Forgiving My 15 Year-Old Self

When I was 15 I started a band with a few friends of mine. We were Christian nu-metal. That means we did our best to sound like Rage Against the Machine while inserting ‘The Good News’ between overdriven heavy funk licks. And yes, we changed the lyrics of ‘Killing in the name’  to ‘Yes God, I’ll do what you told me.” Once a year a friend discovers an old youtube clip of us and reposts it on social media just to remind everyone that I was once in a maximum cringe-factor high-school band. However high my ego has floated over the past year, it is mercilessly drawn back down to earth again by this reminder.

I often feel about that band the same way I feel about reading old journals. Like the one where I was travelling overseas for a few weeks and left a note to the girl I was deeply infatuated with at the time incase I ‘didn’t make it’ - spoiler alert: she’s now my wife. nice.

I’m thinking about this a bit at the moment as I’m in the final stages of putting into print the book, 21 Elephants, I’ve been working on for the past five years. These words emerged the other day while writing the introduction:

“There’s a good chance that as a 30 year old I might have just put into print one the great follies of my life. Perhaps I’ll spend the next 50 or 60 years defending these thoughts, or worse, apologising for the fact I don’t see things the same way I did in the first third of life.”

Will the thing that I’m currently pretty proud of just be an enduring relic of my immaturity? Will the writing style read similarly to the way my band’s nu-metal music is forever trapped in the early 2000s? In the creative process I’ve worked really hard to develop my own voice, but will I look back in ten years and see that all 50,000 words are just an imitation of my heroes? It’s all a bit scary to be honest.

The demands of the world to be cool and current are relentless. People can be pretty unforgiving. I find myself far too often affected by these pressures. The reality is that, unless I’ve written ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ or ‘The Luminaries’, there is soon coming a day where what I’ve created will lose some relevance and historical pertinence. I look back at what I thought even two or three years ago and know that those thoughts weren’t nearly as formed as they are now. In a sense I’m setting myself up for another annual social media post, quoting something I once said which will one day be the arrogant and naive ramblings of someone in the first half of life.

So then the question is, ‘Why publish?’

When I start asking this question it leads to a familiar kind of paralysis that is one of the defining traits of many Millennials. Inaction. Not inaction based in apathy, but based in fear. Fear that we might be wrong. Hence why so many of us would prefer to stay in the postmodern trap of indecision and upholding contradictory worldviews in order to make sure we can never be held to account for anything… ever. Some say ‘the good is the enemy of the great’, but sometimes for us I think the hope of greatness is the enemy of the good. ‘If it can’t be perfect then what’s the point?’

When I look back at that high school band and strip off the cringe factor of playing Christian nu-metal I remember something. I remember that we had a whole lot of fun doing it. Late night drives between venues when touring, eating bad food on the road with your best friends, meeting strangers who were moved by what you created - those things were all actually pretty cool. And when I listen to our old album I hear lyrics that still resonate with the heart of who I am now; criticising the consumerist hypocrisy of The Church and questioning why the highest ideals of our faith had been abandoned to move furniture around auditoriums instead. It’s old, it’s cringe, but it was ‘me’ and I’m proud of that kid.

And to be honest I’ll probably never be okay with my present self until I can forgive my past self as well. The 15 year-old self I judge today will one day by the 30 year-old self I judge at 45. I can’t live a perfect life and, in this day of social media, my mistakes will almost certainly be preserved for future scrutiny.

But, while I can’t live a perfect life, I can live a wholehearted and courageous life that will stand for what I know to be true at the moment. The world doesn’t need it’s artists and auteurs to be timid, insecure or fearful. It needs us to bring our often outlandish ambitions and high-minded ideals as they are, not censored by the fear of one day being ‘too mature’ for them. To publish, to create, and to release that to an audience is a profound act of courage. It is an action compelled by brave love and not fear. It is a strong action that says I’m willing to be wrong. So here goes nothing. let’s do this!

The Morning After : What Trump could teach New Zealand

I’ve followed the last three US elections religiously. I listen to a multitude of podcasts and read every article you can imagine. So when yesterday came it was the culmination of two and half years of watching and waiting for the US to decide that a reality TV star is incapable of running a country. It’s been an emotional rollercoaster to be honest. I remember hearing Trump announce his bid and saying ‘nothing dumber than this will happen this election’. Boy was I wrong! Like, Seriously! What the hell just happened?!

What I had to face this morning as I stepped out of my front door onto this little liberal enclave of Cuba Street is that there is a big world out there. A world where almost half of the voting public in the US said they’re willing to tolerate sexism, racism, xenophobia and violence if they believe it will ‘make America great again’.

I was reminded this morning that in this world I have a very specific perspective. It’s a Christian Left perspective. A male perspective. A white perspective. A middle-class perspective. A privileged perspective. An employed perspective. A tertiary-educated perspective. Those six things alone surely make me among some of the most lucky, safe and secure in the world.

This morning I’m reminded just how myopic I can be. I’m reminded that my views are in the minority and that they are shaped by always growing up with enough to eat, not having lived through a major conflict and having almost every possible opportunity afforded to me to succeed. I’m convinced it wasn’t so much Trump who won last night, but fear. Fear won the US election. All these many privileges above make it difficult for me to truly understand what it is to have fear, and so also the perspectives of many of the 50 million people who chose a President like Trump.

I’m convinced that Trump is what a society produces when we cease to try to understand and empathise with one-another. It’s what happens when educated liberals from New York retreat to their political camps and blue-collar workers from Flint do the same. Each of their perspectives left to grow in a petri dish of like-minds. Though it’s hard for me to admit, conservatives need progressives and progressives need conservatives too. When these political identities and cultures become so fortified we can no longer talk then a Trump is inevitable. A man with the charisma and the ability to exploit and widen the divide for his benefit.

A few years ago while battling with depression I met regularly with a counselor. I was feeling torn up by the painful actions of a young person I’d been working with. Where I felt I’d been loving and gracious they had responded with some painful and costly deception. I felt raw and like it was all deeply personal. My counselor at the time gave me some of the best advice for healing the wound. They suggested that every time something like this happens I invent an empathetic narrative in my head for why this is the case. Maybe this kid is stealing from me because there’s no food in the fridge at home? Maybe he’s lying to me because he doesn’t want to let me down? Maybe he’s screaming at me to see if I’ll abandon him just like everyone else? 

And you know what? it worked.

In the absence of having the full story I still continue today to imagine stories that evoke empathy in me rather than judgment and condemnation. I trick my heart into compassion when it would prefer to do the opposite. I don’t invent excuses for immoral behavior (what Trump has done is inexcusable), but an explanation helps me to take off my own perspective for a moment and stand in the shoes of another.

I’m trying to do the same this morning. I’m trying to imagine what it’s like not to live in the liberal heartland of New Zealand. I’m wondering what it’s like to be a steel worker from Flint, Michigan who saw the jobs of her or his community shipped offshore. I’m wondering what it feels like for him not to be able to provide for his family. I’m wondering how this experience of desperation framed how he saw those two planes hit the towers on September 11. I’m wondering if he remembers his childhood as a better and a simpler time where his country and his community thrived. I'm wondering if that made the ambitious offer to ‘Make America Great Again’ resonate with him just a little bit. I’m wondering if he’s not a redneck fool, but someone just desperate for change.

Because the truth is that, regardless of our own preferences, none of us here in Aotearoa want our political system to go the way of the States. To prevent that we must lean into empathy and resist division. I have a conviction this morning that I need to begin to bridge the divide with my Right Wing Conservative neighbour. I need to remember that Cuba Street is too far removed from a Taranaki dairy farm for me to claim I understand. I’m resolved today, more than ever, that we need each other. I’m praying we would all have the courage to lean across the fence/aisle, knock on the door of our neighbor and truly begin to understand. Will you join me?

How I made friends with Criticism

criticism.jpg Recently I’ve been reflecting on the year that has been. If I could choose a few words to describe my experience one of them would have to be criticism. I’ve been criticised for being too liberal and too conservative, for being too overbearing and too hands-off, for being too outspoken and for not saying enough when it counted. Some of this resulted in me having my first ever dose of writers block recently where I became so nervous about peoples responses that I just decided to pack it in all together.

If I were smart I would have taken this time to batten down the hatches and write some self-help mantras above my desk to deal with the insecurity of it all. Instead, I sent away a copy of a speaking engagement I did recently to someone I consider one of New Zealand’s best communicators for feedback. Great idea huh?

The feedback arrived a month later in the form of a ‘shit sandwich’. It’s a youth work term for when you nestle the critique between encouragements. In this case there was very little bread and a lot of the brown stuff. This total hero of mine questioned not just the form or delivery, but my underlying assumptions and philosophy. Not only did I say something badly, but the content wasn’t good either. Ouch.

Alongside this I’m currently in the process of sending my upcoming book around a selection of friends and other authors for their take on it. This project has taken me five years to pull together so it all feels particularly raw at the moment. After a few glowing reports (to be honest the only kind I was hoping for) I got an email from a friend who’s a journalist for a big New Zealand newspaper. She pulled no punches with her assessment that it needed wholesale structural change.

And as much as I want to be, I’m not allowed to be hurt or angry about these two experiences. In both cases I asked for an honest critique and that is exactly what I got. And the more I experience critique and scrutiny the more I start to understand that these moments are actually little gifts in the form of questions. Maybe, just maybe, criticism is my friend and not my foe.

