Fields of Poppies

Living in rural Tasmania for the last eight years has been a wonderful experience – character building, invigorating, inspirational, isolating and also communal. It is fascinating to be an insider in this rural culture that is so rich with generations of family life, and so diverse with a multitude of migrants and mainlanders. One aspect of rural life that has been quite pronounced is the desire for an egalitarian ethos in all that is said and done. To hold a position of influence in these communities is extremely difficult, being held to the highest account by a wide variety of people whom you live closely alongside.

 

poppy-fields-deloraine
[Artwork of the Poppy Fields of Deloraine by Evelyn Antonysen @ WordPress EvAntArt]

One of my favourite Australian bands from my youth, The Simpletons, had put this observation of rural life in Lismore, into a song called ‘Tall Poppies’.

‘Please help me cut the tall poppies down… they’ve grown too high… let’s cut ‘em down and watch ’em die!’ – Cheyne Gelagin.

It was their most popular song, perhaps because it struck a chord with the Australian ethos and our lived experience, it is possible that this is derived from our past as a penal settlement. Aside from this cultural analysis of rural Australia, this is not meant to be a judgement on our rural neighbours – who are, in fact, wonderfully hospitable, generous and hard-working.

Instead, I have been examining this Tall Poppies syndrome in light of Scripture and wanted to set out some suggestions as to how Christians, both as members and leaders of their community, can be inclusive of all people and encourage one another to prosper in the life of the church and the local community.

Many local churches have a strong shared oral history among the congregation and their long list of leaders are painted in gold on an honour board and remembered by long-serving members. This signifies that endurance in the faith is demonstrated and honoured through long tenure, stability, commitment and endurance in a particular place, position or role. It has been noted by cultural commentators that rural churches (arguably the majority of churches in Tasmania due to our small population size) operate in a similar way to a ‘Country Club’. The longest-serving and most dedicated members are given positions of influence and newcomers are given ‘L’ plates for a considerable time or prevented from serving at all, unless they have a strong connection with the leadership through social circles, family or work relationships.

This experience is a stark contrast to serving in a church elsewhere, where all members, whether new or long-serving, feel an ownership to welcome and encourage all new people to serve in the capacity that God is calling them toward. Once, upon walking into a church service for the first time in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, my husband and I had arrived early and were the only ones sitting in the pews. The youth leader stood up the front and called out to us, ‘does anyone know how to play drums?’ I raised my hand and was inducted into the music team immediately upon first meeting; this church became our beloved spiritual home for the next three years and nourished our faith and desire to serve God both as leaders and members of our church. Such fond memories of being openly welcomed into a church family upon first meeting have remained with me the past 18 years, as I have since served in eight churches in three states, and attended dozens more as a visitor, with mixed experiences.

We are in an age where people live transitory lives moving from place to place to find work, affordable real estate, a new start, education, a place to raise a family. The church must seek to become a spiritual haven for newcomers and strangers, or as one Chaplain put it:

Jesus came for ‘the last, the lost and the least’. – Luke Campton

All people who claim Christ as their personal saviour are part of God’s plan and purpose to build up His church.

Inclusive church practices. From my positive experiences – there will usually be a conversation between the newcomers (as individuals, couples, or families) and the leadership, usually at the Minister’s home or a home visit is made, or for larger churches a welcoming session is held where each person is encouraged and the particular values and goals of that church are shared. This welcoming ritual is not just a tool for ensuring greater numbers attending a church; or for sussing out their theology and making an assessment of their suitability to become a serving member.  It is not an appropriate time to assert the leaders’ authority or try to find out the state of their marriage, mental health, financial status, or employment prospects.

We must lovingly welcome others into the wider church family to love and serve God and one another.

Offer newcomers an opportunity to be known and loved by God and His people in your place. Validate and encourage that person’s journey of faith, their gifting, stage of life, opportunities and willingness to grow and learn in the Body of Christ.

Pray with them. Christians should pray with and for all members of their church community to shine the light of Christ in all aspects of their life. If Christians do not pray together regularly, the Body is not communicating with the ‘brain’ who holds us together.

Ask them what God is doing in their life. God is the author of our salvation and is also the director for all our lives. Avoid imposing pre-conceived ideas upon a person about how they should or should not serve based upon their ‘newness’, age, stage of life, or denominational background.

Church leaders spend a considerable amount of time inspiring passion in others to serve God in their community. Yet those who are passionate to serve can sometimes be viewed as over-zealous or disrespectful of church authority for seeking to do a work that was not authorised at the last Synod, Parish Council or elders meeting. Passion to serve God is like a fire that cannot be quenched, if you try to control or suppress someone’s desire to serve in a capacity, it will likely consume them – they will seek to serve elsewhere to follow God’s leading. Consider the ways that each person can serve based on mutual prayer, discussion, and openness to the many ways that God’s word can be proclaimed.

