The Walk Beside Has Ended

For the last 4 years I have really ‘enjoyed’ the writing of Cam Harris at The Walk Beside, a blog that started when Cam found he had been diagnosed with cancer. Cam’s blog is one of those rare examples of why some people really should keep blogs. It was funny, gutsy, honest and often disturbing – and did I mention funny?…

I wouldn’t call myself a friend of Cam as such, but we did know each other and I did the ‘walk beside’ albeit via the net. The more I read the less I commented… what can you say when you are listening to the inner turmoil of a person who is following Jesus while dealing with terminal illness?

I’m not a fan of easy answers and for that reason his blog was a breath of fresh air. His visceral writing was at times difficult to read, but it was also inspirational.

Cam died last week and his funeral was yesterday. As you read the blog you saw the inevitable unfolding and even though I and many others prayed for Cam and hoped for a miracle, it didn’t look like it was going to happen.

It didn’t.

I’m sure there is much sadness in the Harris household at the loss of Cam and from this onlooker I’d want to offer my thoughts and prayers.



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Brain in Gear…

I haven’t been to a conference for about 4 years now… and the last few conferences I went to were ones I was speaking at or one’s where I was familiar with the subject matter, so the last couple of days have been refreshing and stimulating.

I studied at Vose Seminary back in the 90s when it was the Baptist Theological College and while I very much appreciated the input from my lecturers I get the feeling I was 15 years too early. As one who is somewhat out of the denominational loop these days I was really impressed with the conference Vose put on, both the quality of lecturer but also the genuinely daring and provocative content. It was not a ‘safe’ conference and for that I am thankful. It would have been so easy to invite a well known and completely ‘safe’ evangelical teacher, but these guys invited Scot McKnight – no heretic by any stretch – but someone who is within the evangelical camp, yet also very able to push the boundaries of thought.

He certainly pushed my boundaries, but more because I found myself unable to keep up with his content and input rather than necessarily his theological framing. Scot’s lecture on the nature of the gospel was sensational and I am hoping it makes waves across our state for many years to come. The way in which he delineated the difference between the gospel and the plan of salvation was brilliant. If you want to get a summary then check it out here.

Brian Harris offered an excellent paper on how the trinitarian nature of God ought to give shape to our churches and then there were a heap of other great presenters. As I said, its been a while since I have had my brain stretched so I actually found myself disturbingly out of shape. I can dig a trench, or move a wheelbarrow as fast as anyone these days. but my theological mind has become flabby. That said, the last couple of days reminded me of how much I enjoy these experiences and even provoked me to reconsider study. I mentioned it to Danelle and she asked ‘for what purpose?’ All I could offer was ‘pleasure and enjoyment…’ Not really enough to drop everything for…

Living in the distant parts of the city I feel pretty separated from the rest of the crew and moving further out to Yanchep has increased that sense of distance, so it was really good to see some of my mates again – other blokes (and women) leading churches and doing similar stuff. Mental note to self – I should do that more often…

I noticed that comment was made of the fact that Vose has staff who are both academic and pastoral and that was affirmed because the academic staff would understand what the pastors are grappling with. True. But after 4 years of blue collar work I wonder if it possible to push harder on that and suggest that we need lecturers who are both academic, pastoral and engaged in the secular workforce. I realise that’s a big ask, but my own learnings over the last 4 years have re-shaped who I have become as a Christian leader and would undoubtedly influence how I would teach if I were a theology lecturer. I don’t know how practical that is, but I’d be curious to see how a regular engagement in ordinary working life might impact on content and approach to theological education.

There weren’t many low points in the conference however I did find one lecture rather infuriating. It endeavoured to compare two ‘Baptist’ ecclesiologies – one of Nigel Wright and the other Mike Frost/Al Hirsch (assuming Hirschy was a Baptist!) and argued that from the ‘silence’ of Hirsch/Frost on the sacraments of baptism and communion they clearly did not hold them as an essential part of their ecclesiology. As a friend commented, it was a classic example of why we shouldn’t argue from silence… Even more bizarre was the fact that the lecturer knew Frost personally, had worked at the same college as him, but had never bothered to ask him about the apparent ‘silence’. I mean seriously, if you’re curious then why not just walk across the corridor and ask the question?!!… I certainly hope this blog doesn’t get critiqued on what I don’t say… but then again there is probably enough in what I have already said to keep a critic busy for a while.

So – well done to Vose for a fantastic conference. I was glad that I wasn’t able to keep up theologically and that it wasn’t pitched at the slowest moving brain in the room. It was stretching, inspiring and enjoyable. Maybe next year I’ll absorb a bit more… or perhaps things will go from bad to worse and I’ll lose focus altogether!

Insurance Assumptions

Each year when our house and contents renewal comes in the amount allocated to contents has increased by about 3-5%.

I don’t think its that our stuff has appreciated in value… as if… Rather there is an assumption that as each year goes by we will buy more stuff. Its a bizarre assumption because sooner or later you must have enough… or more than enough even…

I have watched it happen unquestioningly over the last few years and only begun to ponder it this year as I looked at the ‘insured amount’ and did a quick scan around the house and an estimate of the contents.

