When I Walk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back on Jan 1 I made a spur of the moment decision to begin a daily Instargram photolog of our local beaches. I was inspired by the Instagram page of an Irish guy in a little town called Ballybunnion who I stumbled on late one night when I was surfing the web. I began watching his town, his beaches and environment and thought it might be interesting to do something similar. So the project is less an exercise in funky photography than it is in observation of local geography.

So far I’ve really enjoyed it, but moreso I’ve enjoyed the spin offs that have come from it.

Generally I am at the beach twice or 3 times a day and that alone is good for the soul.I never come back from the beach feeling like I have wasted my time… Even if I’m running late I make a practice of leaving the suburb via the beach route. It adds 2 minutes to my travel, but it also adds joy to my day.

I’ve picked up some knowledge around photography – all pretty basic and rudimentary – but still nice to learn something new. (There’s only so much you can do on an iPhone!)

But the real value has been in simply being present in the same places and spaces often and regularly bumping into the same people. I’ve met an old school student, numerous local surfers, some ‘sunset regulars’, other dog walkers and a whole swathe of other people who live locally. A few evenings we have finished up having a cup of tea with neighbours as we have ambled back home. I realised a couple of weeks back that this is more like the live I hope to live.

None of it was planned, but it simply happened as I was present and had the time to stop. The simple fact is that the more I am out there the more I meet people, make connections and become a part of the community. Its pretty obvious hey?… One evening as I walked the beach on dusk I took photos of a local surfer, we finished up chatting for a while after in the carpark, connecting on Instagram and I imagine we will see each other in the surf one day again soon.

For those of who embrace the missionary calling, the simple act of turning up is foundational. From there things can take their own course, but if we aren’t present in our communities then we definitely won’t be making the kind of connections we hope for.

Where the Magic Happens

Back when I used to play basketball regularly I would go thru patches of good form and bad form. There would be 5 or 6 weeks in a row where it felt like you ‘couldn’t miss’ – every shot you put up felt like it was going in and often it did.

Then there were those weeks where you felt ‘out of form’, where the ball left your hand and you fully expected to hear a clang rather than a swoosh. Those weeks could go on and on and they were painful.

What was odd was that there wasn’t any way of determining when you’d be on form or off. It wasn’t that you ever stopped being a good basketballer, but simply that some days what you did worked and other days not so much.

I find the same happens with communication in a church setting, but with one distinct and curious difference.

RIght now I’d say I’m in a bit of a ‘form slump’ – putting teaching together has been really hard work whereas often it just flows – the creative ideas aren’t sparking and I’m just having to give it the best I’ve got – to hang in until things change. I can’t pick a specific cause or reason. Its just how it is. In this space I’m struggling to find the inspiration I want and the thought processes are clunking and grinding rather than meshing smoothly.

In the sporting arena that translates to poorer performance – games lost – and stats down. But curiously in the spiritual arena its often when the Spirit does his best work – when I feel like I’m not performing – when my own game is lacking.

I’ve been doing it long enough to know that what I think is my best work – the days when I have ‘belted it out of the park’ (as preachers say…) may not actually be the stuff that the spirit uses, but what I consider awkward and clunky and maybe even ho hum will often touch people’s hearts in unexpected ways.

So I’ve learnt not to worry – not to panic – but rather to wonder ‘how will God use this offering?…’ Because that’s what it is – an offering of the best I’ve got  – 5 loaves and 2 fish which he can do something pretty cool with.

In my early days of ministry I would have happily ‘subbed out’ during these periods and let someone else take the floor, but these days (while I still don’t enjoy periods of ‘creative constipation’) I actually find myself turning up expectant and curious as to what God will do with the best I’ve got to give.

And funnily enough, right this moment, just as I was about to hit ‘post’ a message came in from someone who found this morning’s message helpful…

Ha… Makes me smile…

Sunday 9.30

Tomorrow in my teaching at QBC I want to ask people to consider the idea of our church community going purely online and digital – no weekly meetings – in fact no meetings ever… sermons uploaded, music streamed, facebook groups for interaction and all giving done online. No human contact needed and yet people still receive the input they seek. We could have private messaging for counselling and all the other functions would be digitised too.

Much more efficient I feel.

No running late, no crying kids, no set up or pack up, no lame coffee, no strange people to have interact with after the gathering.

I think I’m onto something. If efficiency was the goal then this would be one route. Heck we wouldn’t even stream our own sermons, we could just provide links to the best podcasts in the world and people could listen to their heart’s content.

There are plenty already choosing this as their experience of ‘church’.

The common theme in those who do so is that of convenience and accessibility for people with busy lives. In many ways church is inconvenient – it interferes with your weekend. You could be at the beach… and it happens every week… What else do you do every week? (Maybe we need a church season? At least netball ends in September for 6 months!)

Church is clunky – anyone can come – where else in society do you have kindy to aged care in the one room all trying to relate to one another? That can be beautiful, but often it can also be difficult…

It is repetitive – we do the same stuff every week – and some of us have been doing it for a very long time.

