Sunday, October 24, 2021
Home Authors Posts by Brett Fish

Brett Fish

Inviting your community to help shape your future

The other night my wife Valerie and I had  about 15 of our friends hanging out in our lounge.

We shared soup together and then we listened as our friend René shared about a dream she had for community living. The rest of the evening was spent with each of us sharing three of the things we would desire to see in a community if we decided to live together in a space, which in this case was a farm.

As I walk through my lounge a few days later, the pieces of card with people’s suggestions on are still grouped together on our lounge wall indicating areas of overlap with different people’s ideas.

Now we are not necessarily all of us going to end up living in a community situation together but it was a helpful way to be able to share and listen to different ideas of what people we care about see happening in community.

Where to live

The same thing happened two years ago when Val and I were trying to figure out where we were going to live in Cape Town, having been out of the country for three years and returning to settle for the next foreseeable while.

We gathered some people we care about, trust and who love us, and invited them into what we called a discernment process. We shared some of our shared values and the things we were looking for and then asked other people to share what they saw in us and to share some ideas.

There was a prayer time as well where we sat and listened to see if there was a sense of any kind of leading or direction from God.

We left that evening not with a specific address of where to move to, but an idea of some of the things we were definitely looking for as well as some of the things we wanted to avoid. (eg. a place that was not filled with people who looked like us, a somewhat lower economic area, a place that could serve as bridge-building between rich and poor, a space that offered hospitality options)

Collective wisdom

As I write this I am in a space where I have been working freelance but am needing to find some kind of more permanent work. Once again we plan to gather the people we love, to hear, to pray, to speak wisdom and to share in this time with us.

One of the reasons we like to make decisions in community that way, is just for another excuse to hang with a bunch of amazing people we know love us. But more specifically there is something to be said about the idea of ‘the wisdom of the group’.

People who know us know our strengths and have some good idea of our weaknesses. People who have been invited to speak hard words we might need to hear and be the ones we can take it from. A group of people who will think differently to us and so bring in new exciting possibilities and perhaps see into our blind spots.

The African saying, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ holds true beyond just the raising of children. It speaks to the power that exists when people get together to work on different aspects of the same thing.

How do you decide?

As you face whatever your next big decision is, why don’t you consider inviting some of your trusted people to add their thoughts and voices. That might be family or friends. It might be business colleagues or mentor types. It can be as informal as having people around for a meal and sharing your ideas, question or decision and asking people to share their thoughts.

But it will more than likely set you up for greater success than if you tried to figure it all out by yourself.

 

The image of God in you

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Do you see the image of God in others?

I will let you into a little secret, an idea I had a week or so ago, but haven’t had the chance to put into practice yet.

I tend to get into a fair amount (that is, a whole lot) of Social Media conversations and, if I’m honest, arguments. Every now and then it gets a little heated. I get called a lot of stuff and at times I get drawn into writing some harsher words to people.

(And obviously I always think I’m right and the other person is wrong and I imagine vice versa)

Recognise the image of God

There are times we can argue and still respect the person we are arguing with. It is even possible to walk away from someone who has a strongly different opinion than you, but still appreciate them as a person. But sometimes I feel like I am arguing against some really stupid people. Which may be true, but it also may be an opportunity for me to try my new thing.

So the idea I had was that next time I get involved in a conversation with someone where the tendency is for me to respond with something angry or sarcastic, to begin my comment with the phrase: I recognise the image of God in you. I imagine that whatever follows from that will definitely have to be informed and shaped by that declaration.

Creation bearing the image of Creator

This isn’t just an idea I came up with. In the letter that Paul writes to the church of Colossae (which we find in the Bible as the book of Colossians) he says this to them:

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

‘Christ in you, the hope of glory.’ What a powerful phrase. The hope Paul has for this church, is that when they come face to face with people outside of the church, that those people will be able to glimpse God, or the image of God, and the hope that God brings, in these people.

