Wednesday, September 28, 2016

home again

For me, 53 days without flying in a plane is a break all of its own - but to be home again in New Zealand, with its beauty of scenery, friends and family has been a delight ... even though somewhat exhausting.

Best food     Cafe Anatolia in Levin (Turkish).

Greatest act of grace     Someone lending us a vehicle which I picked up from the airport on arrival and will deliver to the airport on departure (8 weeks later). Then when I notified the owner that I had to fill out my first ever car insurance claim form after a gentle nose-to-tail (which was my fault) to read his words, 'Don't worry about it, get on with your trip'.

Most comfortable accommodation (more grace)     Three nights at Flaxmill (Coromandel) gifted to us. On arrival, it felt different. It just did. Turns out they are Christians. I love it when that happens. On departure I glimpsed their 'guiding truths' on the wall - right there, articulated in the public world, as they should be more often. [Although I'd like to tweek 'There is a God that loves us. Actually involve Him in your life', changing it to 'There is a God who loves us. Actually involve yourself in His life.'].

Most strategic sleep     With driving a car for almost 7000 kms over 6 weeks, the five different times I had to stop by the roadside for a car-nap seems reasonably significant.

Most foolish advice     (and probably the best evangelistic opportunity) in an old pub in Otira Gorge. 'Don't take life too seriously. Nobody gets out alive anyway.'

Biggest disappointment (in society)     TV news shows. Really?! They are becoming more vacuuous by the year, even as their hosts become more chatty, casual and celebritous. Ahh, the danger of being enslaved to ratings, rather than reality. I had to turn away, as it was that bad.

Biggest disappointment (in church)     Worship. Really?! How come this is still an issue? So many churches seem to have their services led by younger musicians, rather than maturer worshippers, who are underprepared (maybe 'casual and chatty' works again here!) and who choose songs that their band wants to perform, rather than songs we worshippers want to sing.

Best eye for beauty in the detail (while being surrounded by grander beauty on the horizon)    Barby with the daffodils in Kaikoura. Its horizonal beauty is pictured over here - while the daffodils can be seen here:

Best ice cream     I Scream for Ice Cream in Feilding.

Most 'I love being a New Zealander' moment     Hard to go past watching (finally!) The Hunt for the Wilderpeople ... although starting a movie after 8pm, while sitting on a comfy couch is always a challenge for me.

Most truth-filled words seen on a toilet door since 'vacant' and 'occupied'     At our daughter's home, splashing across the Himalayas of our distant childhood, was a frequent reminder of why we do what we do and live where we live with our lives. 'Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.'

Best drinking water     The little fountain with natural spring water on the main road in Tirau.

Most effective shortening of the bucket list     Visiting Parihaka is right up there, even though we barely got past the AA road sign.

Most provocative mission question     'Are you counting conversions, or conversations?' One cannot help to conclude that the former would go a whole lot better if the latter was embraced more fully.

Most necessary mission question     Do NZ Christians really need such a big presence on free-to-air TV?  Is this good stewardship of limited resources? Sure, a few people may be drawn to Christ by it - but who is counting all the collateral damage in terms of spreading the perception of the church being a little too foreign, a little too slick and a bit too obsessed with Israel and creationism?

Best poetry     There it was - hand-written on the inside cover of my 85 year old mother's cookbook. Ahh, that familiar maternal font I've loved all my life, expressing convictions, so incarnate in a life that God has used to touch so many people.

Most frequent conversation topics overheard   The (apparently) invincible Auckland property market and the (apparently) invincible All Blacks. Really?! What does that say?  The gospel might just have greater opportunities to progress in this land if they both came unstuck a bit.

Most 'reunited and it feels so good' moment     Well, with food it was 'tasty' cheese, Vogel's bread, the box of avocados posted to me by my daughter for father's day, my mother's muesli - and chickens with far more flesh on them than that to which I am accustomed in India.

Most unfortunate name for a company     Tranzit. Every time I saw the name on a bus as it went by, I found myself wanting to reach for a mirror to ensure that a plague of pimples had not spread across my face.

Most profound theological moment     Standing in front of the crumbling Catholic Cathedral in Christchurch, so devastated by earthquakes, and knowing enough Latin to understand what it says atop the ruins: 'the dwelling place of God is with men'. Yes, it is true: the church is not a building.

Greatest privilege (in ministry)    I preach infrequently these days. It is kinda ironic. But preaching more than 20 times in 6 weeks (with not that many repeats, plus a few daylong seminars), while fighting two separate waves of heavy colds, not only exhausted me - it reminded me of the 'grace given me' to open the Word of God for the people of God and that His 'grace is sufficient' so to do.

Greatest joy (in family)     More grace. It has been a delight to see 'the gracious hand of our God' resting upon our children in different ways - nowhere more so than in the arrival of a new grandchild, to bring the total number to three.

Off again tomorrow...

nice chatting


Monday, September 26, 2016

chats with chaat

We wanted to do something different.

