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Sheffield
England

I tell stories and share ideas. I’m a pragmatic idealist fascinated by technology, science, faith, politics, relationships, and what it means to be human.

Awaken Archive

A collection of articles and reflections exploring how to live life fully alive and figuring out what it means to be human.

Put Yourself First...For The Sake Of Others

Sam Radford

The importance of loving ourselves if we're going to love others well

If we are to become the type of people who make a difference in the lives of others, it’ll be because we have a healthy view of ourselves. Speaking in the first century, Jesus himself taught the crowds that followed him to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (emphasis mine). Loving, serving, and influencing others is directly connected to how we think about ourselves.

At first glance, this seems counterintuitive. If we want to serve others, shouldn’t we put them first? Isn’t it selfish to focus on ourselves?

Of course, it can be selfish to focus on ourselves—if that is all we focus on. But if we focus on ourselves for the benefit of both ourselves and others, it becomes something wonderfully healthy.

If I don’t invest in myself, what will I have to give to others? If I don’t see value in myself, what value will I be able to add to others? Having a positive impact on the lives of others flows out of ensuring we have something to give. We love ourselves in order to better love others.

There is a virtuous cycle to this loving of others as we love ourselves though that we mustn’t lose sight of. The more we love ourselves, the more we desire to love others. But the more we love others, the more we’ll love ourselves.

We mustn’t wait until we love ourselves perfectly before we start to love others. If we do, we’ll be waiting a long, long time. And choosing to focus on the needs of others has the effect of helping us maintain a healthy perspective on how we see ourselves.

It is so easy to become self-absorbed and self-centred as individuals. And this always leads to us having a distorted picture of ourselves. Serving the needs of others is a fabulous leveller. It keeps us grounded and humble. And the essence of humility is in having neither a inflated nor deflated opinion of ourselves; it is in having an accurate and truthful view of ourselves.

As we seek to be people who try to make the world a better, more human place, let us seek out this delicate balancing act of loving both ourselves and others. Let us love ourselves enough to continually invest in ourselves and to keep becoming all that we can be. And let us not keep what we have to ourselves. Let us always be on the look out for the needs of others around us, serving and loving them will all our hearts.

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Growth Never Happens By Chance

Sam Radford

If we want to keep growing as people, we must plan for it

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I started reading John Maxwell's latest book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth this morning, and I'm already inspired.

The first law that I read is ‘The Law of Intentionality’. This law is about the vital truth that growth doesn’t just happen.

I was reminded afresh of the need to plan if I want to keep growing and developing as a person. It won’t happen by itself. I must choose to grow and choose to do things that will help me grow.

The chapter also served up a challenge to avoid what might be called ‘tomorrow syndrome’. It’s so easy to plan to change ‘tomorrow’. But we have to start now. How many of us reach the end of our lives with potential and talent that was never unleashed, simply because we were always going to embark on something ‘tomorrow’?

My goal, inspired by this first chapter, is to seriously up my level of intentionality when it comes to investing in my personal growth. I don’t want to reach the end of my life with talent and potential still locked away inside of me. But, like everyone else, if that’s going to happen, I must be intentional about it.

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Bold As Love

Sam Radford

A few thoughts on ‘Bold as Love’ by Bob Roberts Jr

I've just finished reading a book called Bold as Love by Bob Roberts Jr. It's a bold, uncompromising, and yet refreshing look at how followers of Christ can and should relate to people of other faiths.

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Whilst he steers well away from the watered down, compromise filled approach of inter-faith movements, he passionately promotes the idea of a multi-faith movement. The difference is that the inter-faith movement looks to find the areas of agreement between different religious positions, and turn a blind eye to anything else. Multi-faith is about embracing and recognising the - often huge - differences between religions (including wanting to convert the other!) and yet choosing to engage with and build friendships with people from other faiths.

His goal is not to try and suggest people shy away from telling the truth about what their religion teaches. His goal is to encourage people to build friends where the truth about the differences is acknowledged and discussed in friendly, relational ways.

I found the book deeply challenging. And whilst I do have some friends from other religions - and many who don't have a religion - I want to push the boat out and make interacting and building friendships with people of other religions something I do much more of.

