Over the weekend I got to spend a Friday evening and a Saturday with 10 good men.
It was our QBC bloke’s getaway in Lancelin and traditionally these have been a time of laughter, foolish antics and rich, strong conversation between men around what it means to follow Jesus.
This weekend was no exception. I loved being there partly because it was run by two of the blokes and I just had to turn up, but also because as I looked around the room I realised I found myself in the company of other blokes who weren’t up for pretending they were ‘living the victorious life’, but meanwhile consumed by issues like fear, shame and self loathing.
Someone said of our Quinns culture that ‘there is no shallow end’. You just jump in deep and start swimming. The beauty of it is that we can all ‘swim’, whether we believe it or not. We can all let the guard down, shed a tear, growl an expletive and laugh at ourselves in the space of a few sentences. And as we do that it’s met with acceptance and understanding. Sometimes – if need be – it is met with a push back, a call to step up.
But either way it’s a response of love.
In an old Lano shack we were led in discussion around mental health by two of our men who found themselves struggling over the last few years – two you wouldn’t have thought vulnerable. One is a high level professional and our ‘church optimist’. If there is a ‘bright side’ he will find it! But he found himself dogged by terrible anxiety and panic attacks. And it was hard to put it out there… because positive people don’t have those struggles… except when they do… The other is self employed and had a similar struggle. It was debilitating and difficult. This blog isn’t the place to discuss another person’s challenges, but it was wonderful to consider mental health in light of the scriptures that speak about who we are and that carry stories of other’s similar struggles.
Of the 10 men present at least 7 had encountered challenges in their mental health and all had found it difficult to speak up about it. It’s a thing.
So it was good to have the conversations and hear the stories – to know that we are not alone and that there is a bunch of people we can hang with who will do more than talk footy, interest rates and cars.
After working my way thru Isaiah over a period of a few months I decided the I’d keep rolling and got stuck into Jeremiah, then Lamentations, Daniel and finally I launched into Ezekiel – possibly the hardest of them all to read and engage with.
I was in that headspace of reading the chapters towards the end that describe in elaborate detail how the temple was to be constructed – and to be fair I was getting very bored…
Here’s a taster straight from Ch 41:
Then the man brought me to the main hall and measured the jambs; the width of the jambs was six cubits[a] on each side.[b]2 The entrance was ten cubits[c] wide, and the projecting walls on each side of it were five cubits[d] wide. He also measured the main hall; it was forty cubits long and twenty cubits wide.[e]
3 Then he went into the inner sanctuary and measured the jambs of the entrance; each was two cubits[f] wide. The entrance was six cubits wide, and the projecting walls on each side of it were seven cubits[g] wide. 4 And he measured the length of the inner sanctuary; it was twenty cubits, and its width was twenty cubits across the end of the main hall. He said to me, “This is the Most Holy Place.”
I have been in the practice of reading scripture and praying in the mornings, but this section was lolling me off to sleep. I don’t think I actually ‘read’ any of it – I just internally said ‘detail… detail… detail…’
And I did I realised the point is that God actually cares about detail – cares enough to be highly prescriptive with the place he would consider his dwelling place. I dunno if you’d call it pedantic – but it certainly isn’t a case of ‘knock up a donger and we’ll leave it at that!’
I’m not fantastic with details – I got a parking fine recently because I read the sign too quickly and missed the time when parking was free. I missed a signature on an important form because I skimmed it and rushed it in.
I think in blocks and chunks, but often miss detail and the fact is that detail matters. That was all I heard that morning as I read what I would consider a fairly tedious and uninspiring section of the Bible.
God cares about details – maybe I should care a little more.
I was at a National Youth Workers Convention in San Diego way back in 1998 listening to Mike Yaconelli as he preached passionately about the heart of youth ministry – as only he could.
I remember he pleaded with us ‘youth pastors – we must stop impersonating ourselves!’
I had no idea what he meant. I was a young, Type A male, full of ambition and determined to be the best damn youth pastor the world had seen. I was up on culture, I was learning the ropes of ministry and I knew what a successful youth pastor looked like.
So I set out to be that guy – the very one Yaconelli warned me about – I had an image of the youth pastor I wanted to be in my head so I hit that trajectory and tried to be that person. I think I got pretty close, but…
A few years later his words were ringing in my ears yet again – and this time I understood.
In many ways I had become the youth pastor I wanted to be – but I was also playing a role for at least some of the time. I was imitating myself… ah… now I understood.
Of course unlearning a life of pretense is another skill again – perhaps why I like to keep this blog fairly raw and unpretentious. So if you’re a pastor reading this and wondering ‘what the hell does Hamo mean – impersonating myself?’ then one day you are in for a revelation that will both blow you apart and take you a place where you can actually do some good for others – rather than simply venturing up the pastoral ‘career path’ and acting the part each step of the way.