In the beginning

This is actually not even an idea that Paul came up with. Right at the beginning of the Bible, when the story of creation is being shared, we see these words:

So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

(A fun fact is that both of the verses quoted above are from Chapter 1 and verse 27 of the book they are written in)

Clearly this is not suggesting that a person looks like God in physical form. Because there are so many of us and only one of God.

But what it is hinting strongly at, is that within every person, there is something Godlike that has been planted. The essence or heart or behaviour or love of God can be found in us.

The Bible says also that God is love and so maybe that is specifically what these passages are alluding to – that within every person exists the capacity to love in some way like God.

The shifting lens

That very idea is what helps shape my personal feelings towards the death penalty (how can we kill someone containing the image of God?)

It helps me not to give up hope in people and the potential that lives within every single person to be changed or transformed from who they are.

If I can start what might be a conflict filled engagement by recognising the mark of God in that person, I imagine it will at least help me to start with a markedly different attitude and hopefully that will help conversations to end up being more productive and love-filled.

 

When I’m feeling low

When last were you feeling low? This week has not been a good week for me.

Not for any particular reason either. Maybe a bunch of small things but by and large just a general feeling of ‘bleargh’. Being a little bit sick hasn’t helped because each little thing gets magnified and makes you feel even worse. Add in some social media arguments and lack of motivation for the writing I have to do and suddenly it starts feeling pretty big.

And we all go through this right? I think it’s easier when something substantial has happened like a friend has died or you’ve failed an exam because then you can apportion a lot of the blame to that thing. But when there is nothing you can hang the blame on it just feels that extra little bit heavy.

What would Phil do?

As I sat down to write this I was reminded of the verse from this old Phil Collins song:

When I’m feeling blue, all I have to do
Is take a look at you, then I’m not so blue
When you’re close to me, I can feel your heart beat
I can hear you breathing near my ear
Wouldn’t you agree, baby you and me got a groovy kind of love

I posted something earlier this week on social media as I was particularly missing my best friend who died of cancer almost two years ago. And my friends showed up. Although similar to the Fast and the Furious Crew I see most of my good friends as family. And they really got in there.

Texts, messages, someone took me out for coffee, others sent me hilarious videos. So many different ways of people saying “I am there for you” – and it worked.

Lights at ends of tunnels

I don’t think I’m totally over it, but yesterday was a much better day.

Hanging out with my wife Val this week has also been particularly fun and we’ve been watching some fun shows together and even playing some computer games (she never plays computer games) with each other.

The Phil Collins song seems to be speaking more of a lover than just a friend, but it carries that same kind of message – just knowing that people who care about you, get you and are close is so much of the battle won.

Pay it forward

Life is busy and everyone gets busy and so when people step aside from that and focus on you it feels good. The lesson to be learned here is that I’m going to be alright again (I am almost there). But I will know someone (and probably multiple someones) who is not alright. Am I that kind of friend for them?

Do I look for the signs in those around me? Do I pick up the phone and call (like my mate Mark did immediately when he saw my status despite the fact that we haven’t spoken for over a year)? Do I leave a funny voice note? Or send an encouraging message or verse?

As I have received it this week, may it be a constant reminder that I must also give. We can be the light to someone else’s tunnel.

Poverty of the soul

What is poverty?

There are a lot of conversations happening in my country, South Africa, at the moment about black and white people.

But at the heart of many of those conversations is the distinction between rich and poor.  As a result of the history of South Africa, the majority of the rich and poor divide still looks quite white and black. So economic issues and race issues end up quite interwoven.

I stumbled upon this Proverb in the Bible as I was sitting and thinking about these things:

“One who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and one who gives gifts to the rich—both come to poverty.” – Proverbs 22.6

What does that mean to you? To me, it reminded me that poverty is not about having no money or resources. It can appear in many different forms. Rich people who hold so desperately on to their wealth can appear much more poverty-stricken than poor people who are generous with their last bits of food, especially when visitors are present.

How rich are you?

Which reminds me again of one of my favourite little stories in the Bible that talks about the time Jesus was hanging around in the temple, people watching.

