First Get the Idea

When someone has been doing the same thing for over 40 years then chances are they have worked out what it takes to be successful and to get results.

Or perhaps… they are still committed to the process of ongoing learning and development, hoping to discover better ways to do what they have always done.

These are very different states of being. One says ‘I have nothing new to learn’, while the other is on a journey of continual growth and improvement.

kuhn

 

Last week Danelle came home from the basketball class she takes the kids to as part of their homeskooling and was telling me how impressed she was with the way the coach taught and invested in the kids.

The coach, a 69 year old by the name of Warren Kuhn, is a well known name in WA basketball circles, because he has been around for as long as I can remember (and I started playing at 12 years old). I don’t have a resume for all Warren has done, but I know he coached at the WA Institute of Sport, was assistant to the Wildcats and has coached at a high level in various places.

This week I had a day off on Wednesday so I tagged along to watch the kids as they did their basketball class. I had met Warren briefly around 25 years ago when he recruited a kid I was teaching for college basketball in the US, so I introduced myself and we got chatting.

What I discovered was that Kuhn has been on a mission of seeking to understand how we can produce better basketballers here in Australia. Essentially he was wanting to know why we always veered towards ‘average’ and ended up bringing in Americans to lift the standard. At 69 he is still as passionate as ever about coaching and about introducing young people to the game – but his approach has changed.

As I sat there watching I had my own personal lesson as Warren explained how his philosophy of coaching had changed in the last few years. He had travelled the world seeking to learn why some countries were producing excellent basketballers while others continued to be average.

It was several years ago in Spain he had his revelation that ‘ideas are to precede skills’. In an online interview I discovered he said

‘The most important aspect is that teaching ideas should precede teaching skills.  Skills are only worth anything when they make superior ideas work. This concept has not been widely accepted in West Australia yet, so many coaches are uncomfortable with the new style.’

So these days rather than starting with ‘how to do a jump shot’, he begins with the nature of the game, with giving the kids the big picture and the overall intent and allowing them to work out how to play within that. His approach to coaching on Wednesday was certainly somewhat unorthodox, but it showed his commitment to a new methodology that he believes will end up producing better results. Skills become a means to an end rather than end in themselves.

Its not surprising that many coaches in WA are uncomfortable with his new approach, because it lacks the systematic methodology of what has always been done. It is experimental and unproven – so it is a gamble.

How good to find a 69 year old who is still passionate, still learning and still willing to take a new tack if there is hope of better outcomes. In the interview Kuhn mentions that he has run up against the inherently conservative nature of the established sporting organisation as he has charted his own course, based on his personal convictions and discoveries.

Will his outcomes be better? Will he shift the primary coaching philosophies of basketball in WA? Maybe… maybe he will discover what no one else would ever find because he had the courage to sail off in a different direction and look in a different place.

Whatever you are doing, there are parallels. You can keep rolling with the tested and true methods that produce average results, or you can allow your internal dissatisfaction with ‘average’ to keep driving you to discover new ways that may just reshape the future.

And the key in all this?

Passion. If you don’t care then you won’t bother. Kuhn cares. He cares very much about basketball and he exudes that in his conversation. I came home from that day having been evangelised into a new way of seeing sports coaching and reminded again that we need our pioneers, innovators and creative thinkers to keep leading us into the future.

Musing

If I go back 10-15 years in life and think about how I approached Christian leadership it was with energy for the role, the tasks and motivated by the big picture of what we could achieve. The people were somewhat incidental and I found I often viewed them according to what they brought to the cause.

 

The people I connected best with were the ones like me who were head down, bum up going, going, going and who could help us get where we were headed. Those who detracted from the cause I had no time for and similarly those of ‘neutral’ value.

 

I was captivated by what I was doing (emphasis on ‘I’), loved the role,  the tasks and the challenges and people were a means to that end.

 

Danelle and I have been considering an extended break from leadership in the following year, partly because we are a bit weary of the roles and tasks we find ourselves a part of, but what is interesting is that we don’t like the thought of a significant period away from the people we have been leading and grown to love.

