I Mighta Nailed It

carBy the end of our winter holiday up north I had begun to doubt my love for the GU Patrol that I had purchased back in January…

Let’s be honest – it was a tenuous relationship at best but the abysmal fuel economy we got on holidays meant I had to really re-think things. To get 19L/100km when towing is pretty bad for a late model diesel car and even when the camper was off the back I was still getting 15l/100 at best. Ouch…

It had been a bit of a disappointment in that regard and while it was a smooth ride and a good car my heart just wasn’t in it.

You know that’s the case when you find yourself surfing Gumtree and Carsales looking for the car you really want… I still had a saved search for an HJ61 Landcruiser with the 12HT Turbo motor and I would get sent ‘new arrivals’ every week or so. There is plenty of junk out there and plenty of high km rubbish, but I was hoping that I just might score a gem if I waited long enough and jumped quick enough.

My friend Stuart tells me that “women wear clothes and men ‘wear’ cars”. I felt like I was wearing something that didn’t fit me well at all. To change the metaphor – if my car were a house it would have a been a newly built two storey project home – nice, clean, practical and somewhat boring. But I wanted a car a bit more like our house – a little quirky, a bit of character and more interesting.

I realise 60 series Cruisers are not a thing of beauty to everyone, but they happen to be a car I love the appearance of and the feel of. And the direct injection diesel motor is a beast to drive too. So I waited… and tried to love the Patrol…

Then one day I saw it.

A one owner HJ61 with just 270000ks on the clock and in immaculate condition. I rang the owner, chatted with him, sussed out his best price and then announced to Danelle that I was going to buy this car. I had found what I had been looking for… even if it was in Canberra and I was going to buy it without seeing it.

She said ‘ok’. Truth be told she even got excited for me…

My mate Russell took a look and a drive and gave it a green light. So I sent the 12k over for a 1987 car, hoping I wasn’t going to regret it. I had it transported over for another $1200 (cheaper than flying and driving back I calculated) and after 10 days it arrived.

And its been a winner.  I actually don’t like to change cars often simply for the cost of change over, but I just couldn’t find the right one for the 9 months previous. I sold the old GQ that had been my baby to buy the first 60 Series but it was a bit of a mishmash and then the Patrol was a fuel guzzler.

I actually calculated that the saving in fuel alone with this car is approx $2300 PA over the Patrol, so although I took a hit on selling it this one will eventually catch me up.

We did our first run down south with the camper over the weekend and it went superbly. The car had heaps of power, the air con was cold, the seats were comfortable and at 12L/100 it didn’t cost the earth either.

So far I’ve rigged it up with:

– a new stereo – the factory tape deck just wasn’t going to cut it

– a set of HIDs

– a brake controller – which I seem to have wired incorrectly

– some seat covers

Still to come is a reversing camera – great for hitching up the trailer. Also remote central locking. While it has central locking from the front door it is one of the things I’d like to change. It will get tinted shortly, have a transmission cooler installed and then I’ll look at some other stuff, like an EGT gauge. The trickiest thing to install have been cup holders and I still haven’t solved that one adequately…

But I’m hoping you will see the Cruiser on the road for a while now and maybe even a long time to come.







So – What DO We Do With Divorce Part II

divorceSo I finished yesterday essentially asking what happens if it turns out you have married a complete psychopath who is doing permanent damage to you and your children, but who has not been unfaithful and is not looking like leaving?

Can you seek a divorce under those circumstances or is this your cross to bear for as long as you both live?

Its a cruel and twisted mutation of a Christian faith that would ever answer that with an ‘unfortunately yes’. While we want to be true to scripture in all we say and do, surely there is a point when we say ‘come on – we can’t be getting this right if its going to lead to the destruction of people?’

One my abhorrences of fundamentalism is the way it can take the ‘directives’ of scripture and apply them without context and often without compassion. I get the sense that this is what happens when we see divorce like this.

About now some of you are seeing me ‘go weak’ on scripture. And others of you are saying ‘please… someone… give an explanation for this bizarre two condition divorce clause that offers no comfort to those who are dying in abusive marriages’.

If we do our theology by working from directives to outcomes then chances are we will finish up in strange and disturbing places. But if we do theology by looking at broad themes and purposes and stories and then locate the directives within those then I think we have a better chance of arriving at sane and Christlike conclusions.

So my thinking starts like this:

God’s intention for this world is for the kingdom of God to come in fullness and for his ways and his plans to be the ones that shape everything. Immediately you know that a tyrannical abusive household is not a depiction of God’s kingdom. There is nothing of his goodness, love and grace in that picture. If relationships are at the core of the kingdom (and his ultimate hope is for ‘triune’ like relationships) then this is the antithesis. So why would he insist that people just suck it up in those settings?

