The ebbs and flows of 2013

As I stood in the shower in the gym this morning, I realised I wanted badly to just stand there and let the water run down my neck. It would only be a few hours at work this morning before we all go home as the office would be shut at noon.

There was no pressing work needing to be done and as long as I make it in by 9am I should be fine. I didn’t need to be in at my usual 8am and I had taken longer on the cross trainer and moved on to the stationary bike and my gear had been soaked. I was just going to stand under this hot shower and imagine being washed and rinsed of all my cares which have piled up over the year.

I had started this year looking for a home, church wise. I got to a point I didn’t bother if I was going to church on a Sunday. I could only see the negatives in churches and the people in them. The brouhaha in my previous church had escalated, affecting people I cared about. I did things in response which though I would do again in a heartbeat, I wished I didn’t have to do.

I have had Kiddo leave home a second time, to a land close to my childhood home. Singapore feels foreign now. The new felt old. Or is it the old felt new. It is a city state which is modern and yet traditional and conservative at the same time. It is singularly far from home where Tress and I are. Other than a little dog, all we had was our work and our home.

Work was increasingly busy. I was asked to be in arenas I didn’t want to be in. Locking horns and battling in cauldrons and with people I did not think or wish to be in or with. An environment which is chalky at best permeated. Unhappy shareholders who no longer trust the board or management, translating into a cascading tide of finger pointing and – dare I say it – bullying. All I want is work. I want to go in, do my work and go home and drink my wine. Watch my footy. Walk my dog. Be with my lovely wife. But the mistrust, the second guessing, the finger pointing, all add up to make each day a laboured one, from which I continue to seek to escape. But the scriptures have taught that work is good and all that is part of work, so I remain grateful. Head down…

It has been a year with various changes and challenges. As tiring as it has been, I almost don’t want it any other way. I am learning to take each tide as it comes and ebbs. It all adds to this tapestry I did not know was being weaved. And in the midst of all that, I have had the constant love of Tress and Kiddo and the soothing, blessing presence and company of Tress my lovely and loving wife. I am ever grateful for her.

2013, in as much as I want to be washed and rinsed away as though I am standing under a shower, I also simply want to experience the sensation of being pushed and sucked by the ebbs and flows of the tides. Thank you my Lord for 2013…

Emmanuel – or Manuel (as in Fawlty Towers)

Last Sunday we had a pulpit exchange amongst three churches in Blackburn north and a minister from a church on Surrey Road spoke. His mention of this being the silly season rang in my ears this morning as I went in to the office to be greeted by a string of emails flying around.

The rush in the shopping centres at this time of the year which churches like ours have bemoaned is often accompanied by an annoying parallel in the workplace. In a corporation like the one I’m working for, somehow the rush to get stuff signed before Christmas/New Year never goes away. My cynical mind tells me the smoke and mirrors that prop up places like these, require reports to show things have been done. To-do lists and task list need be marked off to evince accomplishment within a specified timeframe – in this case the calendar year is obviously the parameter.

I was asked to work on a document last week and proposed some communications to people affected by that document. I sent that communication to the relevant senior executive late last week (Thursday) and this morning I was asked to provide an update. I said I had not heard back from that senior executive and was asked to remind that person as senior executives are presently distracted by a range of matters now.

Similarly, in a discussion with the boss yesterday, I was told the Board is presently “a bit twitchy” and so there is a need to manage communications more closely.

I can’t say it is the silly season per se which caused all this running around in a sense of near panic at so much to do and so little time to do it in, but I am quite certain it doesn’t alleviate it to say the least. I get the bit about people going away for a few weeks and wanting to ensure as much gets resolved as possible before that. To stress for weeks – often unnecessarily – to make that happen however, almost make the whole thing a bit of a self-created much ado about nothing.

Yesterday I spoke to an external adviser who, after nearly a week of sweating over some advice he provided, came one big circle to land on nearly the same spot. Much ado about nothing has a resonance about it on many occasions in corporate space but at a time like the silly season, when I get to ask “what does this all mean”, it resonated more resoundingly.

It’s one week to Christmas Eve. Emmanuel? We’re too silly in this season with all our busy-ness to make Him welcome, I’m afraid.

Sweaty weekend

There was a corporate team building event last Friday afternoon, as part of year end/Christmas thing for the corporate services team. Since a new executive general manager came in earlier this year (end March I think) a bit of reorganisation has come about and the legal department has moved from being part of commercial services (reporting to the CFO) to this new “CST” team, which also comprise internal audit, risk and compliance and some parts of project management.

The event was an “Amazing Race” type of chasing around the city. The company, Uplift Events, was the same joint which organised the same event while I was at AIA. To complete the trifecta, I had helped the company when it was setting up and I had helped with stuff like the shareholders’ agreement, web terms and disclaimers and participation forms and disclaimers and the like. To see the company grow and keep going has been a little pleasing.

