Friday, December 30, 2005

The Great Big Pastry Chef In The Sky

...had got up early yesterday and dusted icing sugar through a sieve over the trees, fields, hills and hedgerows. Most of the journey down was a Calvin-and-Hobbes-esque winter wonderland. Today the roads have been treacherous, with vehicles having to be dug out of drifts. The 9am news already reported five crashes on the A1(M), and drivers were advised not to travel. I'm glad we chose to drive when we did.

We passed under several motorway gantries warning THINK DONT DRINK AND DRIVE - and one that read FINK SDOWN AND DRIVE. Drunk in charge of a telex?

I ventured onto the Bole Hills with S&N today, making four-inch-high snow families (S wanted to add a "big, fat grandpa"; I'm saying nothing), and seeing who could throw snowballs the furthest (me; sorry, I guess you're supposed to let children win; but, hey, it was a competition). They had fun, and were content to return indoors, with rosy cheeks and noses, after ten minutes fresh air.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Due South

We're heading back to Sheffield today, a little earlier than planned. S & N have been somewhat out of sorts in all that's going on, and it will be easier all round if we are surrounded by familiar friends and places. There isn't really anything we can do here, and we'll need to be Sheffield-based while working through our own future anyway. We intend to make regular, short visits to Glasgow over the coming months.

They are keeping Rachel in hospital at least until the psychosis passes - hopefully within a few days. She is actually tracking the anticipated arc of recovery; and at the moment it is her husband, who has to watch her go through this disturbing stage, rather than Rachel herself, who I'm more concerned for. Please do pray for Colin at this time.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Bonnie, Bonnie Banks

Looking up Loch Lomond from Balloch, Boxing Day 2005. Beautiful.

Boxing Day Blues

Christmas Day was not very festive. My sister joined us all for lunch, but during the meal she lost the use of her right side, so was unable to use her knife. Things got worse from there, and in the afternoon she was taken back to hospital (again) in an ambulance; first to A&E in one hospital, then transfered to the hospital where she had the brain tumour removed just a few weeks ago. We haven't had much news since, other than that she has been hallucinating and that they did a brain scan and a lumber puncture (to help relieve the pressure in her head); but mum and dad are at the hospital now. They are both emotionally and physically worn out (physically, because they've had Rachel's baby Rosie at night since she first went into hospital); we'd love to be of some practical help, but they won't let us.

I wanted to say thank you, again, to all of you who have been praying for our family this Christmas; and to ask you to keep praying.

LATEST: 4:30 pm: It turns out that Rachel has a blood clot in her brain; she is also having fits; and they also think that she is suffering from steroid-induced pyschosis. Please pray.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Father Christmas' Communion

The children have gone to bed now, having set out the traditional mince-pie-and-glass-of-sherry for that great bishop of the Church, Santa Claus. It struck me how much they looked like the elements set out for Communion - not surprisingly, given that in their most elemental form they are (sweet) bread and (fortified) wine.

And that, in turn, got me thinking about communion, the coming-together-in-unity of God and humanity, Creator and created. We tend to view taking communion as an act of remembering Jesus' death on the cross - his body broken and his blood shed for the forgiveness of sins. But it speaks of Christmas as much as Easter - Jesus' body broken and his blood shed; the physicality of the Spirit; the visibile expression of the Invisible God; Emmanuel - God with us.

Panto Season

Everyone is familiar with the Christmas story: young woman raised as a boy by an old man in drag finds dusty old lamp / sells the family cow for three magic beans, and is granted three wishes by a genie / fights a giant who lives in a castle in the sky...

...but who would have imagined that the High King of Heaven would be found as a baby in a cave where the (familiar pantomime) animals sheltered? Not even the (traditionally-represented-as) three wise guys. The Prodigal Kiwi(s) have a great quote from everyone's favourite pantomime hero/villain, Bono: "That there is a force of love and logic behind the universe is overwhelming to start with, if you believe it, but the idea that the same love and logic would choose to describe itself as a baby born in shit and straw and poverty is genius. And it brings me to my knees, literally."

Friday, December 23, 2005

"Blessed Are Those Who Mourn...

...for they shall be comforted."

This Christmas it feels like we've been bombarded with a litany of pain and loss, from friends' serious illnesses, to friends and acquaintences losing unborn and new-born babies, to news this morning that a member of my parents' church was killed in a car crash yesterday...

Christmas seems to magnify what is unspeakable heart-ache at any time of year. But the heart of Christmas is not escapism from pain, but the decision to identify with the pain of others. That is what the Son of God did in becoming, also, the Son of Man - a baby born, to live as us, and wage war on our behalf against sin and sickness and sorrow...

And if Jesus chose to identify with the pain of others, as well as to experience pain himself, then those of us who choose to follow him also need to identify with the pain of others - regardless of whether or not we are naturally pastoral. We need to stand with those who hurt. And while I know that there is a heart-healing work that God alone, directly, can do on earth; and a heart-healing that awaits us in heaven; I also suspect that when Jesus proclaimed that those who mourn shall be comforted, he had in mind that his followers would play a part in that comforting.

That isn't easy. There's the delicate, often awkward, balance to be found between words and silence, prescence and giving space, practical help and prayer...But we need to recognise that hurt is as rightfully a part of Christmas as happiness. There's a good resource for doing that collectively over at Steve Taylor's blog, here. Perhaps taking the time for this should become as familiar a part of our Christmas services as carols around the crib.

Christmas Comes Early

'We' got our first Christmas present in the post today: 50 trees planted for us by Oxfam, from [Jo's sister] Laura and Steve. Oxfam unwrapped is a great gifting initiative, for all occasions. 'Our' trees will help a community become more self-sufficient, their fruit providing food and income; the trees themselves also working against soil erosion and air pollution. All round, a winner. We'll have to wait and see what else we get, but I know Jo is hoping for a goat...

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Star Of Wonder

In all our moving around, we haven't been able to send out Christmas cards this year. So, I thought I'd put some images on the blog over the Christmas season instead; some - though not all - with meditations alongside.

