overused or undervalued?

Outrage:  (noun) an extremely strong reaction of shock or indignation.

I’m starting to wonder if outrage is the most over-used word of our day, and simultaneously the most undervalued.

A quick search over at news.com.au (everybody’s favourite fair and balanced news source) takes just 0.5 seconds to turn up 44400 stories that feature the word outrage. Everything is an outrage! Everything!

  • Triple J moving the hottest 100 countdown away from Jan 26…because Australia Day
  • Triple M playing a hottest 100 countdown on Jan 26…because Australia Day
  • Cyclists for riding too slow, or to fast, or existing at all
  • Donald Trump insulting African nations
  • People defending Donald Trump from African nations
  • Just about anything else you can think of…the list is long and entertaining

The play seems fairly straightforward – generate clicks (and therefore advertising revenue) by generating a response of outrage.  Generate comments and therefore more return visits by inviting that manufactured outrage to be vented. Essentially, outrage makes money (for someone).

To be fair, news.com.au is just one example – pick your favourite news source, social media channel, politician and the word “outrage” (or the idea, cloaked in another word or phrase (like “war on X”… favoured by tv ‘current affairs’ shows) won’t be far away.  And it has become infectious: read the comments section under just about any “news” article and you’ll find a stream of outrage…usually from both ends of the spectrum…defending their view (to the death if necessary) and insulting the intelligence, appearance, beliefs (and so on) of those with an alternate view.

We’ve become a society that wears outrage like a bad tattoo (somewhere, someone who loves tattoos just got a little outraged that I used that metaphor, while somewhere else a writer is outraged because it’s a stupid metaphor anyway…but I digress).

Social media enables us to vent this outrage (which has often been manufactured or encouraged by someone else) from the safety of our keyboards (hey…like I’m doing now!) and the capacity for civil discourse suffers as a result. I’d almost go so far as to say that the phenomenon of outrage is what enables people like Donald Trump or Pauline Hanson or Peter Dutton to do their thing (cue more outrage). The modern political system thrives on generating and harnessing outrage. It’s a lazy way to lead, but sadly it seems to work when it comes to the task of getting elected.

Outrage: so over-used its not funny.

And it isn’t funny…because genuine outrage matters. Outrage at the treatment of women by powerful men. Outrage at the hoarding of wealth by some at the expense of others. Outrage at the destruction being wrought on our environment in the name of profit. Outrage at church ministers that have abused children, and church organisations that have covered it up. Outrage that Microsoft still include Comic Sans in the standard fonts for their software. Outrage matters.

Genuine outrage changes the world.  Genuine outrage challenges slavery, abusive economic systems, blatantly discriminatory practice, violence and more. Outrage matters a great deal, and in some ways, in the world we’ve created for ourselves, there should be more of it.

But the outrage that matters is being drowned out by this manufactured, confected outrage that fills our screens and our minds, sells advertising and generates views, and in the process alienates us from one another.

For most of us, with respect to most issues, we just need to calm down a little.  I don’t know where it came from, but the phrase “calm your farm” has been on high rotation in our house over the last few months. Many of us could do well to apply this mantra to our lives.

And for most of us, we then need to think carefully about the issues that need genuine outrage…and then put that to good use. Outrage isn’t just for selling advertising…its for changing the world.

That’s what I’m wondering about today.


Postcards from England: More from the ILC

It’s taking too long, and there are too many of these postcards racking up and at the current rate I’ll be sending postcards long after I return home…so today I’ll send three in one go, all from the Fresh Expressions International Learning Community (ILC)

Shaping a menu:

One of the things I’ve heard said more than once when we’ve been encouraging people to try ‘fresh expressions of church’ (remember…a new kind of church designed for people who don’t ‘get’ church) is “I don’t know what to do”. In other words, “We’re ready to try something new, but don’t know where to start”.

Around the world, there are a few simple models or approaches that are well understood, and well documented.

Messy Church is one example, and there are at last count something over 200 examples of Messy Church (a kind of creative, hands-on, fun, messy approach to church designed for families with young kids) operating in Australia, and hundreds more in other countries around the world.  Messy Church is a well understood approach, with great books, training and coaching available. It’s a relatively easy place to start.