So Friday I went home tired… but when I got home, the sight of a mound of mulch greeted me. 3+ cubic meters of stuff to be shovelled/raked/ barrowed was horrifying, especially after crisscrossing the city for a couple of hours earlier in the day.

Tress, Kiddo and I decided to just go out for dinner, and when we came back, we worked for about an hour, until it turned dark close to 9pm. I was glad we started as not only we did some work we managed to create a work system and momentum which we could then just pick up on the next day.

And so early on Sat Tress and I woke, had our coffee and toasts and then went to work by about 7am. Tim, who had provided us with the mulch, had also loaned us a large wheel barrow and a couple of shovels. One was a pitch fork which was certainly the right tool for the job. Before long, Kiddo joined us and after a few hours we managed to clear the mounds and spread the mulch through the areas which needed it. Around noon, after cleaning up, we went to Madam K and then off to the city to catch the King Kong musical at the Princess Theatre on Collin Street.

Unfortunately, I fell asleep momentarily a couple of times – the show was a spectacular one mechanical wise as the animation was surprisingly smooth and natural considering it was given effect primarily through cables and pulleys, worked by maybe half a dozen athletes. The music and acting was so so…but it was entertaining all the same.

On Sunday we went to church, went back to Madam K for lunch after that, and then off to some grocery shopping. Then after returning the tools to Tim we went to the Whitehorse Carols at the Whitehorse Civic Centre on Whitehorse Road. When we got home it was nearly 9pm and we had time to fix my lunch and I was so tired I could barely wake up this morning.

Christmas is only just over a week away and it was a busy weekend but best of all, it was loads of activities for the whole family right through the weekend.

Friday … Will Sunday Come?

I once heard Tony Campolo preach a sermon titled “Friday’s here but Sunday’s Coming”. It’s supposed to be an uplifting thing, so that those affected by the sufferings of Christ and the eventual crucifixion on Friday, may look forward to the hope of Easter on Sunday.

Well I’ve had my “Fridays” for a while now. Not in the sense that there has been suffering or anything like that. Just an overall sense of being really underwhelmed and deflated. I need Sunday to arrive, and soon.

Course of Your Life, a fantastic Alpha Course alternative

The Alpha Course is sometimes said to be helpful not just to someone new to Christianity, but also to one who has been a Christian but hasn’t quite gone through the basics of what Christianity entails.

Several months ago, before my local church started another series of Alpha Course, I picked up a copy of an Alpha course publication which has the contents of the course. I thought I needed to be familiar with the contents. It appears to have the basic points but somehow shies away from a narrative of why man needs God and will be condemned (according to the Bible, not me or the church) unless he believes and accepts what Jesus has done on the cross. In this sense, the Alpha Course appears to be a useful introductory material for someone who is searching, but probably short in terms of completing the message. Some form of follow through is essential and this is from the perspective of someone new to Christianity.

For someone who is already a Christian, why does this introductory level material appeal and what learning does this person derive from this course? It would seem the whole event – the meals, camaraderie, spending a weekend away, the open forum for people to speak their minds – is the appeal, not the content proper. In other words, a Christian who finds Alpha beneficial lacked fellowship, more than teaching. It wasnt teaching that attracted, most probably, but the forum for fellowship and interaction generally.

I’m not sure therefore if Alpha should be the vehicle to bring the church together in that sense.

From this perspective, a more substantial and therefore beneficial tool appears to be the “Course of Your Life“, written by Tony Payne of Matthias Media.

Yes, I am very partial to content produced by this mob and I have relied heavily on CD‘s and books from them for my learning, in particular those by Phillip Jensen.

All this should however, be secondary to the consideration of the content and logic of this course. Course of Your Life appears to have all the basic substantive stuff in a narrative which completes the core message of the gospel of God’s plan for salvation – something Alpha Course skirted around at best. It appears also to have the rigours of basic biblical exegesis and a logic to the content organisation and flow which extracts core points to plot what God’s plans for HIs creation (and us) entails. It appears a lot less lazy, and cuts through the soft core approach of alternatives like Alpha. It appears to be well written in an attractive manner, without sacrificing any elements of the message of the bible.

Also, I like the fact that for the equivalent of the weekend away for Alpha, it suggests ways which pre-empts the need to get away on a Sunday. It doesn’t take a believer out of the fellowship of other believers by taking them away in order to find God (or more accurately, the Holy Spirit). It encourages believers to spend time with God’s family, not take them out of such fellowship and time.