 

It’s an inversion of where we were previously and another one of those things that snuck up on us. Both of us feel somewhat tired of the regular responsibilities that form Christian leadership in a local church and would like some time to refresh and renew. But we will miss the people… would never have thought that would happen 15 years ago.

 

We’re not sure what form a ‘sabbatical’ type of year will take bit we are currently praying and thinking about it.

 

Part of the challenge is that it’s not a ‘me’ question but a ‘we’ question. It has to work for all of us if it’s going to be worthwhile. As we discussed this the other night as a family Ellie asked me what I’d really like to do. I found myself a little caught off guard as I hadn’t really considered that… I had been considering what is possible or what may satisfy all of us, but not what I really want because I didn’t see that as even a possibility.

 

We finished up in some tense conversation as Sam adamantly stated he ‘wasn’t going anywhere ‘. He wanted to spend the whole year in Yanchep, not taking any holidays and doing well at his school work. Might need a paternity test I am thinking…

 

While it was a difficult conversation it was also a good one because we worked hard at discussing and negotiating as a family.  We explained to Sam that ‘no – we wouldn’t cancel all plans if he wasn’t keen… ‘ but we also want to go ‘together’  and enjoy time together. Once Ellie starts year 11 and returns to regular schooling we will be restricted for the next 4 years until Sam finished year 12, so this is the window of opportunity to clear the heads,  recharge the hearts and come back ready for another 5-7 years.

 

I’m not sure what will happen to this point and it feels like there is a fair bit of ‘work’ to be done before we can agree together what will be valuable. But I also think it will be a good process and important in shaping our kids understanding of decision making and listening to god.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living by The Well

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We are coming up for 24 years in Christian leadership this year. Almost half of my life I’ve been leading churches or Christian organizations of some sort or other. We started as we got married and apart from a few extended breaks we have been at it non stop for that time.

In the early years I would run like crazy, crashing my way thru whatever I found difficult and cleaning up the mess afterwards (or not). When it came to re-energising and living sustainably I didn’t really think about it. I was young, determined and tireless. But I was also like the sprinter with no form. Lots of body parts flailing wildly, but the actual forward movement was not that exciting.

As time went on and our marriage took some massive hits as a result of my workaholism I started to become quite disciplined with my re-charging. Regular sabbaths, a scheduled and fairly non negotiable day off during the week as well as time to go off in retreats formed the basis of my re-energising. This worked and got some sanity back in our lives but it was a discipline because I still felt compelled to change the world.

In this phase of life I seem to have changed tack yet again. The shift has been  more intuitive than intentional but as I was talking with friends the other day I found myself describing how we recharge these days like this: 

Rather than taking time out to go ‘back to the well’ we now seek to ‘live by the well’. 

We aim to live in such a way and at such a pace that we are close to the source of life and able to draw from him as needed. It inevitably means fewer ‘mountain top’ experiences but it also means fewer times of significant disconnection and wandering into unhealthy places.

When I say ‘living by the well’ I’m simply speaking of a way of approaching life that is more integrated and seamless, rather than segmented into work and rest. It’s not without its challenges because when life does get busy we don’t have strict schedules to protect us, but the reality is that we are much at better at managing our time and being careful with what we say yes to.

I think different approaches to sustainability work for different people – and may be appropriate for different stages of life – but I find where we live now and the way we allow life to flow together has helped us become more whole as people as well as allowing our leadership to be less driven and a whole lot more attractive.

I wish I’d known how to live a more integrated life at 30, but then I think I would have perceived me as lazy then…

Besides Everything Else

As our plane landed a couple of weeks ago I felt a tangible weight descend on me, a heaviness that wasn’t there while we were tripping around Bali. I couldn’t articulate it at first. I just attributed it to ‘going back to work’, to re-entering normality, but its been sitting there for a while now and I think I know what it is.

in 2 Corinthians 11 Paul is defending his apostleship and listing the various challenges he has endured as part of his calling. Then in verse 28 he changes tack from the outward afflictions to write:

28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?

I think that’s a bit of what I have been feeling. I guess its what every church leader feels – a deep, daily responsibility for the people we are called to lead, shepherd and equip.

