Saturday, May 17, 2014

All you need is Love

Today was graduation at the Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary where I teach. I was asked to lead the opening devotions, and so I read the following, drawn from 1Corinthians 13:1-13  

If I get a diploma or a degree from SMMS and have not love, I am nothing more than an empty braggart; if I get academic colours and an academic gown and have no love, I gain nothing more than some fancy dress; if I gain all the knowledge in the world – and know how to reference footnotes and bibliographies, and am able to publish clever articles in Journals and Books – and I have no love, I am nothing more than a noisy wordsmith stirring up clever words.
Love is patient and kind towards those who do not know as much as I do; Love drives us to share what we know so that others are empowered with the knowledge; Love desires education for all, a sharing of our knowledge with the weak and marginalised, and the education of women, children and the lowest workers in society.
For a time will come when old age causes all our learning to escape us; and when new knowledge replaces all we have learned; and when younger, brighter minds surge ahead of us;
The fact is that we do not know all there is to know, and we shall never cease learning new things and discover the unimaginable.
While academic knowledge has great value, and life skills are vitally important: when everything that makes sense in our lives is over – one thing of value shall remain:
And that one singular attribute is to Love and be Loved.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Voting for 20 Years

Today I voted for the 5th time as a South African citizen.

I was eligible to vote for five elections before this – but these were elections that excluded black South Africans. I as a white South African believed that participating in the racist structures prevented justice for black people, and therefore I could not in good conscience vote for this system. Instead I committed my energy to changing the system to include all our citizens.

It was therefore with great sense of liberation that I participated in our first democratic elections in 1994. I was a community monitor for the Independent Electoral Commission in the Helderberg Basin. I celebrated the way the whole community pulled together to vote – Strand, Rusthof, Lwandle, Macassar, Somerset West and Sir Lowry’s Pass turned out with joy and enthusiasm. I voted for the first time in my life, and proudly voted for my political heroes in the African National Congress. While I have been exceptionally moved by the leadership of Nelson Mandela, I also acknowledge my deep regard for people such as Steve Biko, Trevor Manuel, Joe Slovo, and Kader Asmal. 

Since then I have watched as the ANC has lost the great leaders of our nation. Some have moved on to retirement, while others have moved on to other roles. Now I watch with great sadness as this once great liberation movement has crumbled into a kleptocracy that closes ranks around thieves and self-serving opportunists.

As I look back over the past 20 years, my confidence in our political leadership has waned. I feel like I have gone back to the politics of my youth, where the political leadership used their office to serve their own narrow interests. I see little difference between the posturing of PW Botha and Jacob Zuma. Both claimed to have done no wrong, and used state security systems to protect themselves. For this reason I no longer vote for the ANC.

Neither do I vote for the Democratic Alliance.  I cannot stomach the thought that it eagerly absorbed the voters and leadership of the National Party. Neither do I like the way Helen Zille tries to project herself as an anti-Apartheid fighter for freedom.  While her work for the Black Sash is admirable, she has not lived and worked amongst the poor in a way that allows her to claim the platform as their spokesperson. This too is political opportunism.

So I voted today. I voted because the right to vote is a precious gift that was won at the cost of the energy and lives of our political heroes of the past. But today I registered my protest at the present political leadership.

I continue to be hopeful for our future. The fact is that we have a young democracy, with regular, peaceful elections and a strong system of civil accountability in the Constitutional Court and the Public Protector.  I await the results of these elections with interest, happy that nothing will stay the same.       

Sunday, April 20, 2014


The alarm rang at 4:45am.
No one else in the house moved... only I was up. I dressed with scattered intent, and sleepily drove my way through the silent city streets. The mist-darkened sky reflected the glow of the street lamps back at my passing vehicle. Finding a parking place I joined other huddled figures as we made our way to the edge of the playing field of a local school where we set up deck chairs, or perched on the school’s wooden benches. 

The clergy people gathered around a small wooden table as they arranged the sacramental offering for the morning, while the technician fussed over his portable sound system, ensuring that the microphones and speakers were correctly placed. And then we cracked into life as Rev Diane welcomed us all to a sunrise service on Easter Sunday.    

