A Meaningful Life - Well Maybe A Bit More Meaningful.

Remember being a kid? I remember playing wars in the yard
with my Han Solo blaster back when having toy guns meant you were a kid and not
a future terrorist. I remember being excited about Christmas and birthdays and
holidays before Instagram gave me a reason to feel like mine were shittier than
everyone else’s.

But what I don’t remember as a kid was ever taking time
alone to contemplate the meaning of life. Duh, Jim – why weren’t you a
brooding philosopher like all the other kids?
I don’t recall pondering what
really mattered and what would be a valuable way of trading my remaining moments,
days and years before I die.

That’s because kids are usually too busy actually engaged
with life to do such things!

It seems that only later in life we somehow are able to mentally
detach ourselves from everything else and consider meaning. But what if while
we’re busy being observing adults we miss out on engaging?

And what if engaging in life, with people is the point of all
this?

There certainly is something about the wonder of child-like
engagement with the world.

So why contemplate at all?

Why not just do what you’ve always done without stopping to
think too much about it?

Well I’m so glad you asked. Because, one day you might look
back and wonder why you gave all of your most valuable commodity, time, to
something that you now see didn’t really matter. Maybe it’s a relationship, or
a job, or something you’ve always just been part of but never measured it
against your core values.

And realising in hindsight is always such a bitch compared
with realising with foresight. Change is difficult either way though, right?

So, contemplation coupled with practical engagement seem
to be a key to how to navigate life.

The two extremes here are:

Those who contemplate but never engage. By the time they figure
it all out (never) it’s too late to actually do anything and experience and
relationships are missed out on.

Then there are those who just do what they’ve always done,
never questioning. “It’s just what my grandparents did, it’s what my parents
did, and it’s what I’ll do too, damn it!” But there’s a shallowness to the
routine – a kind of surface level way of living.

They say ignorance is bliss, and that may be true—but not
for everyone else watching!

Both are frustrating approaches. Right? Know anyone like either
of those extremes? What about you? Which part could you find deeper meaning in?
Getting out and experiencing people? Living without having to figure everything
out first? Or, stopping a moment to evaluate what really matters. What are your
values? Why do you have them? Who gave them to you? How are they demonstrated and
fulfilled by what you do with your time?

As someone who lives in my head a lot, it’s easy for me to
tip into isolation and miss the fulfilment of relationship. But for those of
you who never stop to consider things, maybe the relationships you do have
could be better, deeper, richer, more meaningful.

I truly think that a meaningful life holds some degree of
contemplation and relationship. Wonder and actually going and doing, and
sharing with others, and even routine, mixed with thoughtfulness to provide
direction along this complicated thing called life seems to be a pretty healthy
approach.

Disengage. Consider. Re-engage. Love. Repeat.

Hey, before you go, check out my other blog posts and book here.


What's With All The Suffering?

When I hear about people’s suffering, I want to fix it. I want to take it away. I’ve learnt though that in almost every occasion, I can’t! My magical suffering-removing powers are far too inferior.

What I have found though is that what’s worse than suffering is suffering alone. When we realise that, we respond by coming alongside others and that in itself is an easing of pain, or at least a sharing of it.

It’s not our job to completely fix everything people are experiencing as much as we might want to. It’s our role as humans in community with other humans to come alongside, contribute, carry, and suffer with each other, and in doing that we bring a degree of repair to the relationships we engage in and the world around us becomes a little better.

In his emotionally captivating and truly disturbing book, ‘Night’ , Elie Wiesel wrote about one time during the Jewish holocaust in which he witnessed the hanging of three fellow prisoners including a young boy.

To hang a child in front of thousands of onlookers was not a small matter. The head of the camp read the verdict. All eyes were on the child. He was pale, almost calm, but he was biting his lips as he stood in the shadow of the gallows. This time, the Lagerkapo refused to act as executioner. Three SS took his place. The three condemned prisoners together stepped onto the chairs. In unison, the nooses were placed around their necks. “Long live liberty!” shouted the two men. But the boy was silent. “Where is merciful God, where is He?” someone behind me was asking. At the signal, the three chairs were tipped over. Total silence in the camp. On the horizon, the sun was setting. “Caps off!” screamed the Lagerälteste. His voice quivered. As for the rest of us, we were weeping. “Cover your heads!” Then came the march past the victims. The two men were no longer alive. Their tongues were hanging out, swollen and bluish. But the third rope was still moving: the child, too light, was still breathing … And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes. And we were forced to look at him at close range. He was still alive when I passed him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet extinguished. Behind me, I heard the same man asking: “For God’s sake, where is God?” And from within me, I heard a voice answer: “Where He is? This is where—hanging here from this gallows …” That night, the soup tasted of corpses.