When a passage of scripture leads to a conclusion that is completely contrary to the overall tone of scripture and the overall goal of scripture then we must question it – and possibly even reject our conclusions as false.

It simply is not within the character of God to command a person to remain in a hostile home situation when there is a solution. When we run with the two option and no more divorce scenario then we almost inevitably at some point turn God into a monster.

I got this far and got stuck…

If the ‘clear sense’ doesn’t make sense in the bigger picture then where do we go from there?

My only conclusion was to say that there was some knowledge we didn’t have that would complete the puzzle… if only we could find it…

So am I rejecting the traditional/historical view?

I guess I am. It doesn’t do justice to the rest of scripture or to the character of God. While those two conditions may still hold there isn’t scope in that view to manage the question I mentioned before.

Once Were Warriors 15

Fortunately at this point, late on a Friday evening, the ‘sun came up’ (see the intro to the previous post to make sense of this) I stumbled on some work by David Instone-Brewer, an English Baptist pastor and theologian (a practitioner and theorist)  who is able to articulate a coherent way of viewing this situation. A summary of his work is here on Christianity Today and you will need to read it all to get the gist of where he is coming from. But here’s a truncated version to get you in the loop of his thinking.

Essentially Brewer argues that in the OT marriage vows revolved around 3 core objectives –  fidelity, provision and love/care and as a result if any of these were violated repeatedly and unrepentantly there was grounds for divorce. These were the only reasons and obviously Rabbis spent their time interpreting what was legit and flawed cause.

A few decades before Jesus came along there arose a new divorce option – the ‘any cause’ divorce that allowed a husband to divorce his wife for whatever he chose. If she were late home, overweight, wore the wrong clothes… she was fair game. The Hillel Rabbis came up with this one as a new way forward and not surprisingly it became popular.

This was a more expensive option to implement but got men out of marriages quickly and easily. This was the option Joseph considered when Mary was pregnant and it would have avoided proving her adultery in court (would have been interesting to see him try though…)

So when the Pharisees come to ‘test jesus’ they are in fact asking him if he approves of ‘any cause’ divorce and part of their entrapment was to try and lure him into thereby condemning Herod for his marriage of Herodias after an ‘any cause’ divorce. They want to know if he is with the Hillel (any cause) or Shammai (traditional causes) crew and of course they are hoping that he will either ‘come out’ as liberal, or finish up like John the Baptist. Either way its a no win for Jesus.

That is a summary of a summary of Brewer’s teaching so if it doesn’t do it justice its because you can go to the article and read the whole thing. Or you can go to Amazon and buy the book here. Or you can watch a cartoon version of the teaching here. (No really… theological cartoons…)

But the point he makes is that there is a way of reading this stuff that is consistent with God’s character and the rest of scripture and isn’t a ‘fudge’. I sense that what often happens is we fudge and assume that ‘marital unfaithfulness or porneia’ can be extrapolated to mean domestic abuse.

Its a stretch – and we know it.

So while Instone Brewer is no advocate for divorce, he is seeking to provide a way to understand biblical teaching that makes sense and doesn’t have God becoming a monster.

I stumbled on Instone Brewer thru a John Ortberg article here and a sermon here. As I was throwing all this together on Friday I found myself spending most of Friday evening reading and poring over Instone Brewer’s academic papers and some of his more popular papers.

You wouldn’t put him in any kind of liberal/heretic camp. He is a biblical scholar – and a pastor who has been seeking to find a way to deal with the apparent incongruencies in our traditional theology of divorce.

That said, John Piper is not a fan. I think its good to read some push back on a person’s work and Piper certainly does that with an article entitled Tragically Widening the Grounds of Legitimate Divorce. It begins like this:

The October issue of Christianity Today carried an astonishing article on divorce and remarriage by David Instone-Brewer. What makes it especially amazing is that CT simply published it as if it were faithful to Scripture, with no counterpoint, and used the phrase on the cover “when to separate,” not “whether to separate”—even though Jesus said, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:9).

Piper however doesn’t offer any way of making sense of the question I asked earlier and the more I read of him the angrier he sounds – in the name of Jesus and for his glory of course…

If you want an even broader approach to the topic that Instone Brewer then Dallas Willard has this to say here.

The basis for divorce among disciples is precisely the same as the basis for marriage. Where it is the case that the persons involved in a marriage would be substantially better off if the marriage were dissolved, the law of love dictates that a divorce should occur. If indeed the divorce is realized as a consequent of the law of love, the evil which is present in most divorces will not be present—and, indeed, very few divorces will occur. But the disciple will make sure of his or her obedience to the law of love in any divorce by making God his lawyer and judge through prayer.

Willard opens a pretty wide door I feel and I could see ‘substantially better off’ being interpreted in ways that are not at all healthy.

Of course that is what we do now anyway isn’t it?

