April 27, 2006


For those of you that have been wondering what in the world happened to me for the last three weeks, I have good news for you: we finally have internet access, so I’ll be posting much more frequently than I was. For the past few weeks, we’ve been pretty busy with moving into our new apartment (a little two-bedroom unit in Coburg) and getting to know the area.

The neighborhood all kind of blends in to the surrounding neighborhoods; it’s a city, and cities do that. We’re just off of a side street near the corner of two major roads: Bell Street and Sydney Road, which are very different from each other.

Bell Street is a major travel street, mostly for getting people from one side of the north end of the city to the other. While this is a bit of an exaggeration (for example, Stolberg Café is on Bell St, among other businesses), it holds for the section we’re on. Sydney Road, on the other hand, while well traveled (by car, tram, bike, and pedestrian traffic), is a major commercial center. The entire length of it (extending all the way into the city) is full of shops and restaurants and cafes of many colorful varieties. Sydney road is one of the reasons we chose Coburg.

One of the great things about our unit is that it’s just close enough to Sydney road to walk or bike there (a tram stop is right at the intersection with Bell and Sydney, so it’s close, and the train station is another two minute walk from there), and just far enough from both Bell and Sydney that we can’t usually hear any of the traffic. Both roads can be pretty loud, especially in the morning and in the early evening.

* * *

I was sitting in the living room the other night trying to listen to some music while I was waiting for Liz to finish with dinner (for those of you that think I wasn’t helping, you’re wrong – I’d already done all the dishes), and I wasn’t having so good a time of it. For some reason, I couldn’t hear the music very well. I kept turning it up, but nothing seemed to help. But a funny thing happened after she finished with whatever pots were in need of attention.

She turned off the hood fan over the stove, and suddenly the music became clear as day; I could hear every note without a problem. It’s as if I couldn’t hear the noise apart from the music until the noise was turned off.

It was then that something hit me about our stay out here in Australia. Ruth called it “detox” for me, as if our time here is a sort of cleansing period for my mind, a chance to take all my assumptions on life, church, and God, and start over. I think she’s right, and I think that listening to my music has helped me understand: sometimes you just have to step away from all that is familiar in order to hear the music of truth.

In church at home, they always talked about “taking quiet times” during the week to hear God better, but I think that it’s more than that. I think it’s about shutting EVERYTHING off: all of my hobbies, all of my work, all of my play … everything I could (let’s be realistic, it’s not a good idea to shut off stuff like your marriage). I’m detoxing my system of the American culture in order to see it for what it is. When you see the Bible addressed in another culture, you see what parts of religion are of God and what are of the culture of man.

It’s not as if I’ve made a very large jump here either. I’m only in Australia, and while that’s a really long way away from home, it’s nothing compared to what it might be like to live somewhere in Africa for a year, or in Thailand, or in China or India. There’s some crazy stuff that goes on there (go rent the movie “Born into Brothels,” a documentary about children born in the Red Light District of India); the gospel takes on a whole new meaning for the missionaries that go to those places.

But even here, it’s different. I see things that I never saw in America, though I’m sure they were all around me all the time. Liz and I just went on this “retreat” with the Dobsons and their old church family. At that retreat I met Aaron.

When I first meet Aaron, he was sitting down, and there was something about him that I couldn’t quite place my finger on. Then he got up and started walking. When he walks, he needs help; his feet are unsure of themselves, his legs slightly bowed. His slender, slightly deformed face belies the clarity of his thinking, and this weekend I’ve been privileged to learn about God in a way I didn’t expect.

Aaron was baptized that weekend, a decision he made after confronting someone at a youth camp who was kind enough to talk with him (I guess he’s not the sort of person that most people like to talk to that often). He asked the hard question: “why did God make me like this? Why am I deformed?” The person, whom he now calls a friend, answered with the best answer he could: “you have a story to tell, and just because you’re not like everyone else doesn’t mean it’s any less valuable. Your story will inspire others.”

And it has.

His friend, later on, sent him a DVD of “Trading My Sorrows,” a song which Aaron has rightfully adopted as his own. Among my friends, it’s no secret that I can’t stand Hillsongs music. But I found new meaning in that simple song this weekend, tapping along as Aaron sang at the top of his lungs (with passion, without pitch), “I’m trading my sickness, I’m trading my pain, I’m laying them down for the Joy of the Lord.”

Aaron is the embodiment of that song. His journey has led him through pain and suffering which I can’t begin to understand. But here he is, delighting in Jesus and that simple melody, his face glowing despite his physical deformity. His story is an encouragement to us all: though our deformities, our iniquities, our pain and suffering might not be physical, God has the power to heal us. And sometimes, that healing is just a matter of reorienting our perspective: what we think of as deformity might really be a gift.

And I’ve only been here for four weeks. The longer I’m here, the more I wonder what other assumptions I’ve made without knowing; what matters, and what is just made up? What is the music, and what is the noise?

