Thursday 5 May 2022

Why are relationships so hard?

When it comes to relationships I am a bit divided. They are an essential part of life - I need them for so many things from playing games to finding comfort - but they are also hard work. even my best relationships often feel harder than they ought. It's one of those "can't live with them, can't live without them" situations. 10 days ago I spent some time  discussing what it is which makes relationships so hard and I thought it might be helpful to summarise some of the things I talked about. So here goes:
  • Each relationship is different and has its unique challenges. If we try to answer the question in the general then we probably get fairly general answers (selfishness, people, time etc.). Maybe a better approach is to ask ourselves the question about specific relationships. For example what makes my relationship with my wife hard? What makes my relationship with my boss hard? What makes my relationship with my parents hard? I often find myself asking (in a kind of exasperated way) "Why is this so hard?" But perhaps instead of asking this rhetorically I should ask in genuinely as if we don't know what it is which is making it hard we're unlikely to be able to address it.
However, although each relationship is different we do live in a particular place at a certain point of history and so I suggested five things which are issues in our culture which make relationships more difficult. The chances are that many of our relationships will be improved by concentrating on one or more of these issues:
  • Viewing selfishness as a virtue - James in the Bible identifies one of the reasons relationships are so hard like this "What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?" Selfishness makes relationships hard. We fight because sometimes what we want and what the other person/people want is different. Now selfishness is not new but we are now actively encouraged to pursue it in relationships. Relationships are meant to be other person focused and until we can learn to let go of our selfishness relationships will be hard.
  • Untruthfulness - When talking about how we relate to each other the Bible says that we are to put off falsehood and speak truthfully with our neighbours. Relationships are able to flourish when we consistently speak truthfully to each other. The problem is that in our culture we have largely accepted a lot of deceit and untruthfulness - whether it is flattery, white lies or just avoiding saying what is true. Our society’s acceptance of lying and deception has massively hampered our ability to build relationships. We live in a culture where it is hard to trust what people say and building/maintaining relationships in that environment is hard.
  • Anger - In Proverbs we read  “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered.” Meaningful relationships are impossible with people who are hot tempered and easily angered. The level of anger which we see in our society makes relationships incredibly hard. 
  • We don't know who we are - Relationships are between people but what if the people relating don't know who they are? How do they then relate? Our insecurity about our own identity makes relationships hard because if I’m insecure about who I am then my relationship with you becomes primarily about me feeding my self image. So the relationship is much more about me being affirmed than it is about connection and interaction. As such who I am can become incredibly fluid as I will be whatever I need to be to be affirmed by the people I am with. Relationships become an opportunity for me to show myself to be funnier, kinder, stronger, more easy going than other people and as such create my self identity.
  • We don't know what the relationship is - I am a husband and an employee and a boss and a friend and a dad and a teammate and an acquaintance to a whole host of different people. The problem is we no longer know what the rules of these relationships are. 
    • For example, what does it mean to be a husband – We say it means til’ death do us part but 42% of marriages end in divorce so what does it mean? What are the rules of relationship? Is it for keeps or do I need to perform to a certain standard? If I need to perform what are the standards I need to hit? Is it exclusive or not? Is it shared life or is it something else? What’s shared and what’s not. – It’s hard to build a relationship if you are not sure what the relationship you are building is. 
    • Or what does it mean to be a friend? If you became one of my friends you might well find yourself shocked at my expectations of what that means as I view friends as incredibly significant, committed, reciprocal relationships. You could easily find yourself thinking this is a bit intense isn’t it I just thought we’d go for a pint once in a while and send each other Christmas cards.
Relationships are often hard because of differing expectations of what the specific relationship is and this is especially hard in our society where even the basic definitions of what it means to be a parent, spouse, friend etc. have largely been torn up.

Why not run a few of your relationships through these five areas and see if they help you better understand why relationships are hard and what you could try doing to make them easier? 

Monday 18 May 2015

A thousand men

A thousand men could not compose
A worthy song to bring
Yet Your love is a melody
Our hearts can'’t help but sing!

These are words from an Indelible Grace song which I have been listening to over the past few weeks. This has prompted sufficient thoughts to result in an unexpected return from my bloging sabbatical to share these thoughts.

1. What no amount of effort can achieve is achieved by God's love for us.
It's so easy to default to strategies and efforts when it comes to being a Christian. If I just work harder, do some more stuff, get more people mobilised then we can make this happen. But it's never a question of sheer effort and resources. I am currently in the process of planting a church with a small group of people and it is a very helpful reminder that even if there were a thousand of us in the church that would not give us the resources to be able to do 'church' better. No, actually it is the love of God working in us which makes us able to be a church. We don't need a thousand people we just need God's love.

