How to Vote

On Saturday Australia votes and (broadly speaking) as a result we will get the government we deserve. Vote like a donkey (i.e. do not fill in the forms) and expect to be governed by donkeys. Vote thoughtfully and you at least have a chance of being governed by people who care about where we are headed as a country.

The image below reflects some of what happened in the UK over the weekend. It seems a bunch of people didn’t do their homework and simply cast a vote without realising what they were doing. So on Sunday morning Google trends shows ‘What is the EU?’ and ‘What does it mean to leave the EU?’ as the two most significant search trends for UK citizens after the vote…

euThe problem is that after the vote its too late to do your homework.

And we need to learn from that, so come Sunday morning we don’t set google trends humming with ‘who is the Pirate Party?’

Unlikely that will actually happen I realise, but you get the point. An uninformed vote is irresponsible and a waste of the privilege we have in this country. That said an informed vote is complex and laden with tension because no one party ‘ticks all the boxes’ on everything. I voted last week as we will be on holidays on Saturday and as I left the voting booth I felt dirty – compromised – because I couldn’t endorse everything about the mob I voted for. But I would have felt that no matter who I cast my vote for.

So how do we form a vote as Christians?

There are a few helpful articles here:

I spoke to this issue yesterday at church and offered my own ‘how to vote’ proposal. The topic is intended to be provocative and evoke a bit of a ‘who do you think you are to tell me how to vote!’ response, but its actually different to telling you who to vote for. Deciding ‘how to vote’ is on one hand very simple, but on the other requires thought, interaction and careful reflection.

Hamo’s ‘how to vote’ guide is simply this:

  1. View all parties policies thru the lens of the kingdom of God and the teaching of Jesus. Use the sermon on the mount, use the Gospels, but try and see who lines up best with the stuff Jesus was on about. That’s both simple and complex, because no one is a perfect fit.
  2. Pray, read, discuss and repeat… I’m sure many of pray and read, but the ‘discuss’ element often gets tetchy and we shy away from letting people know who we will vote for or how we are going in our thinking. What this second stage does is tests our concerns against the way other Christians read the Bible and read the policies. God put us in community right?… Well part of that is because we are able to think better together than on our own. Alone, we are limited in our thinking, but when we start to interact with other Christians we have to explain our positions or accept that maybe we need to re-think. Threatening? It doesn’t have to be… That’s why the third part matters.
  3. Agree to live in harmony no matter what. I don’t intend to malign anyone for voting in a different way to me because they have made the best call they can with the info they have and the issues they see as core to the kingdom. So if we know that there is a commitment to one another that goes beyond our political preferences then we can love one another whether we vote Liberal or Green.

My belief is that for all of us there are some issues that matter more than others and they will give strongest shape to our final decision. Some of us will see religious freedom as the biggest issue, while others will fight to the death for the barrier reef.

For me the ‘clincher issue’ was asylum seekers and our inhumane treatment of those in detention. I didn’t want to go see ‘Chasing Asylum’ last week, but as I went I prayed ‘help me to see something worthwhile in this… help me to know what I am doing here…’ The outcome was that I left having decided not to vote for anyone who could endorse this form of suffering and to cast my vote for those who would seek to end it and treat people more compassionately.

Its slim pickings when you choose to make that a ‘filter’… and in making that choice I inevitably voted for some people who hold different perspectives to me on other issues. But I know what I’ve done and I’m prepared to live with the consequences of that – both good and bad.

So, that’s Hamo’s How to Vote guide for yet another election…

Have fun voting as we will be somewhere between Geraldton and Carnarvon on that day 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Third Row Back

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Last weekend we had our QBC bloke’s retreat up in Lancelin and as part of that I led us in a meditative exercise using Matthew 14 and the story of Jesus walking out on the water to the disciples who are in the middle of a storm.

I always find it tricky ‘leading’ and participating fully, but I managed to enter into the ‘imaginative’ phase of this time, where we were picturing ourselves as one of the disciples and trying to see where we ‘found ourselves’ in the story.

