Finding God Beyond The Headlines

I cry a lot.

It’s perhaps not something that many people see. But I am not afraid of my emotions. I am not afraid to feel and to let people see the effects of my pain.

I feel deeply.

In the past couple weeks, two news stories have made me feel deeply. I have cried bitter tears for humanity.

Last Thursday, I woke at 6am to the sound of my radio, like I always do. Routine news to break my slumber.

Two reporters had been fatally shot live on-air by an ex-cohost.

When I watched Alison Parker and Adam Ward’s final moments on the viral video that spread across my newsfeed, I was shocked.

And then I cried.

Oh my God. They’re dead.

Yesterday, I came home to the sound of ABC News 24 playing in my living room. 

The image of a Syrian toddler, facedown in the waves filled my screen.

I heard the story of his family fleeing their home, boarding a boat to oblivion with the faint glimmer of a better life across the shores.

What a horrific resting place.

And I cried.

Oh my God. They’re dead.

I work in the media. Every moment of every day I spend confronted by the horrors of the world. And every day, I quit. I tell myself I can’t take any more. I can’t take any more pain.

There is a weight on my shoulders. I am too young to carry it. I am too naive to change it. Its name is objectivity.

Objectivity is my judge and jury. When I cry, I know I have not lived up to its standards.

And at the tender age of twenty-two, with less than four year’s experience in the media industry I have this to say:

Objectivity is the death of action and without action, there is no democracy.

In my second year of university, my tutor asked me to read an article called ‘Fatal Distractions’, about parents who had accidentally killed their children.

I cried.

Openly, publicly, I grieved for these families.

And she told me to harden up or I’d never make it in the media. I’d never make it in the real world. She told me to swallow my feelings, hide them from the world and just do my job.

I made her this promise: the day I lose my emotions, the day I harden up is the day I can no longer do my job.

 All my career, people have told me that objectivity is king and I stand contrary to it when I let my emotions manifest. I ask, why?

Your colourless news taints your vision of the world. Your objectivity may be king, but he is a cruel dictator who keeps truth and progress at bay.

My job as a journalist is not only to tell you the facts. My job is to make you feel.

I want to anger you, but I never want you to hate.

I want to sadden you, but I never want to depress you.

I want to hurt you, but I never want to destroy you.

I want you to feel the pain of the world through my words, and I want it to motivate you to change the world.

I think that journalists should take a humanitarian equivalent of a Hippocratic Oath upon graduation. We say we’re the voice of the oppressed, but how many of are willing to prove it? The job of a journalist is to motivate change, and it’s time we held them accountable.

 I want my life to make a difference and I’m not content to let people suffer without being willing to suffer alongside them.

Compassion fatigue is a real struggle.

I fight it daily. It’s all too easy to block out the pain. But that means we deny our humanity.

The Bible says that Jesus was “…a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.” (Isaiah 53:3). If we block out our pain, we block out a significant part of our Saviour.

God is not objective. God is emotional.

The media is the watchdog of democracy and one of the key principles of democracy is transparency.

So here is my statement of transparency: this world breaks my heart. Every single day I feel such intense pain, and it brings me to my knees. And every single day my passion is reignited to see the world changed.

If my pain brings me to my knees, then there I shall stay.

Emma.

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The Mystery Of Emotions

Disney Pixar’s much anticipated animated film ‘Inside Out’ premiered in cinemas across Australia last night.

Personally, I’m thrilled. The film looks brilliant. And it meant that Amy Poehler (voice of Joy) was in my country – potentially breathing the same air as me, walking the same earth as me, enjoying the sights and sounds of Sydney like I do. It’s a beautiful thought. And she’s rubbish at Australian accents! (#clickbait)

If you’re not up-to-speed on the movie’s premise, here it is in a nutshell:

Set inside the mind of 11-year-old Riley, the film follows the actions of her emotions: Anger, Fear, Joy, Sadness and Disgust as they struggle to navigate her mind through the tumultuous years of pre-teen puberty.

It’s a revolutionary idea: the protagonist (Riley) is not so much a feature character, but rather the setting for the plot to unfold. 

It’s got me thinking about my emotions. And something just doesn’t quite make sense to my natural mind about all of that.

You see, if I take away the expression of my Creator in constructing my mind, if I reduce my emotions to their advantage to my life, I can’t make sense of why I have them.

