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Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places

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Christian living

Wearing your faith on your sleeve

In my new job, I now find myself part of a community that is both deeply and wonderfully familiar, and a little foreign around the fringes. My Christian roots are decidedly “post-Evangelical”, although I now balk at using too many labels to define my faith in God, except to say that I’m still learning and I’ve recently had a hermeneutic breakthrough.

All this to say that I come from a tradition with a flat and patriarchal hierarchy (no elders with collars or hats or robes, but still all male), and I’m getting used to being referred to as laity (not directly, but that is the bucket to which I now belong.)

I am loving the differences. I am loving learning about the differences, even as I am enjoying the security and natural ease that comes from being among the like-minded. Until recent years, I hadn’t realised how I’ve been holding my breath in the workplace, or
“reining my Christianity in”. Mainstream sentiment in Australia already seems hostile towards religion, but especially towards Islam and Christianity. It’s been the biggest culture shock for me, coming from a country that celebrates and emphasises distinct cultures and religions. To be “overtly Christian” — especially in the workplace — therefore seems like an open invitation for questions on my fairness, motives, and tolerance; an open season for potential discrimination suits and assumptions about my intellect.

In recent weeks, the topic of a more “overt Christianity” has cropped up several times in various forms at work and at home. At bible class recently for instance, I wondered if my decade-old approach of trying to Live By Example rather than Talking the Salvation Message has actually been a giant cop-out that I’ve justified to myself after living in Australia this long.

Since migrating here, I’ve come to realise (to my huge surprise) that on most policy issues, I am decidedly left-leaning (even if Labor leadership right now seems about as impressive as wet lettuce), but I also care deeply about issues supported by the Right. Just yesterday, I admitted in a public forum to a long-time friend that I am a Pro-life Feminist. To some circles, this sounds as paradoxical as a Thinking Christian. To other circles, the bemusing paradox is the fact that I am a Christian Feminist.

And then a couple days ago, I was asking about the collars that clergy wear and the origin of the collar, and we ended up digressing to how modern clergy go without the collar nowadays. Yet if every ordained priest wore their collar in the street, said Emma, there would be hundreds of them just walking about doing their own thing – and society at large might suddenly realise that there are actually more Christians in their midst than they thought. Than even we might think.

Brilliant idea.

In this age, the war-cry on social issues has been for greater tolerance – and by tolerance, it increasingly seems to mean the suppression of even personal convictions, judgements, and lifestyles. “The intolerance of the intolerant” has been used to suppress differences of opinion by characterising dissent as hate, and to elevate (left-leaning) neutrality – rather than dialogue – as the greatest good.

But it’s a fallacy – no one can please everybody. Even among the tolerant, there is no One True Correct in political correctness. We all believe nuances of different things across the board – which means at any given time, someone is going to get royally pissed off with you if they ever got to hear what you really believe and think.

Which brings me back to collars and overt Christianity.

I don’t have a collar, and I don’t even own a pendant of the Cross. And maybe it’s the mellowing of age, but I no longer feel the imperative to jump into the fray on parenting forums about seatbelt laws, let alone hot button issues like same-sex marriage and that plebiscite. But I want to be authentic about who I am, what I believe, and why. And that takes more courage than I currently feel, all the more so when Christians seem to be lying so low in our community that the national narrative about us is that we’re nothing more than a hypocritical, whiny, fun-killing gay-hating hick minority taking our sermons from fire-brimstone pedophiles, instead of a sizeable population that is just as conflicted about lots of issues,that doesn’t profess to have all the answers, but that is earnest about community and being a champion of the downtrodden – “the widows and orphans in distress”.

If you’re a Christian reading this, please help me by “putting on your collar” – not just in your home and church, but in the streets, in your workplaces, in areas of life where we’re assumed to be intolerant until proven “not that kind of Christian”. It helps me recognise I have a compadre. If we all shine a little beacon to say “I’m here, just doing my thing”, it makes the way clearer and the journey less lonely.

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Still Relevant memos to self

While going through my computer folders, I found my notes from when I gave a short devotion at a mother’s group meeting at Audrey’s home in Singapore. Had a flick-through and true enough, all of what I had pondered over then is still relevant today.

1. Growing Dependent Kids

I had mentioned before how Tony and I are big on Arddun gaining independence early. It’s in the small things, like minimising the spoon-feeding, getting her to self-settle instead of rocking her to sleep, teaching her to put away her toys and to clean up her messes, instilling in her the focus and contentment required to play independently… The only thing we haven’t been as successful in the Get Independent Quick parenting scheme  is potty training. But still, there is that inner dialogue hurrying me along, ever conscious not to molly-coddle, not to breed bad habits…

Except I think I might have lost sight of the ultimate goal. Because the ultimate goal isn’t about giving a child life competencies and a sense of her place and role in her environment, although those are great things to strive for. The ultimate goal isn’t about enabling my child to stand on her two feet and know her own mind.