The people are not pegs, and the ministries are not ‘holes’. The Body of Christ is a living being that has many parts and must be joined in unity to the head, which is Christ.

Discipleship involves journeying with a person in prayer and searching the Scriptures so that we might model ourselves on the champions of the faith. Self-sacrifice in the church is giving up our own selfish desires to serve God and others and proclaim God’s word in our area of influence. Self-sacrifice is not about giving up a ‘calling’ or work because it does not ‘fit in’ with the plans or programs of the institution. The limiting nature of Tall Poppies syndrome chokes the opportunities for new ministries, the raising up of new leaders, missionaries, influencers, teachers, encouragers, evangelists.

Jesus himself was seen to be a Tall Poppy threatening the long-standing values and cultural practices of the Pharisees and paid the ultimate price for it, for our sake and for our salvation. We must keep our eyes open to the mercies of God in His provision of people, gifts, resources, and opportunities in our community – without choking out new ideas because we ourselves did not conceive them, or they were not considered a priority by the ‘board’. For surely, God is able to do much more than we can ask or imagine, and He graciously gives His people the desire and capability to serve Him in ways and means that we would not consider possible.

Tertullian famously said, ‘The blood of the martyrs is the seed of church’. The martyrs of the early church gave their lives for the proclamation of God’s word, they were cut down in their life and ministry by those who would persecute and oppress Christians, because they did not obey the governing authorities. Let us not cut one another down, like a house divided against itself, but let’s water and nourish the seed of faith, growing a ripe harvest for God.

As we venture into another year of our lives, consider what direction God is calling you toward. We need to make time to reflect and pray each day to consider His word and His work around us, and ask for His grace, mercy and forgiveness to allow us to be open to His divine work within us and in our midst.

‘to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.’ – Jude 1:25

Recovery 101: How to recover from an abusive situation in work or personal life

Truth Telling

Silence is your own worst enemy. If you have been subjected to abuse you must tell the appropriate authorities as soon as you become aware of it; whether it was one or two instances or dozens of incidences over many years, whether it was mildly coercive and seemingly unintentional or blatantly berating behaviour.

Abuse occurs when there is an imbalance of power, so speaking out about it means you will have to deal with that imbalance of power and authority and risk suffering secondary abuse due to inappropriate actions being taken against you. Alternatively, there may be a complete disregard for the safety and well-being of those affected by the abuse by people in authority, or by those closest to you. This should not deter you from speaking out. Write down everything that happened as best you can to help you with truth-telling to the authorities.

If you are in a situation where you cannot foresee your case being heard and dealt with in an appropriate way, talking to your GP or the justice department may help you receive good advice and will also validate the seriousness of your claims. (Justice Department: Work Health and Safety or the Police Department).

The abusers may never experience the consequences of their actions in this life, but it is important for the victims of abuse to speak out to someone about it, for the sake of their own health and wellbeing.

Self-Care

Find a few trusted friends, preferably one who is not connected to the situation and ask if they could be a support person as you go through recovery. This may take a while to find the right person; it may be a few people that you are able to share your feelings with. Friends only need to know that you are going through a hard time and may be able to point to healthy activities that will enable you to improve your emotional health. Stay clear of alcohol, drugs or other risky activities and opt for nature walks, movies, dinner out, a weekend away, or a new hobby or group such as singing, book clubs, or gardening.

You can choose not to share the details of the abuse with friends and only share those details with a confidential Specialist Psychologist, GP or Counsellor.

If you are unable to work because of the abuse, seek help early for career advice, take a break from work if financially possible and do some study until you feel ready to approach a new work situation.

Safe Boundaries

Avoid speaking about the person(s) at all in conversation in public. If people want to know what happened to you (‘where have you been?’) and ask you about it, you can choose not to discuss it at all so as not to trigger those emotions that are a normal reaction to abusive situations and people.

If you see your abuser in public, be polite if you must speak to them then you can choose to walk away. If the abuser replies with a harmful comment about you, let those words go immediately and know that you are doing the right thing by speaking out and staying away. Wherever possible, continue your normal routine and go to the places that you enjoy going to.

A Clean Mind

When thoughts rush in about words and situations that caused harm, remember that those words were probably intended to harm you – this is difficult to do, but if you allow those words to continue to harm you, the abuser will continue to have power and control over your life and emotions. This is unacceptable.

Healthy and Diverse Work and Personal Relationships

Most organisations will have a zero tolerance for bullying or any form of abuse, if they do not have such a policy, consider finding employment with an organisation who does have a sound policy for unacceptable behaviour. When finding work, be clear with yourself and with your employer about your values for workplace relationships.

Be clear about your values in friendships and relationships in social clubs or any other group – do not allow yourself to be bullied by others who do not understand what has happened to you.You do not need to tell them the details of the abuse in order for them to believe you or be ‘on your side’. Protect yourself from further harm.