We rarely buy new stuff and have also had a fairly decent purge lately so the real value of our stuff is probably about half of what was estimated.

I ‘get’ that replacement value is higher, but even then I think we would be way overinsured. So its time to reign it in and recalibrate it to a more normal and reasonable amount.

Crikey at the rate we are assumed to be purchasing we would own a ludicrous amount of stuff in 20 years time.

When it came to the ‘housing’ component of the policy we had one company who could not insure our home for less than $550K. At that amount I’d be tempted to burn the whole thing down just to get the payout! Given we paid just $560K for house and land it seems like a bit of a wacky estimate – even given demolition and associated costs.

In the end we have decided to go with the Commonwealth Bank for house and contents both for price and quality of product. They came in at $870.0 P.A while my renewal from GIO was $1400.00 What really made me mad with GIO was that they instantly gave me a $120.00 discount when I rang to enquire about the amount. Obviously there is a buffer in the renewal sum based on the assumption that most people won’t bother calling but will just cop the hit.

I hate insurance.

What The Imagination Can Teach Us

Last night at blokes group I led the guys in an imaginative / reflective exercise using the Emmaus rd story and observing where we see Jesus in our lives.

One part of the exercise was to imagine yourself up a mountain looking back at your life from the start to now and seeing Jesus’s presence in the events and pondering where he felt absent. Then to look ahead and consider the road that lies in front of you.

The interesting thing as we discussed afterwards was that when the 30 something blokes looked ‘ahead’ they all saw steep mountain ahead to be climbed, while the two of us in our 40’s had envisaged ourselves at the top of a mountain and were looking down at the road ahead.

As the 30 something’s informed us that clearly confirms we are over the hill…

While it was amusing to see the different perceptions it was also an insight into a little of how I observe life working. The 30’s does seem to be the mountain climbing time of life while the 40’s seems to be a little more about enjoying the mountain.

I;m not up for hitting ‘cruise’ in my life, but I do find myself much less driven than when I was in my 30’s and achieving less but enjoying more.

Over the hill?… Maybe, but then its all downhill from here so there’s gotta be something good in that 🙂

The Call Back

If you want your business to work then return people’s phone calls, emails and enquiries promptly – immediately even.

Since moving house we have had to contact some tradies to get quotes on different work and getting a return phone call is like gettting blood out of a stone. By the time the call does come (if it comes) I have already moved on to ring someone else who sounds like a) they know what they are talking about b) will turn up.

Its a pretty low bar to jump just to be in business – return calls, know something about what you are doing, turn up. After that if you’re good at your job then the rest should take care of itself.

We hear lots of news about the economic downturn and people struggling to make money and so on. I can only assume that all the tradies I call are so laden down with work that they don’t have time to call back.

I began my own business partly out of frustration at the ineptdness of so many tradies I had dealt with. I figured you didn’t have to be any kind of genius to make a business work. That was 4 years ago and it seems not much has changed.

Evangelical Fear

Invariably when I find myself presenting to Christians an idea that challenges the status quo I find myself confronted with a response somewhere in the crowd that says ‘Ah yes, but don’t forget XYZ…’ where ‘XYZ ‘are our old ways of seeing things – the familiar and safe – and invariably I want to ask ‘why not?!’

Why should we be ‘careful’ not to negate an old way, or at very least question it, especially if its a flawed way, or an inefficient way, or even a theologically defective way?

I’ll tell you why we are told to be careful.

Because new ideas scare us. New ideas unsettle us and disturb the ground we walk on – and have walked on for years and decades. We like that ground. It makes us feel safe and sometimes we’d rather safety and error or safety and irrelevance, rather than the possibility of discovering a new and maybe even liberating truth.

New learning might end up calling a new response out of us and it could be beyond our capacity to respond because we have become so entrenched in a way of thinking and behaving.

I love evangelicalism’s commitment to biblical authority and the desire to live out of that, but it seems to be offset by unhealthy phobia that we might actually live contrary to scripture at some point and so we protect our inherited truth like a mother bear her cubs.

The simple fact is we are wrong about some things and we are committed to other things more from tradition from any biblical mandate.

And where it gets really tricky is when its ‘big’ things’ that we’re screwing up.

I’ll pick a safe example. The term ‘missional church’ is almost historic these days, but when it was first mooted that churches had lost their missional imperative, it was met with both heartfelt cheers from the frustrated missionaries, but also vicious resistance from those who saw that their forms of worhip may need to change. It was a bizarre response, but it seems that fear does that to people.

To use another example, those who have introduced contemplative worship practices into protestant churches have been viewed suspiciously and accused of bringing ‘Eastern religion’ into the church, (like Christianity isn’t that) when in fact they have been freeing people from an overly left brain, cerebral way of engaging in spirituality and helping people encounter God in fresh ways.

One of my great hopes is that we can create communities where we can reflect, learn and grow rather than simply protecting what we have or agreeing to compromise and keep people happy.

Of course there’s such an enormous cultural shift in that alone that I just might be shooting for the stars.