Despite what many secularists would try to have us believe, the vast majority of people in the world are religious. And, for a healthy, peaceful world to exist, it is vital that relationships between people of different religions is something we do well. 

Many Christians fear that they'll be compromised or that other faiths - particularly Islam - is the enemy and we should simply steer clear at all costs. Roberts’ challenges this view head on. We need to be building relationships with people of all faiths and none.

All in all, it Bold as Love was a thoroughly enjoyable read, filled with great stories - particularly of his relationships with Muslims, often leading government officials in Muslim nations. I'd highly recommend it to any Christian. But I'd also recommend it to anyone interested in the relationship between different religions.

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What I'm Reading At The Moment

Sam Radford

Earlier today, I posted the following on Twitter and Facebook:

One key skill we need to develop to be prepared for the future is adaptability. In order to be adaptable we have to remain open to the new.

To stay open to the new, we have to be teachable and never stop learning. Don’t wait to be taught; seek out new information and learning.

Choose to read books that broaden your horizons rather than those that merely reaffirm what you already know or believe. Stretch yourself.

My friend Shawna then asked if I had any book recommendations. It's a question I get asked a lot. Whilst I do periodically make book recommendations, I don't do it as much as I used to. People have such different tastes and interests and so what is a hit for me might be a complete flop for you.

With that said, I thought I'd simply share a list of some of the books that are on my virtual reading pile at the moment and let you explore away and see if you find anything the piques your interest.

  • Nelson Mandela: Portrait Of An Extraorindary Man — Richard Stengel
  • Bold as Love — Bob Roberts
  • Hearts on Fire — Jill Iscol
  • Hallucinations — Oliver Sacks
  • Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us — Daniel Pink
  • To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Persuading, Convincing, and Influencing — Daniel Pink
  • This Will Make You Smarter — John Brockman
  • The Idolatry of God — Peter Rollins
  • The Future — Al Gore
  • Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failrue — Tim Harford
  • The Incarus Deception — Seth Godin
  • The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth — John Maxwell

Feel free to add you own books that you're reading at the moment in the comments below, I'm always on the look out for a good read!

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Critical Advice On Making New Years Resolutions

Sam Radford

Welcome to 2013! I truly hope that this year is your best yet, filled with opportunities, growth, and prosperity in every aspect of life.

Having got that out of the way, I want to write about something much more important: New Years Resolutions.

It is that time of year where all of us feel compelled to make changes to our lives. For whatever reason, the start of a new year inspires us to consider a new us too. And so we think about all the ways in which we want to change our lives for the better, the things we’d like to do, the goals we’d like to achieve.

From these thoughts we build a list. We write down all the changes we want to make and the resolutions we aim to keep. But, inevitably, our ambitions all too quickly fade away as the busyness of life swallows our goals and we are left feeling very depressed by our own inability to change ourselves. (Who knows how direct a link there is between January being the month of New Years Resolutions and being the most depressing month of the year for people around the world.)

So what’s the solution? Well, I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t set any goals inspired by the New Year, but I am going to say we need to be much smarter in how we go about making them.

All too often, we end up making resolution lists like this:

  • I’m going read more
  • I’m going to write more
  • I’m going to go to exercise more
  • I’m going to eat healthier
  • I’m going to go on that dream holiday

All of these are noble ambitions. But they are both too vague and too many.

So my advice for those of us who are determined to make some kind of New Years Resolution this year is simple: Only make one, and make sure it is specific.

How might this look in practice? Let’s take a look are a goal of ‘reading more’.

First we need to realise that ‘reading more’ needs to be made into something much more specific, tangible, measurable, and achievable. Any New Years Resolution needs to stretch us beyond what we’re doing now, but it also has to be genuinely possible to make happen. Start easy. Don’t set a goal of reading three books a month if you only managed to read two books in the whole of 2012.

And start simply with January. Don’t think about the whole year. Set yourself a realistic goal for January, and then reassess at the end of the month. Maybe a realistic goal would be to start and finish one book in the month of January.

Having set a goal though, think about how that goal will happen. Typically, for us to take on anything new and additional, we will also have to lose something to make space for the new. What are we going to drop so we have time to do more reading, writing, exercising, et cetera?

