Books and Movies – Quick Reviews

Ok some quick reviews of what I’ve been reading and watching when I haven’t been fixing stuff…

Books

Apehouse by Sara Gruen – Mmmmm… Not terrible but barely inspiring. The story of bonobo chimps who learn to communicate with humans and then get stolen and used in a reality TV show… Skip it I suggest…

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand –  the biography of Louie Zemperini – a pretty inspiring and gritty story of a runner, soldier, POW, alcoholic and Jesus follower. Worth a read – easy reading but pretty gut wrenching at times and perhaps a bit drawn out in places.

The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo – a crime thriller and I’ve forgotten the storyline already… I enjoy Nesbo and his Harry Hole character, but find his stories a bit complicated to follow at times.

Nemesis by Jo Nesbo – as above, but a bit harder to follow the story… I actually enjoy the diversion these books bring, but they are far from top shelf.

The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul by Deborah Rodrigeuz – pretty easy reading, I’m half way thru and enjoying the less complex storyline after Nesbo.

Movies

Selma – a bit disappointing. I had hoped for more, but it lacked some of the punch and inspiration I was thinking would be there. 5/10

Wild – one woman’s personal journey both physically as she treks a long trail in the USA and as she seeks to deal with her demons following her mums death and her subsequent melt down. It was engaging but the moral didn’t resonate with me at all. It seemed that the message of the film was that all the crap and messed up stuff we do in our lives isn’t actually negative, but it’s what shapes us into who we are. Hmmm… Maybe but perhaps we’d be better off not getting into dodgy stuff in the first place?… 5/10

71 – wow this one took me back. Set on the streets of Belfast in 1971, a British soldier gets left behind by his platoon in the middle of the battle zone. The complexity and messiness of the situation makes his recovery difficult. This is a gritty movie that can be brutal in places – but then that makes it all the more real. 8/10

 

Home Handyman Holidays

The down side of taking off with a van that is an unknown quantity is that you aren’t too sure quite what works and what doesn’t.

So I’vimagee been amateur caravan repair man for most of this trip as I’ve discovered what does and doesn’t work, or what did work when we left but has since come unstuck!

First there was the smelly toilet incident… where we discovered that wee was leaking into the compartments below. Ech… After a couple of false starts thinking it was just the toilet overflowing (and where I spent a lot of time cleaning), I discovered it was the seal that had gone and the local caravan guy had one in stock so I attempted a fix. All good now and $200 saved.

Then there was the exterior light that wouldn’t work so I was about to replace it. I found one of the right size, but in the fiddling with it trying to get it off it started working again. Loose connection?… It works fine now so I didn’t buy the new one.

Then we arrived at our site to discover water leaking out of our main water input. Weird… It meant that when in 12v power the water pump would kick in for a second or two every few minutes to replenish what was being lost. Annoying…. Eventually I traced it back to a leaking non return valve by the water pump. So my knowledge of solenoids suggested it may need a bit of jiggling – technical term I know…Again a bit of fiddling – opening and shutting it – sorted it out – for now at least. It may need replacing in the future but one less issue for now.

Then… Yep more…

Danelle announced one morning that ‘this piece of metal just came off in my hand’… as they do… It was the handle to a small ‘scupper’ roof vent. It was a piece of cast aluminum that had cracked and the caravan guy wanted over $200 to replace the whole vent. Fortunately I had my cordless drill and was able to duck down to Repco to pick up some suitable fixings to repair it. I don’t think we will need a replacement as this has got it sorted.

This caravan came with a slide out bbq – which was really useful until the gas burner stopped working. I don’t know how these things work and the screw holding it together had been damaged so I ended up drilling it out and disassembling it. Once I cleaned out the crap it flamed up beautifully.

And then there was the planned and intended repair of the kitchen wall. The previous owner had taped up a vent only to discover when he pulled it off that the material around it wasn’t laminate after all… So it left an ugly mess and I managed to get the van cheaper because of it. One morning in Broome while the kids were schooling I spent the time painting over the mess and now it looks great – better than the rest of the van in fact!

There was the faulty 12v outlets which turned out to be a blown fuse caused by a dodgy 12v appliance. The fuse looked intact so I spent an hour tracing wires only to go back to my starting point.

