Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Latest News

Here's the latest, as I have it. The tumour is approx. 5x4 cm, about the size of an egg. It is pressing on the optic nerve, and, as a result, Rachel doesn't have vision in her left eye at present. On closer examination, the medics aren't convinced there was internal bleeding; they have put her on steroids to reduce the swelling, and intend to do several scans over the next few days in order to pin-point the tumour as accurately as possible, so as to operate with the least damage possible, hopefully some time later this week.

Ironic 'good news' is that Rachel had to bottle-feed Rosie, so she at least is able to feed as normal. Please continue to pray for the whole family, and also for the medical professionals involved in looking after Rachel, as well as for healing. Thank you.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Urgent Prayer Request

I had a call from my dad earlier today, to let me know that my sister is in hospital, and they have discovered a tumour, and internal bleeding, in her brain. This news comes, as I suppose it often does, without any advance notice...

Rachel is 27. She is married to Colin, and they have two children - Jamie (just turned two) and Rosie (about four weeks old).

I've just spoken to dad again. It's hard to know what to write, as my information is second-hand and hampered by the difficulties of cross-global communication. Apparently she has been accepted for operation, and is due to be moved to the appropriate hospital. The size/shape of the tumour would suggest it is most likely benign (though these things don't come with any guarantees), and the medics are being confident that they can do something about both the tumour and the bleeding...

It is frustrating to be on the other side of the world, even though all we can do is pray and that isn't location-limited.

Please pray that we would experience God's peace reigning in heart and mind: for Rachel; for Colin, Jamie and Rosie; for my/Rachel's parents, our brother, me and my family, Colin's parents...
...And please fight for full healing for my sister Rachel. Thank you!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Toy Story

Today Susannah asked us whether Jesus had any toys when he was little?

I suggested that, being a carpenter, Joseph might have carved him an Advent crib set...Jo thought probably not.

Susannah agreed with Jo. She decided that Joseph made him little toy cars out of wood instead!

Fellowship Of The (Advent) Ring

We worshipped with friends at Concordia this morning - and felt very much at home. Jo and I both love the season of Advent, which begins today. "At home" Jo would bring out one or two decorative pieces on each of the four Sundays in Advent, so that there was an accumulative building-up to our preparations for Christmas. It is important to build family traditions like that: a glue that binds us together. This year we don't have any of those things: they are all in storage.

Concordia is a Lutheran church. Many of the congregation are of Eastern European descent (you can see that DNA in their faces!). And they have chosen to do certain things - such as observe the seasons of the liturgical year - because they are Lutheran; while choosing to be very relaxed in the way in which they observe their traditions. We think that is very wise - a path that avoids both empty repitition of a way of life now past, and the (common) over-reaction of throwing out the heritage that has formed us (an action, once done, that leaves us in a very real sense form-less).

While I want to celebrate diversity, I think that churches that don't walk through the historic church year - starting at Advent with the preparation for recalling Christ's coming, and looking to his coming again; through the stages of his earthly life and the early church, marked by seasons and weeks and days; and taking in the history of the whole Church since then - really miss out. The action of a community walking together through the year, on a pilgrimage, a cycle of remembrance and hope, is profound; through it, God changes us in ways we can't begin to understand.

And, this idea of shaing a common journey is also key to mission in a Postmodern context - to the Fellowship Of The Ring generation; the Children Lost in the Forest; who see life more as a journey of discovery, than as a fortress to defend against the odds; and who are open to other pilgrims in this world...

Grappling With Jensen

We met up with another Concordia family, the Kerspiens, on Friday afternoon and for a barbeque together. That Concordia bunch are very friendly! I'd have loved to stay longer into the evening, but had already arranged to meet a blog-land friend, John Jensen. John is a missionary over in Melbourne, who drops by my blog from time to time, and - though we'd not met in person till now - is good-friend-enough to pray for us.

