the importance of noticing had a learning moment on the weekend, right in the middle of a presentation I was making. Gotta be happy about that timing.

Over the last couple of years I’ve come to thinking of the critical questions when it comes to Christian Mission (and don’t stop reading if you’re not interested in Christianity…there’s more here than religion) are “what is God up to in our community?” and “how do we join in?”

I’ve suggested (ad nauseam it must be said) that there implication of these questions is that the first task of the Christian (or Christian community) is the task of discernment (or “figuring out”).

Last weekend I was visiting the UCA Presbytery of Central Queensland and right in the middle of telling a couple of stories from my time in Tassie that demonstrated this very point, I realised I was missing something.

Before there is opportunity to exercise discernment, to figure out what exactly is happening, what exactly are the potential responses or actions; before these things comes something more fundamental, more vital.


Noticing that something is happening (who knows what…that comes later…the task of discernment).

Noticing that our neighbour is in pain.

Noticing that our community is in need.

Noticing that we have some skills or resources or something to offer.


Maybe its obvious, but somehow it had slipped through to the keeper.  When I thought about it though, I realised that all the stories I was telling fit perfectly. And I heard another that illustrates the point:

A local UC congregation is right across the road from the school.  Someone from the church noticed that every afternoon kids were hanging out in front of the school at the bus stop waiting to be picked up – including some who had to wait quite a while before their bus arrived.  They noticed there was no shelter, and they noticed kids coming across the road to fill water bottles from a tap in the church yard when it was hot.

These things they saw and took notice of.

And then demonstrated the discernment part of the equation – the figuring out: Is there an issue here? What can we do to help? What skills/gifts/resources do we have? What is God showing us? (that question is for the Christians!)

Some might have gone the anti-community route of closing the gate and trying to keep kids from entering the church yard (you know…in case they trampled the garden). But this congregation took a different approach, and threw open the doors of the hall, inviting the waiting-for-the-bus kids to come in, find shelter and share afternoon tea.

It started with a curious few, but now there are anything up to 25 or 30 coming in for afternoon tea, building community, sharing life.

It’s a simple (but great) story.

And it started with noticing.

Now I (confession time) generally get around with the blinkers on, not noticing much that’s going on around me (ask Sheri….she’ll confirm!) but this realisation has woken me up to wonder how I can be more mindful, how I can see more clearly, how I can notice.

My first clue came in a book I’m reading called “Fierce Conversations”. I’ll talk some more about this book some other time, but the first reminder from it is to be “fully present” in every conversation. Give myself fully to the person with whom I’m talking, and not in the kind of “plan what story I’m going to share when he/she draws breathe kind of way.  Being fully present, fully engaged in what is going on around me might just help me to notice a little more.

And noticing is the first step.

I think.



passion is the first in an occasional series of wonderings about the nature of the human spirit. Just because. met a bloke this week, and it took all of two minutes to detect the fire that burned within him.  Here was a man whose passion was so intense that he was almost moved to tears as he spoke of what mattered to him most, and his commitment was so inspiring that I was not far behind him.

Maybe it was because it was an unexpected conversation, maybe because it was in a context where fierce, burning passion was in short supply, but it took me by surprise

That kind of passion is inspiring, and it sure inspired me. I left the conversation determined to do better, to be better, and to find the capacity within myself for that kind of commitment, that kind of single-minded determination.

I had a taste of it somewhere else this week too. I took our 9 y/old down to what we had been told was the local junior soccer club, playing in a laid back competition. Mitch is keen, but he’s only a second year soccer player, and he’s got a lot to learn about the game. We are keen for him to play, to have fun, to learn the kind of teamwork that sports can teach us, to get out in the rough and tumble of it….for all those sorts of reasons.  We were looking for a place for him to play, learn, have fun, make new mates in what is still to our family a strange new city.

To my surprise what I found was a full-on junior soccer academy, a bunch of kids from a young age being trained to be elite soccer players.  I got my first glimpse when one of the boys – a nine year old – led the squad through an intensive and technical ten minute stretching session with the coach elsewhere setting up the afternoons drills.  And it didn’t let up, 90 minutes of full-on training, the second such session of the week for the squad of under tens.  One of the dads told me the coach expects the boys to train at home doing drills for a minimum of twenty minutes each day.

