Every Story Tells a Story

Last week I went for a psych interview as part of the accreditation process for Baptist pastors. Yeah – I’m a little late to the party – only 28 years or so…

The psychologist running the interview asked me to tell them some of my life story. It was a vocationally oriented conversation so I tried to focus on those aspects of my journey.

What I had to say took 20 minutes of the hour we had together and initially I felt like it was a little bit of a time waste. I told him as much ‘I could have written all this stuff down and you could have skimmed it before I arrived’ I helpfully suggested. Not sure if he appreciated my wonderful insight…

But as I drove off I remembered again that in simply telling a story of 28 years in ministry I had both included information as well as left out information. I had got excited at points and in other places was matter of fact.

We never ‘just tell a story’. What we say tells a story. What we don’t say tells a story. The way we tell a story tells a story.

I remembered leading a men’s group and asking a new member to share his ‘story’ with us. I intentionally left the scope wide open and what happened was that in the 5 minutes he had, he spoke of his achievements in ministry, and of the heights he had reached. All I heard was ‘I am important. You should regard me highly.’

Not surprisingly I didn’t…

The choice of information he omitted in that 5 minute précis communicated as much about who he was as anything he may have said. There was nothing of family, nothing about passions or interests, nothing personal – it was really just a highlight reel of his CV.

If you’re in the practice of leading groups just ask each person in the group to share some of their journey. Then ask the group what they ‘heard’, and remind them to ‘listen’ for the things that are unsaid.

Sometimes it may be that information omitted is irrelevant, sometimes it’s an oversight – but sometimes it’s also an insight into the person.

The way we narrate our story actually tells a story in itself. So as I sat there asking ‘is this really a good use of time?’ my mind flashed back to occasions when I have asked similar questions.

Maybe it’s actually about your story.

Maybe it’s about the way you tell it.

Maybe it’s about the information you choose to leave out.

Or more likely it’s all of the above.

Everything tells a story – even when we think we aren’t telling a story

Rough Faith

Its been my feeling for a while that Tim Winton ‘gets’ faith in a way that I feel an affinity with. Its an earthy, no nonsense expression, where doing the right stuff matters much more than just believing the right stuff.

In this video he comments a bit on the character of Nev Keely who he created in Eyrie. Keely is a cameo character but there is a chapter devoted to him and he is something of an enigma when it comes to faith.

He’s a new convert with all the evangelical zeal of someone fresh to the faith, but he’s also rough around the edges and doesn’t mind using his muscle to get things done if he has to.

He becomes a local ‘pastor’ and the church admire their ‘rough around the edges’ trophy, that is until he becomes too rough around the edges and steps outside the confines of their ‘bounded set’ imagination.

He finds himself on the outer – probably where he belongs – mixing it with bikers and others who don’t fit. Perhaps this is where Winton finds himself? Winton alludes to the fact that works of fiction can be works of theology in a sense because in them you get to try on theological ideas on ‘real people’ and this is what happens in Eyrie

As I read of Nev I see some of Winton’s theology coming thru – of faith that is practical – whether it dots all the theological ‘i’s’  and crosses all the ‘t’s’ Nev is a bloke you would say is the real deal.

I like Nev.

10% Dickhead

I’ve got this theory that we are all (at least) 10% dickhead. There is something in each of us that is broken, damaged or simply offensive to others and it is a part of who we are. It comes out in our worst moments – and sometimes we don’t even try very hard to hide it.

But it’s there. Our darkness. Our ‘dickheadedness’. And some folks manage to push well past 10%.

I also believe we are 100% made in the image of God – but the whole sin deal that means we are damaged goods and this side of eternity we will never be able to shake our dark sides completely. We’re stuck with a baseline level of brokenness.

So here’s the thing that I’ve been pondering…

I’ve noticed that when I experience other people behaving in a ‘dickheadish’ way towards me my response is simply to label them ‘a dickhead’ – as if that was the totality of their being – and from then on to give them a wide berth – to have no unnecessary contact. Why would you?

The real problem is that this is simply not true for them any more than it’s true for me.

More than likely they are 90% good bloke and just 10% dickhead – but that dark part of them has impacted me enough that its easier just to write them off. One of my personal challenges over the last couple of years has been to look at the 90% and see the whole person rather than just the dark part of their being that I get to experience.