Criticism asks me questions like, ‘Do you actually believe what you say you do?’ It’s really easy to espouse a set of values when you’re surrounded by people who agree with all the same things you do; but what about when people say that your ideas are too lofty, to idealistic, or even claim you’re judgmental and exclusive? Do you still believe, or is it time to change? Never until this year have I been forced so often to go back to the fundamentals of the way I live my life and ask whether I actually believe these things. Criticism is the crucible that refines and develops our minds and hearts to true commitment to the resolutions we’ve made.

And then there’s the question that goes ‘Am I defined by my art?’ The gift of critique is a call to the deep disentangling of my core identity from the reception of my work. No doubt there will be many when my book comes out who disagree, and moments like these prepare me to hear their reactions as judgments on the quality of my work and not the value of my personhood. Criticism is the friend who helps me to let go and know who I am in the moments I don’t have a microphone in my hand. Criticism is a sword that cleaves my soul from the work of my hands.

And then there’s that final, and annoying, question of wisdom and humility: ‘Is what is being said to me true? If so, what do I need to do about it?’ It’s all too easy to walk away from these painful critiques and immediately find a cohort of friends who will tell me what I want to hear, but that’s actually not what grows us is it? I would be a fool to disregard the wisdom of legends I’ve sought out to help me become better. But that must be held in tension with the fact that even the best are never right all of the time. There is this difficult art of maturity I’m learning which is to discern the relevant from the irrelevant, the good from the bad and the person from their perspective. As a friend puts it, ‘eat the meat, spit out the bones’. For the moment I tend to just pendulum swing between indignation and self-pity. One day I’ll learn the balance.

I’m extending an invitation to walk into the furnace of criticism with me. It hurts, but it’s not as hard as I thought it was. There’s life in that place of weakness and vulnerability where we’re told that we’re not as good as we thought we were. It’s in that place that we grow. It’s in that place that we become our most true selves as we cleave our identity from our output. It's a wonderful place really.

What Rejection Taught Me

4110_tall For the past five years I’ve been working on my book, 21 Elephants. What began as therapy evolved into a vanity project and then eventually into 50,000 words which summarise the theological and spiritual conclusions I made about what it is to follow Jesus in my twenties. The first draft was rubbish, the second was okay, but on the third rewrite this thing really began to become something special. I’m quite proud of it, so earlier this year I secured an agent in the States to try and pedal my work to a major publisher who could move this to a wider audience than I could myself.

Publishing is a strange game. You don’t submit a full manuscript. You provide a 15-20 page case on why you have the platform and influence to make this book a success. You’re not arguing for quality, you’re arguing that you have a good market ready to purchase your book on release. After reading through this an Acquisition Editor will arrive at the end of your proposal and check that the writing is of a standard that matches the platform of the author and then, if all is in order, potentially look to make an offer.

It’s four times now that I’ve had a near miss. This means four Acquisition Editors were excited enough by what they saw and what they read to take this to an editorial meeting and present it as something that should be published. This means four times I’ve received emails that say things like “Scottie’s writing is dynamic and original”, “I am passionate about seeing this project published” and “all going to plan I’d like to make an offer within a week.” Every time I get one of these my heart and stomach collide briefly and I get excited about the idea of my little project reaching a few thousand people around the world rather than a few hundred friends and acquaintances here in New Zealand.

Then there’s an email a few days later which normally goes something like this. “I am so sorry but after talking with our team we don’t think we can represent an author which isn’t local in this current publishing environment.” Ouch… you guys really got my hopes up. After the initial disappointment I roll over and read the email to Anna (I’m still in bed at this point because the timezone difference means these emails always roll in just as I wake around 7am). We have a little bit of a laugh, I roll out of bed, have a shower and go to work. Somehow this rejection which represents another lost opportunity to present my ideas to a global audience, another step closer to having to raise the $10,000 - $12,000 to publish it myself, seems to roll off me like nothing happened and I carry on with life as usual.

To be honest, this is strange because I’ve never been that great at rejection. I’m wondering what the difference is with this potentially crippling experience that makes me able to let go so easily. Is it possible I could harness this resiliency throughout the rest of my life too? Why can I handle this and yet be completely decimated by a stranger who writes me an angry email about my last blog?

Well, I think I’ve worked it out…

In the end a publisher judges me and my work not on it’s quality, but on it’s ability to be adored and therefore purchased by thousands of others. That’s no ones fault, but just the natural cause and effect of a market-driven publishing environment. In the end these people are concerned about whether they should put thousands of dollars behind a project which may never recover it. That’s fair and fiscally responsible, I get it. But that doesn’t mean I believe in the system that makes it so. I’m okay with their rejection because I know that underneath it all this system is missing the point.

So what if we were to be this rational about rejection in the day to day? What if, like I do with publishing, we could understand rejection not as the result of something fundamentally flawed in us but as a reflection of a defunct system that has it’s values all back to front? What if we could remember that our sense of not being capable enough comes from a efficiency-obsessed culture which thinks we’re only what we produce? What if we could remember that our sense of not looking good enough comes from a shallow and vapid society that values appearance over depth of character? What if we could remember that our sense of inferiority comes from a world which believes failure is always fatal?

If I could remember these things then maybe I’d just laugh with Anna, roll out of bed, have a shower and go to work… just like i do with the book.

Perhaps it’s time to tell ourselves the truth. The truth that the many rejections we’ve experienced are all based on a lie. The problem isn’t with us, the problem is with the criteria because the criteria is bollocks! The systems of this world are far too corrupt to have any say over our self-worth. I propose a new marking schedule. One that we can all pass which says that who we are, as we are, is enough. Will you join me in gladly rejecting the system that rejects us?

Great Sex for Jesus People

o-COUPLE-IN-BED-UNDER-SHEETS-facebook-2 Recently the young adults church Anna and I lead, Blueprint, finished a three year series on the Book of Acts. As we considered what to teach next we put a survey out to our community. There was a resounding unity, ‘Tell us about sex!’. So it is that in two weeks we are beginning a series titled ‘Seven Weeks Of Great Sex at Blueprint’ exploring everything from the importance of consent to the very Anglican idea of Sex as a sacramental act (note that I'm not referring here to sex as one of the two sacraments, baptism and eucharist).

Even before beginning the series something amazing has happened in our little community of 100. Suddenly conversations are arising that never normally would. The other day I had an open conversation with a teenager about his first sexual encounters and how he could be better to women in the future than he had been to them in the past and it made me wonder why we, and other communities of faith, haven’t been doing this for years. There has been a collective sigh of relief as many can finally acknowledge their genitals and their spirituality have something to do with each other. Cool huh?

And it’s crazy that we don’t talk about it because there are so many times in the scriptures that Jesus walks into peoples sexual worlds and proclaims liberation. In a staunchly paternalistic Jewish society Christ if often the defender of women who have been marginalised because of multiple sexual partners (John 4), menstrual conditions (Luke 8), career prostitutes (Luke 7) and affairs with married men (John 8). While the Bible is often far from a model of liberation for women, Christ was undoubtedly a feminist in his culture. In each situation he restores the humanity of the sexually marginalised, sometimes by standing between the victim and their accusers, by healing their condition, by welcoming what they offer or by validating their desire for functional relationships even in the midst of the struggle to actually make it work. When Christ approaches someone’s sexuality it is a re-humanising and re-dignifying encounter.

The sex God wants for his people is a re-humanising experience. One that should leave us with a greater sense of acceptance, belonging, love, security and self-esteem. Good sex should say to us that we are profoundly special people worthy of the adoration of another. Sex should speak to us of the ecstasy of God’s love for us and not just of our own experience. Good sex need not be a symbol of the status quo, but instead a powerful picture of a Christ’s revolutionary counter culture that liberates us from entrapment to perverse and demeaning ideologies and systems. And so without falling into the familiar territory of a dos and don’ts list of Christian sex, there are some things I think we can categorically say Christian sex is not...

Christian sex never reduces humans to consumables

Far from sex work itself, humanity prostitutes itself to control, manipulate and achieve our ends by using sex as a bank transaction or a weapon. Sex is not something that is ‘owed’ to anyone. Sex should not be earned through the good behaviour of a partner, nor should anyone feel they have purchased it by buying enough drinks or paying for the taxi home. In the same way anything that objectifies another person as nothing but necessary flesh in order to gain pleasure has distorted sex into a deeply dehumanising practice that robs us of intimacy. This is what is so dangerous about a pornified culture which has created in us an individualised and consumerist distortion of sex that means even consensual and loving sex becomes distorted through the lens of objectification.

There is no Christ-centred perspective that allows us the license to view sex as a commodity either economically, politically or socially. This, to me, is the power of healthy Christian marriage. Yes, I acknowledge that there are many unhealthy ‘christian' marriages too, but I’m talking about a New Testament vision for marriage that means the person I lie down with has spent a long time considering whether I am worth it. Someone who has fallen so deeply for me that their desire is to serve and not to consume and someone who expects exactly the same from me. There is bad literature and good literature, there is bad art and good art, but we don’t say ‘there is no good anymore’ because of what has been bad. In the same way, there is still good marriage and a good vision of it to be rediscovered that guarantees a covenantal relationship which challenges us to a selfless rather than consumptive experience of sex with one another.