The upside is that I know the van pretty well now and reckon I can fix most stuff that goes wrong.

The car has run really well, except when punching into the wind but as we left Broome we discovered the air line to the Poly air bags had come loose and the bag had been squashed between the springs. I removed the wheel and reattached the line while getting mauled by sandflies out at Port Smith. After pumping it up I discovered it had a slow leak so once we got to Exmouth I pulled it all down and immersed it in water. It turned out the leak was a dodgy connection right at the nipple. That was a relief as the air bags have really helped balance the load on the old girl.

I’m not sure if it’s Jayco quality control that is the issue or just that it’s an 8 year old van, but I do seem to have done a lot of fix-ups while away. Either way it’s all good until the next problem :)

Random Travel Thoughts

Last year as we travelled Ireland and Spain I found myself missing the regular trek north and the wonderful ruggedness of the country up here. So we have come back to enjoy it yet again.

 

Our first week was spent with our good friends the Wesleys in Exmouth, staying at the Exmouth Caravan Park in town. Its always a challenge to know where to stay in Exmouth. Town is convenient but busy, while the other campsites out of town are cheaper and more remote, but a bugger if you forget the milk…

 

We spent the first week surfing, fishing and hanging with friends, but I find caravan parks hard when you are packed in tight and there is a lot of noise. Still, it was a good week and then we began the trek further north. Originally we spoke of the possibility of Darwin and even coming back thru the middle, but with a realistic top speed of 100ks/hr and a more regular speed of 90 the driving felt slow and we quickly ditched that idea.

 

As the rain fell we drove out of Exmouth with the plan of simply driving until we saw blue sky. Our first stop was a freebie overnight at Robe River – we drove a fair way in and tucked ourselves away at the back of the ‘main drag’. What was a quiet night turned very windy around 4am and ended up being noisy as the bed ends I had simply draped over the tent section of the van, flapped around. It was nice to be back in the more remote camping – even if there were 50 other vans of grey nomads.

 

We stopped in at Karratha for supplies and then cruised thru to Point Samson where we booked in at the Cove Caravan Park – really nice and good value for a family ($51.00). We fished a bit, chilled and read and enjoyed some walks on the beach. Two nights was plenty and the kids wanted to get thru to Broome before the school holidays ended and they had to get back into the school-work.

 

We went from here to Hedland for lunch and a refuel and then decided to drive until we had had enough. That happened about 20km past Sandfire in a small gravel carpark where we pulled up for the night. Aside from the occasional car passing, it was beautifully silent and the night sky was spectacular. We got there just before dusk and got set up. It had been hard driving as we were smashing into a strong easterly headwind the whole way and the old cruiser was struggling to stay at 80kph. I did flog it in 3rd gear for a while doing 2700 revs but the fuel economy went from 18/100 to 25/100 and we didn’t gain that much.

 

That section made me rethink my car. Maybe we need a more grunty beast for future trips?… That said, when you only tow a caravan a few times a year and rarely for these distances it may not be justified. It lurks as a possibility… But my preferred option is to wait until Ellie gets her license and then pass it on to her as a daily driver. I can then get a late market dual cab. Danelle thinks the car won’t suit a 17 year old P Plate girl, but I think its just the sort of thing to unnerve any blokes who may be after her!

 

From the roadside stop we cruised into Broome, looking forward to warm days and light winds. We pulled into the Seventh Day Adventist overflow park, where we had stayed 3 years previous. We had really fond memories of that trip, partly from the friends we made, but also because it was such a fun time.

 

This week in Broome felt a bit ‘meh’. I hadn’t realised we were in the dodgy part of town last time, but on this occasion we noticed it. The first night we heard music pounding thru the suburb and we figured it must have been a pub or outdoor concert. (Its that time of year right?…) The next night (a Saturday) it happened again and kept going until 5am. It would fade away and the suddenly pump again. I began to think it wasn’t a concert… On Sunday night I went looking for the source and found a rundown house 4 streets away with a few blokes on the patio. It didn’t look like a place you’d go and say ‘hey – can you dial it down a bit’, so I rang the cops who shut it down pretty fast. This happened on another couple of occasions and in the end we left a few days earlier than planned as it became annoying.