The adjective "interesting" is often used when one is too lazy to think of something better to say, but in John's case it truly applies, along with other words like "colourful" (though, being American, I guess he'd call it "colorful"). One facet of John is his life as a professional cage wrestler - though you can see from my photo that these days he's reduced to wrestling high-backed chairs...John was sharing with some of us about mission; I kicked myself for not bringing a pen, but here are some of his thoughts that stood out in particular for me:
  • When it comes to determining the validity of something, Modern people judge/d the message; Postmodern people judge the messenger.
  • Our mission is to inflitrate culture / the community...and to have something to say about the things that are central to the construction of that cultural identity. [The church has often failed to do either.]
  • The businesses in a community relate to each other in a symbiotic relationship - e.g. the people who work in those offices eat their lunch in these cafes. The church has not been / is not part of that local economy: an analogy [and sometimes a factual description] would be buying a prime shop-front and then doing nothing with it all week except on Sunday - the one day when everyone else who works in the neighbourhood isn't there...
  • When Jesus used illustrations like, Look at the flowers of the field, or bread and wine, he wasn't just using images that people were familiar with and could identity with; he was using images that they could not avoid...every time they saw the physical thing they would be confronted with Jesus' words. [It would, in one sense, "spoil" that image for any other purpose; this also ties in with the genius of iconic imagery I touched on in my last post]

Each of these stand-out points got me thinking - though I've tried to limit my thoughts [in editor brackets] in noting his. I'll let them turn over more in my own mind first...

Thursday, November 24, 2005


We went into the city centre yesterday, to check whether Susannah and Noah's feet had grown (they hadn't). There's a shopping mall on one side of the station; the State art gallery, museum and library in a fairly bleak square on the other. We had lunch at the art gallery, and I just had to take this image of two women drinking coffee beneath one of the greatest iconic images of the twentieth-century: Marilyn Monroe's face, depicted in coffee-cups of five clours (white, and four shades of brown) on a dark brown background...

We live in an iconic age: images so familiar we don't even notice them at a conscious level, but which tap-into our sub-conscious mind (in this case, Marilyn singing Happy Birthday to JFK; goofing with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemon in Some Like It Hot; that white dress being blown up by the hot-air vent...all images from before I was born, but which are part of my shared Western popular cultural memory.)

The Word became flesh. The Western church has looked to the written word to point to the Word. The Eastern church (e.g. Greek and Russian Orthodox) has looked to icons to do the same. In this regard, it would be timely for the West to look to the East...

Monday, November 21, 2005


A week ago on Sunday, we spent four hours with the leaders at Concordia Lutheran Church, Duncraig. They are interested in learning from what they refer to as "the Sheffield model" - something they've been looking at closely. It was a good afternoon, and they appreciated being able to put faces to ideas.

Over this past weekend, we've had meals with several Concordia families - the Helbigs, the Kowalds, the Zadows - and yesterday afternoon we joined them for a baptism in a backyard pool, followed by lunch and then all the kids playing in the pool together. It's been a good weekend, though tiring by the end of it!

If it turns out that our time in Perth has been just to bless people and be blessed by them, and if no more comes of it than that, then Concordia will have been a significant example of such "kairos kisses"...


On Friday we headed to Yanchep National Park in search of koalas...all four of us had a wonderful experience; we didn't expect to get so close to them. On a bush walk round the lake we also came across two kookaburras, who were confident enough for me to get pictures of - something I'd failed to do while we were in Margaret River.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


Thought I'd post some photos from our holiday...the first is the view from the holiday house; Susie took the one with me in it : )


For the convenience of the general public, and making the constabulary's job much the easier, the criminal element in Perth wear that very uniform of villany, the horizontally-striped jumper and eye mask...

As Real

A combination of factors has lifted our spirits over the past couple of days:
  • a dip in the ocean
  • being able to process our experiences with some trusted friends
  • several unexpected calls from people we have met with here, each wanting to say how much they have appreciated whatever we have shared with them; and inviting us to spend more time with them, over meals
  • knowing that people are praying for us
  • renewed dreams

This is not to say that anything concrete has changed in terms of clarity concerning our future; but these things are not just trivial distractions either. What I wrote in my previous post was, I hope, an honest portrayal of part of what we are experiencing. But it is as real to say that life is good. It is not so much that life is a rollercoaster - though it is fair to say that there have been up days and down days - as that the wonderful things and the hard things are running together in parallel. Neither one nor the other is the full picture, even at any given moment.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Wine Press

Irregular and fleeting internet access has hightened the sense of isolation lately.

