Sunday, September 30, 2012

where are they now?

This week I had the 32nd anniversary of my 21st birthday. Here is the group of friends that celebrated way back then - it was touch rugby on the tennis courts, from memory.

Gavin McConnell, together with Michelle, had a lengthy period overseas with Interserve and now run Piringa, a place people can go to process and 'de-brief' the stuff that has happened in their lives.

David Diprose - while I've lost contact with him, I remember that he knew where the accelerator was.

Jeff Turner was the most eligible bachelor in the church for many years, but he has made up for lost time as he and Melinda have the most lovely family of seven children. Jeff is the Chairman of Fresh Direct.

Graeme Thompson is my first cousin and runs his own techie(?) company from Whangaparoa (north of Auckland). I see very little of him, but he and Jenny have a son, Ben, who attends a home group that meets in our house.

Hugh Kemp has lived a remarkable life with Karen. They were one of the early missionaries into Mongolia (in the recent wave). A well-received book on the history of the church in Mongolia led on to a PhD on Buddhism in NZ. Last year they moved to Gloucester (UK) where they are both involved in teaching, with Hugh at Redcliffe College.

Ross Thompson is based in Wellington with Rhonda and the children (I took their wedding at Old St Pauls!) and Ross is General Manager of Ballentynes. Also my special cousin...

Robert Lovatt, whom I saw for the first time in about 15 years just this week, is based in Manila with Leanne and two of their three boys. He has a senior leadership role with Wycliffe globally ('strategic initiatives') and also in the Asia-Pacific region.

John Windsor is my big brudder and has had a distinguished career as a surgeon here in Auckland. Works away at the interface of the academic and the clinical (a model for most pastors, I might add!). Hear him at the TEDx conference next Saturday in Auckland! He and Chris have five children spread around the world.

Paul Kennedy (I think this is his name). He was present at the party as a friend of a friend - and a recent believer at the time. I've lost contact with him.

Philip Allen is a surgeon in Auckland whom I do not see often - but he did give me a copy of JI Packer's Knowing God for my 19th birthday!

Andrew Saunders is a Deputy Principal at Selwyn College in Auckland, instrumental in the quite remarkable turnaround in that school. We've maintained contact all the way through. Barby and I delight in the way our Bethany and Joseph have been such good friends with Andrew and Helen's Caleb, Sam and Matt.

David Allen is a special person in my life. As my youth pastor he gave me my first fumbling opportunity to preach. He worked in the Middle East with Interserve where he met doctor Helen. They have lovely Grace and now live back in Auckland.

Jim Russell was the king of strawberries in NZ at the time, working as an auctioneer at Turners & Growers. But he surpassed all that my marrying my eldest sister (Diane) and after taking early retirement, they have made 8 visits to Myanmar. They come back this week with Jim having become an itinerant preacher!

Mark Windsor is my little brudder. He and Annie are back at our alma mater in India (Woodstock School) for their third stint on the staff. I hope to see them again in January...

Andrew Becroft has gone on to become one of the most respected Christians in public life in New Zealand, as Principal Youth Court Judge. He and Pip have three kids and live in Wellington. He is also the Chairperson of the TSCF Board, the movement that so shaped him and readied him for being a Christian in that public world.

That is actually me - and not one of my sons!

David Hayes is a friend I made in my solitary year at Auckland Grammar School - bit I've lost contact with him.

Martin Lovatt is an enduring and special friend going way, way back. We were 'best man' at each other's weddings. Martin settled on a career as a graphic designer and together with Joyanne they have raised three great kids.

I am not sure many of these people will ever see this post - but if you do, a big thank-you from me for your friendship over the years. And in taking time over this post, it is remarkable to pause over how wide the ripples of godly influence have extended out from these lives. May it continue...

nice chatting


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

those unlike ourselves

When it comes to the application of the sermon, it is critical that we consider those unlike ourselves. When it comes to building community, it is critical that we include those unlike ourselves. As a man who both sermonises and builds community this means I must, just for starters, take care to consider and include women.

In the last couple of weeks two images have stuck with me. One is this painting depicting the pain associated with post-natal depression - Never Morning Wore to Evening but Some Heart Did Break (Walter Langley). While I can't begin to understand this fully, I do always find my heart softens to those mothers who battle with it. It seems so common and so unfair. A post from my friend Thalia included this painting and her own candid reflections here and here and here are so helpful..

Then in Kerikeri on Friday, I was leafing through a book on NZ history at the Stone Cottage and this cartoon was sitting there and grabbed me. It is called Roll of Honour (Gordon Calman - 1917) and the link to the National Library describes it depicting "a sorrowful woman with her head bowed drawn in the shape of a map of New Zealand. She holds a Roll of Honour". It reminds me so much of the 'mother's anzac poem' which I posted some months ago and the deep sadness that overcame so many women whose men did not come home.

