What can I say?

This has to be one of the most disturbing and horrific movies I have watched in a very long time. On a number of occasions I almost shut it down because I was feeling repulsed by what I was watching, yet at the same time I wanted to keep going because it looked like a side of life I need to see more often – if only to know it exists – if only to ask ‘God – what does this mean for a bloke like me?’

The movie overview let’s you know that its going to be a pretty gritty and confronting story – its a depiction of the ‘bodies in barrels’ John Bunting – serial killer story. But it doesn’t prepare you for the utterly depressing and despairing life of the people whose story it tells.

I’m not much a fan of ugly movies – movies that wallow in their own nastiness – and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this one, but there is no question it achieves what it set out to do. It depicts the squalor and hopelessness of underclass Australian life. It captures brilliantly the look and voice of people for whom hope vanished long ago and it doesn’t finish with any light. It just digs a very deep hole and then slumps in it.


As a summary it looks at the life of one family in a depressed Adelaide suburb. Mum is a druggie and the kids have that ‘lost’ look about them. Her boyfriend sexually abuses them and then along comes Bunting who takes on the role of patriarch to the family. He seems to bring positivity, energy and hope, but the more they get to know him, the more they find themselves implicated in his sadistic and violent life.

Bunting is Australia’s worst serial killer and his story was one I was unaware of until I saw the movie. As you watch you see his evil gradually unfold and while you want to bow out you can’t help wondering where its all going.

As a movie I’d have to say it is brilliant at doing what it does – telling a vicious and terrible story and leaving you smeared with the ugliness of it. The characters are believable, the slice of Australian life it depicts is real and perhaps the question it left me with was ‘what hope is there for people in this place?’

There are some familiar looking church scenes where we see the family part of a working class church community and obviously looking for hope and support. They get it to a degree but the lines are so blurred between church and community that their hope gets mired in the depravity of their culture and as a result lost altogether.

So – be warned – its not a pretty movie and while most of the murders are implied rather than acted there is one brutal strangulation scene that I will be happy to never see again.

What’s the point?

Maybe just to tell a story… Maybe to say ‘this happens – its real.’ I find myself looking at the lives of the characters and realising that they aren’t a caricature. Rather they are one part of Australian society – a dark and depressing part – but a part that is all too real and in need of some genuine hope.

If I get beyond revulsion I find myself wondering ‘how do these people find hope? How do they encounter the gospel and then what?… In such broken lives how do they right the ship and move ahead?’

Is there really hope for everyone? I want to say ‘yes’, but I’m finding it hard.

Between Generosity and Greed

There are few things more beautiful than generosity and few things uglier than greed.

If you’ve experienced generosity then you would know how inspiring and life giving it can be, but greed by contrast leaves you discontent and always wanting more.

One of my goals as a parent is to lead my kids towards generosity and to lead them away from greed.

Each holiday period we give our kids some pocket money. There isn’t a set amount. In fact my approach has been to ask them how much they they think they should recieve… I want them to think and discuss what is appropriate. Then I will give them that much or more.

I have two very different kids though. Sam is always going to be happy running lean with $$$ so he reckons anything over $20 is a win. Ellie however likes to ‘push it’ (can’t blame that trait on her mother I’m afraid) so when I ask her to think of a figure she thinks BIG.

‘Well… I’d like $200.00′ she said today.

So I reframe the question because I can see this isn’t working for her.

“So honey, consider,  what would be a fair amount? What would be me being generous and what would be you being greedy?…

We are still talking about it. (We have established that $500 would definitely be greedy…)

The deal is that the kids need to agree on a figure and I need to agree with them.

Up until this year it’s worked well to ask them for an amount. They have asked for fair amounts and I have been able to give them a bit more too.

But this year I can see greed and opportunism starting to bare it’s teeth in Ellie and I know that no matter how much I give her she will not be satisfied (and will only come back next holiday with a stupider amount.) If I give her what she asks for it will be a path to disappointment.

I want my kids to approach money thoughtfully and to recognise the difference between generosity and greed. So I’m curious to see how this one unfolds.

I doubt Sam will struggle significantly with this issue as he gets older, but I’m fairly confident Ellie will, so my take is that they will need different approaches to help then develop healthy attitudes towards money.

My hope for my kids is that both will be able to live very generous, greed free lives, but the challenge will be to help them find a path to that place.

Not sure of what route we will take yet, but such is the fun of parenting…




Headspace, Real Life and Status Quo

I used to blog a lot – because I used to think a lot. I used to think a lot about issues of faith and theology and I am coming to realise that a big part of that was just having the time to think.

I like to think and I like to mentally ‘4WD’ – head down some unexplored tracks and experiment with ideas, but it requires a certain amount of emotional energy and headspace, something I have been lacking in the last few years.