Of course, each emotion has its purpose.

Fear keeps me from potential harm.
Disgust removes me from situations that could prove to mistreat me.
Joy helps me seek out community and register pleasure.
Anger motivates me to act against things that disgust or frighten me.
But sadness… What does sadness do for me?

What good does it do me to feel sad?

I’ve thought about it a lot over the past few weeks. Why do I feel sad? Why hasn’t adaptation removed my need to feel sadness? It provides no advantage to my daily life. It doesn’t keep me from harm or remove me from dangerous situations – quite the opposite sometimes, sadness causes me to lose judgement, to place myself in harm’s way and remove myself from good situations.

I did some research, and it turns out that although humans generally have much more complex emotions, we are not the only species on the earth that have these five basic feelings. Most animals also feel what we feel. 

So, animals, out in the wild feel sadness too?

That, I guess means that adaptation has not decreased sadness. In fact, in humans, I’d say it’s become the opposite.

We’re now living in an era when depression is epidemic. Sadness has increased through generations.

We are very sad people. But why?

Sadness is a mysterious emotion.

Why do I feel it?

Because sadness is my regulator. It keeps my other emotions functioning effectively by virtue of it being the antithesis.

You cannot rate your joy, without sadness to balance it.

But here’s something much more revolutionary about sadness, that’s overlooked by Disney’s new film.

Sadness reveals the heart of the Creator and the suffering of a Saviour. God feels sadness intensely. With each generation of sinful depravity, the Creator’s sadness intensifies.

I have emotions because I am made in the image of a Creator who also has emotions.

Mine are only a small glimpse of His, but knowing that I feel as He feels, I can rejoice in my sadness.

If I have to feel sadness, I can be happy that I do feel something.

Emma.

Hoping Beyond The Headlines

The news never stops
The news never stops.

Ever watched the hit 90’s sitcom Seinfeld? Remember Newman, the overly confident, morbidly obese mailman who was constantly caught in a farcical conflict with the Jerry Seinfeld?

Newman was a lot wiser than anyone gave him credit for.

In one episode, Newman explains why postal workers are known to go crazy.

“Because the mail never stops. It just keeps coming, and coming, and coming. There’s never a let up! It’s relentless! Everyday it piles up more and more and you gotta get it out, but the more you get it out the more it keeps coming in…”

I’m not a postal working. But I am going postal.

I’m going postal watching the headlines. Sitting at the desk at the radio station where I’ve been interning at for the past few weeks.

I’m surrounded by eight wall-mounted plasma televisions, each  silently displaying the news on a different channel.

In front of me, my monitor hums gently to the metronome of ticker-tape wires, flashing colourfully at the bottom of my screen.

The APP wire collects tragedies by the second and delivers them in neat, typed packages on my desktop.

At least once a day, the fax machine buzzes to life with another media release. Who uses faxes any more? Journalists do…

Another death, another court case, another disease disrupts my comfort.

Every second is another fresh reminder of this world’s increasing depravity and devastation.

So maybe this is a glimpse of the reality God faces every second of every day for all eternity. Whilst I watch the pre-packaged, censored details flood my world with darkness, He watches the unfiltered constant, unending pain multiply all over the world.

The difference is, I can switch my computer off. I can detach. I can walk out of the newsroom at 6pm and go home to a loving family who will help me forget the horrors of the headlines.

Even still, I find it difficult to recover my hope.

So how do I restore my compassion and hope beyond the headlines?

Understand that grief is natural

My pain is not a sign of weakness.

If more journalists felt the weight of depravity in the words they read, perhaps we’d have a world saturated in compassion instead of judgement. Perhaps we would see ourselves turning to righteous anger instead of retributive anger.

We cannot afford to turn away from the suffering of others. The Bible speaks countless times about the way Christ’s followers are to treat the poor and the suffering.

Perhaps most profoundly, Jesus explains in Matthew 25:34-36, that it is our treatment of the suffering that will qualify us as His “blessed people”.

“…Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’…”

If you need more evidence, check out Job 31:32, Isaiah 58:7, Ezekiel 18:7-16Romans  12:13, Hebrews 13:2, James 2:15-16. Are you convinced yet?! This is very important to God!

Renew your joy in Christ daily

That’s a whole lot of Christian nonsense isn’t it?