This one was taken from out the back of my in-laws' barn conversion. You can see Venus in the sky, and a chink of light (it might even be car lights) at ground level. I like it because it translates the star that told ancient astrologers of a new king's birth, and the manger-scene, into our contemporary world - albeit a rural world quite different from the urban world I have mostly inhabited. (It also ties in with one of Steve Taylor's creative worship suggestions.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Relative Values

One day (yesterday); two sets of grandparents; two sets of two cousins; one-and-a-half sets of aunties and uncle. We've relocated from Leicestershire, via Bolton, to Glasgow. It was especially good to see Rachel at last, and to meet Rosie for the first time. Rachel's hair is starting to grow back; her face is swollen by streroids; and she is still very weak. But at least she is back at home again.

Home Ground

We've racked up plenty of motorway miles in the last week - plenty of opportunity to enjoy how beautiful rural England is in winter...

On Sunday we went to a Christingle service. A Christingle is a visual aid - an orange, representing the world; pierced with four cocktail sticks skewered with sweets and raisins, represnting the four seasons and the fruits of the earth; with a candle stuck in the top, representing Jesus the Light of the World; and wrapped around with a red ribbon, representing his blood shed on the cross to save the world. Each child was given a lit Christingle to process around the church - allowing for the minor miracle that was no-one melting their face or their neighbour's coat...In the anglican tradition of 3-point-sermons-each-point-starting-with-the-same-letter, it was Christmas, Children, organised Chaos. In other words, just how it should be!

Friday, December 16, 2005

{Either, Or, Both, And}

One of the issues we came across a lot in Australia was the Attractional v Incarnational debate (summarised/stereo-typed as: church that expects people to come to you v church that seeks to go to where people are; church that extracts people from their community v church that grows an indigenous expression within a community; etc...). More often than not, the issue seemed to us to be fairly polarised - incarnational church as a(n over-)reaction to attractional church. But I just don't see the two as being mutually exclusive, and I see working out how the two relate to each other in a given context as being part of the fun of the challenge of growing healthy churches. Another issue we came across was the Sodality v Modality debate (single-focus team v broader community), and who/how/when/why a mission team engages with the wider Church...To be honest, I think we saw a real danger of isolation in several 'sodality' contexts.

Having been part of the St Thomas' story for fourteen years, it was interesting to hear the latest chapters. I don't think St Tom's has ever said, "Here is the package" (though others might have seen it that way); the reality is much more, "This is what we've tried; this is what has and has not worked well; this is what we have learnt as we have observed, reflected, discussed; this is what we have gone on to do as we plan, account, act...

In my view, "missional" values embrace attractional and incarnational values, and sodality/modality - and transcend them. An attractional element is definitely part of the big picture, in the Jesus story 2000 years ago and today. Just last Sunday thirteen people made the decision to become Christians at a St Tom's carol service - and to those who don't like attractional church, I'd point out that the "incarnational" practice of having a meal and inviting others to join you is as "attractional" as inviting people to a service. As I understand it, the latest/current chapters at St Tom's have been about how incarnational communities relate to attractional events, and how small mission teams are supported/cared for/nurtured by bigger and broader (though still mission-focused) communities. And I am aware that it is a hard journey; that continually revising community is very demanding for those who are part of those communities. But I still believe that the result has been, and can continue to be, more rounded than models I have seen elsewhere. It will be interesting to see what grows in 2006 - from wherever I'll be watching.

Thursday, December 15, 2005


"We're one, but we're not the same...we get to carry each other..." U2

Today is the one-year anniversary of my blog. It is the most sustained journal I've kept. I have valued the discipline of writing; valued the connections it has given me with both 'old' and 'new' friends; valued the interaction with the thoughts of other bloggers and 'theoblogians'; valued the way in which the physical and virtual worlds have weaved together. Such as staying with Ben and Helen these few days.

We had lunch with my former senior team leader at St Thomas', Paul Maconochie, today. It was good to catch up, to hear something of what God has been doing in his life and the life of the church here in the months since we left; and to bounce future possibilities together. Although God has moved us on from here, this place is the source of those things that we are about; the place to which I think we will always return between one living-place and another (in the language of Orders, the monastic home of peregrini - wandering monastics). Just as the relationship between parents and adult children who have left home needs to be re-negotiated, so that it continues, but is not the same as before, so - probably in January - we will have to re-negotiate our relationship with the team here at St Tom's: not going back to what is was when we were colleagues, but not a dead relationship either. That's just part of being family; and a very positive thing, too...

My sister was able to go home last Saturday; but had to be re-admitted to hospital yesterday. She is still in too much pain to be managed away from the hospital, and they want to monitor her and hopefully be able to help her recover more fully and quicker. As far as we can tell, her vision isn't very good at the moment. Please keep praying for her, and the family around her, who are under a lot of strain. We are heading north to Glasgow on Monday. Pray for us, too.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Christmassy Now

We're back in Sheffield, briefly; visiting with the Gillingham's in Crookes, and heading down the hill to the Askew's in a little while...Driving through Sheffield earlier on was wonderful.

Since we got back, we've really appreciated it being dark by mid-afternoon (having never got very light all day - that orange light of the low winter sun); and the coldness in the air. These things are a part of the anticipation of Christmas, that we missed in Australia. It's not only a Christian festival; it's fundamentally a northern-European Christian festival - the Christ-story transforming northern-European pre-Christian culture. Advent makes sense at a spiritual level in the Southern hemisphere; in the North, it makes metaphorical, symbolic sense, too: light literally shining in darkness. That's important: a connection between Christ and culture. And it needs to be an ongoing connecting, across cultures - including both non-European and post-Christendom European cultures...

Monday, December 12, 2005

Just Because I Can

I'm blogging at altitude, 4 hours out of Heathrow, for free thanks to the lovely people at Boeing and Singapore Airlines...I've just watched LOTR parts 1 & 2 back-to-back, and now I'm going to watch as much of part 3 as I can - my own hobbit interuptions permitting - before they turn off the TVs for landing.

[date stamp, time on-the-ground at Heathrow]

Sunday, December 11, 2005


Counting down to heading to the airport...

This might shape up into an interesting conversation over at Alan Creech's blog...


*the study of the Last Days.