We have just under a month left of this trip now. We've met with various individuals and groups, and have been led to believe that our time with them has been helpful for those who have invited us to meet with them. And for that we are grateful. But we are not yet any closer to knowing what our own future is, and that is not only hard but gets harder with every passing day.

All along the line we have sought to process our journey with those we have been sent out from. Together, over an unfolding process of time, we agreed that God was calling us to leave Sheffield; to go somewhere else; that Perth was the place, where we would either be invited to come alongside a community seeking to engage in mission, or receive a clear invitation to do so from somewhere else; but, that an ongoing, relentless nomadism was not the call on our lives at this time. That rootless life has already been ours for seven months now, with no immediate hope of a place to put roots down, and - among other things - a daughter who has taught herself to read in the past couple of weeks, and who needs to start school somewhere soon...

Is it too much to want a place to belong? To hold on to a promise? It is certainly harder when our sense of community is fractured by time zones, mobile phones that run out mid-conversation, and limited access to email.

And then there are plans that need to be made. Where will we stay when we go back to the UK (okay, we will visit relatives and friends and sending community, but I mean specific details of where when)? And, given that it will take time to make necessary practical arrangements to move to the next place - once that place is known - where do we base ourselves, and what do we do, while those details are being resolved? Even more fundamental, how do we work through the very different needs of our very different personalities - Jo's need for me to make plans I feel unable or even unwilling to make, while still needing to honour and cherish her?

I guess we aren't the first people to face these issues; nor will we be the last. They are perhaps inevitable issues for those who go ahead, to spy out new land. But they need to be voiced, to be understood, to be lifted up in prayer. Right now, I don't have answers. But I cling on to the One who does, and lift my family to Him each day.

Thursday, November 10, 2005


We celebrated my birthday with a fabulous lunch at the Xanadu Winery, and then drove south through the forest to the Cape Leeuwin lighthouse, at the point where the Indian and Southern Oceans meet.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


Today is my 33rd birthday; my first spring birthday, if my memory serves me right.

I'm blogging from a cybercafe that can't handle uploading photos (but hey, at least Margaret River has public wi-fi, which is more than I've found in state-capital Perth so far), but we're having a great break down here and I'll just have to share some pictures when we get back to Perth at the weekend.

Yesterday we went to the Busselton Jetty - at over a mile out into Geographe Bay, the longest jetty in the southern hemisphere. For most of its length, the jetty is very narrow, and has a hand rail on only one side: getting to the end was a little scary at times, what with someone as care-less as Noah in tow; and took a long time, with someone as care-full as Susannah along too. Somehow the journey back to land seemed shorter, and safer - simply because we were heading towards something 'certain.' The whole experience was a picture of our lives right now - not knowing where you are walking to is a slow and scary process...

At the end of the jetty there is an 8-metre deep observatory, from which we watched the fish that have made the jetty pilings their home - including a shoal of salmon that usually pass through at Easter but, for some unfathomable reason, never moved on this time around.

Friday, November 04, 2005

On Holiday

We're off to Margaret River (3-4 hours drive south of Perth) today, for a week-long holiday. (But haven't you been on holiday for the past couple of months? you ask. Er, no.)

No new people to meet. No engagements to speak at. Just the four of us, in a house, in a forest, on a river, on the edge of a small town, near the sea, in wine country. Bliss.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Three Sides To Every Story

I had been invited to speak at a local Bible College yesterday, and, as all we are doing out here is, essentially, responding to whatever occasions we are invited to, I agreed and we went. One of the staff team there knew of me, and had heard that we had come from a church context that had flown in the face of both the massive decline in church attendance across the UK in general and the more specific almost total absence of the 20- and 30-somethings from the UK church scene. She wondered whether I would share with them how we had done it; I would have about twenty minutes to talk to them…Given the constraints set me, I gave it a go. Here are my notes:

