It’s been a while

It’s been a while since I wrote. November 12 2015 to be precise. It was a great story, and I had nothing further to add…so I stopped.

No, that’s not entirely true…and I can’t be sure exactly why I stopped writing, other than that it’s been a very busy start to the year this year, and sometimes in the busyness my words kind of dry up.  In the torrent of organising, thinking, speaking, preparing, dadding, husbanding, riding, I somehow lose track of the time to write, to let my mind’s eye wander, to let random thoughts bubble up into out-loud kinds of pondering.  That’s not to say that all my out-loud kinds of pondering are always worth hearing (for assuredly they are not), but that if I never let writing happen, then (a) I’ll shut off something that I personally have come to value; and (b) the law of averages suggests that if I never write at all, then I’ll definitely never write anything interesting or useful.

I am feeling the tug of the keyboard again, so I’m hoping to resume some semi-occasional posts here.  For today though, I thought I’d share a couple of new media experiments I’m involved in.

Firstly, my colleagues Mardi and Lyndelle and I have dreamed up a little adventure into podcasting. If you’re new to the medium (as I am/was), a podcast is essentially an on-demand radio show. There are thousands out there. Some very professional, some very amateur, and exploring an enormous range of subject matter. Our podcast is called “Church Unchained” and in it we’re aiming to explore innovation and dangerous ideas for the church through a series of casual conversations. If you’re not a church person, I think you might still find some of the conversations interesting. Church Unchained pops out a new episode every second Tuesday (each ep runs about 20 minutes), and you can find (and listen) them over here. The first two episodes are out already and explore virtual reality (and Pokemon Go), and then homelessness. If you use a podcasting app, here’s the URL so you can subscribe.

Secondly, I’ve started writing a regular column for the Uniting Church in Queensland’s multimedia platform Journey Online. The column has a working title of “What if every church…” and explores a few ideas that are a little unusual in church circles, and wonders what might happen if we had a crack at them.  The first column came out this week and asked “What if every church…had a playground?“.  Once again, this column is supposed to be a fortnightly affair, and will continue for a while (or until I run out of ideas).

If you think there’s something we should explore in the Church Unchained podcast, or or I should write about in the column, I’d be delighted to hear from you!

To quote Peter Garrett from his new album….”I’m back!” (oh yes…he totally smashed the live show at the Tivoli a couple of weeks back….can’t wait for Midnight Oil to tour in 2017!)!

 

choosing drama

Recently I was sitting with the 13 year old at a high school subject selection evening. She’s preparing for year 9, and has a couple of elective choices to make, so the school puts on an evening where all of this is explained to parents and students.

Helpful.

There are two things you need to know about this particular 13 year old. First, she’s very academically oriented (and I’d say gifted too…but them I’m biased). Second, she has inherited an intense introversion and dislike of public speaking from her parents.  We’ve both learned to do it, but it hasn’t been a fun ride.

Anyway, where was I?  Oh, right, subject selection.

In the end she had one choice left to make, and the list of options was long. A whole bunch of arts subjects, some industrial tech stuff, and geography.

I thought the choice was simple. She loves geography, would do well at it, would find it relatively easy. An easy choice.

Naturally, she didn’t choose it (I mean she could have, but then this would have been a dull story, right?).

She said to me “Dad, I’m going to choose drama”.

“Drama?”, I thought to myself.  “Drama? Seriously? What about geography?”

“Oh, that’s good” I said out loud, desperately trying to play the cool, supportive, helpful parent.  “Tell me why you’re thinking drama?”.

The answer, when it came, floored me.  Stopped me. Confronted me. Challenged me. Then and now.

“Because I know I’m not good at speaking in front of groups. It makes me nervous, and I’m not good at it. I think if I do drama for a year, it will help me to find my voice. I can always do geography later”.  Such is the wisdom of the 13 year old.

Now let me hasten to say at this point that I have no objection whatsoever to drama as a subject. I wish I had the courage to do it (I would be hopeless, but I still wish…).

It’s a choice that impressed me, and for several reasons:

  • She chose the unexpected
  • She thought it through enough to not just take the obvious choice
  • She chose to be challenged (and believe me, she will be challenged)
  • She chose her weakness
  • She chose to grow a new strength
  • She knows that choosing one (drama), involves letting go of another (geography)

So many of us (I raise my hand high) don’t take those kinds of choices. We stick with what we know. We stick with what we have already learned. We stick with what we have proven we can succeed in. We stick with the safe, the obvious.  To choose challenge, growth, weakness, risk?  That’s unusual.  Most of us would choose geography over drama every day of the week (it’s a metaphor…go with me):

  • We take a holiday to the same place (or at least the same kind of place).
  • We stick with the same kinds of food.
  • We make the safe, obvious career choice.

