All posts by Cheryl McCallum

Principal Cheryl McCallum Resigns

Sweet Sorrow

“Parting is such sweet sorrow” wrote Shakespeare and he obviously understood some of the conflicting emotions we feel when a season of our life is coming to an end and a parting is taking place from what we hold dear. Tabor/Eastern has been part of my life for so long it is hard for me to comprehend that in a few months I will no longer be part of the learning community that has meant so much to me.

I will miss the students, the staff, the camaraderie, the challenges, the triumphs, the joy, the laughter, the discovery of learning, the classroom and the teaching. I will sorrow to not be there when the new students arrive, to greet the continuing students and to celebrate at graduation with those who have completed their awards. To be honest, the only thing I will not miss is the marking. 😉

As someone who always likes to know what lies ahead and to plan accordingly, I am always disconcerted when God does not act in harmony with my need for control. So, it is unsettling to not know where I will be in 2018 and what I will be doing. I think God delights in always bringing me back to a position of faith and vulnerability to remind me that He is the one who holds my future in His hands.

My prayer will always be for the growth and flourishing of Eastern College. I am satisfied with the contribution I have made to the college and I believe its best years are still to come.
I leave knowing this is the right timing but nonetheless it will be a parting of “sweet sorrow”.

Dr Cheryl McCallum
Principal of Eastern College Australia

A Fruitful Life

Recently, journalist Mark Colvin died. I, like many thousands of Australians had listened to him on PM for as long as I could remember, but I knew very little about him as a person. In the days following his death I read and listened to the stories told by his fellow ABC reporters and other friends of a man of outstanding intellect with immense breadth and journalistic expertise. But this was not the most prominent way in which he was remembered. Instead, almost every account highlighted Mark’s kindness, generosity, concern and care towards all those he encountered. While they admired his intellect, their lives had been profoundly touched by his acts of kindness and grace and it was this that would be an enduring legacy.

Mark Colvin was not a Christian (that I am aware) but his life challenges our current Christian conceptions of a fruitful/successful life. In examining my own concepts and in my interactions with other Christians I am aware that we have drifted from the biblical basis of assessing our lives. We have imbibed, as can be expected, a large dose of Western cultural thinking where success is equated with visible, tangible, laudable achievements that will result in a happy life.

Grown your church? – tick. Invited to speak at conferences? – tick. Paid your mortgage off? – tick. Raised your social media profile? – tick. Networked nationally and internationally? – tick. Constantly travelling? – tick. Proudly “too busy”? – tick. Available only via your PA? – tick. Written a best-seller telling others how to be like you? – tick. The list is endless.

There is nothing wrong with any of these achievements but, for the Christian, they are ultimately not the hallmarks of a fruitful or successful life. Jesus did not tell Peter that he would be a great apostle but rather that he would die as a witness to the gospel. Jesus did not promise he would reward those who were meeting the cultural criteria of success, rather he exhorted his followers to lead lives of courage, kindness and faithfulness. Jesus did not call all to prominence but he did call all to fruitfulness.

Too often I meet Christian leaders who are exhausted from trying to be seen as successful in the eyes of their Christian peers. They are unhappy, driven, over-busy, worried, disconnected, anxious and unhealthy. At the same time, they are telling others how to live a God-pleasing life, how to keep a work-life balance, how to be counter-cultural witnesses to their neighbours.

I read recently

“Surveys show that most young adults believe that obtaining wealth and fame are keys to a happy life. But a long-running study out of Harvard suggests that one of the most important predictors of whether you age well and live a long and happy life is not the amount of money you amass or notoriety you receive. A much more important barometer of long term health and well-being is the strength of your relationships with family, friends and spouses.[1] “

In 200 years no one will know my name except perhaps a descendant who is an amateur genealogist. No one will know or care if I was a “success” in eyes of my peers. There will be no statues or public holidays dedicated to me. But perhaps, like Mark Colvin, when I die there will be people ready to tell stories of my kindness, courage and faithfulness. It may only be my children and grandchildren telling those stories but that will be the marks of a fruitful life in service to my Jesus.