Christian sex never disempowers

Perhaps the great power and mystery of sex is it’s counter-cultural declaration of openness in a world which is so obsessed with security and protectionism. Good sex must open to receive one another, both in the physiological and emotional senses of the word. I expose myself to you, allow you to see me bared naked and allow you to know me when my defences are down. Sex is about permission giving. It is about an incredible act of trust and vulnerability that says ‘If I open myself to you I trust that you will not abuse or violate me.’ This is why rape is so abhorrent to us. Because that most sacred right I have to choose who I open myself up to has been taken from me. When you deny me the choice of vulnerability you violate my boundaries as a human and you, for a moment, attempt to de-humanise me. Jesus hates that which de-humanises us.

Trust must be earned. In the mere three years Anna and I have been married we have both changed a lot already. We are learning how to be a couple, what’s important to us and what our unique expression of spirituality looks like. Our relationship can continue to grow even as we change because of this anchor of trust that we spent years cultivating between one another. Still now that trust is tested by the many ways we are still changing. My own experience leads me to be deeply skeptical of those in their teens or twenties who believe that within some months they can establish a basis of trust suitable for sexual intimacy. I’m not saying it can’t happen, I’m saying I’ve never seen it happen.

Central to good Christian sex must be trust. Trust that I am the only one you’re having sex with, trust that I’m the only one you intend to have sex with, trust that what happens between us in this most sacred space of sex will stay only between us. The trust of our relationship comes from knowing one another long enough to trust that who we say we are has been proven to be true again and again by our actions. We know that not everyone in the world is trustworthy, so we should not entrust strangers with the care of our sexuality, our hearts, our minds and our bodies. Do you trust the person you’re having sex with? Do you know them enough to trust them? Are the things they’re whispering in your ear the same things they’ve said to countless others? Is this genuine, or just a routine?

Christian sex never takes more than it gives

Good sex should leave us with a greater sense of acceptance, belonging, love, security and self-esteem. Good sex should say to us that we are profoundly special, beautiful and worthy of the adoration of another. Good sex should speak to us of the ecstasy of God’s love for us. Sadly the brokenness many of us carry in our sexuality means that our first sexual encounters are often evocative of the opposite: rejection, disgust, hate, insecurity and self-doubt. For those Christians who abstain till marriage losing their virginity is often the opening of a pandora’s box of brokenness from bad families, abusive role-models, pornography and the unhealthy negative spiritualisation and demonisation of sex. The facade of purity is found to have just obscured years of unprocessed sexual trauma. This pain is not, I believe, the byproduct of abstinence, but the byproduct of abstinence while also abstaining from even talking about sex in the meantime. Sex must be talked about like politics, religion and which margarine we like best. The Church has done it’s young people a great disservice asking them to make a counter-cultural decision against sex before marriage without providing a theological and social understanding of ‘why?’ aside from empty platitudes about bits of paper getting stuck together.

Great sex in a great marriage has the power to be so healing to the people within it. One of the great mysteries of marriage to me has been how much Anna loves me. My life is often a litany of stupid and reckless decisions and I am ruthlessly hard on myself for them. One of the most personally healing experiences of being with Anna has been the relentless and unwavering commitment of her love. Just when I think I must have blown it enough to deserve her rejection she responds again with such grace that it’s almost uncomfortable. Gradually she is healing my self-perception and I am growing to believe, by her commitment to me, that maybe I am loveable.

And I guess that brings me to one of the key things which is that good sex begins in the mind and the heart and finds it’s way to our junk later, rather than the other way around. Good sex begins with someone who, having come to know themselves as a beloved child of God, can believe in the redemptive potential of another and want to give of themselves as a sacramental statement of their equally great value and humanity. And I guess that lands us at the most obvious thing, which is that Christian sex cannot be without Christ. Couples who are not actively sharing their spirituality should not share their bodies, couples who can’t do disagreement and conflict in a Godly manner should not share a bed together, and couples who have not proven themselves to one another (over several years I believe) should not be sharing homes and bodies with one another.

I still believe that real Christian marriage offers one of the greatest counter-cultural responses to the world's view of people as commodities. To consumeristic relationships marriage says “You are so valuable to me that I will say no all other possibilities. You are so precious to me that I will commit to you even when you don’t satisfy my needs.” To violence and power-games marriage says “we choose each other. we give permission to one another. we validate one another’s humanity whether in sickness or in health, we trust each other.” To self-interest marriage says “all that I have I give to you as a statement of your great value to me and to God.” It seems to me that the reclaiming of what sex truly can be will not be found through a greater assertion of the individual’s rights, but through a more selfless commitment to protect and love one another.


The Day I Learned I Was Ugly

Recently I’ve become a enormous fan of the podcast ‘This American Life’. Hosted by radio legend Ira Glass, TAL has been running for some 20 years and specialises in making the mundane profound. Everything from summer camps, to schooling, to stocking vending machines on an aircraft carrier. This stuff is as captivating as any series you’ll binge watch on a lazy afternoon. Recently I listened to one on ‘coming out as fat’. It was about plus size people using the F word for the first time and coming to terms with their bodies. They shared about their struggles with weight loss and the feeling of often being invisible to people. One of the interviewees spoke of how, soon after radical weight loss surgery, she scored a job at the Letterman show in New York. Her job was to walk up and down the line of people waiting to get in and put a mark on their tickets. In 2008 I stood in that line and had my ticket marked and thought nothing of it. It turns out those marks are three classes of audience-member. The top class is the beautiful people and they get to sit in the front three rows. The next class is the average people who sit in the rest of the downstairs section. Finally, there’s the bottom class who sit upstairs out of view of the cameras. They are often elderly or showing signs of a clear disability. Pretty horrific huh?

And here’s the thing. I was in that middle group!

Now I think I’ve always known that I don’t fit the world’s standards of beauty. I can tell the difference between Ryan Gosling and myself. But no one had ever said it so outrightly, so starkly! I’m fun, smiley, charismatic and my wife thinks I’m hot. But listening to that podcast 8 years after my first trip to New York I felt like a veil had been lifted as I suddenly saw a policy of systemic prejudice affect me, making a call about my value and acceptance in society.

I felt that feeling again just last summer in Ethiopia. After meeting a stranger near Meskel Square in Addis Ababa we ended up walking with this new friend all around Merkato Market. We strolled about, had lunch together, and by the end of the day had agreed to go on a five day road trip with him. I emailed two of my friends some details about him, where we’d be staying and what we’d be doing. I told them that if they didn’t hear from me at the end of each day we were probably lying in a bathtub missing a kidney.

What transpired over the next few days was a hoodwink as we realised we were essentially paying for a trip home to see family for our new acquaintance. We had incredible experiences that we never would have otherwise had, but we had a sense that we were continually on the receiving end of some kind of joke that we didn’t possess the language or the cultural intelligence to decipher. That joke looked a lot like us become the purse of our host. We felt angry and confused. Were we misunderstanding the culture around us or were we genuinely being swindled? Conversations were being constantly had about us in another language without any of them directed to us.

As our frustration grew I felt that gentle interruption of God’s spirit challenging me.

I realised that my anger was about powerlessness. As a white, straight, wealthy, westerner I was, for the first time, experiencing a measure of powerlessness. Whether it was true or not i didn’t know, but how I felt was judged, sidelined, overlooked, exploited and manipulated. I felt a spiritual call to lean into this experience of powerlessness and allow it to shape me. To see this as a very rare and precious moment of which there may only be a handful in my life.

Anna and I sat at the airport in Addis Ababa a few days later and wept. We were winded and wounded. I thought of a quote I’ve heard many times recently…

“When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”

And then I thought of refugees and migrants who move to New Zealand who are often voiceless while services have conversations about them in front of them but not to them. I thought of New Zealand’s indigenous Maori who have been made to ‘sit upstairs’ for centuries, only called into the forefront for tokenistic appearances. I thought of the LGBTIQ community of New Zealand, for whom discrimination and powerlessness has been a daily reality. I thought of the developing world who often have no voice at all.

Maybe, for those of us who have had so much go our way in life, it’s a good thing for us to experience the kind of discrimination that brings a true but brief moment of solidarity with those who suffer everyday. Maybe it’s good for us to feel ugly sometimes. Maybe it’s good for us to feel powerless. Now the question is: will we run from this discomfort, or allow it shape us?

Why Story Is Everything To Me

11046318_1601893266743821_1600465213701771863_n Recently I filmed an intro for a tv series that will run later this year on inspiring New Zealanders. Today a package arrived for me from the producers. In it was a leather wallet, wrapped delicately in tissue paper, with an immaculately designed card attached to it. On the inside right I found my initials, ’SR’, etched in gold leaf. Shiny gold zips and eyelets on a matte black finish. On the card I was told this was a ‘designer, luxury good’. They continued by saying that they hoped that each day as I broke in the leather it would add to the story and uniqueness of the product. In a sense, they hoped that I and the product would become one.

It was a lovely gesture no doubt... but I think they sent this to the wrong guy.

A leather satchel sat beside my bed. It’s made of camel leather and bought from a man named Jamal in the back streets of Hebron, a Palestinian city colonised by illegal Israeli occupation. I had Jamal sign it on the inside so I didn’t forget the man who made it and his story. Jamal’s shop is one of only a few left in the stretch of narrow old city street heading towards the checkpoint and the Ibrahimi Mosque where countless Muslims were massacred during prayer a few years ago by an Israeli settler. No one wants to go to this part of town anymore, it’s unsafe. His store stands alone between dozens of shut doors.

