Deep Belly Laugh

The God in the Machine: The Matrix and a Sci-Fi Jesus

Morpheus: “You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life…that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?”

Neo: “The Matrix”

Just as Morpheus somehow describes everything Neo has felt so far, the Wachowski brothers’ first installment of the Matrix trilogy offered a somewhat uncanny allegory for my own Christian experience. I thought it was just remarkably well extrapolated, though others have been more overt in their analyses, and the Wachowski brothers themselves — when not being coy about its various religious and philosophical ideas — have responded that “all of it” and “most of it was intentional”. The most obvious and widely recognised link is of course Neo, whose name means “New” and is an anagram of his title as the “One”; a messianic figure prophesied by the Oracle to come and save mankind. His dull day-job name “Mr Anderson” means “Son of Man”. And with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, he is told in his first scene by user Choi; “Hallelujah. You’re my saviour, man. My own personal Jesus Christ”.

But the more personal aspects shown in the film begin with the splinter in the mind, the inexplicable suspicion, as Morpheus describes, that something is wrong with the world. At first Neo almost bails on what Trinity calls “the question that drives us”. He gets in the car, but when it gets a bit weird to have a bugged bellybutton, he wants out. I remember faltering for a moment too — the concept of God seemed a bit too foreign, too strange and these people were being all weird and spiritual. I was curious — but also apprehensive of what would happen if I found out. Then Trinity stops him as he opens the door and stares out in the rain (Sydneysiders: this scene was filmed on the corner of Campbell and Elizabeth Street, under the Adam Street bridge);

Trinity: “…you have been down there Neo, you know that road, you know exactly where it ends. And I know that’s not where you want to be.”

Maybe I wasn’t sure where this new road led, but I did know the road I had been on was a dead end. And like Neo I stayed in the car.

Morpheus: “Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.”

Unplugging naked from an amniotic pod is a very sci-fi rebirth, and as Morpheus says, until it is experienced firsthand it is unimaginable; “Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.””(John3:3 ESV). When plugged in, it was the only life ever known; “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit”(2 Corinthians 2:14 NIV). But the day of the red pill, everything changed. I remember thinking to myself that I couldn’t believe that I could have reached adulthood — even grown up in church — and still discover another level that felt like real living. If this was living, if I suddenly felt alive, what had I been doing all those years before? I’d felt like something was a bit odd about the world but I could never have imagined an entire other level; “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10 NIV). The colours and even people, looked different, and I felt so free, so new, joyful beyond explanation.

Morpheus shows Neo the meaning of the human pods by holding up a Duracell battery, a battery for machines; “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods” (Galatians 4:8 NIV). It is an image so understandably horrible and confronting that Neo throws up and passes out.

Morpheus: “It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”

Neo: “What truth?”

Morpheus: “That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind.”

In a 1995 interview Steve Jobs explains: “When you grow up, you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world, try not to bash into the walls too much, try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life”. The media will tell you how you’re supposed to be, the catalogues will tell you what you’re supposed to own, corporate culture will tell you how you’re supposed to work, Tumblr will give you philosophy, Instagram will show you how pretty a brunch should look, Pinterest will show and quote human ideals, Facebook will document what happiness looks like, fashion will tell you what men and women wear. Just go with it, dress like it, talk like it, work like it, eat like it, live like it, for the rest of your life. I wondered if this was it — surely there was more. There has to be.

Morpheus: “This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill — the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill — you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes”.

But the red pill means giving up everything, making a choice; “Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62 ESV). You have to decide which world you’ll live in.

Cypher: You know, I know this steak doesn’t exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realise? Ignorance is bliss.

Just as history pitied Judas Iscariot, we could slam Cypher for betraying Morpheus, Neo and his crew and asking to be plugged back into the Matrix. And ultimately the nondescript coding name “Cypher” reveals the minimal impact he makes by seeking to return to the cookie-cutter life. But his case for blissful ignorance is also understandable, because unplugging is a difficult life involving a war instead of steak. And Cypher must choose between the Matrix and Zion; “Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4b ESV).