I had joined a motley collection of people who gathered to watch the sun rise. We were united by our faith’s conviction that just as the light will conquer the darkness, so Jesus will conquer fear and death. Along with many, many other Christ-followers around the world, we sang Easter hymns, read from our sacred scriptures and prayed together. This was not the glamour and glitz of a well-organised “special event”. It was just a few people singing off-key, praying from the heart, and sharing hot-cross buns and instant coffee

In many ways this is the stuff of my faith. While I do not deny my satisfaction at the conclusion of an efficient, well strategized and technically excellent service of worship, this morning takes me back to the essence of my faith: the reminder of Jesus that “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20).  I found my faith revived through fellowship with other Jesus-followers.

And I am grateful.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Wedding

 My daughter Jess married Greg.
So much is contained in this simple sentence – and I have spent the past week thinking about this. I have decided to mark this milestone in my life by recording it as a blog.  

My first reaction to the wedding was joy at the evident happiness of both Jess and Greg. They both positively glowed with contentment throughout the celebrations. In addition to our delight at welcoming Greg into our son-less family (or was it Greg’s family welcoming a daughter into their daughter-less family?) was the arrival of Amy, our youngest daughter. She is teaching English in Japan, and took leave to join this celebration.

The ceremony took place in the Church of the Good Shepherd-Protea, a stone chapel across from the entrance to Kirstenbosch Botannical Gardens in Cape Town. This Anglican Church resisted the removal of its members under the notorious Group Areas Act, and these resilient members continue to offer sacred space to the wider community. My colleague Kevin Needham officiated at the wedding. He has been both a personal friend, and a friend to the family for many years.  I am grateful that he could share this event with us as he adds enormous value to our lives.

Greg’s bestmen - all members of his band - played the Trumpet Voluntary on their brass instruments for Jess’s entrance. Jenny and I walked in with her and I loved the relaxed informality of the occasion. Kevin helped make everyone feel welcome, and the music was great. Jess and Greg shared vows that Kevin had helped them design, and at the appropriate moment Jenny and I stood up and answered the question of “Who gives this bride?” with an affirmative “We do, with all our love”. And before I was ready for it, Jess and Greg were pronounced husband and wife and we were outside the church blowing bubbles over them.

They then led the way across the road to the Kirstenbosch Manor House for afternoon tea. This consisted of tea and coffee organised by O’Ways Tea Cafe, who offer the best tea and coffee in Cape Town. Mingwei offered expert advice on tea, while Sandson was the ever obliging barista. This was accompanied by cheese and biscuits and cake – all gluten-free to cater for my family’s gluten allergy. 

Greg’s brother Adrian made a speech on behalf of the Abraham’s family, and I offered words from our side of the family.
Here is what I said:
Jess & Greg

Speeches at weddings can be hard... Not only for the one making the speech – but also for those who have to endure them. I am therefore not going to make a speech: but instead i will tell three stories: two about Jess & one about Greg.

Let me tell you about Jess soon after she was born in 1988
We had her baptised at the Historic Methodist Church in the centre of Somerset West. This was a community service where all the Methodist Churches of the region had come together: English, Afrikaans, isiXhosa.  Jessiw was baptised by Charles Villa-Vicencio – who read the scripture passage today. Charles turned this into a community celebration. He carried her down the aisle holding her above his head like a trophy. And everybody cheered.
Charles asked Jenny and me if we would bring her up with good moral and religious values, and if we would teach her how to serve her community.
Wwll  Charles – we did our best. She is a mature young woman who serves the community as a teacher; she is loving and compassionate.
Jess: we are proud of you.

