Selfies, self and social media

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We live in a self obsessed and over exposed culture. Social media has created a framework to support our current insatiable desire for showing off. How did the previous generations use photographs before and how we do nowadays? I always thought that they immortalised precious memories to be shared with a very close circle of intimate relatives.

Now we parade and are under an avalanche of too many pictures that are either painfully trivial or almost inappropriately public. I wonder why? Insecurity? Comparison? Thoughtlessness? I guess most people are just carried by the popular wave….

The incessant social media addiction (and the secret of the owners’ financial success) that most users struggle with, is fuelled by pride dressed as either curiosity or attention seeking insecurity. You can only tell how bad you suffer as a social media user if you try to break free. This is a very revealing battle in our souls as Christ-followers. We struggle to make time for drawing near to God in devotion and intimacy, and often social media is a stealth thief of soul edifying moments.

This isn’t a vilification of social media. The context and culture of social media has pitfalls but can be brilliantly redemptive and positive too. The key is how we use it. We need to step back and evaluate. We need to filter and make wise choices. For some, social media is feeding the pride monster to such an extent, that signing off is probably best.

Our security isn’t rooted in likes and comments. They are like opiates. Short term and damaging solutions to much deeper problems. We all long for acceptance and freedom. Only in Christ we can discover the ‘real deal’. As we battle our insecurities, we do well to remember these old wise words written long before the selfie generation by Robert Murray M’Cheyne: “For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ.”

Refresh

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It’s holiday season for many of us. A great chance to refresh and recharge ourselves. I often thought that would come naturally but now I wonder if there is a science to that as well. Fancy that: preparing and executing a good rest…

There are some helpful thoughts here – written to Christ followers who were living under constant pressure. While their pressure would have been significantly different than ours – pressure is still pressure.

Hebrews 12:1-3 (ESV)
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Don’t believe the lies: often due to weariness and discouragement – it can feel like your life has become isolated. It’s easy to develop a victim complex. Throwing accusatory mental glances at all those who don’t do what we do, as much as we do, the way we do it…. Subtly selfish. Deeply toxic. Elijah experienced it – straight after his greatest victory for God. Our feelings can be terrible liars. The antidote is the act of slow reading and meditating on God’s Word. It will speak the truth about who God is but even more importantly who we are in His plans. Use this time of rest to embrace truth – a healthy truth that we are not alone in this race.

Declutter your soul: There are things we need to let go off.You can’t plant something new in a ground filled with rocks and weeds. Look at your soul as a planting patch and allow the Spirit to show you those things that are burdensome ‘baggage’. It could be unforgiveness, bitterness, frustration with people, an unhealthy sense of insecurity, lack of patience, anger… Bring them to the Saviour who died for these sins. Embrace grace. Gaze at Him and see His selfless love. Own it, deep down and let it shape your whole life: thoughts and words.Let this time, become a a significant occasion to fall in love with your Saviour.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

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A former British Prime minister observed: “The price of greatness is responsibility.“ Today the number one political leader of the country had his last say. What a fall from grace, after the resounding and unexpected victory of the last general election.

Ironically, he pulled the trigger on the bullet that actually finished his political career. Looking at his decision to step aside, it brings back to the forefront that pivotal leadership issue: when is it right to fight and cling on and when is it right to step aside. This will always be a tricky issue for any leader.

There is no formula, but there are at least two key leadership issues that determines the right attitude.

Haughtiness versus humility. Leaders will almost always find defeats disappointing. Yet a good leader will discern whether they were the cause of the defeat or the redeemer of that defeat. Not all mistakes are an immediate cause for retreat and often the leader in question might be best placed to rebuild after the mess. There is humility in stickability. Other times, the humble thing is to step aside. A good leader will look in the mirror and evaluate ruthlessly. They will chose respectable critics and weigh-up the criticism and give someone else the chance to build again.

Courage versus convenience. Rebuilding after failure is messy. The outcome will be unknown and there are no guarantees that one’s reputation might be salvaged. Dealing with criticism and even a healthy dose of doubt, can be crippling. Sometimes, the easiest route is out. But that isn’t always the most responsible. Healthy leaders undergo an honest soul searching evaluation of their motivation. If they quit because it’s easier, they should also explore a courageous alternative. A good mentor or friend could be useful sounding board in this circumstances.