Unless people are thoroughly rigorous in their own reasoning and considering of divorce, reality is that most will divorce because ‘it just isn’t working’ and ‘we’re better off apart’.

I think Willard paints with a broad brush but there is much good in what he says too, particularly his critique of our elevation of romantic love.

Back to Instone Brewer. I haven’t read his whole book, but I am assuming he is on the money with what he says as he is not a mug. I intend to read the whole thing as I have invested enough in this now to make it worth the extra mile.

How does all this play out practically?

For those with ‘marriage problems’

At the end of the day if I were to offer married couples with problems some advice what would it be?… Here is a 7 stage process assuming the previous stage has failed

1 Work it out amongst you

2. Go away and try again

3. Get some help to work it out

4. Keep getting help to work it out

5. Get better help to work it out

6. As above

7. Repeat as needed.

I will concede that there are times when a marriage is a farce and then divorce may be the only option, but I believe that wherever faith, hope and love are present there is always a chance of finding a way forward.

For those in destructive relationships…

If there are destructive things happening repeatedly in a home that are damaging both partner and children then I would have no hesitation in saying get out of there and work it out from there. It might something you can work out. But if there is no cooperation from the aggressor then a divorce may be the best option and the Bible would give you permission both for that and for a subsequent remarriage.

If your partner refuses to reconcile and seek help with you?…

It is down to us to ‘live at peace’ with everyone as much as it depends on you. You can’t force someone into a marriage. You can’t change someone else’s heart and tragically you may find yourself the innocent victim of a person who just wants out. I’d say the Corinthians passage addresses you. You are free to move on and remarry. You are not an ‘adulterer’.

But if you’re just ‘over each other’?…


Grow up and work it out. Because if you don’t you will do it again. Seriously – that may sound harsh, but selfish, fickle people need a really hard kick up the butt.

Finally what about if you have been the aggressor – the one who has been the source of the problem?

The beauty of the gospel is that there is always hope, forgiveness and grace to be found in Jesus. Nothing we can ever do is beyond the pale of God’s love, so even if you think negatively and destructively about yourself there is a way forward.

So those are my thoughts. Many thanks to David Instone Brewer for his work in this area and for helping us make sense of an area that has long been a difficult one.

There is an online sermon and if you are part of QBC you will be able to access it. If not then email me, let me know who you are and I may send you the link. Because its an issue we have been discussing as a community it isn’t necessarily something I want digitised and spread anywhere.



High_Street_Fremantle_1After my disappointment with the movie version of The Turning I was hoping for something substantially better in Winton’s new novel Eyrie. The synopsis from Penguin is below. It didn’t really grab me as it sounded like a departure from much of what I love in his writing – the rugged coastal settings and the rough characters who inhabit those spaces.


Tom Keely’s reputation is in ruins. And that’s the upside.
Divorced and unemployed, he’s lost faith in everything precious to him. Holed up in a grim highrise, cultivating his newfound isolation, Keely looks down at a society from which he’s retired hurt and angry. He’s done fighting the good fight, and well past caring.

But even in his seedy flat, ducking the neighbours, he’s not safe from entanglement. All it takes is an awkward encounter in the lobby. A woman from his past, a boy the likes of which he’s never met before. Two strangers leading a life beyond his experience and into whose orbit he falls despite himself.

What follows is a heart-stopping, groundbreaking novel for our times – funny, confronting, exhilarating and haunting. Inhabited by unforgettable characters, Eyrie asks how, in an impossibly compromised world, we can ever hope to do the right thing.


I’ve heard some say its not a plot driven novel and maybe it is less so than others, but the storyline is still intriguing. Where it excels is in picking up on the challenges of middle age dreams that have gone sour. Of lives that have gone bad and of the ‘soldiering on’ that happens as people just have to get by. The brooding melancholy that is so characteristic in Winton’s novels is strong in this one.

Keely has lost hope and given up when he stumbles across Gemma, a broken woman with a messy family life who ironically is at times more together than he is. He has tumbled ‘down the ladder’, losing wife, career and everything, finishing up in a dingy one bed flat in Fremantle where he drinks and pops prescription medications to ease the pain of his dark life. The story is set against the backdrop of economic boom times here in the west so Keely’s malaise is even more terrible. As an environmental activist his number was up and was fired. There is some enviro-commentary in the story but it doesn’t feel overly moralistic or preachy.

Gemma is ‘nan’ to 6 year old Kai, who appears to be autistisic and she is his primary carer because his mum (Gemma’s daughter) is in prison and his dad is a druggie. Gemma is a fantastic character. Broken, messed up, angry and volatile. refusing to be helped, needing to be helped, receiving help and then spitting in the face of those who help… she is a lost soul in a world that is spinning out of control. She is a wounded animal snapping at the hands that try to heal her.