We billed it as 'a multi-sensory evening of interaction'. We called it Chat with Chaat, as we braided together the eating of street food from Delhi (chaat) and the interaction around cross-cultural conversations (chat) ... with some games (one of which is described here).

We've hosted five of these evenings around New Zealand in recent weeks, in which about 160 people have participated. Gee - it was a lot of work, particularly for Barby as she made, or sourced, all the chaat. But we had a lot of help from family and friends ... and I think we'd do it all again.

Here is the combination of the chaat (in pictures) and the chat (in words):

making the queen of chaats, the pani puri
I am enjoying a coffee with three of my Pakistani friends. The time comes to go up and pay. I go to do so - but my Pakistani friend insists. I resist. He insists. I resist. What should I do?

WHY? [On this occasion I let him pay]. The idea here was to surface the difference between resourcing and partnership (which I did more fully in a post here). 'Resourcing' assumes some have something to give - usually the people/organisations from the wealthier 'west' - and the 'rest' have something to receive. This creates dependency and obligation, both of which are unwise. Far better to build partnerships founded on friendships in which the giving and receiving flow both ways.

kara pori, even wrapped in authentic Indian newspaper
You sit down in a public place with others for a meal. In the majority world, invariably, on behalf of the group, someone will give thanks for the food in an audible way. In the minority ('western') world, increasingly, no one in the group will give thanks for the food in an audible way. What is going on?


You enter the home of an Indian Christian and usually, from what is on the walls, it is obvious that they are believers. You enter the home of a Christian in NZ and usually, from what is on the walls, it is far from obvious that they are believers. What is going on?

WHY? The idea here was to surface the way religion is such a private affair in New Zealand, whereas in so many countries in the majority world, it is very public. My students are always stunned when I tell them that 41% of New Zealanders describe themselves as having 'no religion'. The world's problems are never going to be solved by people like that ... because religion is part of life for most peoples. Also, converts in the majority world are more likely to see conversion as drawing a 'line-in-the-sand' as life becomes different now - whereas in the 'west' we like to keep the lines out of the sand. Studies show that it is hard to pick any differences between the lives of believers and unbelievers. We like it like that. It makes us feel relevant and we think it is the key to mission. We are wrong and we desperately need the help of the church in the majority world to show us the way forward.

Should Christians practice yoga? Some say 'yes' - but why? Some say 'no' - but why?

WHY? The point here is similar to the previous one, but I tried to steer it in another direction. Talk of a global village has a consequence. The global church is a village church. We need to live our lives with a far greater awareness of our sisters and brothers around the majority world, looking for ways to express solidarity with them. So, yes, many urbanised Indians from Christian families do not think that yoga is an issue - but those who have come out of Hinduism usually do. Again and again, when I've asked, they are strong and clear: there is no place for yoga in the life of the believer and they give their reasons. We should be guided by them and stand with them far more than we do.

It is easy to pick a New Zealander overseas. They are often the ones super-casual in their clothing ... and the ones super-sarcastic in their humour. That might have upsides at home - but what about downsides overseas?

WHY? The point here is simply to demonstrate how these characteristics can so easily convey a lack of respect for others - and even for God, in certain circumstances (like public worship). I've often been embarrassed by the sloppiness of visiting Kiwis and I've often been embarrassed by myself with the times I slip into sarcasm ... and it just does not work.
moong dal
So often when I hear an Indian Christian pray, their default setting is to refer to Jesus as 'Master' - and then, if I ask them a question and it has a positive response (for example, 'how are your children doing at school?'), their default setting is to preface their response with 'By God's grace...' (for example, 'by God's grace, the children are doing well'). It is uncanny how often this happens. What would the default settings be for Kiwi Christians? What does this suggest about the spiritualities at work?

WHY? [Never had time to use this one - but it is a goodie!] The point here is to surface the priority of Jesus as Lord and the reality of God as good ... especially for people who have far more reason to think otherwise than I do in New Zealand. Suffering for Jesus' sake is so real and so common - and yet so also is the Lordship of Christ and the Goodness of God. It challenges me so much.

the mango lassi (please - that is 'luh-see') was always popular, as Alice will testify
nice chatting


Monday, September 19, 2016

the precarious changeover

Relay races often make for high drama. Have a watch of this one from 2015. Listen carefully to the commentary alongside as well.

Did you catch it? That calamitous changeover. It can be precarious.

The relay is such a striking picture of leadership. And it has some biblical precedent too. There is an individual-relay which climaxes in 2 Timothy 2.2, while there is also a church-relay developing through 1 Thessalonians 1 (if you look carefully enough).

But here is the question on my mind. In the receiving of the baton from others - and then in the passing it on to others - how can the precarious changeover be avoided? Lots of answers are possible. Here are two. With the 'receiving', a leader needs to show humility, while with the 'passing on' the leader needs to show trust.