Today is our last full day in Australia. We fly out at 2am tonight...19 1/2 hours travel with small children - thank God for individual TV screens on every seat! The day we fly on a plane that doesn't have them, the hobbits are going to feel betrayed.

Today is also our host's birthday: happy birthday, Malcolm! It feels a fitting way to end this chapter of our journey together; and who knows when and where we'll meet next?

Yesterday was my brother's birthday: happy birthday, David!

Where next? Immediately, a couple of days with Jo's parents in Leicestershire; a couple of days with friends Ben and Helen in Sheffield; then up to Glasgow for Christmas with my family. My sister is doing really well after her brain surgery. Beyond that, we wait to find out: there are a couple of possibilities.

A big thank you to everyone we've got to know here; for all the ways you've blessed us as a family; for sharing our lives together briefly but open-heartedly; for God's kairos kisses...May He continue to bless you and lead you, and maybe cause our paths to converge again.

Oh, and if you have my Perth mobile-phone number, don't use it anymore!

Friday, December 09, 2005


[The sermon is not my favourite form of communication; I don't believe it is very effective for teaching - and so I try to teach in pre- and post-sermon forms, such as story-telling and engaging with all five senses. But sometimes I am asked to preach, as I was last Sunday at St Philip's, and then I am content to know that the Holy Spirit is at work in people both during and post-sermon. And it is in this sense that I use the term in the title of this blog post...]

We were at the playgroup Christmas party in the park yesterday. Various people wanted to thank me for what I shared on Sunday. But one lady's story stood out. One of the things I'd talked about was the Australian capacity for resentment, and how Jesus can heal you of the hurts caused you by others. It turns out that the local council had done some work adjacent to this woman's property, and, as a result their fence had fallen over. Her husband had contacted the council, and asked them to repair it; I think they resisted at first, but in the end they sent someone out, who did a very unsatisfactory job. The husband wanted the work done properly, but the council were not interested: as far as they were concerned, they had done what was required and the matter no longer concerned them; they refused to speak to their tax-payer when he called...After church on Sunday this man told his wife that he realised he resented the council for what had happened, and had decided to forgive them, to drop the matter and do the work himself. The very next morning he had a phone-call from the man who had done the repair, admitting that he had done a sub-standard job, and asking if he could come and make it right!

I'd also spoken about physical healing. This same woman had had a piece of glass stuck in her toe for about a year; the doctor did not want to try to remove it, as that might have caused more permanent damage than letting it be, and monitoring it from time to time. In response to the sermon, she brought her toe to God. It had flaired-up, and she went to the doctor again. Taking an ultra-sound, they discovered that the glass had started to move, withdrawing out of the toe: she showed me a little blister that had appeared, where it will pass through the skin...

I love it when God brings things together like that!

Poems For Advent

A Good League Hence

future – uncertain;
seeking a place
to live
the life of
Familiar ground.
I’ll follow.

Nativity Set (In Cool-Britannia)

Teenage-mum, toddler
Boyfriend (Not-the-Dad)
look on;
Pop Idol contestants,
to entertain the crowd;
Big Issue vendors,
Reminding them, “Good-will to all!”;
Three lads off EastEnders,
turn on the lights
of Winterval…

The cast,
All present and correct,
Just like last year –
A little shabby
Beneath the neon promises;
These script[ure]s of Very
English hopes
And fears
Are met in countless squares

Jindalee, Western Australia, 08/12/05

[the 'ure' is meant to be struck-through, not in editors brackets; but, I can't format that in Blogger.]

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


Rachel came through her operation well, and is recovering in the High Dependency Unit. The surgeon was able to remove all of the tumour, which was benign. Very soon after coming out of theatre, Rachel was aware of her family, and expressing concern for their emotional welfare. She also accused the surgeon of bringing in a horse to kick her in the head. So neither her compassion nor her sense of humour appear to have been impaired : )

What is needed now is for the swelling to go down, without any internal bleeding, and without Rachel contracting any post-op infections. Our whole family has valued the prayers of friends around the world, and we know that you'll keep praying now. Thank you.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Around about now - 7am her time - my sister will be on her way to theatre prep. In about an hour's time, her surgery is scheduled to begin.

We wait, and pray.


We had a fantastic day out at AQWA – the Aquarium of Western Australia – with friends Melinda and Lucinda (the “inda’s”) yesterday. Our kids love visiting aquariums, and AQWA is excellent. The WA coastline is so long, and covers so many climate zones and ocean environments that – unlike other aquariums we have visited in the UK and USA – AQWA can afford to restrict itself to species found in WA waters, and still have the most diverse range you could care to imagine. The attraction is divided into different zones, each presenting species from different sections of coastline. One of the zones comprises of a slow-moving walkway that takes you around a large tank in which sharks, turtles, and rays swim around and over you, as you are carried along a Perspex tunnel. We’ve been in similar tunnels before, but without the moving walkway; and it makes a huge difference: no views blocked by a few people who refuse to move on! If you’re ever in Perth with children, make sure you pay a visit…

A week today, we’ll be back in the UK, sleeping-off jet-lag...


One of the areas we all enjoyed at Perth Zoo the other day was the orang-utan enclosure. In order to create an appropriate environment, researchers studied orang-utans in the wild to identify their primary activities – activities such as taking introvert time out to watch the rest of the family from a distance; climbing around the tree canopy; making nests; searching for food; and resting in the shade. Then, rather than attempting to recreate a rain-forest environment in the zoo, what has been done is an attempt to provide for all of these core activities in a habitat made of wood and steel and rope, which has a very urban feel to it. Indeed, it felt much more like creative human architecture than anything else. Information boards presented pictures showing what each core activity might look like in the wild, and how that same activity was paralleled in the enclosure.

This approach seems to me highly appropriate* for reconstructing church in a new world reality [post-Modernity; post-Christendom; post-9/11; post-]. First we need to decide what we consider to be core activities for a given community of Christians. I don’t mean minimum-requirement essential doctrinal statements – though doctrine does matter – but what any given group looking to be church in this new world considers to be key elements of their praxis. And it is important to figure that out, at least provisionally, before setting out: too many good ideas have floundered, to many pioneering spirits have become disillusioned, because this groundwork has not always been done.