Morpheus: “That system is our enemy. But when you’re inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.”

And as Morpheus explains, the enemy in the training program is not actually the woman in the red dress or the homeless man, but Agent Smith (holding a gun in Sydney’s Martin Place and Pitt Street); “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world” (Ephesians 6:12a NIV). Like protective sentinels and agents, the religious Pharisees hated Jesus for what he taught and wanted this sacrilege to be quashed. Offended by the Sabbath-breaking healing, the “blasphemously” good news, the love and care for “sinners”, they fought to protect their neat moral bubble, and eventually in hatred, crucified Him; “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds” (Colossians 1:21a). Morpheus teaches Neo that once you unplug, the Matrix is no longer a friend or a home; “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18–19 NIV). In the world, but not of it.

Morpheus: “Welcome to the real world”

Essentially Neo receives the revelation that the real world and real life is bigger than what’s programmed in the Matrix. Instead Morpheus and his crew are heading for Zion, the last human city, which is truly worthy of aspiration, unlike the manufactured ladder within the Matrix; “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion” (Psalm 84:5 ESV). “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18 NIV).

Neo: “I used to eat there. Really good noodles. I have these memories from my life. None of them happened. What does that mean?”

Trinity: “That the Matrix cannot tell you who you are.”

The Matrix has a way of programming identities — manufactured possessions, job titles, status, stations — but they are not who someone really is. And when our hero finally declares; “My name is Neo”, he rejects his Anderson identity, the neat little life as “a program writer for a respectable software company”, with a social security number and a land lady, and becomes his true self; “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3–4 ESV). “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1 NIV). Instead of plugging back in, Neo takes the path of freedom.

Neo: “I’m going to hang up this phone, and then I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see. I’m going to show them a world without you. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible.”

And true to his word, it was Christ who taught me; “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26 NIV) and that “All things are possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:23b ESV). He takes a while to come to terms with being the One (“If you are the Son of God…” — Matthew 4), and his divinity (“You have to let it all go, Neo. Fear, doubt, and disbelief. Free your mind.”). But eventually even bullet-dodging, even water-walking, even flying from a phone on the corner of Hunter and Pitt Street in Sydney, is possible. Jesus embodied the breaking of rules and controls, borders and boundaries. In a Matrix full of status he humbled himself to wash people’s feet. In a Matrix full of social rules he dared to speak to people of lower class, the outcast and despised. In a Matrix full of material security he had nowhere to lay his head. In a Matrix full of sickness and death he dared to heal people. In a Matrix full of religious rules he stood up and courageously opposed the hypocrisy of the religious.

Trinity: “The answer is out there, Neo. It’s looking for you, and it will find you if you want it to”.

He didn’t barge into my life; “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Revelation 3:20). I didn’t accidentally get unplugged. I wondered, and I decided to take the red pill. And maybe life is harder on a ship, fighting a war, being misunderstood all the time. But it’s also an amazing life beyond imagination. It’s free. And it’s real. It’s almost too cheap to say the red pill changed my life. Really, it was far more than that.

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upIf you look up, the Lord bends down to listen (Psalm 116:2 NLT). He stoops down to make you great (Psalm 18:35b NIV). He is the lifter of your head (Psalm 3:3b NIV) and He lays his hand upon you (Psalm 139:5 NIV). He hides you in the shadow of His wings (Psalm 17:8b NIV). He reaches down from on high and takes hold of you; He draws you out of deep waters (Psalm 18:16 NIV). He pulls you out of the pit of destruction (Psalm 40:2a NIV). 

downIf you look down, He sets your feet on a rock, and gives you a firm place to stand (Psalm 40:2b NIV), He provides a broad path for your feet (Psalm 18:36 NIV) and He establishes all your steps (Psalm 37:23). He upholds you with His righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10b NIV).

behindIf you look back, the God of Israel is your rear guard (Isaiah 52:12b NIV). His goodness and mercy is surely following you all the days of your life (Psalm 23:6 NIV). He hems you in from behind (Psalm 139:5a NIV) and His glory guards your rear (Isaiah 58:8b NIV).