2. What no amount of effort can achieve we can't help but do anyway.
I guess this is what makes the poetry work so well. The thing we can't make ourselves do we are all doing anyway. You see all of God's creation can't help but sing of God's love. That's why humanity's great art forms are obsessed with narratives around love, relationships, betrayal, renewal, hope, sacrifice, good, evil, suffering and joy. As we tell these stories of creation, love, brokenness, despair, hope and sacrifice we are singing God's song because his is the great story of his love for a people who are broken, His is the great story of sacrifice as he dies for the very people who want him dead. His is the great story of hope as he promises an end to suffering a pain and death. We sing these songs because we cannot help but mirror the melody of God.

Wednesday 24 December 2014

Love Actually???

"Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around."

Love Actually appears to have quickly become a Christmas classic for some people. Whilst there is no doubt that it divides opinion (is it simply a feel good reflection of people's Christmases or emotional schmulz?) it does raise a somewhat interesting question and that is do we live in a world dominated by love or something else? What is it which lies at the heart of the world we live in?

For some people there is nothing which lies at the heart of our world. It came from nothing, it will return to nothing and what happens in between is nothing more than what happens. Love happens because some people choose to love but in the same way some choose to hate, some choose to be angry, some choose to use people. Life is a random mix with nothing at its centre.

For others the world is hard and grim. It is survival of the fittest and so life is fundamentally a survival challenge. It is often tough, the world is often hostile and we have to battle through it as best as we can. Find the little pockets of happiness we can whenever and wherever possible. Love may provide some of these pockets but it is equally likely to provide much of the hostility and hurt we so often experience.

Love actually is clear what it thinks. The dominating thing in our world is love. You don't have to look hard to see it and it is that which repeatedly flows out of us. Our natural desire is to love. Now much though it may pain me to say it the Bible agrees. The heart of humanity is love and it is love for one very specific reason. The heart of humanity is love because we were made in the image of a God who is himself love. The Bible could not make it any clearer - People love because God loves.

Now anyone can say they love someone but God is a God who actively loved us. That is what Jesus coming to earth is all about. It is about a God who loved is enough to come into this messed up world as a baby and ultimately die so that we could be welcomed into God's perfect family of love. Broken though humanity is it keeps reverting back to the image in which it was made. We cannot help but express love and if you look around you I guess Love Actually is right you really do see it all around you. So it is right that at Christmas we repeatedly are surrounded by love - We send messages of love, we watch films about love, we spend time with people we love because as you catch a glimpse of the God who loved you enough to come as a baby it is not surprising that love is at the heart of how we celebrate this.

Saturday 24 May 2014

Subtext and Rain

So last night I went to see play performed and written by some University Students entitled Subtext and Rain. I have to say as way of an introduction that I was pleasantly surprised by it. It was well put together and kept me engaged throughout.

As the title may suggest this was a show of themes. The subtext was key and as such worldviews were portrayed but rarely articulated. One of the key ideas which came across again and again was the idea of isolation. As we entered we were encouraged to write down secrets which played a part in the performance and throughout the play again and again the idea came out that no-one really knows us (and perhaps we don't even know ourselves).

This was seen as an overwhelming experience. This sense of isolation, or not being understood, was often portrayed as too much. The water (rain) is rising around us and we're struggling to stay afloat.

This was only one of many themes within the play but it got me thinking about the play as a whole and it struck me that like so much that I watch it was again a play which was willing to diagnose and highlight problems but unwilling to even venture a solution. The sense of isolation highlighted in the play was never addressed. So we identify a problem but offer no solutions. We are nervous to offer solutions because who am I to say anyway - The problem is that mere diagnosis is of limited use.

As I look at the gospel I see the problem of isolation, of loneliness regularly presented but I see a solution offered as well. We are isolated as we seek to present a different face to that we have. We are isolated as we harm other people and are harmed by others and withdraw. We are isolated but this is not the end. The work of Jesus was specifically to rebuild these broken relationships. The security offered by the gospel enable us to be open and vulnerable with people rather than mere actors working hard to portray the version of ourselves we want others to see. This is why so much of what Jesus talks about relates to how we relate to others.

The bible is clear - Isolation and loneliness are realities but the gospel offers a promise of something different/something better. Subtext and Rain could not offer this and so what you are left with is an entertaining and engaging diagnosis which leaves you aware of the problem with no idea how to address it

Saturday 17 May 2014

True Detective Part 2 - Light and Darkness


Rusty - Tell you Marty I been up in that room looking out those windows every night here just thinking, it’s just one story. The oldest.”
Marty: “What’s that?”
Rust: “Light versus dark.”
Marty: “Well, I know we ain’t in Alaska, but it appears to me that the dark has a lot more territory.”
Rust: “Yeah, you’re right about that.”
Rust: “You’re looking at it wrong, the sky thing.”
Marty: “How’s that?”
Rust: “Well, once there was only dark. You ask me, the light’s winning.”

This is the final scene from the scene. The case is solved. Both have survived but it's been pretty grim along the way. The question is what was it all about? What is it all about? True Detective is as much a film about how you view the world as it is about a case. The conclusion is this. It's one story. the story there has always been 'light versus dark'

This is the story of humanity - there's good and there's bad. There's light and there's dark and which is prevalent? Well that depends on your worldview and your experiences. This story of light and dark always interests me because it is one of the central stories of the Bible. Just look at a few of the key moments in the Bible.