The simple truth is: if I neglect daily communion with Christ, I am cutting myself off from my life force. I will not survive. I will not overcome the darkness. It will defeat me.

It’s far too easy for me to become disillusioned with the world, and stop caring. Certainly, I can gain a very blinkered, devastating view of the world by reading the feed all day.

There’s no point denying the reality of pain in the world.

But I need to make a choice: do I become cynical,  bitter and probably a little bit fearful? Or do I find joy in brokenness?

Which is more beneficial to me? And more importantly, which is more Christlike?

The Bible says that the source of my joy is the Lord. “…Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10, abridged)

In Romans 12:2, we are called to “…not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

The world is not perfect. It’s quite the opposite. But like with most things, we learn what something is by knowing first what it is not. God’s standard of perfection exists in the binary of how imperfect this world is.  The pain proves the pleasure’s goodness. Chaos proves the existence of order.

So, like the Psalmist, I refuse to be defeated by the headlines. Instead, I will take the horrors of this world to remind me of the goodness of my God.

“But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.” (Psalm 5:11)

The news won’t stop. And neither will my God. No darkness is stronger than His light.

Emma.

Becoming Unpopular At University

Emma Marie Horn Photography University of New England Graduation
Photo: Emma Marie Horn Photography

We’ve just met the end of our second week at university for 2015. A lot of the people I’m meeting in Student Life at the moment have just successfully completed their second week of university, ever. That means, they’ve now been introduced to their tutorial groups, they’ve worked out the structure of their semester, and they’ve had a chance to adjust to university life.

I’m a hardened fourth year currently doing my internship in Media & Communications. I’m sitting on the other end of the spectrum. I’m staring down the barrel of graduation in 12 short months.

University is hard for people who don’t toe the political correct line. The other day, Geoff showed me pictures of some grotesque graffiti that appeared overnight on a campus Christian group’s signage at Macquarie University.

Unfortunately, Christian-hating, or at the very least Christian-shaming, is almost a sport for some at university.

I remember my first year, my first semester, my first week. I especially remember my first tutorial.

That was the day I was rudely awakened to how unpopular Christendom is inside the walls of the tertiary academy.

In my first year, I studied the history of American politics. We began by looking at the foundation of American religion. The Puritans. The Quakers. Etc. 

And most memorably, the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690s. The same contentious debates that rocked Massachusetts during the early Colonial period, fiercely rocked my world too.

My tutor, who was also the course lecturer and course co-ordinator, was a harsh woman with strong opinions. She scoffed and mocked the simple people of Salem for their backwards religiosity and outrageous legal procedures.

“They used Satan as a witness at trials! They believed these women communed with the Devil himself! I mean, they believed in Satan!! Who believes in Satan these days?” She asked jokingly.

I raised a hand slowly, catching the shocked expression of my tutor. I believe in Satan. I believe he is powerful and active. I believe his greatest achievement is convincing humans that he is not real, not powerful, not active in our world.

I was rewarded with a myriad of uncomfortable laughter and the condescending wave of my tutor. “I guess you’ll grow out of that.”

Of course. I was a hopeless 19 year old first year. I would grow out of that belief and into a much more politically correct, ‘educated’ opinion by the end of my time at university. She’d make sure of it.

No-one wants to make a name for themselves as ‘that girl’. No-one wants to be the one in the tutorial room with the unforgivable point of view. No-one wants to be insufferably mocked by their cohort.

Sometimes it’s easier to not say anything when uncomfortable conversations challenge our faith at university. Sometimes it’s easier to avoid the topics of contention with our classmates. No-one wants to be unpopular.

Silence is akin to deceit.

Throughout my four years at university, I’ve learnt that there’s an appropriate time and place to make my faith known and a lot of the time, violently announcing my opinions in my tutorial room does nothing for my self image, or for Christ’s image.

But your faith should be known to your classmates, regardless of how unpopular it makes you.

I’m speaking from experience, I’m a journalist and modernist art historian. You probably couldn’t pick two fields that are more filled with angry atheists and ‘alternative lifestyle’ supporters.

Though I’ve been taught from the day I walked into MECO1001 Introduction to Media that quoting legendary 1984author George Orwell is cliche, detestable and basically just filler for when you can’t write well, I’m going to do it right now.

“The further a society drifts from truth the more it will hate those who speak it […] In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

Truth, Orwell. Truth.