No one made in the image of God is simply a dickhead.

Last year a client who was warm, friendly and very happy with the work we had done, out of the blue became hostile and gnarly as he suddenly felt we hadn’t done the job correctly. And he somehow knew how to push my own ‘dickhead’ buttons. Our phone calls would start with me calm and composed trying to be reasonable and listening – but he would be unreasonable – rude – would say things that just weren’t true and I would snap. I’d end up in a verbal stoush, then I’d get off the phone and think ‘what a dickhead!’ No doubt he did the same.

A few years ago I actually hung up on a customer who I found obnoxious and difficult. I’d never hung up on anyone in my life! But this woman drew the worst out of me. Since then any time her name came up in conversation I felt myself immediately boxing her too in the ‘dickhead’ category. No doubt she is a good woman with family and friends who love her, but our dark sides clashed. Again, it’s more than likely she may have negative thoughts about me too…

But the reality is that these people are not ‘dickheads’ – and neither am I.

It was as I watched a friend navigate a really difficult life situation with incredible grace that it dawned on me that he was responding in a way I wasn’t. He had been mistreated and maligned repeatedly but he somehow kept on loving the other person and seeing past their flaws. He focused on the 90% – not the 10%

It dawned on me that I wasn’t doing this. I wasn’t consciously boxing people, but there was no question I had a ‘dickhead list’, people I had committed to having nothing to do with – people I had written off.

In the middle of this I sensed the Spirt speaking to me – calling me to more – specifically to grace – to giving love and kindness where it wasn’t deserved. (I have no idea how many people show me grace and overlook my dark sides, but I’m guessing there are plenty.) I sensed God saying it was time to lift my game in this area – time to accept people in their offensive, even destructive brokenness and to show them grace and kindness. To wipe the ‘dickhead list’ – to bin it – and to start over.

Sure – I know there’s a case for keeping toxic people at a distance – for living wisely and for actually keeping some people out of lives. Sadly this just has to happen. But most people aren’t that destructive and dangerous – they just annoy us… or they hurt us… or they offend us. The good news of our faith is that we are loved despite our ugliness and brokenness and we are called to love people in the same way.

So these days when I bang up against dickheady kind of people I am more inclined to pause and remember this is not the totality of their being. This may just be a snippet of who they are. I’ve actually been practicing this (as in a new skill that I am still clumsy at) and its been reshaping the way I interact with these people. Its brought freedom and joy being able to overlook offense, shrug off silliness and move past my tendency to box – to simply see another human being, just as screwed up as me and just as made in the image of God as me.

Maybe this is all obvious to you – but I hadn’t realised I was boxing people in this way and writing them off, until I saw someone rise above their pain and offense to see the image of God in a person rather than just their flaws.

And yeah – I know ‘dickhead’ is a derogatory and ugly term – sorry if it offends you – but it’s the word that fits. Can you move beyond it and love me anyway 🙂

Is the Juice Worth The Squeeze?

I just watched a woman with one arm paddle into 20ft Jaws and get a wave. Wow… respect!

She also got seriously worked, almost finishing on the rocks, but just in time she hopped on the jetski and then went back out for more. I’m speaking of Bethany Hamilton (no relation) but one helluva lady-surfer. She lost her arm in a shark attack, but refused to quit surfing – in fact she just got better. She is quite literally amazing in both ability and sheer courage.

I wish I were ‘half the woman’ she is!

On Friday last week we went to Newcastle for lunch and afterward I strolled down to the beach to check out the surf. You can’t go to Newcastle and not visit the beachfront – it is stunning.

We had been there two days before at Merewether when the swell was up – a solid 4-6 ft – and the waves were challenging for even good surfers. I didn’t paddle out that day because I was recovering from back pain.

Well that was part of it…

What disturbed me was that I doubt I would have paddled out even if I wasn’t in pain.

That’s hard to admit – because I am a surfer and I love to surf… but… I knew just looking at the size of the surf and the size of the crowd that even if I managed to get through the shore break to the waves out the back, I was unlikely to catch one of them.