I’ve preached on this passage a few times and its usually been one of those ‘get out of the boat’ messages. You know the one – the call to take a step of faith and keep our eyes on Jesus rather than the storm?… It suggests that we most commonly imagine ourselves as Peter in this story – or even that we should see ourselves as Peter…  but what if that isn’t the case?

As I entered into the story this time I imagined Jesus telling us all to go hop in the boat and take off while he hung around to send the crowd away and then get some alone time. In that moment I saw myself as just one of the crew, doing as I was told because he had said it. The horizon looked dark and it was probably going to be a tough journey, but oh well… He calls the shots and we just do what he says.

As we got in the boat I found myself third row back pulling an oar.  And in that space I was simply plugging away and doing what needed to be done to get the boat to its destination.  As the storm increased and it got ugly I just kept working. When Jesus appeared on the water I wasn’t at all interested in hopping out of the boat and going to see him. I was intent on staying focused – on keeping going – and not stopping.

It made me wonder why I wasn’t seeing myself as Peter, as adventurous, daring and courageous. He is the one who we hear about and who we seem to like to identify with. John Ortberg wrote that book ‘If You Want to Walk on Water You Have to Get Out of the Boat’, but no one has written ‘If You Want to Get the Other Side You Have to Keep Rowing’. It is distinctly less glamorous, but much of life is just that – keeping going and doing what is needed.

Maybe that’s a fair metaphor for my own life at the moment – leading a small church in an outer suburb, running a small business that has no dreams for world domination and being a dad and husband along the way. None of it is earth-shattering stuff, but its all good stuff. And it is the stuff I have been called to do and for now its just head down and keep rowing.

Maybe one day I get to be a ‘Peter’ again, but for now I am ‘Bartholomew’… and that’s just how it is.

And its good.

To Weep With Those Who Weep

asylum web

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Want to go see ‘Chasing Asylum’ with me?’ Danelle asked a few weeks back.

‘Dunno…’ I replied.

‘Why dunno?’

‘Because I already know the story and I’ll probably just end up pissed off, frustrated and feeling powerless at what’s happening… not sure I can stomach it. I hate being told there is a huge problem – oh and by the way – you can’t do anything to fix it.’

I still hadn’t decided at 5.00 tonight and the movie began at 6.30. In the end I agreed to go. I prayed as we drove… what do I need to see in this tonight?

And I did end up feeling pissed off and powerless, but perhaps that’s beside the point. The story wasn’t new – much of it I had heard before – the movie didn’t go anywhere surprising and while it was quite well made and gave some insights into the lives of those in detention, it also told the tragic tale of Australia’s resolute refusal to even contemplate sharing our country with anyone coming by boat.

So its no surprise that I’m in favour of doing more – much more. If we can spend $500000.00 annually to keep people in tents on an island then I imagine we can surely use that money to help them become valuable members of our society. The amount of money spent is the exact value we place on not having ‘those people’ in our society.

That said, I’m not an idealist. The movie didn’t address the question of ‘what if everyone came?’ How would we cope with the load? How would we need to change to accomodate the challenges that would go with that? Maybe that’s because those questions are so far removed from the Australian psyche that we can’t even contemplate them. Right now the best we can hope for is a fair(er) go for those poor people locked up indefinitely offshore.

The movie included stories from asylum seekers, stories from Aussies who had worked in detention centres and who could stomach it no longer. It told stories of the families who had seen loved ones head off in search of a better life only to die in the process.

Video of Tehran made me think again of my friend, Stephen, who came from there and was unable to settle in Australia, despite 4 years on a temporary visa, despite getting a job and finding his feet. Along the way he ‘accidentally’ found faith and his life was transformed. Unfortunately this was interpreted as him ‘conveniently’ finding God, while the truth was anything but that. His new faith made his possibility of settlement much harder. About 18 months ago he was arrested, sent back to Villawood and then Darwin, before he eventually gave in and agreed to go back to Iran. We haven’t heard from him since, but we hope he is still alive.