Gemma manages to hold down a night fill job (while leaving Kai at home alone) and the guts of the story revolves around her relationship with Keely and his attempts to help her and Kai while his own life is in chaos.

They meet accidentally on the verandah one day. She recognises him from the street where they grew up – where her messed up family were continually rescued by his – where his dad and mum were a virtual foster service to kids who were victims of all sorts of abuse. Keely’s dad, who has died is portrayed as something of a hero, a Christian, a no nonsense pastor, who wasn’t all talk, but who actually gave a damn about people.

Gemma describes him:

Him and your mum – they never went soft, didn’t fake it, never gave up. If his heart hadn’t give out, he’d’ve been up and back at it. That was him, what I loved about him. He had that boilin thing in him. You know: Fuck this, let’s do somethin about it. Of all that churchy talk, son, it was the only thing rung true to me. Like he said, believe what ya like. Think what ya like. You’ll be judged for what ya do. Even if ya cock it up. Die tryin.

There is a chapter devoted to Keely’s dad, and its another great Winton depiction of faith at its best. Nev is a man of action, a bloke who was prepared to use his fists to protect the innocent in the name of Jesus. Nev and Doris live a faith that welcomes the down and outs and shows compassion when everyone else looked away. They get kicked out of ‘real church’ for being a bit rough and into social justice and start a church in their home and then Nev starts a church among the motorcycle community… The more I read Winton the more I sense that he gets the kingdom – he has a sense of who we ought to be as the church – but religious buffoonery just seems to piss him off.

The story follows some pretty inane and unexciting tracks – the lives of those who are screwed up and finding it hard to see any way out. There is a hopelessness about the lives of Keely and Gemma that is disturbing because you know that this is how it is for some folks…

As with most of Winton’s stories these are people you know – people you have met – who have lived in your street and you ‘know’ their stories.

The ‘plot’ revolves around a demand for money from Gemma by her daughter and her druggie partner along with threats and intimidation. Keely is forced to get involved, but realises he is nothing like his dad. He is confronted with his own impotence and fear – all while he is recovering from his career and marriage failure. He is a total disappointment to himself.

I loved the grittiness and rawness of Eyrie and my only disappointment was the final chapter. The ending didn’t work for me, but the rest was wonderful.

So… What DO We Do With ‘Divorce’ Then?…

A number of years back – probably around 30 as I think about it now – I went away to Margaret River for a few days on my own. I had a mate down there and we arranged to head out for a surf at mainbreak one morning. ‘I’ll pick you up at 4.00am.’ he said.

‘Won’t it be dark?’ I countered. Mainbreak can be challenging enough, but at least with the sun up and the waves visible I figured I had a small chance of not dying.

‘Yeah – but we’ll beat the crowds – and the sun will come up soon enough…’

I didn’t want to sound like a woose so I just ‘no worriesed’ him and was there at 4.00am in the pitch black to be picked up.

Sure enough we rolled into the carpark and no one else was there. It was the middle of the night after all. I pulled the wetty on slowly… very slowly… He, a local now, was racing and keen to get out there. I could hear it, but I couldn’t see it.

It felt like madness. Kinda fun madness, but still madness all the same.

I had no idea quite what I was paddling into.

The sun would come up. That much was sure. But managing to survive between now and then was the top priority.

A couple of weeks back I decided to take a crack at this subject of divorce and I got that same feeling. Like paddling out to mainbreak in the dark… You’re not quite sure what’s out there, but fairly sure you want to be there and ‘ride it’.

On that day the sun came up, the wind stayed offshore and the surf was a good 4ft and was classic MR. I think the sun might have come up on some of my questions about divorce, but I’m still tentative, knowing that a trip over the falls is only an error of judgement away.

So – where has a couple of weeks of ruminating taken me?…

I’ll start writing and see if this is a ‘one post’, two or even three post blog.

It began with reading Mark’s gospel ch 10, where the Pharisees test Jesus with their question ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’

The conversation rolls on and ends up with Jesus speaking about anyone who divorces being an adulterer. Matthew’s account includes the ‘except for sexual immorality’ clause.

The obvious question it raises is ‘for what reasons can a person get a divorce?’ What does the Bible say and how do we make sense of it?

Apart from adultery the only other explicit stuff on divorce is by Paul in 1 Cor 7:12-16 who gives a person freedom to divorce if the non-believing partner moves out and moves on.

So the long held biblical view is that divorce is permissible either for adultery (‘porneia’ – could be other forms of sexual immorality) or if one unbelieving partner deserts the other. There are no other clear and simple instructions given on this matter.

And John Stott says unequivocally:

“We should have the courage to resist the prevailing tide of permissiveness and to set ourselves against divorce and remarriage on any other ground than the two mentioned in scripture (immorality and desertion of the unbelieving partner)” (Divorce 1973)

I think we can establish a couple of things quickly and easily:

a) Marriage is intended to be for life and with one person.