Above Jamal’s shop is some wire netting and a canopy. This was put up to stop Israeli settlers who live in the apartments above from throwing bleach, shit and urine down onto the Palestinian shop owners and patrons. Jamal told me this leather shop had been in his family for over a hundred years and that it would soon have to close too. His grandfather made these same leather goods and the skill had been passed down again and again through generations. Jamal begged that I buy something to help him last a little longer. I buckled and bought this camel leather satchel which I love. It’s a little too 'flarey’ for my tastes with it’s persian curves and flicks, but I love it for the person who made it and the courage they showed to vulnerably share their story with a stranger one afternoon in West Bank Palestine.

I reached deep into Jamal's satchel and pulled out a wallet. It’s scuffed and a tiny bit askew where the leather comes together, but if I lick my thumb and rub the scratches they buff out easy. It doesn’t quite fit what I need it to; I always have too many cards, receipts and coins so it bulges open and overflows like a sleeping bag spilling from it’s sleeve. I bought this from a little company in Kolkata, India called ‘The Loyal Workshop’.

Finding Loyal is a nightmare. There’s a safe way to get there, but then there’s the way we accidentally went which was through the heart of the red light district. Loyal have placed themselves here because they want to offer skills and employment to women who want to leave the sex trade. They don’t go hunting for people, they live their lives in the neighbourhood and through their presence people come to them. They now employ 10 women full-time who make wallets, bags and bracelets. Each product has the name of the manufacturer etched into the leather, not in gold, but in a rustic depression that fades a little over time.

Sarah and Paul are a couple from Auckland who set up Loyal. When Sarah sat with us for a cup of tea and talked about the work they do she wept. She loves this community and she loves the women who work there. She talks about how she hopes they can employ enough nationals that it won’t need westerners like them anymore. She’s about empowerment, not dependency. Sarah talks like the rhythm of one of those breathing machines in a hospital, drawing in stories of hope with each breath and deflating as she exhales the tragedy that still surrounds them. When I use my Loyal Wallet I feel a deep sense of connection to Sarah and Paul, and to their community. (

I looked up the company who made this fancy black and gold luxury good still in front of me on the table. It retails for $130. I’m not trying to be ungrateful, I just think they missed the point that if they wanted to thank me they could have just as easily sent a card and saved themselves the money. That’s why I setup an espresso bar named Stories (, because I’m less interested in what the product says about me and more interested in who it connects me with. That’s why when we opened our second social enterprise we didn’t brand it Stories again like a Starbucks franchise, we named it after one of our young people who had become our promising young barista, Georgia.

I don’t like the idea of a product defining me. I’m not interested in the pervading western view that I am just the sum of the brands that adorn me. I want meaning, I want connectedness, I want the product to enable someone else’s life rather than defining mine. A friend of mine often asks the question ‘how are you going to spend your privilege?’ That’s something that as a white, hetero, male, westerner I ask myself everyday. If I have to choose between spending my privilege on luxury for myself, or on the basic necessities of life for others, then that seems like a no brainer, right?

So, who wants a $130 wallet? I’ve got one spare!

Why We're So Tired All The Time

landscape-1442525450-tired-womanThis weekend I had to drop out of a course I’ve been taking. Why?  because I was too tired. That familiar twinge that comes from a lack of seratonin somewhere in my brain got my heart racing, my head spinning and I knew that if I was going to make it through to a big festival I’m running next weekend I’d have to take a break. The fact I slept straight through till after midday today tells me I needed it. To be honest though, a part of me wonders if I’m just a little bit weak.

I’m wondering if this was always the way. I spend most of my time with people in their late teens and early twenties and the familiar refrain is that they’re ‘too tired’, ‘life is just really hard right now’ or that ‘I feel like I’m about to burnout’. Let me tell you something, I’ve been close to burnout and it’s not something that creeps up on you one afternoon when you worked too hard. There are a lot of off-ramps before burnout and you get there by driving straight past all of them.

I’m sure previous generations didn’t suffer from this perpetual fear of tiredness the way we seem to. The 9 to 5 was normal as was raising kids when you got home. People would hold down these same jobs for decades on end and still have time to catch up with friends, belong to the local community club and serve their local church. These days I feel like anything over part-time is exhausting for most of us. What’s that about?!

I’m not claiming we don’t all feel the way we do and that those feelings aren’t real to us. I’m also aware that there are people who have really legitimate reasons as to why life is tough and I don’t want to minimise those at all. I also have to acknowledge that as someone who doesn't have kids there is a whole world of tiredness I'm yet to experience! However, I am wondering why it is some of us feel so overwhelmed when we actually have so little to do. It suggests to me that this might be more a mentality than it is a reality of our circumstances.

The Catholic Friar Richard Rohr puts it well in a book of his I’ve been reading recently:

“(most of our) recreation does not re-create us, but is only diversionary. I think that’s why (people) need so much recreation and entertainment. If it doesn’t really entertain and refresh, , we will need more very soon. But for open persons, those who know how to receive and let events teach them, a little bit goes a long way. If they see one beautiful flower they have to write a poem about it; they don’t have to revisit and see it again because it is printed somewhere inside of them. We always need more if we were never there.”1

That’s a pretty powerful indictment on our culture - that ‘we always need more if we were never there.’ 

I’m wondering if perhaps what I, and many others, have failed to understand is that rest is not the same as retreat. There is an ability to rest into the moment around us and it looks like being present. The problem many face today is that our bodies are always playing catchup to our minds. While our physical being inhabits dinner with friends or work, our mind is living hours ahead in another task or concern. That’s no doubt a stressful stretching of our very being to live across two places in time.

I know I have capacity for all that God has put in front of me. I’m capable of this and more. What I don’t have capacity for is to belong simultaneously in a multitude of spaces (be they physical or digital). My challenge for this week and beyond is to be only in one place at once. I don’t know for sure, but I have an inkling that within this intentional practice I may start to find a new way of living that starts to feel a lot more joyful and a lot less exhausting again. I’d love it if you’d join me and see what happens.

1 - quote from p.54 of Richard Rohr's 'Everything Belongs'

On Wellington's Begging & Addiction Problem


Apologies that in an earlier version of this post I made the faux pas of calling South Korea, North Korea. Never a good mistake to make!

This morning the issue of street begging hit the front of the Dominion Post here in Wellington (you can read that article here). Probably in response to yesterday’s social media comments from Nicola Young, a city councillor and mayoral candidate. Unlike some other leftie friends who attacked Nicola pretty ruthlessly, I don’t totally disagree with her.

For years I’ve lived in homes which have an open door policy so I’ve got to know quite a few of Wellington’s rough sleepers when they’ve dropped by for a meal, a bed or to do some washing. Nicola's not wrong that begging often does have a connection with substance abuse, poor mental health and that some of those we see as ‘homeless’ actually do have places to stay. Certainly not all of them but some do, yes.

Where I start to disagree with Nicola is around the assumption of her and many others that addiction should be a disqualifying factor on whether those who are sleeping rough receive the generosity of the public. I’ve lost count of the number of times over the years I’ve heard people pass comments like “they’ll just spend it on drugs”, as if recreational drug use makes you unworthy of compassion. When questioning that sentiment I’ve heard the retorts. “Well at least I pay for my addictions.”

But do you?

Like perhaps your shopping addiction which contributes to an industry which is the second largest polluter in the world behind the oil industry. An industry that has increased it’s consumption 400% from 20 years ago, is majority staffed by women earning less than $3 a day and has created such a hopeless cycle of consumption that over 250,000 Indian cotton farmers have taken their lives in the last year. So, you don’t actually pay for your own addiction do you? The developing world does. The poor do.

Or what about your pornography addiction?An industry which is thought to have a turnover as large as $14 billion dollars a year. One which is perpetuating rape culture, the perception of women as commodities and is now being found to have much deeper links to human trafficking than ever thought before. Yes, there are women who choose this as a profession, but there are also countless stories coming out of those groomed for years, drugged, blackmailed and abducted to appear in pornographic content to satisfy a demand you are creating. So, you don’t actually pay for your own addiction do you? Young girls do. Rape victims do.

Or what about your technology addiction? Globally, we generate 20 million tonnes of e-waste every year. And that’s not even really the half our techno-addiction is it? Psychologists have studied the effects of web-browsing, and recognise it creates a euphoria similar to that of drug use or sex. South Korea is experiencing the negative social effects of this the way we all will in years to come. 1 in 10 young people between the ages of 10 and 19 are ‘internet addicted’ with South Korea being forced to open clinics to treat the addiction. Already we see a generation who don’t even take out their headphones to talk to one another. So, you don’t actually pay for your own addiction do you? The environment does. Your friends and family do too.

There are a number of reasons you may choose not to give money to someone begging on the street, but please don’t let one them be out of a smug sense that you are somehow better, more-disciplined or more-deserving than they are. The entire Western world is an empire of addicts. So just be thankful that the fix you need is not only palatable, but encouraged and endorsed by the culture you live in. Take a moment to consider who is paying for the way you live, and why you get away with it while others aren’t so lucky. Statistics were provided from the following sites:


Donald Trump, My Christianity Thanks You!

united-states.jpg Since publishing this article I have adjusted some wording as it pinned my observations too squarely on a particular social class and demographic. For the record, I have friends on both the political left and right and with many different expressions of their faith. While I talk below about the external qualities I choose to live by, I realise these will look very different depending on your context and experience. 

Donald Trump, my Christianity thanks you!

To understand why, you first need to know a little of my story.

At the age of 13 I was invited to a charismatic Christian conference at a camp ground an hour or two north of Wellington. An American evangelist with a southern drawl invited me to raise my hand and invite Jesus into my heart. I did, and it was amazing. A few years later at 19 I reached a crossroads in my faith. I’d heard about this ruddy, dusty, counter-cultural Jesus and his radical political agenda yet until then I’d largely only seem him rearrange furniture in auditoriums.