A Hope and a Future

Time is a great healer, however most abuse will continue to be remembered and may have an effect on your life for many years. The guidance in this article is meant to encourage and strengthen victims of abuse – know that you are not alone, do not give up hope in finding help or a safe place to live, work and recreate. If these suggestions are not helpful for you, take some time to write down what has been helpful or is likely to help and take steps to consider practicing these things regularly. It is important that we break the silence on this issue and ensure healing from the past and prevention for the future on the problem of abuse.

Find in your life story memories that are edifying and acknowledge those memories more often through journaling, story writing or art. Turn to pursuits that will give you space, peace, and build resilience so that you can look forward to the future. Helping others who have been through similar difficulties is a gift that life experience brings, but ensure that you have received all the help you need before you look to the needs of others.

Resources

This article was written by an abuse survivor who is trained in conflict resolution, leadership and management, workplace communication, mental health first aid and pastoral care.

Recovery can be a long journey there are many resources and organisations that are available to help you. Some of these are listed below and I can personally recommend. (Australia/ USA)

White Ribbon: www.whiteribbon.org.au

To Write Love on Her Arms: www.twloha.com

Beyond Blue: www.beyondblue.org.au

Lifeline: www.lifeline.org.au

Anglicare (Australia): www.anglicare.org.au

Mental Health First Aid Course (MHFA International): www.mhfa.com.au

Mental Illness (SANE Australia): www.sane.org

Sexual abuse: (SASS): www.sass.org.au

Sexual abuse: 1800RESPECT: www.1800RESPECT.org.au

The Faceless Name

There are no faces to put to this Name

Love bears no resemblance to the tunes played

or the dreams that never fade

of the faces you made

or the names we gave.

The faceless, nameless, tuneless, wide-awake LOVE

is simply void of haste, waste, hate, fate and belly-ache.

The pain in my centre is simply love restrained.

The love pours forth all sorts of words and noises.

It rests, content, to restore and pour out again.

Any thought against it churns in vain.

 

Words of love:

– σπλαγχνιζομαι (splanchnizomai) – pity or compassion, means to be moved in one’s internal or vital organs. (Matthew 9:36)

Words of warning:

– ἐμβριμαομαι (embrimaomai) – to groan in Spirit, to be deeply moved (like a horse snorting sound). (John 11:33)

________

Image credit

 

The Hurt is Real, Hope Heals

* Trigger warning * Call Lifeline 13 11 14 or 1800 RESPECT immediately if you need help.

Recently there has been a lot of publicity about domestic violence statistics to raise public awareness – whether or not we have been affected by it, or known someone who has – this is shocking to many of us. The pain of domestic violence is carried for decades, by victims and their family members, who suffer feelings of social isolation and worthlessness that linger for the rest of their lives.

What can be done to help those who have an immediate need for safety in their own homes? What can be done for those whose memories regurgitate their past trauma and inflict emotional and physical grief and pain that seems to control their lives and wellbeing?

The many forms of violence and abuse:

  • Silent treatment
  • Public Shaming
  • Gossip and slander
  • Defamation
  • Physical violence (to the body or destruction of property)
  • Passive aggressive behaviour
  • Sexual abuse or any unwanted intimacy
  • Manipulating friends or family members to ‘take sides’ in arguments causing further social isolation
  • Controlling behaviour – finances, social life, domestic duties.
  • Interrogation and verbal harassment

Friends, neighbours, family members and care providers have an important role to play. It is important to work together to prevent further hurt, self-blame and shame that victims may suffer for the rest of their lives, the path to healing includes genuine friendship and care. Sometimes this care also requires tough love if the victim is unable to take those first few steps toward seeking professional help.

If a friend is considering taking their life because of domestic violence or abuse, intervening on their behalf may require being physically present with them during difficult times if and when possible and then making arrangements for them to talk to a helpline or counselling professional. This kind of intervention is the realm of the friend or family member who is keenly aware of the circumstances – ignoring the signs or ‘passing the buck’ is the worst thing anyone can do.

Doing nothing is not an option.

The most important message to convey to a victim of abuse or domestic violence is that their story matters and their life has a purpose. They should never be made to feel excluded any more than they already are. They should be encouraged to participate in life to the full, to seek the help they need to be safe – once they do so they can begin to take small steps towards fulfilling their life goals. Focusing on the future helps motivate them to develop a positive self-image and builds resilience.  Achieving life goals or being able to help others is the antidote for feelings of helplessness and low self-worth that are caused by abuse. If they are made to feel like their ‘damage’ will hinder them for the rest of their lives, their depression and anxiety may spiral and they will forever fall victim to the consequences of their abuse.

Hope is the most wonderful gift any friend or family member can give. Whether it is small mercies or blessings, or major plans and achievements – there is a road to recovery that is best travelled one small step at a time alongside trusted friends.

Stand up

Speak out

White Ribbon website