I sensed the most poignant moment was the footage of Vietnamese refugees coming to Australia and being welcomed and settled. I guess we could say that all turned out ok?… We didn’t finish up being overrun, or losing our identity, our jobs, our livelihoods to these new migrants…

At times as I watched I was hoping the movie would end. Some of it was boredom. I have heard it all before. Some of it was simply not wanting to hear more information about a situation I feel helpless to change. I don’t like feeling powerless, or living in a democracy where the current choice is for either party A who will enforce the status quo or party B who will do the same.

But in the end I sensed that maybe I was just there to weep with those who weep. Perhaps the point of tonight wasn’t to spark me to build an extension to take in a new family or to up stumps and work somewhere else among these people.

Perhaps it was just to share in their pain and feel a smidge of their helplessness and to pray for the wisdom to know where that leads.

Not 21 Any More

Since the age of 30 I have struggled with tendonitis of the ilio-tibial tract, a fairly stock standard overuse injury for people who run a lot, like I used to and I haven’t been able to run for a couple of years. Recently that knee has been hurting just from everyday use so I decided to see what can be done. I went to see the Doc and explained that I was over the minor pain, but more than that I wanted to run again. I asked what can be done to ‘fix’ this permanently?

He mumbled and muttered and basically said ‘not much…’

So I pushed him harder – ‘If I had 100K what could be done to fix this and get me running again?’

He sent me off with a script for an ultrasound and a cortisone injection (which is now in the bin). He didn’t want to know and once I had realised that I gave up and went thru the motions of listening to him just to get the consult over.

Waste of time.

So I decided to go see my physio – Damian. I like him because he is a straight shooter and knows his stuff. If anyone can fix me, Damian can.

‘So Damian…’ I gave him the history, some of which he already knew and then asked, ‘what’s it going to take to get me running again? If it takes surgery and major effort then I’m pretty much ready to sign up.’

Thankfully he suggested surgery is the last thing I need and probably counter-productive, so both the wallet and the mind breathed a sigh of relief. But, he told me he reckons he can get me running again in a few months. Here’s his plan.

Step 1 is some good shoes. I have good shoes, and have always worn good shoes, but he recommended going to see some of his physio mates who own a running shoe store and getting some that really fit my ‘problem’. Ok – I can do that. Sounds easy.

Step 2 – interval training… I cringed. My last experience of intervals was when I was playing basketball and doing some serious sprint training. Intervals really kicks your butt. Damian’s intervals were 10 minutes walking, 3 minutes light jogging, 10 minutes walking 4 minutes light jogging followed by 10 minutes walking.

‘Are you serious?’ I asked. ‘That’s so lame… I will be embarrassed to even do that!’

Damian tells me, ‘Andrew – you’re not 21 any more. You’re 52 and your body responds differently to exercise. It will take longer to get there, but if we do this right you will get there.’

I just hear the words ‘walking’ and feel like my next step is a gopher. I have always run with the idea that ‘running is running’ and I may walk the dog, but that’s about it.

And then the final stage we are working on now is some exercise to strengthen the muscles that are allowing the ilio-tibial to be overworked in the hope of easing the strain on it.

My hope is that by January I will be able to run 5ks without pain. Then from there I’d like to run a half marathon ( but I think Damian might just say ‘one step at a time…’)

Its hard accepting that I am not 21 any more. I want to put on some shoes step outside and run 5ks. But I can’t.

My body reminds me often that my youth has gone, but I would like it to shut up and start behaving differently. I live in the confident hope that one day I will get a new body – whatever that mean and whatever shape it takes – and I am ready for it. But for now I’d like to ‘re-tread’ this one and get a few more ks out of it before handover.

 

I’ll let you know how I go…

 

Wussification

woosification

Don’t you just love your local Facebook community forums as places of thoughtful sensible adult interaction?

This photo appeared on one of our local sites recently and I had to withhold comment because anything I was going to say was not likely to be helpful. Its a photo of a group of school-kids from QBC kayaking from Two Rocks up the coast to Moore River with their Outdoor Ed teacher and two adult assistants.