For Mitch it was all a bit too much, and we’ll look for a better fit elsewhere, but what was undeniable was the passion of the coach, and of every one of the boys.  They were into everything, playing hard, training hard, fully committed to what was going on. I got the sense that there was no pushy parent syndrome here, just a bunch of boys who absolutely love their game and want to be great at it.

Once again I walked away inspired by the passion on show, and wondering just where such commitment is to be found in my own life, my own work, my own world. Where is it in yours?

Later in the week I was reading a bed time bible story to the five year old of the house, hearing about Jesus calling the first rag-tag bunch of disciples to follow him. Fishermen and tax-collectors.  Just a few years later they would burn with such passion that in spite of (because of?) their beloved leader’s death they would go to without question change the world, the very course of human history.

That same passion is what I saw and heard in the bloke whose conversation started my week long reflection on passion. The challenge now is to find it in my own journey.

Passion changes the world. Changes everything.

returning the name

IMAG2162Just recently we took our kids for their first visit to Port Arthur.  It’s a place that represents a unique insight into the convict period of Tasmania’s recent history.  Operating as a secondary prison, it was home to men and boys who had been shipped to the colonial convict prisons, and then re-offended in some way.

Part of the site at Port Arthur includes a restoration of what is known as the “Separate Prison”, a place of particular brutality and deprivation during its operation. Here men were essentially denied their humanity, forced to work in silence, deprived of inter-personal contact of any real sort, forced to wear masks when outside their cells.  The idea was to confront the convict with their own broken-ness and force some kind of change to occur.

My kids, as we walked around the restored ruins of the separate prison, were incredulous. “How could they think this would work?” they would ask. “How could anybody be so cruel?”

We didn’t defend the choices made in those days, just observed that then, as now, people were working with what they new, what information was at hand. At that moment in time, taking away the individual humanity seemed to be an approach that might lead to restoration.

The prison has now been restored to tell a different story, the story of the men who were held there, broken there, lived and died there. Now, 150 years later, there is a sense in which humanity is being returned to this unspeakably inhumane place.

See these words for example, from a photographic installation telling the stories of the prisoners:

Port Arthur Separate Prison Words

In this place, where their names were taken from them, we name them again.

Those are powerful words, and a powerful statement. They in some small way restore something to those who had everything taken away.

It’s a difficult time in our national story, the time of the convicts. It’s a time when so many had their names taken away.

And it parallels another difficult part of our story, when indigenous Australians likewise had their names taken, had their humanity denied, were cast as incomplete, inhuman, and unimportant.

And that is a story that generations on we still struggle to right.

In our day, in our communities, who are the others whose names are taken away?

Is it the poor, living below the poverty line, and powerless?

Is it the person living with disability, the essence of their humanity not seen by those around them?

Who else?

It strikes me that part of the purpose of God for the church is to return names to those who have been stripped bare. At the same time as we have to acknowledge that at times we have been complicit, so we have to continue to honour, to name, to respect, to humanise.

Who can you honour by returning their name?

the tulip: a metaphor?

The tulip is my favourite flower.  I’m not all that big on flowers in general, but tulips are incredible. The shapes, the variety of colours I find astonishing.

And so last weekend, with a day to spare and not much time left to explore Tasmania, we loaded the troops and headed north-west to check out the glorious sights of Table Cape tulip farms. It’s a couple of weeks after the famed Wynyard Tulip Festival, but we guessed there would still be plenty of colour around.

There is no arguing that it’s a spectacular scene, row upon row, wild with colour, bright against the rich red soil.

The thing is, as we got up close with the tulips, we noticed all is not as it seems from a distance.

In the neat, uniform rows, gaps appear.  In the blanket of tulips, we notice that the flowers are actually not spread evenly, and not every plant bears the bright petals.

And in this picture of health and vitality, some of the individual flowers are not quite so healthy, the petals damaged by wind and rain, flowers starting to break down as they pass their prime.

There are pockets, of course, where this isn’t the case, where row upon row of late-blooming varieties are perfect.

But for the most part, look closely, and the signs are there that the spring is nearly done, that the cycle of life continues, and the health that is obvious from a distance is in fact starting to fade.