This week I heard some more about another well documented approach that is fast gaining traction in the US: Dinner Church.  Now at one level gathering around a dinner table and engaging in practices of worship and disciple-building is nothing new (in fact arguably its where the Christian church started…so it’s a very ancient practice indeed) but the very fact of documenting an approach, and putting out lots of hints and tips not only helps people find a way to start, but in some way legitimises the approach. Dinner Churches (such as Be3 that I met this week, or St Lydias that seemed to start the pattern) are popping up everywhere, and understandably so. It’s a relatively simple approach to starting a fresh expressions, that’s relatively light on resource requirements. Tables, food, people, a commitment to gather are all that’s required.

It all got me wondering what other relatively simple approaches to starting fresh expressions could be fairly simply documented – with the result being that a community who want to start could find something of a menu to choose from if their own ideas are slow in coming.  Community gardens? Men’s Sheds? Café Church? Park Church? Pop-up Church?

Now I have to say the obvious – one of the core philosophies being Fresh Expressions is that it’s effectively a contextual church planting movement – so the idea of putting up a menu of choices that would be parachuted in without paying attention to context seems to go against the grain. That’s a fair critique if all we do is put up three of four options and say “choose one and implement it”.  If we offer three of four starting points, however, and encourage them to be shaped and moulded to fit the context, or used as imagination starters, that’s potentially a better way to go.

For some people at least, my feeling is that a few well described options might just kick-start the imagination process that can sometimes take a little while to get going.


Going so far to meeting the neighbours:

The ILC, as I mentioned in the last postcard, featured teams from around the world and one of the ironies was that for the Australian team, we had to travel across the world to meet each other.

Fresh Expressions in Australia (at least using that name), has an up-and-down kind of history that spans back around 10 years.  A lot of energy was put into the movement from South Australia, and from NSW/ACT (from a number of denominations), and Mission Shaped Ministry courses consequently popped up in a number of states. It’s kind of bobbed along for the last few years with some real hot-spots (the Uniting Church Presbytery of Port Philip West in Victoria being an obvious one), but without a cohesive approach.

This week we heard stories of well-structured national organisations in places like Southern Africa, Germany, Sweden and the USA. And we wondered…is that what we need to do in Australia? A central organisation, staff, structure, funding?  It didn’t seem (to the Australian team present) to fit how things are ‘down under’.  Instead we came away committed to animating a national network, and a national conversation – but leaving the specifics of action (such as coaching, training advocacy) to local (state-based teams). We came away committed to one another, to intentional communication and resource sharing (and with some concrete strategies to put in place for those things), but sure that (at last for now) a structured organisational approach isn’t the thing.

We arrived as a group within which for each of us there were some friends, some acquaintances, some colleagues and some strangers, but left as the beginnings of a strong network, committed to one another, excited about the potential of an animated network, working (alongside others) to ignite in the church a call to be missional in nature, character and practice.

It was a long way to go to meet the neighbours, but I’m every so glad that’s what happened.  If you want to get in on the Australian conversation, hit this facebook group.


A personal journey:

The week also offered something of a reminder to me personally. Sheri and I have bounced around on the edges of the organised church for a long time now, involved in what we might have called “Fresh Expressions” (if we had had the language/label) from our young adult years right up until recent times.

Early in this week’s gathering I felt like I was, once more, connecting with my tribe, with people who see the world in some of the same ways I do.  I felt at home in the conversations, and found myself in the stories being shared. I came away convinced of two things.

Firstly, that over the past year or two, I’ve stopped being a ‘practitioner’ myself, eased back from personally leading faith communities that are innovative in nature. I still contribute to my local church, for sure, but only within the patterns of regular church cycles and in regular worship gatherings.  I realised that I’ve lost something of myself in this change in practice. I come home wanting to reconnect with the practitioner (or maybe even pioneer) in me.

Secondly, that my involvement with the Queensland group wanting to encourage Fresh Expressions has moved in the wrong direction.  In wanting to encourage Presbytery involvement, and in being a little cautious about the Synod being too deeply involved in things that aren’t its direct purview, I think maybe I’ve withdrawn too far.  I think maybe I owe an apology to the team, and I might be asking them to let me back in (only if they’ll have me of course!).

There’s a bunch of other stuff too, but for what was intended to be a short postcard, that’ll do for now.

In the time since the ILC wrapped up last Friday, I’ve embarked on a series of meetings with interesting people in the UK leading activities such as church planting, pioneer minister training and more. The next series of postcards will reflect on those conversations.

Thanks for hanging in!

Postcards from England: ILC1 – FX around the world

We’ve just wrapped up four incredibly stimulating days at the Fresh Expressions International Learning Community that took place at the beautiful Ashburnam Place (Battle, England).


