I Want to Escape

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It was the late 1920s on the French Riviera. He was a handsome and very famous illusionist. She was an attractive young woman who claimed to be a clairvoyant and mystic. Would he uncover her secret and expose her as a fraud or would he discover something truly supernatural?

It was just at that moment her mobile phone rang and she ran from the room. No, not the attractive ‘mystic’, the woman next to us in the cinema.

Was it really too much to ask that for the 97 minutes of the movie we all agreed that we would escape into another world? Shouldn’t there be some kind of unwritten contract that as soon as you enter a cinema you not only allow yourself to escape the constant, urgent demands of technology but that you let others in the cinema to enjoy that escape too?

Magic in the Moonlight

We went to see the latest Woody Allen movie Magic in the Moonlight starring Colin Firth and Emma Stone. While it probably won’t make my list of all time favourite movies, it was certainly enjoyable. The scenery, the story, the era all combined to make it well worth seeing.

I don’t ask too much of a visit to the cinema. I just want to sit in a large dark room and be transported to another world for an hour or two. I want to escape for a little while and enjoy the power of story. Obviously that’s a little hard with a phone going off on our right and a phone to my left with a constant flash every three seconds.

As well as the ever present technology, people in cinemas, theatres and concerts seem more likely to think it’s OK to have a conversation at any chosen time. It’s not. If that’s what you do in your lounge room during the Sunday night movie, fine, but when you’re in a room full of other paying customers … show some respect and shut up.

Who is pulling the strings?

Talking during an event is annoying enough and just plain rude, but this constant attachment to technology is something else. Why do we, or at least why do some people allow themselves to miss the moment so that they remain available to march to the beat of someone else’s drum? We know it’s rude to interrupt people when they’re in the middle of something yet we often let people from all over the world interrupt us at any time they choose.

One of my brothers rang me during the movie. My son texted me during the movie. Strangely enough the earth didn’t collapse because I didn’t respond until later. They had no way of knowing that I was in the middle of escaping to the French Riviera with Colin and Emma so it was completely up to me to decide whether I’d stay in France or to allow myself to be dragged back to a dark room in suburban Warwick.

The Challenge

So here’s the challenge. While you can’t control what others around you are doing, take control of your own life moments.

If you’re in a cinema or spending time with others, decide who you’ll allow to interrupt you. If you’re not good at allowing calls to go to voicemail or ignoring someone else’s texts or notifications, switch your device off completely for a while. If you’re already breaking out in a sweat thinking about doing that or saying you don’t need to go that far, you’re probably just the sort of person who needs to do it.

If you allow the ‘fear of missing out’ to control you, I fear that you’ll truly miss out. You’ll trade a shallow connectedness to the world for the deeper and more satisfying connection to those closest to you.

How well are you managing technology? Is technology managing you? Are you in control of your own time and of who interrupts you?

Kicking the Bucket List

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Maybe I’m just not motivated enough but I really have no desire to go and climb Mount Everest, or any other mountain for that matter. I just don’t see the point. Heck, I’m not even going to climb a set of stairs if I really don’t need to do so.

I don’t have an issue with mountain climbers, or anyone else who sets huge, challenging goals, but it’s just not my thing.

The Bucket List

A lot of people have taken to the idea of writing a bucket list; a list of things they want to do before they die. There are some things I’d like to achieve before that day comes, whenever it may be, but I won’t be adding mountain climbing to my bucket list. I also won’t add things like living in a villa in the south of France, sailing solo around the world, jumping out of an airplane, or inventing something that will revolutionise the world.

All of those are fine goals but it seems to me that many people add unachievable goals to their bucket lists and then spend the rest of their lives chasing the next tick for that list. Bucket lists can be a great tool when used correctly but they can also be an excellent way of living a very unfulfilled life.

One of my concerns with some bucket lists is that they turn life into a ledger of extraordinary experiences which may or may not be achievable. Can life can only find its true meaning in the accomplishment of random items on a self prescribed list? We tick off each item once it’s done and then head off to find the next momentary thrill. It’s as if we need to take our focus off the everyday to seek some kind of greatness when in fact our true greatness is most often found in how we deal with our everyday lives. I wonder if we are diminishing the value of what we already have to seek after something we don’t really need.

Life Goals

Don’t get me wrong. I think there’s a place for goals in life but I see goals that seek the greater good as very different to a bucket list of experiences.

What are some of my goals in life? To marry a beautiful and intelligent woman who I deeply love. Tick. To have a couple of wonderful children who I absolutely adore. Tick. To have good friends that I can depend upon. Tick. To work in a job with purpose that I enjoy. Tick.

They might be ‘simple’ goals, but they’re real and will continue to provide a greater satisfaction than some of the wild bucket list items that many other people see as essential.

Enjoy the Extraordinary

I’m not suggesting we don’t embrace the extraordinary. I’ve had my fair share of extraordinary too. I’ve cycled across Australia five times, battled Indian traffic on a bicycle a number of times, escaped a foreign city in the grip of rioting, shared coffee with a family in desperate poverty in their Ethiopian home, met world leaders, cycled beside the Canadian Rockies and lots more, but none of that brings the satisfaction of a life well lived with people I love.