The other surfers were obviously much better than I am now and while surfing may give off a mellow, chilled vibe, on days like these it is anything but. It is survival of the fittest – dog eat dog – and in the pecking order that day I ranked pretty low. Partly age, partly ability, partly that I’m not a local.

I also feel fear these days in a way I didn’t use to. I have never been ‘Mr Psycho’ who charges everything in sight. I feel fear and even as a younger man I was cautious in the face of huge surf. That said I also relished the opportunity to get among some serious waves and test my abilities.

The waves I saw on Friday and on Thursday would have been perfect for me – if I were 22 again. But I’m 55…

My fear is based mostly on a decreased lung capacity. It’s a real fear. One serious hold down and I am gasping for air. 3 or 4 consecutive poundings and I could be in trouble. I have felt the panic reflex kick in a couple of times over the last few years when I have put myself in surf that challenges my capabilities and the last thing I want to be is that dude who made a fool of himself because he just couldn’t accept his limits.

I guess you could call that wisdom, but it also feels pretty lame and it’s disheartening to think that it’s only gonna get worse.

All that said – as I watched perfect waves roll in I struggled… it was an internal struggle. The voices in my head were one moment egging me on and the next telling me I was a wuss.

I actually want to be able to paddle out confidently knowing that both my fitness and my skills are up to the challenge. I want to do so free from fear – from worry or embarrassment at some point.

I’m 55 and bizarrely surfing more regularly than I ever have since my teen years. I have both time and opportunity up in Yanchep and I still have passion for the ocean and love surfing.

So my tussle is between ‘letting it go’ and accepting that age is working against me – or – choosing to become the person I would like to be – of training, of pushing myself, of improving so that I am confident and capable in more of these types of situations.

It seems the question I face when I consider this is simply ‘what do I really want in life and how much time am I prepared to give to this pursuit?’

And can a 55 year old man train himself back to a place of fitness and skill that will see him enter the water with greater confidence and capacity or am I just better off accepting the limitations of age and enjoying what I can.

Reality is we all have limits – most people I know won’t surf 20 ft Jaws even with two good arms – and we don’t think less of them for that.

But then the issues of identity and aging are rarely rational and flow more from the gut than from the head.

I know in my head that I’m ok – that I don’t need to prove anything to anyone. But… I’d still like to improve and get better. I don’t wanna be a wuss…

The struggle is real 🙂

First Impressioning

I heard it said once that ‘you don’t get a second chance on a first impression’.

It was around 20 years ago Danelle and I flew into Sydney and hopped in a cab to our hotel. It had been a long flight so we were just keen to get there and settle in.

The cab driver was surprisingly warm, engaging and keen to tell us about his city. He wasn’t overbearing or obnoxious – just full of enthusiasm and energy. I couldn’t help but comment on the way he went about his work.

He said to me ‘Mine is the most important job in Sydney! When people come here I am the first person they meet. They begin to form their opinion of this place the moment they enter my cab so my job is to welcome them and make them want more!’

Ok – it was 20 years ago but they were words to that effect. We hopped out of this cab feeling like we had been royalty. He was as good as his word. He was a fantastic ambassador for the city.

And then there was the young girl who served us gelato at the Blue Cow Gelato store in Port Maquarie last week. Serving gelato has to get pretty same same right?…

You could forgive her for faking a smile as yet another customer appeared and struggled to decide which flavours to go for. Instead she was welcoming, genuinely engaging and keen to serve us in any way she could. She was quite literally amazing. In that brief two minute encounter she made me want to come back – whether the gelato was good or not. I just wanted to be around her infectious smile and joy.

I have just come back from quoting on a retic job. And as I left I remembered the ‘Blue Cow’ girl – if I can approach my client like she approached me then I reckon I will win the job.

Maybe we shouldn’t judge by first impressions – but we do it all the time – so best to remember that you only get the one chance at a first impression.

Radio Silence

It’s been intentional ‘radio silence’ on Facebook for the last 3 weeks. I’ve been experimenting with a time of deliberate retraction to try and work out where this piece of social media fits in my life.

In the last year I have found myself making it my default ‘go to’ in any spare moments and I’m pretty sure it has been largely responsible for dulling my creative processes. Blogging has been difficult and any extended reading has also been harder, as the ‘re-wiring’ of my brain has increasingly been toward the short thought, rather than the extended argument.

