Tuesday, March 5, 2013

2 Ways to Die

Tthere are two ways to die.

I would rather die an unsatisfied idealist than a satisfied realist.

What about you?

Monday, November 5, 2012

12 Steps in Adultery

Here's some helpful gear to help my married friends fight against the slide into adultery.

One of our lecturers at college presented a version of this material, From Temptations Men Face, By Tom L. Eisenman, Chapter 4: Affairs. I've done some very minor editing to take some of the American flavour out, tweaked the definition of adultery, and added the Sting reference. (Thanks to an old college oz-tag friend, Dan Webster, for finding this material for us today). 

It was aimed at those of us working in pastoral ministry, but I wonder if this stuff is helpful to many of us in many different circumstances. I think it's especially helpful for blokes.

The lips of an adulteress drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil;  but in the end she is bitter as gall, sharp as a double-edged sword.  Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave.

  • Adultery – Sexual intercourse with someone other than your spouse.
  • Adulterous Affair – an intense emotional, social and physical involvement with someone other than your spouse.
  • Obsession – When there is an intense emotional preoccupation coupled with repeated sexual encounters, the affair becomes an obsession – those involved are often willing to throw away their career, their reputation, their family and deny their faith to keep the relationship. The classic example is 39-year-old King David, obsessed with Bathsheba (Read their story in 2 Samuel 11 of the Bible. Sting also wrote a song based on this story; 'Mad about you'). 
  • Deceit, Rationalization and Denial – These are the three internal enemies that are present in virtually every affair, and eventually work to alter your sense of reality.  You deceive when you must cover your tracks (“Perfect. I’m staying four days for a three-day conference.”).  Rationalizing is giving acceptable reasons for unacceptable behaviour (“ Isn't it wonderful that God has given me two wonderful men to love.”).  Denial, or self-denial, is our intense refusal to recognize the truth about our thoughts, feelings and actions to ourselves (“This is just a Platonic relationship; it’ll all be over soon.”).

Counsellors have found 12 steps that usually occur in sequence as a relationship moves toward an affair:
  1. Readiness:  Some people are “an affair waiting to happen” due to societal pressures (promiscuity is good, affairs are healthy and natural), the condition of the marriage (roughest typically with unresolved tensions at 2 years, 7 years, mid-life and empty nest), and personal struggles (poor parental role models, self-indulgence, hatred of feeling trapped, poor self-image, depression, mid-life crisis).
  2. Awareness of Another:  He has a growing awareness of a particular person in his web of relationships.  Occasional thoughts turn to fantasy.  He may get photos of her in a group, but focus on her in his thoughts.
  3. Innocent Meetings:  At church or business functions, he may engage in some light flirting or prolonged eye contact, or use enticing body language.
  4. Intentional Meeting:  They come up with ways to “run into each other” if he knows where she normally is at a given time.
  5. Public Lingering: While in group settings, they avoid eye contact with others and converse about personal history, interests and struggles.  Others might start to pick up something unusual in their level of interest in each other.  Denial and rationalization grow strong at this point.
  6. Private Lingering:  After others have left, their conversations move to discussing private and personal areas, and they express their care for each other.  The excitement level spikes.
  7. Purposeful Isolating:  They come up with “legitimate” reasons to meet and talk.  The spouse will notice an increase in errands or things to do at work, and a decrease in verbal communication; he becomes cool, distant and almost formal in his relating, and blames it on stress.  Deceit grows strong at this point.
  8. Pleasurable Isolating: They plan times alone just for the enjoyment of being together, normally in a public place but some distance away.  They have a youthful euphoria combined with deceit, rationalization and denial.  There is more romance, more touching, and a deep sharing of souls.  Family and coworkers will notice blocks of time not accounted for.  The spouse begins to wonder.
  9. Affectionate Embracing:  The longing for each other becomes intense.  There is playful caressing, tickling, wrestling … and a corresponding drop in any physical interest in the spouse.
  10. Passionate Embracing:  The passion builds.  If alcohol or drugs are involved, the couple will move quickly through these stages.
  11. Capitulation:  The couple gives in to sexual intercourse.  Denial is eliminated at this stage.  They can’t deny what they've done at this point. 
  12. Acceptance:  The couple will struggle for a bit.  They’ll normally admit to each other that they’re having an affair and make a decision whether to continue or not, but guilt seldom breaks off the relationship; they've been overpowering their consciences all along.
James Dobson said, “The grass is greener on the other side of the fence, but it still has to be mowed.”  Some affairs can’t survive the fallout of being discovered, going through separations, counseling, divorce, loss of child custody, but most affairs usually do.  They will typically cope by moving away and starting life from scratch.  The kids struggle to understand this; they are the smallest of the shattered pieces.  When the excitement wears off, the couple is forced to live real life again.  There is terrible guilt and, of course, the fear that in a little while, their companion will have an affair with someone else.  Over 80% of second marriages fail.