 

In Broome the kids were back at school so morning were spent in the library with afternoons for fishing or beaching. Its still hard to beat a Broome sunset and we enjoyed a few of them on Cable. While there I met up with a bloke off the 60 Series Facebook Forum – that felt odd – he initiated it and was a really nice bloke, but it did seem a little weird to be meeting someone on the basis of a shared vehicle interest!

 

While in the van park I also met a bloke called Kevin, who was clearly a person of faith (from the signs on his van) and a man with quite a story. He is an itinerant evangelist, living on the smell of an oily rag and traveling where the wind and spirit take him and his wife. We chatted for a bit and it was good to make a connection as I was needing some human contact outside of the family.

 

We drove out of Broome with the intention of heading to Port Smith. We had heard it was a beautiful place and although there were some sandflies it would be worth the visit. At the turn off from the highway we stopped to get something out of the boot and discovered the airhose to the Poly airs had come loose which meant we were dragging the bag end somewhat. We drove the 20ks into the caravan park and set up – discovering quickly that we were being mauled by sandflies.

 

Danelle and kids took refuge in the van while I took the wheel off the car and tried to fix the airbag. It seemed fixed so we went for a drive down to the beach where there didn’t seem to be such a high population of midgies. On return I dscoverd the airbag had a leak so it was going to need some more attention. Not until we hit Exmouth again though… Four days later I am still scratching around 60 sandlfy bites and wishing we had never turned in!

 

We had hoped to spend two nights in Port Smith, but after 15 minutes we revised that to one and got moving early that morning bound for De Grey River about 90 ks north of Hedland. Now we had a strong tailwind and the old girl was sitting easily on 95-100 and doing 16/100 which was much nicer. We pulled in at DeGrey and enjoyed a beautiful peaceful night there. From DeGrey it was back to Robe as our final stop before tracking back to Exmouth. By now we are very good at the set up and pack up routine and having two teenagers makes the process fast and easy. Each time we stop at a remote spot Danelle and I come alive, but we need to balance that with the kids who wonder ‘what we are going to do?’

 

We left Robe and trundled on thru to Exmouth again where the sun was shining and the surf was flat. Bummer…

 

We pulled back into the same van park for 5 nights and now that’s its not school holidays the crazy factor has gone. Its mostly grey nomads and travellers. We have noticed that since hitting the road we have heard virtually no British or South African accents! Not so many of that crew in the northwest. But plenty of Aussies and Euros on the road.

 

We managed to snaffle the final spot in the Caravan park – which seems kinda weird – but it really is that popular up here. We are here until Saturday, when we will head out to Cape Range and try to score a national park site for a few days. From there we will cruise slowly back home. While the weather at home is ugly there is no rush, as up here it is magic every day.

 

Once home Danelle and I take off to Koh Samui for a few days (Aug 12-16) and then we will hit the road again and head south. We’ll take the van and use it when we can, with some nights in chalets if its really cold and wet. Small confined spaces like caravans aren’t much fun in pouring rain.

 

So far the van is working out well and we think it’s a keeper for a few years at least, and while the car didn’t do so well into the wind I’m going to do some mods when I get home to give it some more grunt. A boost controller under the bonnet and some tinkering with the fuel ought to bring out the best in it.

 

Anyway – that’s a bit of a trip update for anyone who cares to read…

Getting Older & Getting On

If I had to give you my best family memory it would undoubtedly be the 6 months we spent travelling around Oz in 2009. We planned imagefor it a year ahead, got well set up and then enjoyed every minute. Even with some personal financial troubles back home, it still lingers as my fondest memory.

What it’s meant though is that every other trip has been measured alongside it – and it’s hard to stack up. Last year in Ireland was awesome and that is also a great memory, but interestingly I was missing the northern journey that had been part of our life for the last 5 years.

So as we planned this trip it was with an unconscious sense of wanting to replicate some of that enjoyment.