[1] ps://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/03/23/the-secrets-to-a-happy-life-from-a-harvard-study/?_r=1

Dr Cheryl McCallum
Principal of Eastern College Australia

‘Just’ God

Many years ago, when Eastern was still Tabor, the college campus was in the rustic surrounds of Ringwood and dinosaurs roamed the earth I had an encounter with a student that would change my spiritual life.

Levi* was a Jewish Rabbi who had experienced a miraculous encounter with Jesus and become a Messianic Jew. Even in a city the size of Melbourne he quickly became a cause célèbre among the Christian community and an object of scrutiny by the Jewish community. He decided he wanted to learn more about this new-found Jesus and enrolled in a Christology class at Tabor. He was an enquiring and thoughtful student.

One day he came to see me in my office. After the usual chitchat about family, life and study he got to the point of his visit. He explained that he wanted to understand what “just God” meant. Eager to help, I launched into a lengthy exposition of the just nature of God. I came at it from every possible angle – systematic theology, biblical theology, biblical exegesis of key verses, church history and missional perspectives. Even I was impressed by the breadth of information – no one could fail to be convinced by my presentation of the justice of God.

Sitting back, perhaps feeling ever so slightly smug at my role in educating this man, I waited for Levi to indicate his understanding and deep satisfaction with my discourse. To my shock, he smiled and informed me that I had not understood his question. Exercising some humility, I asked him to tell me exactly what his question was and decided, this time, to listen carefully to what he said.

Levi asked “Cheryl, what do Christians mean when they are praying to God and they use the word just?” Not wanting to make the same mistake twice, I probed for some more information “Give me an example”. “Well” he answered “Everyone always prays ‘Please God, just do this, just do that’”. “And” he continued in a somewhat astonished tone, “they are not little things! They pray for God to just heal cancer or just perform a miracle”. He looked at me earnestly, “Tell, me, what is the meaning of this just? Is it a special Christian word?”

Reassuring Levi that just was not a magical Christian word that guaranteed God’s action, I was able to send him away happy in the knowledge that his prayers were being heard even if he didn’t use “Christianese” to express himself.

But Levi’s ‘outsider’ insight opened my eyes and ears. When I next met with people to pray, I noticed how often prayers began with ‘Dear God, we just ask….’ And soon it seemed like every time someone prayed I heard ‘just’ scattered through the requests to God. And not only requests, we were also ‘just’ thanking him for his blessings.

Before long, I could not use that word in my prayer life – I was continually reminded of the enormity of what I was asking or who I was addressing – and ‘just’ just seemed too banal, diminishing and trite. Levi had done me a great spiritual service in alerting me to the lack of respect and awe that a little word can indicate.

This is not to condemn anyone who habitually uses ‘just’ in their prayers. I think, for almost all it is simply a speech habit and Christian colloquialism and is done without thought. But, thanks to Levi, I am very careful not to use this word. Pedantic, maybe, but it comes from a desire to never be guilty of trivializing what connection with the Almighty Creator means in prayer.

Thanks, Levi, for an innocent question that sparked spiritual change in my life.

*Not his real name.

Dr Cheryl McCallum
Principal of Eastern College Australia

My Year Without Clothes

Now I have your attention the title should read My Year Without New Clothes. I did not go naked for 2016!

What I did do was attempt to go a complete year (365 days) without buying any new clothes. Underwear and necessary footwear was exempt and I did allow some minor exceptions but I pretty much nailed the year and, as I write this, I only have 18 days to go.

The idea of denying yourself or doing something different for a year is very common now. I’ve met people who gave up caffeine, sugar, carbs, alcohol, and even watching sport for a year (although I’ve never met anyone who has given them all up at the same time!). Others have chosen to not buy anything new (The Compact) or to live biblically as a woman (Rachel Held Evans) or to cook a Julia Childs recipe every day for 365 days (Julie Powell). It usually makes for some hilarious reading and some great dinner party conversation (and sometimes a book or film deal).