Teams gathered for the event from all corners of the globe – the host team from the UK joined by Southern Africa, United States, Mountain Sky (also United States), Canada, Sweden, Germany   and of course Australia.

It was both fascinating and encouraging to hear the stories of fresh approaches to church and faith community that emerged from each of the national teams.  There’s something special that happens when a “tribe” of like-minded people gather together.

It was interesting too to discover that the shape of Fresh Expressions (from an organisational perspective) differs greatly in each place.

In Southern Africa for example, they’re a well organised team and have formal partnerships with nine different denominations.  Meanwhile in Mountain Sky USA, it’s predominantly an initiative of the United Methodist Church through that area (Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana) and involves approaches to planting new churches and new faith communities in an area that seems to bear many of the same cultural hallmarks as Australia.

In the UK, naturally (as the originators of the Fresh Expressions movement) they’re very well organised, and with a partnership involving several denominations. Each denomination shares in resourcing the wider movement, together with undertaking their own work of developing new expressions within the denomination.  The movement began in 2004 in the UK under the auspices of then Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams – who saw it as an ideal vehicle to begin a contextual church planting movement within the churches involved.  That commitment continues, and while there are more traditional church planting movements underway in the UK, Fresh Expressions (and the associated training and support offered under that banner) continues to be a vehicle that helps local churches and local leadership groups establish new church communities.

Each of these stories (and more) provided great food for thought for the Australian team. We gathered at the conference not ever having actually met as a team before (indeed several of us didn’t know each other until we arrived!) and through the week were able to dream together about how we can (collectively) energise Australian activity in the area of fresh expressions.

I valued the opportunity to meet so many leaders from around the world. Session times were predominantly spent in our country teams (and this worked brilliantly), which meant meal times were a noisy buzz of excited conversation and story sharing.

In the next three posts I’ll share (a) a couple of particular stories I encountered and which I think have something to offer in an Australian context; (b) a couple of things I learned about myself (I’ll try not to overshare!), and (c) what the Australian team see as the future of our network down under.

Your questions or comments, of course, are welcome.


on birthdays with a zero…

My youngest is just days away from a very special birthday. The one in which she reaches the magical double-figure mark. She’s bounding around the house with barely contained excitement, the anticipation of the big day breaking forth in unexpected moments as she thinks about a party with her friends, a day with her family, and her first electronic gadget (the iPod has become a de-facto rite of passage at age 10 in our house…please go gentle on the judgement of our parenting choices!).

Lots of birthdays hold significant meaning when you’re young. Double figures. Teenager-hood. Sixteen. The 18 year old adult. The 21st. Time honoured significance in each of those birthdays.

It seems that once you reach a certain age though, birthdays lose something of that magic. Sure it’s nice to have a special dinner with the family, and to receive some best wishes from friends, but it’s not quite as enchanted as when you’re a kid.

Except if the birthday in question has a zero in it.

Maybe its just not possible to keep up the enthusiasm year-in and year-out for birthdays, so we ration it to once every ten years instead. Turning 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 and the grand old century mark, these are special days.  Often we think of them as marking a transition point too, onward to the next stage of life.

Zero birthdays give us pause to reflect not just on the last year, but on the last stage of life, the last decade or more. And to think far more than 12 months ahead, pondering what is to come, what choices we’ll make, what the next stage of life holds in store for us.

Anniversaries are a bit the same. Oh Sheri and I will definitely mark the passing of our 22nd anniversary later this year, but we’re already planning toward the 30th in a much bigger way.

A zero is just one number among ten, but somehow the zero makes it special

All of which comes into sharp focus this week.

Continue reading


when numbers hurt

Some days, numbers are wonderful things.

When your favourite band hits #1. When your favourite athlete gets a high score. When you run or ride or walk a personal best. When your newborn has their longest non-stop sleep. When the number signifies an important anniversary or birthday.

Some days, numbers are wonderful.

And some days, numbers hurt.  Today it seems to me is one of those days.

The number killed and injured in a highrise building fire in London climbs inexorably higher, and itself is outweighed by the number killed in a Bangladesh mudslide.

The number attached to the Australian government’s legal settlement with Manus Island detainees is a reminder of the horrors of the conditions those asylum seekers are treated to, at the hands of the country we call home.

Some days numbers hurt.

This morning I had the privilege of sharing a breakfast table with World Vision‘s Tim Costello, in Brisbane to speak at an annual Churches of Christ gathering today.  The conversation ranged far and wide, but again it was a couple of numbers quoted in different parts of the conversation that left me startled.