This week on 3 separate occasions I have found myself lacking the mental reserves to really dig into issues that I would like to chew thru more thoroughly. A friend sent thru an article on ecclesiology and I skimmed the first page before realising I wasn’t ingesting anything, let alone reading it thoughtfully. Another friend asked if we could catch up and discuss an aspect of theology I thought about a bit 5 or 6 years ago, but as he asked I realised I didn’t have much to contribute to the conversation – in fact I had pretty much forgotten what I read back then… And then I began a conversation on Facebook asking if there is such a thing as a ‘pragmatic Anabaptist’ and I was going to blog about it, before realising I just didn’t have time time or headspace to really do it justice – although I still think its a good question…

Its not that these things don’t matter to me, or interest me, but they simply have to take their place in the mental/emotional queue and I will get to them when the more pressing issues have been dealt with. They are the ‘luxuries’ in my headspace these days.

Right now my brain is awash with a heap of retic jobs I need to try and get thru before we take a break next Friday. That coupled with an unexpected day off today means I am running a bit behind now. Mixed with that is the knowledge I am speaking to our church crew twice in the next week and I need to get my head around the content there… And then there is Christmas… what do I need to do for that?…

I used to wonder why people in churches didn’t really think about their faith more carefully and critically. Why didn’t they ask more questions and explore more intelligently? My more recent experience suggests that maybe its because their mental reserves are already being eaten into by the stuff of everyday life and the ability to think about faith really is constrained by everything else that is going on.

If that is the case is it any wonder the status quo rarely gets challenged when people are just trying to keep afloat with job and family? If most people come home from work as weary as I do then its not surprising that the brain gets put into cruise control while they veg on the couch and watch another re-run of CSI… (I don’t watch CSI…)

So we’ll just let church roll along and not question what’s going on because to really get into that is to open a can of worms that requires far more headspace than most people have available. That ought to concern us because in the absence of critical thought we don’t progress – we stagnate. But then those who do make time to think and explore will often seem to be mavericks and heretics to those who don’t have time to get their heads around new ideas.

That’s a conundrum in itself! But it explains why most folk in churches simply want leaders who will (creatively) lead them back down old familiar paths and not add to their mental fatigue with unnecessary questions and new ideas that bring discomfort and disorientation.

It genuinely raises the question of how we lead and how we keep (ourselves) from stagnating and simply accepting what needs to be confronted and challenged. Part of me wants to ‘down tools’ in my business and allow the mind to get more active in this space again, but then my hunch is that it really is just a recipe for frustration and angst, because even the best and most supportive people will be in the space I am in now and will struggle to genuinely process even a small amount of what I may throw their way.

While I struggle with the frustration of this place, I have also come to appreciate it because it has made me aware that what I am experiencing is what the majority of our churches experience – people with limited headspace to really work out whether you can be an Anabaptist pragmatist… and let’s be honest no one gives a shit anyway!


When Boys Play

I took these photos today while we were at Scarborough Beach with the Christian Surfers crew.

It was another day of sizable swell down at Scarborough and it was bigger than most of the micro-groms could manage. Sam dipped his board in the water then turned to me and shook his head… ‘nah Dad… too big’

I kinda knew it, but hoped he might have at least got hammered a couple of times before deciding to bale. His cousin managed to paddle right out the back earlier only to get ‘stuck’ there before being cleaned up and washed in.

With the surf a bit big for the boys today they just congregated in the shore break and played. Boys – many of whom don’t know each other at all, joined together and jumped waves, got smashed by them, laughed together and splashed together and had fun – lots of fun – as only boys can. It really was a beautiful sight.

I was standing chatting with Travis when I noticed how much fun they were having. The laughter, the fact they had been bobbing around for over an hour, the smiles on the faces all said ‘we are having a good time!’

Its great to see kids play so I said to Trav – ‘excuse me a moment’ as I quickly snapped some pics – pics that will forever speak of joy and fun and the good things in life that come when boys get together and do what boys do.

The God Who Doesn’t Write Us Out of History

This week I am taking some time to reflect on the book of Jonah as we look at the minor prophets as part of our teaching at QBC. Jonah is one of those books where the story is so well known that it can be hard to hit it afresh. The Sunday school Jonah looms so large that it can be difficult to see anyone else.

But as I’ve been reading it again this week and pondering it I’ve had some fresh thoughts and insights, probably nothing revolutionary, yet enough to take me away from the well worn sermon paths and into some slightly different territory.

Probably the most significant thing that stood out to me was that God chose this clown to use in the first place. There isn’t much about Jonah that is inspirational. In fact there is plenty of ‘how not to’s’ in his story. He strikes me as someone who if you met them face to face that you’d find it easy to dislike.

Grumpy, obstinate, self focussed… with a few moments of redemptive goodness, but broadly speaking hardly someone you’d want as a mate.