When we stop imitating ourselves and playing a role we can actually be the people God has made us to be. We can function as ourselves. We don’t need that pair of shoes to fit the bill, or that dress to ‘make a statement’.
If turning up as you are isn’t enough then somethings broke…
We are coming up 10 years at the same church shortly (if you don’t count getting voted out after the first 6 months… but that’s another story) and it’s review time.
A lot happens in 10 years and a lot changes between the age of 45 and 55 – more than I could have imagined.
In a sense QBC was our first real tilt at leading an established church community. We had a couple of years at Lesmurdie Baptist when I moved from the youth pastor to team leader role, but we were only 14 months in when the sense of calling to plant a church threw things up in the air. So we didn’t really settle into a familiar and established mode of operation there. And Upstream was a missionary team – a whole different animal to your garden variety Baptist church. So this has been a fairly new experience and one that we have kinda grown with and learnt on the job.
The beauty of doing something like this in your mid 40s is that you know who you are and what you can bring. You also know who you aren’t and when you don’t expect to be all things to all people you don’t wear yourself out. You still disappoint people who hold a more GP view of what a pastor is, but part of getting older is being ok with disappointing people.
At this stage we have no plans to move on anywhere. For that matter there are no other ‘offers’ on the table. But even if there were it would take a crowbar and dynamite to move us from where we live in Yanchep. I haven’t ever felt a sense of being so deeply rooted in a place as I have here. I think I’ll leave here in a box – but hopefully not too soon.
Right now my own reflections find me hovering between ‘these will be your best years of leadership‘ and ‘get out of the way so younger people can step up.’ I don’t think that’s necessarily an either / or scenario, but I’m both wary of giving up aspects of leadership that I should retain, while also conscious that for others to keep moving I have to create space.
If the next 10 years are to be fruitful though it will be as we help those around us continue to develop and as we become less conspicuous. In most professional roles to be in your mid 50’s is to have reached a use by date – however with ministry its not so simple. In fact in ministry there is stuff that you can ‘bring’ in your 50’s that you couldn’t in your 40’s and I suspect it will be the same with the 60’s and 70’s.
I realise that to some it sounds absurd to consider leading two churches on a two day / week paid role, while running a business in the other 3 days, but it works for us and has done for some time. It means some stuff doesn’t get done – or it takes longer to get done – which can be frustrating, but the gain is that I am not locked in ‘church world’, but rather get to live in business / tradie world for at least half my time. I have no aspirations to re-enter a full time paid role, although there are times when the ‘stuff to do’ just outweighs the hours in the week.
When people ask me what I do around church its 3 simple things – lead, preach, meet with blokes (as well as some essential admin, social media and communication tasks). It means I don’t do other stuff – and it either gets picked up by other people – or doesn’t get done. Lately the amount of bureaucratic red tape we have had to wade thru has just about brought me undone – quite literally. I have actually considered pulling out of paid pastoring because of the admin and red tape that dogs us all. But then I figure I will just do the same stuff anyway and won’t be able to avoid it.
So – for now it seems we will continue on in a similar role but with a view to helping others step up more into core leadership tasks and who knows maybe in another 5-10 years we will be in a place where we can consider church planting yet again 🙂
I’ve just finished Episode 11 of series 3 of the Handmaid’s Tale, and we are still no closer to the ‘good guys’ winning. Surely they have to come out on top in the end? June is going to get the kids out of Gilead… isn’t she?
It’s how we believe life should work. The good guys win, order is restored and we all live happily ever after.
But – even outside of ‘Gilead’, bad things happen to good people – often – and there is no happy ending. In fact some good people suffer terribly and more frequently than bad folks. That’s not fair at all we reason (and its not.)
And of course ‘bad’ people often get away with evil and often seem to live life untouched.
It’s the question we are always wanting an answer to, as we seek to make meaning of the good and bad that goes on around us apparently randomly.
Surely the good should be rewarded and the bad punished?… We intuitively sense the injustice of this world and when we understand God to be in the mix somewhere, we inevitably want (need?) a way to make sense of it – maybe it’s a way to make sense of God.
Of course then we have to ask, are our lives ‘pre-scripted’ by God and is he intentionally ‘allowing’ (causing?) the bad to happen for some greater purpose? Seems like it happened with Joseph way back in the book of Genesis. When his brothers are gathered before him he reveals who he is then says:
Gen 50:20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
Hmmph… So God scripted Joseph’s abandonment, mistreatment and jailing all for this purpose? Does God do that? I’m not convinced. The ‘pre-scripted’ life just doesn’t make any real sense if we have a genuine capacity to exert free will.
