on meals, community, love and jesus

A message shared with Toowong Uniting Church in July 2017. Read John 13:31-35 first.

Last week, June 29 was Eat Together day in Canada.  A day when Canadians were invited to eat with neighbours, friends and colleagues, to see what happened. Watch this:

The official website introduces the idea like this: “When we eat together, good things happen. Whether its poutine, pad thai, paella, or pemmican. Nothing brings us together like eating together. We’re on a mission to make the world a better place by sharing a meal. It is time to stop watching and start acting! Join in on June 29th for Eat Together Day. Whether you eat with your neighbours, friends or family, make a time to eat together.”

It’s an invitation that is extended as part of Canada’s celebration of its 150th year as a nation. Other elements of the celebration include National Aboriginal Day, St Jean Baptiste day, Canadian Multiculturalism Day and Canada Day.  The film we just watched introduces the concept of eat together, and tells its own story. It’s a beautiful film, filled with funny, poignant moments. And it reflects many of those other elements of Canada 150.

I’m sure you that you, like me if you cast your mind back, can think of some memorable meals. Times and places where the table was the centre of a wonderful community time. Where conversation flowed as food was shared. Where the bonds of friendship were formed or strengthened.

There is something wonderful about sitting around a table and sharing together.

Continue reading

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.

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on leadership…again

If you’ve hung around here for a while you might recall that this is far from the first time I’ve posted about leadership. This time though, I’m not writing, but talking. And sadly for you all, it’s on video! 😉

Recently I sat down with Ben Rogers, editor of Journey magazine to record a chat about leadership – and specifically about Christian leadership.  Below is the video of our chat, and here’s the article that precipitated the conversation.  And, if you’re a glutton for punishment, here’s some more of my potentially baseless musings on leadership.

Your comments are welcome.

life is made of moments

NB: Before you read, it might help to know that this is the text of a message I shared at Toowong Uniting Church, August 9th 2015. It refers to a story from Acts 4:26-40. The context at Toowong is that they are preparing to plant a new congregation.  If you’d rather listen than read…skip to the end of this story for the mp3 file.


 

It seems to me that this life that we live is made up of moments.

If you think back over your life, I’m sure you can identify a few of them.

I think of the moment I saw Sheridan walk into a friend’s 21st birthday party and I instantly knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.

I think of the moment I made a bad decision and tore up my knee, ending up in surgery just weeks before our first child was due.

I think of the moment I learned a huge lesson about leadership, as I sat quietly to one side during an outdoor education program I was helping to run.

I think of the moment when I woke up one morning and realised that for the first time in 6 years all the kids had slept all night.

Some moments are wonderful, some not so much.

Some are extraordinary, while others are just the moments of everyday life.

Some moments, like my encounter with Sheri at that 21st birthday party, change our lives instantly. And we know it in the moment (or at least, I knew it…you’ll have to ask Sheri about her experience of that moment).

Others take a while to reveal themselves – and sometimes it’s only with the benefit of hindsight that we can see the power of that moment.  Such is the story for my learning about leadership on that outdoor education program. The moment actually passed unremarkably that night…but the more time passes, the more I reflect on that moment…the more it means to me.

This life that we live is made up of moments.  I’m sure you can identify a few of them.

In this passage today, this story of Philip and the Ethiopian (read it here Acts 8:26-40), there’s a lot going on, and we’ll work our way through some of those things over the rest of our time.

But at the heart of it is a moment. A chance encounter. The intersection of two people’s lives that changed both of them forever.

Such is the importance of a moment. And this life that we live is made of them.

Continue reading

workshop description: the art gallery

I’ve had the pleasure of hanging out with ministers and leaders of Uniting Churches in a Queensland city in recent months as they work together to try and figure out what the future looks like.

It’s been enjoyable to be a small part of what is a gentle process of sharing stories, getting to know one another, and slowly activating an imagination about a shared future.

Last night was the next step in the process, and a fun way of encouraging imagination, creativity and building something together.  We had about 35 present for an evening event we dubbed “The Art Gallery”. Read on for a description of what was a fun, creative and imaginative night of resourcing leadership. Continue reading

on anticipation, christmas and an unexpected jesus

On Sunday I had the opportunity to speak during the morning service at Toowong Uniting Church (our family hangs out with the TUC community regularly). It’s a rare thing for me, and aside from the anxiety it induces, it was an enjoyable experience.  The message is based on a reading from Matthew 11:1-11 – read it here. Here’s the words I used on Sunday:

Recently I had the opportunity to head over to New Zealand for a few days to help my brother celebrate what we like to call a “zero” birthday. He was turning 40.

We had been planning the trip most of the year since first deciding to go, and had a pretty fair idea of what it would involve.  5 blokes, a lake house, a big bike ride, golf, great food and drink, spectacular scenery, spur of the moment adventures. What’s not to like about that plan?