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Jesus sees rich people and a poor person and He distinguishes between the two, but not in the way we are used to. He highlights the faith of the poor woman who put herself in the position of having to trust God and community to back up her faithfulness.

Whereas Jesus notes that the rich people tossed in their spare change. They were reliant on their wealth to take care of themselves and their money-tossing was simply a religious formality.

Where your money lies

I find so much of Jesus’ teaching about money to be freeing rather than constrictive. Yet I imagine when many people think about the church and money, there is some kind of negative reaction.

But listen to this, from Matthew 6:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Imagine if we could all really get this. Where your treasure is, there your heart is also. We see that in the widow. And we often observe that in the poor. But I know a lot of rich people whose possessions seem to have taken hold and with it, their souls have quickly followed.

The problem with chasing after money is that there will never be enough. But Jesus changes the norms of the world around and says, “Rather chase Me. I will be enough for you.”

As we hand over our lives to Him and trust Him with our finances and provision, so we have the capacity to look around us to other people. Which is why the church when it does church well, is one of the most attractive things in the entire world.

So you don’t have to have no money to be poor. How are you leveraging your time, energy and resources for other people right now?

Moving away from the black and white

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If I was asked to share one lesson I’ve learned this last year that feels head and shoulders above most others, it would be this: Seek the ‘Both/And’ over the ‘Either/Or’.

Yes, if you were expecting an article on race, you might be disappointed. Things tend not to fall into neat little packaged categories as much as we would like them to.

Don’t letter me with your letters

You may have found yourself in a conversation that sounds a little something like this:

Person one: I am an ESTJ, what are you?

Person two: Oh, I am an ESFP, we probably shouldn’t play golf together. 

Or something ridiculous like that. For those of you not in the know, those letters refer to Meyers-Briggs Personality Type indicators.

The first person would be referring to their dominance in Extroversion, Sensing, Thinking and Judgement, while person two was stronger in Feeling and Perception.

I was never a fan of these kinds of tests growing up for two reasons: Firstly, I tend to fall in the middle of most things and so a little bit of everything as opposed to dominant features in any category; but secondly and more importantly, I would watch people box themselves as their particular category, as in the silly golf example I used.

Because I’m a (insert letters here) I can’t do this or I shouldn’t try that. Which I don’t think the tests were designed for. But because we like to put things in categories and boxes the tests can be problematic.

You can keep your label thanks

The same when it comes to labels. When we categorise a person as maybe an extrovert or an introvert, someone who is charismatic or conservative, a liberal or an extremist, we tend to draw lines around them and refuse to believe that anything outside of those lines can exist for them.

On the other hand, when my older sister was recently able to self-identify with some strong introvert tendencies it actually brought her a lot of freedom and relief, because it helped her understand some of the things that gave her life and other things that sapped it.

So there is a place for understanding the tendencies of things, but it’s when we make hard and fast boundaries and have no space for anything outside of them that we miss out.

The ‘Both/And’

Which brings me back to the Both/And. I have noticed this especially with regards to race conversations that we’ve been hosting in South Africa, but it rears it’s head all over the place. The tendency to decide that something is ‘either this or it is that’. It can’t be both. Or even a bit of both. Mostly good but with some negatives. Or mostly bad but with a silver lining.

What I’ve started to learn and see more and more is that when we are open to multiple solutions or even parts of solutions, we are more likely to succeed. Conversations with grow and deepen. People will tend to get more creative. Opportunities start opening up.

So when something happens, instead of labelling it as good or bad, take some extra time to seek out the opinion you don’t naturally have. So if you think something was bad but a lot of people thought it was good, ask them why they thought it was good and maybe you will change your mind. Or you might find that hearing a different opinion even strengthens your opinion on the matter.

We need to stop being scared of engaging with people who think differently from us and open ourselves up to learning. I speak a lot about the importance of critique, especially when we are holding public events or conversations.

When you are staring down what feels like an Either/Or, take a moment to ask whether it might be a Both/And situation? Can you share an example of when you saw something differently like this? 

Book Review: Accidental Saints – Finding God in all the wrong people

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A short while ago I finished reading Nadia Bolz-Weber’s second book, ‘Accidental Saints’.