As I woke yesterday morning and headed off to church I went dutifully as I just didn’t feel like it. I was weary, feeling like avoiding people and yet my ‘job’ meant I couldn’t skip it and have a quiet mope at home. And then I was scheduled to preach too… I was thinking ‘I really don’t want to do this today… or any more… for that matter…’

Then as we sat in church and sang some songs, gathered with the crew and re-entered the community I felt myself shedding some tears. Because it was good to be there. Really good. It was coming home. Being with the family. With the people I love, sharing in worship.

But therein is the struggle.

The ‘heaviness’ I felt descend when our plane hit the ground was the weight of responsibility. Paul calls it his ‘daily concern for all the churches’ and while we only lead one community I sense his emotion. When someone is weak we feel it. When someone screws up we feel it. Of course when someone has a win we feel it too and that is wonderful.

But… there’s no avoiding the weight of responsibility and concern that goes with leading a community. Its a completely intangible thing, but I believe its the most important thing Danelle and I do as part of our role. We care. We think about the community. We notice stuff. We attend to things.

And I know everyone does that to some degree. But for those of us who are called to the roles of leaders and shepherds the bar gets raised – and I don’t mean by the expectations of others, or because we are paid – but simply because this is where our heart is aligned.

Its a good thing.

Its a good thing to feel that weight of concern, but lately its felt heavier than usual. There isn’t much going on that is particularly draining, so I wonder if its a cumulative thing? If 5 years of leading has worn us down a bit?

We have been discussing the option of taking 6-12 months off next year and re-energising. A sabbatical of sorts, but we’re not sure what form it will take. For now we carry on and we do what we do knowing that some months are ‘heavier’ than others and that these things come and go.

So this isn’t a whinge or a cry for attention. I’m not seeking sympathy or answers. Its just an observation that leadership in Christian community at times carries an intangible weight. We are blessed and privileged to do what we do, and I can’t imagine a life where I don’t lead a church community, but we may be moving towards taking a deep breath and a long drink.

 

 

 

 

 

Multiplying Effect

ripple_effectOn December 17th we headed off to Bali for what was a mixture of family holiday and church trip connecting with the various orphanages we support.

On the Sunday before we left an older couple in church gave each of our kids $50.00 each. But they gave it to them to give away as they saw fit. They asked them to watch and pray and see what God was doing and to use the money for whatever they felt was appropriate.

I was inspired by their creative initiative. They didn’t just give $100 to someone – they gave our kids the opportunity to reflect, to pray and to manage money wisely. They helped someone out, but they also helped form spiritual awareness in younger people in their community.

As you can imagine it created some interesting conversations and discussions about what would be the best use of the money. And surprisingly, in a country where there is no shortage of poverty, it wasn’t a straightforward decision as to where to give the money.

We spoke with them about discerning need, about wise giving, about how God may be speaking.  It was a valuable exercise in many ways and in the end a need arose that both kids felt was suitable and the $100 was given to one person – a month’s wages for her and a massive help to her family.

The point though is that the choice by this older couple to creatively use their funds meant that they actually achieved far more than they would have just by giving the money to a fund.

Someone in need got the money, our kids got to work thru the process, we got to disciple them in that and of course you are reading about it now and thinking ‘we could do that…’

 

 

Holiday Reading

So here’s what I have been reading over January… In this order

revival

 

 

 

 

 

My mate Stu recommended this one. A fair read, but didn’t go where I thought it might. Not much to say about this one.

best

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This bloke was a legend when I was a kid and I thought it would be interesting to hear about his life. It was well written, but did tend to put George on a pedestal. While it acknowledged his flaws you never felt like there was much of a critique of his life – more of an explanation. I enjoyed it, but more for the nostaglia than the balanced treatment of the subject.

george

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Same subject but this time written from the point of view of his sister. I thought it would be interesting to hear a ‘non-professional’ perspective on Best. It was ok, but definitely read like the lament of a sister.

gush

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When a leading evangelical ethicist changes his mind on how he sees homosexuality then its worth a read. This is a short and very readable book and a good intro the issue. I didn’t find it convincing on its own, but it did cause me to begin re-thinking.

