The cockroach that killed a Giant

This isn’t quite the story with the good ending, but it must have happened in my loungeroom for a reason! In Aesop’s Fables, the mouse chews through the hunters’ net and lets the lion go. In this case, the smaller somehow managed to kill the larger.

I have an aquarium at home which I love (although the live amazon sword plant is a bit irritating because it won’t grow). In the four foot tank swim danio’s, flying foxes, neon tetras and a beautiful blue lone Siamese Fighter (note to self – get some girls for him).  Being a fly fisherman, I love seeing fish hit insects on the surface, particularly if that insect is an imitation I’ve tied and it’s on the end of my line. In between fishing however, I’ve taken to swatting house flies and dropping them in the tank. Generally one particularly aggressive Giant Danio motors up and snaffles it, chewing hard as it swims off. The smaller fish usually don’t get a look in, unless the Giant is off his game, or two are dropped in at once (he only has one mouth).

The house flies were fine, until we started dropping in small cockroaches. These would get picked at until they fell apart and were digestible by the fish. It’s all a bit of fun of course…. and the giant danio just keeps getting bigger. In fact, he’s the biggest fish in the tank, and spends most of his time motoring from one end to the other chasing all the other fish around. We also suspect that he personally accounted for around sixteen of the neon’s. Poor things.

A couple of days ago, one of the kids noticed the Giant floating motionless upside down – dead. Upon inspection, the killer was located. It was a small cockroach, jammed down his throat. He’d literally bitten off more than he could chew. It’s crazy I know. Why would a fish eat something that is so big, they can’t swallow? Surely something in nature would program into its brain some kind of ability to estimate size? And that’s when I realised – It was a metaphor for my ministry career.

I think in most churches, the pastor is the biggest fish in a small pond. It’s only stepping outside the church that I realised how small a pond it was that I was tearing around in. I mean it seemed large because the workload was overwhelming, because we were dealing with hundreds of people, volunteers and staff, but really it was small. And like the Giant, I was rushing from one end of it to the other, chasing all the other fish around.

By the time we went multisite, I had that much on my plate from God to governance, and management to ministry that it was like biting off more than I could chew. I was the giant that swallowed the cockroach. I was chewing as hard as I could and working so many hours and weekends, but still couldn’t manage, until I burned out. That bad-ass cockroach strangled me and left me floating upside down in my little pond.

In the end, my emotions and mental wherewithall gave out. I guess in life, we can only have so much on our plate. We can only bite off what we can chew. Any more than that, and we’re liable to do ourselves an injury.

On the upside, the Giant annoyed us. He would literally herd the other fish and chase them due to his size advantage. He’s gone now, and so has my career and ministry. But the upside for me, is I’m discovering how to live, how to slow down and pace myself. And I think I’m a better person for it all.

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Ruminating like a cow. Why I may have four stomachs.

I’ve realised as part of my recovery and ongoing wellness, that I need to have time alone. Being an introvert, this is just the way I’m wired. I must say also, that I believe even extroverts need time alone, but are even less likely to get it or plan for it.

So I structured time alone – often at home. I’d get the kids off to school, and pretty much have my housechores done (the bare minimum usually) and then slum around. I get on the net, check emails, fart about on Facebook, blog a bit, read forums (freshwater and fly fishing of course), look up interesting things like how to repair the fins on my Hobie kayak and how to build my own custom fly rod.

I’d make cups of tea, drink a couple of beers, rarely check the TV unless I’d recorded a program, but even then, rarely watch it. And of course I’d warily watch the time….. knowing that at 3.45 pm hordes would descend on the house, crash through the door and pillage our family home leaving carnage and crumbs everywhere.

But most of all, I noticed that I experienced a low mood on these days. I think I have been ruminating – like a cow. Cows have four stomachs you know. And they chew over things, again, and again, and again. I do that. I ruminate over things, again and again. But not very helpful things. So they don’t really get digested. And they probably should be expelled. I saw a cartoon recently that said “don’t hold your farts in. They travel up your spine and into your brain and this is where shitty ideas come from”. I probably have that going on.

So it’s a dilemma. I know I need time alone to rejuvenate, but it can’t be unstructured, aimless, pointless time alone. I need to have something to do. And this is why it’s a dilemma. I’m a recovering Type A, performance driven, alpha male. I’ve realised how I ended up burned out and it’s because I’ve lived as a human doing for too long, instead of a human being. I don’t want to be like the masses who are so busy with their lives that they don’t have time to just ….. be! But on the other hand, if I’m not doing something, I ruminate – and research has shown that people who tend to brood, have higher rates of depression.

So after much thought (I do sometimes ruminate on useful things), I’ve decided that it’s not so much having something to do. It’s having something to focus on or aim towards. There’s a subtle difference. I might focus on repairing something, or tying up some flies, or reading a book, or writing stuff, but it’s a focus. It’s like having a game plan for the day – a road map if you like. But I try not to let achievement and performance dictate the focus – because I don’t want to end up where I’ve already been. That would make burnout pointless, and I can’t afford for it to be pointless.

It’s a fairly subtle change in approach to my cave time, but I think it’s going to work out a little better. I also know that this approach also helps depressed people in their recovery from the great darkness that it is. For really unwell people, having a list (below) can be quite a powerful aid to recovery, without which, they may never even venture out from under the blankets.

  • get out of bed
  • have a shower
  • have breakfast
  • go for a walk
  • read a book

Brian McLaren – Are you a heretic?

I love Brian McLaren. After my burnout, someone bought me a copy of A New Kind of Christian, and it was just what I needed. I’d started to rethink what I had inherited in terms of my paradigms and philosophy. I needed new ways for tough times, and McLaren offered me some new ways to think. It’s all fairly controversial stuff for conservative evangelicals, but adventure is part of my ethos, and what’s an adventure without dabbling in a little danger?

He was recently interviewed by Scott McKnight to try and clarify Brian’s position on key issues that has led some to brand him a heretic. Here’s the video and my response to it.

I totally get what McLaren is saying in this video. Instead of answering some of the the questions in a yes/no fashion, he’s trying to say that the question itself arises out of a mindset or paradigm that is asking the wrong questions.

He’s taking umbrage with the philosophy behind the question, which is the very thing he’s trying to change. I love it! He’s turning the heat up on the paradigm that asks the question. He knows the other paradigm as well as his new paradigm, so he’s fluent in both. It would be easier to answer the question, but not as useful. The conversation would be so much better if the questioner was also fluent in both.

If McLaren answered yes/no, that would enable dogmatic Christians to definitively write him off as wrong, never to listen to him again rendering his role in the kingdom as a thinker, provocateur, trail blazing, paradigm pioneer ineffective. There’s something greater than knowing right from wrong (the promise of satan in genesis) – McLaren wants people to think! But most Christians don’t want to. As he says, they just want to first know if an author is right, then they’ll listen or read their book.

I love his analogy to listening to music. I don’t give a toss what an artist believes in or if a musician is right, I’ll listen to his music if it sounds good and I’ll buy it and enjoy it.

Finally, I love his thoughtfulness and tone. He’s not antagonistic or defensive, he embodies what he advocates – that conversations about what we believe , rather than defending what we believe is the answer to being able to engage all people in meaningful dialogue and relationship, rather than having Christians bang on from one side of a very high, self-erected  wall at “non-christians” on the other, who either aren’t really listening or worse, listening and hitting back.