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But… Our kids are now 6 years older and much less inspired by the thought of 8 weeks away with mum and dad. Even before we left there were groans of ‘do we have to?…’

On the one hand I was stunned. ‘Yes! You do!… And you ought to be grateful you can!’ is my instinctive response. And on the other hand both Danelle and I remember a time when we no longer thought family holidays would be enjoyable, in fact I don’t remember going on a family holiday after the age of 13 and Danelle has memories of doing it grudgingly.

So it’s been a different experience thus far and there have already been plenty of moments where I have wanted to say ‘Stuff it – lets just go home,’ because grumpy children are about as much fun as hemorrhoids. We won’t be going home though as I think the challenge is to push thru it and figure out how we function now as a family.

Our first week in Exmouth was great, spent with the Wesley family, close friends from way back and good company for all of us, as well as having the cousins in town. So the kids had their fair share of connection – even they did manage to look on the dark side at times. Danelle was able to relax and I was able to surf. In the words of Darryl Kerrigan ‘everyone kicked a goal’.

But still the questions come… Where are we going next? What is there to do there? Who will be there? Answers like ‘a river’, ‘read’ and ‘hopefully no one’ don’t cut it. The kids would rather stay in van parks than free camp, and while we need to do a bit of that, we love the experience of being somewhere remote and isolated – even if those places are harder and harder to find.

We have had some conversations about what we all need on a holiday, but it gets hard to keep thinking of one another when it isn’t going your way. Sam has had the occasional bout of negativity about pretty much everything and Ellie just lets us know she is bored with a loud sigh.

Yes – I could play the dad card and read them the riot act, tell them to get a grip and realise how lucky they are… I could, but I don’t think that’s the answer. A big stick doesn’t result in a happy family – just a family that conforms – for a while.

I’m also aware that I am pretty selfish on holidays and want some of my own needs to be met – needs for silence and solitude and space -which are often at odds with the kids needs. And then there’s Danelle who really needs a good break and who needs to let go of a bit of anxiety. So far so good, but she has felt the strain too.

At first I was just pissed off that my holiday was being ruined by grumpy selfish kids who couldn’t see their own privilege, but I think reality is that we all just see the world a little differently depending on where we are. Who would have thought that in trying to provide them with a great time away I would be frustrating them?…

So the next 6 weeks are a time to figure out how we function better as a family and to agree that we will try to navigate these new waters of teenage years with grace and kindness towards one another, rather than just going our own way.

Next year the kids go back to school and we are forced back into school holiday routines for at least 5 years. I feel ill at the thought of it… But from here on I am guessing it will be holidays with friends in peak times and in busy places and my needs for solitude and quiet will be met in other ways.

My hope though, is that in 10 years time when the kids are adults, they will want to join us occasionally when we go on holidays – that they will like the thought of being around us and will feel able to come and go easily, but I imagine the likelihood of that happening will depend on how the next few years pan out.

Road Test – Jayco Expanda and HJ61 Cruiser

We hit the road just over a week ago for the start of two months leave.

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A couple of weeks prior we bought a new (to us) caravan which raised the anticipation levels a bit and also the anxiety levels a little as we wondered what we would discover about it as we travelled. Fortunately there have been no nasty surprises and only a few minor repairs needing doing.

 
On our trip round Oz in 2009 we often saw people with Jayco Expandas and envied their extra space and ease of set up & pack up. The thought of an onboard toilet and shower was also attractive so when I spotted this one on Gumtree one weekend it was hard to refuse with a long break coming up. It was $25k not neg and I ended up saying no… until a text message came asking if I’d buy it at $24k. So I did and then sold the generator for $500, making it a very good buy. I figured if we didn’t like it we could sell it when we come home and maybe even make a profit.
So far it’s been really good, although with two big kids who don’t sleep well together we have been creating a makeshift bed out of the dinette table each night to ensure everyone wakes up happy. We looked at bunks, but they are pretty squeezy and we figured we could make this work. The big win has been the hot water system that means we no longer have to boil the kettle to do the dishes or even wash hands. It’s also been good to have extra storage space, the roll out awning and larger seating.
The only real hiccup was with the toilet cassette… After a few days the toilet got smelly and I eventually discovered that the seal from toilet to waste cassette wasn’t sealing so wee was leaking thru… Blech… I had two clean ups to do before I worked this out as I initial thought it had just been overfilled. Google and Expanda forums helped me track the problem and fortunately Exmouth caravans had the part in stock and I was able to fit it. No more stray wee…
I imagine this van will do us for a few years until the kids move out or decide they no longer want to go camping… or hang with us… Right now we still get on fine, but they miss their friends and mum and dad might be nice people (in a nerdy kind of way) but they aren’t fun like friends would be.
The fuel economy has taken a hit going from 14/100 with the camper in tow up to between 16-18/100 depending on how I drive. Still – that’s pretty acceptable for a 1987 car I reckon. It’s like a brick on wheels towing a block of flats!
The cruiser sits on 90-100 pretty easily but driving into the wind yesterday it struggled to stay above 80. I could have flogged it to get to 90, but I imagine it would have slurped the diesel. 80 is slow…

