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.
Sent via my BlackBerry

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Last Great Liberator of the Twentieth Century

I am sitting in front of the television watching the public celebration of the life of Nelson Mandela. And it is overwhelming:

·         I am moved to tears by the way people have queued from 4am to catch transport to the stadium; I am moved by their willingness to sing and dance in the rain; I am moved to see the ”rainbow nation” represented here – people of all corners, cultures and creeds of our country have come, This gives me hope.

·         I am moved by the many, many world leaders who have come to join us for this service; these are powerful people who lead enormous economies – coming to a small country to pay tribute to one of us. These are leaders who also would not ordinarily be in the same room together. I am moved by the sight of Barak Obama shaking hands with President Castro of Cuba! And of the Prime Minister of England sharing the same platform as Robert Mugabe. This gives me hope.

·         I am moved by the speech of Barak Obama. He was welcomed as a “son of Africa” and responds by asking the leaders of our world to live up to the legacy left by Madiba: “There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle but do not tolerate dissent from their own people.”
This gives me hope.

·         I am moved when I see the leaders of my Methodist Church officiating at this event. I grew up in an era that gave the Dutch Reformed Church prominence at every national occasion – so it feels good to see my colleagues leading this service. But at the same time I am acutely aware of how a church that enjoys the favour of the ruling party can easily become a tool that is used to suggest God’s preferential favour for this party. I must therefore note my disquiet at the way we invited Jacob Zuma to speak at the farewell of Ivan Abrahams; and the way we allow a senior Methodist Minister to be a chaplain to the ruling political party. I not as hopeful.   

·         I am moved when I switch between channels and discover that in addition to the South African TV channels, CNN, BBC, Sky News, Al Jazeera, CCTV, CNBCA, EuroNews, RaiItalia, and ITV are all screening this event. I am startled to see how much of an international figure he is. I am moved to tears when I discover that people from all over the world are watching this event – including my daughter who lives in Japan. That said, I am dismayed that CNN should label the speech of Barak Obama as the ‘highlight’ of the event – before speeches by other world leaders or before the sermon. The commentators then ignored the speakers who followed, choosing instead to comment on Obama’s speech.This American-centred view of the world is the reason that I struggle with the United States of America. It is an imperialistic view that diminishes the contribution that America could make to our world. I am not as hopeful.

I was aggrieved at the ill-discipline of the crowd, but this has been taught to them at recent political rallies and trades union meetings. I thoroughly enjoyed Desmond Tutu’s ability to hold a crowd – and impose order. It might have been better for him to have been the preacher because he has the charisma and feel for the crowd - but it would have been very difficult for anyone to preach, with the sermon coming in as speaker number 16! That said, I was disappointed that the sermon had no Christian content. It was a generic eulogy of Madiba, using the image of Elijah’s passing of the mantel. But no hope in Jesus was offered.

The memorial is over and people are streaming homeward.
And I am thankful for the leadership of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

“We promise God that we are going to follow the example of Nelson Mandela”           

Friday, December 06, 2013


Monday, November 04, 2013

Visiting Eden

This morning I went to the Edendale Methodist Church.

I accompanied my daughter Lisa, who is a student at the Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary. Her seminary church placement is an isiZulu speaking congregation located in a sprawling black urban area bordering the Pietermaritzburg magisterial district. It began life as the farm of Andreis Pretorius, before Wesleyan Missionary James Allison and his community of 100 Christian families broke with the Wesleyan Missionary Society at Indaleni and settled on this farm - which they renamed Edendale. They purchased the farm on a share basis and sub-divided it into a central village with acre-sized plots and outlying arable fields.  Initially this community ruled itself under the pastoral authority of Allison, but when they had a falling out with Allison they approached the Wesleyan Missionary Society. Although initially cautious, the Wesleyans agreed to accept pastoral care of their community.

The current minister of this church is Rev Vuyo Dlamini, a graduate of the University of KwaZulu Natal and Vice-Chairman of the Natal West District. He serves a large area with many congregations scattered across the surrounding hills. He was preaching elsewhere today, and we were greeted instead by a local preacher.  She was a Zulu Granny dressed in her uniform of black jacket, white shirt and black tie. We climbed the steep stairs to the church entrance, shaking hands with congregation members who ushered us inside.

Inside the church is painted blue and cream. It has an unvarnished wooden floor and a truly lovely wooden communion rail around the chancel, at which people can kneel to pray or receive communion. It follows the 19th century custom of a centrally elevated pulpit with a lectern for reading the Bible to the left of the communion table. There is also a stone font dated 1948 and engraved “donated by the Manyano”.

Today’s service was stock standard morning worship which consisted of isiZulu liturgy (read – translation of the 1935 British Methodist morning order), isiZulu hymns and a sermon preached with fire and passion. This kind of service does not need a minister to function, held together instead by the routine of the liturgy and the cadence of the voices. Sure - the preacher read from the Bible and then ignored it as she went off in another direction; and the service concluded with various housekeeping activities, membership matters and financial contributions. But it did not require me to understand the words or to grasp the business to know that I was amongst a praying community. I let the words wash over me and enjoyed being part of something much bigger than my own simple contribution to their worship (I was asked to pray for the offering).

And I am grateful.