To witness something as horrible as that is, to me unimaginable. Even to read of it is deeply disturbing. And what of the thought that God is also hanging there from the gallows? What does that mean? That God seems dead? It sure must have felt like that at times. But no. Love doesn’t die—love joins pain. Love doesn’t avoid pain. Surely, we are reminded that somehow wherever suffering is, God is suffering also.

The question of why suffering exists is a far too complicated one, and the causes of suffering both intentional and non-intentional, both calculated and by chance, are too many to count. One thing I reject, however, is that God causes suffering.

People often blame God for the suffering in the world saying things like, “If there is a God, he can’t be very good or very powerful because he allows so much suffering in the world.” At first thought this seems like a reasonable perception, but we must think a little further before we come to that conclusion.

According to a 2018 edition of Forbes magazine, there were 2,208 billionaires in the world at the time of publication.  Their combined worth equaled $9.1 trillion! This means that the top wealthiest 0.00003% of people in the world have the combined means to eradicate world hunger, build underground sewerage, and provide clean drinking water to every human alive.

But before we become angry towards this group (who also give away more money to charity than we can imagine) we need to ask the question that is a lot less convenient, “What am I doing to ease the suffering in the world?” If that small percentage of people has the power to change the world, think about what the rest of us could do. It isn’t only the wealthiest people’s responsibility to ease suffering - it’s all of ours. God hasn’t failed. We have. Greed, luxury, and plain ignorance keep us focused on ourselves while thousands of children go without food and won’t be alive by the time I finish the coffee I’m drinking as I write this. God, I love coffee. But let’s not get too distracted with the goodness of my latte.

This moment, this day, this life is our opportunity to engage in bringing repair to the pain in the world. Not by pointing the finger but by participating and not ignoring wherever we see hurt.

We might not, OK we will not end suffering. But to respond to it and engage with those experiencing it is to engage in the process some call God and some call love. And I’ve heard they are the same thing.

 

Hey, before you go check out my other blog posts and book here.

 


Secret Uncertainties.

In 1937 in Moscow Province, at a district Party conference a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for.

Immediately everyone in attendance leaped to their feet and began to applaud. This was what was to happen at every mention of his name. The small hall echoed with enthusiastic applause. But then something interesting happened. For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the exuberant applause continued. Palms began getting sore and raised arms were aching. Older people were panting from exhaustion. It was becoming insufferably silly even to those who really adored Stalin. However, who would dare be the first to stop?! Even the man leading the meeting on stage became afraid and increasingly aware of those who were observing to see who would quit first. And so, he the leader, continued to lead the applause with the crowded hall for six, seven, eight minutes!

Would it take someone having a heart attack to end this madness? At the back of the hall was the director of the local paper factory—just an ordinary man, but an independent and strong-minded man. He became increasingly aware that this enthusiasm was make-believe, and fear driven but still he kept on applauding. Nine minutes. Ten! Everyone was looking to the leaders, but no one dared stop. They’d sooner be carried out on stretchers than be the first to stop. Then, after eleven minutes the paper factory worker stopped clapping and sat down. And a miracle took place. The indescribable enthusiasm stopped, and every other person also stopped clapping and sat down.

That, however, was how they discovered who the independent people were. And that was how they went about eliminating them. That same night that factory worker was arrested and given ten years in prison! In the final document of his interrogation his interrogator reminded him “Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding!”

Ok. Now what’s that got to do with anything? You and I aren’t likely going to be arrested for standing out, are we? Yet in my experience, thinking differently is enough to drive people into secrecy, fear and conformity.

It may be ok to think separately from the group, but letting it be known, that’s where it gets real.

Often times I am contacted privately by people, some Christian, some not, sometimes it’s pastors from different parts of our beautiful country who have secret uncertainties—questions, concerns, but are afraid to voice them out of fear that they might be rejected by their faith group, their family, their church.

I get it. We want to belong. Nobody wants to be ousted for having questions and so many times the questions are internalised and have a sense of fear attached to them leaving people feeling isolated and secretive.

I think Brene Brown said it so well when she said “Fitting in is the opposite of belonging.”

If you are honest, do you find yourself truly belonging or fitting in? Maybe it’s not one or the other but perhaps it alternates and maybe that’s normal.

And here’s the thing. Having questions is normal. Even after years. Searching and curiosity is how we grow. Once the curiosity is gone because we think we know it all, we stop learning. Its exactly the same in any relationship. If we think we know everything there is about a person the relationship can’t go any further, or any deeper. It’s the intrigue that leads us to pursue further.