What I did notice is that my air con has been losing coldness in longer drives. It starts off cold and then becomes ‘cool’ after an hour or so. The evaporator under the dash seems to be icing up, but I’m not sure of the fix and I’m reluctant to give it to someone up here who may not know either. I rarely drive for longer than an hour these days so I hadn’t spotted it around town. But it’s definitely going to need attention when we get home. If we had another 6 months of hot weather I’d be a bit more concerned but I can ride this out.
We replaced the cruiser battery yesterday after a near miss with a toilet stop. We left Exmouth in the rain on Sunday and stopped on the North West coastal highway for a break and left the lights on for 5 minutes. It only just cranked back over and after a couple of other near misses I figured a new battery was in order before we got caught out.

I guess the cruiser doesn’t tow like a late model car but she does pretty well and is good to drive.

I’ll make my judgement on the van at the end of the trip!

Anticipointment

July 2012 165

I think I invented a new word last night.

We have two months of holiday coming up in July and August and as of now haven’t been able to decide what to do with it. I normally find that half the fun of holidays is the anticipation and excitement that goes with them as you envisage what you will be doing. Last year when we went to Ireland we felt that growing sense of energy as the dates approached.

But this year its been all a bit frustrating. We can’t seem to agree on where to go and what to do. Its partly a product of having older kids who have different concerns and partly a result of having done a fair bit of travel already. For Ellie being away for two months means she doesn’t get to play netball, go to youth, or see her friends. Sam feels similarly. They no longer see us as cool people they love to hang out with either so two months with parents is a little bit of a drag. We have a good relationship, but that’s reality.

Our traditional mid year break has seen us heading north into red dirt and spinifex chasing some warmer weather and the sense of disconnection that comes with remoteness. But as the kids have got older this has become rather passe and a bit tired. If we had other teenagers their age come along then it might be more interesting, but 8 weeks with just mum and dad sounds like hard work.

I get that. I really do. I began reflecting back to my own teen years and realised we stopped having family holidays when I was about 13, probably because I didn’t want to go. I wanted to play sport, hang with friends and do other stuff that was home based. My parents didn’t push the point and so family holidays ended.

I have a bit of a different perspective in that I want us to do what we can to keep family holidays alive. I don’t think its impossible for us all to enjoy a break together, but we may need to adjust our expectations.

In the absence of friends, we realise our kids need some new activities to spark their energy. I can happily read a book by a river, but they don’t find joy in that kind of a holiday. Ireland was good because we were on the move, seeing new things and meeting new people, but those holidays are expensive… You can’t visit a new overseas venue every year…

So the last few months have been spent tossing around ideas and trying to reach a decision that works for all – that brings a sense of anticipation, but also is doable within the budget.

We have 3 weeks before we hit the road. A week in Exmouth is already booked so that’s going to happen.

After that?…

We’ll see…

 

Worth a Fight?

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Recently my old mate Scott posted this image on his Facebook page and took some heat for it. We had coffee that afternoon and he mentioned to me that he hadn’t seen the words at the top of the image, just the sentiment on the bottom. Maybe he did lose some friends over it. Certainly the comments on his post suggested his views weren’t welcome and a pastor he should know better.