The truth is that no one, maybe not even the former prime minister, or even his closest confidantes mighty now if this was the right or the wrong leadership ‘move’ or whether the motivation might have been honourable or not. One thing is sure, history and time will be fairer judges of that.

Leaders will always have to make choices. Difficult choices. And those choices determine the quality and longevity of their leadership.

CELEBRATION OF IMPERFECTION

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Yesterday, as I was carefully mowing the lawn, I kept noticing geranium petals falling on the slightly cleaner mass of green grass (don’t think manicured lawn a la beautiful English estates). A bit frustrating as they seemed like leftovers who were spoiling the work I had done.

I was reminded that this would have been an intentional artefact as part of a zen botanic landscape. Wabi sabi is an ancient aesthetic philosophy rooted in Zen Buddhism, particularly the tea ceremony, a ritual of purity and simplicity in which masters prized bowls that were handmade and irregularly shaped, with uneven glaze, cracks, and a perverse beauty in their deliberate imperfection. The Japanese philosophy celebrates beauty in what’s natural, flaws and all.

Perfectionism is an unattainable pursuit and perfectionists are a pain to live with. Yet often many of us fall into that trap. Some do it out of a sense of insecurity or simply trying to please someone that might never be satisfied anyway.

There is somehow a beautiful freedom in an imperfect life. It gives others permission to be be imperfect too and it is a fertile ground for humility and grace – relying on God rather than ourselves.

I remember reading a story about an old Orthodox senior monk shocking his fellow younger apprentices one evening at the dinner table. The monks would observe very strict dietary fasts that often exclude luxurious items of  food such as sugar, meat and oil. After their prayer before an evening meal as they sat down, the old respected senior monk (starets) pulls a little bottle of oil and uses a tiny drop on the food. As they were all in disbelief, one plucked up the courage and enquired about the apparent ‘faux pas’. The older monk explained how that drop of oil will keep him humble from bragging that he kept the fast with such valiancy.

The apostle Paul battled the frustrating imperfections of his life – yet learned that he was at his strongest in his weakness – utterly dependent on God’s grace.The same is true for me and you…

RETROSPECTIVE LEADERSHIP LESSONS

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The referendum can prove to be redemptive at many levels. My mum had a saying in trying to console me in my teenage years as I was battling the exacerbated angst of injustice everywhere around me (as I was growing up in the context of an emerging democracy, post-communism): ‘you can learn just as much from the negative examples you meet in life – learn how NOT to be.’ Smart advice that can often keep cynicism and bitterness at bay.

Looking back at the political landscape of our country in the last few days, weeks and months – I see some pitfalls that are best avoided in leadership:

  • the negative message and the shouty tone. It seemed like the focus was to feed fears in the two camps and confuse the the undecided even more. That’s both lazy and toxic. Good leaders ought to inspire, looking forward, and do so with a passionate yet gracious and sensitive tones. They need to stop and really listen and make sure that their answer is a reflection of that listening process.
  • the lack of pre-planned strategies after the event. It seemed like they spent so much time and energy in fighting for a result – without having a constructive response to the either outcome. The void that was created gave so much room for infighting and confusion. Good leaders always plan ahead.
  • the lack of redemptive ownership. While one can see the ‘stepping back’ of some of the key players from both camps as a sign of humility, I think it can be the opposite. There is a tendency to run away from the mess – maybe hoping for another chance in the future or trying to do immage damage limitation. Good leaders are always ready to be part of the solution, ready to rebuild in a crisis.
  • the disconnect between grassroots and top end. Politicians often can be trapped in investing more in securing their position and enhancing their image. The day to day constituency work can often seem trivial, frustrating and unnecessary. People become election targets a few times a year and remain a neglected voice the rest of the time. Good leaders are good listeners, ready to see people as THE most important focus of their work.

ECHO CHAMBER

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Plenty has been made of the ‘echo chamber’ syndrome on Facebook where it seemed like you truly hear what you want to (or what they think you want to). In news media an echo chamber is a metaphorical description of a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by transmission and repetition inside an “enclosed” system, where different or competing views are censored, disallowed, or otherwise underrepresented.