Life seems simpler when you’ve got it all figured out and it’s just smooth sailing. No more having to wrestle through complexities. Just believe the things you’ve heard and stop questioning. Stop doubting. If only it was that easy. And for some it is. There’s no doubt there are plenty of people who’d rather not think deeply, either because they don’t want to face the possibilities of further questions deep thinking might bring, or they are just wired that way where they’d rather go with the flow. I’m not saying that people who avoid thinking or aren’t interested in deep thinking are bad people. They’re not. In some ways that kind of simplicity is desirable. But I can’t do that. Well, I guess I won’t.

And it’s not so much a need to be right. I’m not quite so arrogant to think I’m right about everything, even though like most people I want to be right. Rather, I’m interested in practicing a way of life that’s honest and actually matters. One that notices the lonely and hurting and engages. But even to ask the simple question “does what we’re doing really matter?” can be risky within a group because it may lead to change in the status quo and that can be both scary and threatening to the current state of your surroundings. But wasn’t that also what every prophet did—challenging the current way of being and urging people to grow and change (often while being hated for suggesting so)?

Curiosity and intrigue disappear in the presence of certainty. And choosing to remain curious takes courage.

Just know, that if you are one of those people who have questions you’re afraid to ask—if you’re aware that your uncertainties make you feel isolated, you aren’t alone. You’re not. You’re in a process of growth that’s both positive and important.

After all it’s not once we’ve finished seeking that we find (like a math equation) but rather it’s in the continual seeking that we continually find. Find life. Find meaning. Find honesty.

Stay curious. Keep growing. Keep asking questions. Doubt is just the searching that leads to finding.

 

Before you go, if you like this and get something out of it please share it.

And if you missed it, check out my previous posts Accepting The Tension Between Decay And Repair and If The Bible Says It, Does That Settle It?

Thanks for being part of the ongoing conversation.

Talk soon.

Jim.

 

 

 


If The Bible Says It, Does That Settle It?

Maybe you already want to say emphatically, “Yes!”

I mean, if God’s Word says something, then that’s final! Right? But what about when it isn’t?

Ok. So, let’s take a look at what Jesus says before I lose you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

Can we just take a moment to notice that Jesus says, “You’ve heard it said, but I tell you…?”

Where had they heard it said? Oh, just the Bible. Torah. The law. But Jesus says, nah, don’t do that, do this instead. Do the opposite of that.

What? Can Jesus disagree with the Bible? Is he allowed to do that? Doesn’t he know the rules?!

No wonder religious leaders hated Jesus so much. He challenged their set “Biblical” ideas and was bringing them towards a new way. But new ways are so controversial. Yep. It did get him killed remember.

Jesus goes on to say, oh and also, remember when you heard (in the Bible) to love your neighbour and hate your enemy? You guys remember? It’s here in Leviticus 19:18. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people but love your neighbour as yourself.

Well… now Jesus is saying  take that love beyond your people. Include the ones who you didn’t used to. Make your enemies your people.

“I tell you, love your enemies.”

What happens when you love someone? They may just stop being your enemy. They may become included instead of excluded. The us and them might just become us.

See, here’s the thing. When we pick verses here and there, we can make the Bible say a lot of different things, because it does say a lot of different things.

But if we zoom out, take a look at the whole story, with all of it’s ups and downs, you start to notice trajectories rather than verses. I talk in more detail about this in my yellow and super edgy book. And these trajectories right through are heading towards radical inclusion, unbelievable forgiveness, and a new way of being which is always more loving than the last.

Rather than getting stuck asking “what about this verse and that verse?” try zooming out, stepping back and asking, “where is this heading?” and it would seem that the whole thing was and is heading towards a new way. A way that notices the lonely. A way that loves the ones the religious establishment may not. A way that eats with and enters into genuine relationship with everyday people—people who aren’t like us.

That trajectory is one which I am continually drawn to participate in, and one which I can and want to practice.

Oh, before you go, if you like this and get something out of it please share it.

And if you missed it, check out my previous post Accepting The Tension Between Decay And Repair.

Thanks for being part of the ongoing conversation.

Talk soon.

Jim.

 

 

 

 

 


Accepting The Tension Between Decay And Repair

Some time ago, I’m not exactly sure when, my focus shifted, and today it shifted even more. See, I used to focus quite a lot on afterlife, as though I had any idea what that would look like at all. This world was something to get through and then heaven or hell were the two possible destinations we could end up in when we die. Much of the Christian world still focuses heavily on these ideas.  I’m not here to argue over what happens when we die. I really don’t know. Not for certain. And I’m not certain that’s what the main point of the Biblical narrative even is. But what I know is that my focus shifted some years ago to ask a different question.

What about heaven and hell here - now?

Are people experiencing suffering, hurt and loneliness right now? And can I possibly bring heaven near right now? Is it more about choosing whether I will engage in decay or repair here and now for my own life and the lives I come in contact with?

