, finding the moderate approach. He argued that ‘doing right’ involves balancing the extremes. For example, courage is a virtue. But too much courage isn’t virtuous – the action becomes rash. Too little courage – and the action is cowardice.

In the case of these worldviews and in the context of parenting:

Excess shame can lead children to question their self worth.

Excess fear can create a climate of anxiety and mistrust.

Excess guilt for wrong actions can lead to legalism or self loathing.

Excess pursuit of happiness and removal of danger can lead to a lack of resilience.

 
But when we apply temperance to these worldviews:

We can be proud of our children. We can be disappointed with the decisions they make.

We can be respected by our children without them being afraid of us.

Our children can be taught what is right and wrong, with grace and forgiveness for the times we all fail.

We can create safety for our children. We can enjoy the beautiful experiences of family life, while knowing that every messy moment, every tantrum and every moments that is decidedly not #blessed is still an important part of who we are as people.

None of us are perfect. None of us get this parenting job right all the time. But we walk everyday with the gift of grace and unconditional love. We don’t deserve it and neither do our kids – but we all desperately need it.

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Father Abraham, sons and daughters

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Every now and then, God shows up in an amazing way as our kids talk 💛

My son, who is 5, has just learned to sing “Father Abraham has many sons” (the never ending song with ALL the actions!) As we were singing my 8 year old twin daughters were quite miffed that there was no mention of Abraham’s daughters. What followed was a long conversation about women in the Bible, inheritance laws, social change and feminism. It is amazing that as we explain history to our kids it becomes so evident that the world has changed so much, even in our lifespan. It is such an ongoing, fantastic challenge to help them understand that.

Towards the end of our noisy discussion my son (who had continued to loudly sing “Father Abraham” in the background) chipped in triumphantly with “Yeah, and God created men first!!”

And in a totally God moment, I replied “He did, Ollie. But do you know, as soon as God created men, he realised that the man was lonely and he needed a friend. So he created a woman, not so they could compete against each other and argue about who was the best, but so they could be friends and so they could help each other.”

I get now that it was it was a simple and obvious answer, but it was something I hadn’t thought about for a while.

And as my children grow up in a world of #metoo, Japanese medical schools who alter female results to exclude them and such passionate and important debate about gender and equality, I hope they remember that.

Everything I know about social media I learned from a basketball match

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On Tuesday morning, Australians woke to the news of a FIDA Basketball match that had gone very, very wrong.

Australia was playing the Philippines in a qualifying match. It was a rough game from the start with some bad blood originating from pre-game tensions. With four minutes remaining in the third quarter, push came to shove and a wild brawl between players, officials and spectators erupted.

It was ugly. It was violent and out of control.

And as I watched, I realised that it was everything that I know to be true about our nature as humans and the way we deal with conflict.

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It is possible that you can both be hurt AND hurt others

It is always so neat and convenient to divide the world into good guys and bad guys. Thor and Loki. Batman and the Joker. Gandalf and Sauron. But the real world is so much more complex than this. As I watched the basketball brawl, I was struck by the fact that the very guys who were taking the punches were also dealing them out.

It’s the same in our relationships with others. In my experience, people who deal out pain to others – hurtful words, exclusion, criticism – have at some stage been hurt in the same way.

When you jump in as a bystander to defend someone else, you run the risk of being part of the problem

In the post match interviews, the majority of players and officials from both sides defended their actions and argued that they were just trying to protect others. While this reasoning is certainly valid in some situations, it is pretty clear to me that as more people became involved in the brawl the worse it became.

It’s the same online. Your efforts to step in and resolve an issue can sometimes just add fuel to the fire. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t stand up for your friends – you absolutely should. But it takes wisdom to know whether your words will help a situation or just make it worse.

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It’s easier to blame others than take responsibility for your actions

It’s human nature. When the finger of blame is turned toward us, it’s uncomfortable. It’s much easier to turn the focus towards the actions of others than take responsibility for our role. It takes an exceptional amount of humility to admit your wrongdoing and ask forgiveness – and this is the standard that Jesus calls us to follow.

Your actions are public and they can’t be undone

There was absolutely no hiding on the basketball court. Every camera in the world captured the events and beamed them around the world. It might be tempting to think that your words and actions online are just between you and your friends but our world just doesn’t work that way. Whether you like it or not – you will be called to account for the things you do and say.

Nothing good happens after 10.00 pm

We are all social people – but no-one can or should be social all the time. It is so important for your brain, for your health and your well being that you create time in your life where you are not online. Late night Instagram conversations, Snapchats that ding at 2.30 am – you might be worried about what you are missing out on but during these times you are rarely thinking well and making your best decisions.

So in the light of all of this – how can we respond? How do we cultivate healthy habits that are going to bring about good friendships and prevent the toxic conflict that can emerge from social media use?

Do the things that are difficult and right

When I talk to my young children, I often challenge them with the phrase “you know the right thing to do”. 99% of the time we all know the right thing to do. The problem is that the right thing is often difficult. It is difficult to walk away from toxic conversations. It is difficult to not get involved. It is difficult to keep a check on your temper when you are feeling provoked.

It is difficult. And it is right.

Resist laughing at people in pain

I have no doubt that many people have been entertained by the basketball brawl. There’s an element of human nature that sometimes views these situations as just funny – a kind of sporting version of Jerry Springer or Fail Army.

It’s an uncomfortable question for all of us. Why do we view pain as entertainment? And more broadly speaking – why are we entertained by another person’s drama? When we stop to think about the things we find funny or entertaining – how often is it at someone else’s expense?