I remember wondering how the invitation of this middle-eastern refugee to overthrow the empire had resulted in Christians looking so similar to the rest of culture. I’m not talking about sex and drugs here, I’m talking about boring things like jobs, health insurance and mortgages. I couldn’t understand how Jesus had become the endorsement for the lives people always wanted to live anyway, rather than the one who upturned their lives entirely. It seemed to me that either Jesus had changed, or we'd started to mould him into our own image rather than being moulded into his.

Here's where I want to thank you Mr. Trump...

I love your brand of Christianity because for one of the first times in recent history the hypocrisy of white capitalist elitism guised as religion has been exposed for it’s hate, it’s brutality, it’s merciless violence, it’s complete opposition to the words of Jesus and the culture of the world he proposes his followers create.

I believe deeply that the lives of those who profess to follow Jesus should look profoundly different from the rest of the world in the same way that they did when this faith was a small religious sect opposing the violence of the Roman Empire and talking about a revolution of love. They were beaten, shamed and thrown in prison. They put all their resources into common purses and shared with each other. They showed unparalleled generosity to people of all faiths, ideologies and orientations. They lived economic and political principles that were absolute lunacy. More viral than any movement to this day, they grew by thousands daily who didn’t just stick a fish bumper sticker on their car but who, in many cases, sold what they had and gave up their jobs to follow the ridiculous promise that the most powerful tools we can wield against violence and hate are love, submission, sacrifice and humility.

For the last ten years I have more and more tried to embody these values. My wife Anna and I have set the trajectory of our lives towards that original vision of Christ as best we can. We don't always get it right, but we have made decisions each day to ignore the voices that lead us towards empire-building, security and careerism and to hear the call instead of the one who told his disciples to bring nothing but their sandals, their cloak and knapsack for begging.

This means two of us living on one income so we can have less time earning money and more time being like Jesus to our community. It means living with five other people so that we can truly learn to share life together to the level where we are we are becoming like a new family to one-another. It means we don’t have much, and what we do have we’re learning to let go of. It means that when we throw a party it’s not only full of people who look like us, but also the people who no one else wants to invite into their homes too - the socially excluded and isolated. It means that when people come to us in deep grief, we put our busy lives on hold to cry with them and pray with them until healing comes in one of it’s many different forms.

For me, these are the outward signs of the inward devotion I have to the person and way of Christ.

So it hurts when someone says I’m a Christian with a smirk because I know they’re not thinking of the life I live, they’re thinking of white middle-class elitism. They’re thinking of polite people living in nice neighbourhoods with flash cars. And if they’re not thinking of that they’re thinking of Brian Tamaki, Colin Craig and the many other conservatives who wear the label of Christian while spouting hate and vitriol.

So I thank you Mr. Trump.

I thank you because you have taken that so-called Christian white, middle-class elitism and satirised it to such a point that we have begun to finally have the conversation about the difference between what the west has called Christianity and the profoundly Eastern ideology Christ called his people to. You have brought such a deep darkness upon our media waves, our culture and our world that the little lights of hope may just be able to be seen for what they are supposed to be… extremely different from what many have called and known to be Christianity. You have become to our cause what the lone polar bear on a melting ice-berg is to global warming. You have become the embodiment of everything anti-Christ.

So thank you Mr. Trump that thanks to you I can now get to work in making sure that by the time I’m your age we look nothing alike. You may have just been the one to motivate another generation of followers of Christ to proliferate exactly the opposite narrative of the one you celebrate: To love peace, to value mercy, to welcome the stranger and the refugee, to share what we have, to make peace with our enemies, to forgive endlessly, to stand in the way of violence and to model a counter-culture that has the power to lead the world a profoundly different direction to the one you propose.

Thank you from our little community here in New Zealand ( We will be praying for you and your family, and for the American people to decide later this year that the hate you speak will not be their voice in the world.


The Problem With Violence: Part I


This is the first of a series of blogs I will be releasing this year in the lead-up to the publication of my first book, 21 Elephants, in the second half of 2016. While the content is not from the book, these articles are a further unpacking of some of the ideas it explores.

We arrived in Tel Aviv just before 5am. Our flight was due at 11pm the day before but a snowstorm in Istanbul almost shut down the airport as planes had to be de-iced for hours before they could take off safely. With the night all but gone we decided it wasn’t worth checking into our accommodation and got straight on the train to our final destination at Tiberias on Lake Galilee in the north.

I had almost drifted off when Anna nudged me awake and gestured inconspicuously to someone or something behind me. I turned around and looked across the aisle where a girl no older than 19 sat playing candy crush on her phone and listening to what sounded like Jay Z or Kanye.

It was a normal picture of a teenager back home except for the military uniform and the assault rifle on her lap. I’d seen plenty of armed people before on previous travels but most of them were crewcut men in their thirties or forties with expressionless faces and locked limbs standing straight at their posts. The idea that this girl, no older than many of the young people we have worked with over the past few years at Zeal, would casually go about all the usual marks of adolescence with a lethal weapon poised on her lap was profoundly disturbing.

As we wound our way toward Haifa more young people stepped on at different stations with similar weapons, hugging each other, talking about the latest movies they’d seen and who liked who. It wasn’t until an hour or two later that I remembered something chilling...

These kids were on their way to school.

Israel has a policy of two years of compulsory military service for school-leavers much like Singapore. They are trained for a few months and then sent out to maintain the security of the Israeli State, as well as to occupy illegal territory in Palestine. These are the military who are sent to patrol checkpoints in the occupied West Bank. These are the kids who are cutting down other kids because they throw stones at them. My teenage years are a blur of text-messages, hormones, late night ten-pin bowling, movies and sleepovers. Theirs are the same, but infiltrated and hijacked by the military agenda of extremists.

A few days later while in Hebron I would walk through the checkpoint to the Ibrahimi Mosque where in 1994 an Israeli extremist opened fire on killing 29 Muslims during prayer. Again I saw teenagers manning the checkpoint, three of them all with lollipops in their mouths and automatic weapons at their sides. The juxtaposition so exaggerated and so cliche that I can barely believe it as I write it. I wouldn’t blame you for not believing me.

Recently we had watched the second season of Fargo, one of our favourite shows. Referring to the war in Vietnam one of the characters says profoundly, ‘I sometimes wonder if those men didn’t bring the war back home with them.’ 

And that’s the problem isn’t it? We think violence can be contained and controlled. We think that it can be measured and harnessed, but all history has shown us is that violence begets more violence and that the future generations we hope to protect ultimately end up wielding weapons when we forget why we picked them up in the first place. When our missiles no longer find an enemy to lock on to they turn upon our homes, dividing those who were once unified because many of us don’t even know who we are anymore unless we have an enemy. It’s true on battle fields, true in work places, true in schools and true in our hearts.

Part II to follow shortly...

Getting Beyond Survival Mentality


We live in probably the most comfortable time in history. We can control air temperature, the time tv programmes are on, and schedule and cancel meetings up to a minute before hand. Really the world is more customisable or tailorable than ever before.And yet when I look around me I see so many who are so tired, so stressed and so exhausted by the mere act of breathing. Making it through 12-14 hours awake seems like a monumental feat. I’m not talking about those with genuine challenges like clinical anxiety, significant grief or chronic fatigue. I’m talking about normal everyday young people for whom life just seems to be one eternal uphill climb.

One great giant prolonged exasperated sigh. They rise from bed thinking about the moment they get to return.

This is people in their late teens and twenties who are snoozing their way through the time of greatest energy and freedom they will ever have in their lives. A friend put it well earlier this year, remarking that mine is a generation that is ‘15 going on 50’.

Now I’ll acknowledge that I am an unusually high capacity person. This isn’t about expecting the same of others as I expect of myself. This is also not a critique of times of rest and recreation either of which I'm a huge advocate.It’s about asking how even with time to hang out with friends regularly, watch a few tv episodes, go out for dinner and shopping many still have this deep sense of exhaustion. Life doesn’t seem that busy, so what’s going on?

Here’s what I think. The problem is that many of us think the problem is our circumstances: our job, our home/flat, our study or our relationships. We divert responsibility away from our own survival mentality and onto how tough everyone and everything else is making it for us. Here’s the truth, if you are exhausted now you will still be exhausted next year unless you change your mentality.

Until you accept and lean into the reality of struggle, inconvenience and discomfort as the norm of living you will always be trying to get back to a sense of rest and peace that doesn’t exist anywhere within this world. It can only exist within you.

Here’s some ideas about how to break your survival mentality. You might need counseling, mentoring or some good friends to help you work it out.

Live like the future version of yourself. If you can’t stand to be alone and continually surround yourself with people then it will inevitably become even harder to be alone. Equally, if you take an hour or two each day to be alone you will become accustomed to the comfort of it. When that moment of cultivated solitude is interrupted (and it will be) life will seem overwhelming and it will begin to seem more and more like people and demands are encroaching on your health. If you create in your life a low resilience to interruption and inconvenience then life will only be more and more exhausting to you, particularly when a spouse and kids enter the equation. If you want to have issues being alone, surround yourself constantly with people – if you want to have issues relating to people, then hide away. These are self-perpetuating cycles so you will need to fight for a balance that allows you to do day-to-day life without being overwhelmed by it.