Her first book Pastrix: The Cranky Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint burst on to the scene at the end of 2013 and was found by many to be an absolutely refreshing read. Heavily tattooed and known for having a bit of a sailor’s mouth, Nadia, who is a former standup comic, details some of her journey towards pastoring many seen as the misfits of society – fellow alcoholics, depressives and cynics. Deeply flawed but deeply faithful, Bolz-Weber attracts the attention of many who are done with religion, but really find themselves attracted to this Jesus guy.

All the wrong places

In her second book, Nadia dishes up more of the same, largely through stories told in a confessional style of her encounters with grace. A grace that is described in the book cover as ‘a gift that often feels less like being wrapped in a warm blanket and more like being hit by a blunt instrument.’

What I enjoy about Nadia’s stories are that they are often so reminiscent of the stories of Jesus who was often accused of hanging out in the wrong places with the wrong kinds of people and sharing deeply spiritual moments with those He came across.

In this passage where Nadia has an encounter with a Bishop who has recently lost his wife to cancer, Nadia is reflecting on her visit on the drive home:

After meeting Bruce and struggling with what it means to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world when I am so prone to pride, I looked harder at Matthew 25 and realised that if Jesus said “I was hungry and you fed me,” then Christ’s presence is not embodied in those who feed the hungry (as important as that work is), but Christ’s presence is in the hungry being fed.

Christ comes not in the form of those who visit the imprisoned but in the imprisoned being cared for. And to be clear, Christ does not come to us as the poor and hungry.

Because, as anyone for whom the poor are not an abstraction but actual flesh-and-blood people knows, the poor and hungry and imprisoned are not a romantic class of Christlike people. And those who meet their needs are not a romantic special class of Christlike people. We all are equally as sinful and saintly as the other. No, Christ comes to us in the needs of the poor and hungry, needs that are met by another so that the gleaming redemption of God might be known.

No one gets to play Jesus. But we do get to experience Jesus in that holy place where we meet others’ needs and have our own needs met. We are all needy and the ones who meet needs. To place ourselves or anyone else in only one category is to lie to ourselves.

Jesus for the workers

Nadia Bolz-Weber doesn’t preach to people through her books. She tells stories that themselves beckon people closer. If this Jesus can love those people doing those things in that way, maybe there is something in it for me.

Which is why I think that ‘Accidental Saints’ is a rare Christian book that would appeal to those who are outside of the faith as well. If you have ever felt like you are not good enough for God, reading about some of the accidental saints that Nadia encounters, might just give you something to think about.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has an open mind and is up for some inspiration and hope fueled by some deeply resonating stories.

Book Review – Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale

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I have just finished reading an incredible book called ‘Chasing Francis’ by Ian Morgan Cron.

It is an allegorical type story about a mega church pastor, Chase Falson, who has a bit of a crisis of faith and is forced to take a temporary leave of absence from his church. He ends up with his uncle Kenny in Italy, a Franciscan monk who starts him on a pilgrimage looking at the life and words of St Francis of Assisi.

This book has jumped on to my top books of all time list and I imagine even those who don’t follow the Christian faith would find it quite enchanting. It is not so much preachy as invitational. As the reader you are invited to spy on this life transforming journey and be affected by it as it plays out.

The real in the not real

I was a little disappointed to find out that the story was not true although the lead character being Chase and the author being Ian made me suspect that might be the case. But it reads as a true story and the journey is so authentically captured that it doesn’t feel like such a big thing in the larger picture.

From journeying through a very different faith practice and style, Chase is able to see some of the things that were terribly out of shape with his own faith and church which leads to a bit of a showdown in the final pages.

Faith in art

There is a section where Chase meets a world-renowned cellist named Carla Mellini who left church a while back but is drawn towards it again through encountering Chase’s pilgrimage.

The two of them are having a conversation with a British Musicologist Liam Cudder, who also happens to be an ordained priest:

Her expression became pensive. “So maybe I should go back to church?” she asked.