Jesus speaks of this in Mark 10 when he says:

At the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

I don’t think anyone sees marriage as a temporary arrangement so we can nail that as a given.

b) Divorce is a possibility and has been a possibility since the ‘get go’.

And Jesus cites Moses willingness to allow divorce as a concession to ‘hardness of heart’ , or perhaps self centredness is a more modern rendering of that idea.

So while we know marriage is for life and divorce is a valid option in some circumstances the murkiness and struggle hits when we try to discern what those circumstances are.

Perhaps it is just adultery and desertion?…

But Jesus made that one a bit tricky when he spoke of adultery being something we do when we lust in our hearts (Matthew 5). I’m guessing many of us are therefore guilty of adultery and (while divorce is always a last resort) surely a grieved wife could call a husband on ‘lust’ as adultery if she wanted to?… It’d be divorce on a technicality and the scribes and pharisees would be cheering with glee, but she’d win the point.

Some would also suggest that a divorced and remarried person (for reasons other than adultery/desertion) is always an adulterer and because ‘adulterers cannot enter the kingdom of heaven’ (1 Cor 6:9) then they have lost their salvation, are no longer Christian and cannot be part of the church community.  Yeah – I know its a totally dodgy interpretation of that verse and passage because then the greedy, liars and cheats would be out of the kingdom too… So maybe that’s not the case… (Oh but there’s an exception for gay folks though – right?… Because they are still in the ‘really really’ bad camp…)

I grew up in this kind of world. People didn’t get divorced in our church – or if they did they didn’t come back. It was clear that divorce was a special kind of sin that took you out of the orbit of faith and left you in no man’s land. At best on the bench and at worst completely unwelcome. That was the 70’s as best I remember it. Debates raged over whether divorced people could take communion, lead a creche, serve on a leadership team and if you could swallow all of that, whether they could be pastors.

I remember when one of our elders in the church I was attending got divorced. A man I had always perceived as a godly good man was now doing something unthinkable. What did this mean for his life, his faith?… It threw me into a turmoil.

Now – 40 years on – divorce is commonplace. There is no question over your status before God. Leaders can be divorced. Pastors can have divorced – multiple times even – and still be in the game. Divorced people are welcome in church and the whole tenor of things has shifted enormously.

Have we just gone soft?

Have we discovered some new learning/theological understanding that we didn’t have in the 70’s?

John Stott wasn’t unclear in his stance – even if it was 1973 when he took it. I wonder what he would have said if we had been able to speak with him before his death?

So let me pose a question:

If your husband is an aggressive violent man who beats you and the kids up, is feeding your 10 year son a steady diet of amphetamines and selling your 13 year old daughter for sex, while refusing to provide any money for food in the home and has threatened to kill you repeatedly, BUT he hasn’t been sexually unfaithful do you need to stick it out and suck it up?

Or – because it cuts both ways – your wife is a vindictive, manipulative and controlling tyrant who inflicts both emotional and physical harm on you and your children and refuses to change or even acknowledge a problem BUT has not been unfaithful… do you simply have to suck it up and find a way to manage within it?

Doesn’t everything inside you just say ‘what a stupid outrageous and absurd question?! Doesn’t it just seem ridiculous to even have to ask that? And sure – they are extreme examples – but they make the point.

The problem is that historically/traditionally if there has been no infidelity or desertion then there is apparently no biblical grounds for divorce.

John Ortberg says it well:

“For many Christians, sex and sex alone is the key to the dissolution of a marriage. The rub is that if you are humane about divorce you cannot be biblical, and if you are biblical you cannot be humane.”

That bites, doesn’t it?

I realise most divorces are still because people have ‘gone off each other’, and ‘need a change’, so hardness of heart is still the biggie in terms of causes, but there are plenty of situations where Christian people have stuck out incredible nonsense because of this biblical framing of legit reasons for divorce.

In fact studies have shown that Christians (both men and women) put up with much more abuse than those outside of the church because of these theological convictions. Christian divorcees are often more damaged and broken that those outside the church who will simply say ‘I don’t have to put up with this crap.’

So how do we come at this subject in a way is true to scripture but doesn’t lead us to bizarre places? Because Ortberg’s words are so true. There is a cross to carry in following Jesus, but is that how we would see a devastatingly abusive and destructive household?

I’m teaching on that tomorrow so I’ll finish this blog after I’ve said my piece.