Having made a single, simple, achievable short-term goal, we then need to tell at least one other person and keep them in the loop on progress. It’s amazing how motivating it is knowing that someone will ask how you’re getting on! Invite people into the process.

The most important thing really with any New Years Resolution is to set yourself up for success rather than failure. Small, incremental successes may feel much less dramatic than having big, life-changing goals, but only the former is sustainable and realistic. Only the former will lead to actual change.

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UK Census: Major Drop In Number Of People Identifying Themselves As Christian

Sam Radford

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The results from the 2011 UK Census have been published and there are a lot of interesting statistics related to religion. The two most dramatic changes relate to the numbers of people defining themselves as Christian and Non-Religious. Christianity has seen a pretty major drop of over ten percent whilst the Non-Religious figure has grown by over ten percent, and now accounts for over one in four of the population.

The murky area still remains around the idea of ‘spirituality’ as other recent research indicates that a significant proportion of people who don't consider themselves as religious, do consider themselves to be spiritual or have beliefs in a higher power. It would have been interesting if the census included some questions around the ideas of belief as well as religious affiliation.

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The Dark Knight Rises: Calling Out The Best In Others

Sam Radford

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I finally got round to watching the third film in the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy on Friday. And I really enjoyed it. Clearly many people didn't enjoy it as much as the first two, but I was certainly gripped the whole way through.

I don't really want to write any kind of review here though. Instead I'd prefer to reflect on the relationship between Batman and Catwoman.

What I loved about this was the way Batman kept inviting her to become a better version of herself. He saw something in her that she herself failed to see. And he was relentless in calling it out of her—even after she let him down (those who've seen the film will know what an understatement that is).

Batman could see a more selfless version of her, whilst she was trapped in a selfish, selp-preservatory view of herself, only looking out for her own interests. Batman invites her into a bigger story, a higher realm of living—one that puts others first.

We need more people to be Batman to the people around us—to see the goodness in others, and call it out of them. And we need more people who are willing to let ‘Batman’ speak into their lives, call them away from the selfishness, and towards a life that is lived for others.

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I Am The Gate: The Way Of Life And Freedom

Sam Radford

John 10:9-10, The Bible (NRSV)

John 10:9-10, The Bible (NRSV)

Jesus’ promise of abundant life - or life to the full - is one I continually find myself coming back to. Jesus opens the door - the gate! - to life as it is meant to be; life in all its fullness. He offers a Way of life that leads to Life.

Ironically, the world thinks that the exact reverse is true. Jesus (or, religion at least) steals life (through telling us what and what not to do), and doing what we want (the way of ‘the thief’) is the path to life and freedom.

The more I think about it, the more I'm struck by the folly in thinking that freedom is found in doing whatever we want. We may be free to choose whatever path we want in life, but not all paths lead to freedom. Sometimes our free choices leave us horribly bound.

For example, we are free to go through a gate that takes us on the pathway of hate. But it leaves us bound by bitterness and anger. Alternatively, Jesus suggests a gate - Himself - that will take us on the way of love. And this path leaves us free to forgive and show grace. Who’s more alive: people filled with bitterness and anger, or those overflowing with forgiveness and grace?

So freedom lies with choice, but the choices we make don't always lead to freedom. Jesus says, ‘Choose me, choose my way, and you'll find yourself on a path that does lead to freedom. And life. Abundant, overflowing, life.’

And sometimes the Way of Christ seems repressive. It seems like we’re being denied opportunities or experiences. But the truth is that the Way of Christ is a call to live in a higher realm. A realm that offers true Life. What is the ‘higher realm’? It is the Way of love. Loving God and loving our neighbours.

This is Way to life and to freedom. This is what the gate that is Jesus leads to: a life overflowing with love.

Sadly all too many religious and non-religious people alike seem to miss this gate. The religious get misled by meaningless rules and regulations that are more to do with men looking to assert control over others. The non-religious think Jesus and religion are one on the same, and miss out on the Life he has to offer.

This Christmas, as we ponder the Baby who would become the man Jesus, let us try and see Him and only Him, freed from the controls and manipulations of both religion and secular society. Who knows, we might just discover that He is a gate worth walking through.

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