Cultivate inner-peace The world will only get noisier. We are not living in a culture that is going to allow us to craft peaceful space within it like it used to. With this in mind the expectation of finding places and experiences that perfectly nourish our desires for tranquility is fleeting. Your environment will not change, so you’re going to have to. There will need to be a peace that is deeper than having everything in its proper place and being able to ‘escape’. We each need to work at the spiritual level to have an anchor that sits deeper than the waves around us. One that is more than a tidy room or a beautiful walk in the woods.

Accept that this is life M Scott Peck begins his well-known psychology book with the declaration that life is pain. He says that once we accept this, we can then begin to problem solve it. I think many of us could move on from survival mode if we accepted that our surroundings are not optimal for us to flourish in and got on with it. Expect to stub your toe at some point this year, expect to be heartbroken, expect car repairs to cost more than you thought they would – this is life. We have very little power on how these things unfold, but we do have a choice about whether we let them unsettle and disturb us. It’s not that these things don’t hurt, but that we need to reframe these not as interruptions to life but as simply the reality of being alive.


Why we're more Interested in the U.S than our home.

new-american-dreamAnother shooting today. 14 dead in California. The liberal social media-ites are revving up their engines scouring The Huffington Post and Vice for whatever alternative and unique perspective they might share on today's events. For those living in the U.S this must be heart-breaking. It seems insane that with so many high-profile shootings in the past year congress is still unwilling to budge on a solution to gun control. I absolutely understand that this is devastating for those living in the States, but I'm not quite sure why so many of my liberal friends living in New Zealand are sharing about it too?

Don't get me wrong, I fit the above description! I'm the first person to post a piece of compelling political or social commentary when I find it. Yet as I look down my predominantly left-wing New Zealand news feed I have to wonder 'why so much about the United States and so little about home?'

I have a couple of ideas why.

Firstly, because as much as we may criticise it, we buy wholeheartedly into the US media which sells North America as the centre of the world. Horrific human rights abuses, rapes, shootings and more are happening all around the world every day. Social movements are arising that don't have a hashtag  but still argue for the same principles of dignity and equality. However we don't seem to be interested in causes unless they are placed neatly right in front of us on our newsfeed or everyone our age is talking about them. No system is as adept at getting information to us without requiring us to engage our brains first as the American media machine. When we share what they send us, we participate in the proliferation of the continuing belief that trauma is insignificant unless it happens in the West. With each post, we further drown the stories of the suffering in West Papua, in Nigeria, in Myanmar.

I am wondering why so many Kiwis are so whole-heartedly interested in these American movements specifically. Why pledging their allegiance to these things even when they may have almost no cultural relevance to their lives at all? Why these causes above all others and, more specifically, above those in our own backyard?

I watched the other week as the same New Zealanders who posted memes about US gun law reform and racial equality post photos of fireworks on Guy Fawkes' Day while never sharing anything about one of the most significant non-violent resistant movements for racial equality in global history which celebrated it's anniversary that same day. Parihaka, which happened right here on our own soil, saw an entire generation robbed of fathers and sent to jail. These same practices of marginalisation and racism continue today in the makeup of New Zealand's prison population but where is the meme, the fierce debating, the cry that 'something must be done!'?. Our social media accounts were very quiet that day.

Let's call it for what it is, identity politics.

Every time another shooting happens, another occupy movement arises, another human rights abuse goes public, or another bomb is dropped the race is on to see who can prove their liberal credibility. First we begin by changing our profile pictures, then we begin criticising the profile picture changes, then we post alternative profile pictures, then we talk about how no one really 'gets it' anyway. If we're honest, most of us don't align ourselves with these causes because of how it helps the cause, but because of how it helps our own self-perception and belonging to a political/social community. We end up making the death and suffering of others a vehicle for our own pursuit of identity and end up just as guilty of ulterior agendas as the governments we criticise.

So how about we don't post about that thing that happened today? The U.S media have got it covered I'm sure. How about we look over our back fence and look for the least attractive cause around us that will buy us the least credibility and throw our might behind it? Let us not echo the institutions we hate by working for our own interests, but instead for those who are truly voiceless by telling the untold stories no one wants to hear.


Why Jesus Makes Me Give a Shit!

JesusAndTheAdulterousWomanOver the past year I’ve been active in advocacy for young people, refugees, the LGBTI community and cultural reconciliation among other things. It has been a huge and busy year which has lead me to share my story with a wide range of people across the country. More and more often recently conversations and interviews have ended with the question, ‘What drives you?’ I’ve heard it after speaking at conferences, in radio and television interviews and over coffees with people. I often give a cryptic or guised answer that hints at what I’m about which would sound overtly Christian to others of that persuasion, but stays palatable to the general public. This short piece is with the purpose of giving a practical understanding of what it is within the way and person of Christ that leads me to live the way I do. Because I know a wide and diverse range of people will read this there are a couple of things that are good to understand before reading. Firstly, I am not questioning or demeaning the passion and capability of many people of other faiths and other outlooks to do great work. This is my perspective and I’m sure many of you will have yours. Secondly, I have not directly quoted from the Bible to support my perspective but I’m happy to provide references to anyone who would like them. So here we go, three under-pinning principles that drive me:


People like me understand that the earth and all creation was made to speak of what God is like. Much like a mirror, everything from the beauty of humanity to nature and food is meant to convey his character. Somewhere along the way we stopped stewarding the world and started exploiting it, stopped loving one another and started using each other, stopped sharing what we had and starting consuming it. The way humanity lives damages the earth, damages creation, and so damages the picture of God offered to all people. This leads me to be passionate about restoration because, when we restore the earth, it’s people and it’s creation then we also restore the damaged picture of God that humanity sees.


People like me understand that God is a god of justice. This means that it hurts her when her children are abused, neglected and damaged. Christ’s ministry saw many times where he would break social taboos and norms in order to champion justice for the oppressed such as holding the infectiously sick and campaigning for the rights of women and children as equal citizens to men. Today this might look like holding the ebola patient or campaigning for transgender rights, even if you may not fully understand their struggle or agree. Christ asks his followers to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and free the prisoner. He says if we don’t then we were never really his followers to begin with. The leads me to be passionate about justice because, when we protect the humanity of one another, we show the compassion and the care that God shows for his children.

3. Wholeness

People like me understand that God is a god of healing. This means that the ultimate vision of God is for all her children to be brought into full health. That full health is spiritual, but it’s also physical, emotional and communal. It means a good relationship with God, with one another, with our bodies and with our minds. As someone who has gone through the mental health trauma of depression and anxiety I know that my spiritual health could not be separated from my mental health – these things are dependent on one another. Sometimes people want to hear the Good News of Jesus, but other times they experience it through kind gestures, through genuine care and through holistic healing. This leads me to be passionate about holistic wellness because, when we restore one another’s bodies, minds, relationships and spirits then we are better able to perceive how much God loves us. We correct the distorted lens of our own sickness.

By now you may have agreed with most of what I have to say, so here’s the controversial bit: I believe that restoration, justice and wholeness are only possible in their fullness with Jesus. I believe in working passionately for the restoration of the earth, but I think this is a losing battle without the eventual promise of God’s full restoration. I believe in outworking justice for all, but I also think that humanity by it’s nature will always judge unfairly and do badly by one another until perfect leadership comes in the form of Christ. I believe in devotedly pursuing wholeness for people, but I also think that damaged humans will never be able to fully heal other damaged humans. We ultimately need the miraculous and powerful intervention of God.

You may not agree with this, but hopefully you can agree with how this leads me to act. As Jesus said, you will know me by the fruit of my actions. What I can tell you is that over the past decade working constantly for these things of restoration, justice and wholeness I have seen many, many people burnout and give up. They are tired of the constant crusade for change in the same way many of us were the other day when the TPPA was ratified. Our best efforts seem to fail again and again to make even a dent on the reality.

What has kept me passionate, kept me devoted and unrelenting is a daily relationship with Jesus that goes beyond just being ‘the ethics of Christ’. Each day I pray, I hear his heart for humanity and it breaks mine. From here, I resolve again that to be his son is to work with him so that all would know the best life possible and know freedom. It is not a set of ideas that drives me, it is my relationship with Christ and my pursuit of having his character. So there you go, now you know, let’s continue to work together...

On Movies that make me glad to be Alive!


I got the chance to hang out with one of New Zealand’s best film directors a little while ago courtesy of a friend. He’s not the kind who directs Hobbit stuff, but more like those movies which tell really ‘New Zealand’ stories about social harms and the amazing people who overcome them. During the brief hour or two at his house in Auckland we got onto a conversation about a new genre of cinema that seems to be growing in popularity all the time. It’s the stuff that makes you sad to be alive, frustrated about the state of humanity and cynical about any hope for change. He calls this genre ‘Misery Porn’. If you’d like a tour de force through this I’d consider  shutting yourself in a dark house for an entire day and choosing anything by Lars Von Trier. 

I believe in the human desire for closure. By that I mean that we all know the way a story is supposed to go: We meet our character, our character is living a normal life, their normal life is interrupted by a challenge, they overcome it, they are better for it. There’s some part of us that can’t totally relax until the moment that closure comes. When I do any kind of public speaking I try to deliberately creative a sense of an unfinished narrative as I believe this is the best way to hold peoples attention until the end when all the threads connect. 

The ‘Misery Porn’ narrative goes like this: our character is fundamentally flawed, their flaws lead them into darkness, the darkness transforms them into a monster, the monster destroys them and everything around them, the end. What have we learned here? Life is terrible, people are terrible, there is no redemption, no hope. Time to go home from the cinema and drink until you can’t feel anymore. I don’t buy the critical acclaim many of these pictures receive. Most critics are just cynics trying to prove who can be more sarcastic than the next. 