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Then just last week another friend posted a link on Facebook to this article with the accompanying disclaimer ‘No I’m not a bigot’. It takes the other point of view and she also copped heat from people who declared her narrow minded.

It seems that whichever side of the debate around gay marriage you sit on, you risk losing friends. You have to face the reality that your point of view on this one issue is going to bring conflict and possibly even the end of a relationship.

What an unbelievably stupid response…

I want to say ‘Really?… Seriously?… You would dismiss me as a friend because on a non essential issue I read the Bible differently to you?’

This is another in a long line of boundary marker issues that seem to be used to decide who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’. In times gone by it was inerrancy, as certain people were demonised and harangued for refusing to subscribe to one particular view of scripture, or perhaps you encountered the same shunning over your views on creation, or women…

These are all issues that can still generate a little heat here in Oz, but let me change your perspective for a minute.

My aunt visited from Ireland a couple of years back and I asked her what was the pressing issue for the church in that part of the world. Do you know what she said?

‘Hats.’

Yep – hats… HATS!

People are fighting one another over whether they keep their heads covered in church… I was speechless, but managed to utter some completely insincere words of concern.

People are losing friends over hats… 

You probably find that sad and absurd. Bizarre even, but in another part of the world that is still more ‘christianised’ than Australia, this is a serious issue.

In 20 years time when the heat has gone out of this debate around gay marriage you will probably view it like you do creation, or inerrancy or gender. Its not that its a storm in a teacup. Its a real question that needs a thoughtful response. We do need to grapple with these issues as Christians, but we don’t need to lose friendships over them.

That is DUMB!

I get the clear sense we would be far more comfortable with a friend suggesting a non-divine Jesus, or many ways to God, than we would be with someone having a divergent view on gay marriage. We could more easily tolerate a compromise to our core convictions than we could someone holding the ‘wrong’ view on a hot topic.

Time to grow up a bit folks.

And – no – I haven’t presented my own view on this issue on here, because I’m not writing for that purpose. I’m more than happy to tell you what I think, but only if you promise not to ‘de-friend’ me…

If that’s too hard it might be time to get a grip of what Jesus said was really important

 

 

 

 

 

Living With Vikings

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This week I watched season 1 of Vikings, a pretty brutal TV series that follows the early Norse invaders of Britain and their way of life. I can’t vouch for the historical authenticity of the narrative, but I did see one element of the story that fascinated me and spoke to some of where I sense we are at today as Christians in this world.

In their first venture west the Vikings looted a monastery and killed almost all of the priests, with Ragnar saving one for his ‘slave’. He takes Athelstan back to his home where he lives with the family as a servant, while Ragnar milks him for more information on the lands to the west. This monk is forced to live as an exile among these violent, pagan people and slowly – very slowly his faith erodes as they accept him and he accepts them.

In time he finds himself so immersed in pagan culture that his previous identity suffocates. He eventually attends the once every nine years, temple visit, a pagan religious ceremony and an orgy of every kind culminating with sacrifice of both animals and humans.

Athelstan discovers he has been brought as the sacrifice, but as he is examined by the pagan priest to see if he has truly renounced Christ he stumbles. He is asked 3 times – ‘do you still follow Jesus?’ Each time he answers ‘no’, but on the final denial he is caught slyly rubbing his wrist and when his sleeve is pulled up a cross is revealed. He is not acceptable as a sacrifice.

It felt like a metaphor of the faith so often observed today. There has been a slow but observable seeping of pagan culture into the lives of western Christians. We have bought western paganism with its consumer Gods and hedonistic life, where new purchases and new experiences are the focus of worship. And in so doing we have lost sight of the call to die to self and follow with a cross…

But when push comes to shove, when life turns to custard, when we lose all hope and our new gods can’t bale us out, there is still a memory… maybe a distant memory of another way, a way that was once reassuring, that once rang true… and we may even be found ‘rubbing the cross’, praying or returning to church to try and recover what has been lost.

I’m still pondering the implications of this as they are disturbing…

Meanwhile for some fuller thoughts on a similar theme see Steve’s two most recent posts on the challenge of the world we live in here and here. Some brilliant thinking here and resonates with what I was feeling myself as I began to write this post.

 

Miss-cipleship?