Backyard Missionary 10 Years On

Warning – long rambling, reflective post ahead…

Way back 10 years ago in September of 2003, after a nomadic 6 months of travelling, while waiting for our new home to be built, we finally moved house into the new estate of ‘Brighton’, where the developer’s tagline was ‘Its what a community should be.’ (Its wasn’t…)

We went there with 4 other families from our previous church to ‘start over’ – to re-imagine church and to see ourselves as missionaries in the western world. We set out with our tanks full of missionary zeal and enthusiasm, completely unaware of what the next 7 years would hold, but convinced that God had called us and that we would discover ways of being God’s people that resonated better with Australian people than what was on offer around us.

Its the ideal way to start any venture – full of conviction, enthusiasm and vision, even if we were a little short on realism… That said, there aren’t many ‘realists’ who set out to start new things as the vision and optimism has been kicked out of them by the stuff of life.

It was 6 months earlier that this blog began. It was a way of staying in touch with folks from our previous church, but in the end I don’t think any of them read it… However I rediscovered my love of writing and so things kept rolling on here.

Just two years previous I had changed roles at Lesmurdie Baptist and gone from being youth pastor to team leader. It was a significant transition both for me and for the church and in it I wanted to lead the church towards being involved in church planting. Most people liked the theory of this, but neither them nor me had counted on it being such a disruption to our lives.

You can read about the journey to Brighton and all that went with it elsewhere in this blog, but my reason for writing here is more to reflect on where we are 10 years on.

The ‘Upstream’ years were amazing years. In the scheme of things very little went to plan. At times it was humbling and even humiliating not to be able to do what I had thought I would be able to do. And yes I use the word ‘I’ intentionally because I think that was part of the problem. I think others in the team were much more content to let God do what he wanted and how he wanted, but I had some ideas and I wanted him to pull his finger out and make them work for me. He wasn’t compliant. I didn’t think much of him for that.

In short I was not the success I had thought I would have been and in the end we closed Upstream as some of the team moved away and our core crew had reduced to just a couple of families. As we closed it, we joined with Quinns Baptist, where Danelle and I took up the role of being team leaders.

The missional energy that had formed us in those 7 years was still there, but some of the passion had wilted for me. I was convinced intellectually of some things, but my heart had grown weary of toiling away for what seemed like little result. We didn’t seem to make a difference like I thought we would and I was weary from the effort it had taken. In theory mission to the west sounded great. In reality I was tired and struggling to admit it.

So we moved to leading an established church – a dysfunctional established church with two factions on a collision course. We ended up being the catalyst for that collision to take place sooner rather than later and so our entry back into established church world was everything we had dreaded. Politics and power plays were the order of the day and we quickly found ourselves wondering just what we were doing there. As much as we could discern God’s voice he seemed to be saying ‘stay there’.

Thanks God.

So we did and things have changed significantly. I love our church now and I am happy to be there, in fact I find it hard to ever envisage leaving. Who would have thought?…

But what of the ‘backyard missionary’? What of the original sense of calling that took us here? We still live in the same region and mix it up with some of the same crew, albeit in different ways.

I have questioned at times whether this blog needs a new title. I have wondered whether I am still that person who began writing it 10 years ago and the truth is I am not.

You’d hope that though wouldn’t you? If you hadn’t changed significantly in your forties then you’d be wondering ‘why not?’

When I read the title ‘backyard missionary’ now I read it with a whole different energy to what I did 10 years ago. Back then I felt I was someone who had stuff to say that needed to be heard and often my blog was a soapbox. To be fair some of that stuff did need to be both said and heard. But some of it was just pontificating in the absence of any real experience.

At times in the last few years I have had to work hard at not becoming either cynical or indifferent. When you realise that changing the world is not down to you then its tempting to cruise – to just roll along and go with the flow because you can’t really change anything anyway. I’ve felt like that at times. Helpless and hopeless are too strong words, but perplexed and disturbed fit well. The western world feels like a hard place to do Christian mission. And then I wonder if its the western world, or if it’s me?… Us?… The fact that so many of us have our priorities arse-about, and we wonder why we seem impotent.

A big reason for setting out on the journey 10 years ago was my critique of the church I was leading and its lack of missional energy. I now a lead a church that is probably less effective or intentional missionally than the one I left.

I sometimes wonder ‘what’s with that?’

In all of this my understanding of what God is asking of me has shifted. I no longer devote myself to full time Christian work. I have an ordinary job. My own business. While I didn’t set out to get here its been one of the better developments in my life. I can’t imagine ever being a full time minister again in a local church. I wonder what people do who are full time…

In this space 10 years on mission has become much more integrated and relaxed. I don’t feel the need to pursue people the way I once did. I guess that has both an upside and a downside. I want to listen more to God and the way he is leading and be less driven. I find that a hard line to walk because the other side of the line often feels like laziness.

I get the feeling who I am is probably more attractive to a person looking on than I was 10 years ago. I’m not sure what that is, but I sense it has something to do with having less of an agenda – less of a drive to convert – its less about ‘me’ maybe?

