I am a Child of Power

David Sretenovic shares insights into his personal odyssey of parenting, and in particular the power he associates with that uniquely human trait: the ability to make self-determining choices.

This past week I lived out a breathtaking moment which I had envisioned as a teenager; it was a moving spiritual encounter which outdid anything I had imagined. I remember dreaming of being married with children, and living out the role of the potter: the clay of my children at my fingertips. Their physical and social experiences indeed, but central to my awe was that most divine, fragile and intimate treasure: their heart, mind and spiritual selves. That proposition, perhaps above any other, gave me such a zealous respect and passion for life and a desire to manifest an excellence as pure as my humanity allowed. I knew that one day I would hold in my charge the most precious entity on the planet, that is, a pristine soul, a sentient canvas: my own child. And I would also be the shaper of the social cocoon into which my child emerges and which immediately imprints itself onto this palpitating extension of myself. I knew that one day I would be guiding my child to understand who she (in the case of a girl) is, and initiating her into the power she possesses as a human being.

And so it was this week a particular conversation arose, quite spontaneously, and I explained to my daughter a concept which is summarised in a refrain which has echoed through our house all week. You can see Andjelia explain it in the linked 10-second video (here): “sometimes you choose, sometimes I choose.” She has been growing into a bold and clever little girl, and her emotions, desires, needs and wants have, in natural turn, collided with the sometimes-giving-but-mostly-unyielding world. That is – for the time being – mostly us, her parents, hehehe 😉 … who have the prerogative of setting boundaries to help her come to grips with the fact that there is never in fact only two options. So it was time for me to talk her through some parameters of negotiation when her and our wills collide: sometimes I will allow her to choose, but at other times she won’t have that luxury and I will expect her to comply… moreover with increasing amiability. (In truth, “sometimes you choose, sometimes I choose” is mostly helping me control her hopelessly fickle wardrobe flights of fancy, and the tantrums which ensue when all I’m flippin’ trying to do is get her dressed and get on with the day – aargh!)

In my mind, for her to understand the power of her choice is unquestionably one of the most significant gateways she will ever pass through. I want her to realise that this is what makes her human, and what allows her to give another human their dignity – to nurture humanity in the world around her. She is a real, infinitely unique, beautiful, powerful and influential entity in the universe, and her ability to believe that strikes at the very core of identity. Perhaps above all other features of identity is that she is a human being, and she can choose to believe that or not. But also this: she is made from the stuff of perfection, filled with the essence of beauty, directed by the power of resurrection, and surrounded by a never-ending love. And I’m only referring to her family – I haven’t even started to describe what she has the choice to believe about God. I want her to know that she can choose to move, or not move, to give or take, to build or break, to submit or lead, to fulfil the role of sister, or not. I want her to be happy, so I am teaching her that she can choose. Of course, this will allow her to choose and fail, choose to believe lies and choose to abdicate her will. But I sense that I am giving her her humanity – the dignity to choose.

There is another reason I came to have this discussion with Andjelia. It was result of the best single piece of parenting advice which I have been given (“best” in terms of manifested, effective results). Prior to having children, my wife and I stayed at Misty Mountain health retreat where we were cleansed and invigorated in body and soul. Our host and teacher was Barbara O’Neil, and within her health and wellbeing seminars she counselled from her wealth of experience in raising children. And this advice, along with her anecdotes, stuck with me: “always work with the will.” The idea is to steer the child by giving choices and consequences, thereby keeping them onside without squashing that essential human trait of personality, and nurturing the emergence of a liberated, empowered will. My wife and I have applied it to the best of our ability, and on any given day you might see us responding to an intemperate child with a pair of options to choose from: “Andjelia, I know you’re upset that Jet is taking your pens but we don’t shout and scream. Now, do you want to stay here and share with him, or go to your room and draw by yourself?” I can’t thank Barbara enough for the way she implanted that concept – together with a punishment and consequences rationale – because it has given our daughter and indeed us a way out of strife so many times! And I think it is building a habit of reaching deep into herself and her identity as an overcomer in life, a critical thinker, a foresighted problem solver and self-directing soul. It’s giving her the tools to navigate the tensions within herself and conflicts in the world that she will face.