“Now would be the time,” he replied.

“Why now?” I asked.

“The church is realising there is an awareness of God sleeping in the basement of the postmodern imagination and they have to awaken it. The arts can do this. All beauty is subversive; it flies under the radar of people’s critical filters and points them to God. As a friend of mine says, ‘When the front door of the intellect is shut, the back door of the imagination is open.’ Our neglect of the power of beauty and the arts helps explain why so many people have lost interest in church. Our coming back to the arts will help renew that interest.”

Carla was spellbound. I tried to imagine what she was thinking. Liam was confirming something she’d probably known all along: her parents were wrong. It was a moment of exoneration. 

A lightbulb seemed to go off in Carla’s head. “It’s like speaking in tongues,” she said.

Liam’s fork froze halfway between his plate and his mouth. “I’m sorry?” he asked.

Carka sat up straight. “Art, music, dance, theater, literature, film – they’re all a way of speaking in tongues.”‘

“Of course!” I said. “They’re spiritual languages that communicate truths about God that human language doesn’t have words to express. That’s why the church needs to rediscover them.”

“What a brilliant way to put it,” Cudder said. 

Chase Francis for yourself

Catholicism is often a label that scares people off and I think one of the purposes of this book is probably to encourage us to seek truth in places we don’t expect to find it.

For Christians in particular, many will discard the whole thing if they suspect there is a Catholic flavour to it. But this book deals with that well as Chase comes from a very non-Catholic background and so the whole step from one world to the next starts as a massive leap for him, but as he starts to learn and enjoy and listen and grow, so it becomes a world he finds difficult to leave.

Francis of Assisi is an amazing historic figure and this book does well in terms of introducing us to him but also leaves us wanting to research more. I know my older sister’s favourite movie used to be ‘Brother Son, Sister Moon’ which dealt with his life and I have never watched it in its entirety, but I definitely plan to do so now.

This is a book you definitely want to add to your Must list. You will not be disappointed.

Walking in the other direction

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What does it mean to follow Jesus?

For a tax collector named Zach, who was not known for being the most scrupulous of people, it meant a financial sacrifice.

Zacchaeus was a tax collector who had heard about this man Jesus who was walking around Israel doing all sorts of scandalous things. Stories of crowds being fed and people being healed and even someone being raised from the dead. “I have to meet this guy!” 

But when Jesus actually does come to his part of town, Zacchaeus is way too short and can’t even see over the heads of the crowds. So he devises a cunning plan and climbs a tree along the path he knows Jesus will take.

When Jesus gets close He looks up and calls out and invites Himself to a meal at Zach’s place. We don’t get to overhear their conversation, but after one meal:

…Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” – Luke 19:8

The name changer

For a religious leader named Saul, who was known for persecuting followers of Jesus, it meant a complete lifestyle change.

In the Bible we read about this man Saul asking for letters to the synagogues so that he can seek out Christians and take them to prison. But as he is riding along, a bright light knocks him to the ground and he is blinded as he has a conversation with Jesus.

Saul is lead to a Christian named Ananias who prays for him and his sight is returned. His name is changed to Paul and he becomes one of the most influential Christians ever, embarking on a number of missionary journeys and writing half of the New Testament in the form of letters to different churches.

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.< I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

The woman and the stones

For a woman who was caught by the religious leaders in an adulterous relationship and brought before Jesus to be sentenced to death, it meant life and a new opportunity.

The woman is being used to try to trap Jesus, as the punishment for adultery in the scriptures was being stoned. But Jesus turns the whole situation on its head:

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” – John 8:7

Slowly the crowds disperse and it ends up with just Jesus and the woman. As someone who had never sinned, Jesus was the only one who could have taken the challenge. Yet He looks around and sees that no one is left and looks back at her:

Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”/span>

“No one, sir,” she said./span>

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” – John 8:10-11

What does it mean for me?

Each encounter looks different. But one thing is always the same. The person who comes face to face with Jesus is never the same again. It affects your money and your vocation and your behaviour.