We definitely have a tendency to look on circumstances and read meaning into them. ‘Clearly God allowed X to happen so that Y could learn to trust/develop perseverance etc etc… ‘ But I doubt we ever know what God is up to and if he is actually at work then I would suggest the best time to reflect on what went down is long after the event – when we have perspective.
I had the rather awful misfortune of a broken engagement when I was 22 years old. I was head over heels in love and as devastated as I have ever been. I tried to read all sorts of meaning into the situation when it happened, but reality was I had no clue what was going on. I was heart broken and coming apart at the seams, so I was hardly in a place to be making ‘God is clearly doing X’ kind of statements.
Thirty years on my reflections are completely different. If God was at work – and I am really not sure he was – then the woman I was engaged to just made a very good decision not to give her life to an arrogant, selfish and controlling man. She saved herself a life of pain by calling it off. I see that now.
Maybe God was teaching me faith – to hang on when things get tough… maybe he was testing my devotion to him… but it seems kind of a harsh test. Maybe he was just pushing me to grow up and stop being a jerk. Or maybe I was actually living with the product of dumb choices.
In the end it felt like my choice was to lean on God or blame God. ( And I just made that sound a lot more binary than it actually is.) I chose to come closer and believe that he would give me strength to get thru.
And he did – but I didn’t always stay close and I also made a lot of bad choices that hurt other people in the 3 years that followed – it took me that long to get my life back on track.
I look back on all of that now and I actually don’t think God was manipulating circumstances to cause me to trust him more or to learn a lesson. I feel like I was a young man growing up with some glaring faults and I needed to sort myself out. Along the way I chose to keep a relationship with God – sometimes a healthy one – sometimes a conflicted one.
I was writing this in the bedroom and came upstairs to continue it. As I sat down, out of the blue Sam declared that he thought it nonsense that ‘everything happens for a reason’. His statement has a context as we are currently thinking of a nephew who is just 2 weeks old and on life support. Do we know what’s going on there? Of course not. Why would one so completely innocent suffer?
As Sam was articulating his point of view, I said ‘hey I’m writing on this right now!’ and then Ellie jumped in with ‘wanna know what I wrote this week?’ I did… You’re wondering too right?
So Ellie wrote:
I don’t believe everything happens for a reason but I do believe we have the choice to make the most of everything and situation we encounter. It’s up to us to make everything count and find purpose for it. That is how we might reach a feeling of fulfilment in the more confusing situations
Smart kids hey? I think so.
Actually I do think everything happens for ‘a’ reason, but not the reason Ellie was alluding to. Sometimes the reason is that ‘we are dumb and make bad decisions’. Sometimes the reason is that other people made bad decisions… Is my aching back a sign from God to give up my retic business – or is it just an inevitable result of 10 years back-breaking work? Ummm… one of those answers is obvious.
It’s too convenient and too easy to say ‘everything happens for a reason’ – be it God – karma or whatever you like to believe in. And that’s not to say I disbelieve in divine intervention in this world. Right now that’s what we are praying for with our nephew – for a gracious God to miraculously overturn the inevitable and bring healing where it looks unlikely – for his kingdom to come on earth as in heaven. I guess you could call it a miracle.
So what about Joseph’s statement?
Could it be that what we hear is Joseph reading meaning back into his circumstances rather than declaring what had actually happened? Is his speech to his brothers one we should form theology around? I’m hesitant to do that. I have done that in the past – explained to people that the bad they were experiencing could be like that of Joseph. God was actually going to use it for good. As I read those words today I tend to think Joseph was reflecting at the end of the process and at the end of staying the course with God.
Not everyone chooses to trust God in difficult times and even when they do trust it doesn’t end up roses. Some people trust God and get killed. I haven’t seen the movie made about missionary Graham Stains and his family, who were burnt alive in their car by an Indian gang, but that does seem like a case in point.
Its’ when something good comes out of evil that we get tempted to form a theology around it. Jim Elliot and his mates got killed by the Huaorani tribe way back in the 1950’s and (I have heard anecdotally) that there are now thriving churches where they were martyred. Does this mean their deaths had greater purpose? Or did they knowingly risk their lives for a faith they believed in – knowing that the consequences could be fatal – that their God who was leading them might not protect them.
I have always liked the approach of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego when they were on trial for failing to worship Nebuchadnezzar:
Daniel 3: 16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
For many years now the bedrock of my own theology has been the premise that God is good. From there I begin to form other conclusions, but if where I land negates the belief that God is good then I will go back and start again.
I absolutely believe that God intervenes from time to time in the world – the stuff we might call miracles. I also believe he allows life to happen – choices to have consequences and he allows babies to suffer when he could intervene.
If you want me to create a narrative around that of why God allowed it then I think we are on very sketchy ground.
Yep – everything happens for a reason – but chances are it isn’t the reason you think.
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
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 🙂
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…
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.