So, what motivated me to do without clothes(buying) for the year? I would like to be able to claim a blinding flash of revelation or an angelic visitation but the truth is I fell victim to a combination of the drip-feed of knowledge and sheer weariness. Having taught a class entitled Faith, Reason and Justice four times over two years I had been continually reminded of God’s compassion for the poor and of the obscene consumerism of my western privileged context. At the end of each semester my challenge to the class was to find one new way to live the counter cultural life of the kingdom of God. In addition, as I wandered my local glitzy, over-the-top, mall during the frantic Boxing Day sales of 2015 I experienced a profound weariness of buying stuff in conflict with a none-too-subtle compulsion to snap up a bargain. In the midst of this perfect storm of elements, I succumbed and made the decision to call it quits on buying clothes for 2016.

I would like to be able to tell you that I was overwhelmed with a sense of God’s peace and basked in a glow of holiness for the next 12 months. The truth is much messier and the venture exposed some aspects of my life and character that I would much preferred to have kept hidden. Here are some things I learned in my year without clothes.

Firstly, telling friends and family is the easiest way to be held accountable. I had not realized how much people cared about me until they checked constantly and consistently to see if I was keeping my pledge. I travelled overseas twice with my sister who, fortuitously, does not like shopping and helped keep temptation at bay. Occasionally I got to share my reasons for the year with people who were interested. But mostly I stuck with it because I made the mistake/decision of telling others and would look stupid/weak if I pulled out.

Secondly, we really don’t need as many clothes as we think we do. With a wardrobe full of clothes, I had plenty to wear for the year. In fact, there are still some I have not touched at all for many reasons including changing body shape, changing fashion and in many cases the realization that I had spent my money on clothes I really didn’t like or didn’t suit me. I ended up wearing the same three pairs of black pants all year and no one noticed (shades of Karl Stefanovic). However, I ended the year with only two wearable t-shirts, the rest died as a result of stains and I shed a quiet tear as I binned them.

My third observation is that I learned I liked buying clothes. As the year progressed I recognized I got a buzz from the acquisition of new things and spending money on making myself look good was a form of self-affirmation. Consumerism thrives on making us feel inadequate and ‘missing out’ and when stripped of that feeling I had to consciously focus on other means of affirmation. Ouch! I had not expected to be confronted so starkly with my superficiality and cultural-conformity. Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:25 took on deeper meaning – so much of my time was spent worrying about the food, drink and clothing even when I had an abundance of all three! Avoiding the mall proved to be the best way for me to minimize this form of worry – out of sight, out of mind.

Lastly, I confess I did not make it through the year without blemish. My grandchildren benefitted from a greatly expanded wardrobe as occasionally I succumbed to the desire to buy clothes, any clothes. I had to buy a pair of shoes and a pair of boots to replace worn out ones. I had to buy a golf shirt to play in a fundraising event. I bought a dress for a wedding near the end of the year – it will be worn once in 2016. I thought I would save lots of money but I’m not sure I did – the mortgage benefited marginally.

How had the year changed me? It is too early to know if my year without clothes will result in permanent changes to my buying habits. I hope it will. I am planning to buy less and to consider my purchases very carefully. I am planning to simplify my dress code so I don’t have to think so much about what I will wear on a daily basis (I’m not ready to do a Steve Jobs and wear the same thing every day but you get the idea). I will be even more deliberate about ensuring my purchases are ethical (love your work, Baptist World Aid!). Mostly, the year has changed the way I view my life with regard to necessities. I am definitely planning to be very deliberate about where I spend my money, investing in kingdom work rather than what rust and moth destroy.

And, I’ve been thinking about 2017. Maybe, I should give up caffeine….?

Dr Cheryl McCallum
Principal of Eastern College Australia