From the hysteria on the Facebook page you’d think they were about to grow big beards and hop on a plane bound for Syria…

A bunch of kids were off on an adventure – doing something that will stretch them, challenge them and mature them, as well as teaching them some valuable lessons along the way. Remember when we used to think that was a good thing? Remember when setting young people a tough challenge was considered part of growing up?

It was before the wussification of young people began… before we started to worry that they might get cold, hungry, home-sick, that they might get wet or that they’d miss their ipad…

A bunch of young people who’d prepared for the activity, were doing it and today they will get back home – probably cold – probably hungry – probably wet, but tougher, tighter and better equipped to face many of the other challenges life throws at them. And it will form memories in them that will last for many years. I still bump into my ex school students from the days when I ran the survival camps and inevitably we go back there in our conversation – because those were valuable times… maybe not that safe… but then that was the 80’s.

When will we realise that cocooning young people does not prepare them for the world they are living in and that we do them a disservice by shielding them from struggle? But when we take them out of their comfort zones and push them to new limits they grow and flourish and become better people for it, and as a result we become a better society…

Great work Brock and crew – I hope my kids are out there one day cold, wet, hungry, weary, but tougher, sharper, better people for the experience!

‘On This Day’

arnhem

My Facebook feed does that ‘on this day’ thing, where it pops up memories of events in previous years and lately its been peppering me with images from our trip round Oz in 2009. Each time I see a pic something in me goes ‘boom’ and I want to be back there. Here’s one of Danelle and Sam at Ubirr in Kakadu. Danelle is showing Sam the way to Arnhem Land – and possibly hoping he and his teddy would take off there because he was being a proper little turd that day! That’s where we were on June 8th 2009…

If I had a memory/memories I would choose to carry with me every day of our life as a family then it would be the 6 months we spent on the road travelling around this country. As soon as I see the images I think ‘we should do it again!’ It triggers one of those ‘feel good’ chemicals in my brain and I want to quit everything and hit the road once more in anticipation of an awesome experience.

Then I come back to reality.

It’s not that we couldn’t do it, because we probably could make it happen. But the reality comes in knowing that part of what made it special was that our kids were 8 & 6 and still loved hanging with us. We had a ball together. They are teenagers now and while we get on really well, the thought of 6 months away from friends cooped up with us just doesn’t inspire them like it did then. Now when we go on holidays the primary question is not ‘where are we going?’ but rather ‘who else will be there?’ and often ‘when will be home?’

And then there’s the reality that seeing somewhere twice is never the same as the first time you encounter it. 2009 was a trip of ‘firsts’, of saying ‘wow!’ often, of waking up in strange new places or sometimes just on the side of the road and unsure of what the day would hold. It was our first extended time of camping and figuring out how to live on the road. We’ve been to a big slab of this country now and seen it at its best, and I know that having revisited some places since, the magic of that first visit can’t be replicated. We’re experienced campers / caravaners now and it all seems less of an adventure now.

But how good is it to have memories – thoughts that spark feelings of good times – that remind us of how good life can be?

I sometimes have to remind myself that while on that trip we lost a job and $250K in a bad investment, because those are not the things that come back to me. What does is the beauty of our country, the joy of family travel and the fun of adventure.

I’m hoping that one day we will do it again, most likely just the two of us, but who knows, maybe our kids will take their kids and invite us to join them…

And just for fun here are a few random memories that still make me smile:

homeskoolingHomeskooling in Exmouth – ok so this is going well…

brekkieBreakfast somewhere on the Stuart Highway on the way to Queensland

danelleEvening at Barn Hill… hooahh!

feedingAt Seaforth in Northern Queensland with the grey nomads teaching the kids how to feed the birds.

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Our first ‘capital improvement’ to the camper. In Mission Beach we bought a portaloo and Danelle was excited.

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We stayed with Ken & Leanne in inner city Brisbane and it was one long narrow driveway to back the van up.

pambulaCold water surfing in Pambula – scored some great waves in those few days!

dunnyDunny at legendary Oz surf break – Cactus in the desert in South Oz

cactusMorning waves alone at Cactus – sharky

Yambuk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A stormy night in Yambuk made better by this crazy slide

And I could keep going as I’m having another winter day off from retic, but that’ll do for now, or I really will want to hit the road again

 

 

Mankaded

You probably wouldn’t have even known the under 19 World Cricket championships were happening earlier this year except for one incident. A West Indian bowler ‘mankaded’ the last Zimbabwean batsman as the game drew to a close, denying the Zimbabwean team the opportunity to go thru to the quarter finals.