The ultimate goal is to move my child from dependence on mummy and daddy to dependence on God.

I didn’t get to say this at the actual sharing because there were eleventeen babies making friends with one another at the time (and eleventeen equally loving mothers trying to keep them out of trouble), but I had read a blog post that week written by a mother who wanted her newly school-attending daughter to gain more confidence by remembering that God was there with her at school. And that just shifted the paradigm for me. I will not always be there for Arddun. As she gets older, there are going to be play dates, and classes (we think dance classes at the rate she’s going), and school, and sports, and a whole other world that is going to be mostly hers. I will always be there for her emotionally and the rest of it, of course. But I won’t be by her desk at school when the soi disant school queen bee comes around, or leaning against the bleachers when she is tempted to cheat at softball. (Because of course, we’re hoping she’s going to do softball. And when I say we, I mean Tony.)

In all those cases, her best bet is a keen sense of right and wrong that comes from understanding who God is and why He loves her.

REALLY helps if she learns all that through example, of course. So I’d best buck up.

2. Be present

Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:34

Be still and know that I am God. Psalms 46:10

Be ever hearing, but never understanding. Be ever seeing, but never perceiving. (Isaiah 6:10 Hebrew; Septuagint ‘You will be ever hearing, but never understanding; / you will be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ / This people’s heart has become calloused; / they hardly hear with their ears, / and they have closed their eyes)

Be here. Be present. Wherever you are, be there. ― Willie Nelson

How many of these scenarios are familiar to you?

iPads or iPhones at the dinner table.

A young man sitting in the reserved seat on the MRT, engrossed in his Candy Crush while a mother with a young child stands beside him.

A mother on the phone with the Australian Customs Department worrying about boxes, while her child waits to cuddle her and wave good-bye. (That was me, the day before I shared that devotion.)

It is so easy to get busy over the details. To multi-task. To jam as many things in the day as humanly possible. Sometimes it’s because we have to. But many times, it’s because we want to. We want to please God, we want to help His people. We want to fulfil our potential, and we want to maximise the talents God has given us.

But sometimes, in the doing, we sacrifice the best version of ourselves. Quantity is very often NOT the substitute for quality. I get very exasperated when I see how many small things I can accomplish at one go, while my husband seems only capable of doing one thing at a time. But if I were to analyse the attention span I’ve paid each task, I realise that it is often divided, and can be at the expense of someone else. Usually, Arddun and Tony.

The art of being present is the art of shutting out distractions, and having the discipline not to let anything else enter in. The art of being present is in the decision that THIS is what is MOST important to the moment. Encouraging my child as she shows me how well she sorts shapes. Listening – REALLY listening – to my husband when he tells me about his day. Talking to Arddun about disappointing behaviour. Rehearsing how to behave when she opens birthday gifts at her party. Undivided attention shows my daughter — and my husband —more love and gives them more satisfaction than any toy or present I could possibly give them. And yet it is hard not to jump up and answer a message when it beeps, or run off and put a load of washing on before I forget.

But it is crucial. And it is respectful of others.

I am still learning, so please pray for me.

3. Love covers over a multitude of sins

Keep your love for one another at full strength, because love covers a multitude of sins. ~I Peter 4:8

I find it so easy to forgive Arddun and yet so difficult at times to do the same for Tony. And I can sometimes feel myself spiralling downward into a very corrosive blame game that makes me out to be this huge martyr and my husband, a rather obtuse and unthinking duh-duh. Which is complete nonsense, because he’s one of the most switched-on people I know.

But yes. Sometimes, as fathers and husbands, they drive us mad. Things that come so naturally to us – like figuring out how to stack the Tupperware in your cupboard logically or opening a fancy packet of tissues using the perforation marks and not brute force – seem to completely thwart our husbands. Many times, it seems they do it because they don’t respect us enough or care to understand.

And maybe some of our assumptions are spot on. And some of it comes from sleep deprivation and being TOO fussy and particular. Sometimes, the battles we pick don’t need to be battles, but we choose to pick them because they’re more tangible than the other worries and concerns we have with our spouses.

Yet the verse is pretty clear about the effort required on our parts. Keep your love for one another at full strength. If it’s depleted, fill it up. If I’m running on empty, if I’m doing my mothering and wife-ing out of resentment, I’ve personally been remiss. If I am unable to forgive and forget – yes, FORGET – then I am unable to let the “multitude of sins” go because I have not loved perfectly. I have not agape-d my husband.

Like I said, I have yet to fully understand this and see it live in my life. But I can only work towards the prize.

Sharing a short devo at Audrey's house

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