In this regard, I have come to view programs and courses which take participants away on a Sunday, with dismay and disappointment. In particular, course, seminars, conferences and programs which take leaders away from their congregations on Sundays. Somehow organisers who think it is acceptable for ministers and leaders to be away from their wards on the ground of personal learning and development, dont rank highly in my esteem. COYL recommends a Fri/Sat get away or even 2 consecutive Saturdays – not a Sunday get away. This ranks highly for me. It shows the writers value the time spent on Sundays between Christians and only exceptional circumstances should take this blessing away.

I am certainly going to look at COYL a lot closer, and see if a group may be interested. At the moment, kudos to Tony Payne and Matthias Media for coming up with another useful tool to make disciples.

Is Mutuality Unreasonable?

I recently had a conversation which reminded me how challenging life can be for anyone starting out on a new phase in his journey. A new migrant was relating to me how one of his children miss their previous home, and how that child misses the parents’ stations in society. I offered some words of comfort and encouragement but I suspect what was much more needed was simply a listening ear.

Being present, being available was almost as useful if not more useful, than any practical advice I may have had to offer.

This morning we had an in-house sermon from a leader, who gave a warm, touching and challenging message. I believe the message spoke to many hearts and the experience of being in the congregation among whom the message clearly resonated, was palpable although obviously intangible. If only more members were present to listen not just audibly but also with the heart.

Being present amongst the congregation in that sense, was priceless.

I have been brought up to be present in church at every Sunday. In my past life I often missed church on Sunday when I travelled for work, or I was simply too engrossed with the things of this world to think about being there as a member of the community of faith. That was something I regretted badly and while I love to use my Sundays to enjoy the many things this beautiful country has to offer, my upbringing sees me in church on almost every Sunday, safe for the once or twice a year when we are away for one reason or another, usually because we are out of town during a holiday season.

It feels great when I turn up on Sunday morning and see many faces – familiar as well as new ones – being in church. Being present in itself, can be an encouragement to others. It can build others up. I feel deflated when I notice many not there. I tell myself I am in church to worship God but I am also there as a member of the community of faith, which doesnt quite work if we all dont have a mutual commitment to each other as members of that community, that it will be our priority to be there.

In this busy and stressful world we live in, there will always be good reasons to take time off to de-stress and re-charge. If we cant do that however, by coming to the Lord and leave our cares with Him and wait on Him for our souls to be refreshed and revived, we are shortchanging ourselves. If we cant be encouraged by others’ presence and mutual commitment to the body, there is work to be done in refining our understanding and commitment to this body.

Sometimes we absolutely need to be away. Sometimes in a place like Australia when summer sees a lot of people travelling, perhaps on a de facto basis that commitment becomes released and the expectations may then have to be recalibrated. Maybe I am old schooled but I would have thought that is perhaps the only time we can safely be away and where our mutual commitments and obligations to the body may be parked aside, because our presence is no longer expected, where we can expect our fellow sojourners can be refreshed and revived in their travels also.

Maybe I need to calibrate my old schooled expectations to take into account the dynamism and subjectivity of each person or families’ circumstances. Maybe the body of Christ as a whole also need to calibrate that expectation as given the countless permutations of perceptions of what is important and what is beneficial in each person or family’s lives, there can no longer be the expectation that we will all be there on Sunday to renew our relationships and covenants with each other.

Maybe that mutuality is no longer reasonable.

Time with friends and family – what is the cost?

This is a busy time for most people. Periods leading up to Christmas is a hectic time for work, and prevalence of school exams  plus end of school terms also add up to mean a busy period for kids and parents. At such times, the church becomes an important source of respite, refreshments and affirmation and encouragement. Given the centrality of Sunday services, church at this time is an important factor.

This is also a time for planning for the coming year. Ministers generally embark on the planning process at this time and often lend support and momentum to the process and all who are involved in it.

Notwithstanding a long weekend (Melbourne Cup Day) therefore, the question of everyone counting on everyone else to be around on Sundays is one all church goers need to think about at this time. We cannot exhort each other, hand on heart, and expect to prop each other up, build each other and encourage each other if we are consistently away on Sundays. It becomes even more difficult when Sundays are often the only times we have where we can otherwise expect to see each other.

Maybe I am old schooled. Maybe my expectation that when I go to church I want to see everyone there – especially the shepherd – is misplaced, in this day and age. There is now so much emphasis on family time and time for good friends, that the cost is that of the wider community. Maybe out of necessity we focus on increasingly small groups to build relationships, especially with family, relatives and close friends. Hence if we are with these people, being with the wider community of faith becomes less important. Maybe that is acceptable now.

I guess if that is the situation it will take more effort than ever before, to build a community of faith, because the cost – that of giving up exclusive recreation time with family and close friends – gets increasingly higher and such sacrifices and priorities become increasingly harder to bear.