What I’m not saying is that the hero of every story has to come out on top. They can and must suffer, they may have to die, but thematically speaking we need to be given the sense that the universe/god/insert-belief-system is still ultimately good to humanity even if the journey to get there is excruciating. Here are four films that make me glad to be alive and might have the same effect on you:

  • Up! A grumpy old man who longs to fulfil the adventures he couldn’t with his wife, a boy scout with an absent Father-figure, a cowardly dog who must find his courage, a mother bird searching for her chicks. It might as well be the Wizard of Oz! All of these characters have something deeply personal they long for and the journey of Pixar’s best movie (imho) delivers that kind of universal catharsis that people of any age or stage will recognise. 
  • Schindler’s List I know, you’re probably wondering how a holocaust movie makes it in here but the transformation of Oscar Schindler’s character encourages me that the most self-indulgent parts of me can be changed through commitment to a cause bigger than myself. The closing moments of the film connect the tragic story of Schindler to the greater story of hope for humanity. 
  • The Shawshank Redemption It’s really in the title here. Andy Dufreine is horrifically imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. The prison becomes the refining mechanism for this man who took everything he had for granted to realise the beauty of the simple things. It costs him nearly everything to get there and those final scenes of crawling through shit to be washed clean are as thematically satisfying as it gets! 
  • The Secret Life of Walter Mitty A man who has fallen into a mediocre life by accident is awoken by a letter from a photographer calling him to the edge of the world. This coming of age tale is powerful to any of us wondering how life got away on us and looking for the courage to step out and pursue the dreams we had when we were younger. It also has a killer soundtrack. 

On Courage in the Face of Change

Tomorrow morning Anna and I head off up north for a couple of weeks. We spend a few days with my wider family at a beach house in Taupo, then two days with Anna's sister at Maungatautari, and finally we are spending five days at a beach north of Auckland. As we pack for the trip I'm thinking about Zeal's first staff meeting of the year. For those unfamiliar, Zeal is the youth trust Anna and I have worked for the past nine years. With some close friends of ours we were part of the team that grew the agency from 2 staff to 25 and from one city to a nationwide trust. On Monday morning as we wake up late and brew a Chemex, Zeal Wellington will be having it's first staff meeting of the year... and we won't be there. For the first time in nine years we won't be setting the vision or sharing the stories and our little team of five will have grown to almost double that over the summer. I'm nervous for the new folks taking over (though they are both fantastic) and the reality that we are leaving one season and entering another is hitting home much more tangibly.
Change is hard. It's hard because change requires something to die. It's been my experience that death very rarely happens without pain. My generation has grown up with happiness as the central-pillar of our cult of consumerism. How many conversations evaluating the wisdom of a friend's decision end with that familiar line "as long as it makes her/him happy..."? We prize comfort so highly in our pursuit of this happiness yet comfort is rarely the thing that brings growth or significance to life. In fact, comfort is the thing which encourages us to stay exactly where we are even if it is killing us! How is it that hostages fall in love with their captors? How is it that the woman who is horrifically mistreated by her partner can continue to convince herself that things will be better if she sticks around? Because sometimes the comfort of the familiar is less scary than the pain of change, even if we know it's terrible for us.
Change is pain, but hurt comes in many forms. In the body physical pain sometimes tells us something is broken, but sometimes there is pain that indicates healing too. The pain we feel when a loved one departs isn't something to be avoided, but the very thing that alerts us to the need to make space to accommodate the monumental change that has happened around us. In the same way, discomfort isn't always the indicator that we shouldn't take the job offer, pursue that friendship, or get on the plane. C.S Lewis said "Pain is the megaphone God uses to rouse a deaf world." You may not be a religious person, but I think we can recognise that often pain is the catalyst to awaken us from our slumber, call us out of our apathy, and instil in us the naive courage to make the change we knew we needed to make all along.
Are you uncomfortable? So am I. Currently there sits a Zeal-sized hole in the middle of life which I'm yet to get a full picture on how to fill. The uncertain space before us is a opening for the cultivation of courage to walk in the dark where we can't yet see, to wade in the deep where our feet can't touch the bottom, and to sail out beyond the view of landfall. Take heart, because everything we leave behind creates space for what we're yet to discover. Our universe is in state of constant death and renewal, how could we expect our lives not to be the same?
Here's a couple of ideas for navigating change:
  • Ask yourself: Is there a change in or around you that you might need to grieve? If the answer is yes, it's time to make space for this to happen. There is no shortcut through grief and this can be as much about the loss of a job as it is about the loss of a loved one. Many indigenous cultures allow days or weeks for healthy grieving processes while we allow mere hours. The assistance of a counsellor or a trusted mentor can be great in asking the questions that help you to make peace with the end of one season and the start of another.
  • Ask yourself: Is my current comfort deterring me from the change I know is needed? Our identity becomes deeply entangled in what we do. Sometimes our work and relationships have brought with them a degree of security, status and reputation. When we've spent time building a castle it can be hard to step out not knowing if we will ever have it as good again. Perhaps it's time to imagine a new dream of what life could look like and to find some champions around you who can remind you daily that you're not crazy.

On Real Life


Right now we are knee deep in Kiwi summer mythology. For the next 2-3 months we understand that to be a true New Zealander is to find a slice of white-sand paradise, gather some fresh seafood, eat some ice creams and do some bombs. It's a mythology as strong snow men and Santa Claus at Christmas.  An idea so strong in our culture that people spend most of the year and a great deal of their income preparing for it in the hope of having the 'best summer ever!'. I find the modern idea of 'Glamping' (glamorous camping) particularly humorous;  which is basically those of us who don't really enjoy camping finding a way to fulfil our Kiwi mythology without having to go without clean clothes, cold beers and an inner-sprung mattress. While many people do these things because they genuinely enjoy them, isn't it funny how some of us will do it even if we don't just because we know it's what we're supposed to do? Midway through last year Anna and I had some nice friends shout us a trip to Fiji for a conference. We decided to make the most of the mid-winter break by going a couple of days earlier and spending some time at a resort - definitely a big change from our cold Newtown home where the cupboard doors blow open of their own accord during a storm! One afternoon while reclining under same palms I overheard a coconut-sipping couple just down the beach remark "ahh... this is the life." Something caught me as this familiar phrase rolled off their tongues. I began to wonder, 'if this is life, then what was that other thing we've been doing the past few years, and why weren't we here living 'the life?'. That 'non-life' was the one back home where it was cold and rainy. The one where I had responsibilities, where I had to deal with annoying conflicts, write funding applications, balance budgets, go to the dentist, wear a raincoat, and answer emails and phone calls.

It's funny how we consider the interruptions to the day-to-day to be somehow more 'real' when these moments are actually the least accurate snapshot of the people we really are. Who you are is revealed not by your passions and attitudes while lounging on a tropical beach, but by your daily commitment in the face of the regular slog and adversity. And yet we would say from our artificial sanctuary "this is what life really is."

I talked to a girl in her late teens a little while ago who is a student. We talked about what she was studying and what she planned to do after university. One comment revealed a wisdom and maturity present in very few her age. She told me: "I'm trying to remind myself that life doesn't begin after uni, my life has already begun and I have responsibilities to the people around me and my community now." Here was a girl in the quintessential holding-pattern of life, yet her resolve was not to wait for 'real life' to come to her, but to seek after responsibility, challenge and commitment now.

This is the life right now and we will either make the most of our present circumstances, or realise one day that we always wished we were somewhere else. Here are some ideas that have helped me to appreciate the life I have rather than the mythology I don't.

  • Quit Hyper-Reality What you see on Instagram (perfect food, perfect bodies, perfect coffee) is bullshit. We can all benefit by remembering that every photo and status we engage with on the internet tells an artificial story that doesn't include the full experience of human joy or struggle. We can help each other a little by trying to appear a little less perfect and realising that every photo of a perfect meal probably has a stack of dirty dishes just out of frame.
  • Walk Through Discomfort Walk through discomfort, not around it. We have become experts at transferring ourselves to another world when the one we live in becomes uncomfortable whether by television or travel. Pain, both physical and emotional, is our body's way of telling us that something isn't right. Rather than using entertainment anaesthetic to dull our senses to it, we could learn to sit in painful silence and painful conversation that anchors us in reality and reminds us what it is to be human.
  • Be Grateful, Be Generous It's easy to be focussed on what we lack without noticing what we have. Do you have a job? that's an incredible thing to have in our current economy! Do you have friends? because there are many people who don't! Some people will never be happy for a moment longer than unboxing their latest toy lasts. When we become passionate about the life we have rather than the one we don't we are finally able to look beyond our own self-interest to the needs of our neighbours and our community.

On Being John Key


In 2014 I spent a lot of time angry about politics. Too much time really. Within my reflections on the year gone by I'm considering some positive alternatives to the broken system we're stuck with. I don't have any political aspirations as such, but I've been wondering how I'd lead New Zealand. Obviously I'd be keen to make sure three-handed handshakes become entrenched foreign policy. However I would like to place a ban on the leader of NZ (and any country for that matter) answering any media question with the phrase 'whatever' unless they are somehow elected while still under the age of 16 during a parliamentary slumber party. It's naive but here it is: New Zealand under the leadership of PM Scottie Reeve... I'd begin by putting some serious money behind five impoverished 'pilot' communities around New Zealand with serious social and economic problems. I'm not just talking about new aquatic centres and skate parks, I mean resourcing the respected community workers in those neighbourhoods with what they need to get the job done and to employ other locals as good as they are. The problem is not quality people, there are great community workers all around Aotearoa who are too tired and too busy chasing funding to do what they're best at. Let's equip them with what's needed and not make them jump through hoops to get it. This requires more than a one or two term commitment, so let's cement this strategy in for 25 years. If good investment in social change still doesn't result in transformed communities then we can finally say that the welfare policies of the left haven't worked, but as yet they haven't been tried.