Church could be a lot more efficient – but efficiency was never the goal… Genuine human interaction is rarely efficient.

My conviction as I read the New testament is that the church must be a physical community of people who follow Jesus together and who bump up against one another in the flesh. There is something about the physical expression of the church that will never be replaced by an online expression or a detached form of digital engagement.

And it’s not just a kindle v real books debate. It’s not about preference for the way information is delivered. Its about an understanding of what actually constitutes a Christian community and its about realising that once we enter the family of God we no longer exist purely as individuals – we are part of a community even if that grates on us – even if we would rather retain our autonomy.

Every time I consider church as I read about it in the New testament and then lay it alongside church as we experience it here in 21st C western culture I can’t help but ponder the vast difference when it comes to an understanding of community.

I’ve just been gearing up for some teaching in the book of Colossians – nothing overly sexy in that – but even just reading the letter I am reminded again that this is a letter to a group of people – not to one, yet so often when we read it our default mode of interpretation is to ask ‘what is this saying to me?’

I wonder what would happen if we took time to read scripture together and asked ‘what is this saying to us?’ That’s a rather unwieldy method for a Sunday morning (and therein lies another question of methodology – should we meet as we do?) however it could be something small clumps of people could do.

If the church is the visible expression of God’s triune community and a tangible form of his kingdom in the world then it requires something more of us than weekly attendance at an event. (And more than a mid-week Bible study etc etc)

Because if the ultimate goal is for people to be formed into the likeness of Christ – to become mature – then that will never happen if ‘do church’ in front of our laptop while sipping a glass of red and keeping an eye on the football in the background.

One of the things I have said repeatedly over the last 10 years is that in the kingdom of God ‘we’ always takes precedence over ‘me’. Who “we are is more important than who I am. I believe it but I still find it hard to grasp it let alone live it.

You don’t lose your identity in that, but rather your identity is shaped and formed differently within Christian community.

Yet that is so difficult for us to see. Even as I write it I feel the implications and want to call it unreasonable, impractical and maybe even silliness.

One of the themes of this letter is Christian maturity and the fact that you cannot reach maturity on your own. In our individualised world that probably sounds bizarre – disturbing – maybe even controlling. But that’s because we are taught so consistently to think individually rather than communally.

I feel like I have a glimpse of what Jesus intended when he created the church, but my default settings are set so incredibly high to ‘individualism’ and autonomy that I can’t fully imagine how this could work itself out practically and maybe then if I’d still want to be part of it. Sounds radically different, wonderfully inviting yet also fraught with complications and inevitable mess.

Maybe we should just stick to Sunday at 9.30am?

Mono-ecclesial

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ok I’m inventing another word…

Its that time of year when the music stops and pastors who left their chair in this round of ‘musical churches’ either take their seat somewhere else or wait for the next round and hope to get a seat then. Its always interesting to see who finishes up where and to wonder what happens to those who didn’t get picked up.

It seems that we have grown to accept that pastors will change churches – that their ‘leadership will come to an end’, that the church will need ‘fresh ideas’ or that ‘their time was up’, but I wonder if that is a healthy idea.

What would it look like if we said ‘this is your gig and you stay with it – like marriage – till death us do part’?

As I reflect on my own marriage, there are things I have learnt after 25 years with the one woman that I never would have if I’d only given it 18 months or 5 years or even 10. There is a richness and a depth that can never be attained unless you have done the hard yards.

I wonder if we need to hang around a lot longer as pastors – if sometimes a ‘fresh call’ is a convenient escape route (maybe out of the frying pan and into the fire) from a new phase of learning and growth both for us and our churches?

Monogamy is accepted as standard (ideal) practice in marriage, but I have never heard anyone promote the idea of being mono-ecclesial, or if I have, its with the words ‘stale’ and ‘overstayed’ in the same sentence.

I don’t think that has to be the case at all. I am beginning to wonder if we sometimes miss out on the ‘real growth’ that takes place once we get past the niceties?

When church leadership is a profession, or a career then we will think of it in those terms, but if we retrieve some pre-20th C ideas and begin to think of church as a family then its harder to imagine dad doing a runner after 5 years because he’s given all he can give to the family…

Just some food for thought…

Yanchep Beaches 365

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I decided to start a new fun project this on Jan 1 this year, an Instagram & Facebook page  that has daily pics and videos of our local beaches here in Yanchep. We live by some of the most beautiful and stunning coastline so it’s only fair to share it.

Every morning and afternoon I drive or walk past the beach either on my way to work or just walking Lucy. I love observing the many changing moods of the ocean and this page is just about sharing those and engaging more intentionally with the place in which I live – stopping long enough each day to savour the beauty that is on our doorstep.