Then we need to avoid the temptation of seeking to re-create the ‘original’ – or even last known – environment in which those activities were previously done. When the last natural habitat of the orang-utan is felled by loggers, it will be no good denying it – and, though that day can (and in this case ought to) be resisted, its inevitability probably won’t be reversed. In the case of the passing of one age of history into another, resistance truly is futile. Rather, what we need is creative models of how those same activities might look in a completely different, an alien, context. Orang-utans need to nest – but traditionally they haven’t built their nests out of plastic crates and Hessian sacks. Christians need to worship – but how they worship must take into account their changing context, as well as their un-changing God. That is not to say that there is no place for continuity – the orang-utans have a great deal of that. Pioneering expressions of church have often ‘thrown the baby out with the bath-water’ when it comes to continuity – but that’s as short-sighted as throwing the orang-utans into the fairy penguin enclosure and expecting them to adapt...

* and not only because Anglican bishops are also known as Primates ; )

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Advent 2

I preached at St Philip's this morning, sharing with them some observations we've made in the three months we've been here that might help them share the Gospel in their community. [I've posted the sermon text here.] The feedback I received was overwhelmingly positive and appreciative, for which I'm thankful: St Philip's is a very mixed community, and I was unusually nervous about speaking to them...

Before that point, we'd been asked as a family to light the candle and lead the prayers for Advent week 2. Susannah had read her lines word-perfectly without an audience, but we were expecting her to "corpse" (as stage-fright is called) on the day...but as it turned out, she did really well : )

Among the faces we've got to know while we've been here was one from the past...Adam Lee left Sheffield for the southern corner of New Zealand a few years ago, but his work regularly brings him over to Australia. Although we didn't know each other well - St Tom's is a large church - having heard we were in Perth he'd made the effort to look up where to find us: he'd never been to St Philip's before! We ended up going out to lunch together at Barista. It was one of those bizarre-but-very-welcome moments, and it was a fun addition to our day. Thanks, Adam!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

World Service: Headlines

This evening has been my first chance to net-surf in ages - luxury! - and, as I don't have much chance to post many theological reflections of my own at the moment, I thought I'd do some pointing in other directions.

At The Zoo

Last night we gate-crashed Chris & Coralie's Friday-night neighbourhood social, and then I went on to an art exhibition with Chris while the kids helped decorate the Kan's Christmas tree and watched Shrek 2. The exhibition was a uni Art School end-of-year bash, and we went to see the work of one of the other members of Chris' group, the Transfiguration Community. (Thankfully) I genuinely enjoyed Pete's wood sculptures, and would have bought one of his pieces had that been at all possible (which it wasn't, not least because it had already been sold); but over-all I was a little depressed at how little genuinely creative ideas I saw there...

And I got to show Jo Jacaranda trees in blossom for the first time. I'd come across them in Zambia a few years ago, and they've been my favourite tree ever since. Jo doesn't share my love of trees; but even she thinks the Jacarandas are pretty special...

Today, we went to Perth Zoo with Chris, Eliza and Noah, and 'Chelle who lives in community with them. Zoos are sure-fire winners with our two, and we had a great time.

I got to speak to my brother-in-law late afternoon (his breakfast-time). They're okay; Rachel just wants next Tuesday out of the way. It was good to be able to speak with Colin. We're looking forward to see them soon now.

I'm preaching at St Philip's tomorrow, at both services (7:30 am and 9:30 am). So Jo dropped me off in Cottesloe before heading back up the coast with the kids. I'm sitting in the dark, drinking red wine, with a Gregorian chant CD in the background. It almost feels Christmassy...but not quite (for one thing, the wine isn't mulled). It's truly bizarre the way the Aussies go in for such a northern-European Christmas, when there's a cat-in-hell's chance of snow!

Friday, December 02, 2005


The surgeon is intending to operate on Rachel this coming Tuesday (6th December). The procedure will probably last 10-12 hours. The medical team are suggesting a "best-case scenario" of her returning home after one week, and being able to return to work (Rachel is a GP) after three months (though I think she'll still be on maternity leave at that point), though not allowed to drive for twelve months. There is, of course, a spectrum of other possible outcomes, and Rachel and Colin are doing what they can to make plans right across that spectrum. The situation is clearly putting strain - both emotional and physical - on my parents.

That's about all I can update you with at present; it should give enough to be getting on praying into...

Whatever the outcome - even a "best-case" - it might be right for us to relocate nearer to the rest of my family for the next season of our lives (which might make it a "blessing in disguise" that nothing else has really materialised). Who knows? We're actively exploring possibilities in various other places; but if anyone knows of anything going in or near Glasgow, send me an email (not a comment on the blog, please). Cheers!

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?”

Monday, October 31, 2005


Alan Hirsch proposes a series of factors that are all present where effective church growth occurs – and which must all be present for that growth to occur. Around the central conviction that Jesus is Lord, these key elements are:

  • Missional incarnational impulse
  • Apostolic environment
  • Disciple-making
  • Organic Systems
  • Communitas,* not Community

*Communitas is a term which relates to a common endeavour undertaken or challenge faced together.

Obviously, Hirsch unpacks what he means by these five headings and develops subsidiary elements (which I won’t do here at this time). He refers to these key elements as “missional DNA” (or mDNA; for a series developing these ideas in a church setting, check out Phil and Dan McCredden’s mDNA category on their signposts blog). I would agree with the identified elements; but I would consider them not so much mDNA as the components that mDNA is constructed from. That is, I would honestly identify all these elements to exist at St Thomas’ and within The Order of Mission; but I would not say that how St Thomas’ looks is the way every missional church should look; nor that how St Thomas’ looks right now is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than it did twelve months ago, or will look in twelve months time. Just as I have elements of both my parents’ DNA, and our children’s DNA is half from mine and half from Jo’s, and yet our DNA is unique; so I would suggest that every missional church/movement has its own distinct mDNA composed of these key common elements, in unique combination.

Round Here

As promised, some photos of where we are currently: the house is built, but the front and back yards aren't done yet; but there's a playpark just across the street, and we've been lent the white car for getting around...

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Hello To... neice Rosie May Lennox, who was born on 26th October. Welcome to the world! (See you in December.)