There’s an inevitable struggle which I already know is part of a human’s lot which she is yet to perceive. It’s that journey of self-discovery, and finding peace in a crazy-beautiful world which sometimes seems to be born of darkness. For now, she needs to understand and accept that as a little girl under our care, “sometimes she chooses, sometimes we choose.” But that is just temporary until she takes her own path. I want her to know that in time, she is going to be faced with a government, an ideology, a religion, a peer group, an identity theory, a personal insecurity, a destructive primal instinct – some faux power which is trying coerce and crush her – and she is going to stare that bully* down and say, “I am a child of power. And for me, you NEVER choose. I choose.”



* “bully” is a term which doesn’t do justice to the anger that rages within me at times towards the powers that can push their self-interested, annihilationist evil upon individuals. In fact in the original draft of this blog I used a different word which you could discover by watching the movie Good Will Hunting, the “you don’t want to hear that” scene where Will (Matt Damon) offloads onto Skylar (Minnie Driver) about his true past, and uses that choice slur to describe the person who stabbed him. I ultimately believe that God controls all, and so I’ve chosen this euphemism to reflect my hope at the best of times, rather than my rage at the worst.
Continue reading “I am a Child of Power”

Comfort from a Flawless Universe

For me, a foundational reason and purpose of Christianity is this: the unlocking of the creative imagination for the banishment of darkness, fear, hatred, discord and anxiety. For anyone who cares to read on, you’ll experience two things: hearing my own understanding, and a virtual experience of this “unlocking” effect.

I believe the following, and confidently share this statement with you: God is in control of everything. That comforts me. Now, I think many of my readers would have nodded in agreement or at least hopefulness. But I’m also confident that many would have a fairly limited definition of “everything”; for example, it doesn’t include “evil”, “bad things”, or my free-will right now (etc). So, let’s allow “everything” to expand in our minds for a moment: imagine EVERYTHING for a minute, just imagine it (you don’t have to like or believe it!): God is in control of EVERYTHING. For me, it brings amazing comfort to know that God is in control of absolutely everything, overseeing the entire universe operating like a finely tuned piece of machinery which can never break down. And it’s working towards a good and beautiful purpose, without any chance of any other forces disrupting it.

I have thought about this a lot, via Bible study, meditation, debate and journaling. So I am aware of objections, such as this logical (hypothetical) statement: “You say, David, that God is in control of everything and He has good plans for me. But you said that to my friend last week and then he died in a plane crash! How ridiculous!” My answer is this: I KNOW just how irrational it sounds, but I can still hold strong to my belief that God is in control of everything because if He, the good and perfect machinery creator and operator, isn’t in control, then it only leaves me with despair (or at least emptiness) as to what is happening right now in the universe and in my future (including the afterlife). You are welcome to reject the view that God is in control and that he is working all things for a good future for you, but I think that leaves you with less satisfying paradigms (at least as I see them): that the future is unknown; that some evil force might win in your or others’ lives; that luck reigns; that the afterlife is full of many equal gods; that we ourselves completely control our destinies. There are many options out there, and I’m happy for you if they guide your life in a meaningful way. But for me, I am comforted by this: that God IS in control, and He has never had his original creation fail in any way, nor has anything ever happened which He hasn’t accounted for. That brings me comfort.

I’m also aware that some folk will object and say that this isn’t what traditional Christianity teaches. Moreover some will question whether such a philosophy allows me to qualify for the title of Christian at all. My response is this: I came to this understanding via Christ and the Bible. Furthermore, it is only via Christ that I’ve been able to imagine a God both big and good enough to be able to pull off a flawless universe. On the scriptural front – and I won’t preach here in any detail, but I’m happy to elsewhere – the Bible to me makes it abundantly clear that the resurrection of Christ gives hope to both the living and the dead. Comfort. To me that’s real comfort.