It’s not about sexy, top notch photography as it will all be from my iPhone and I won’t be waiting for the perfect moment to click. Rather I’ll take it as I find it which means that some days it will be awesome, spectacular and stunning while other days it will be just plain awesome… and maybe even occasionally just plain…

So if you love the ocean then feel free to follow along. If you wish you lived in Yanchep then this is your chance to do it vicariously… but chances are if you watch for long enough your next stop will be realestate.com 🙂

I started this after being inspired by an Irish guy in Ballybunnion who does exactly the same. I began following his page and found myself intrigued and enjoying the beauty of that small town.

So while it’s just for fun, along the way I know I will be taking time to savour the gift that is our local environment, the people I bump into and to give thanks for the beauty that we have been blessed with.

Links are here for those who may like to join me:

Instagram

Facebook

Web for those who don’t like social media – its just an instagram feed…

What Kinda Year?

As we close the door on 2016 and begin 2017 its time for my own personal reflection.

The biggest shift for us this year was that our kids went back to school. It hardly sounds momentous, but after 6 years of homeskooling we had got into a pretty good groove with life, so having them re-enter the system has taken some adjusting to.

Danelle was the one who needed the break, as anxiety and related gut issues had got the better of her in 2015 and the change was forced on us as much as it was the right time.

The kids did really well at school, Sam being the academic he is and Ellie the hard worker, they both got really good results in their end of year reports. They have thrown themselves into all sorts of activities and have found their feet socially and academically. All that crap about home schoolers not being able to slot back in… yeah…

However it took Danelle a little while to adjust to the kids ‘not needing her’ as much, and to let them just get on with their own homework without her assistance. No such problems for me…

Back in January both kids got baptised, a beautiful day for us as parents. You always want to see your kids own their faith for themselves – and while I’m aware there is a long way to go in life – neither of them took the step lightly and both know what they are about.

Danelle’s anxiety eased as she settled into a new rhythm and she managed to get a better life balance for most of the year, including a day of work at the school, something she enjoyed immensely. We have both enjoyed making a more significant connection with the school community this year.

I started the year with some new found energy for leadership in the church scene and we enjoyed a really good year in QBC. Having made plans and formulated ideas at the start of each year I’m always amused to look back and see how the year actually turns out. It was a mix of ups and downs – we farewelled a number of people courtesy of the economic downturn, which was actually very sad as we are a pretty tight bunch, but by the end of the year the church had also grown quite significantly and on Christmas eve we were pretty much at maximum capacity for our auditorium.

I don’t put much stock in numbers and we haven’t chased them at all, so its been curious to see the church grow more this year than previously. I wouldn’t say it was down to our clever planning, but there is clearly some things people like about who we are. We’re still a pretty laid back family like bunch of people, raw and terribly unsexy, but I guess for unsexy people maybe that’s the appeal. No one to impress…

Late in the year we were given an opportunity to start an Out of School Hours Care facility in QBC in 2017. It was late August when we started into it, but even with the short lead time its now ready to go in Feb this year. When I say ‘we’, it was really Danelle and Janet who shouldered an enormous amount of work as they ploughed thru red tape and bureaucratic BS to finally get there. Its a significant project for us as a church community and not one we went into lightly. Both Janet and Danelle worked flat out for a few months and unfortunately in the process Danelle’s anxiety levels climbed, which aggravated her gut issues so that after 3 days on holidays she was in trouble. Its gently gently now as we try to get the job done without her being a mess.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My business slowed to a crawl in January and didn’t pick up again until September. It was wonderful… I realise that may sound weird, but once I got past being worried, I slotted into a new pace and found it suited me much better. Currently I am coming back after holidays and 4 very busy months (Sep-Dec) and while I was hoping for a similar downturn this year, I’m currently almost fully booked for January even before its started.  I’ve been sending back quotes that are significantly higher than usual and people keep on saying yes, so even when I don’t want the work I seem to keep getting it.

It would have been awesome 5 years ago, but right now my body is showing signs of wear and tear and I’m not sure how much longer I can sustain this. I used to consider giving it up from tiredness and sheer exhaustion, but this year I came back from mid year leave with screwed up knees after trying to get back into running and while they are still mending, my hands have struggled and got really sore from overuse. I’ve been popping anti-inflammatories for the last 6 months pretty regularly, but I’m just not winning.

Selling the business doesn’t excite me, nor does trying to employ someone. Its just so sporadic that I can’t guarantee work. I had hoped to take someone on last year, but when things died so quickly I had to let him go as there was barely enough work for me. I am wary of going that route again as its hard for everyone.

I’ve just started swimming again as prep for the Busso jetty swim in Feb and after a month of swimming my dodgy shoulder is just hanging in there. Just 1.5ks every couple of days seems to be as much as I can tolerate so hopefully I’ll get thru to Feb without too much pain. Its been great to do it with the kids and see them really improve their own performance and confidence. I wouldn’t say swimming is a Hamilton family speciality, but we are getting better as we go.