What does God create first? Light
What does Jesus say that he is? The light of the world
How is God described? God is light and in him there is no darkness at all
What happens when Jesus dies? Darkness descends
What are Jesus' followers called to be? Light in the world
What will happen at the end? God will recreate the world but there will be no more sun because he himself will be the light.

The Bible tells this story which humanity has been telling ever since. There is darkness in the world and darkness seems to have a lot more territory. So how will the light ever prevail. Well in Jesus light comes into the world. Perfect light in the perfectly good person and he offers forgiveness to people so that they too can become light. As such his followers seek to be light in the world but never wholly succeed until that last day when light finally prevails as God comes down and makes his dwelling with people.

So the story of light and dark continues but light will prevail because light came into the world in the person of Jesus. So ultimately Jesus says rejecting him is rejecting light and choosing the darkness and accepting him is accepting the light.

It may seem like the dark has a lot more territory - but once there was only dark so you ask me and the light is winning.

Sunday 4 May 2014

True Detective - Part 1

Over the past few weeks I have been watching the new HBO mini-series, True Detective, on Sky Atlantic and have had a few thoughts. True Detective is set in Louisiana in the states in what seem like a deeply religious area of the US. It follow two detectives (Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson) who work on a 17 year long case tracking a serial killer. It is a pretty bleak watch at points but also pretty spectacular.

In one of the scenes their investigation takes them to the tent of a travelling ministry type thing (which is frankly fairly ridiculous. As he looks around McConaughey comments at the group of people he sees around him. His main point - these people are unimpressive and unintelligent. Here he simply articulates a view held by many. If you are going to believe in God etc then you must be stupid. This got me thinking and I have a few thoughts.

1. As a Christian I am unconvinced that Christians are noticeably less intelligent than those who are not

2. It is however true that numerous religious institutions throughout history have sort to exploit people, including those who are vulnerable in some way, for their own ends. This is true of not just the religious but of all different types of people. Unfortunately people exploiting other people is a perennial part of human past and present. The meeting the attend did not really seem to reflect any intelligible belief but rather did seem to be about exploitation. I would distance myself from that.

3. My main reflection was this - So what? Christianity, if true, should not and could not be a thing which requires a certain level of intellect. It is a relationship with a God who made us and loves us. Not a test we have to pass or a qualification we have to gain. Whereas the rest of our world may run around after the rich, intelligent and famous - God does not care about those distinctions.

If Jesus is fundamentally about following Jesus then in him we see the perfect example of someone who was obviously not unintelligent (he may not have split the atom but he changed history more than the man who did), who did not seek to exploit anyone for his own gain but instead willingly gave up the riches and comfort of heaven to live on this earth and eventually be crucified by the people he came for and who drew all sorts of people to himself including those rejected and despised by the society he lived in, in much the same way that McConaughey had no time for the people at that meeting.

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Ben Folds Five - Philosophy

"I see that there is evil
And I know that there is good
And the in-betweens I never understood
Would you look at me I'm crazy
But I get the job done
I'm crazy but I get the job done"

So as I continue with my 'Naked Baby Photos' theme I move onto what is probably Ben Fold Five's second most famous song a video of which is included when they performed it on the Jools Holland show.

As you may expect from a song called philosophy it is no surprise that this song provides an insight into what I assume is/was Ben Folds view of the world which resonates so much with the world we live in. 
Ben Folds has little time for idealistic sentiment and so in this song we have a view of morality which is deeply practical and probably most of us can relate with.

We see evil in the world - So we click the news on and we see 'evil' - murder, war etc - Whatever fits in your category of evil.
We also know that there is good - We see in our life real love, real affection - Whatever fits in this category.
So we acknowledge we live with this confusing world. It is goodness and evil all mixed together

The question is why is the world sop confusing? Why do we live in a world of irrational goodness and irrational evil? I have always found the Bible's answer to this compelling. The Bible says that God made the world and it was good - so the world will always contain goodness which we will see. But on the flip side the Bible also says that we rebelled against him and ever since then evil has come into the world and so we see goodness but the goodness is no longer perfection and so it is goodness tempered by evil. What we see in the world I see in myself. I see goodness and I see evil.

Ben Folds does not have a Christian world view and so his response is telling. He sees evil, he know's that there is good so what does he do... Well he get's the job done. This is the story of most of our lives. We see evil and goodness, we see a confusing crazy world, we can't quite work it out and so what do we do? Well we crack on. We get our heads down and we get on with life. In the words of Ben Folds 'Won't you look at me I'm crazy but I get the job done'. In a confusing world why try to make sense of it? Just get on with the stuff you have to do.

Jesus gives us a different option. Instead of ignoring the craziness of the world we live in we can look straight at it in the knowledge that we live in a good but broken world  for which redemption is possible. We don't have to ignore the mess because the story of the Bible is that God has a plan to sort it out.