What Happened Next

Thanks to those who pointed out I got the years a decade out on my last post. I had a fairly blinding headache at the time. I lay down on the floor, and it got worse - far worse than any headache I've ever had before. I couldn't move, and I couldn't cry out; but I could move my right hand, so I phoned Jo who was in another room in the same building...

...As I couldn't move or speak, an ambulance was called. They came and took me to hospital, where they stuck a canula in my hand (disproportionally unpleasant), hooked me up to a saline drip, and took a couple of brain scans. That was quite scary; they covered my eyes (to protect them from radiation), and didn't give me any information about what was going on (I couldn't ask, but I was conscious of some of what was going on around me), other than that they were injecting a dye through the canula, to show up the blood vessels in my brain. After about four hours, with nothing out of the ordinary showing up on the blood/urine/brain tests, and my speech having slowly returned to normal, they discharged me.

A big thank you to the people who looked after Susannah and Noah while Jo and I were at the hospital.

Yesterday, I slept until around 2pm. Today I feel much better. I think I'm going to be fine, but wanted to let people know. I'm also not sure how much internet access we'll have over the next while, but I'll try to keep in touch. If anyone is trying to contact me, my phone number is +61 414077589.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


On 25th October 1994, Jo Marfell reached over and kissed me. Two years and one day later, on 26th October 1996, we were married, at St Thomas' in Sheffield. Yesterday was our ninth wedding anniversary.

As wedding anniversaries go, yesterday was pretty much a write-off. We moved house for the eigth time in eight weeks, which has stretched all of our flexibility to the limit and then some. Understandably, the kids wouldn't settle last night, and I just lay down on the floor and bawled my eyes out. Today, my head is more congested than it has been yet in a week of head-cold, and I have a pounding headache that will likely incapacitate me soon. But I need to post. Photos to be added later; right now I just need to lie down on the floor again...

Monday, October 24, 2005

Beneath, And Beneath Beneath

The other day Hirschy (happy birthday today, mate!) borrowed from computing to describe church. When I use my computer, I'm playing with various programmes that enable me to do various things. From my desktop, I can access Internet Explorer; Microsoft Office Word, Outlook, Powerpoint; skype...But beneath these there is the Operating System (in my case, Windows XP Professional; I am informed that XP stands for eXtra Problems) that enables the programmes to run. And beneath the Operating System there is the Machine Language. All three need to be compatible for the computer to work: for example, when you try to run programmes that your Operating System isn't adequate to support, they run very slowly, or frequently crash, or won't work at all.

(If I understood him right) Alan suggested that the church parallels are:

  • the visible practices - services/activities/programmes - of a given church;
  • the theology that supports them (and sometimes changing 'surface' practices necessitate developments in that theology - upgrading the Operating System; and sometimes changes in the theology allow the development of new practices);
  • the fundamental question of what is church?

Anyway, I got thinking about these levels. I already had the language of the Operating System for the beneath the surface level. Our Operating System is the LifeShapes principles of discipleship; we describe it as that - principles that can support any number of programmes; and, indeed, that top-level isn't of very much importance (relative to the deeper layers) from where we are coming from. What I hadn't thought about in these terms before was the beneath-the-beneath level; the Machine Language; your answer to the fundamental question what is church?

And this morning it came to me. I'd answer that question like this: church is an alternative construction of community; a counter-cultural re-imagination of what community is. And - counter-cultural to late-Modern society, where the extended family has been quite comprehensively dismantled, and the nuclear family increasingly dismantled too, we have observed that the collective pattern of most of human history points to our being made to experience community in several (pictorially concentric) sizes of group: family, clan, tribe, etc. And so our reconstruction of community must reflect these different sizes of group, with the different strengths and weaknesses - the different purposes - of each.

This particular Machine Language addresses one of the 'big' questions we've seen out here (though not necessarily to anyone's satisfaction!): the incarnational church v attractional church debate. I'd dare to argue (heresy at a Forge setting?!) that attractional is not the problem per se. Yes, biblically, God's people are sent to the nations (incarnational); but God also promises to bring the nations to them (attractional)...We're wired with certain needs that can only be met in an attractional context - witness the hundreds of thousands who head to a football ground or out-of-town mall every weekend. The problem with inherited mode church is (at least) two-fold: that it has only operated attractionally; and that it has tried to do so in group-sizes that are designed to be incarnational instead. Church structured as different sizes of community - incarnational families and extended families, and attractional festivals or celebrations - enables a dynamic movement - a rhythm, an ebb and flow, a heartbeat. Is there a danger that the atractional element has such a strong gravitational pull for cultural Christians / equal and opposite repelant force for cultural post-Christians? Possibly. But I'm not convinced that it has to be that way...or that one-size incarnational communities are ultimately any healthier than one-size attractional ones.

Now that might just stir a few pots round here. But in an environment of vigorous debate between people who genuinely love each other, I think friendships will (more than) survive in tact.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Prayer Request

We're half-way through the Forge was good; but this evening the kids have been pretty disruptive. It's hard. Jo and I feel that this four-day event is significant, perhaps the main reason we're here for these three months. Who knows? But anyway, we feel like we need to be engaging as fully as possible. And people have gone out of their way to help make that happen, taking Susannah and Noah off and looking after them for us. Which has been great. And it should be said that the kids have been so good through that. But, they've not had a lot of their mum and dad's time these past two days. As I said, it's hard. I think they've had a lot of us since we've been out here, and this different circumstance is only for four days out of what will be three months; but you can't do that kind of rationalising when you're four and two. You want mum and dad all over again each new day...

This evening has been hard - really hard (although we did manage to get in a half-hour conversation with Jo's sister and brother-in-law, which was good). Noah is still running around. Earlier on, it was one of those hell-breaks-loose situations. And that leaves us (the grown-ups) exhausted too. Add to which, my head is congested and I've found it hard to breathe most of the afternoon and evening. Oh yes, and for some reason we can't figure out or fix, the oven isn't working anymore (we discovered when we got in earlier); which just added to the pressure when preparing our meal tonight...

I want to head to bed soon, and I don't want the children in and out of our bed all night long.