At the start of the year I changed cars again – from the classic 1987 60 series to the almost new Colorado and there have been no regrets there. I have to admit it is nice driving a car and never having to worry about ‘that noise’ or whether ‘its supposed to feel like that’, or whether its getting to the end of its life.. We also changed the caravan yet again for an expander with bunks. We are hoping this will be the last change until the kids are older. But who knows… Some days I think the caravan is wonderful and other days I look and see $35K gathering dust in my driveway and feel like its a stupid idea. A few bad experiences in caravan parks have left me re-thinking the whole thing a few times now, but letting the caravan go would be hard…

What does 2017 hold?

I’m not sure at all. I have felt change in the wind for a while now, but I still seem to keep on rolling with the same stuff. I’m not chasing anything new, but I get the sense that at least with retic is may get forced upon me.

I’m ready for some fresh inspiration, new vision and challenges, but I’m wary of just manufacturing those things. I’ve ‘been there done that’ and it usually ends up just being very wearying.

So that’s the year that was… and hopefully 2017 will be the breath of fresh air I’m hoping for.

Top Reads of 2016

I haven’t read as much this year as I usually do, but there have been a few gems in there.

curtain

I’m currently reading Winton’s Boy Behind the Curtain and finding it both captivating and wonderful and occasionally ho hum. Such is the nature of an autobiography I guess. We share a love of writing, of the ocean and a Christian heritage so on those points I find a deep resonance with much of what he says.

His chapter ‘Twice on Sundays’ raised many wry smiles and fond if somewhat butt clenching memories of my own years growing up in church. That said, his critique of the church he grew up in is fair and reasonable – I know – because I had some involvement there as a teenager myself. Sure – he has a laugh at the quirks of the 70’s and he does tell a sad tale of being unable to remain within the bounds of conservative/ fundamentalist faith as he began to ask questions, but he also offers some gracious comments and observations regarding the authenticity and sincerity of faith he experienced.

In the end the ‘bounded set’ expression of Christianity found him to be ‘outside’ the lines and something of an interloper in the ecclesiastical setting. James Fowler would say he was in ‘stage 4’ of faith development – questioning – thinking outside the confines of his immediate community, and pushing back, but in those days few churches were able to handle disparate thought. They tended to quietly, but firmly exile by theologising you to the edges and allowing you to figure it out yourself – you didn’t belong any more – you are no longer ‘one of us’.

This is still a challenge and while we have moved on somewhat it can still be hard for churches to manage a congregation of people who do not think in the same straight line.

Winton is an ardent conversationist and this is one of the chapters I found less engaging. Interesting – but not riveting and even beautiful like his chapter on surfing where ‘men do something pointless’. It is significant that in reflecting on his teen years he saw the church as woefully deficient in its environmental stance. With Hal Lindsey flavour of the month and ‘this world is not our home’ a mantra for dispensationalists he found himself again on the outer – or maybe just ahead of his time. He’d be flavour of the month in some churches these days…

He writes a wonderful fun chapter describing the sheer embarrassment of ever being seen near his grandads’s 1953 Hillman Minx and the horror when it was passed on to his own family. Cardigan grey and and every bit dowdy, he remembers being driven to school in it. In contrast he has a wonderful line recalling listening to his bogan neighbour revving his hotted up car in the backyard which he describes as ‘sounding like Satan clearing his throat’.

I’m only half way through, but its still a winner for me.

an90737989the-north-water

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The North Water was a somewhat harrowing read, often brutal and dark but a gripping rendering of the whale trade back in the 19th C. Both the characters and the environment were harsh and at times it felt like that car accident you couldn’t look away from. Not for the faint hearted, but if you like a strong story and enjoy immersing yourself in a foreign world then this is a good read.

the-good-people

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Similarly The Good People immerses you in 19th C Ireland with its folk lore and superstition mingled with religion and you are invited into the life of 3 women all facing different struggles. I have written about this here so I won’t say any more.

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Husbands Should Not Break by Shane & Elly Clifton was loaned to me by a friend who told me it was about a theology lecturer’s reflections on coming to grips with spinal injury and that it explored the issues of theodicy and suffering. This was a confronting and honest journal type account of one man’s struggle to come to grips with a life changing situation. Again I have written about it elsewhere in more depth.

the-dad-book-full-cover-draft-10-6-2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I chose this one, not because I had a part in writing it, but because I really enjoyed he collection of honest reflections of dads on their journey of fatherhood. I guess it helped that I knew some of the other authors, but this is a really warm, engaging read and a great gift for a dad on any father’s day. Phil is a gifted writer and has gathered up some stories from all around the world that will encourage, inspire and maybe just tickle you.

nextdoor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next Door as it is in Heaven by Lance Ford and Brad Brisco – is another in the ‘missional’ genre and helpful for giving form to a suburban missional life (as distinct from a hipster approach) and for helping people think thru some practical actions. The chapter on eating together was great, and generally I found the book a collection of well formed and helpful ideas that would move people to action. I don’t read many ‘mission’ books these days, but this one, while not really saying anything new, was still well framed and enjoyable.

download

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t normally read money books. I’m skeptical that anyone writing a book about money will shortly want to sell me some advice. However I have been doing some financial research in the last few weeks and in that time I stumbled on The Barefoot Investor by Scott Pape. I realise Pape is very well known but I haven’t really had much to do with him or his writing / ideas.