This one is tricky. Humility tends to grow in tough places and then it tends to shrivel whenever we take a look at it. We need to proceed with caution. As I observe those I admire (and my own mistakes), humility seems to be nurtured in the following ways:

Receiving (unfair) criticism with grace. Criticism that is deserved is not the issue. No. It is this capacity to refrain from becoming defensive when there is every reason to do so. That is what is impressive. It is this capacity to restrain inflammatory words knowing that, like toothpaste, they won't ever be able to be put back into the tube. So humble leaders brush their teeth for a bit, spit down the sink, wash it all way and get on with life.

Watching credit go elsewhere with silence. Everything about humble leaders is held lightly. Their reputation. Their resources. Their intellectual property. Their CV. It is so appealing. They believe the counsel I have often given to others, but find hard to follow myself: 'the ones who matter have a way of knowing - starting with God himself'. This does not get easier as you get older. I've loved being generous with notes and ideas and resources over the years - but every now and then (like last week!), I let out a "yelp!". It is too hard.

Serving (in obscurity) with calm. One of the best leaders I've known once stated to me, "I've spent all my energy building a great team and then it dawned on me that I did not feel a belonging to it." There is something vicarious about leadership, as John the 'I must decrease, he must increase' Baptist so eloquently expressed. Humble leaders respond with calm. They can live in the footnotes and don't need the headlines. This year saw the retirement of Tim Duncan, arguably basketball's greatest power forward. For 20 years he was at the heart of a successful team (San Antonio Spurs) which was the envy of the league for being a team. You know what one reporter said about Duncan when he retired? 'He hid in plain sight better than anybody I know'.

Apologising with haste. Watch them carefully. Humble leaders know how to say 'sorry'. They take the blame - and they do it quickly, without condition or reservation.

Honouring the past with authenticity. When the baton is picked up from the one who has gone before, it is a time for respect and gratitude. It is a time to look for continuities, even when our minds might be racing ahead to the discontinuities that we think will emerge. We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before ... and there will always be things to affirm about those shoulders.

Being downwardly-mobile with contentment. One leader comes to mind. He left one country (where he built up quite the track-record of credible, respected leadership), immigrated to another country before he was 40 years of age ... only to find that that 'track-record' amounted to absolutely nothing in the new country. Nobody cared. Nobody was interested. Eyes glazed over. He had to start again - and to do so without resentment takes some serious humility. I admired him a lot.

Monitoring personal pronouns with care. Ah yes, that despicable 'me-myself-I'. But, following Keller, it is not so much about thinking less of myself - but thinking of myself less. That is the key with humble leaders. It is learning to speak with the accent of 'we' and 'us'. It is delighting in deflecting attention to the 'them' and 'they', the ones to whom we are about to give the baton.

As we look towards those ready to receive the baton from us in a secure manner, it starts with:

Selecting character. It is too easy to be seduced by gifts and skills, charm and charisma. They have their place, but they are over-rated. Character is the necessity when it comes to passing on the baton. And once such people have been selected, it is a case of trusting them before they've earned it - and allowing their character to enable them to rise to the challenge. So, give them responsibility, not tasks. This builds trust.

Once character is in place, wise leaders know that trust works like a bank account. There are deposits and there are withdrawals ... and trust-building leaders whom I've admired know that it starts with building those deposits in a variety of ways:

Keeping promises. They keep their word. If they say they'll call, they call. If they say they'll write, they write. They follow-through on things, rather than leaving them to peeter out.

Listening well. They listen to understand, rather than to reply. They are attentive to the 'other', even get lost - and lose their agenda - in the 'other'. There is empathy.

Communicating early - and fully. They know information is power and that holding onto it - even before there is an opportunity to abuse it - is something they do not do. They share information because this is one way to share power and build trust.

Facilitating vision. This goes with listening, but centers on the practice, even the exercises, where vision bubbles up from the people being led - and is not always drip-fed down from those who lead.

Saying thank-you. As I was trained to do, the first principle of leadership is to say 'thank-you' - frequently, authentically and creatively.

Celebrating 'we'. Like Paul with Timothy, the 'son in the faith' becomes the full partner in ministry. The one giving the baton and the one receiving the baton are on the same team. 'Always say we', Kouzes and Posner wrote all those years ago. All cultures seem to struggle with this one, as the older generation finds it difficult to draw in the next one - and give them the baton.

nice chatting


Monday, September 12, 2016


It has been hectic - but the provision of a car for our entire time at home (thank-you, Kelvyn!) has meant that we have been able to linger with the beauty of the New Zealand we love.

Parihaka - a remarkable story in NZ history

... a few from the West Coast:

... oh, Christchurch! At least the Latin inscription on the Catholic Cathedral is still true, amidst the earthquakes - 'behold the dwelling place of God is with man':

... and four from Kaikoura:

... 'you can't beat Wellington on a nice day':

nice viewing