aheadIf you look ahead, the Lord Himself crosses over ahead of you (Deuteronomy 31:1b NIV). The Lord Himself goes before you (Deuteronomy 31:8a NIV). He is a sun and a shield (Psalm 84:11a NIV). He hems you in before you (Psalm 139:5 NIV) and His word is a lamp to your feet and a light on your path (Psalm 119:105 NIV).

circleIf you look around, the Lord your God is with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9b NIV), and there is nowhere you can flee from His presence (Psalm 13:7-12 NIV). He is a shield around you (Psalm 3:3a NIV), He protects all your bones (Psalm 34:20 NIV), He encircles you, cares for you, and He keeps you as the apple of his eye (Deuteronomy 32:10 ESV).

circleIf you look within, your life is hidden in Christ (Colossians 3:3 NIV). It is no longer you who lives, but Christ who lives in you (Galatians 2:20 NIV). Christ in you is the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27 NIV) and the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world (1 John 4:4b NIV).

rewindIf you look to your past, to your origins and beginnings, He is the rock from which you were cut, and the quarry from which you were hewn (Isaiah 51:1b NIV). He created you in His image (Genesis 1:27 NIV). He redeemed you, called you by name and declared “You are mine” (Isaiah 43:1 NIV). Before He formed in you in the womb, He knew and set you apart (Jeremiah 1:5a NIV). He is the author of your faith (Hebrews 12:2a NIV) and He began a good work in you (Philippians 1:6 NIV). He wrote all the days ordained for you before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16a NIV).

playIf you look in your present, He is your refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1 ESV), He is with you in the waters, through the rivers, through the fire (Isaiah 43:2 NIV). He is close when you are brokenhearted and crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18 NIV) and He is with you even in the darkest valley (Psalm 23:4 NIV). He has granted to you all you need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3 NIV), and in His presence is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11 ESV).

fastforwardIf you look to your future, He will never leave you nor forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:8 NIV). He is with you always, even till the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20 NIV). He is the perfecter of your faith (Hebrews 12:2a NIV), and will bring to completion His good work in you (Philippians 1:6 NIV). The Lord will fulfill His purpose for you (Psalm 138:8 ESV). Even to your old age and grey hairs it is He who sustains you, and He will carry you and rescue you (Isaiah 46:4 NIV). He will will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19 NIV). He will guide you in His counsel, and afterward He will take you into glory (Psalm 73:24 NIV) where He has prepared a place for you (John 14:3 NIV), and you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23:6 NIV).

The Lord who made the universe – who made YOU – is your promise keeper.

The world may encourage you: “You’ve got this”.

But the truth is:

He’s got you.

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The Secret Kingdom

Every year thousands of wildflowers bloom and die on a mountainside unseen by human eyes. Countless galaxies swirl millions of light years away without a telescope to see them. Yet the sunrise continues to give itself every morning, the supernovae continue to explode and die with all their being, and in this way “the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1b). Every bud persistently blossoms and glorifies its maker, and He dresses them more beautifully than Solomon in all his splendour (Matthew 6:29). Even in the absence of validation, they do not cease to glorify God in truth. They do not need to say that they are true – they simply are. Even if nobody knows.

Sometimes we will do something for someone that can never be thanked. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t count. In fact, it may count more than anything, for “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25:40 NIV).

Sometimes – and probably most of the time – we will do work that will not be seen or acknowledged. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important to do. In fact we are told, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Colossians 3:23). Sometimes there is a good deed that no one will know about. But in His kingdom the Lord explicitly instructs to give in secret (Matthew 6:2-4), fast in secret (Matt 6:16-18), pray in secret (Matthew 6:5-6), and even warns; “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).

Sometimes the person who impresses the world’s standards is not the person God prefers and esteems; “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Sometimes a person’s beauty is not externally visible. But again in the secret kingdom of unseen, eternal things, it is even directly instructed, “Do not let your adorning be external […] but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:3-4 ESV).