It’s been frustrating sensing it happening – knowing the theory of it – but also feeling that weird compulsion to check Facebook or Instagram ‘one more time’.

That’s bad right?… It’s an addiction… Right?…

But what I’ve found is that in the absence of firing off a few quick thoughts on FB and then checking back regularly to see if anyone has interacted, I have managed to scratch together a few new blog posts – and it hasn’t been difficult. Writing has come easy and ideas have also been percolating freely – like they used to.

Ironically the only problem now is that in these times FB seems to be the primary way people find my blog and interact with it. So in its absence I feel like I am writing in a vacuum.

I know at least 3 or 4 people read – those with RSS feeds – but I get the impression that’s a bit of an older technology these days. I enjoy the conversation that accompanies a blog so to be writing with no interaction feels a little pointless and a lot less fun too!

So if you see me on FB for a week or so and then I disappear again it’s because I am experimenting with it.

I’d like to ditch it completely – and I feel like I may still do that – but to do so is to miss out on the good that goes with the bad. And it’s not all bad.

So at this point I think I will post some new blog material – maybe I will reactivate FB once I have 5 posts, then leave it active for a few days to interact and then deactivate it again until I have some more more new ideas to share.

It’s a bit clunky and awkward but it seems like the best way forward at the moment.

To Sport Would Be as Tedious as To Work

Afternoon beach crawl – Bondi – Maroubra

Holidays always end with mixed feelings. That’s a good thing.

I still remember a quote from Shakespeare that I learnt for my year 12 English Literature exam way back in 1981.

‘If all the year were playing sport then to holiday would be as tedious as to work – but when they seldom come, they wished for come’ (Henry IV Part 1)

It’s one piece of learning that has stayed with me since high school – and a useful piece too. The only way we really know ‘holiday’ is by slogging it out for 3 months – then we are ready for a change of pace and environment.

So – now it’s time to go home – to get back into the regular rhythms of life and to work. Thankfully I find regular life enjoyable anyway. Leading church, kicking business back into gear and then slotting back into all the regular things we do around home.

Its the yin and yang of how life works – a period of work – a period of rest – repeat.

Leave either out and it doesn’t work.

Friend of Sinners

It’s been around 3 months now since the news around Bill Hybels shifted from absolutely, definitely ‘innocent and unfairly accused’ to despicably ‘guilty as charged’ and the information that made it to the public space is quite possibly just the tip of the iceberg. If Hybels was this foolish and inappropriate with the people close to him – the other ‘strong leaders’ – who in the end were courageous enough to speak up (despite his denials and shaming of them) then how did he treat the young and vulnerable who were in awe of him?

If the independent investigation is to be believed (and it certainly sounds credible) then Hybels was an ongoing philanderer who used his power to get what he wanted and then get away with it.

On one hand this is shocking news – and I use ‘shocking’ as in disbelief. On the other hand it is probably no great surprise as he is as human and vulnerable to failure as any lesser mortal. He had acquired enormous power and status perhaps enough to make him feel the rules were different for him, or maybe he would never get caught out?

I remember the first time I heard Hybels speak at a WCA conference and I was in awe of his passion, clarity and focus. I wanted to be like him. I wanted to lead with his strength and vision and for a time I tried to step into that persona. It ‘worked’ in that we ran church like a successful organisation, but after a while I shifted gears and decided that the Hybels approach to leadership didn’t reflect who I felt called to be. I still held him in the highest esteem for his achievements and his love for the church.

(I was about to write his ‘apparent love for the church’, but I believe he was genuine – he probably still is. Bill Hybels probably still believes in the power and beauty of the church – at least in theory.)

What I really struggle to understand is how a man who spoke so much about transparency and authenticity has been unable to simply say ‘I screwed up – I really blew it – and I am sorry’. Is it simply that ‘sorry’ opens the door to a plethora of other allegations, and then a possible bankruptcy? Is it that simple – a case of dollars and cents? I’d really hope not.

I do not get why he can’t face up to the people who have listened to him and respected him for so long. Surely they are owed more than his silence and invisibility.

