14 February 2018

A good apology 101

If you are a leader, I bet at some stage you’ve been a great disappointment!
Over the past 15 years of leading a larger church I’m regretfully confident I’ve disappointed hundreds of people one way or another.

Whether you lead a business, a church or any other organisation - the burden of leadership means we sometimes make choices for people that they wouldn’t necessarily make themselves. We initiate change which can be uncomfortable, we challenge accepted norms and confront situations and mind sets that others won’t confront. All that lends weight to the old adage that leadership is not a popularity contest.

But sometimes we disappoint or hurt people because we actually say or do something insensitive, ill-conceived or just plain dumb. And when that happens, we either clean up our mess or make some more. Experience tells me we often like to make some more.

Point in case, MP Adam Bandt made some offensive remarks in the media last week about Senator Jim Molan suggesting he may have committed war crimes during his role in the battle of Fallujah. Bandt’s baseless claims offended both Mr Molan, and much of the wider serving and ex armed forces community. Mr Molan asked for an apology and what Bandt eventually offered was just 6 words - 'I hereby apologise for those statements.’

That was, as Jim rightly pointed out, a ‘weak and disappointing apology.’ But before we all get too self-righteous, I bet we’ve all make weak and disappointing apologies from time to time. I sure have.

So how do you clean up your mess? How do you repair the damage to a relationship when there is a significant breakdown? Perhaps the best place to start is with owning your mess, and a darn good apology. But what is a good apology? The best answer I've found to that question is found in the  Peacewise 7A’s of a Confession model. The 7A’s process of preparing an apology are:

1. Address everyone involved in the situation.
2. Avoid self-justification and using words like ‘if’, ‘but’ and ‘maybe.’
3. Admit specifically what you did.
4. Acknowledge the hurt you’ve caused.
5. Accept the consequences of your behaviour.
6. Alter your behaviour and express how you’ll do it.
7. Ask for forgiveness.

I like this approach because, when followed, generates an expression of contrition that is more fully cognisant of the damage you’ve caused. It is often more significant to the offended and it builds greater self-awareness in the confession process – the lack of which is often why we get ourselves into trouble in the first place.

Adam Bandt did eventually offer a second apology (perhaps with gritted teeth) and it was much better. I suspect he was coached by some wise soul in a process much like this one.

I find the last A of the 7 particularly meaningful – Ask for forgiveness. There is something so important in actually asking for forgiveness. When we ask for forgiveness we aren’t just addressing the past but we are asking for a future where mercy overcomes judgement and we are released from guilt and restored to the other person. We ask for something that is beyond our control, a gift only the other person can give. And if they give it, we experience grace and true reconciliation.

What a victory that moment becomes. And what and profound echo of the even greater grace, forgiveness and reconciliation we can all receive when we humbly come to Jesus the same way.

 If you cover up your sin you’ll never do well. 

But if you confess your sins and forsake them, you will be kissed by mercy.

Proverbs 28:13

06 February 2018

What would Jesus say to Harvey Weinstein?

When I first watched the cult film Kill Bill fifteen or so years ago I remember feeling pretty darn disturbed. In my mind, violence was something men did to men and every Hollywood script seemed to reinforce that notion – be that a western, a crime or war film. Kill Bill seemed to flip that script in several ways. Firstly, men were brutally violent to women and women were equally violent to their male (and female) perpetrators.

Thurman’s character begins the film as a victim of savage abuse, shot in the head, left for dead, somehow surviving only to be repeatedly raped throughout her 4-year coma. When she finally wakes up she sets about killing everyone involved….and that’s about it. Typical Tarantino film, directed by his now notorious friend Harvey Weinstein.

Thurman’s character is the hero of the film - a powerful female who stands up to her abusers with lethal force. Back then, this was a rare narrative indeed - a powerful and aggressive woman. Until Marvel’s Wonder Woman, how many female superheroes could you name?

But for all that ground-breaking girl power in the film, the sad reality is that before, during and after the film, Uma Thurman, in a recent New York Times interview revealed she was another victim of Harvey Weinstein and the ‘misogynistic, vindictive, amoral culture of Hollywood’ – a culture that projects liberation (for women) with an underbelly of enslavement.

Once again, Uma’s story left me pretty darn disturbed, and angry. And yet this is not isolated to Hollywood, is it? The culture that dehumanises and objectifies women under the guise of their liberation is alive and well everywhere. I can’t buy a sandwich from the local takeaway without having a magazine stand full of demeaning images of women in my face, lobbying my own flawed heart. Nor can I search for something on Gumtree without an unsolicited add for dating ‘hot’ women appear. The Harvey Weinstein factor is not an isolated case – he is literally everywhere. Sadly, he also shows up in the church and sometimes there is an acute disconnect between the approach of Jesus and the practice of his followers.

In Jesus' time, women were inferior beings, inconsequential apart from servitude and procreation. The 2nd century BC writings of Jewish scholar Ben Sirach reveal that a daughter was considered a total loss and constant potential source of shame. Women were seen as responsible for sin coming into the world, their testimony was of no value in a court and they were typically, socially and spiritually invisible from a male viewpoint.

But Jesus approached women in a way that was radically different to his time and in many cases, ours. For example:

  • Jesus travelled through cities and villages with a band of men and women known to be his disciples - an unthinkable idea in his context.
  • Some of his female travelling companions are noted as having the means to resource his ministry.
  • Jesus specifically went out of his way to minister to women and especially women of disrepute in society, at times defending women from their male abusers.
  • Jesus continually expressed a deep sense of tender concern for women.
  • Jesus selected images and created parables with a deliberate concern to communicate his message to a female audience.
  • The first witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus were women.

And perhaps more importantly, Jesus imbued that same value of equality into his male disciples. How so? The gospel authors could have followed their cultural bias and edited out women from their writing. Instead they selected and presented stories from, and about Jesus that continued Jesus’ elevation of women to a place of equality with men in the community He created. But more so, the early church leaders resisted the prevailing world view and included women into the very heart and functioning of their churches. Women don’t disappear when Jesus is gone, no they retain and grow their significance within the fledgling communities of faith.

Has the Church failed to apply what Jesus and the earliest disciples embodied? All too often, and we need to own it. But stripping back all the layers of culture, insecurity and ignorance that so often drive our behaviour and resulting reputation - the Jesus of the bible was indeed one of history’s greatest champions of women, and so was His church.

Today, every local expression of Church around the world has the ongoing responsibility to shape its people as Jesus shaped his - as a community that equally lifts and empowers all people, male and female, young and old into the dignity and worth they already have in the eyes of God.

What would Jesus say to Harvey? I bet the tone in Jesus’ voice and the look in his eyes would say ‘even so, I love you Harvey.’ And, he’d want to discuss the myriad of reasons behind Harvey’s behaviour – just as He would for you and I.