To summarise on a personal note, I’m grounded enough to admit that I am an idealist to the core, and that this article represents idealism on steroids. Yet I believe these are imaginings – visions of reality – that have come through prayer, meditation and dialogue with God regarding His scriptures. Spirit-inspired, creative imagination for me has meant breaking down surface-level understandings of biblical and religious concepts, and then allowing new and deeper understandings to fill my heart and mind. I’m here to report that God speaks as you seek Him, with the result of windows of creative impulse being opened. And as these windows let their light in, scary darkness leaves.

Blessings on your journey!

–David Sretenovic, January 2016

Refugees — Angela Merkel Stirs Me

David Sretenovic reflects on Angela Merkel’s leadership in the current global refugee crisis. She stirs many emotions as we contemplate our own position and response, ethically and sociologically.

Remain un-political with me for a moment (because I’m not forwarding a particular political barrow). Angela Merkel’s leadership is a spectacle of inspiring proportions. Here’s just a few stats which have made her the front-runner for the Nobel Peace Prize to be announced on Friday:

  • Merkel’s government has accepted an estimated 1 million refugees into Germany this year – 1.5 million estimated up to the end of 2015. This is staggering considering the whole of Europe will take in an estimated 3 million by 2017. This is in contrast to America’s 70 thousand in the 2015 fiscal year. Germany has received almost half of all asylum-seeking Syrians in Europe this year: 243,721 since January – more than 12 times the number that Britain will take over the next five years.” (Nardelli, 2015)
  • Merkel has a policy of “no upper limit” to refugees – “we will cope” is her mantra.
  • For Merkel: “Integration means following the rules and laws of the host country, getting a chance to “participate in society” and being placed into a community prepared to be tolerant and more multi-ethnic, she said.” (Eglitis, 2015)

For me personally, this woman is standing tall – towering – as a beacon of courage, and it’s evoking so much within me. As a Christian, to me the Bible is nothing if it is not a manual of how to show charity to my neighbour, a model of self-sacrifice, a passionate cry to see and “feed the least of these.” As a professional, I’ve worked with refugees and taught those seeking to merge with Australian society – I KNOW the gravity of the challenge and what’s at stake for both sides. Having a Masters and specialisation in socio-linguistics, I SEE the potentials as cultures come in contact. As a human being who has suffered and been a recipient of charity (indeed, my grandparents and father were received from Yugoslavia seeking asylum from persecution), I know that my inertia to give largely stems from these humbling moments. As a visionary and a shaper of future foundations, I cannot deny that I wish to have grateful, hard-working, “survivors” at the base of my children’s future society (not those drunk on entitlement); to me, these have proven to be the strongest boulders to build on, and the also the best of friends.

If I strain, I think I can get a glimpse of the immense burden on Angela Merkel’s shoulders. Her critics say she could be the reason for Europe’s current and future calamity. Her backers are trusting her as she goes out on a limb, way way way out from the safety quotas the rest of Europe (and indeed the world) regard as sane. I am not in the position of responsibility she is, nor can I hope to advise any global leader based on my relatively limited scope of informers. But this much I do sense: if she is right in her convictions, and if some deity has underwritten her insurance policy, she stands to become a modern day saint, and Germany stands to become some special, unique place which we in Australia will not understand – it’ll be some sort of heaven, but we won’t even recognize it.

Here are some of the interesting articles which stimulated these thoughts. The Guardian article by Alberto Nardelli is a must-read. Wow.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/nov/08/angela-merkel-refugee-crisis-europe

http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-11-17/german-response-to-refugees-puts-u-s-to-shame

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-11-17/paris-terror-uniting-east-europe-against-merkel-s-refugee-plan

 — David Sretenovic, 2015