And so on. Geography over drama, every time.

In the organisation I work in, we are under some degree of stress. Our future is clouded.  Under such stress, we choose geography time after time after time. We choose what we know. We choose the obvious. We choose to keep doing what we’ve always done. I can’t help but think that at this point in our life cycle, we should be consciously choosing drama.

It’s left me both (a) incredibly proud of this child (even more than before…true); and (b) challenged in the way I go about my choices as a person, husband, father.

I’m wondering what it means for me to choose drama. I’m a little nervous about the next choice I have to make. And if I’m honest, a little sad too….because I quite like geography!

 

on telling stories about kids and wombats

I’ve had the delightful opportunity to join a ‘parenting panel’ on Brisbane’s 612 ABC Radio Wednesday morning show as an occasional panelist. I was introduced to the panel by long term team member and good friend Tracey. It’s basically three regular parents having a chat about what’s going on in their families – just to provide some encouragement and ideas for listeners. As is evidenced by the fact that I’m on the show, there are no expert credentials required!

It’s been fun so far, and no major blunders that I know of – except perhaps for comparing myself to a wombat (yes, I did).

Here are the two shows:

that ancient spring

A poem by guest blogger Mitchell, age 11. An ode to the ANZAC poppy.

 

In that ancient spring, 100 years ago,

brick by brick,

the ANZAC spirit was in-scripted into the soul of a fresh nation

In that ancient spring, I was just fresh,

had no idea what was about to unfold its ugly body around me

In that ancient spring, I was the only light,

in an otherwise tragic scene

100 years on from that ancient spring, I still exist

My spirit dwells to the right side of the chest,

Looking on, from that ancient spring.

to kaizen…..or not to kaizen?

IMG_2776I’ve been getting steadily re-addicted to mountain biking this year.

I had a period 10 years ago or so where I rode regularly, but this is on another level. I’m riding with a few mates a couple of times a week, exploring trails around south-east Queensland and having a great time.

We’re also putting lots of effort into learning how to ride better, faster, hit bigger jumps, rougher trails and so on.  In the grand scheme of things, we’re not that good – but we are trying!

One of the main tools in  this attempt to improve is a little phone app called Strava.  Strava uses the GPS in your phone to track where you’ve ridden, how fast, how much elevation gained and a heap more.  It automatically compares your ride performance against your previous rides on the same trails, and against other riders (who use strava) on those same trails.  Within a few moments of finishing a ride we can be looking at the data – how fast did I ride today? Was i strong on the climbs? How about that particularly difficult (we in the MTB world prefer the word ‘gnarly’!) descent? Continue reading

first comes hope…

Change management is the new black.

You know, the in thing.  Everybody is talking about it, wants it, needs it, is doing it.

And that’s ok because change is perhaps the defining characteristic of our day.  That’s not for a moment to say that at other times, in other places change hasn’t been significant, or real, or rapid, or hard.

But the breadth, and scope and speed of change in our society is breathtaking. Technological, moral, ethical, political, cultural, economic, relational.

Everything.

Breathtaking.

Some of it, of course, we choose.  But some of it chooses us. Sometimes the world changes around us in spite of our best efforts to keep things steady, or to hold onto days past.

If we eventually can accept that there’s no going back, there comes a time when we have to figure our how to respond, to react, to accept, to embrace, to thrive in the new.

I’ve been thinking a little about this question this week.  And like everybody, I have a theory.

So I’m going to test it on you.

All 3 of you. 😉

My theory is this: Continue reading

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?

a pelican and a place to stand

Two of the reasons that I have grown to like running are that it gives me uninterrupted time to think (it’s really, really hard to play with the phone and check out facebook while running), and that it’s a great way to explore new places.

On the weekend I was in St George, hanging out with the folks from the Uniting Church Presbytery of the Downs (a regional gathering taking in Toowoomba to Queensland’s western border…quite a vast space!), and discovered to my delight a quiet running track along the edge of the Balonne River.

It was a pretty hot weekend, so that meant running had to happen very early, before the sun made its presence felt. I’m not a great early morning person, but it’s hard to deny something special about those first minutes of light each day…and so it proved at the Balonne.