At one stage we talked about gambling in Australia, and poker machines in general. Costello is a passionate advocate for managing this insidious, addictive blight on our society.  The number in question was 20%.  Australia, home to just 0.3% of the worlds population, hosts more than 20% of the worlds poker machines. 20%. Machines that are specifically designed to take money away from those who use them. And that are most often located in communities that can least afford that loss. 20%. If you want to see some more numbers about poker machines that hurt, go here. Oh, and I was also reminded that one of the biggest profit-makers from pokies in Australia is Woolworths….that’s right…the fresh food people.

And then we talked about South Sudan and Uganda.  Australia, one of the richest nations on earth has since 1947 accepted something like 800 000 refugees. It’s a big number. And if it wasn’t for our recent record it could make us feel all warm and gooey inside. Uganda, at the other end of the global rich list has willingly accepted 1 000 000 refugees from South Sudan in the last 7 months. 1 000 000 in 7 months. And provided land to build a home and grow crops, and access to education and hospitals (such as those things are in Uganda).  Together with NGO’s like World Vision (supported, it has to be said by the generosity of ordinary Australians) they’re tackling what seems like (and may well yet prove to be) an insurmountable problem.  It’s an extraordinary effort, but for all that the effort is amazing, the numbers still tell of a world of pain and brokenness.

I don’t post this today to start a political debate. Simply to say that some days, numbers hurt….and today those numbers remind me that in our country, and in our world, we have a long way to go, many challenges to overcome.

Hopefully those same numbers can motivate us to act.


did you hear the one about…

Did you hear the one about the psychologist, the musician and the golfer?

It started a couple of weeks ago:

I was sitting in a meeting that included a guy whose profession I would describe as an ‘organisational psychologist’. By that I mean he specialises in understanding how organisations and groups develop, how they deal with changing culture and context, and what kinds of steps an organisation and its leadership can take to move from one place to another.

We hadn’t met before, and I hadn’t seen him at work prior to that meeting…but it very quickly became evident that he is brilliant at what he does (at least from where I sit). He was sharp, direct when required, tactful when that was helpful, and immediately able to pinpoint key issues under discussion in the meeting.  It was a short, chance encounter that left a deep impression on me.  I went away inspired.

And then last week:

IMG_3063[1]On Thursday night I went to see musician Stu Larsen ply his trade at Brisbane’s Black Bear Lodge. I’ve written about Stu before, here. If you haven’t heard of him before, go and read that story for a little introduction and then come back. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Stu’s life is that of a wandering storyteller. A guitar and a microphone all he needs. On Thursday night, he held the audience spellbound as with voice and string he wove a tale of place, of people, of life.  This room, packed to the rafters, was still and silent as he shared his trade. And full of voice as he invited us to join in song.  We wandered from King St Sydney, to the 101 Highway San Francisco, to outback Queensland and continental Europe as Stu’s stories and songs took us places that we had never been (and yet seemed strangely familiar).

In a former life Stu was a bank worker…and I’ve no doubt he would have done a good job at that. But here, on stage, singing stories, inviting responses. It’s where he belongs. He’s found his place. Storytellers, in my experience, do two things with their words. First, the words create images that pop up, unbidden, into our minds. We create for ourselves the images, the video that accompanies the story.  And second, they evoke in us, invite from us, our own story. They make us wonder. Stu does that every time I see or hear him play. And Thursday was no different.

And yesterday:

IMG_3071[1]I trooped down to the Gold Coast with a bunch of family and friends to watch one of our own, Matt Guyatt, play in the final round of the Australian PGA golf tournament. Matt was well placed and backed up a big month with a good finish. He played yesterday alongside recently crowned Australian Masters champion Nick Cullen.  It always strikes me as a strange profession (like music or any other ‘performance’ profession) when members of the public come along to watch you do your job. But that’s the daily reality for some, working live in front of an audience.  Matt (and Nick) put it all on the line yesterday, at times quite brilliant, and at others caught out by the gusting wind and fatigue on the final day of a heavy season.

I’m biased, but Matt is quite clearly an extraordinary golfer, with all the technical ability to play the game, shoot the low scores required to be successful in that particular career choice.  But more than that, it was obvious as I watch that he understands he’s in the entertainment and the ‘people’ business. There was constant interaction with the crowd. A chat here or there, a ball or glove given to a child, a joke quietly shared with those nearest the green to lighten the mood at a tense moment.