Chances are unless you know cricket you also have no idea what ‘mankading’ is, but if your name is Vinoo Mankad you probably regret the day you decided to play by the letter of the law rather than the spirit, because now a piece of universally regarded unsportsmanlike conduct has been named after you.

Mankading can happen when the bowler is running in to bowl and the batsman at the non-strikers end is walking down the pitch in preparation for a potential run. The batsman is out of his crease and the bowler can dislodge the bales and make an appeal. Technically the batsman is fair game and needs to be given out.. The etiquette of cricket is that you need to give at least one warning before taking a wicket in this way. Even then its considered a pretty dodgy practice.

Vinoo Mankad will be remembered for all of history now, but for all the wrong reasons.

A bit like Aussie cricketer Trevor Chappell…

Oh yeah… we did that whole underarm thing against the Kiwis didn’t we?… That happened 35 years ago now but its still one of the ugliest moments in Trans-tasman sport. Acting on instructions from his brother Greg who was captain at the time, Chappell bowled the final ball of the day… underarm. Yeah – he rolled it along the ground… What an insanely dumb thing to do… The Kiwis needed a 6 to win the game and by bowling the way he did he denied them any opportunity of making a shot that would give them the result.

I think we might now call that ‘un-Australian’… But the fact is we did it. It was legal – it was permissible in the rules of the sport, but it just goes to show there can be a canyon of difference between legal and ethical or ‘permissible’ and ‘good’.

But its always been that way.

You can be perfectly correct and yet obnoxiously wrong. Mark Twain once spoke of those who were ‘good people in the worst sense of the word.’

I think of the story in the gospel of John where Jesus is confronted with the woman caught in adultery and he chooses not to play by the rules of his own religion. Those who were ‘good in the worst sense of the word’ have arrived and declared her guilty and punishable by stoning – which was true.

Jesus knows this is the case and says ‘sure go ahead – kill her – but let’s start with the person who has never sinned throwing the first stone.’

It gets a bit quiet in the street and John writes that one by one they dropped their stones and left.

So the woman is then left alone with the one man who could genuinely pronounce a condemnation – the one without sin – and yet he chooses not to enforce the law as it is written. Maybe its his law – he can do what he likes with it… but its not that… Its not an abrogation of the law but an awareness of what the law was there for in the first place.

He says to her ‘so… no one left here to condemn you then hey?’

‘Nope’.

‘Well – I don’t condemn you either.’

I think its really important we see that first statement Jesus makes because his second statement gets a lot more attention. His first action is to not condemn – to withhold whatever punishment was due – because that is what God’s like.

Then he says ‘alright – go and don’t sin any more’.

Because God’s also like that. He calls us to a better life, but that call comes out of love and grace rather than fear of condemnation.

In John 1 Jesus is spoken of as the ‘one full of grace and truth’, which I find a beautiful tension. We so often err on the side of grace – allowing sin to go unchecked, or on the side of ‘truth’, pointing out the rules divorced from their context.

What’s the point?

Simply that we can ‘get it all right’ and yet get it so terribly wrong. We can create a culture of law abiding and even ‘enforcement’ in Christian communities (whether its overt or subtle) and yet miss the heart of God that loves, accepts and forgives all of us for our screw ups.

If Jesus came to set us free then it won’t be because we live in trepidation that one day someone is going to Mankad us – or nail us on a technicality – because God just isn’t like that.

Margins

margin

So if I were to ask you now how ‘full’ your life is and you were to express it as a percentage what would you say?

60%?… 70%?… 80%?…90?… more?…

When is ‘too full’? And what implication does that have?

If that seems like a strange question then maybe its because you haven’t come to appreciate the importance of ‘margins’.