Not sure how real that is for the everyday person. At least from my Facebook feed, I had plenty of conflicting referendum views treacling through. Still, only the naive would not realise that the media controls and manipulates information according to one’s interest. The socio-political dangers are obvious, and taken to extremes, very dangerous.

It makes me wonder how often we can develop a similar problem in our personal discipleship as well as our spiritual community life. It’s so easy to hide behind a carefully fenced off castle of my favourite theological hobby horses and avoid another differing perspective. We find a small club of ‘agreers’ that constantly reinforce our ideas. We rarely read and consider another perspective.

Probably even more dangerous is the spiritual compromise, in which we can begin to excuse and even justify sinful attitudes. There will always be someone out there (particularly those keyboard warriors in the that land of the blogs) who can agree with our own ‘blindness’ to our sinful beams.

To combat the spiritual echo chamber I suggest a couple of ‘antidotes’:
  • a humble attitude of sincere transparency: ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!’ (Psalm 139:23)
  • an intelligent faithful reliance on God’s revealed wisdom: ‘All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.’ ” Timothy 3:16-17

TALKING TO YOURSELF

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I guess that if you heard someone talk to themselves, you would see that as unusual. Jokingly, as a sign of getting old or maybe seriously a symptom of being somehow unwell. But I think it’s good to talk to yourself.

There are voices that ‘talk’ to us through the day and to many even through the night. Voices that are sometimes human and other times imaginary. They can whisper or shout, once or with a tiresome repetitive cadence. The voices of doubt, fear, anger, revenge and hopelessness.

David, the prolific warrior-poet seemed to practice a counter strategy in speaking the opposite message to his very own soul. He used this strategy to silence the lies and highlight the truth. To set the record straight. To bring into sharp focus and remind himself of the other Voice, the voice of God, the one that really matters.

I love the weird people that stop at the traffic lights in the car next to you, singing out loud some favourite tune – totally oblivious of those around. There is some enviable paradoxical sanity in their joy and freedom.

Learn to speak God’s truth, through His word to yourself. It will do you good.Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God  Psalm 43:5 NIV

ATTACHMENT ISSUES

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It is so easy to become attached: a job, a person, a philosophy or a hobby. They offer you a that comfortable sense of security that make you feel like you’re in control. It feels good, cozy and reassuring.

But most of the time – it’s all an illusion. The things that we cling to – hoping they would bring fulfilment – they disappoint us. People let us down, jobs come and go, teams lose… This exposes a deeper truth: we are building illusionary sandcastles. They never last. They never protect.

And when the raging waves take them away -we hit another low of disappointment… There is another way – one that leads to satisfaction: the way of surrender and dependency on God.

It’s a good time to unclench that grasp, before it’s snatched out of our hands by life’s knocks and learn to depend on a dependable, everlasting and ever-present God.

Psalm 46:1-3 NIV
[1] God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. [2] Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, [3] though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

SMART CHOICES

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As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:28-42

A question we need to ask ourselves quite often is: ‘How do I live my live, investing smartly in the things that really matter?’ This particular incident from Jesus’ life provides us with some valuable lessons. If we want to be living a life that pleases God, encourages others and brings authentic satisfaction we could learn with Mary & Martha.

Focus on Jesus!
Martha knows enough about Jesus to know that His presence in their home (life) is a wonderful privilege. She knows Him to be a Healer, a Teacher and a wonderful Friend.
When He is around surprising things happen and lives are transformed. If you are a Christ-follower, I encourage you to acknowledge that He lives in you and desires to live through you. Constantly make yourself available and acknowledge His presence. Listen to His voice and speak to Him. Maybe you have never had the opportunity to welcome Christ as the ‘boss’ of your life – this is the wisest ‘move’ you can make in your life (John 14:6) – don’t delay it!

Focus on the Eternal
Mary appears to be insensitive towards her sister, distracted by the presence of their guest, and therefore provoking a reaction from Martha. But that is just an appearance, because Mary chose invest in being with Christ and listening to Him. She prioritized. She knew that this was a unique chance, an encounter to be treasured. She invested in an eternal treasure (Matthew 6:19-24). It seems so easy to fall into the ‘Martha-attitude trap’ when we find ourselves in the presence of incredible spiritual treasures yet we chose the treasures of this earth. Let us seek to evaluate what we listen to, what we watch, how we spend our time and money, who we spend time with – what we are about…