The Default to Activism

Its like a nervous tic that kicks in when life feels too calm and sane… ‘I should be doing something BIG – starting something – firing something up – kicking big goals – setting BHAGs (do people still do that?) and it feels like a default setting that so easily gets tripped if I don’t consciously resist.

Its not that I’m against doing worthwhile things, but I am very much disturbed by my tendency to see these as ways of validating ministry work.

Think – ‘The more I do the better a pastor I am’ or ‘the bigger a project I take on the better a leader I must be’. We all know that’s a nonsense but its very much a part of our way of being as western Christian leaders.

As I read Petersen’s memoir I came across the story of his church in ‘building mode’, energised, focused and passionate, but then he went on to write about the malaise that followed this – the lethargy and lack of energy that seemed to pervade once the tangible tasks had been fulfilled.

In his struggle with this he sought advice from a mentor. The advice was to start another building project – because people need something tangible to keep them motivated. This advice floored him and he had a ‘lights on’ moment as he considered the type of disciples we are producing if we need to have a tangible project constantly on the go to cause them to feel alive and engaged in the work of God.

He describes it as the ingress of American culture into the life of the church – a not so subtle syncretism that earned the applause of many, but it also became a turning point for him in his understanding of ministry. He wrestled with the need to be busy for several years before realising that his best work was done when he had space to think, pray and listen. He could pastor better when he wasn’t busy – even if he still felt the urge to prove his worth by activity.

Its a tough line to walk because the choice to not be busy can devolve into ‘one more episode on Netflix’ rather than intentional space to pray and listen. Over the last 15 years I have managed to let go of busyness fairly well, but I haven’t always managed to live well in the new space. And at times I feel like it’d be easier just to ‘get cracking’ and start some things up – that way I can see what I’m doing and feel productive again.

However when I use the ‘space’ well and genuinely tune in to the voice of the spirit I find myself doing things that are useful

Consider the Possibilities

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back in February we went down to Busselton with the QBC crew to swim in the annual Jetty swim. As a family (well… Ellie, Sam and I) we started training mid December when we headed off on holidays, so by the time the event came around we could allI manage swimming a kilometre with no trouble.

On the day of the event there were no real nerves and even though the swell was up and the water cold we all got out bit done fairly easily. Sam and I swam the second leg for our teams and Ellie did the final leg. None of us set any records, but once it was finished we looked at the jetty differently.

Sam was the first to say it, ‘I reckon I could swim the whole thing dad…’.  As we chatted we realised we all felt we could probably do it – admittedly with a little more training.

If you had asked me prior to the weekend if I thought I would be able to swim out and around the jetty I probably would have laughed. It is 3.6kms – a fair swim by any stretch and well beyond me.

But having done one part of the swim and seen other people complete it, I think we all realised that it is quite achievable – if we were willing to give it a go – if we could get beyond the mental conditioning that had made us think it only for the elite.

It made me wonder how many challenges I fail to pursue because I have already written them off as too difficult, or how many opportunities I miss because I just can’t visualise myself getting there – because I have cast myself in a certain mould or because fear or laziness have taken hold of me.

Sometimes you just have to jump in, get started and then along the way discover that you are more capable than you realised. Of course it may not all go to plan, but that’s still a lot more fun than not even bothering.

So what’s the opportunity you are fudging on because you can’ see yourself pulling it off?…

… and our buildings shape us…

I was pondering church architecture today, partly as I observed the fairly bland ‘multi-purpose’ nature of all newer buildings and partly as I read Petersen’s ‘memoir, The Pastor’ and reflected on the way he and his congregation planned together the shape and form of their new church building.

Petersen and his crew saw their building as an extension of their identity and as a definite theological statement. Hence their building was less of a ‘community centre’ and more of a reflection of their identity in Christ. The building needed to be shaped by them rather than shaping them. After a less than inspiring meeting with an architect who offered them ‘colonial,, ‘neo-gothic’ or ‘contemporary’, they decided to work at developing their own design and what emerged was a building that was uniquely them and where they fitted perfectly. (The chapter is called Bezalel if you want to read it.)

I have given buildings very little thought in recent years and seen them as purely utilitarian. I have abhorred the thought of churches spending millions on a new worship centre because its ‘nicer to have our own stuff’. But Petersen has challenged me to consider the role of the building in spiritual formation.

