If I Were a Horse

Currently the WA Assisted Dying Bill 2019 is being discussed in parliament and it raises some questions for us – at least it should. This is an issue that Christians have historically and traditionally been against and for good reasons, but the more I ponder it the less I am convinced we should be so rigid.

Personally – if I was terminally ill and my life was a nightmare, then I’d really appreciate the option of a graceful way to exit – to have some control over my destiny – I think… I guess I may feel differently if I am faced with the reality, but I feel like I’d be happier for knowing there was an ‘escape’ button if I was in unbearable pain or if I was confined to a vegetative state.

Curiously the flip side of our reticence to consider this issue as Christians is that if anyone ought to anticipate a better future on the other side of death then it’s us – surely? It’s not to say we greet death with glee, but at least we live with a confidence that beyond ‘that door’ is something better.

Right there is a significant test of faith. Do we actually believe the stuff we spout?

I hear arguments about the elderly being bullied into taking an early exit as the kids could really do with the inheritance and I can see that as a real possibility. (Watch out Dad…) I can see it as the thin of a utilitarian wedge where every potential ‘assisted death’ is costing us $Millions and it just doesn’t make sense to keep them alive. The elderly or the incapacitated become ‘financial liabilities’ that are best eliminated in a society like ours.

Yet whatever path we choose opens possibility of abuse.

Our current system compels some people to suicide or to ‘murder’. A recent news story of helping a partner die saw the remaining partner charged with murder. That just doesn’t seem cool either. What a devastating situation to be in…

It’s also no news that we are living longer that ever and we can prolong life much further than ever before, so we really are in a different space than in centuries gone by. So, perhaps asking when death is appropriate – and maybe even necessary- is the question we should be grappling with. Sometimes people ‘die’ long before their body gives up, but it seems our only definitions of death relate to the beating of a heart.

I don’t believe we should ever remove a person’s consent on this issue and it should never be a purely utilitarian decision. Yet the flip side of this is that neither should we deny them the possibility of a peaceful planned ending to life, instead of a painful or meaningless existence.

If we are unwilling to even entertain the idea of assisted dying then we cannot begin to consider that in this current world it may be a legitimate option. We can shut down the conversation before it goes anywhere. We can cite ‘only God had the power of life and death’, or we can tussle with the complexities of our modern world, the advances in medicine and the question of when ‘death’ has already occurred even if the body is still functioning.

I imagine there is concern that those who struggle with deep dark depression will be forming a queue to get out of here fast, but the bill also has checks and balances to ensure you can’t have a bad day at work and then call it quits on life.

I feel like we need to open this one up a bit more as simply drawing ‘battle lines’ for ‘right’ and ‘left’ does not foster good dialogue.

Anyway those are my thoughts.

So if one day I am unfortunate enough to be left incapacitated and with no hope of recovery then take this as my permission to send me to a place where I will find rest and peace. We may miss each other but we also have the hope of meeting again.

And Then We Were ‘There’

Around 16 years ago I was selling our home in Lesmurdie and getting organised to set off on the adventure that birthed this blog. That afternoon a couple walked in to check out our house and as we got talking I discovered they lived just around the corner from me – maybe 5 houses away.

I asked ‘how have you found it living in a suburb where they aren’t too many people like us? (By ‘us’ I meant young families.)

He responded ‘Really? We hadn’t noticed. In fact most Friday nights a few of us from the street get together for pizza and drinks. We love it here.’

We chatted some more and he left, but as he walked away I realised that maybe these people had been there but I hadn’t seen them. They weren’t in my ‘church pastor’ field of vision and my life was so pre-occupied with all things ‘church’ that I wouldn’t have had time for them anyway.

A large part of the reason we were selling the house and moving was that we wanted to start again – to extricate ourselves from the busy pastoral life we had created and find our way into a new space – where we knew our neighbours, where we had time to spend with them, where ‘church’ wasn’t such a dominating and all consuming presence in our lives.

Sometimes you just have to break free and start over and while there were many other factors involved, one thing I was confident of was that I would struggle to ‘re-invent’ myself while I stayed in the same role in the same community.

So we left with one of our prime objectives being to spend less time with church people and more time with the people in our street and our local community. When I would speak to churches about this stuff I would say ‘we need to spend less time trying to get the community into church and more time getting the church back into the community.’ It was the early days of the missional movement and the idea of incarnational ministry was on the front burner for us.