Pape writes in the style of your Aussie neighbour next door and hence sounds like a blue collar worker who just figured a few things out. I doubt he is… but his common sense approach to money and his ‘choose your own path’ lingo was refreshing.

I liked that he gave direct specific advice (eg. choose ING bank because they have no fees  ever) and he also presented a simple but sensible philosophy of money. Much of what he says is good common sense, but it obviously isn’t derived from biblical ideas so it was good to consider that what ‘makes sense’ isn’t necessarily what we ought to do. Interestingly he advocates ‘giving’ as part of teaching kids how to use money but it doesn’t figure in adult wealth management. That aside he calls people to debt reduction, sensible spending and future planning in ways that are doable and clear.

His chapter on retirement is particularly encouraging for folks who aren’t rolling in dough. He shows how with your house paid off, just 250K in super, a government pension and the willingness to do some part time work you can have a very sustainable time in the twilight years of life.

Of Before & After

screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-7-29-07-pm

‘Every now and then we have these experiences that slice our lives into before and after’.

Recently I read this statement on Elaine Fraser’s Instagram feed where she was posting quotes from Shauna Niequist’s book Present over Perfect. She shared enough gems from Niequist that I ended up buying the book for Danelle for Christmas – and I hope she reads it quickly because I want to get into it too.

While Elaine shared a new thought every day or so, this one struck a chord. I’ve had a few ‘before and after moments’, but my mind turned to one immediately as a standout. It was like I knew intuitively that THIS was the ‘before and after’ moment that had given new shape to both us and our family.

You would probably expect me to say that my ‘big’ moments were the day I decided to follow Christ, or the day I got married, or the birth of our kids… and I guess they were, but instantly my heart and mind flashed back to an altogether different experience.

Maybe its because (nearly) everyone gets married, has kids, buys a house etc… Don’t get me wrong – these are significant, but perhaps the before and after moments need to be thought of as unique and specific to our own lives and our family’s life… (or maybe I’m just trying to alleviate my own guilt at not seeing these as the biggies…)

The one I keep returning to was our 6 month trip around Australia way back in 2009. I still think of our (family) life as ‘pre-trip’ and ‘post-trip’ and while that might initially sound somewhat odd, I have come to see it as a pivotal, shaping experience for us.

So much so that any time someone indicates they might be interested in some extended travel with kids in tow I can’t affirm them enough.

Before

For us life ‘before’ the trip was neither remarkable nor unremarkable. We had made some very conventional, predictable choices and to some degree fallen into line with the rest of middle class suburbia. We had bought houses, had kids, kept steady jobs and followed a fairly standard trajectory for people in our life situation. Our kids went to the local school and we had slotted into the local community.

We had also made some less conventional choices by leaving a secure pastoral role in a good church to plant a new missional community and by engaging with some of the fresh missional thinking that was just taking form in the early ‘noughties’. It was largely untested R&D type work we were in and it didn’t all go to plan. (We learnt many things that ‘didn’t work’…) As part of that period I found myself raising personal financial support as we kicked off ‘Upstream’, and then Forge. I had a role coaching Baptist youth pastors for a while and when that ended I stumbled on the idea of starting a ‘hobby-business’ in reticulation.

It was 2007-8 when the financial boom hit Perth and property prices went nuts. We heard of the idea of building a house and selling it on completion. Banks were lending money to literally anyone – even missionaries whose ‘on paper’ salary was around $15K – so we borrowed an insane amount of money to fund house, land and all finishings and then we borrowed extra to fund the interest payments while the house was being completed. It was utter foolishness in hindsight – except for the fact that the property market was about to explode. In that one year we made over $200K and wiped out our mortgage. It was a shock to the system for us low income pastor types who had resigned ourselves to paying a mortgage off over the rest of our working lives.

I remember being on a train to Kalgoorlie on the day I heard that our investment project had sold and that we were now no longer $150K in debt but we were $50K in front… It was a disturbingly liberating feeling – disorienting even, but with it came a sense of freedom and dare I say it, power. That’s a word I dislike – and I dislike that I felt it – because it speaks of where I find security, but it was the truth nevertheless.

Around that time I also found myself surfing eBay regularly and ‘watching’ big ole converted bus style motorhomes. It wasn’t a result of being debt free. It was just something I would do as I dreamt (quietly) of what it would be like to own one and to travel around the country. I eventually suggested to Danelle we look at buying one and travelling around Oz for a year. She laughed, baulked… but didn’t shut things down completely.