Sometimes courage is choosing what is right even if it is not popular, celebrated, noticed. Even if it is misunderstood or attracts criticism, opposition or judgment, there is a conviction and integrity worth keeping for His name’s sake. We must live “not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart” (Ephesians 6:6 ESV).

There is a kingdom of stage and spectacle, fame and pedestals, glory, prestige and gloss. Deeds are applauded. Excellence is awarded. Visibility is fought for and cheered. Names become labels, engravings on plaques, self-profiled online and revered. But there is another place where things are unseen – less but somehow more. And as false varnish fades into something long gone, it rises as something eternal.

“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” – Galatians 1:10

So can we be in the way we live. Perhaps no one sees. But God sees you. Perhaps it means nothing to the world. But in God’s sight it is very precious. And if He saw you when no one else could, and if He valued you before anyone else did, maybe you’re the wildflower that should dare to bloom, maybe you’re the star that should dare to burst, maybe the fall should be taken, the cost should be paid, the kindness extended, even if the recipient never knows or the crowd never sees. And perhaps if the only people to see the finest hour are you and God Almighty – well, perhaps that’s not such a bad audience.

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The Good News after the Bad News

“…he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” – Genesis 3:15b (NIV)

This somewhat violent statement is an epic plot spoiler of the very best kind. After what was perhaps the world’s most famous mistake, it is an astonishing declaration of hope, made even more so by its timing. As soon as Adam tells God they have eaten the forbidden fruit, God’s first response it is not to yell at Adam, or to smite them both, or to complain about their rebellion – even though any of these could be expected. His first response is not even directed to Adam or Eve. Instead He turns straight to the serpent, and He declares that the battle will be on between the serpent and the woman’s offspring, but that God would ultimately cause them to triumph.

How amazingly swift and complete is His mercy – that God declared the solution for the problem as soon as it was created. That God brings the hope of good news immediately after Adam speaks the bad news. And not only does He not give up on Adam or his lineage, but He even promises that it will be from their own offspring that He will bring a champion, a saviour, the light for a world that had is being made dark. As soon as His beloved friends fall, He catches them in His victory. It is the very first telling of the gospel – and by God Himself.

This is how merciful He is with every mistake in our lives. There is nothing we could ever have done that is beyond His ability or desire to redeem and restore through Christ. There is no one more merciful to whom we could give our needs, and no one who could give us a more sure hope. His first response is not to yell, smite, complain or give up on us (though He really could). It is His good news in exchange for all of the bad news. His best in exchange for our worst. For “he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:5a). How amazing that mercy is.

So; “let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

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“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”- John 6:63 (NASB)
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“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him” (Psalm‬ ‭34‬:‭8‬ NIV)

The Accidental Ferrari

Koenigsegg, a supercar manufacturer founded by Christian von Koenigsegg, first captured my attention because of its uncompromising approach to manufacturing and human resources. Koenigsegg isn’t merely trying to make flashy cars. It is pursuing an ideal – Christian’s boyhood dream of making the best sports car possible – and at the company this means rejecting even the best available off-rack parts in favour of custom-made innovations, and even turning away top technical talent if they lack the necessary passion to build at this frontier.

As I reflect on my year I’ve realised God is actually like that with me, and with all of us. As the year draws to a close, I even feel like I’ve rolled out of the factory and accidentally become a Ferrari. Instead of any agenda or a goal, I remember one thing – one person. And in the process He made me smash goals I never set, and become someone I never foresaw. And it’s always supercar level, because of who your manufacturer is.

A car cannot put itself together well. But God Himself conceived of you in His mind, He wanted you, He designed every component on an engineering blueprint before a single piece was made; “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5 NIV). There was no economical constraint with you, and you were designed by the best mind.

Like the instant prestige of the mere name Ferrari or Lamborghini, you have Christ’s name as a seal of His best and His love; “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalm 139:14 NIV).

Nothing conveys love and care like a supercar’s hand-stitched upholstery, yet you are hand-stitched too; “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13 NIV). “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:8 ESV).