If you tend to pray, would you pray into our situation for us tonight, and over the next couple of days? Thank you.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Intensive (Very)

Integrity would appear to be one of the things that is key to the guys and gals in Forge, and (if day 1 of 4 is anything to go by) their Intensive certainly does what it says on the can: today was intensive...

I really want to post some reflections (and photos), but that may have to wait until after the event. For now, suffice to say that I was struck by how much of what Alan Hirsch spoke of today seemed to describe the context we have come from (though that was not what he was describing). More on that in the coming days.

I've been asked to do a session tomorrow (originally Hirschy was doing it; then he invited me to come on board with him; now it looks like I'm doing it, and he'll jump in from time to time!). So, I've been jotting down some notes this evening, and - although I'm not quite finished them (I need two more stories) - I think I'm about to head to bed. I've come down with a congested head, sore throat and running nose, just to coincide with the Intensive...

I don't know whether it is possible at this notice to get hold of an MP3 recorder to record my session tomorrow afternoon, but I'd love to do that if at all possible. (Just in case anyone who will be there reads this before they leave home!)

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Pop Parables

One of the sessions at the forth-coming Forge Intensive is Mark Sayers' intriguingly-titled "What Paris Hilton taught me about following Jesus - leading in low-commitment consumer culture."

Which caused me to reflect (following the previous post) on What Dr House taught me about church-planting...
  • sometimes received procedure fails to address the - critical - issue;
  • an intuitive approach ultimately might be more effective...
  • don't worry overly about "getting it wrong" (the church might die if you act, but it will die if you don't act)
  • "getting it right" comes by degrees, through trial and error, experiment; each stage of the process is provisional.
  • an effective team needs a visionary leader; and an effective leader builds a team, whose breakthroughs are collective...
  • being primarily pastoral (as we've inherited pastoral) is not necessarily the best way to invest in the members of your team...

I could probably keep going...Okay, the exercise is a limited one. Don't take it too far; don't trash the exercise on the basis of its limitations. But if God can speak to first-century pre-modern Jews through the agrarian landscape, He can speak to twenty-first century post-modern Gentiles through our own popular culture.

Postscript: Mark is one of the leaders of the red network in Melbourne. Anyone who was involved in St Thomas' (and especially in Realm) during the Roxy era will recognise the language of clans, tribes, and tribal gatherings (see the tribal generation website; note - it has not been 'live' for several years now, but is still visited regularly).

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

What's On TV?

Different kind of house - we're really enjoying House. It is very good indeed. Dr House is a grumpy genius with attitude. Not so much watching TV as sitting in front of the mirror...

Due North

It looks like we have a house to live in from next week, just around the corner from Andrew and Danelle Hamilton. That puts it at the furthest point north in the line of contacts we have made along the greater-Perth coast (with Cottesloe the southern point, and a 45 minute drive between the two).

We've been looking at all sorts of house possibilities as they've come up - living with families; house-sitting; renting furnished, semi-furnished or unfurnished units; in a variety of locations. In other words, the type of house really didn't matter; what mattered was that it felt right.

The first time we went up to see Hamo and Danelle, we heard that Danelle's parents would be house-sitting a new-build around the corner (for owners who weren't ready to move in yet) while they had a place of their own built elsewhere...Jo came away thinking, what a shame it is taken. Yesterday we were back up there again, and it transpired that Danelle's parents weren't house-sitting after all - her dad (a retired minister) had accepted a short-term post somewhere the house might be available. Hamo drove me round there; we met the owner; and things came together. The owners - a farmer and his wife - recently sold their farm and had this place built so they could join the Hamilton's Upsteam community; so I guess they're on a similar faith-adventure to us. But, they can't move until after Christmas, and didn't want the house to stand empty.

That felt like a right situation. We'll move next week. The house is unfurnished, but that doesn't seem to be an issue; folk will lend us the various things we will need.

Between now and then, there's the Forge conference (Saturday-Tuesday) to keep us busy. Jo and I are doing a session together on Monday, and I'm doing a joint-session with Alan Hirsch on Sunday. We'll meet Al for the first time this Friday - I'm looking forward to it...


I took this photo, and it made me think of Dan. I don't know why, other than it might appeal to him. Anyway, here it is - for Dan.

Lazy Days

Everyone needs a day of rest. Today was one of those for us. After a busy run, we didn't leave the house all day. In the afternoon, one of the mums we've met at playgroup came over with her little girl - a couple of hours of fun for the kids, and just as enjoyable for the grown-ups.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


  • Roads and buildings are well-signed around here. Today we drove past a sign for a Senior Citizens Library. Now, we know about book libraries, video libraries, and games libraries. But we wondered why you'd want to take out a pensioner for two weeks...(I imagined a senario a bit like About A Boy)
  • There's a road not far from where we're staying called Weaponess Road. I know that goodness means possessing the quality of being good, and that faithfulness means possessing the quality of being faithful. So, does weaponess mean possessing the quality of a weapon?
  • Someone challenged me over lunch on Sunday to come up with a grammatically correct sentence in which the word <and> appears five times in a row. It's a clever challenge, so I'll throw it out here...

Monday, October 17, 2005


Two oasis experiences over the past couple of days...

...we moved to the Parry house this afternoon, where we will be staying for a week. (I took the photo of Liz P with our children when we had lunch with her and Trevor recently; the pool is in their garden.) It feels great to have a space of our own, albeit only for seven days - an oasis. Although it is a lovely house, it isn't one of those places where you worry what the kids might touch; this is a place where we will be able to relax - not least in the bath, having only had access to showers since we arrived in Australia (S and N being pretty much shower-phobic).

The other: we spent Saturday night at the home of Kai Seen and Wendy Yapp. Wendy used to baby-sit me and my brother and sister when we were kids; I don't think she and I have seen each other in 25 years...they had a get-together of various people involved in various ministries across the city, and invited us along. To be honest - despite warm welcomes from various people in Glasgow and in Cottesloe - we haven't felt as "at home" in a worship/fellowship context as we did on Saturday night since we left Sheffield towards the end of August. It was a real oasis experience. And we met several folk who were keen to meet up with us again (including a Danish girl here with YWAM who came from Arhus and knew some of our Danish friends in TOM), so it was a great networking-time too.

