Good to be alive

I’m on the train travelling from Sydney home to Newcastle. The sun is shining as we pass over a shimmering Hawkesbury river. The music of Mumford and Sons plays through my headphones. And I can’t help but feel it’s good to be alive.

There are some significant challenges in my life right now, challenges that have engulfed me in swirling emotion and uncertainty.

Nonetheless, as I pass over the Hawkesbury I am reminded of the incredible beauty in the world and my spirit is nourished. As music plays in my ears I am blessed by the melodies that resonate deeply within me. And I head home to four of the most incredible human beings I know. Tonight we will laugh and rage and talk about issues great and small, and maybe even fight, but always knowing that we are bound by a love that is unquenchable, sharing such a high degree of comfort with each other that we can laugh and rage and talk about issues great and small, and maybe even fight.

And I can’t help but feel that it is good to be alive.

The Kindness of Strangers

Tonight I set off for a Jervis Bay fishing trip. With my son Lachlan, good friend Steve, and Steve’s son Nick in the car and the boat trailing behind, we were all looking forward to the trip.

And then it happened. The trailer started to vibrate, and after pulling over we discovered the right side trailer when was about to fall off. A little investigation revealed the cause – a collapsed bearing.

Fortunately I had a spare set of bearings in the boot. Unfortunately we were parked by the side of a busy road and my car jack was barely adequate to lift the trailer wheel.

Two guys approached us, asking if we wanted help. In their mid twenties, tattooed, and with cigarettes hanging from their lips, they looked the unlikeliest help to two middle aged men.

Before we could politely decline their offer, they had parked their worktruck with its flashing lights behind us and cordoned off a work area with witches hats. Now we had a safe space to work. They then rigged up their compressor driven jack to get the trailer tyre in the air. For the next hour they assumed responsibility for getting the old bearings out and the new ones in. With the bearings replaced and the wheel back n the trailer they cleaned up the rubbish, packed up their tools and with a shake of the hand bid us farewell.

It was a generous, kind act prompted by nothing more than a desire to help a stranger in need. It left us all feeling that somehow in helping and being helped we had been truly alive, fully human.

 

May there be more of it.

Wear Sunscreen

A marvellous graduation speech from last century by Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune. Enjoy!

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’98: Wear sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blind side you at 4 PM on some idle Tuesday. Do one thing every day that scares you.

Sing.

Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.

Floss. Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.

Stretch.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium.

Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good.

Be nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard.

Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.

Travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble, and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.

Global Citizenship. Putting the National Interest in its Place

When it comes to sport I am an unabashed nationalist. There is something delicious about beating the English in cricket, the All Blacks at rugby and the US at anything- not that we’ve been doing much of that lately.

But there lies the problem with nationalism. While it may be relatively harmless when applied to sport it is not so benign in other ways. Nationalism is part of identity. Who am I? To whom do I belong? I belong to my family, my church, my State (especially at Stare of Origin time), my country, my planet, my God. The challenge is to keep these loyalties in proper relation to each other.

Why is it that when it comes to how we treat people outside our borders loyalty to nation always seems to trump loyalty to humanity? At the end of the day aren’t borders quite arbitrary things? Why do we suppose that goodness towards those beyond our borders is entirely optional?

Before we are Australian aren’t we are human? Isn’t that our most basic connection to each other? Yet in the current political climate we are rejecting asylum seekers, reneging on our foreign aid commitments, and going backwards on climate change. It’s all about what’s good for us Australians.

As I read the Gospels Jesus taught that God’s love extends to all and so should ours, that our neighbour is anyone in need. Imagine what would happen if rather than the national interest our foreign policy was conducted on the basis of the best interest of our foreign neighbours.

The Wisdom of Nelson Mandela

This week has seen the world preparing itself for the death of Nelson Mandela,¬†one of the towering figures of our age. Thought I’d share some of my favourite Mandela quotes:

I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for, and to see realised. But my Lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

 

For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

 

I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.

 

I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.

 

Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.

 

The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.

 

What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.

Does God Have a Plan for My Life?

I heard a preacher on Radio Rhema this week who said something along these lines

God will clearly reveal his will for every decision in your life. For God has a plan for every area of your life and he wants to reveal that to you.

Really? God had it planned that I would marry Sandy in 1987, move to Newcastle in 1995, and go to work for Baptist World Aid in 2005? Did God also plan that I would prang my car in 1986 and get a flat battery while out fishing on Lake Macquarie earlier this year? Or was I not attentive enough to his will on some of these? And what if I missed his plan for my life in some area? Am I now on Plan B,C, or Z?

Apart from the fact that I can’t find anywhere in the teaching of Jesus or the Bible to suggest that God has a plan for every area of my life, the notion seems to me to keep us in a permanent state of immaturity. Part of being human is to be both free to make decisions and accountable for those decisions. To keep on running to God and asking him to make the decisions for us is surely to shirk our responsibility.

This was driven home to me very early on in my adulthood when I was invited to be the youth pastor at my home church and another church. Both were good options. Sandy and I prayed, believing as the preacher on the radio had said, that God surely had a plan for us, wanted to make it clear to us which church to serve in. We prayed and listened. Silence. God said nothing.

As the days passed and we heard nothing from God it dawned on me that maybe God was happy for Sandy and I to make the decision for ourselves, that whether we went to one church or the other he would use us to help young people, that in the end it didn’t really matter which church we chose.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are times where God may provide very clear direction to us. But these seem to me to be the exception to the rule. The rule seems to be that God wants us to make decisions for ourselves. He has provided us with the values and priorities that should shape and inform our decision making – he calls me to “seek first the kingdom of God”, to prioritise love for God and neighbour, and to cultivate the graces of Jesus in my character. These things will be critical to why I choose the way I do, but the decisions are normally mine to make.

At first, this was a little scary. It’s much simpler if I can abdicate decision making responsibility to God. But I have found that being responsible is in reality, tremendously liberating. I’m not stuck in plan B, C or Z. The only plan is that the kingdom of God is realised, that I grow more like Jesus, that I love God and my neighbour. And that can be done any time, any place, any circumstance. It can be done whatever has come before and whatever will come after. And it’s what I’ll do my fumbling best to do.

 

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