In you, the best engineer in the world made something purposeful, good and new;  “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10 ESV).

Only the best components were sourced and made in-house, for “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them” (Genesis 1:27a NIV).

Every bit was orchestrated so “that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:4b ESV). And “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6 ESV).

But not only are you perfectly engineered in Christ, but the best driver on the circuit is personally taking you on track, steering you to victory, for “the heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9 ESV). And Jesus made sure He secured the victory lap.

“Just think—you don’t need a thing, you’ve got it all! All God’s gifts are right in front of you as you wait expectantly for our Master Jesus to arrive on the scene for the Finale. And not only that, but God himself is right alongside to keep you steady and on track until things are all wrapped up by Jesus. God, who got you started in this spiritual adventure, shares with us the life of his Son and our Master Jesus. He will never give up on you. Never forget that.

(1 Corinthians 1:7-9 MSG)

How to advocate more effectively for disadvantaged groups

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute” – Proverbs 31:8 (NIV)

By definition, the needs and disadvantages of a marginalised group will usually be unfamiliar to the wider majority. Those who best understand their cause are often those in closest proximity, including frontline professionals, carers, or members themselves. But being so immersed can bring its own challenges – it can become difficult to speak in a way that can be accessible and understood by the distant bureaucrat or the unfamiliar public. Yet being able to bridge this gap is arguably the very definition of being an effective advocate.

If done well, effective advocacy can achieve an enormous response. Many of us will  remember the otherwise ill-fated “Make Kony famous” campaign, which became the fastest growing viral video of all time and was so successfully disseminated because it had all the right components (and one of the top reasons people will share something on social media is to support a cause). The campaign did exactly what it claimed to do by nailing three brilliant aspects – it provided enough information to stir up a public sense of injustice, provided actionable steps, and empathised deeply with a public who want to help good causes, but are often unsure of how to really make a difference.

There are willing listeners and willing tellers, but the disconnect is often in the story – yet it is one of the most important ones we can tell. As much as good advocacy shines when done well, it can break your heart when it’s not effective, because the people who miss out are not you and I, but the people we speak for, the people who don’t have a voice. I believe good advocacy is distinguished by a number of key attributes:

1) A familiar point of reference

Firstly, people are likely to know nothing about this marginalised group, or their initial understanding may be a simplistic one such as pity, if not indifference. The gap cannot be met by providing information alone – good advocacy will also compellingly establish an actionable sense of social injustice. To do this, the disadvantage should not be described in isolation, but in relation to something familiar. There are a couple of ways to achieve this. You can describe the disadvantage:

i) In relation to a known standard or ideal: You can go straight out and nail the issue with reference to a credible and well known authority, like the United Nations, the World Health Organisation, the national peak body for that cause, or even the law. These bodies will describe a standard, whether it is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Classification of Functioning and Disability (which also has a version for Youth and Children if you are advocating for children), a national or international guideline, policy or a code of ethics. Using these can help you credibly describe what we would all sense is right, fair and just and to clearly describe how the unknown disadvantage is apparent nex this known standard.

ii) By comparing it to the next most similar group: If not, or in addition to this standard, an injustice also becomes clear when there is a clear comparison with the next closest group. For example, the disadvantages of children with disabilities can be spoken for in relation to children the same age, or a gap in research can be identified by demonstrating how other comparable areas have been investigated, but this area has been neglected. This can apply no matter what field you’re in. When advocating for the legal rights of child models (including an education, breaks, and freedom from sexual harassment), Coco Rocha identified that the next closest group – child actors and performers – were protected as such by the law, but that minors in the fashion industry were left alone with photographers without any similar regulations. With one group so clearly ignored and never spoken for before, it just seems like a no-brainer that the same rights should apply for this group.

iii) In view of our common humanity: Depending on the formality of the appeal you need to make, you might also help people understand by drawing comparisons to the most accessible and familiar referent of all – themselves. This gives audiences an opportunity to empathise – to imagine “if you had the same hopes and dreams, with these disadvantages”. It can often help us realise how much of what we take for granted was not earned or chosen, just like injustices are not chosen by those who suffer them.