The astute gardener (which I most definitely am not!) will know that there is no point in trying to prolong the life of the flower. Now is not the time for fertiliser to try and get the flower to bloom again. The tulip’s flower is best removed as soon as it starts to fade, allowing the tulip to put all its energy into the bulb, and ensure a healthy tulip in the next growing season.

There’s no avoiding the life-cycle of the tulip, only value in recognising which part of the cycle it is in, working with the seasons, caring for the plant, flower or bulb as fits.

Sometimes that means it’s time to remove the flower from the plant, at another time to remove the bulb from the ground altogether, and later still to replant, to fertilise and water in preparation for a new growing season.

As I wandered among the rows, entranced by the variety, the beauty, and noticing the life-stage of most of the plants, I couldn’t help wondering if sometimes the same is true for our communities and churches.

There are times when we are in our prime, when things look great (and they are), and there are times when we need to recognise the fading light, or the time for renewal, for storing energy, for putting down roots and for rebirth.

Where is your community in its life cycle? What care does it need right now?

campout….museum style?

IMAG1962Last weekend the 8 year-old and I toddled off for a father-son campout.

It wasn’t the usual beach, river, country or mountain style camping spot – we headed straight for Launceston’s Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery.

Picking up the idea from the 2006 movie “A Night at the Museum”, the QVMAG threw open their doors to kids and parents to come in and sleep-over, and discover just what happens overnight in Museums.

We kicked around the hands-on science exhibits, took in a preview of the upcoming Little Big Shots short film festival, sat spellbound in the planetarium touring the galaxy, took a torch-light tour through the dinosaur hall (turns out T-Rex is pretty spooky when its dark!) and finished off with bedtime stories in QVMAG’s Hooked on Books exhibit.

IMAG1959And then we (all 40 of us) retired to our temporary digs in the museum’s conference room to snore the night away. It was quite a cacophony!

Naturally we were up early the next morning for more exploring and a great pancake breakky cooked by the Museum’s director.

For a dad and boy, it was a fun night out, a real adventure that won’t be quickly forgotten. And plenty of other mums, dads, sons and daughters would back me up on that one.

There were two things about QVMAG’s Night at the Museum that I reckon are worth noting.

First is that it’s a creative way to use a facility that might seem like it’s a one-use kind of place.  Nobody designed the building for camp-outs and sleep-overs. With a little imagination and re-use of the space, the QVMAG staff made it work beautifully.

And second, the event happened because one person pushed and pushed.  Our host was the director of educational services, but the idea, the energy, the inspiration came from one of her junior staff members.

It took one person to have one idea, and then a bunch of imagination and hard work to make it happen.

Who is the “one person” in your community?

What is the “one idea”?

How can you back them with imagination and hard work?

QVMAG’s Night at the Museum was a great night, and I hope it runs again. I have a feeling the other two junior members of the family will want to join in for a night of adventure and exploration; a night of imagination fueled fun.

One person, one idea.

workshop description: re-imagining worship in a traditional space

The Uniting Church in Tasmania is blessed with many fine old church buildings.  They’re traditionally shaped, and often furnished accordingly. Long fixed pews, pipe organs, even old-school box pews are common. Heritage listing prohibits re-shaping many of the buildings to a form more appropriate for a modern faith community.

Those buildings are both a blessing, and a profound challenge to the church – in ways that we’ll continue to explore.

Last week we had the opportunity to run the latest in our regular “Hobart 2020 Forums” for those interested in exploring the themes of “How then shall we live?”, the interim report of the Uniting Alive: Hobart 2020 process.

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workshop description: create-a-cafe

Last week we ran the first of a series of “Hobart 2020 Cafe Forum” gatherings.  Designed to provide opportunity for people to explore the themes of the report “How then shall we live?” for the Uniting Church in Hobart, we tried to take a creative approach to this gathering.

The key themes of the report that formed the basis for this gathering are collaboration, creativity, innovation, imagination and community.

This post records the shape of the event, some of the thinking behind it, and a simple recording of what happened. If it’s an idea that has use for you, please feel free to run your own create-a-cafe gathering….either along similar lines to what happened in Hobart, or better still, shaped to fit your own context.

Hit the link to read all the details:

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