I have to tell you that for the last couple of months, thoughts of that NZ trip were never far away for me.  I was excited to go, and would spend completely inappropriate amounts of time looking forward to the trip, imagining what the experience would be like, living out the various adventures we had planned while we were there.

The anticipation was delicious. And unbearable.  I was so excited I could hardly wait. Continue reading

leadership 7: jesus as “the ultimate leader”?

In a course on religious leadership, run in a christian theological college, it’s inevitable that we would eventually confront this question:

Is Jesus the ultimate leader? One through whose life we can discover all we need to know about leadership?

Now before I starting wondering about that question, let me say that if you’re reading this and not christian…well stick with me, I’m not going to go all theological on you (well, not much).

The story of Jesus life as recorded in the gospels, and as at least partially corroborated by external historical sources is the story of an itinerant preacher in the ancient middle east.  He gathered followers, taught his “way”, and wandered the countryside preaching, teaching, healing.

And then he was killed, leaving behind a small group who at first fled, but later continued to teach the same message, founded the christian church, and the rest is history.

But was Jesus actually a great leader? And what can we learn today about the art of leadership from this life and story?

One thing we do know is that he did not live up to expectations. There was a whole mythology and prophecy around what the Jewish ‘messiah’ would be like – including the expectation for many of a mighty leader who would overthrow the Roman empire who at that time ruled over much of the mid-east world (and to be fair, a whole chunk of the western world as well).  The messiah would be a warrior, a powerful king.

And Jesus?  None of that.

One of his finest public moments came riding a donkey. Another attacking the temple itself, the heart of Judaism. His confrontations with representatives of the Roman empire were limited, and he definitely didn’t set the Jewish people free from Roman rule. Eventually of course, the Romans had a hand in his death. If his leadership was oriented around a national uprising, it was a miserable failure.

Jesus, as much in his leadership as in many other aspects of his life, was counter-expectations, counter-cultural.  He made no effort to live up to the expectations of others – instead charting his own course, living according to his own clear sense of purpose.

That in itself is an interesting lesson for a leader to learn.  Be clear about your purpose, and live accordingly.

Secondly, I think we can look back and see some other interesting leadership qualities in Jesus.  Here’s the few that particularly appeal to me:

  • practiced an action/reflection model of learning for his followers – once famously sending a group out to teach, preach and heal with limited instructions and resources. On their return, he retired to the beach with the group to reflect on and learn from their experiences
  • re-interpreted well established world views – Jesus’ story is filled with moments where he took well known and well established religious and cultural teaching and turned them upside down, creating new possibilities
  • empowered all sorts of people – Jesus didn’t just work with those whom the society classed as best of the best, but imparted a sense of hope and possibility to all sorts of people as he met them – from social outcasts such as tax collectors and lepers through to Roman soldiers, fisherman and all sorts. Jesus also had a remarkable view of and interaction with women completely at odds with the culture of the day
  • saw to the heart of the matter – Jesus had an amazing ability to see through the surface of a situation or conversation, to what was really going on.  And a willingness to confront what really were the core issues, to name what needed to be named

Interestingly, these are leadership skills that I personally prize highly, and wish were much more developed in my own life and leadership. Jesus was the kind of leader I wish I could be.

And that reminds me of the old saying “God created us in God’s image, and we have been returning the favour ever since”.  How much of what I see in the Jesus story as leadership qualities to aspire to, are actually me reading my own situation and preferences back into this ancient story?  How much am I creating Jesus in my own image?

And thinking about that question reminds me of this piece from the movie Talladega Nights (and don’t watch if you are nervous about a little “blue” humour) that constantly reminds me of how we read our own modern situation and preferences into the life story of Jesus:

I guess the question I ponder is, does it matter?  Does it matter that in thinking about leadership in a modern context we project all sorts of situations and beliefs back into the life story of a man who would never have had to think about or confront such issues?

Or is that actually the whole point?  That in the life of Jesus we see a life fully lived, humanity represented most fully within his particular time and place?  That it’s therefore ok for me to look at what underlying principles might stand the test of time, might enable my to live out my own humanity more fully in my particular time and place?

I sure can’t look to Jesus life for a model of how to lead an organisation consisting of thousands of people with a budget in the millions.

But I can encounter the story of one who inspired countless others both in his own time and in times still unfolding; who believed in the capacity of the human spirit; who confronted injustice at personal cost; who raged when rage was needed; who wept when that was the only possible answer. I can encounter the story of one who challenged and changed the world view that shaped and sustained the culture into which he was born.

And ultimately as a “believer” I personally can enter into the strange, mystical sense in which that all continues to happen.

And so even if I find myself unconvinced that Jesus was a ‘great leader’ in modern terms, I am sure and certain that in the stories of Jesus, the life of Jesus, the ‘idea’ of Jesus I am challenged and inspired in the exercise of leadership in many different aspects of my own life.

And interestingly, there’s nothing religious about any of that.

NB: This is the seventh in a serious of posts reflecting on leadership, written during a Religious Leadership course with Trinity Theological College