Sure there are other adventures I’d like to make a reality such as seeing the Tour de France live or travelling more extensively, but those desires will continue to take a back seat to the contentment that comes from doing the ordinary as well as I can. I refuse to let everyday life suffer, or blame it for holding me back, just so that I can tick items off a list.

A Life of Purpose

That doesn’t mean that I lack purpose. I’m not just floating with the breeze and letting life take me where it will. I work in a very purposeful job. I want to see children released from poverty in Jesus’ name. That’s what continues to drive me to do what I do.

As a person of faith I also want to know that my steps are guided by God. I believe that we were all created for a purpose. If that’s the case I need to be fulfilling that purpose rather than being sidetracked with things that will never satisfy. You see, following God’s purpose doesn’t diminish my satisfaction, it increases it. As John Piper says, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” God wants us to be satisfied. It brings him glory.

Back to the Bucket

If you feel you really need a bucket list, you might want to add a few ordinary things to that list. You’ll find an excellent start at a very funny post written several years ago. It’s written by by Mike at Fevered Mutterings and it’s titled 50 Amazingly Achievable Things To Do Before You Die .

How about you? Are you finding fulfillment in the everyday? Are there still some goals you’d like to achieve? How important is a bucket list for you?

(This post is an expanded version of a previous post I wrote in 2010.)

Words that Scar

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James Copeland is 46 but the words of the lady who taught him when he was only 10 have stuck in his mind since his childhood.

The Victorian bank worker was recently announced as the winner of a competition to head into space on the Virgin Galactic spaceship. The win means that he will realise a childhood dream but as well as carrying that dream for the last 36 years, he’s carried the words of the teacher who told him he was dreaming the impossible dream.

Her words were so powerful that as well as feeling the excitement of his upcoming adventure, he felt the need to show his teacher that his hopes were quite possible after all.

Copeland was so excited to find out that his childhood dream will soon become a reality, that he set about finding a primary school teacher who he says had called his dream impossible. – NEWS.com.au

Scott tracked her down to tell her the good news and to prove that dreams really can come true.

“It was great that she actually remembered me although she couldn’t specifically recall our banter about me becoming an astronaut but she did vaguely recall my fascination with space travel in general,” he said. “She was ultimately thrilled for me that I am getting this opportunity to fulfil a lifelong dream.

“She did say that she probably should have been more supportive of my dreams back then, although I suggested it’s not like I aced physics at school for this opportunity to become an astronaut and the reality is I ended up in banking rather than working at NASA.” – NEWS.com.au

Inspirational Teachers

I’ve often heard people talking about the amazing teachers they’ve had and the difference they’ve made in their lives. While I’m glad that there are many amazing teachers around the world who have been such incredible motivators and role models for others, whenever I hear people talking about them I must admit to feeling some sadness. I never had one of those wonderful teachers.

Don’t get me wrong, I do have fond memories of some teachers. I remember having Miss Van Kampen for the first two years of school back at Wembley Downs Primary School. If I remember correctly she drove a green VW Beetle. I think my Grade 3 teacher was Mrs McGrade. It all becomes a bit of a blur after that. I can’t think who I had in Grades 4 and 5. I think it was Mr Paganini for Grade 6 but I seem to remember he was also a Deputy Headmaster so he shared the teaching duties with another teacher.

Words that Scar

My memories of some teachers may be hazy but there are some things I do recall. I certainly remember my Grade 7 teacher. Richard Phillips was a very sporty kind of teacher. He coached the school’s football and cricket teams. I guess he didn’t like me much because I wasn’t a sporty kind of kid.

I thought he was kind of cool …. until the day he yelled at me in front of the class that I was a ‘drip’ who would never amount to anything in life. That seemed to take the shine off things for me.

My life may not be a blazing comet lighting up the skies but I reckon things are pretty good. I have a beautiful wife and two incredible children who I love more than words can say. I have great friends and a very fulfilling job.

His words haven’t really overshadowed my life to any great degree, nor have they been motivation to do well and prove him wrong, but I know those words cut deeply at the time and my mind still returns to them from time to time.

So why is it that 40 years after the event those words still hurt? Why did Scott Copeland feel that it was so important to find the teacher who told him his dream was impossible?

The Power of Our Words

I wonder if we truly understand the power of our words, especially when we’re talking to children. It’s easy to cause major harm just by the things we say but on the other hand, we have the power to speak words that heal. Our encouragement and words of affirmation can help shape people and can be major building blocks in young lives.

I’m not sure that I’m particularly good at using my words as well as I can but I do hope that my words won’t tear others down.

We all have the choice to build others up with our words or to leave scars that may never heal. I hope and pray that we make the right choices with our words.

Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you. – Ephesians 4:29 (GNT)

Do you remember the words of someone significant when you were growing up? Did someone speaks words of life for you or harmful words?