Tomorrow we're off to spend the afternoon with Hamo and his family again. But for now - now the children are asleep - a relaxing evening beckons...

Friday, October 14, 2005

Whale Of A Time

Today we went whale watching. Whale-watching's right up there with swimming with dolphins in the List of Things You Ought To Do Before You Die. I have to say, it's never been a burning ambition of mine, but, given that we're living right on the Indian Ocean at the time of year when the humpback whales are migrating back south to their feeding grounds (having swam north to give birth to their young) it seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up on..., I'm sure you're familiar with amazing footage of whales rising vertically up out of the ocean, or smashing their tail fluke against the waves: well, it wasn't quite like that!

Noah slept through the whole trip, which meant that he saw marginally less than the rest of us. Susie felt pretty sea-sick - the sea was choppy - but managed not to vomit in the bag provided to every passenger just-in-case. Jo and I faired a little better, but those whales were shy today. The water-spout more-or-less in the middle of the photo is about as much as we got to see.

But then - and I hope I'm not just trying to rationalise-away disappointment here - I actually quite like the idea that there are things that God has created that I haven't seen, and won't. At the end of the day, that seems a bigger and healthier perspective to me.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

In The Wilderness A Highway

I keep being drawn back to these verses:

A voice of one calling:
"In the desert prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the wilderness
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all mankind together will see it.
For the mouth of the
Lord has spoken."

A voice says, "Cry out."
And I said, "What shall I cry?"...

Isaiah 40:3-6a

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


This afternoon we walked through Peppermint Grove - the neighbourhood east of Cottesloe, so named (I guess) because the streets are lined with avenues of Peppermint trees - to the Swan River. We walked along Freshwater Bay to where it meets Mosman Bay; there is a thin, hardly-tidal beach-line, and the water is very shallow and flat, in marked contrast to the ocean side.

We continue to live in that liminal "in-between" space. We genuinely don't know what our situation will be come mid-December. We believe God has led us to this place for these three months, and that this is the next step he has for us having called us to leave Sheffield. Our sense is that there is something He has for us here, in greater Perth, beyond this sabbatical: but we don't know what that is, or how it might work out in practice. Discussions with various folk have - indirectly - helped to clarify one thing: we are not here to make something happen, but to keep our eyes open for what God might bring about. At one level we feel - genuinely - completely secure with all this, but that doesn't mean that it isn't scary at times...

Today we decided that, given that we aren't here to make something happen, we would make a slight change of direction: while still making lots of time to meet with anyone who wants to meet up with us, we will make more time to do some of the sight-seeing holiday sort of things - to create some great family memories that we can only do here. Top of the list? Whale watching.

As Requested

I was speaking with my sister on the phone yesterday, and she requested a photo of the caravan we are currently staying in. So here it is. We only sleep in it, and the beds are really comfortable.
It pretty much backs onto the deck at the back of the rectory; the church is the other side of the gates on the left hand side of the picture.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Saturday Afternoon, And Evening

One of the things I really enjoy is being able to eat outside - not a wind-swept English picnic or barbeque in the rain, but sitting down at a table outdoors, eating a 'proper' meal in the fresh air. For me, that was a treat of our holiday back in the USA in June, and of our time here. Today we had lunch, and spent the afternoon, with Trevor and Liz Parry. Trevor was, until last year, the senior paediatrician in Western Australia; Liz is a retired secondary school teacher. They are, quite simply, a lot of fun; and we had a great day together.

The Parry's have a holiday house down south, on the Margaret River (good wine country), and we'll be staying there for a break in November.

On a vacant plot just around the corner from their home, there is a lemon tree, covered in fruit. Apparently it is in almost continual fruit, and the various neighbours help themselves, with plenty of lemons to go round. It makes a fantastic lemonade...I guess at some point the plot will be built on, and the tree may or may not survive. But it is a great illustration of fruitfulness: the individual branches are at different stages of the fruiting-cycle, but as an organism the tree is fruitful all year round - and the surrounding community is blessed as a result. [see photo below.]

The Potts arrived home this evening. It's been great to see them again, sitting around the kitchen table with the weekend paper, a bar of Cadbury's milk chocolate, and red wine. But now it is time for bed - in the caravan again. (Everything gets going very early in the mornings round here.)

Lemon Tree

Friday, October 07, 2005

Dream Team

Here's a result: having been in the right time-zone to watch the Ashes live at a reasonable hour, I'm now in a close-enough time-zone to watch the Super Series not-quite-live. For the first time ever, the ICC has (done what every punter in the pub would do if they could and) selected a World XI - and sent the best individual players out against the best Test and One Day International side, Australia, over three ODIs and one 6-day Test.

Two games in, Australia have dominated. In part, as a side they're playing for restored pride having just lost the Ashes; while certain individual team members are playing to secure their future in the side after notably poor performances on tour...

But dream teams almost always fail to deliver their on-paper potential. For one thing, the players aren't used to playing together; their styles have had no time to mesh. For another thing, they're playing for fun, show-casing their talent but lacking the "we have to win" mentality that comes with playing for your own national team in matches that count for international rankings. And in this particular case there appears to be another factor: the selectors have chosen (on the whole) the biggest names in the game, the box-office draws; senior players (on the whole) in their own sides, who have earned their reputations over many years of consistent brilliance...and therefore aren't as fast in the out-field as younger up-and-coming players. In short, this side hasn't performed in the field, making half-hearted stretches towards balls that they would have caught in previous years.

But it has been highly entertaining nonetheless, and the crowd at Melbourne's Telstra Dome have helped create an amazing atmosphere. As long as no-one expects them to be close-run contests, the Super Series looks set to have a happy future.

On The Move Again...

...though only as far as back into the caravan in the rectory back yard. The Potts return from holiday some time tomorrow afternoon/evening.