That has been where my focus has headed over recent years. To bring repair as much as I can and to reduce the decay of suffering around me.

But I have realised something a little more which I guess is obvious and I have considered before (and even wrote about in my book, Taping Over God) but I was reminded of this important reality.

The decay or difficulties of life can’t just be removed to obtain some ultimate state of bliss. No. Some of it can be eased but some must just be accepted as part of life. Take aging for example. We don’t want it. We want to stay young forever so we buy all kinds of products that promise youthfulness so that we can avoid the reality that we’re getting old and eventually, we’ll die.

Or another example, sadness. We often want to be happy so we buy the happy meal, or the clothes or maybe we might sometimes do whatever we can to bury any of our emotions that aren’t producing happiness because we are trying to obtain ultimate satisfaction.

But what if, rather than seeing difficulty and suffering as something to escape to get to happiness one day (kind of like heaven one day) we embraced the whole of life as it is - hard, at times traumatic, sad and challenging?

I don’t mean create suffering. That’s absurd. But accept that it already exists. You have some of it, right? And it is part of the deep, meaningful, complicated, messy and beautiful life that’s yours! Stop trying to be rid of it. Sure, engage in doing what you can to bring repair, but rather than ignore or mask the other stuff, admit it. Acknowledge it. Talk about it. And embrace the tension of this life that will always be full of both decay and repair over and over.

After all, death and resurrection (pretty prominent Biblical ideas) aren’t one-time events. And they aren’t just something we believe happened to someone (Jesus) once. They are more than that. We are the very site of death and resurrection, on repeat—daily. It’s not depressing. It’s freeing. Decay and repair—here and now, and tomorrow, and the day after.

Embrace it all. Engage in it. Acknowledging the difficult and messy parts of our lives is what makes relationships that much deeper.

I hope we can all remove our masks a little lower and accept each other as we are. Perpetually in the tension of brokenness and repair, practising honesty in regards to our current reality but hope for a better reality. But not one void of emptiness. There is no magic formula to remove the emptiness we all feel at times. Just a continual process of life which juggles the tensions of happiness, mixed with pain, mixed with purpose, all creating the wonderfully complex thing we call life.

May our relationships be real, deep, and meaningful.

I have left room for so much further thought on these topics. Please be part of an ongoing conversation about things that matter, either here with me, or with those you love.

Jim.

 

If you’re interested in keeping up with whatever I’m up to elsewhere (which is not all that exciting!) here’s a couple of places we can connect.

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/JimStevensAuthor

Instagram @jim._stevens

And if you want to read more about all this rethinking God stuff you can check my book out here:

https://jimstevens.com.au/

or here https://tinyurl.com/y4wbc9gl

 


Let's Start A Conversation.

Oh hi there.

Jim here—your friendly neighbourhood thinker here. Thanks for stopping by to see what this is all about and giving me a few minutes of your time!

So, here’s the plan. What’s important to me is engaging in ongoing conversation about things that matter. And taking a look around, it seems obvious that faith of some kind matters. Not to everyone but possibly to you if you’ve come here.

I’m not interested in clichés, empty hype or converting people to my belief system. I’m interested in meaningful relationships and a genuine wrestling with ideas and holding them up to questioning to work out what really matters so that we can give our time to what we feel really does matter.

Many people I know have unfortunately often felt that certain questions or topics about faith and the Bible aren’t up for conversation in their communities (Maybe it’s afterlife doubts. Or who is included? Why does God allow suffering? Did Jesus have to die? Does prayer work? Is God really vengeful? Why does God seem so different throughout the Bible? And so many more…) and so I will use this platform as a way to initiate thought and hopefully conversation around some of these matters.

My goal isn’t to provide yet another place for people to argue online. There’s too much of that already, but rather this is a place for those who are perhaps unsettled or feel on the fringes of their faith community, or just have some questions and uncertainties, that maybe we can explore together.

If areas of your faith have at times unraveled, if you’ve felt unsure about parts of it but also unsure about whether or not you’re even allowed to talk about it, well you’re allowed here (as if you need permission). Let’s ask questions and dig together.

Wherever you’re at in your thoughts on these kinds of things, I look forward to the ongoing conversation.

Please, comment below, stay in touch and share this with friends who might like being part of something like this.

Until next time, thanks for stopping by.

Jim.

 

If you’re interested in keeping up with whatever I’m up to elsewhere (which is not all that exciting!) here’s a couple of places we can connect.

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/JimStevensAuthor

Instagram @jim._stevens

And if you want to read more about all this rethinking God stuff you can check my book out here:

https://jimstevens.com.au/

or here https://tinyurl.com/y4wbc9gl

 

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