I have no doubt there were people at our previous church who were actually living very healthy, balanced lives engaged with both church and community, but my hunch is that because we didn’t see them often enough at church we wondered (and worried) about the shape of their faith… ouch… It’s what happens when your life revolves around and is dominated by ‘Sunday church’.

So we moved to Butler on the missionary adventure that was Upstream and it was a valuable 8 years of pushing ourselves hard in the opposite direction, but it felt just like that – pushing ourselves. Maybe it was necessary as we had spent so long looking inwards, but in it all I never really hit my stride. I never settled into just being myself and feeling at ease with the calling we had set out on. I was always ‘trying hard’ and the very word ‘tryhard’ is used to describe someone who just isn’t cutting it. I wasn’t cutting it and while I knew the theory my practice always felt a step behind the game.

We wound up Upstream in 2003 around the time we headed off around Oz and when we came back we began to lead Quinns. After two years we moved house to Yanchep and settled in with no ambitions to be missionaries or religious people of any sort. I just went surfing, walked the dog and did all the stuff normal people do. We have been there 9 years now and it is very much home.

Last night we sat around the table enjoying pizza and pancake with good friends from the top of our street – folks we have connected with well enough to even go on holidays with. This evening we will walk across the road to another friend’s home where we will celebrate a birthday with her and some others from our street. These are now common occurrences – a part of our lives that I have been taking for granted.

But as we sat there last night I felt that voice deep in my gut say ‘This is what you hoped for. This is what you couldn’t ‘make happen’, but it happened all by itself as you just got on with living your life.’ And in that moment there was genuine joy – because these are real friends who we love to spend time with and who know our ‘Jesus obsession’ even if they don’t share it.

Tomorrow morning we will skip church at Quinns and head back to Lesmurdie for the church’s 50th anniversary along with some of the other pastors who were also there and it will be great to see old friends from a wonderful part of our life. And it was in thinking about going back that it dawned on me that we are now actually living the life we had hoped for and there is much to be grateful for.

Exposing The Deeds of Darkness

So we ought to do this apparently…

Yesterday I was teaching from Ephesians 5, a pretty punchy section of Paul’s letter where he gives 3 lenses for living a life of faith – love, light and wisdom, but because it can all get a bit fuzzy when we deal in abstract ideas he also gives some very specific instructions – eg, don’t get drunk, don’t allow even a hint of sexual immorality or greed.

The bit that snuck up on me this time was vv 11-12

11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 

Is it just me or does our thinking instantly gravitate towards wondering who these people are and what are they doing? What are these ‘fruitless deeds of darkness’ that the ‘disobedient’ are doing in secret?

What if rather than looking around for these people we looked inward?

What if Paul is speaking to the church and challenging them (and us) to expose the dark parts of our lives – the ‘shameful’ things we do in secret.

I think that’s very possible – in fact the more I dwelt on it the more plausible it became, so that rather than calling us to be moral crusaders and to point our the flaws in others, he is calling us to acknowledge our brokenness, confess our sin (expose) and in doing so overcome the darkness.

When we bring our darkness into the light by the process of confession we remove its potency. When we allow our ‘shameful deeds’ to stay ‘secret’, then we put ourselves in a position of real vulnerability, because we con ourselves that all will be ok.

If anything is going to help us in the battle against the pervasiveness of pornography in our culture today then its going to be exposing our own failure each time it happens – bringing our darkness into the light by an act of confession – it can be as simple as a text to a trusted friend – and then moving on knowing that we don’t have ‘dark secrets’ that will one day either be exposed or will unravel us.

It takes some courage to front up to your own darkness, but the other options aren’t pretty either. Choose your form of vulnerability – either vulnerable to the wiles of the evil one, or vulnerable to a friend who can hear your confession, pray for you and encourage you to pick up and move on.

Space to Move

I am currently away on an overnight retreat with a bunch of other younger pastors, something we have done annually for 7 years now and it’s always a valuable time of reflecting and reconnecting.

This morning the activity I set as our opener was to walk out into the yard of the large semi-rural Mundaring home where we were staying and to find something that depicted where you feel like you are at in your own ministry journey.

It was a good time listening to what the different guys shared about their lives and the insights they had. But funnily enough as sometimes happens the activity snuck up on me and spoke to me quite unexpectedly.