Robin Williams and The Final Cut

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The death of Robin Williams has rocked the world and over the past 24 hours we’ve been reminded of his great comedic talent, his great acting abilities and what a wonderfully warm and giving person he was. The world certainly has lost a very talented man.

None of the tributes have mentioned one of my favourite Robin Williams movies. It didn’t get very positive reviews and it certainly wasn’t a blockbuster. In fact, most people have never even heard of it.

I first saw The Final Cut on a plane heading home from India in 2005. As well as starring Robin Williams it features Mira Sorvino and Jim Caviezel. It’s certainly no comedy but it’s very good at getting you thinking about a range of philosophical, psychological and moral issues. Be warned, it’s not a movie to suit everyone.

Every time I’ve seen it I’ve pondered it for a long time, going over and over the concepts the movie presents.

It’s a very strange story about memory chips implanted in unborn children to record everything that they see and hear in their lifetime. The idea is that once they have passed away someone called a ‘cutter’ takes the chip and creates an audio visual memorial of their life called a ‘Rememory’. Of course they have the job of editing the footage to hide the dark side of the person and only show them in a good light.

At one point Caviezel’s character, who is against the technology, asks Williams, the best cutter available, how he lives with himself. He sees the lies, the cheating, the violence and yet he only presents people as warm, caring people who are dedicated to their families. Williams says, “I forgive people long after they can be punished for their sins.” So, is it about forgiveness or covering up?

In a greater sense, back in the real world, don’t we do just that ourselves? Aren’t we all working as ‘cutters’ on our own lives? Don’t we all choose to show those parts of our personalities that show us in the best light when we’re around others? Don’t we all hide the darker side to some degree?

One man attending his brother’s Rememory asks if the cutter has altered the colour of the fishing boat from a childhood holiday. All his life he had remembered the boat being green but it was actually red. I wonder how many things from our past we can remember so distinctly yet we’ve remembered wrongly. Would it be right to correct that kind of memory or is remembering things in our own way part of our human experience?

I guess the biggest question the movie raises is if every moment of your life was being recorded, would you live it differently? If you knew that every moment of your life would one day be placed in the hands of a stranger who would sift through everything you’ve ever done would you be a different person? Would you be a better person? If you knew that by talking to someone else you could be videoed by their implant would it change the way you interacted with others? If you knew that you could never hold a secret would it change your behaviour now?

As I mentioned, The Final Cut didn’t get rave reviews and many people felt that the concepts and issues it raises weren’t investigated thoroughly enough but I think it touches on them just enough to give you your own opportunity to think through some of the issues. The scenarios that are played out are unlikely to ever happen but there’s more than enough big ideas that already touch our lives to think through.

If you’re up for 90 minutes of darkness that will have you pondering some interesting possibilities, have a look at The Final Cut.

Homeless Persons’ Week 2014

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Today is the final day of Homeless Persons’ Week for 2014. The theme this year is Homelessness: we can’t afford to ignore it.

Homeless Persons’ Week is an annual themed week coordinated by Homelessness Australia. It is used to raise awareness of people experiencing homelessness and the surrounding issues. – Homelessness Australia

It is held in the first full week of August each year.

Who would you think is the ‘average’ homeless person? Is it the stereotypical old man in ragged clothes, clutching a bottle in a brown paper bag, sleeping under some old newspapers on a park bench?

I remember statistics from a few years back saying that over 40% of the homeless in Perth were under 18. Families are living in cars; people who have jobs can’t afford the fuel to get to work; rent increases mean that parents can no longer put a roof over their family’s heads.

The homeless are people like you.

Unfortunately those who are homeless are often people who have had a change in circumstances which has meant that they no longer have somewhere to live. It can be a mother and her children fleeing abuse or a formerly successful white collar worker who has lost everything. Many times it can be people who have a job, but their wages just won’t cover the high cost of rent.

And if you think that homelessness doesn’t affect you, think again. Homelessness doesn’t only cause devastating personal harm, it significantly impacts on society and costs the government.

Homelessness is more than the absence of a home – it can be driven and compounded by interwoven conditions and problems. As a consequence, homelessness leads to a high use of public support services.

On average, the Commonwealth Government spends $15,000 on services for each Australian. People experiencing homelessness will cost the government $30,000 more each year. Australian governments spend millions of dollars each year dealing with the effects of homelessness.

Studies have shown that addressing homelessness reduces costs to government. Homelessness services assist people to achieve positive change in their lives, which reduced their use of other services. – Homelessness Australia

I’ve seen people living in extreme poverty in developing nations and I know the lies poverty tells people and the messages that it can send. You’re worthless. You’ll never break free from your circumstances. Nobody cares. I can see the same messages in homelessness here in Australia.

You might think that there’s no homelessness in your area but it’s extremely likely that if it’s not obvious, it’s still hidden somewhere in your own suburb. Please take the time to learn more about homelessness and then take steps to do something that will make a difference.

Check out the Homelessness Australia website and discover how you can be part of the solution.