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Its 9.30am and 15 of us stand around looking at each other wondering if maybe there’s been a secret ‘church boycott’ and other than the music team and paid staff everyone else is staying home today.

‘Church’ starts at 9.30, or so it says on our website.

When you lead a smaller church in 21st C Perth where attendances are now more sporadic than ever, you never quite know what to expect at that time of day. Some Sundays there is a ‘quorum’ – a sense of ‘enough people present to kick off’ and then other days, the sparsely filled room leaves you wondering if you actually should be doing something else too.

I was updating our database today and discovered that we have 90 adults who would call QBC home as well as 76 kids. I had no idea we had that many people in the community. ‘Calling a place home’ is my own way of determining who’s ‘in’ and who’s not – its basically self selecting in that it allows people to make their own declarations of allegiance.

But even then, what does it mean to call a place ‘home’?

Does it mean ‘Even though I’m only there every 2 months, its the only church I am part of so in that sense its home?…’ Or, does it mean ‘I belong here and I am committed to being with the family, to becoming like Christ with these people?’ I have used the normal curve to answer this question in the past, because it is about the only way I can come to grips with the anomaly of home being a place some ‘visit’ occasionally while others see it as a central point of life.

Of the 90 adults in our church, 31 would be considered ‘members’, (a Baptist way of defining who is allowed to vote on bigger decisions). Theoretically members are more committed to the community – they agree to give their hearts, time and cash to making the church community healthy, and generally that is the case. But not always… What do you do when ‘members’ don’t do what they have committed to?…

We don’t push membership, but we invite people into it when they show that they are ready and willing. The number ’31’ reflects the higher expectations and the diminishing number willing to take that route. Some would say we don’t ‘push’ membership hard enough, but seriously – if people need pushing to join up then we are getting off on the wrong foot and we should expect that to show up in trouble down the track.

Perhaps what is most perplexing to me in this scheme of things is the question of how we make disciples. Today I ran the numbers – for the first time in 6 years – yes really – I never count how many turn up as I really don’t care about that stat.

But I do care about the type of people we are becoming.  A more significant question would be ‘of the 166 people involved with QBC how many are on an intentional trajectory of faith development?’ How many would be pursuing the leading of God in their lives and seeking to align their lives with his kingdom?

The problem comes in that this is very difficult to measure. I guess its why we revert to bums on seats as our metric. Seth Godin has an excellent post on the topic of measurement here where he says:

Measurement is fabulous. Unless you’re busy measuring what’s easy to measure as opposed to what’s important.

So true.

We can count bums on seats every week and that will tell us one thing precisely. That one thing is exactly how many people were in the building that week. It does not say anything of the state of their lives, their reasons for being there or their reasons for not being there the following week. It is simply a ‘raw’ stat that we interpret through a familiar and common grid and in doing so we draw some conclusions which may or may not be accurate.

It leads me to seriously question the expression of church we run with. Are we hoping that somehow by attending, that those who have a ‘recreational’ faith will move to a stronger more substantial place of discipleship?

I’ve learnt over the years that church is a remarkably inconvenient form of community. Its probably more accurate to simply say that community itself is inconvenient. In the surf club or the sea rescue group, the expectations are also high, but unlike the surf club, footy club or other more rigorous groups, we rarely call our members to account when they fail to perform, because that would be considered ‘ungracious’ or ‘judgemental’. We just ‘understand’ them… life is indeed ‘very busy’… and people do have ‘good hearts’ after all…

I think at this point Jesus might just call ‘bullshit’. He might just point back to some angular and tactless comments about crosses and dying to self. He might ask ‘what was complicated about the sermon on the mount?’ Which part of ‘follow me’ still needs explaining?

So, are we wasting our time running Sunday services?

Maybe we are.

If the Sunday gathering is an end in itself – if it is considered ‘church’ – then its time to slice it up a thousand ways and say ‘NO!’ If Sundays genuinely contribute to our discipleship rather consumer-ship then we are travelling well. But too often I sense the distinction is tenuous and we may even be losing the battle.