In the two weeks they have been away, we have walked into estate agents and letting agents; rang up in response to letting ads on the outsides of appartments and in the local newspaper; viewed a flat on the ninth floor [I felt physically sick the whole time the kids were on the balcony, which ruled that out; everyone we've spoken to since agreed, and a number added that it was a rough location they wouldn't recommend] and an unfurnished single-story unit [various people had said, "If you asked around at church, people would probably lend you things" - but, it would have to be literally everything, and then it would all have to go back to the various lenders: far too complicated a life]. We have come up against people wanting a longer let than we are around for (fair enough), despite the fact that their property is empty and 10 weeks income has got to be better than 10 weeks no income (harder to understand). We have followed up people's recollections that former members of the church now in the USA and Northern Australia have houses nearby and were looking for tenants, only to discover that both properties are currently occupied and won't come available until just before we depart. Lots of people have been looking out for possible places we could live, and/or praying that God would release the right place for us, but so far nothing concrete has materialised. It does look like we'll be house-sitting for a couple in the church for a week, in a week-and-a-half's time; and that we might well be able to move in with another couple for several weeks after that.

In the mean time, we're gathering up our things (it is amazing how widely even a few toys can be spread); rationalising our clothes back down from four suitcases to one; and cleaning away all evidence that we were here...

Thursday, October 06, 2005

On The Edge

Take the main road running north from here until it literally comes to an end in a pile of sand (about 50 minutes' drive), turn right, and you get to Hamo's place. Andrew, Danelle and their kids live on a block that was only built two years ago, surrounded by blocks being developed/to be developed. On the map, the main road continues north in a dotted line, anticipating the next phase of northern suburb growth.

We spent today hanging out with the Hamiltons. First we headed to the park, a temporary facility awaiting the completion of a shopping centre and further housing; then back to their place for lunch, and an afternoon of chatting over beers/coffee/tea. They are on a similar journey to ours: following God's call out from a secure position leading an established church, to pioneer something new - something on-the-edge-and-beyond of church, as well as the edge and beyond of Perth...So, it is great to network. I sense God wants us to become good friends!

One of the things that they are finding is that you can build a housing estate much quicker than you can build authentic community - something that is obvious enough to state, but, I am sure, much harder to live in.

As always, I had my camera with me. In the park, two things caught my eye. One was a piece of art, a fork sticking out of the ground where the path divided, literally A Fork In The Road (indeed, a fork in the fork in the road). It reminded me of Robert Frost's poem The Road Not Taken* (Frost is my favourite poet; this is probably his most widely-known work), which spoke to me of Andrew and Danelle's decision, like Frost, to take the path "less travelled by, And that has made all the difference"...

...The other was the wall around one of the play areas. It reminded me of Nehemiah's call to rebuild the broken- and burned-down walls of Jerusalem, with each family taking a stretch of the wall. Again, it spoke to me of Andrew and Danelle, and the part they have been called to in rebuilding the broken church here in Australia.

And because our stories are in some ways similar, the fork and the wall spoke to me of where, and why, we are here too.

*Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Desert Places

Clearing away the remains of our evening meal beckons, but now the kids are in bed I need to sit down for a while before I get round to it, to catch my breath, and gather my thoughts...

Living in a liminal space is hard at times, but rewarding too. Hard when we realise that we'll be back in Sheffield, in January, at the point where Susie's friends will be starting school - the point where Susie would have started school, but won't be. Hard when we're here to weigh whether this is where we are supposed to be for the next season of our lives, and the key people we need to process that with are away on holiday. Hard when we don't know where we'll be living even for this three months, let alone beyond...

Hard and rewarding blur together at points like this morning, when Jo had a cry at play group and in doing so gave permission for the other newly-arrived mums - from England, on the same flight as us; from Melbourne - to open up about being - inevitably [D2] - in the same "wobbly" place at this stage. And to recognise that they could help each other through [to D3]. Not incidentally, one of the God-pictures someone gave us before we came out here was that, though there would be tears for us, flowers would bloom where each tear fell on the desert soil...

And then there are the out-and-out rewards. This afternoon we spent several lovely hours sitting in the back garden of one of our new friends, Amanda, whose welcome to us has been a special gift. Other people came and went the whole time we were there. I took photos of her garden, and portrait shots of her youngest child, and we downloaded them onto her laptop - a gift in return. As well as just being a wonderful, relaxed time, we also bounced around ideas for things we - us and Amanda - can envision pioneering here...Creativity is starting to stir - in thoughts alone this morning, with Jo after lunch, in Amanda's garden this afternoon...things we can't move on until Malcolm and Cheryl return from holiday, but...perhaps God is starting to show each of us why He has brought us to this place.

And that fills me with hope, and "faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." [Hebrews 11:1]

Monday, October 03, 2005


Town Hall:
  • the shady playground - a favourite spot while mum is at the gym
  • Noah and Susannah on the formal walk to the lawns - the ballustrades have seen better days, but still look impressive
  • Town Hall entrance

Meet The Neighbours:

  • looking down Marmion street towards the rectory, and church beyond
  • St Philip's Church - church office entrance; the rectory was built on adjacent land, to the right of the picture
  • red-and-green Kangaroo Paw planted in the rectory front garden
  • a family of lorakeets live in a eucalyptus tree just along the road

Town Hall

Meet The Neighbours

Saturday, October 01, 2005


Then [Jesus] said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.'
"Then the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.' I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is a friend, yet because of the man's boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
"So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened." Luke 11:5-10

The other morning, Noah got up at 5:30am, and decided that it would be a good idea to wake up mum and dad. He was ignored. So he got into our bed. And was ignored. By 6:15am he was bored of that, so he got out of our bed and started running up and down the hard-wood corridor shouting "I want some milk!" very loudly over and over again. Which, despite being very irritating, was ignored. At 6:30am, a little voice is heard from Susannah's room at the other end of the hard-wood corridor: "You need to say please, Noah!" To which Noah responds, "Please can I have some milk?!"

Shoot. We really couldn't ignore that...

Since we moved into the house, the kids have been settling to sleep quicker, but waking earlier. swings and roundabouts. Speaking of which, there seems to be a park on every street corner in Perth, which is fantastic. Peter, who took us out-and-about on Wednesday morning, did so again on Friday afternoon. We crossed the Swan to the south side, and went to a particularly impressive playground with stunning 180-degree views over the river. As it turned out, it was blowing a storm, so we watched the rain blow in, then retreated into a restaurant for coffees while the rain came over so hard the city-centre skyscrapers vanished in cloud...For Ruth's benefit, I took photos - but I'll have to upload them some other time.