Secondly, I'd run dinners all around New Zealand between the richest business owners and the leaders of some of the poorest communities. There is not just a financial divide, but an understanding divide between these two echelons of society. Labels don't help the poor access the philanthropy and wisdom of the wealthy, and they don't help the rich to truly understand those in poor communities as genuine people rather than 'bludgers' or 'dependents'. Let those paying higher taxes understand where there money is going and why it matters and let's dismantle the vilification from both sides that only serves to widen the gap in the long run.

Thirdly, I'd clean up parliament. Many of our MPs have a wealth of experience in corporate and business settings and this should have taught them that culture is everything. What would it look like to overhaul the culture of parliament? This means ALL parties airing out their dirty laundry before Nicky Hagar has to do it for them. What about a collective acknowledgment that parliamentary integrity has slipped and that our leaders engaging in espionage and smear campaigns actually poisons the political environment in a way that is detrimental to all New Zealanders.

Perhaps without a culture of character assassination our representatives could have the courage to take the kind of risks I'm talking about with social policy. Every year we sink millions of dollars into research and development in the hope of stimulating the economy with another success story like Xero. What if we developed the courage to do this with social policy? Nobody is surprised when scientific research doesn't return the results expected, yet we have a 'bang for buck' approach to welfare and crush every initiative that hasn't delivered on deeply entrenched social issues within 3-6 years. Let's not forget that well researched and developed social policy could return economic dividends in the form of hard-working, educated New Zealanders who don't require government assistance.

Finally, I'd back New Zealanders to come up with good, world-changing ideas before Sony, Time Warner or the latest Lonely Planet Top 10 says we have. This bizarre obsession we have with being the little guy who punches above his weight is getting old. Let's develop a national identity we can be proud of, rather than adapting our identity to please global tastes and trends. Did you know that around the world the Family Group Conference, a NZ born approach to restorative justice, is hailed as game changing and is being implemented widely? Many people don't know that because New Line Cinema didn't promote it, it didn't win an Oscar and it didn't get a song on The Hunger Games.

So there it is, my dream for New Zealand. What's yours?

On Managing Anxiety


Recently I finished up 9 years with Zeal's Wellington youth centre. I'm convinced this was one of the best things I could have ever done with my twenties. I've been privileged to journey alongside some incredible young people, to watch some amazing talent flourish into careers, and to be in the engine room of something growing from a local to a nationally influential charity. I have no regrets and am enormously grateful for this time. As Anna and I begin to cool down from a shared 16 years with Zeal Wellington we have opportunity to critically reflect on the way we did it. I am fairly sure I will never work as hard, as naively or as doggedly as I did throughout this season. During some of the most difficult seasons of Zeal I was literally up all night painting walls, working on funding applications and responding to our young people. In the later years I learned to work a bit smarter, but this self-imposed attitude of 'whatever it takes' was the catalyst to exacerbate and reveal a tendency towards anxiety. On particularly bad weeks my heart would race abnormally, the room would begin to spin and I'd sometimes develop a twitch in my left eye. I'd find myself becoming easily claustrophobic and suffocated in the company of friends and was sometimes a real asshole. These are not badges of honour for working hard, they are the result of not listening to my body, my spirit and my friends when I should have.

For a long time I had the idea that the moment I stepped out of the frenetic pace of Zeal this anxiety would change, but it was during our pilgrimage along the Camino De Santiago in Spain that I began to really understand myself and this thing I call 'anxiety'. The Camino is a 30-35 day walk of about 850km from St Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostella in Spain. The pilgrimage is hundreds of years old and dates back to the time of the Knights Templar and medieval Europe. Each day we would typically walk 25-35km and stay in monasteries or albergues along the way.

I had said a prayer before I left that this would be a journey on which I would discover what 'Joy' really is. Each day I would meditate on this and consider the physical walking of the pilgrimage to be the mirror of an internal journey of learning and spiritual growth. Each night I would finish the day with a proverb or a learning about what real joy looks like. Perhaps the most startling of these was the realisation that "Anxiety is not around me, it is within me." I had traveled thousands of kilometres to the other side of the world to walk with no cell-phone reception, no work expectations and no deadlines, yet I found that this anxiety continued to hound me in this most peaceful of settings.

For those of us who struggle with this continual tightness in our chests, heaviness on our minds and worry in our souls, it is easy to believe that a change in circumstance will alter our internal state. In reality, this is often nothing more than rearranging furniture in a burning building. What we need is to learn how to rationalise our fears and to see potential consequences in their correct place and priority. Here are three questions that have helped me to tackle this:

  • What is the worst that can happen? I am a master at allowing worst-case scenarios to spiral in my mind. Certain phone numbers that flash across my mobile screen immediately evoke a sense of urgency or dread before I've even answered them as I wonder about what I'm about to have to deal with. In reality, we will all maybe receive 10 calls in our lives that are 'unmissable' and the rest will call back later. You've heard the phrase 'the squeaky wheel gets the oil'. Well sometimes the squeaky wheel is just squeaky and can wait a few hours, days or weeks for us to oil it.
  • Am I really that important? Closely tied to the thought above I'm trying to ask myself if I have a realistic perception of the responsibility I have and the importance of my availability to people. If I'm not around, there is a good chance someone else will use their common-sense and intuition to problem solve the situation in front of them. If I get it wrong, it will actually only affect the tiny sphere of influence infront of me and not the fate of the world entire.
  • Is this really personal / about me? I can be quick to leap to the assumption that if someone has done something frustrating or hurtful that affects me it must have been a personal attack. In reality, there's a good chance they didn't even think of me when they did it and, if they did it intentionally to hurt or harm, it says more about their character than it does about mine. It doesn't mean it doesn't hurt, but how ridiculous it is that I can spend days mulling over the affects of a decision they made in 1 or 2 minutes.

On New Years Resolutions


It's pretty cool to be anti New Years Resolutions these days, but personally, I'm a big fan. Why wouldn't I use the natural conclusion of the year as a marker to assess personal progress and where I'd like to be a year from now? One of the key successes of this year for me has been finishing the first-draft of my book, currently titled 21 Elephants. I can look back and see that hard work, a commitment to learning more about written form, and creative disciplines have resulted in achieving what I set out to a year ago. If you're someone who finds yourself struggling to get traction on something you've wanted to do for a long time, here's some suggestions on how you might find yourself more satisfied at the end of 2015. Firstly, get the right tools and the right talent to succeed. By this I mean that many set out to be incredible at something and expect that the talent and the ability to do it just lies dormant somewhere within them. Now there may well be a sixth-sense within you that guides you to an intuitive understanding of your craft, but even the greater painters in history despaired daily on the inability of their brush to communicate the vision trapped within their minds. For me, the quality of my writing has been greatly informed by committing to read 20 books this year. That may sound like a lot, but I haven't had a lot of free time this year. I've just made the decision that if I'm going to be a great writer I'll have to surround myself with great written material. I've also put my work before a rigorous editor who isn't afraid to hurt my feelings and tell me where my strengths and weaknesses lie. I definitely have a predisposition towards good writing, but that foundation is being built on by seeking out the tools and talents I don't have in order to cultivate what I do have further.

Secondly, set deadlines. People say you can't hurry the creative process and sometimes that is true, but often it's just that super-creative people struggle with feeling confined. Now if you're happy to create purely for your own personal enjoyment then there is no need for this, but if you are hoping to communicate something to other people you will have to decide on a finishing point before the ideas you've formed in this cultural context become outdated and dry. In the writing process I did this by dividing my book into four parts of an achievable 10,000 words each. The final form of the book has grown beyond this structure but this was the scaffolding that assisted me to build something when I had nothing. Now I have 40,000 words to shape and mould into the final product which would have been unachievable without clear markers of progress along the way. Further to this, assist yourself by creating culmination moments along the way where you can stand back and look at your work from a distance. For me this was the completion of my first draft by the end of this year, for others it may be a gallery exhibition, the releasing of a debut EP or entry in a craft beer competition. Deadlines held by an authority outside yourself like a competition can force you not to flake out.

Finally, carve out a rhythm for creativity in your week. Most people have a happy place like a cafe, an office or a desk in the corner of their bedroom where creativity happens. In the same way we have 'creative locations' we also need to locate this creativity in time. Have an uncompromising time of creative development that may be daily or weekly. For me this has been 2-3 hours every Monday. Life has been very busy this year so I have a to-do list where I take notes of new thoughts, ideas or inspirations that I come across during the week. When I arrive at Monday I get the opportunity unpack all of these again and weave them into the narrative I'm creating.

Beyond this creative framework are some bigger questions about how we live. Are we actively seeking opportunities to develop our tools and talent, are we deliberately putting things in place to stop procrastination, are we living deliberately with a structure or are we just reacting to whatever comes at us? A good New Years Resolution for our generation would be to ask ourselves 'am I living deliberately?'. Society is a river which will drag you to it's natural end unless you decide to chart another course. What daily rituals and habits might need adjusting to ensure you end up with the life you chose, rather than the one life chose for you?