In this space I sometimes wonder if I have become one of the people I despised. If I am now the preoccupied, self obsessed middle class westerner who talks a much better game than he plays. I wish I had that same zeal and urgency that burned so strongly 10 years ago, but I don’t. And I can’t summon it up. It just feels odd. False. Wrong.

Or maybe I judged those people harshly and incorrectly. Maybe there is stuff you only learn as you get older?…

And maybe passion and vitality manifests in many different ways?…


imagesWe’ve been reading the Gospel of Mark as a church and its been an interesting and valuable time as we have just rolled with the chapters and tried to cover it fairly sequentially.

That said we just jumped from chapter 6 (where we spent 4 weeks) to chapter 9 and now I’m up shortly with chapter 10 – a chapter that begins with Jesus thoughts on divorce. There is much more in the chapter that we could focus on, but I’m feeling drawn to look at this issue and speak about it.

In a community of people where this has happened I guess it could be a bit of a risky business as there will inevitably be raw wounds and perhaps entrenched views either way. But the more I read it this morning the more I felt the need to give some thoughts on where we sit with this one.

I feel like its an important issue to pick up and speak to – intentionally. So much of what we say about divorce is said in private and addressed in response to specific (often unsalvageable) situations.  So maybe its better to say some things with clarity out of the heat of the moment so that there is some food for thought if the issue ever arises.

But what to say…

The stats are pretty terrible on divorce (and let’s face it, you don’t need statisticians to know that). I remember 30 years ago when I first heard of a church leader getting divorced. The shock and horror was palpable. Was the man still a Christian even? Will he still be allowed in church?… He was someone I looked up to so it made it even more confusing. He became a pariah – on a par with a 21st C paedophile.

Our kids wont have that problem. They will have a whole different set of problems.

They will see divorce as a valid option for failing marriages. And if we don’t take it off the table then I imagine they will see it as a viable way to go if their marriage starts to get tough. And whose marriage doesn’t get tough?! Really… Marriage is hard. And at times it feels completely undoable, but if divorce is never on the table (yes – except in some cases) then there is hope.

So I guess my short gut level response to this issue is to take it ‘off the table’ as a possibility altogether except in some fairly terrible situations. And there is where the challenge lies – to define what is considered as fair biblical cause for divorce.

Infidelity is a clear one, but after that it gets hazy (biblically). Abuse seems an obvious reason, but who defines abuse? And what constitutes abuse?

Is it just physical? Can it be emotional? Can it be neglect?

Let’s face it – there are a wide variety of views on those issues in Christian circles. So to call it hard and fast is difficult.

Then there’s the issue of shame and guilt that many struggle with because their marriage failed – even if they were the innocent party. Its tricky to speak objectively about a topic that is anything but objective.

When Jesus spoke about divorce in Mark 10 he said that Moses consented to divorce ‘because your hearts were hard’. If I were to try and translate that to simple English I’d say it’s a result of selfishness – at least on the part of one person, if not both. Either or both has said ‘I want my way no matter what and if it costs the marriage then sobeit’.

And as the church we have made divorce both far more possible as well as palatable.


Because many of us want a way out of tired marriages and many of us want a relational change of scenery. Maybe that sounds cynical, but I don’t think it is. With so many Christians now getting divorced it needs to be given some legitimacy, so we can do it without feeling bad. I wish I could believe that all failed marriages were a result of serious infidelity or abuse, but I don’t think they are.

Often they are just self centredness. So that’s a fairly tough line to take, but I think its true.

And then there’s the question of how we respond to those who have either been devastated by a divorce or who have initiated a divorce (for what we might call ‘selfish reasons’) and remain within the fellowship.

I’m for erring on the side of grace every time, and for offering hope and forgiveness  and restoration to folks who find themselves here. But… if I’m honest I think I also want to give some folks a really hard kick up the butt and I want to say ‘What on earth on are you doing? Wake up to yourself.’

That’s probably not politically and ‘pastorally’ correct, but I think our tendency towards grace and forgiveness sometimes messes with the need to say some other hard truths.

So – those are some of my immediate thoughts on the subject and no doubt they may start a fire among the small hardy crew still reading this blog… And maybe come Sunday next week they will be a little more refined…

The Turning – Just Didn’t Get Close


Its hard to imagine Tim Winton being impressed with the screenplay of The Turning.

In places it captures some of the earthy melancholy of Winton’s writing and mood, but for the most part it is vague and disappointing, suffering from a terminal overdose of pretentious arty-fartiness.

I went today – to the final showing for the short season down at the Luna in Leederville. I’d been excited about seeing this ‘movie’ since I heard about it, so I dropped the kids with the folks and headed down to Leederville – a bugger of a place to park at lunch time and I finished up in a backstreet up the far end of Oxford.