By ‘margins’ what I mean is living in such a way that you have plenty of space in life. You are not perpetually rushing – not hurrying from one activity to the next – not feeling like there is never enough time in the day, and even in the quiet moments feeling edgy because there must be something to be getting on with.

I remember as a 20 something living such a packed life that I simply ran fast from one activity to the next and it set the pattern for my existence for the next 10 years. It was largely ok as a single guy with boundless energy, as even emergencies managed to get catered for by just having a later night. In that phase of life the goal was to get as much done as was physically possible in one week.  There simply were no margins and if there had been I would have filled them to overflowing!

But I don’t believe its a healthy way to live – running hard and squeezing as much in as is physically possible. In fact I would suggest it is a way of depleting the soul, draining joy and slowly but surely bringing us undone in every way.

The absence of margins inevitably means an absence of time in reflection – because reflection will be seen as unproductive time. And the absence of reflection leads to a life lived without examination. What was it ole mate Socrates said about the ‘unexamined life’? I don’t think I have ever heard of a more ‘contemplative’ leader having a moral failure (which isn’t to say it hasn’t happened), but far more often it is the driven, type A workaholic who finds themself here, and my guess is that it is in part related to the absence of reflective space and the ability to see their own vulnerability.

The absence of margins will see a productive body but a withering soul.  However… because busyness and accomplishment is valued so highly in our society you can often get away with a depleted soul for longer than you can the lack of achievement. In reality busyness and hurry are like cancer to the soul and while their effect may not be immediately visible, the damage is being done. That’s not to undervalue achievement because I still love to get stuff done and I want to be successful, but its to say that it cannot be at the expense of the soul.

The absence of margins will inevitably have a detrimental effect on relationships. You simply can’t stop and be present with people if your brain is constantly focused on the next thing. You will piss people off because you clearly ‘need to be elsewhere’. You have better things to do than sit back and fritter a few hours away with friends. If you’re overly busy then it will show in your speech. You will talk fast and people will not rest easy in your presence… and if people don’t feel at ease around you then relationships will always struggle to take shape.

The absence of margins will also show up in your availability to people who call outside of your schedule. Margins are the space in life where the unexpected stuff can be attended to – and with care and focus rather than just as a duty to be dispensed with as quickly as possible.

I find it hard to measure ‘margins’, but I know when they are there and I know when they aren’t. Its been a long time since I lived with narrow margins and I doubt I ever will again.

To live with generous margins could be perceived as lazy, as wasteful even and at times I have struggled with being seen that way. But to live with margins also means to live in such a way that both people and God are paid attention to and given the time they deserve rather than being quantified as a task and allocated a slot in the diary.

In speaking of this I used to say that since living with margins ‘I get less done, but I’m a nicer person for it’, but more recently I’ve been questioning whether I actually ‘get less done’, or if in fact I just accomplish different things.

I guess it all depends on what we believe really matters in the end…

Noticing

noticing-is-the-first-step-towards-peace

Each evening when my head hits the pillow, the last thing I do is an ‘examen exercise’, a focused reflection on the day that has passed, giving thanks, looking for high points, low points, energy spikes, darkness, relational connections and the presence of God in all of it.

It’s a very simple but effective way of daily noticing what is happening in life and of seeing Gods hand. In the movement of the day it’s a bit harder to be conscious of the spirit’s work, but in the silence and dark of the night as I replay the day’s events in my mind I am able to join some dots, glean insights and get curious about what God may be doing.

Yesterday was a fairly typical Friday – a ‘church’ day for me – with meetings, people connections, admin and a bit of down time. It was so typical that it would have been easy to miss the moments of joy and fun. But an examen allows you to tune into the often unseen moments of gladness and pain that may otherwise go unobserved.

And it was a surprising few minutes of reflection.

As I turned the light off and gave thanks the first images foremost in my mind were some Facebook pics I had just seen of my 13 year old son Sam, doing his first talk to the kids groups he is involved with leading. It was inspiring and joy giving – to see him doing it – but also to hear him articulating the nature of his own faith as we drove home.