I was comparing Jonah to Lonnie Frisbee as I was preparing my talk this morning – another flawed prophet who had quite an amazing ministry. As I read again about Frisbee it was clear that the churches and denominations that he was so catalytic in helping get off the ground had disowned him and written him out of their histories. He was not a fit person to have as a founder…

What strikes me about God is that he chose to leave the Jonah story in the history of Israel. He didn’t see Jonah’s failings and grumbling as a reason to erase him. He just left the story in the canon of scripture for us to read.


Maybe because that’s what God’s like. He will take a risk on us knowing that we will screw up, knowing that we will let him down, but he does it anyway.

The story doesn’t even end with Jonah in a place of enlightenment or repentance. It just finishes with him pissed off at God for his grace and kindness…

But its there – because that’s how it is sometimes.

The God who takes a risk on a bloke like Jonah just might take a punt on me too, because my failures will never overshadow is love and his grace – in fact if anything they just might highlight it.


What God Put in Your Heart

One of the things I am really enjoying about the experience of leading a church community at the moment is the opportunity to learn and experiment myself.

Today was our ‘prayer and planning’ day, where we set aside time to listen to God, listen to each other and hear where God may be taking us in the coming year. We have been doing it for a couple of years now and each time has been a little different. I think that’s good because it hasn’t become a formulaic process with predetermined outcomes.

I am very conscious of who we invite to these days. For us its an ‘opt in’ day where anyone who sees this church as their local expression of faith is welcome to come and participate. It isn’t for leaders, ‘members’ or those who have been around for a certain length of time. By making it purely ‘opt in’ you end up with those who really want to be there – and who are keen to be part of the process. I’m sure some would have liked to be there today, but couldn’t, but for the most part, these days reflect who the key players are in the life of a church.

One of the things I find perplexing about church planning days is the sense of need to arrive at concrete outcomes that we can action for the next year. Personally I don’t think we have to do this, but I am concious that some feel the day hasn’t been time well spent if we haven’t decided on ‘new stuff to do’. By the same token I am very much for concrete outcomes if they are stuff that God is leading us towards (atlhough I think that in the absence of genuinely hearing God we tend to invent stuff so that we can justufy our existence). Easy to do with our evangelical heritage.

I wonder, what if God said ‘I don’t want you to do anything new’? What if God said ‘all good – just keep rolling’? I think we tend to find that scenario a little hard to imagine. I certainly have in the past. But maybe he does that some days.

As I was reflecting on the process we would use for today I felt it would be valuable to :

– reflect on our history – to tell the story of where we have been – where we have come from to be here today (a very biblical process actually) and in doing so observe the fingerprints of God over our community. I always find this valuable and we enjoy sharing the story together.

– give thanks for what we have – because acknowledging how good things are, helps us kick off with gratitude and an awareness of God’s goodness to us. There was plenty to be grateful for and that is healthy.

– listen for what God has put in our hearts. I am convinced that our future flows out of our passions more than out of cold, formal planning. We reflected on the story of Nehemiah and how he felt compelled to do ‘what God had put in his heart.‘ I don’t want to try and put stuff in people’s hearts and I don’t want to simply push people into stuff that isn’t in their hearts, but I have a strong sense that if we listen to what God has already put in our hearts then we will likely find the next steps come easily. We split into smaller groups to answer the question:  “Where do I feel energy and where do I feel the stirring of God in me for the greater good of the church and his kingdom?” In other words what is firing in YOU?

– listen to one another and listen to God – from this smaller group discussion we came back together to hear what God is stirring in us. For some it was easy to articulate, while for others it was a little less obvious and that is fine. As we talked we heard what God was firing up in people, we heard what was important… And from there we took time to listen to God to see what he may have been saying.

– break for coffee – I don’t think you can ever underestimate the value of the ‘break’ in these kinds of gatherings. People can only focus for so long, but in the break what has been discussed often percolates and brews ready for the next interaction.

– distill – we came back to distill what we were hearing and interestingly it was less about  things to ‘action’ and more about the priority of keeping Jesus central in all we do. I guess you say that’s stupidly obvious… and it is. Except that I sensed what God was saying to us was that we are to find contentment and purpose in simply this and we are to hold this as our top priority. I reckon that’s a little piece of gold.

– consider practical actions – as we agreed not to actually choose any specific actions a discussion began around how we are gathering in smaller communities and what flowed was an awareness that we need to create some different spaces for people to connect and experience church. Before the day had ended one family had said ‘we want to do this – this is what God has put in our heart’. Another person wanted to gather our worship crew to help them focus and reflect on how we worship together – yet another practical outcome that flowed from what was in a person’s heart rather than from cold strategic planning. I am sure more will flow as people listen to what God has put in their hearts and as they respond to him. And that’s how I’d like it to be…

The day finished with lunch and then flowed on into coffee for a few of us as sat by the beach and enjoyed the beauty of being the church together.

It was another day to give thanks for the community we are part of and to observe again that if we pay attention to Jesus and listen for his voice, then he can do a pretty good job of leading his church.