It has been said that God loves you so much that nothing you have done is ever too big for Him to forgive. Nothing you do will change the love He has for you.

But also the love of God is so great that He refuses to leave you where you are. Because He knows there is better. Following Him with your whole life is the absolute best way to live.

My invitation to you is to face Jesus – spend some time reading some of the stories about Him in the Bible – His actions and His words – and then make a decision to never be the same again.

If you would liket to know more, please leave a comment or click on the link below.

Deep Dive: How to build a longer table

‘When you have more than what you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence.’ (anonymous)

My wife Val and I have just returned from a trip to KwaZulu-Natal for the main purpose of eating with people.

Okay, that’s not entirely accurate so let me maybe give a little more detail. Our main reason for visiting the Durban area – apart from getting to hang out with some of our favourite people in the world – was to engage with some people around some significant topics as we shared meals together.

We call these meals Deep Dive Conversation Dinners, excepting for the rather larger one (50 to 70 people I think) that we hosted at Westville Baptist church. But the idea is gathering a number of people around a table, eating together and then exploring a specific topic together in-depth.

GENEROSITY DINNER

One of the dinners we hosted was called a Generosity Dinner where we invited all the participants to donate money towards a common pool and then share dinner with us. As we ate we shared some stories of people we cared about who were facing some needs at the moment.

As each need was shared we leaned into what we love to call ‘the wisdom of the group’ to see what creative solutions we could come up with as well as deciding where the money would go to. I can honestly say that every single need that was shared had a next step or two in terms of meeting or addressing the need in some way.

Some needs were met through the money, some through great ideas and still others through relationship capital (in other words “I know someone who can help”).

If you are ever wanting to get creative with how you do giving with a group of friends, you should get hold of the folks at Common Change and ask them to hook you up.

DEEP DIVE RACE DINNERS

The other three dinners we did (and one afternoon session) dealt specifically with conversations about race.

The first one was a group of white people wrestling with what it means to be a white person in South Africa in terms of responsibility and learning and walking towards.

The other meals all involved a more racially diverse group of people sharing stories of encountering privilege or prejudice, grappling with what it means to pay a living wage rather than a minimum wage to someone who works for you, and what is an emotion you are feeling as someone living in South Africa right now.

THE POWER OF STORIES MIXED WITH FOOD

I find that social media is a great place to start conversations (or arguments) but real life is a great place to finish them, or at least move them on.

The idea of hosting a Deep Dive Dinner is to get people to really engage with an important topic for hours rather than a few minutes, or not at all, as might normally be the case. Doing it around a meal feels like a really safe place to work through things together.

We celebrate our peopleness by eating together and then we honour each other by taking time to listen to stories and share some thoughts.

The heart of the Deep Dive Dinners has been stories, because it is hard to argue against someone’s lived experience. But it is a powerful tool for learning when someone is vulnerable and shares their hurt or excitement, fear or anger and you take some time to really just let it penetrate you.

THE VOYAGE OF THE DEEP DINNER

In the C.S.Lewis fantasy series ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’, the character Aslan, who is a lion, is described in this way:

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Which is often how we introduce the space to people who have chosen to deep dive with us. We are seeking to create a safe place but that doesn’t mean it won’t be uncomfortable or awkward, or at times painful.

The idea at the end of the evening is not that everyone will leave thinking the same thing or having drawn the same conclusions. But the commitment is to engage with people and ideas that are different to you in the hope that you will either learn something new or feel stronger in a belief you already had.

Our hope is that Deep Dive Dinner Conversations will happen all across the country and throughout Africa and beyond. Not as a brand or with any kind of “right way” of doing them. But just the invitation for people who desire to see life move forward well together, committing to spend some time wrestling with things that matter.

Is this something you would like to do? What topic of conversation do you think you would position yours around?  

The deep waters of friendship

I have a lot of friends. Like a lot.

I realise not everyone can say that, and I also acknowledge that a lot of it has been a by-product of being involved in a lot of different areas in life – from youth ministry to hockey to improv to writing. So it’s more something I’ve stumbled into and am super grateful for, than anything I can say I’ve personally earned.