I will Tell you about Jess at school.
We wanted our children to learn two things:
·         to learn to love reading
·         to learn to love music.
And so we bought many, many books. We read our way through the whole Harry Potter series. We also bought them each a recorder. Then we began piano lessons – which Jessica hated! The day came when Jess came home and announced: “I don’t want to play the piano. I want to play the saxophone”. We knew nothing about the sax – except I have a friend who plays sax for a jazz band called N2. And I often played KennyG around the house.
So we found a second hand sax – and I acknowledge Merwina Taljaard who left us some money in her will to do this.
Jess was disappointed with this instrument, because all the other kids had shiny instruments but hers was dull. It was probably 60 years old, and had been played in a Cape Minstrel band for many years. But she felt better after we took it to be serviced and discovered that shiny instruments are not the same as good instruments.
So she went to UCT music school with the sax as her instrument... and as they say in the classics: the rest is history.

The third story flows out of this: Jess began to talk about Greg. Well it was Greg and Harm and Lincoln. Then it became Greg. Greg this and Greg that. Then Greg’s first visit.  This was on Wednesday 10 September 2008:
I quote from my personal journal entry of that day: .

“Jess brought Greg home, which produced very mixed feelings in me. She likes him because he is gentle... It is hard to be a father and to allow her space to grow. I understand that I must step back and allow her space to grow – but I do not want to see her getting hurt!”

 Greg: Jenny & I want to thank you for being gentle and kind to Jess.
You have given her courage when she has struggled
And you have calmed her down when she got stressed.
Jenny and I want to wish you both the very best for your future.
We will be supporting you all the way.
You have all our love.  

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Partner

I deeply appreciate my running partner. Mark is the one who keeps me running. Because I know he will appear at my gate, he gets me out of bed every morning. He offers me ridiculous stories, laughter, and equal measures of courage and sarcasm to keep me mobile.

So when I woke up at 5am this morning, despite feeling tired and wishing that I could burrow back under the covers, the impending arrival of my running partner led me to pull on my running kit and head for the back door. Dash, the Springer Spaniel, looked eagerly in my direction and I nodded: “Let’s go boy”. Despite my heavy mood, he rushed out the back door to the gate. I placed the lead on him and we both looked down the road in the direction of Mark’s home. Nothing! The road was empty. No sign of him.

As I peered down the empty road, the realization hit me – today is Thursday. Mark and I had spoken a week ago about running the time trial with the club on Thursday afternoon. So he was safely ensconced in his bed while Dash and I stood in an empty road. We looked at each other, and returned to bed. We would run this evening.

Postscript: I sent my faithful, dependable, indispensable running partner a message at 5pm to confirm our run at the time trial. He answered: “Not today – I had a hard day and will not make it”.

(I did run the time trial)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Being right or being good?

John JP Patterson writes

 Hmmm... A lot of us Christians, rather than being followers of Jesus, we’re defenders of religious certainty. And having certainty about what is and isn’t true, good, and holy is actually not faith, it’s just certainty. And certainty regarding matters of faith isn’t Christian.

So we end up acting like jackasses, kicking and galloping and trolling around like we own the place. All the while bellowing scripture and unfounded statistics…

We can’t love people when we’re intoxicated with certainty. We can’t serve people with a pure heart if we’re burdened by certainty. We can’t be anything remotely close to “Christ-like” when we’re certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that we know what’s up regarding God.

Why? Because we’re too busy defending our rightness to be kind, thoughtful, and good.

reposted from

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Acts 1:1 I wrote the former account, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after he had given orders by the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 To the same apostles also, after his suffering, he presented himself alive with many convincing proofs. He was seen by them over forty- day period and spoke about matters concerning the kingdom of God. 4 While he was with them, he declared, "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait there for what my Father promised, which you heard about from me. 5 For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." 6 So when they had gathered together, they began to ask him, "Lord, is this the time when you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" 7 He told them,"You are not permitted to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth." 9 After he had said this, while they were watching, he was lifted up and cloud hid him from their sight. 10 As they were still staring into the sky while he was going, suddenly two men in white clothing stood near them 11 and said,"Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking up into the sky? This same Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will come back in the same way you saw him go into heaven." 12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mountain called the Mount of Olives (which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away).

The enduring cry throughout our Christian history is "Jesus will come back again". This is the hope that draws Christian communities together and the motivation for Christian living. Christmas is the time when we re-visit this hope. Let us pray once again for Jesus to be with us.
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