As I wandered the yard the thing that struck me was an open gate leading into a wide open paddock – as in the pic above. It was a big space and there were few trees or structures on it. My gut said ‘this is what you are to ponder’. I also saw another gate just partially open and leading into a smaller more cluttered field. (The one below)

I feel like the open gate into the wide open space depicts well where I feel like I am at after 28 years of ministry. It speaks of new horizons and new opportunities and I’m looking forward to that.

Our hope is for the guys I am currently working with to take over leadership of the two churches (Quinn’s & Yanchep) and for Danelle and myself to have a new role in both spaces. At the moment we still aren’t sure what form that will take, but our intention is to take the time to see what will serve the churches and allow the other pastors to really flourish.

We have long service leave in early 2021, so 2020 will in many ways be a handover year and a year of transition into a new but as yet undefined role.

Oddly enough it doesn’t feel like an ‘ending’ or a ‘wind down’, but more of an open field / blank canvas on which to take creative initiatives.

I felt encouraged and inspired by that image and I’m looking forward to what transpired in this next stage of life as we walk thru that wide open gate into a new experience and focus.

Just felt like sharing that little vision with you…

Dying a Slow Death

One of my fondest memories of growing up in a WA Baptist church c. 1970-80 were the ‘City – Country’ exchanges, where a bunch of folks from a country youth group came to be billeted out with a city church for a weekend. There were combined fun activities, a big youth gathering on the Saturday evening and then some involvement in local churches on Sunday mornings. It was great fun and worked both ways – the country folks came to the city and the city folks then went back down there.

I remember vividly some games that were organised on the South Perth foreshore descending into utter chaos when the farmers from Woodanilling took off in their utes to get a trayload of tomatoes and then returned and started pelting them at city kids. It was pretty funny! I remember when we hit the country being taken bunny bashing in the back of a ute. Yeah wacking actual rabbits with a stick and driving around farms without seatbelts while standing in the tray of a ute… I don’t think anyone actually caught a rabbit, but that we did it told a story.

Try taking a bunch of kids bunny bashing now… or shooting…or… (insert potentially risky activity)

How did we ever survive our youth?

This was the year I almost resigned from being a pastor of a local church because of the level of administrivia that now assaults us daily. It has been a year of dealing with constitutions, incorporated status, risk assessments and all the rules that churches now have to abide by. It has felt like we have been dragged through mud backwards and I know its not over.

I guess as a ‘senior pastor’ I should be across this stuff, but I’m not. And it disturbs me so much that every time I think about it I want to ask ‘how did we ever get by this long as a church?’

Did Jesus write a risk management assessment for being one of his disciples? And if he had would anyone have insured him?

I understand the context we live in. I really do… Politically correct, litigious and insurance claim driven, but I feel like more and more we are organising and legislating the fun out of life – or making it so hard to actually have fun that we all give up and watch Netflix.

Depending on your personality type you are either ‘tutt tutting’ and wanting to say ‘Andrew there are very good reasons why we need you to fill in these forms’, or you are sighing along with me and wondering what happened to ‘just having a good time’.

I want us to be safe from sex predators and dangerous people. I don’t want us to do really dumb stuff. But neither do I want to make it so hard to do simple things that we all refuse to engage or alternatively we make it so hard to participate that no one can be bothered.

It was a few years back that we decided to have church at the local park rather than where we normally meet at the school. It was all go until someone (we don’t know who) rang the council and told them. Then I got a phone call informing me we can’t just ‘show up in a park’… seriously?… What are parks actually for?

We needed to fill in this form and apply for permission, complete a risk assessment, pay a fee and bend over backwards just to hang out for an hour at our local park. We cancelled that event and met at the school and ever since we have not run church events of this kind. We just cancel church for the morning and make mention that some of us may spend the morning at the park/beach/wherever… Might see you there. Its just easier that way.

So maybe one day I will wake up and tune into the importance of the bureaucratic processes that currently take me to the brink of resignation. Or maybe – more likely – we will continue to operate on the principle of common sense, and accept that risk is part of life. We won’t be driven by potential insurance claims and we won’t be hamstrung by paperwork.

So – feel free to tell me ‘why we need all this stuff’. But just understand that for many – like me – there is a very strong temptation just to drop out of the ‘system’ and operate autonomously, accepting that to live is to risk.