Maybe it’s time to walk away from things that you just thought were funny when they are hurting others.

Ask for help

The Australian and Philippino basketball teams didn’t ask for help. They didn’t wait for the umpire to step in and they didn’t trust the rules of the game.

There are lots of reasons people don’t ask for help when things go wrong on social media. They might be afraid to be seen as a ‘dobber’. They may not want to be excluded from a friendship group. They might want to protect their own ‘rights’ (if I tell mum about this she’ll take my phone away)

But it is so important to ask for help. If you see something that isn’t right, take a screenshot and show a trusted adult. If you don’t think the adult understands, find another trusted adult and ask for their help. Not only is it important for you, it is the very best thing you can do for a friend who may be hurting.

Turn the other cheek

 

The way that Jesus calls us to live is incredibly counter cultural. It goes against our human instincts to turn the other cheek – to not retaliate when we have been wronged.

There is power in self control. There is power in walking away and being the bigger person. There is power in forgiveness.

And there is power in doing what is difficult and right.

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Freedom

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It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Gal 5:1

In Home Room with my Year 9s this morning, we talked about freedom. We’ve been studying ethics and worldview in Faith and Life, drawing out ideas concerning moral action and principles for living.

I told them a story from my drive to school in the morning.

As I drove to school, two of my three children started playing with the electric windows. Given it was only a few degrees above zero, I asked them both to stop. Ten seconds later, the windows started again.

I had the choice – do I hit the button that disables the windows in the backseat or do I repeat the instruction?

With no exception, all of my Year 9s said that the second option was better. As we teased out the analogy, we had a great conversation around the fact that it is better in the long run to be taught to choose to do something right rather than have an external restriction preventing your actions.

Freedom is complex. There is so much that motivates our actions – the consequences, our image, how other people see us. I think that there is incredible value in teaching our children to make a right choice. It can take the heat out of a difficult situation when our language focuses on the choices we make, rather than the person we are.

Without entering into a complex theological question – I’m thankful for the freedom I have to make choices. And even more so – I’m thankful to the One who chose me first.

Easter assembly

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It’s a sinking filling in your stomach when you’re caught out.

It’s shame. It’s your flushed face, your heart beating fast.

It’s the world watching your every move.

There’s no hiding away. Everyone is talking about you.

You can’t pretend it didn’t happen. You can’t pretend you didn’t know it was wrong.

Shame overwhelms

Shame is a million fingers pointed at you. And there’s nowhere you can hide.

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This Sunday, Australia’s sporting world exploded. Our beloved test cricket team, the wearers of the sacred baggy green. Caught out cheating – yellow tape hastily stuffed down the pants. Breaking one of the most important rules in our sporting community. We teach it to our kids on the soccer field, on the basketball court. With every sip of milk Milo or spoon of Nutrigrain, there’s the mantra. Play fair. Be honest. Don’t cheat.

Malcolm Turnbull calls the captain of the Australian cricket team “the second highest office in the country”. It’s an esteemed position. Your country watches and waits for you to deliver glory and success. To be immortalised with the legends – Donald Bradman, Allan Border, David Boon, Ricky Ponting.

It’s an incredibly high pedestal from which to fall.

Like many Australians who have grown up watching cricket, I was absolutely gobsmacked by the events that unfolded on Sunday. It was profoundly uncomfortable to literally watch the events unfold and watch the guilty parties own up.

But shame isn’t that far from all of us.

We might not have been caught with yellow sticky tape in our pocket – but we all know that there have been times that we’ve stuffed up. We’ve been caught out and had to explain ourselves.

In Romans, Paul states it clearly: All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

In his song Walk on Water, rapper Eminem shares his perspective on shame and failure.

Why, are expectations so high?
Is it the bar I set?
My arms, I stretch, but I can’t reach
A far cry from it, or it’s in my grasp, but as
Soon as I grab, squeeze
I lose my grip like the flying trapeze

I walk on water
But I ain’t no Jesus
I walk on water
But only when it freezes

It’s the curse of the standard
‘Cause I’m only human, just like you
Making my mistakes, oh if you only knew
I don’t think you should believe in me the way you do
‘Cause I’m terrified to let you down, oh

If I walked on water, I would drown

It’s a terrifying world to live in when you stand alone, afraid to fail and afraid of the shame.

And as the world stands poised – waiting to see what will be done to deal with the shame of the Australian cricket team – on a cross, over two thousand years ago, the answer for all of us has already been provided.

Jesus’ death on the cross saves us from our shame

Jesus’ death on the cross spans throughout eternity. It is a single act of sacrifice, completed by God – in all of his perfection and holiness.

Jesus death on the cross takes all our shame.

We might be a nation with our eyes fixed on one example of shame – one example of a fall from grace. But Steve Smith and the Australian cricket team aren’t any different to the rest of us. Perhaps it’s not fair for us to expect our heroes to never let us down. As Eminem say he – and them – and us. We’re only human.

We are humans who fail. Who cheat. Who get it wrong. Who feel ashamed.

We are humans who are known by a God – who knows our needs. Who knows we can’t do it on our own. And we are met by a God who offers his perfect Son Jesus, to die on the cross for all our shame and all our brokenness.

So, if I were somehow to find myself in conversation with Steve Smith this week, what would I say? I’d say the same thing to him that I’d say to all of you. We all stuff up. We all carry shame and regret. But because of Jesus – because of the cross – we aren’t defined by our shame. We are forgiven and we are free.

And if you’d love to know more about this Jesus – this offer of grace and forgiveness – come and find me. I’d love to talk to you more.