  1. Pray often about this issue.  Ask God to help you with your thought life, help you keep your marriage relationship strong, and help you avoid the immoral woman (Proverbs 2:16-17, 5:3-4, 5:15-21).
  2. Communicate often with your spouse.  Unresolved conflicts (you don’t “win” arguments; you resolve them) and busyness can destroy communication.  Purposefully make time to talk.  After dinner, take time to gush about the day, the feelings, pressures and tensions.  Talk about the future to align your expectations.  Talk about how to keep improving your relationship and your sex life.
  3. Get alone and do fun things together.  The two of you should go out once per week (or per month if the budget demands), and go on a 2-3 day getaway once a year without the kids.  Keep the mystery; plan a surprise getaway.
  4. Talk to your wife about what is proper when relating to the opposite sex.  What touch or aloneness is appropriate?  Does this vary from woman to woman?  Women have radar with each other; a woman knows when someone is interested in her man.
  5. Remember to avoid the steps in the affair process.  Be strict and honest with yourself.  Are you at one of the stages now?  What thoughts must you bring captive?  What behaviors must you alter?
  6. Guard your gauges and know your level of weakness.  Most men fall into adultery when they are spiritually drained, emotionally exhausted and physically worn out, often even when their marriages are fine.
  7. Work on your appearance for your spouse’s sake.  All bodies change shape and density as the years go by.  Love your spouse’s soul, because their body will take a dive.  Notice that a person who starts to have an affair becomes very appearance conscious – like back in high school or uni.  Why?  They’re trying to attract someone.  Why not do that as spouses?  Continue to date your spouse and try to attract her!
  8. Watch out for the mid-life crisis.  Men experience this phenomenon differently.  It is basically a time, typically in a man’s forties, when he:
·         Believes he is no longer attractive to younger women;
·         Questions his identity, who he really is;
·         Questions whether he has accomplished anything meaningful in life, or at least, accomplished the goals he set early in his career;

The crisis can kick in very quickly.  A teenage girl points to him and says to her friend, “That’s your boyfriend” and they both look sick and laugh hysterically.  Or the interesting jobs at work are being given to the young guys “who will really do something.”  Or his kids grow up and move away, and he is no longer the centre of his family’s life.  Should he have spent more time with them rather than at the stupid office? 

Proper evaluation leads to being a more focused man in your 50s and 60s.  Improper understanding leads a man to seek a younger woman (he is very susceptible to flattery), imitate youthful appearance, change jobs and seek adventure to escape the meaningless, mundane life he had before he became an “old person.”

Monday, October 15, 2012

An open letter to Guy Sebastian

What would be a good response by Christians to Guy Sebastian's recent comments about his faith?

Here's a pretty winsome attempt by a friend of mine, Nathan Campbell. Well done bro-cous!

The Bible for Christian bloggers

Here's a helpful article a friend from church sent me, for Christians to think about how we're communicating online. By a bloke called Bryan Chappell.

I like a lot of his points. But I especially like how he just seems to be applying the principles of godly character that we Christians are to exhibit in all conversations, not just online.

Here is an especially challenging bit for Christian bloggers. He captures a point I feel pretty strongly about now, having been guilty of this a lot in my time:
Responsibilities for Bloggers

...A blogger may contend that he or she is not responsible for what others say in such open forums. But this defense can be compromised by the blogger's self-interests. At sites known for their edginess, shutting down or refereeing incendiary comments may damage the popularity of the blog.

The "cock-fight fascination" that draws visitors to religious controversy creates ethical pressures for Christian bloggers who believe they best fulfill their mission by garnering more attention for their point of view. The Bible calls them to seek peace, but they have to multiply controversy (or allow commenters to do so) in order to keep their blog visitable and viable (Rom 12:18; Heb 12:14-15).

We will not have means to navigate these issues unless we again agree that the Bible applies in the blogosphere (Ps 24:1). With that agreement, we can examine biblical responsibilities that we personally assume when we post on the internet.

The biblical ethic that primarily should bind us is not maximizing pageviews but faithfulness. If faithfulness should require our failure to succeed in worldly terms, then loyalty to heaven's priorities demands that we fail rather than disregard Scripture.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Why federal politics is getting worse but will get better

Why is Australian federal politics so bad at the moment?

Many years ago I read an article on the Palestinian-Israeli issue that asked why that terrible situation remains perpetually mired in a downward spiral of armed conflict. The provocative answer put forward was simple: no-one has won. After years of conflict, no-one has lost. No one has overcome. No-one has been defeated. And there's nothing like swallowing the bitter pill of defeat to make one side submit to the power (if not legitimacy) of the other. It's a dark thesis. And a damning insight into the true nature of humanity.

In Australian federal politics at the moment, the only thing that seems certain about it's grubby state of affairs is that it can't possibly get any worse. But of course it can and it will. Because no-one has won. No-one won the last election. No-one has been defeated. And after 2 years of conflict, no-one has lost either. It's like we're still in campaign mode. No-one has overcome. And no-one has been made to swallow the bitter pill of defeat. Power doesn't reside with one side; neither does legitimacy. For us, a hung parliament is only a recipe for unceasing and ever-more degrading conflict.