Look at the two bowed heads - one from depression and the other in grief...

How critical it is that we have an accurate self-understanding and then in preaching-sermons and building-community we make a special effort to consider and include those who are unlike the 'self'.

nice chatting


Sunday, September 16, 2012

imago dei

It is one of the most eloquent of all Christian truths - the imago dei.

Human beings are made in the image of God. There is a God-likeness about us which grants every person a dignity. 'Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness' (Gen 1.27). Imagine what the world would be like if this truth owned us? And then what about putting it in combo with 'from one person God made all the peoples of the world' (Acts 17.26), thereby combining equality with dignity?

They write big books on this truth. I've always defaulted to things like being rational, moral, social, spiritual etc - the sort of qualities which turn us more toward God, rather than toward mere animals. This past week I had a coffee with an artist. He has come alive by connecting again with creating art after a long absence. It was good to see. As I drove home, the imago dei flooded my mind and heart. This is because in more recent years, contemplating it has pushed me in a different direction.

'Let us make human beings in our image'. The first things that should strike us about the imago dei come in the very phrase which first declares its truth to us. In being image-bearers of the living God, we are made to be creative ('make') and we are designed to operate within teams ('us/our').

I am wired for creativity. It comes with the imago dei. I spent the first two decades of my life in a family where I ranked dead last in all things artistic - be it music, or drama, or just plain art. I was not creative, by definition. I accepted this as the reality and got on with other things. Then through my third decade I discovered God's call to be a preacher and just how much being creative could be integral to this calling. Word-smithing. Image-playing. And through my fourth decade I became a teacher immersed in the creation of a range of courses as I taught in every department in the curriculum. Birthing new courses and imagining ways to help learners learn became one of the great joys of my life. In my fifth decade I discovered blogging which is basically me chatting away to myself, sometimes creatively, and letting people look over my shoulder as I do so. It is the most energising thing I do in this season of my life.

I still can't sing. I still can't play the piano. I admire painters partly because, let's face it, I know I could never do it myself. I try to shrink into invisibility when anything close to drama is suggested. But don't tell me I ain't creative. I am. So healing, so sacred, has this journey been that I have made a pact with God. I hold lightly to what creative ideas I may have, passing them on liberally to help fire other peoples' creativity - knowing that the creative God won't turn off the tap as he works in me. I try to avoid the mentality of the patent and the copyright - but I confess that my spirituality is not yet totally God-like. Oftentimes having my ideas leave home creates the same brand of ache as having my children leave home. While it is hard, I remain committed to it as a lifestyle.

I am wired for team.  It comes with the imago dei. I know theologians love to talk about the trinity as community, but seeing it as a team and the importance of bearing the image of that team in our leadership is critical too. I love Robert Banks on this topic. 'Leadership takes place through more than one person [...] the Trinity is not a doctrinal abstraction, but a divine paradigm of what leadership involves' (Reviewing Leadership, 85-86). But it is a few pages in a little book by Stacy Rinehart (Upside Down) that changed me: 'What we see in the Godhead is an incredible picture of interdependence, and unity and diversity, where the One leading and the One being led change according to need and contribution (88)'. 'Each person has a function and when that function is needed, that person becomes our leader' (93).WOW - isn't that revolutionary in most organisations? He goes on to describe what leadership in the image of team-trinity looks like, as descriptors like multiple, interdependent, rotating, united but diverse, equal but role differentiated, and relational occupy the focus. [NB: it is also interesting to note how active team-trinity is in redemption, not just creation - check out Ephesians 1].

Over the years, I've watched leadership. I've tried to practice leadership. I've read about leadership. When I commenced as a principal, I inherited a staff-family from a retiring father-principal. It was lovely. But what on earth was I meant to do, coming in as the youngest of all the siblings? The context was ripe and ready for growth and the added complexity it brings. Looking back, we stumbled together across the importance of building teams and working through teams as the modus operandi of leadership (with the theological reflection coming later). The governance team was the first priority. The full staff team (admin + teaching) was next - and then these two staff teams separately. Then the multiple teams to guide college life. Finally we settled on a pattern for a management team. Each time trying to build teams and work through teams as image-bearers of team-trinity.

Now I am once again back in a season of watching and reflecting on leadership as I travel to many countries. The challenges remain the same. The autocratic and the hierarchial models still hover. How often do we hear of a leader being labelled as 'strong', only to draw near to discover that this so-called strength is characterized by an inability to build, multiply and nurture teams? We must start naming this as weak leadership because one thing it isn't is 'strong'. What about the struggle with the silo-style where, intentionally or unintentionally, the opportunity for trinitarian-like team work is bypassed, rather than built? This is not acceptable either as it acquiesces to the individualism which can so easily drain dignity from the human experience.