The difficulty with writing a post like this is some folks will read it and feel guilty (maybe even appropriately guilty) and will decide to attend church more often… which would of course be missing the point entirely.  Its ironic that people will feel guilt over missing church, but can live in a state of continuous miss-cipleship for years on end with no qualms. What does it say of our spiritual formation processes and our primary message that people will see absence from church as more of a problem than absence of discipleship?

Feels like its time to rock the boat a little.

Shift Happens

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As last year ended and this one began I had been speaking with  Danelle, the kids and our church leadership about the need for a sabbatical – or at least 6 months off to take a breather from Christian leadership and the daily grind of running a business. I was feeling tired and in need of a break. We generally try to take a longer break every 5-7 years anyway, and as 2016 would be the 6th year at QBC that would be good timing.

However as this year kicked off I found myself in a place at church where I needed to exert a bit more leadership and spend time giving shape to our future. And what I noticed was that as I did this I started to gain energy again. The further this year went along the less I wanted to take a significant break in 2016, and I was finding that a bit perplexing.

It wasn’t just the complexity of re-organising schooling, business and pets for the time away. It was actually more that I wanted to stay. I wanted to stay more than I wanted to travel…Yeah I know… Weird. Over the last few months I’ve articulated this in some different spaces with friends and mentors and what I’ve come to realise is that I wasn’t tired – I was bored and the boredom was expressing itself in weariness. I had got to a place in church life and business where I was on auto-pilot and its not a place where I function well.

I’m beyond constantly chasing a new challenge, but for some time now I’ve felt some dis-ease in my life at its relative ease and comfort. Part of me has said ‘just be grateful and enjoy it’, because plenty of people would love to have my life, while another part grates and struggles with the absence of fresh focus and initiative that seems to generate new energy.

I’m much more careful these days about what I sign up for, so I’m not about to embark on an expansion plan for business, or a bold new initiative at church just because I’m bored. These are all double edged swords. Pick the wrong project and you can end up signed up for misery for a long time.

But it has alerted me to the fact that if I am to have some degree of longevity as a Christian leader then it will involve functioning primarily in the areas that I am gifted in – leadership, communication and mentoring. But more than that it will see me breaking new ground in some way and leading people to attempt what may well be unfamiliar. After some nasty conflict experiences, I think I backed off for a while on pursuing change initiatives because I just couldn’t be bothered with the aggro that may accompany it.

The problem that comes however is that when leading a church takes the form of ‘oiling the wheels’ I slowly begin to zone out mentally and more easily see the negatives of church life rather than the potential. I’d like to think I’m still careful to listen to what God is saying rather than just sating my need for a bit of an adrenalin hit, but I can’t live oiling the wheels.

Conversely Danelle is now in need of a break. It wasn’t so long ago she would regularly tell me how much she loved her life, but in the last 12 months its demands have left her exhausted. She hasn’t said those words for quite some time.

Homeschooling two high school kids is a full time job in anyone’s book and she is committed to doing an excellent job of it, so it takes a significant amount of time. Then she co-pastors with me and while she is only employed officially a day/week she does that simply in admin work, before meeting with people. And her gifting sees her most drawn to people who are struggling with life and require a lot of energy. This saps the emotional tank. Add running a home, overseeing a charity, being my bookkeeper and its easy to see why she needs a break.

She has had some stomach issues (irritable bowel) that she has been seeking a medical solution to, but recently the doc suggested the cause may actually be stress. This pushed a button in her as she allowed herself to accept that life was really pretty out of order and she actually wasn’t coping as she would like to.

So the end result of that is that the kids are going back to school next year – the home schooling adventure ends… They are quite looking forward to it, but I am pretty sure Ellie will come home after one week and ask if we can change back… Early starts, bus trips and homework might just take their toll. Danelle is also going to take at least 6 months off church work, thru to January if not not longer to get her bearings again.

And then we will take a longer holiday this year in lieue of not taking a sabbatical next year. Come July 4th we will hit the road north and be gone for two months. We’ll spend some of it in the north west where the batteries seem to get recharged so easily and also some of it overseas and down south. I have won a trip to Koh Samui in August so we will do that for a few days and then hopefully head to the south west before coming back in September in time for the new retic season to kick off.

That’s life for us – funny how shift happens.