Unlearning_Concepts_bs2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I thought another biography would be good and given I was planning on launching into some weighty subject matter I figured this would be worth a read. And it was. Its quite explicit in parts so be aware of that, but I think that actually allows you to feel some of the pain. I appreciated an insider story of life as a gay Christian man and the struggle that accompanies that situation.

brownson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This one’s been recommended a few times and with good reason. Its a strong case for a revisionist view of homosexuality. I didn’t find it the easiest book to follow, but I thought Brownson made some good points and he has pushed my thinking some more.

gagnon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This one was a ‘two views’ type of book – one for and one against. I didn’t find Via’s arguments very strong at all, and Gagnon was much stronger albeit dry and boring as hell.

So that’s my holiday reading…

 

The Ongoing Crucifixion of Rob Bell

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I read once that when it comes to issues of faith some folks are ‘pioneers’ and others are ‘settlers’. Some will venture out into new territory theologically and practically, while others are better equipped to protect what is established and to work within what is known.

Rob Bell seems to be a pioneer and one who finds life in places where others where find fear. So for this he gets crucified.

He wrote a book about Hell. He questioned traditional teachings and while he didn’t appear to come down on any one view conclusively he allowed for the possibility of something other than eternal conscious damnation and perhaps what was more disturbing he encouraged people to think about the issue.

Naughty.

He stopped leading his megachurch without a concrete plan of ‘what next’ and he now doesn’t ‘attend’ church in the regular manner. Plenty of us have been there and know that this does not mean we have ‘ditched church’. We have just changed expressions.

But because he was such a high profile figure his choice to move away from the conventional has repercussions and he should be punished.

Then he came out in favour of same sex marriage and gay relationships… But we all knew he was going to do that because he had jumped onto the slippery slope and this was where it leads.

It was strike three for Bell, and rather than respect his theological judgement on this, while choosing to hold different views, this became a point of agreement for those hoping for his downfall. (And it seems plenty were hoping for it.) There was now definitely a common enemy to rally against.

And now we hear he is doing business with Ophrah…

He has his own show – on TV – talking about God. Oh dear. Its come to this. If he hadn’t lost his way before, then now he has completely sold out. He’s hopped in bed with the goddess of relativity and has lost his bearings completely.

Or… maybe as a pioneer he is strong enough to enter territory where the settlers feel at sea? Maybe he is able to move into uncharted territory without a map but with a north point to hold him? We value missionaries who go to unreached people groups, so why not a  culturally capable and theologically astute missionary who has gone into territory very few Christians would ever get invited into.

From discussions with missionaries to unreached people groups in other cultures I know they use methods to communicate the gospel that they do not disclose when they come home because your average evangelical wouldn’t understand and it wouldn’t be worth the hassle because then we would marginalise them as well. So maybe Rob Bell is just bold enough to do his thing in full view. Maybe he has nothing to hide?… Maybe we can’t understand what we see, so its easier to kick him out of the tribe than to trust that God might work in a different way thru this gifted individual.

Perhaps its just plain jealousy?

As I listen to Bell speak I don’t hear him ditching Jesus, but nor do I hear him towing the party line. He often speaks in metaphors and images so he doesn’t please the gatekeepers who would prefer he use more familiar and definable language. In his language there is room for people to imagine and to think, and possibly think wrong things. But given that many do not want to think on these issues or listen to the voices of most preachers perhaps he is tilling the ground to speak of Jesus in a compelling way – as he can do – at a later point.

Then again maybe he is just a heretic and we should stone him to death for daring to be famous, successful, engaging and then to change tack – to walk away from the tangible expressions of a faith that is clearly working and to undermine the credibility of his own creation. Because that is hard to explain…

I understand that some people who were fans of Bell in his original more familiar incarnation may feel a little ripped off now. He was once the person who could say so well what many of us struggled to communicate. He had a way with words and media and theology that was uncanny… and now he is no longer saying the things we would like him to.

Maybe we can get off this guy’s back and trust that God can work in him and through him in ways that many of us would not be capable of.

Perhaps… just perhaps Bell has lost his way and drifted unconsciously into territory that is clearly incorrect and blatantly in opposition to the call of Christ. But perhaps rather than a good ole evangelical lynching, maybe this is the time to get alongside him and help him find his way back.