The kids were 6 & 8 and slotted into school and friendships. We were well connected and embedded in the community. There were friends to think of… family… our small missional community… But I was also tired after 8 years of pioneering work and really felt the need for some space – for some ‘R & R’ away from the ‘R & D’. Our missional community was struggling to survive and it seemed that maybe this was a way of bringing closure to that time of life.

We had built a second spec home and finished it off just as the market stablilised. We lost $5k or thereabouts on this one and it was here that I developed some retic skills, as I needed to finish the landscaping work to save some $$. It was a bummer not to make more $$, but we were still in front financially so we just called it a learning experience and moved on.

We began planning the trip in 2008 – it gave us a year to anticipate and think it thru. I’ve discovered anticipation is half of the fun, so now I plan the following year’s holidays well in advance. We bought a 1996 GQ Patrol – a sensational car that was going to be our tow vehicle around Oz. The bus idea had gone out the window and we were trying to work out the ‘best compromise’ for travel. Space, ease of operation, ease to tow and comfortable to live in. We finished up with a Jayco Eagle bought from the nice people in the next street.

Given our last few holidays have been in a full Jayco expander van, I chuckle when I think we travelled for 6 months in an Eagle…  It seems so small and flimsy now! After a couple of test runs with the camper we felt pretty confident when we hit the road in April 2009 that we could make this work.

We were still in investment mode and after the last failed project we went for something safer. We borrowed $250k and put it into a property syndicate that was returning 40% PA and had been very reliable. We figured we would travel and make $100K while we were away… It was a nice theory and if we had been a year or two earlier it would have succeeded. Around the time we left, the syndicate director became hard to contact and while occasional emails and texts assured us all was well, but we had become a little worried that all was not going to plan. The GFC was starting to ripple out and while we wanted to believe the best, it was clear we stood to lose a bit of that money.

Before leaving we had also been thru a ‘trial’ at Quinns Baptist from December to April. It was a trial in more ways than one and it hadn’t gone very well.  The church was quite polarised when we arrived, and our presence and leadership accentuated that. While we were gone the church would vote on our future ministry and hopefully we would come back to lead them. While the trial had been difficult we felt sure it would all smooth out and we’d come home to leading a church and running a hobby retic business in the background. We’d make some more savvy investments and live a fun life.

Of course we didn’t realise the impact 6 months on the road would have on us…

After

So what happened while on the road for me to give it ‘before & after’ status?…

We had fun – lots and lots of fun, as we explored, adventured, learnt and discovered. Fun matters in family life and – fun is serious business. Many of our friends in the neighbourhood were busy people, struggling to even take half of their allocated annual leave. We were regular holiday takers, but this cemented in us the value of enjoying being together and of making space for family holidays.

I remember someone told me about the value of camping for family life, but me and tents don’t get on that well… The camper however became our Taj Mahal and we loved it.

I don’t have much sympathy for those who tell me they are too busy to get away and then complain about their life. We make our choices… I think our kids have been shaped by this choice into people who find fun easily and who will make ‘time-out’ a priority for their own families.

We discovered we could live really (really) simply – There isn’t a lot of space in a Jayco Eagle so both big and little people’s toys were kept to a minimum. No one struggled. We had the bare essentials and we were forced to focus on other things – the environment around us – the people we were with.

We read a lot – we read to the kids each night – Enid Blyton’s famous five… I still remember the suppressed laughter as we read about Dick & Fanny… a joke our kids now ‘get’, but were oblivious to back then. ‘Dad – what’s so funny!’ Sam would ask. ‘Mum! Tell me!’

We travelled light with clothing and we never ran short. I recently did another clothing audit in my own bedroom and wondered why I have all this stuff!

What is it about being at home that sees us continually acquiring more stuff?…

We realised we could live well on a very small budget – Different from ‘living simply’ – in travelling around the country we lived significantly cheaper than we did while at home. We didn’t try to travel particularly frugally, but even when we stayed at upmarket caravan parks we still lived much leaner than an average week at home. I would say that when all was spent (food, fuel, accomodation, fun) we lived on half of our back home budget.

Half… that’s crazy hey?

It was far cheaper to live on the road than to live in a suburb. I think this discovery actually gave us an ‘ace up our sleeve’, whereby if life ever got financially ugly we knew there was a way to live cheap if we need to – just pack up and travel…

Danelle discovered home schooling – If not for the time away our kids may have spent another 5 or 6 years in primary school doing what every other kid does. But 6 months of travel convinced her (and inspired her) to make home schooling her role when we got back. As we got home there was no thought of re-entry to regular school life and I know our kids have loved and benefited from it. They have been one year back in regular school and are doing well academically and socially. Sam can even spell his own name now.

Home schooling spun off in other advantages. I saw a lot more of the kids as they were around home – and I did my share of teaching. We had some more fun times – memorable times. This way of life afforded us the option of organising school around holidays rather than the current system of having to fall in line with school holidays… something I am pretty dark about now.