A place to stand

My first day I ran the length of the town stretch of the river, ending up at the weir that holds back the waters – keeping a reasonable body of water even in the midst of long and widespread drought conditions currently impacting so much of Queensland’s west.

As I stood on the weir, I looked downstream. Here’s the view:

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There’s not much water to speak of, and the dryness is evident in the country side.  It’s stark, almost depressing.

And then, from the very same spot, I turned to face upstream, to see this:

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It’s a view filled with life and promise.

It occurred to me, that so often from the very same place, we can see such contrasting views depending on which direction we choose to face.  It’s perhaps the optimist/pessimist or glass half full/half empty question.  Which way do we choose to face? What do we choose to see?

In the organisation I work with, we are faced with many challenges, and the temptation to allow those challenges to hold us captive can, at times, be overwhelming.  Standing on the weir at the Balonne, looking upstream, I was reminded that in spite of the challenges there is always something interesting, even special to see….depending on our willingness to take a different view.

A pelican

pelicanOn day 2 of my stay in St George, I ran again.  And followed much the same route.

And found myself once more crossing the weir, enjoying the early morning sights and sounds.

On this day my attention was captured by a lone pelican, skimming over the water (unfortunately a little to fast for me to grab a photo!).

Now let’s think about this for a moment.

I was in St George, roughly 500km west of Brisbane. A long way from the coastal bays, beaches and harbours that are home to so many Australian pelicans. What was this majestic bird doing in St George, surfing the early morning breeze over the Balonne River?

It turns out it’s not an unusal sight. Pelicans often find their way into remote Australian waterways. The famed Lake Eyre – so often dry for years on end – attracts tens of thousands of pelicans within weeks of floodwater arriving to fill the lake. Nobody knows how the pelicans know there will be water, why they suddenly take off from the coast and head inland just as the floodwaters arrive to fill the salt pan.

What we do know is that when there is water, when there is the hope and safety that comes in such a place, the pelicans find it. And here on this stretch of the Balonne, surrounded by thousands of square kilometres of drought affected farmland, this lone pelican had found a place of hope and peace in the early morning sunlight.

And once again I thought of the church, the organisation I work for. And how we spend so much time and energy trying to figure out the right strategy, the right way to be a part of the modern Australia.

Perhaps the answer is right in front of me. Perhaps in our local communities what we first need to emphasise is creating places of hope and peace, pools of deep water in the midst of the dry.

Perhaps that’s all that is required. And those who are searching will always, in the end, land in a place that offers peace and hope.

IMG_2939

let the horizon be your guide…

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You know sometimes you find yourself in a moment that catches you by surprise? A time when an unexpected thought or encounter stops you in your tracks, or takes your breath away?

I had one of the those on the weekend.

I was helping to host a training course for church leaders, aimed at encouraging imagination and creativity as churches find their place in the modern world.  Towards the end of the day we invited participants to share something of what they were thinking about, stories from their local communities and churches about imaginative and creative fresh approaches to the age-old calling of the church.

One lady stepped up and shared her story. She’s from Barbados, and is currently in Australia for the Pan Pacific Master’s Games. She had visited a local church on Sunday and they’d invited her to come and join them as they participated in the workshop. Her story was of a group that decided to walk non-stop around Barbados, praying for the communities through which they passed as they travelled along.  The walk took 23 hours…impressive!

What caught my attention was her description of their walk and how they chose where to go: as they walked, they quite literally ‘let the horizon by their guide’.

Let the horizon be your guide.

I can’t quite say why exactly that phrase stopped me in my tracks: Let the horizon be your guide.

Maybe because some of the most enjoyable running or riding experiences I’ve had have happened when I’ve followed a coastline, and the simple pleasure of letting the horizon be my guide has been true in those moments.

Maybe it’s the very notion of living on an island, one small enough to walk around in a day, a community small enough to know and be known as opposed to the anonymity and closed-ness of life in a big city where the horizon (literally and metaphorically) is often not within my field of view.

Or maybe because in our culture and community today (or maybe just in my own life) we don’t tend to pay a lot of attention to the horizon. We tend to look down at our feet, just trying flat out to deal with what’s right in front of us. The big picture barely gets a look in.  The horizon seems to far away.

The very idea of letting the horizon be my guide….in many different aspects of life….encourages me to lift my eyes, to see the big sky, to look beyond the stereo-typical navel-gazing.

It’s almost, I think, a notion to live by.

Let the horizon be your guide.

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.