We do love a lynching though don’t we?…

From the Darkness – a Gem

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On Saturday night I watched Calvary, a movie I’d been waiting to see for some time. I’d heard good reviews both of content and of the cinematography of Western Ireland. Its not a great idea to watch a movie when you’re weary because you miss so much – and I sensed that was happening as I faded in and out and struggled to stay with the story.

The narrative is pretty dark. Set in a small Sligo town where the people live unusually immoral and depraved lives, Father James Lavelle is their parish priest and while dealing with his own messy life (deceased wife, suicidal daughter, struggle with alcohol), he tries to remain true to his calling of helping them do the right thing. Its a tough gig and he doesn’t get much encouragement from those he is called to serve in fact they taunt him and sometimes despise him – or at least the institution he stands for.

Perhaps its a reflection of the place of institutionalised ‘Christianity‘ in this secular world?

The movie opens with a confessional scene where the man doing the confessing tells of being repeatedly raped as a boy by his priest. The priest is now dead, but the man has decided that someone must pay for the crimes and for that reason he is going to kill a good priest. He lets Lavelle know he has 7 days to live and then he will meet him on a beach and shoot him.

So the film has a ‘passion’ type flavour as we count down the days, but is laden with despair as we see Lavelle do the rounds of his parish, both struggling with how to escape his fate, yet also trying to help his people.

There is a lot of murky grey in this film – Lavelle is both a Christ figure but also a visibly broken and flawed man – and while its cast as a black comedy it is definitely more dark than comedic.

One of the shining moments is when he is called to give the last rites to a man who has been seriously hurt in a car accident. The French tourist is in hospital on life support with his wife by his side as a result of a head on collision with 4 local young people all intoxicated.

Its a tragedy and Lavelle enters to console the wife and farewell the husband. He administers the last rites and then speaks with the wife acknowledging that its usually older people he does this sacrament with and in the case of younger people it is seen as very unfair.

Speaking of people who encounter tragic loss Lavelle says: ‘They curse God. They curse their fellow man. They lose their faith in some cases’.

The wife looks at him quizzically: ‘They lose their faith? It must not have been much of a faith to begin with if it is so easy for them to lose it’

Lavelle replies: ‘What is faith for most people? Its the fear of death. Nothing more than that. If that’s all it is its very easy to lose.’

The conversation continues…

Lavelle: “He was a good man, your husband?”

Teresa: “Yes. He was a good man. We had a very good life together. We loved each other very much. And now… he has gone. And that is not unfair. That is just what happened. But many people don’t live good lives. They don’t feel love. That is why it’s unfair. I feel sorry for them.”

So there’s a perspective changer. In the midst of a dark, cynical story that focuses primarily on the failure of faith, there is someone who is able to see things differently. There is a person of faith who can see differently and remain true when others have given up or when the opportunity is there to walk away.

Teresa questions the integrity of a self serving faith and the way we so easily ascribe the evil in our world to God. She strongly and gently offers a different perspective and in that moment there is a light in the darkness.

 

 

 

When You Suck at Being a Christian

building-a-wall

In church we have been working our way thru the book of Nehemiah and chances are if I asked you what its about you’d say what everyone says; ‘a bunch of people building a wall.’

If like me you have always read it to ch 6 or 7 and then shut the book because the lists of names that follow bore you to tears, then chances are you missed out on the utterly disturbing contents of ch 13.

You see Nehemiah and crew build the wall, get it all done despite serious opposition and then when its finished the people gather to hear Ezra read the law and teach. They weep and mourn for the way their lives have been so far from the mark. There is genuine sorrow.

In ch 9 there is a long prayer that begins with worship, confession and repentance and then moves into recounting God’s faithfulness over many years as they have cycled through periods of rebellion, disobedience and punishment, before being rescued by God and then choosing to live in alignment with him again.

In their prayer they describe this cycle several times over before saying ‘NO MORE!  NEVER AGAIN!’