Home schooling taught our kids to think differently about ‘the system’ a learning I hope doesn’t get bled out of them over the next few years.

My relationship with money changed  – The experience of paying off the mortgage had left me somewhat elated, so when the news came in half way thru the trip, that we had been taken for all of our $250K and were now in huge debt – greater than we had ever been – I had a number of reactions. The first was anxiety – a struggle I had never had before and rarely experienced since. But I remember lying in bed at night from Townsville onwards realising we were coming home to an uphill struggle to get back in front financially. I felt devastated – and I don’t use that word lightly – which was odd because pre the investment era I had hardly given money a second thought. We needed enough to live on and that was the deal.

Now I wanted to be somewhere else. I wanted to be back where we were 2 years previous – debt free and feeling ‘powerful’, but instead I felt weary and defeated and there was no quick fix or easy way out. I struggled as I considered the shape my life would take when we went home.

We contemplated ending the trip early and just trundling home asap to get started on earning $$ to pay off the debt, but we made a conscious choice to not be floored by it and to continue as we were. We would allow interest to accrue on the debt and deal with it when we got home. While the anxiety never completely lifted we were able to keep a positive frame of mind and put in the drawer marked ‘when we get home’.

This was a valuable decision and while it was difficult, I think it was our way of saying ‘we will not let this control us’, even if it was eating us up at times.

It was the beginning of my 7 year wrestle with money and its place in our lives.

I discovered financial planning – Again, making money was never really part of our lives pre trip. ‘Enough to get by’ was the mantra we had lived by, but the loss of $$ and the time on the trip gave me a window to consider what we would do when we got home.

I did some sums and realised that if we lived really tight and if business went well, we could probably clear the $250K in 5 years. So I came home with a plan – I was a man on a mission and as with most things I get into, it became a bit obsessive.  I kept a log of where our money went. I kept a record of how much we were earning and after one year we were well on the way. I was now a serious retic guy as well as a pastor. We cleared the debt ahead of schedule in 4 years and my body told the story of it with all sorts of overuse injuries flaring.

Had it not been for the loss and the experience of the trip I don’t think we would have had to grapple with the challenge of finances.It was way too easy to get in front and equally way to easy to kiss all of that money goodbye. If not for the loss I would have never contemplated the possibility of paying down debt rapidly by hard work, but in that time I learnt that you don’t have to settle for the 25 year plan.

That said, even now I struggle to be in any debt and I’m still processing my own relationship to money. There is some good – some growth – and some darkness that lurks and snarls at me. It is tenuous and fragile.

We took the road less travelled – and it did make a difference. The choice to take 6 months out is becoming more common but it was still seen as a bit odd back then. Homeschooling has grown hugely in popularity, but then it was still the domain of denim skirts and head scarves.

My physio once introduced me to his work experience girl as ‘this is Andrew – he’s semi-retired…’ and I realised that is how he perceives me, possibly because its how my life looks from the outside.

Being your own boss has much going for it and I doubt I will be working for anyone again over the rest of my working life. I work at my own pace – I am not chasing work and I take days off when I want to. Yesterday was a ‘work day’, but I took Danelle & Sam, because its my business and I can…

Pastoral work also allows the sort of autonomy that I need to feel alive in.

We flew blind into a storm

Around the same time we heard we had lost the $250K we got the message that the church had gathered and we had been ‘voted off the island’. That was a knock. We knew it was a possibility, but didn’t really expect it to happen. We knew we had stirred and made enemies, but we wanted to make sure there was no mistaking who we really were and what we were about.

At the crucial meeting there were enough ‘nays’ to send us packing. The church then had an ugly fight and we got invited back again. Long story and best forgotten…

But we then had to make a decision – to accept or refuse… It didn’t feel like a healthy environment to head back into, but it felt like the right call, the one God seemed to be leading us towards, so we just swallowed hard and said yes. And into the storm we flew… because it was hard again when we got back. Conflict and tension was rife, but we had committed to being there so we fought thru the struggles and kept going despite resigning internally every second week.

I think pre the trip I might have just said ‘screw this’ and walked away, but we had a sense that this was where we were to be for a long time and that taking a few knocks was just going to be part of the experience.

Seven years on I couldn’t contemplate being anywhere else, and often we imagine this as our last stop in paid Christian leadership. But then.. occasionally when I hear of a basket case, beat up church that is in chaos and mess I think to myself ‘I’d like a crack at helping them get healthy again…’. Its not a scary proposition, nor a hopeless one. We’ve been there done that and seen what God can do.

——————

I’m sure there is more that I have missed but I have no doubt that 6 months of travel shifted something permanently in our identity as a family and we have benefited from it. So if you are contemplating a similar experience I can not say strongly enough, ‘DO IT!’

Don’t be put off by the obstacles and challenges. There will never be a perfect time to take 6 months out, but the sheer act of choosing to make the space will create new openings and learnings you will have never contemplated previously.