  • It would appear that God has created humanity in such a way as to relate to each other in communities of different sizes. Biblical examples would include the family/clan/tribe structure (Old Testament) and the home/synagogue/temple structure (New Testament). But we see the same essential structure in almost all cultures that have existed – except Western Modernity (and by extension whatever is now coming out of the other side of the breaking-down process of individualism…)
  • The different sizes have different purposes: the family provides intimacy and security; the extended family or clan provides communitas (see recent post) (e.g. when an Amish community comes together to build in a day a barn that will last a generation); and the tribe is ideally suited for war (e.g. when the West Coast Eagles tribe and the Sydney Swans tribe clashed recently, through their chosen champions) and celebration (often following, or on the anniversary of, a victory)
  • In re-building community in a post-community context, the church must recognise the above
  • The church must also recognise that the expression of life at all these sizes must involve relating to God (UP e.g. Jesus teaching his disciples to pray); relating o each other (IN e.g. Jesus building community with his disciples); and relating to outsiders (OUT e.g. Jesus’ community was initially sent to look for the lost sheep of Israel; later to Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth)

I then went on to describe three churches I have known personally, in terms of these three relational dimensions:

  • Church a. UP: out-sourced to a professional (the minister, who prayed and preached – the only active involvement of the congregation was to sing hymns); IN: non-existent; OUT: out-sourced to professionals (missionaries – out-sourcing expressed through prayer- and financial-support). (At this point I pointed out that Bible Colleges produce the professionals churches out-source to…)
  • Church b. UP: owned by the people; IN: owned by the people (when our family moved there, we had more invitations to people’s homes in one month than we had had in twelve years at church a.) OUT: out-sourced, but including individuals within the community engaging in ‘home mission’; occaisionally owned (e.g. several men came to, or grew in, faith through a weekly volleyball game, for a season), but not as primary OUT expression across the church.
  • Church c. UP: owned; IN: owned; OUT: owned (as community activity; as opposed to [just] something we support each other to do on an individual basis, a concept definitely owned in church b.) note: Church c. is not perfect by any means, including struggling with the weight of inherited church practice. Examples of owned OUT, specifically pertaining to young adults, included football teams (7 or 8, playing in local league; 30% Christians/70% friends they are discipling; also praying for each other’s circumstances before matches – UP – and eating together – IN); also, involvement in the planning and servicing (e.g. stewards) of local community festivals, including prophecy tents next to the tarot/horoscope tents, and healing ministry tents next to the crystal healing energy tents…
  • Essentially, the lesson we learnt in Sheffield was to build extended-family communities each with a clear OUTward vision, that were large/small enough to engage with their vision (but also related to smaller and larger expressions of community within the church)
  • I closed by noting that an interesting property of the triangle is the fact that it is infinitely reducible within itself; to do so infinitely isn’t helpful as a diagnostic tool, but to do so once is helpful: i.e. there is an UP-IN-OUT triangle within the OUT corner of the triangle. The UP of OUT would include things such as signs and wonders; the IN of OUT is the understanding that we engage in mission more effectively when we do so together, not alone; the OUT of OUT would be expressed by finding the one individual who opens up their whole community to you (such as Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, which results in the whole village coming to him and asking him to stay with them for several days…)

Okay, I may have gone a little over my 20 minutes…but this is, in my opinion, pretty fundamental stuff. It’s not rocket science (though the final point probably requires a bit more thought than the rest). But it isn’t the common-knowledge it ought to be. And I couldn’t think of anything more important to tell them, in answer to their question…

Always Read The Label

We spent Tuesday late afternoon/evening with Chris and Coralie Kan, and their children Eliza Rose and Noah (spookily close to our own Susannah Rose and Noah). We had a lot of fun, and came away with borrowed books (hurrah!): Jo, P.D. James’ Death In Holy Orders; and me, an omnibus of GK Chesterton’s Father Brown stories.

Chris is a teacher, and that day next year’s fresh intake (a riot of 10 year olds) were visiting the school for Orientation. One of the kids in Chris’ group has been classified as having both ADD and OCD…a source close to me who, for fear of the PCD (Politically-Correct Disorder) types wishes to remain nameless (but let’s say she’s the mother of my two children, just to narrow it down a little) asks, “So, does that mean that she wants to wash her hands all the time, but doesn’t have the attention-span to do it?”