What I noticed in each case, was a person who had very clearly found their place. Who has discovered and put to good use a unique and delightful talent. That through doing and being what they are cut out to be, makes the world a better place.

We’re not all, of course, going to be pro golfers, travelling musicians or even organisational psychologists (does the world really need more psychologists? Probably!).

But I got to wondering, as I watched these four in action, what a difference it would make to our world, and to us each as individuals, if we never gave up and ‘settled’ until we have found our place. Until we are sure and certain that what we do (whether as a volunteer at nights or on weekends, or in a professional sense) makes the most of our God-given potential.  Jesus told a story about that once…go google the ‘parable of the talents’.

At each place, in each person, I found my own story being drawn out. My own sense of wondering, of self. That’s a powerful gift given when someone who is very good at what they do, simply goes about doing their thing.

And of course I got to wondering…have I found ‘my thing’ yet? At 43 years of age, husband, father, participant in multiple hobbies and community groups, and in my 3rd totally different career…am I in the right place? Am I making the most of what I have?

And….how about you?


the fear of making people afraid

IMG_1872Those who read regularly (hi!) will know I’m a some-times runner.

I’m not that good or that fast, but I enjoy it, and I run. When I travel for work or play, I’ll usually pack the shoes and go for a trot to explore new places. It’s a nice way to start a day, and to get to know the lay of the land wherever I happen to be.  I sometimes do the same with my bike…but it’s not quite as portable as a pair of running shoes!

Those who know me personally will also know I’m a bloke, and a fairly big and tall one.  That matters too, in the context of this story.

A while back I was on the Sunshine Coast, and early one morning laced up the shoes and headed out for a run from Coolum down to Mudjimba. It was a beautiful early morning, and quiet, with not many people out and about yet.  On the return leg I started taking little detours off the main road, into little beachside streets or waterfront walking tracks and then back out onto the main road. It was a nice bit of variety and a few extra metres each time.

The first time I did so, I came back out onto the main running track just in time to see a fellow runner (a woman, and yes, in this story, it matters) join the trail from a side street a little in front of me. I was traveling a slightly quicker, so passed her by, offering a quick “hello” as a greeting often shared by runners, and continued on my way. Soon after I turned off the trail onto another little side route, and when I returned to that main trail found myself just behind the same woman. As I said, I was running a little faster so I went past, and continued on my way. I took the next side-route and on rejoining the main road, once again found myself behind the same woman.

This happened about three or four times before I made it back to my starting point, turned off the trail once and for all and went home for breakfast.

Later that morning (I’m a bit slow to pick up on these things) it occurred to me that I could well have been causing my fellow runner to think she had a stalker…a middle aged, dark-sunglassed, huffing-and-puffing stalker who kept on detouring and then running up behind her.  She could well have been quite anxious about my presence, really worried in the quiet early morning about my motives.

I have to say it was a horrible feeling, that I could have been causing anxiety or fear in another, and even worse that I hadn’t realised the possibility until later (when it was too late to take a different route for example). It matters not that the repeated encounters were totally innocent. It matters not that I was there (on the trail) first. In some ways it matters not whether she actually was afraid or anxious (I have no idea). The very possibility was real.

What concerned me then, and concerns me now, is that we live in a world where the very presence of one (man) can and does cause anxiety or fear in another (woman). We live in a world in which I understand women are continuously targeted for harassment or intimidation. Where men (yes not all men, hopefully including me and most men that I personally know…but surely that’s not the point) continue to inflict violence upon women that they know (and don’t know).

And that my feeling of anxiety and fear about making another afraid and anxious while palpable to me completely pales into insignificance when compared to the experiences and feelings of many women every day.

We live in a world in which this video (released yesterday) depicts an everyday reality for some/many women. I can’t say from personal experience if this is genuinely what it’s like (for as already canvassed above…I am a bloke), but women I know and trust tell me that it is:

And we live in a world in which a well known V8 Supercar driver (my sport of choice, please don’t judge) said today:

Hello Adelaide! In town for the 2015 @Clipsal500 launch. Most pressing item for the day, what do the grid girl uniforms look like?

This is a man with a huge public following, and with a wife and young daughter. And who continues the culture-wide objectification of women. And who is defended in social media commentary as “just having some fun”. And this is the relatively innocent end of the spectrum.

And….I don’t know what to do with all of this. Really, I don’t.

I’m a man. Men cause this.  Maybe not me personally (to my knowledge). Maybe not many of the men who might read this.  But we do, collectively, harass, objectify, instil fear in women everyday.

And that’s just not right.