The trend in recent years in church buildings has been away from dedicated religious buildings with steeples and stain glass windows etc, back towards ‘shared use facilities’ that the local community can use also. This isn’t a bad idea per se and it emanates from both a missional impulse (to ‘bless’ the community) and a desire to ‘demystify’ our spaces and make them more accessible to the average punter. That said I’m not sure if our ‘demystifying’ has been such a good idea as I can’t help but feel that when people turn up to a church they want it to feel like a ‘church’ and if there is nothing ‘spiritual’ then maybe we have shot ourselves in the foot.

Today I was pondering how our buildings and gathering spaces influence our communal identity and then our behaviour. ie how do we express our identity as a church as a result of being in these spaces?

By and large most newer church buildings (while ‘multi-purpose’ in intent) are still auditoriums that facilitate a concert type experience. There may be out-buildings (halls/meeting rooms etc) that the community can use, but the actual ‘worship auditorium’ is still a stage / audience scenario. If Petersen is correct – that our buildings make a theological statement – then this has to sit uneasily with us – no matter how we explain it away… When church becomes a concert / motivational talk to attend and consume we are always going to struggle to move into discipleship mode.

Its not that the older architecture got it right either. Enter any of those cathedrals and there was a clear clergy/laity divide at work, and a very Old Testament flavour to the undergirding theology. They were ‘holy’ places with sections where only the qualified could access. Hence the idea of ‘reverence’ was an issue we used to hear talked about in thee buildings. (‘Cathedral God’ doesn’t like noise on a Sunday morning)

Then there are those of us who meet in schools, community centres or hired spaces – and use dual purpose auditoriums. One day its a music classroom and the next its a space for worship.  One day its got the Reiki crew meeting in it, the next the Baptist church. Its a shell, where the contents change day to day. What impact does that have on the people meeting there?

We are one of those churches. The room we use also seems to be the place where stuff gets put when you run out of room elsewhere, so it is often cluttered and uninviting. I’m still wondering what kind of a theological statement it makes, but I can’t help but feeling it is less than conducive to encountering God. Our building seems to say ‘it doesn’t matter where we meet – but that we meet’. That’s somewhat true… but I think ‘where‘ does matter. I feel like the tone of the space influences our experiences and needs consideration. If I had my choice I would meet in a different space to the one we currently have because the ambience is too utilitarian and non-descript. We are neither a cathedral or a concert. We are beige and bland and I sense that affects our worship.

A common practice in church buildings recently has been to do a factory refurb. Buy a warehouse in an industrial area and deck it out as a space to gather. I’m not a big fan of this either. The economics may work, but it still feels odd to have a worship space wedged between the  carpet store and boat mechanic. These buildings are also somewhat removed from the communities of people who inhabit them. That may not be a big deal, but I kinda like the ‘corner deli’ church a bit more than the factory one. I’m sure it can work, but I imagine if given a choice those who have bought factories would far rather be in the middle of a suburb.

If we want to get a bit more back to basics then we could meet in homes around a meal a bit like those first Christians before Constantine came along with his government grants and ‘lotteries money’ to help us build our ‘sanctuaries’ (there’s an interesting word…) The theology of the house type space sits well with me, even if the practicalities can bring it unstuck. Houses limit the numbers of those who could attend – which can be a good thing… Personally I think optimal church size is under 50 – a ‘household’. However houses are very private spaces and may not feel accessible to all – or we may prefer some folks didn’t have access to our homes. Therein is a great wrestle for what it means to be ‘the church’. ‘Hospitality’ is nice idea, but a more difficult reality.

Theologically I sit most comfortably in the house space – because my primary imagination of church is as family. Over the years our Christian culture has so morphed this original biblical idea that now we call ourselves a family but don’t operate as much like one as we might like to think. Larger buildings and gatherings make ‘hiding’ possible, both for those who don’t wish to be seen and for those who don’t wish to ‘get involved’, which seems very ‘unfamily’like

I don’t have a simple solution as everything is a compromise to some degree, but I do love Petersen’s idea of forming our buildings to reflect our theological identity and if I ever was forced to lead a church on a building project then I’d be doing this kind of thinking first and the economics and practicalities second.

What are your reflections on how the building in which you meet has either assisted or detracted from your own spiritual formation?

When I Walk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where the Magic Happens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ha… Makes me smile…

Sunday 9.30

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

Much more efficient I feel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe we should just stick to Sunday at 9.30am?

Mono-ecclesial

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ok I’m inventing another word…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just some food for thought…

Yanchep Beaches 365

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instagram

Facebook

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

What Kinda Year?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

What does 2017 hold?

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

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

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

Top Reads of 2016

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

curtain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

an90737989the-north-water

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

the-good-people

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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