But more importantly than that, is that I have a lot of really incredible friends.

Friends who are not afraid to go deep. And be real. Friends who will wrestle with significant issues and be okay to not agree on everything.

Make the circle deeper

A few years ago there was that catchy song ‘Make the circle bigger’ (actually Show Dem by JR featuring HHP) that became an ongoing earworm for so many of us.

But if I was going to advise people in the area of friendships, having experienced both lots of friends as well as deep friendships, I would definitely point you towards depth.

We all have an imaginary circle of how we view our friendships. Some people are more like acquaintances that we don’t mind hanging out with but wouldn’t necessarily seek out. Then we have friends who make us laugh and who we can have a good time with. Then come friends who we can talk deeply with and share secrets and fears and struggles with, knowing that information will be safe with them.

And then there is the friend who you can call at 3am in the morning and you know without judgement that they will drive to wherever you are and give you a ride home.

(For me that used to by my friend Rob, who died of cancer a year and a half ago, and although I haven’t tested it out yet, I think my mate Mahlatse will be that guy!)

Time stands still

So, rather than seeking many friends, look for people who you can go deep with. And begin by standing in front of the mirror and making sure that you are that person. Sometimes clichés exist because they are generally true and I believe wholeheartedly that the best way to find a friend is to be a friend.

I am writing this at my friend Debbie’s house where my wife Val and I are staying for a week as we do some work in Durban. Debbie is someone I have been friends with for a very long time, but we don’t even see each other every year (we have probably seen each other three times in the last five years because of living in different places). Yet, every time we connect it’s like we’ve been hanging out non-stop for ever.

We laugh a LOT together, but we also have deep conversations about the situation in our country of South Africa and race issues and God stuff. We care deeply for each other and so time really doesn’t ever seem to weaken our friendship at all. Rather I think it makes us just enjoy the times we are together even more.

Up your friendship game

It’s hard to give advice on how to be a better friend, because each person and each friendship dynamic is so completely different and so often it’s about reading the specific person and seeing what they need. But here are some ideas that might help:

# Make it about them. In a world where most of us have been raised with the idea that this thing is all about us, one of the most helpful things we can do is reject that. The Bible refers to is as ‘Serving one another in love’ and it really is that.

The beauty is that if both people are doing it, then each of you is still being made the center, but you have the extra added benefit of relationship. What do they need? What do they enjoy doing? What is something nice you can do for them?

# Be intentional about listening. When you spend time with your friends, give them a chance to share about how they are doing. As your friendship deepens, create spaces where they feel free to share about their fears and anxieties, struggles with family or work or relationships, and also their hopes and dreams.

A lot of friend moments can be around superficial things like movies, food, music and so forth, but find and make times to talk about the things that really matter to both of you.

# Show up. One of the biggest ways of building friendship is just time spent together when you are able. Put your cellphone away when you spend time with them to show them that they matter, that you are choosing to be present. When it’s their birthday, when you know they are going through a rough time, when they have something to celebrate, make sure you are there.

And that doesn’t mean always in person – make a note, send a message, give them a call, drop them a meme on Facebook. But make sure they know you are part of both their highs and lows.

# Let them level you up. Someone who you might want to be best friends with, may only see you as an acquaintance. If you try to push yourself on to them as a best friend, that will likely cause them to push you away. So if you sense that is the vibe, then be the best acquaintance you can be.

That might be as far as it goes, but if they start to enjoy you more in those limited spaces, they might decide they want to spend more time with you. And the friendship might grow from there. But sometimes that might be as far as it goes. Recognise that and seek deeper friendship elsewhere.

We can never make someone else be friends with us, but we can make ourselves attractive by just being really good friends to them and seeing what happens.

I hope that you have friends like Rob and Debbie in your life. But even more importantly than that, I hope you are being a Rob and Debbie to someone else. With no thought or expectation of getting anything back – just because it is an amazing thing to be.

I’d love to hear about someone who you feel has been like a Rob or Debbie to you. Drop a message in the comments section and tell us about them.

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