But that's where the similarities end. Our parliament might be plumbing new depths - but at least our leaders aren't using machine guns, tanks, pipe-bombs or ripcords. Our problems are incomparable to the destructive force of that conflict on the other side of the world. Where real 'barrages' and real 'withering attacks' only really destroy.

Now words too can be destructive, of course - but not only destructive. Whereas the conflict in the middle-east seems without end, in a year or so our leaders will order writs for another election. And they'll draw ink, not blood, in doing so. Then one side will win. The other will lose. One will enjoy the sweet taste of victory, the other the bitterness of defeat. And that's when Australian federal politics will get better.
Because someone has won.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Sarah's touring!

In a few days Sarah will be off to tour Australia - every capital city on the mainland - as a backing vocalist for Stuart Townend. I think the order is Sydney, BrisVegas, Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne.

You can check out the details here (although several concerts are already sold out!) I understand she might be leading a few new EMU music songs too. But we'll wait and see.

Here's Sarah singing at an EMU Music conference back in 2005. She'd given birth to one of our sons only a few weeks before this gig in Sydney (I got to cradle him in my arms that night). What an amazing woman.

This time, our latest little blessing will be over 4 months old. But still young enough to need to be where Sarah is. So he gets to go too. And of course he'll need a babysitter while Sarah's working.....!

Getting excited.

My Spring holiday Reading review

Well, my Spring holidays are finished. And so are several books. Which were good? Which were bad? Which were gold?

Here's a brief summary.

Danny the Champion of the World, by Roald Dahl. 
3.5 stars. 

Immensely enjoyed reading this to one of my sons at bedtime. We finished in the final week of school last term. The final chapter is simply called 'My father'. Without revealing the ending, that's a fair summary of what this book is about. I'd recommend it to dads to read to their sons at bedtime - great for cultivating the imagination of a 7 year old. And for building your relationship with your boy.

On a final note, it's interesting that such a book was written by Roald Dahl. A genius storyteller as a man who had a less than ideal boyhood. He lost his Dad when he was only 3. Just weeks after losing a sister. As my Uncle once said to me, "We live with our childhood every day."

Going the Distance: How to Stay Fit for a Lifetime of Ministry
by Peter Brain. 
4 stars. 

Also finished this in the last week of last term. Went through a few chapters each week with our trainees at church (and some other staff). Part of their training in 'Theological Reflection'.

You can check out my other posts on this book here. Going through it slowly over a whole term has been exceedingly beneficial. And discussing each chapter with friends. Lots of gold in here to be revisited frequently for those in full-time pastoral work.

The only two critical comments I could make are that some of the illustrations and applications are now dated (rendered obsolete by rapid technological change since it was first written) and that the author, quite understandably, is writing from an Anglican perspective. Some bridging in application is needed if you're a minister in a different Christian church (like my Presbyterian denomination).

The Hunger Games, books 1 and 2, by Suzanne Collins
3.5 stars. 

It's about time I finally got into these, since so many friends recommended them. So these holidays I sat around and read the first 2. WOAH! Fast and furious. Adventurous. Great fun. Dark. And Roman - so very Roman.

The world's made up of 12 provinces ('Districts') all under the heel of 'The Capitol'. 'Tributes' are sent from each district to this capital each year, which is a shining light in a barbaric world. The tributes enter in chariots, are placed in an 'arena' and must fight to the death. It's all very imperial, right down to the Roman names the author drops in ('Seneca' is the Head Gamemaker; 'Venia, Flavia and Octavia' are the heroine's attendants). Of course, the most barbaric place in this fictional world turns out to be at the very heart of the empire.

There're some nice dofts of the hat to Western culture - her great act of ultimate rebellion involves her taking fruit to eat (as well as giving some to her man...) - and there're some subtle critiques too: the shallow, materialistic privileged who live as economic parasites off the poorer peoples of the world; the obsession with spin; the idolatry of perception; the gluttony of the rich.

There's a very cutting line in book 2 about the so-called power of the empire... so 'powerful' just a few berries could bring it all undone. Ouch.

Looking forward to Sarah grabbing the third from the library.

Preaching without Notes, by Joseph M. Webb
4 stars. 

Enjoyed reflecting on preaching while being dislocated from work. A highly provocative book. The title's accurate. He gives 3 main reasons for preaching without notes (not to be confused with preaching without preparation!)

1) To maximise connectedness.
2) To maximise participation.
3) To reflect authentic witness.

It's essentially a 'how-to' book that first has a significant chunk devoted to an apology for his cause. I found his arguments compelling.

The central critique from the author is directed at the obsession we have as preachers to read manuscripts. He quotes:
As to delivery itself, reading is of necessity less effective, and in most cases immensely less effective, for all of the great purposes of oratory, than speaking. Greater coldness of manner is almost inevitable. If one attempts to be very animated or pathetic it will look unnatural. The tones of voice are monotonous, or have a forced variety. The gestures are almost always unnatural, because it is not natural to gesticulate much in reading and they scarcely ever raise us higher than to feel that really this man reads almost like speaking. (p. 20)