As I looked for stuff to be alert to I was reminded of a conversation from earlier the day – a person who wasn’t doing so well and needed prayer and probably a follow up conversation. I prayed for the person.

When I looked for moments of joy where my energy levels rose, I found two that I didn’t expect. One was when I fixed the sound system in my car. A dodgy earth wire was causing an amplifier to cut in and out randomly. I don’t know much about sound systems but I managed to track and fix the problem.

Satisfying. I like fixing things especially things I have little grasp of.  In ‘noticing’ that I was reminded that I find enjoyment in the accomplishment of stuff and I like problem solving. Perhaps I should do more of it…

The second was a funny moment when we picked the kids up from youth group and I noticed the high school boys having a chin up competition. I joined in and my 14 chin ups raised a few eyebrows – hardly olympic standard, but always nice to keep people guessing about what a 52 year old body is capable of… I chuckled as I drove off with the kids. The joy was in the surprise.

There was much in that day to be grateful for, to ‘pray about’ if you like, but I find the examen is most helpful for tuning in to the activity of God and to the more specific and unique moments that bring energy to my soul.

You can’t manufacture those moments, but noticing them, seeing a pattern and then living in line with them is just another way of being more fully the person God has created you to be.

The Final Word On Sunday Sport

EricLiddell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I remember back in 1981 I entered a high school basketball skills competition and after getting thru the school round and the district level went on to the WA final where I came second to a bloke named Eric Watterson. I didn’t know who he was because I didn’t mix in elite basketball circles, but he later went on to play for the Perth Wildcats for many years. As a result of the second placing I was offered the opportunity to train and play with a local district basketball team who were coached by Henry Daigle, an American who had come to Perth specifically to develop talent. He also coached the Perth Wildcats and was the leading coach in Perth at the time.

I was pretty ecstatic as in 1981 basketball was my great passion and this was going to be my pathway to greatness. Then I discovered that the team trained on a Sunday morning and the decision to participate entered a whole new realm of complexity. The 80’s was an era where you could skip church to play sport, but it would still have been frowned upon. I wasn’t that worried about the negative response I may have received – I just wanted to make the right decision. And as a young Christian it was a challenging one.

I didn’t have the cultural savvy and theological awareness to work thru the issue so it felt like I was stuck with choosing to conform or rebel. Not a great set of options for a 17 year old really…

It was easy to choose conformity, but everything in me raged against it. This was a genuine opportunity to move into a whole new sphere of competition and this was ‘my moment’. I tussled with the decision, but don’t remember talking with anyone about it. I’m not sure if I had people in my life who would have enabled me to really think about it rather than just giving me the party line.

Then one Saturday evening while in the throes of my decision I went to the movies and watched Chariots of Fire, a movie I knew little about, but that left a mark like no other. For a kid trying to make a decision about what to do with Sunday sport it was like God had jumped into my world and given me a hero to champion the cause of faithfulness and self denial in the face of great temptation. When Liddell made his decision not to run in the heats of the 100m at the Paris Olympics just because they were on a Sunday I felt my question had been answered directly.

That night the decision was made not to accept the offer to join the Perry Lakes Hawks team (or whoever they were then) and to simply keep on playing church league basketball and going to church on Sunday. I remember feeling both peace and disappointment at the outcome. The boat I wanted to be on had sailed and I wasn’t on it… and I never would be. But I had put a stake in the ground in relation to faith and that was significant.

It was the right decision. But it was my decision made in that context at that point in my life. It was one of the first critical ‘discipleship’ calls I had to make as my faith matured and I still believe it was the right call.

That said I don’t know if I’d make the same call today, or if I’d insist on it for my kids. The line in the movie that carried great weight at that time was ‘He who honours me I will honour’, a verse from 1 Samuel that spoke to Liddell’s conscience decision to withdraw from the 100m. However in recent years as I have watched the movie the line that has impacted me is from the conversation between Liddell and his sister Jenny who is trying to convince him to give up running and become a missionary in China. In that encounter we hear him say:

“Jenny, God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast, and when I run I feel his pleasure.”

(I have written more about that in this post.)