There was ‘before’ and there is ‘after’ and in between was a 6 month trip around this great country of ours. More than that there was an unexpected internal journey that began and continues on today both for us and our kids.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading about Fairies…

After a disappointing read with ‘Into the Sea’ I was ready for something a bit richer and stronger. I decided to give Hannah Kent’s latest novel ‘The Good People’ a shot and it was well worth the effort.
Kent wrote Burial Rites and this is her second novel. It’s the story of a poor village family living in Southern Ireland in the late 1800’s. The novel opens with the husband dying suddenly and this being the second bereavement for Nora in the year as her daughter had also died. She finds herself left with the care of her 4 year old grandson who was once a healthy boy, but now is suffering from some debilitating illness that prevents him from walking or speaking. He is totally dependent on others so Nora, struggling with grief and the weight of responsibility, hires Mary, a young farm girl to be her assistant and to care for him.
In time Nora is convinced that the boy (Micheal) is actually not her grandson but that he is a fairy – that ‘the good people’ (the fairies) have stolen him and replaced him with one of their own.
The local expert in folk remedies (Nance) enters and the remainder of the story follows their various bizarre, but sincere attempts to rid Micheal of ‘the fairy’. 
It is an interesting reflection on the power of superstitious belief and the degree to which it affects us. It highlights many practices of the (not so) ancient Irish and as you read it you realise our society is only different by degrees and not by kind. We still believe and practice odd things from time to time (touch wood…) in the curious belief that there is another power at work. I had written ‘a higher power at work’ but I’m not sure it’s necessarily seen as higher – just ‘other’.
As it finishes the story depicts a primitive Irish culture alongside the more sophisticated mainstream, but it also shows how deep and strong the folk beliefs lie. When a culture is formed over thousands of years simple rational explanations for sickness and struggle are unlikely to suffice.
As well as dealing with the subject of folk religion, it deals with how we perceive and interpret illness, especially serious mental illness. It looks at how we view calamity or lack of prosperity. It looks at how grief affects us and it is unique in that it focuses on the issues faced by single women, an elderly spinster, a widow and a young single girl. Nance the elderly spinster says: 
‘An old woman without a man is the next thing to a ghost. No one needs her, folk are afraid of her, but mostly she isn’t seen.’
It’s a statement I have heard several times – that older single women are unnoticed in society.
From a faith perspective we would often pooh pooh superstitious practices, but we are sometimes blind to our own ‘folk Christianity’, that believes
– if we tithe faithfully God will bless us with abundance…

– That ‘x’ wasn’t healed because she didn’t have enough faith…

– That certain prayers must be recited word perfect to deal with spiritual oppression, curses and the like (because God won’t pass a near miss)

– That trouble in life is because of sin – that God is repaying us and balancing the ledger… because Jesus’ death was inadequate.
I could go on, and I’m sure you could suggest plenty more that you have heard or experienced. 
While it is based on real events, it is still an odd subject for a novel, but Kent opens up the world of the Irish village community so well that it becomes intriguing and enjoyable to read.

Get Me Out of Here – Now!

I hardly ever write negative book reviews, but there are few things that annoy me more than a bad novel. 

I just finished a re-read of one of my all time faves, The Poisonwood Bible – a brilliant book that was even better on a second pass. Then I moved on to ‘Into the Sea’, a novel that based the story around the subject of surfing. It was set in WA in the late 70s to early 80s as two mates get into surfing and get hooked.

While there are no places named in the story it was obvious the two boys grew up in a suburb near my own, in the same era I started surfing, so that part of the story resonated. Skipping school to surf, buying your first board, living for the waves, were all things we did in that time.

The story moves across to Cactus (not named) for another 100 pages where not much happens and then one of the characters heads off to Indo and doesn’t come back. His mate goes looking for him and finds him surfing perfect waves and happy in his island paradise. 

The end.

Yeah… it was a book pretty much devoid of plot. I read the whole thing, all 300 dreary pages in the hope that some energy would rise from it, but it just lobbed from one surf setting to the next with bland characters and little to hold attention.

Given its origins and characters, I had high hopes for this novel, but it was a mega-disappointment. If surfing magazines are ‘wave porn’, then this would be the equivalent of a porn movie – scene after scene of same same same… blokes surfing or talking about surfing. It might sound promising but it’s actually unsatisfying.

If you see it around give it a wide berth. A good novel ought to evoke some deep stirring, but this one felt like a suburban bus ride where every chapter was a prolonged stop. In the end I was just happy to be home.

If you enjoy reading then get a hold of The Poisonwood Bible instead and delve into the complexities of character, culture and religious nuance it offers. 

I’m onto Hannah Kent’s Good People now and already breathing easier…

Sorry Jay Laurie – if you read this… I really wanted to like your book, i even ‘saved it up’ for holidays, but in the end I just couldn’t. You got the era, the language and the characters down well, but something needs to happen for it to be a good story.