And these people (like myself and others who attended conferences) are not even the ones who have suffered. I feel gyped by Hybels. I find myself wondering ‘who was he screwing last time I heard him speak?’ Crass… yeah I know… it is crass stuff.

But the actual real people who were used and abused by Hybels are still left with no admission of guilt, let alone a sincere apology and a desire to try and make amends however that would look. This is a disturbing insight into Hybel’s character. I have it described as narcissism – and a narcissist is never in the wrong.

But – surely, surely, surely at some point you must move past self deception to admit you got it wrong and that the gospel of grace and forgiveness you preached with such passion is actually available to you. Yeah – you might ‘lose everything’ in recompensing the people you have wronged – but surely this is where you are now anyway?

I’m not calling for Hybels to come clean because it will ease his personal burden – but simply because sometimes you screw up and you have to own it. And until you own it – the issue remains unresolved both in the minds of people like me and also much more importantly in the lives of those who were hurt.

So – on the off chance that you are googling your own name Bill and you have come across my post – then this is just a plea to make things right by having the balls to own your mistakes and to step up to the plate. I know the church that I have experienced would forgive you in a heartbeat – we would see ourselves in your struggle and we would welcome you back into the family and seek to help you on a path of restoration. You would find love, acceptance and forgiveness in spades. But while you stand at a distance and plead innocent you can never experience this. The time for stoic denial is surely well over and the time to repent and ask forgiveness is ripe.

There is this bloke they used to call ‘a friend of sinners’. He has all the time in the world for the broken and the screwed up – he has grace in abundance for the person who admits their fault. But for the man who stands in his own self righteousness he has nothing but harsh words and judgement.

Your call.

On Women

A few years a relative of mine was visiting from Northern Ireland. We started discussing church life and I asked her ‘So what are the big issues for the church in Nth Ireland?’

‘Hats’ she said.

‘Oh…’ I said, realising pretty quickly that we probably didn’t have a lot to talk about on this front.

‘Hats?’ I thought… ‘wow…’

There were none of the issues I would consider ‘biggies’, (gay marriage, secularism, mission) but then that is just the way things are in that culture at this time.

And reality is that one man’s ‘hats’ is another man’s ‘gay marriage’. We all see different issues as deal breakers – hills to die on. ‘Hats’ isn’t one of mine – but it may have been 100 years ago had I been leading an Australian Baptist church back then.

I have different issues – areas of concern that I would fight hard on because they have become significant in my theology as it has developed.

At our last Baptist pastors conference I realised that were I not leading QBC and Yanchep I may have very limited options for any future ministry work. The realisation dawned on me as a friend mentioned that of our approx 130 Baptist churches in West Oz only 26 (or thereabouts) allow women preachers or senior leaders – and I already lead two of them.

The issue of how we view women has shifted significantly in my own theology from my early years of accepting the very constraining views of my church culture (women weren’t allowed to do anything up front) to now where I hold women as absolute equals and able to function in any way men can.

Danelle and I lead together – ‘we’ lead our churches and I believe we are healthier for it. I could unpack all of my theologising around this subject, but I won’t. I find it inevitably leads to debate and usually debate with people who strongly hold a different view.

But when it comes to things that are ‘core’, ‘conviction’ or simply ‘opinion’, the question of how we treat women has become a strong conviction – at times leaning towards ‘core’.

Barring a bolt from the ‘boss’ (that’s God – not Danelle), I just couldn’t sign up with a mob who held different views to my own on this issue.

So the chances of Danelle and I moving churches in the next 10-20 years is very unlikely. Unless it were with a view to leading change we just wouldn’t be the right people for a church that held a ‘complementarian’ view.

And I mean no disrespect to my complementarian brothers and sisters in writing this. They have their theological reasons for holding the views they do. I just read stuff differently – and it matters significantly.

My hunch is we won’t be having any debate in 100 years time on this topic. It seems that this the way theology moves. What was provocative and disturbing becomes mainstream and we wonder what all the fuss was about. We’ve been there with hats, with hymns and with musical instruments… will it be the same with ‘women’?

I hope so – but I hope sooner rather than later for the many called, gifted and capable women who at this time are unable to serve in the way they feel God has created them to.