And they then recommit themselves:

  • not to marry foreign women
  • to keep the Sabbath
  • to honour the jubilee year every seven years
  • to keep the temple holy
  • pay first fruits offerings and a bunch of other laws.

Essentially they say we want to do life right again. We want to realign with what you have called us to.

So I’m guessing they get rolling with the new plan, but in Ch 13 we read of Nehemiah going back to his job with the king for a couple of years before returning to Jerusalem to check in on how things are going.

And they are ugly… butt ugly!

In ‘The Message’ Petersen describes the situation well and captures Nehemiah’s rage as essentially the people have lost their way (yet again) and completely gone against everything they said they would do.

How does that happen?…

This is not an encouraging chapter for those of us who lead Christian communities… seriously… As I read this i begin to lose hope. It seems to be saying that despite what we may think of our ability to be faithful, communities cycle through periods of commitment, blessing, rebellion, before finally reaching such a low ebb that return again to God. I’m not sure how this works in an individualistic culture – and I’m not sure it does at all. But for these folks they seem to be caught in a cycle and despite their best intentions they can’t get out.

What I observe is that sometimes people get to the ‘rebellion/disobedience’ stage and this is where they can lose their way. After a few cycles of this you begin to think ‘hey I suck at ‘Christianity.’ I should just give it away and do something I am better at…’ I wonder how many people eventually give up because they just can’t ‘cut it’.

So there are a few ways we can go at this point – either we give up because we can’t do it, or maybe we try harder… or… maybe this is where we get the point.

Maybe this is where we encounter God’s love, grace and forgiveness and get energised in a different way to keep going. If its just down to me steeling myself and white knuckling my way back into it then the game is over. Because sooner or later I fail yet again.

But if we can encounter God at this point and experience grace and forgiveness then maybe we get re-wired away from our best efforts and back into responding to him from love.

Every time we fail we move in a direction according to how we respond. Some – driven by the desire to ‘get it right’ move further out of the orbit of grace, while those who accept their brokenness and God’s healing move further into experiencing the life he has for them.

That’s not to say getting our lives on track isn’t important, but it is to say that if we think its down to our grit and grind then we are probably going to kiss the faith game goodbye because we will certainly suck at it…

Sam The Legend…

Power of Words

Last week Sam received a letter from the nice people in a school writing competition ‘Write4fun’, advising him has been selected for publication in their upcoming book! He was so excited he could hardly speak. This book is available to friends and family at a cost of JUST $68.00!! That’s right just $68.00!! Apparently a saving of over $40.00!! I couldn’t resist the opportunity to write back to them… Seriously – what a dodgy lame money making scam…

Dear Julia

I am writing in regards to the very generous offer you have made to my son regarding the publishing of his work in your book The Text Generation.

As Sam is 11 years old I will be acting as his agent/manager with regards to any matters concerning his writing.

Sam is happy for you to publish his work but he will charge $3999 + GST for this first piece of work. If you would like to use more than one piece of work by Sam or if subsequent stories/poems are suitable for publication then these will be chargeable at the rate of $2999.00 + GST. Sam is excited that you have found his work of publishable quality and we do not want to undervalue his achievement here. (Please note this is a saving of over $1000.00 on what Sam would normally charge to be published in a lesser known work.)

With regard to The Text Generation and any subsequent publications, could you please advise as to how you structure future royalties and the manner in which these will be paid (amount and frequency) We happy to negotiate an appropriate rate commensurate with market standards. Given the cost of the book we expect there will be some great benefits here.

Sam may be available for book signings and personal appearances in book stores depending on his school commitments and the size of the surf / direction of prevailing winds. While Sam is willing to sign books at no cost his appearance fee would be $7000.00 + GST for each in store visit. I’m sure you will see this as value for money in the promotion of your work.

I note you have given the option of a photo/dedication to be located alongside the story, but at an additional cost of $27.00. It is our policy not to release photos of Sam for less than $2000.00+ GST per image. If you would like yourself to be included in the photo then we can do this also at an additional cost ($1350.00 + GST/additional person)

Please let us know how you wish to proceed and I will then forward our bank details so you can make payment for the options that best suit.

Yours in anticipation

Andrew Hamilton

(Surfer Sam Publications)