The Turning isn’t a novel and isn’t really a collection of short stories. Its a meld of the two with enough connection between the stories to give them some semblance of continuity. I loved the book and I’ve read it a couple of times. The Australia and the people Winton depicts are the ones I know – the ones I grew up with – so there is a deep resonance in his writing.

But when you give each ‘story’ to a separate director and use a different cast for each segment then that continuity quickly gets lost. Vic Lang is sometimes a pale redhead, then an olive skinned Aussie as well as being portrayed as aboriginal … No wonder the old lady behind me couldn’t shut up about not having a clue about what was happening. I knew the story and I was having trouble keeping up.

My favourite story in the collection is The Turning itself and this was done fairly well. It caught the roughness of Rae’s life and the attractiveness of her new (Christian) friends. The story is a complete juxtaposition of life and hope with darkness and despair and while it ends darkly it also is a wonderful story.

By contrast Abbreviation was never going to make any sense if you hadn’t read the book… and precious little even if you had, while ‘Immunity’ was 10 minutes of my life I will never get back. Somehow the director thought a ‘ballet’ with no dialogue at all was the best way to capture this one… You’re kidding me right?…

I had been warned that it was a disappointment, but I knew I’d be disappointed if I didn’t go, so I went anyway, just in case it was better than I had hoped.

My suggestion – read the book… Its great.

Don’t even bother with the DVD when it comes out. It was an experiment that failed and I hope maybe one day someone will see the energy in the book and take it on as a coherent project.

I was hoping to walk out with my heart stirred, the way I felt when I read the book, but instead I was just glad when it was over. I held hope thru to the intermission, but by the time Immunity came around I was checking my text messages to see what was going on in the rest of the world. Not a good sign…



Success – Maybe the Goalposts Have Shifted?

I watched this the other night and it reflects some of the challenges I think many of us in the western world face as we seek to make sense of our lives, especially those of us in middle age who are not so enamoured with the traditional framing of success.

Having grown up right on the cusp of being a baby boomer / Gen X I think I have straddled both worlds in my approach to life. In the early days I was highly driven, inspired by those who had ‘made it’ and I was willing to ‘pay the price’… How’s that for success rhetoric?… And I nearly did pay the price as our marriage came close to the edge and my obsession with achievement almost brought us undone. I don’t like the thought of not achieving or succeeding, so failure isn’t exactly attractive, but what if there were a different way to view a ‘successful’ life?

There are some gems in there for those willing to listen. What struck me was that we can’t be ‘successful’ at everything. To do well in one area of life means a compromise in another. These days I feel like I am attempting to be ‘successful’ at life rather than at work or career – to live a life that brings joy, peace and hope rather than just climbing the ladder and reaching the top quicker.

There has been a recalibration of what I see matters and a redefining of who I want to be. If you told me I’d be running a sprinkler business 10 years ago I would have laughed at you as I didn’t like getting my hands dirty and home handyman stuff just wasn’t me. But here I am… Straddling the world of Christian leader and local retic bloke, but more than that finding a way to live healthily in those spaces.

Perhaps the question is ‘what does success look like for YOU?’ Not what does society define success as, but rather who has God made you to be and how are you going with living out that sense of vocation?

The Hebrew idea of shalom embodies much of what I see ‘success’ as looking like and my hope is that our lives will reflect some of that goodness, peace and joy that comes with the kind of life God intends.

Confounded by Kindness

derek I began watching ‘Derek’ a few weeks back and wasn’t sure what to make of it as a show. To be fair it was late at night, I was tired and it looked a bit like Ricky Gervais was using his acidic humour to ridicule the disabled. But having watched a couple more episodes since I’ve seen how wrong I was.

There’s no question Gervais is a genius and can often use that ability to mock, but this series revealed a whole different side to his storytelling ability. The series is set in a nursing home for the elderly and ‘Derek’ is a simple 49 year old carer whose central quality is kindness. Derek cares, loves and enjoys people. He is innocent and naive and often the humour in the show is at his expense, but the redemptive aspect of this story is in the love that people have for Derek – because he doesn’t have a nasty side.

The final episode has the other characters saying they wish they had Derek’s life – because he is kind and isn’t encumbered by the cynicism and anger that the world breeds in us. I think the final episode caught many off guard with its moving portrayal of a death in the nursing home, as well as the reflective exploration of life’s bigger existential questions.

Its shot in “Office’ mockumentary style but is unusual both for the setting (an aged care facility) and for the use of someone like Derek as a central character.

I know I’m going to go back and download some more ‘Derek’ because I’m pretty sure there is much there to both laugh at, but also be inspired by.

If you’re offended by R rated humour and naughty words then Derek isn’t going to work for you, but if you can see past the surface and get a handle on what Gervais is doing then I imagine you will be pleasantly surprised.