If you know Liddell’s story then you’d be aware that he ran for a time, used his running as a platform for the gospel and then went on to be a missionary in China. He kept his bearings in Christ and managed to navigate the challenge of success, achievement and faith.

footy

In our 21st C church context where many are facing the challenge of how to raise kids in an increasingly secular culture the question of Sunday sport is more complicated than it may once have been. We recently had lunch with some good friends who are in the throes of trying to work this one out and the questions being grappled with are complex. There is no ‘correct’ ‘one size fits all’ solution to the question.

Perhaps it is as simple as stating that the gathering of the church community always takes precedence over whatever personal enjoyment I want to have? (Did your heckles go up as you read that statement? If so why?…)

And some parents will make that call. Some will make it and their kids may learn to hate church because it is then seen as the obstacle to their sporting enjoyment. We genuinely don’t want that as an outcome because that bad taste can linger for a long time.

But to ‘compromise’ and allow for no church in footy season or no church when surf club is on, does that communicate a message about priorities? I framed that as a question, but it should have been a statement. I think it does. Kids tend to think in black and white and the nuances of this post may be lost on them. It could simply say to them that ‘we value surf club more than church’ (and that may be true…) and that message will be embedded over a number of years too into the child’s psyche. So when they are adults the church community will be a choice they make if there is nothing else on.

With our friends we discussed briefly the idea of having an afternoon gathering to accomodate those with kids’ sport on Sunday morning, but it was quickly dismissed as ‘please don’t organise the church around us’. True. It would be doing that… Perhaps if it was all pervasive we may consider this, as I know of at least one church in Perth who have consciously made this choice. But that then makes Sunday a very busy day for everyone with sport in the morning and church in the afternoon… farewell to any rest that may have been possible. And how many would actually turn up?

I know some folks will let their child play sport on a Sunday morning so long as they attend a church service somewhere later in the day, but I think that is missing the point again. I don’t want my kids to lob in with someone other than their own church community just to tick a box. Church then becomes a religious observance rather than the gathering of God’s people.

Perhaps one of the emerging issues in this current context is that of ‘child worship’, where the needs and wants of our children are placed front and central to our lives. This is also known as idolatry – but its acceptable idolatry and for that reason becomes a blind spot for many. As a result some parents become unwilling to say ‘no’ to a child’s wants and this then becomes the shaping motif for the family’s life.

Some may argue that Sunday sport is a mission opportunity… and maybe it is… but I honestly haven’t come across too many who have taken this approach. My hunch is that rationale gets used to defend a sometimes awkward decision. I’d rather people just articulate the challenge of the situation than hide behind a convenient excuse.

So what is my answer?…

Is it ‘he who honours me I will honour’ or ‘when I run I feel his pleasure’? If it were simple then you wouldn’t have read this far.

Currently I don’t have kids wanting to play Sunday sport, but if I did I think it would involve a lot of conversations around the place of the Christian community in our lives as well as helping them work thru processes of discernment to listen to God themselves, however my kids are teenagers and fairly capable of reasonable thought. I imagine that while there was an open and frequent conversation around the challenges of discipleship in this culture I would be willing to negotiate on the outcome. I will always lean heavily in the direction of choosing Christian community (note: not the Sunday event) over and above other pursuits, partly as a theological conviction but also because it has been part of my heritage and shaping, so I see the world that way.

If your kids are small and not at a point where they should be given decision making responsibility then it comes back to you and what you want to communicate to them. On one hand the church as a ‘binding restricting force’ may leave a negative mark while on the other a simple ‘surf club is more important than church’ statement will leave a different mark.

I’d love to hear the reflections and thinking of those who are also grappling with this question because I don’t think it is one that presents with easy answers, so if you are willing to offer your thoughts and insights then please do so in the comments. As a parent my greatest hope is that my kids will own their faith and live lives of strong discipleship and my concern is to provide the soil into which their roots can go down deep and I’m sure that is yours too so perhaps the thoughts of others on the same journey may help you – or your thoughts may help them.

And no – its not ‘the final word’ as the title suggests, but it does make for a more provocative lead in!