Orwell is not alone in this opinion. In the Old Testament, God spoke to the prophet Ezekiel saying:

“The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, speak to your people and say to them: ‘When I bring the sword against a land, and the people of the land choose one of their men and make him their watchman, and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, then if anyone hears the trumpet but does not heed the warning and the sword comes and takes their life, their blood will be on their own head. Since they heard the sound of the trumpet but did not heed the warning, their blood will be on their own head. If they had heeded the warning, they would have saved themselves. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes someone’s life, that person’s life will be taken because of their sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood.’” – Ezekiel 33:1-7

I make absolutely no apology for how uncomfortable that passage may make you. It makes me uncomfortable and I’m fairly sure it made Ezekiel uncomfortable.

God is not about making you comfortable or popular in your university.

He is about bringing His kingdom to humanity and reconciling a sinning world with a Holy Father.

Jesus made it pretty clear that the penalty of our silence is enormous.

“But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” Matthew 10:33.

It’s that simple. It’s that clear. It’s that terrifying.

Silence is a form of complete disregard for the Gospel. It’s nothing short of apostasy.

Like me, you may be counting down the hours until you graduate. Or you might be like I was four years ago, naive, impressionable and strangely excited for this new university adventure. You may be somewhere in between, or nowhere near. Luckily, the experience of being a Christian is universally challenging. I’m sure, something of my experience will resonate with you.

Wherever you are in life, will you commit to being unpopular for the sake of Christ?

I’d like to conclude in a manner that would make my professors roll and convulse in horror. In the words of English poet and Martin Luther biographer, Elizabeth Rundle Charles:

“If I profess with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle wages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to Him if he flinches at that one point.” – The Chronicles of the Schonberg-Cotta Family [1862]

Emma.

Knowing God Personally

Knowing God Personally Emma Marie Horn Photography
The Knowing God Personally booklet (KGP) explains 4 spiritual truths about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

If you’ve been around Student Life for any amount of time, you’ve probably become familiar with a certain little green book. We’re very fond of it, sure. It’s a fundamental tool for sharing the Gospel.

And it’s a fundamental part of our experience as Christians. As Christians, we need to know God personally.

In order to know God personally, you have to first know who God is. You have to know who He says He is.

A.W. Tozer prefaced his book ‘Knowledge of the Holy’ with this statement:

“What we think about when we think of God is the most important thing about us.”

What we think of when we think of God, shapes how we will respond to Him.

If our perceptions of God’s character are wrong, our paradigm of response with then also be wrong.

No matter how sincerely we worship Him, if we are not committed to daily learning who God is, and worshipping every facet of His being, we fail to worship Him effectively. We are instead, committing an act of idolatry.

Each of His personal attributes are worthy of worship. If we prefer one aspect to another, and serve only that, we are not serving God. We are serving ourselves, and calling that our god.

Complacency is the enemy of spiritual growth.

We should never cease desiring to know God personally. Let’s us begin by first knowing what He says about His own character.

In Exodus 34:6-7, God reveals His character to Moses, upon his second meeting on the summit of Mt. Sinai.

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionateand gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

Moses, having retrieved the Law of the Lord on two tablets, is forced to return to the presence of the Almighty, when his fury at the Israelites’ disobedience causes him to destroy the first tablets. This time, the 80 year old Moses must climb the mountain and make his own tablets for the Lord to imprint on.

The attributes revealed in God’s description of Himself give us a good indication of His character. He is:

Wise

He has a perfect plan and intends to achieve it in the most perfect way. He uses imperfect people to bring about His perfect strategy.

Self-existent

He knows no boundaries. He has no beginning, no end and no authority above Him. He cannot be measured or contained. Like a lion on a leash.

Sovereign

He is completely in control; no matter the chaos our lives present us with. His sovereignty is the character by which all other attributes are applied. A god who is not sovereign cannot grant his creation free will, because that would test his authority. God’s sovereignty ensures that no authority is greater than His.

Holy

He is the embodiment of moral law, order and purity. He is the moral lawgiver, from whom we have imprinted on our hearts an instinctual understanding of right and wrong. His holiness is the defining difference between humanity and the Godhead. Whilst humans posses a level of autonomy that allows us to make our own decisions, God possesses a level of perfection that is completely unattainable and separate from human ability.