Because of the transformative significance of these perspectives on the imago dei in my life, I find that in my mentoring and supervision of others I probe for their experience of creativity and teamwork. These twins need to be a clear and present delight for them, otherwise life in their callings will become a clear and present danger.

nice chatting


Saturday, September 08, 2012

martyrs & pukka dosts

It is often asserted that there were more martyrs for Jesus in the twentieth century than in all the other centuries combined. I thought I'd test out this assertion and see if is true - with my trusty The Future of the Global Church in hand. This book has this series of very cool facing pages (pp 22-61) which cover the twenty centuries, one at a time, with the History of Empires in a given century on the left page and the State of the Church in that same century on the right page. And a little box does its best to count the martyrs who died in each century. So out with the calculator...

In the twentieth century there were 44,933,000 martyrs.
In the other nineteen centuries combined there were 23,268,000 martyrs.

It is not even close. The twentieth century had almost twice as many martyrs as the other centuries combined. That is a lot of people dying for Jesus in relatively recent times.

Here is the testimony of a twenty-first century martyr. His name is Shabhaz and he was a Christian politician in Pakistan. He filmed this testimony and it was sent to the BBC - and within a matter of months he was assassinated (specifically for speaking out against the blasphemy laws which are in the news once again right now). Have a watch and listen. The recording can make it difficult to pick up what he is saying and so I have added the words below (as best I can).

"The forces of violence, militant banned organisations, the T. and al-Q. - they want to impose their radical philosophy in Pakistan. Whoever stands against their radical philosophy, they threaten them. 
When I am leading this campaign against the S. laws, for the abolishing of b. law - I am speaking for the oppressed and marginalised persecuted Christians and other minorities, these T. threaten me. 
But I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ who has given his own life for us. 
I know what is the meaning of cross and I am following of the cross. 
I am ready to die for a cause. I am living for my community and suffering people. I will die to defend their rights. For these threats and these warnings  cannot change my opinion and principles. I prefer to die for my principles and for the justice of my community, rather to compromise on these threats."

There is no denying that Pakistan is a hard country, particularly for believers. But as someone who visits the country regularly, I also hear the sadness of its Christian leaders as they watch the way their country always seems to be in the headlines for the wrong reasons. There are some good things happening too!

One of my 'pukka dosts' (strong, or good, friends) from Pakistan is visiting New Zealand soon. His name is Qaiser and he is one of a number of respected leaders emerging in the country. He is currently working on PhD studies in Melbourne (with a focus on the blasphemy laws). 

There will be a Public Meeting at Carey Baptist College (473 Great South Rd., Auckland) at 7pm on Tuesday 2 October 2012. Come with your questions and leave with Pakistan in the headlines of your more informed prayers.

nice chatting


Thursday, September 06, 2012

michelle obama

I thought Michelle Obama's speech yesterday was sensational. The words, the imagery, the warmth, the emotion - and the conviction. It was compelling.

But I am not dumb. I know what's going on. The implicit barbs, dozens of them, aimed at Romney and his friends. The explicit, even desperate, attempt to have the American people fall in love with her husband all over again. I see it. I acknowledge it. That is politics.

Nor am I in agreement with everything Michelle Obama said. I have posted here on my problems with choosing between the 'right' and the 'left' in politics. It fascinates me that while the NZ scene is all about fighting over who occupies the center, the American scene has become starkly polarised. Is anybody in the center anymore? Will they ever be able to do anything bipartison ever again? I am stunned by the way Fox TV doesn't even attempt to be balanced in its reporting. Even their presenters are soap-box apologists for the Republican Party. This has driven the mainstream media to be even less balanced themselves (I suspect they were far more balanced than is claimed before Fox arrived on the scene). Who ever could have imagined that the 'fourth estate' in the world's most influential democracy could ever end up like this? Is there any even-handed journalism going on anywhere anymore - or is it just a war of words and images everywhere?

Anyhow... back to what I disagreed with. One area screams at me, one might even say that it is a silent scream. It always amazes me how a political viewpoint so aligned with justice can so readily and easily deny justice to the unborn child. Go figure.

But this post is about one quotation. It stood out above all the others for me. I reckon it will be with me for forever.
"And he believes that when you’ve worked hard, and done well, 
and walked through that doorway of opportunity
… you do not slam it shut behind you … you reach back, 
and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed."

Now that is the way to live the American Dream, cherished so rightly by so many.
Listen to it for yourself - from the 18.10 mark in the video below:

I was in the USA days after the last election in 2008.  I do not travel there often, but remarkably I will be there on Election Day later this year. It is going to be intriguing...

nice chatting