April 4, 2006

The Missional Church, part 2

The highlight of my evening on Sunday was watching the president of Kingsley College do his impression of a mobster during a dramatic presentation of the story of Ananias and Sapphira.

I love this way of doing church. It’s spontaneous, it’s entertaining, it’s communal, and frankly, it’s just refreshing. When you see a guy like Pete Dobson (the president of the college), who you’d expect to be very reserved and regal (at least, that’s my experience with college presidents); when you see him get up with sunglasses and say “that’s why you don’t mess with the family”, you realize that there’s something incredibly right about what you’re doing. People have already been inspired to live just a little more outside themselves than they used to, and it’s a joy to watch.

To back up a bit, Sunday night (yes, NIGHT, as in, not the morning) was mimos, the gathering of the church at a pub in the suburb of Preston. It was the second gathering that I’ve been to, though they’ve been meeting for about three weeks before Liz and I arrived here in Melbourne. Some of you asked me what it was that we were actually DOING here, as opposed to the theory of missional church (which I presented in my last post). So here we go …

[as I read this, it occurred to me that the thing about missional church which is so hard to write about is this: it’s a mindset totally different from the way that I grew up thinking, and probably different from the way that you all grew up thinking. So take solace in the fact that we’re all new to this and we’ll learn it together. Moving on …]

The first thing to remember is that missional thinking means that we do not expect people to come to us seeking the truth; we go to them. For example: we’re not meeting at a church building, it changes from week to week. For the past two weeks, we’ve been meeting in the Stolberg Beer Café, the pub in Preston. In this way, we haven’t removed ourselves from the rest of the world; we’re just another part of it, five feet away from other people getting together with friends.

The second thing to remember is that, when we go to them, words are mostly useless. Not that we don’t talk; we do plenty of it, in fact. It’s just that, in essence, everyone speaks a different language. It is only through doing things together that people can build a common line of communication with each other. Since the postmodern generation is very experiential (read the last post), this works well: instead of telling about Jesus, the missional church is foremost focused on imitating Jesus to the world; we show them.

In fact, this is where the church plant that Liz and I are involved with got its name. Ephesians 5:1-2; “Be imitators of God, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” The word “imitate,” in Greek, is “mimos.” We could think of no better name for a church than “Mimos Network,” meaning a group of people that imitates Christ. Sometimes this involves telling people about Jesus, but more often, it involves action.

So that is why I mostly wrote about theory. In practice, it doesn’t look quite as exciting as the sorts of things the rest of mainline churches do; we don’t have a big presentation that we give every week, no huge band (though we may do that once or twice, just because it would be a great way to worship), no sermon, no set schedule. It’s doing life, living in community with others.

Sunday, after our presentations on Acts 1-5 (which the kids were involved in too; families get to work together for some of this stuff, parents learning from children and vice versa; so cool), Liz and I played a few songs during which people were asked to reflect on the words (Conversations, by Sara Groves, and Take Me Higher, by Lincoln Brewster). The kids then went out for a teaching time with and Colin, and the adults stayed to work through this thing we call Missional Church (a teaching time for the adults) with Ruth. And then, the best part: dinner.

Before Liz and I got here, they’d met at Stolberg, in a park, and a few other places. This coming week, the adults are going to a seminar by Neil Cole (an American, apparently), while the kids stay out at a playground with Ruth. We’re talking about working with a school mentoring program, among other ideas.

And that’s missional church, in a nutshell. Keep asking questions, I’ll try to answer the ones I didn’t get to in my next post.

In other news, yesterday’s highlight was not that we signed for our unit and got keys, but rather, happened on the way home. The setting: we’re driving 100kph on a freeway heading towards Blackburn, four kids in the car plus Liz and Ruth and I, poor Mackenzie (Ruth’s youngest) desperately in need of a bathroom, Ruth trying to get to a doctor’s appointment. The problem: the engine of the car suddenly stopped. As we drifted to a stop, I couldn’t help but notice that Ruth didn’t seem terribly surprised. A few moments later, I discovered why: apparently, this has happened a few (4 or 5) times before. I then remembered (with some irony) my comment “Ruth, aren’t you going to get petrol?” from fifteen minutes before.

Anyway, after Ruth phoned her friend Sarah (who was just getting off work and would bring us some petrol – gasoline – as soon as she could), and we settled in to wait for what could be an hour or two. Then we noticed an overpass, and so Ruth asked Liz to watch the kids and the car, and the two of us trudged up and over the railing onto the sidewalk. After walking for fifteen minutes or so, we came to a somewhat busy road which had a friendly looking petrol station, its orange sign beckoning to us. $16AUD later, we trudged back to the car, filled it up (with 5 liters, barely getting the car to start, and even then we had to push it onto ground that was more level before the engine turned over), and drove to the nearest station to fill it up the rest of the way.