Self-sufficient

He possesses all knowledge and is the source of all life. He cannot learn anything new and He cannot cease to exist. He needs no energy source apart from Himself in order to exist. He simply is infinite in all ways.

Faithful

He can be trusted in all things, in all ways. This is perhaps the most important characteristic for Christians to remember. It is the source of our eternal hope. His everlasting faithfulness means that we can trust that He will honour His promise to forgive sins and grant eternal life.

Loving

Love is expressed through the action of seeking another’s needs before your own. God is completely loving. His primary concern is the everlasting well-being of His creation. It is His affection that propels us to action in response.

Just

It is not fairness that motivates God. Quite simply, God is not fair. It’s not fair that a sinless man was sent to bear the cost of the world’s depravity. Justice is God’s motivation. Justice requires a penalty for wrong and love is satisfied with grace. It is this duality that makes God immeasurably intricate and complex.

Immutable

All of God’s attributes are constant, unchanging and completely dependable.

Of course, this is not a comprehensive list of God’s characteristics.

It will take all eternity to intimately know every aspect of God.

In Revelation 4:8, John relays his vision of the Throne Room of God. All day and night, for all eternity, the angels circle the Throne, proclaiming “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord…”

It is just a theory, but what if, every rotation the heavenly hosts make of the Almighty reveals to them a new, yet undiscovered facet of God’s personality, inviting constant wonder and awe.

We need to commit to knowing God personally, before we can invite others to explore His mystery. We could never reveal to others how unfathomable is our God, if we ourselves do not first know that.

How could we ever have confidence in a stranger?

Emma.

Meet the Team

2015 Student Life USYD Treasurer

Ruell Domaoal

Ruell

1. What are you studying?

Science (Adv.) at Sydney University. Just finished my first year. Transferring to Arts/Science. Which means another four more years of uni.

2. How’d you get involved with Student Life?

I met the Student Life Catalytic team up in Byron Bay, when they were there for beach mission. They let me stay at their accommodation for two nights since all the hostels were full. They were all so friendly and joyful; I decided the least I could do was check Student Life out when I started university. It’s still so unbelievable when I look back to last year and see how much God has changed my life.

3. What’s your favourite Scripture?

It changes. For now:

Psalm 18:1 – I love you, O LORD, my strength.

Philippians 3:8 – What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.

4. What’s something people wouldn’t know about you?

While my name ‘Ruell’ is a combination of my parent’s names, it is also a variation of the Hebrew name ‘Reuel’. The name originates from the Hebrew words ‘Raa’ – meaning a friend or companion – and ‘El’ – meaning God. So the meaning of my name ‘Ruell’ is “friend of God”.

Meet the Team

2015 Student Life USYD Vice President

Minji Suh

Minji

1. When and how did you get involved with Student Life?

I got connected with Student Life back when I was at Macquarie University through a student who was here on summer project from Singapore. I connected with Student Life at USYD during o-week and got more involved after joining a core group and going to Connexions!

2. What exactly is your role with Student Life?

My role in Student Life is Vice President. I am not too sure what my role involves but I am excited to run with the vision of Student Life and to be a witness of all that God has in store for us as a team and as a ministry in the next year ☺

3. Tell us about the hurdles you have been able to overcome in order to reach fellow students for Christ?

In the past, I struggled with sharing about my faith with others mostly because I feel that everything I tried to share about Him was out of head knowledge. I think everything changes when you realize that His love is for you personally and you really experience His faithfulness in your life first hand. I’m so thankful that God has given me a story to share and I think reaching others becomes so much easier when the things you share with them are real and tangible to you first!

4. What is the most inspiring book and Bible passage you cling to? Why does it speak to you so much?

It’s so hard to choose a favourite book of the Bible, but my favourite would have to be John and my favourite verse is John 15:9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” Jesus loves me as much as the Father loves Him?! Of course I would want to stay and abide in that love! This verse blows me away and I’m still yet to fathom His love but I hold onto it and want to know His love and abide in it all the more.

5. What has been your most memorable moment working with Student Life?

I think the conferences are one of the best moments! I always get greatly impacted hearing other peoples’ stories about how they came to trust in Jesus and it is so exciting to realize we’re only a small part of God’s big picture for this nation and for the world! Being able to connect with students from other universities and even missionaries from other countries really encourages me and stirs my faith!