2) Credible supporting evidence
People engage well with compelling stories but solid data and emotional resonance do not need to be mutually exclusive. While an isolated case study can be an emotionally accessible or memorable draw, as a matter of integrity the documented gaps should be based on the best level of evidence possible. If applicable – and especially in a formal context – it is valuable to directly reference research, ensuring the highest quality, relevant and recent and is represented and prioritised. Go for the highest level of evidence possible, and go meta when you can (meta-analyses and systematic reviews), and make sure you put the most important stuff first.

3) A clearly presented solution

Providing clear steps on how to help, and why this solution works, is really the point of identifying the problem at all. If you are proposing a solution, explain it well, substantiate it with evidence as above, and if necessary, demonstrate how things will stay accountable, the track record of the people who will carry it through, and what part the audience plays in making that happen. It must be clear and compelling.

4) Passion

Let your passion guide your language. Break the rules and forget about being tidy and mild in grant applications or campaigns. Again, put the most compelling stuff first and don’t be afraid to say it like you mean it.

Argue as well as you can, because it is not for you, it is for them, and if they will literally never be able to speak for themselves, if they will never be heard in the hallowed halls of bureaucracy and no one else can do it for them, but you can, then do your best for them, and don’t give up, because they need you to, and so do we.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time.” – Ecclesiastes 3:11a (NKJV)

“He has made everything beautiful in its time.” – Ecclesiastes 3:11a (NKJV)

The Daily Swap

On days when sicknesses pick a fight with the immune system, or batteries run low, or people are mean, it is natural to want to wallow in it – just a little. But when any of these might like to rent some head space or a mention, what would happen if we simply…traded them in? To swap tiredness for joy at the day’s opportunities. To swap a whiny status update for an expression of thanks. To trade the grumpiness of illness for the renewed awareness of caring people and a fighting immune system. Or some of the pain of grief for a more urgent sense of love for the people still in our lives. Even on days of mistreatment, we can treasure a clear conscience, new wisdom, supportive people – and an enormous, loving God who never leaves. Although it’s possible to complain, when I look harder it seems I actually have it almost unfairly good.

“Talking about our problems is our greatest addiction. Break the habit. Talk about your joys” – Rita Schiano

It’s easy to forget that whenever there is an opportunity to do something wrong, there is always an opportunity to do something right (1 Corinthians 10:13). And that whatever harm anyone may do, God is able to turn it into something beneficial (Genesis 50:20). That anything that seems like a set back or mistake can be worked together for good (Romans 8:28). That though we may physically grow weary, we’re inwardly renewed every day (2 Corinthians 4:16). That for every bit of suffering or hardship, there is always a joy to transcend it (2 Corinthians 4:17). And even when everything and everyone is lost, ultimately “it is well with my soul”.

“Praise the Lord, my soul,  and forget not all his benefits” – Psalm 103:2 (NIV)

We’re instructed to rejoice in the Lord always, and then again, to rejoice – everybody one more time now (Philippians 4:4)! That’s a 24/7 gig, and although rainbows and fuzzy ducklings aren’t present round the clock, God always is. My favourite thing is that a search for things and people to celebrate and praise never returns void, whether the treasure is big or small. There are countless gifts and supports in so many areas of life that are so easily overlooked.

“… memory may be very strong concerning self-interest, grievances, and trials, and yet towards God’s mercies it may be very weak” – Charles Spurgeon

One way I’ve tried overcoming this senility is using a small portable notebook to record everything I’m grateful for. I add to it whenever something comes to mind, or force myself to add to it whenever my attitude needs recalibrating. I’ve found having small space to be thankful and joyful is not only a delight and encouragement, but a very powerful life tool. While shopping or to-do lists are a common form of reminder for life’s activities, there is perhaps something – or someone – we are more prone to forget than milk or emails. And when all we can think about is unpleasant points to whine about while joy sits available half-price, He’s probably more than worth the swap!

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