Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year’s Eve

“There is a bullet with my name on it.”
This was a common thought during my days in the South African Defence Force. On border patrol there was no point in wearing a helmet because no matter what I do - “There is a bullet with my name on it.” I have since found that many people use a similar thought to express the idea that no matter what we do we have no control of our fate. “God has already decided my fate.”

I do not believe this.
I believe that God has dreams and plans for my life, but that God has given me the freedom to choose to participate in them – or not.


Today I stand at the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. I will therefore admit to the moments in 2009 when I failed to participate in God’s dream for my life. Some of this was because I became too busy, and did not allow space for reflection. And some of this was because although I knew what God expected of me, I did not want to surrender my lust, greed, and inner selfishness.

And tomorrow I will again choose to seek God’s will each moment of each day in 2010. When I get up each morning of the New Year I will place my day at God’s disposal. Then I will choose to live the day as richly and as generously as possible. And when it is over I will thank God for the experiences of the day and make peace with my mistakes.

May the Peace of God be with all of us.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Virginity, Sex and Christmas



markpenrith read my previous post Scandal and asked me the following question:

"Does, Now I do not know how Mary got pregnant. I do not believe that pregnancies can be manufactured from thin air. mean you don’t believe in the virgin birth?"


I believe that God – the Almighty Creator – is capable of creating life out of nothing. This means that God can use a virgin to give birth to Jesus. I am not alone in this, as there are millions of Christians who believe this too. But Christians are not alone in this belief: Parthenogenesis - the Greek word for virgin birth – is a common requirement in ancient mythology for the birth of kings or gods.

For me the more important question is why we need to believe that Jesus was “born of the Virgin Mary”. The original Greek for what we now choose to translate into English as “virgin” does not insist that this be a woman who has not known sexual activity – these texts can also be translated as a “young woman.” In fact the early Christian community new nothing of Mary being a virgin. This was the work of Augustine of Hippo, who formulated a theology that equated the absence of sex with goodness. He suggested that those who abstain from sexual activity are pure, and are therefore closer to God.

Which is why Mary the “young women” was transformed by the Church into Mary “the Virgin”: this line of thought held that the Mother of God could not possibly have engaged in the defilement of sexual activity. Some even suggest that she never ever knew what sex was, and went to heaven in this “pure” state.

Which is fine as a quaint and interesting notion. However, this becomes the foundation for far graver implications.
1. From this we live with the idea that for priests of God to be pure they need to be celibate. And this suppression of sex as a natural God-given human function has led to some priests expressing a distorted sexuality with choir boys and other vulnerable people.
2. The idea that abstinence from sex equates with purity has left many young people feeling defiled and guilty for their early sexual awakenings. No matter how hard they pray – they still think of sex, and therefore are defiled.

So while I can be awed by the idea of God impregnating Mary, I can be as awed by the idea that God took the seed and egg in the womb of Mary and created Jesus from it. The latter idea certainly gives me hope for the power of God to take what could have been a “scandal of this world” and to transform it into a “triumph of heaven.” This then gives me courage to believe that God can take my own frail, deeply flawed life and turn it into something useful and good.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Scandal

Joseph, a respected member of the town, with a well-established carpentry business, discovers that his fiancée Mary is pregnant. She has been living under the strict supervision of her parents and he knows that he is not the father of the child. And he had asked the village mothers to examine her before they got engaged to ensure that she was a virgin.

And as the women gathered to draw water at the well they all passed on the gossip, which was quickly relayed as soon as the women got back home. The whole village knew.

I have often wondered what Joseph’s parents must have thought of Mary. Imagine this: Your son gets engaged, and then you hear that she is pregnant. So you storm into your son’s room and ask him – "Don’t you know how to be careful?" And he says to you: “It isn’t me.” What would the next words be? Probably something like:
“Get rid of the slut immediately.”

We have dressed up the Christmas story with so much holy language that we have lost the impact of it. Mary is about to have an illegitimate child….in a culture that did not just skinder – they stoned women for such things.

Now I do not know how Mary got pregnant. I do not believe that pregnancies can be manufactured from thin air. But I do see God taking what was a disaster and turning it into a blessing.

We are told in Matthew Chapter 1 that Mary’s scandalous illegitimate child was to be called Jesus – which means “God saves”. Matthew then points us back to the Old Testament, and says that the birth of this baby is a sign that God is with us. The shame has been turned into good news. This is the way God works with us. God can take a scandal and turn it into something useful.

We do not have to be perfect before God notices us.
God is with us in our scandal.
God is with us at the places that we feel ashamed.
God is with us when the whole community rejects us.
God is with us even when we know we have failed.
This is the good news of Christmas – even when we feel rejected by everybody – God does not reject us!
If God could love Mary, and use her scandal as a blessing to the world – then how much more will God not turn our scandals into blessings.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Wedding


My friends Ecclesia and Amanda were married on Tuesday night.
I have known them for the past 5 years, and have shared the very difficult journey that allowed them to acknowledge the love they have for one another.


I grew up in a society does not easily cope with two women who love one another.
More particularly – I grew up in a Christian community that never thought about people of the same gender who love one another. And so right now my church (the Methodist Church) is really struggling with the fact that Ecclesia, who is a Methodist Minister, has chosen to get married to a woman. Her Superintendent minister has asked for her to be suspended, and has laid a disciplinary charge against her in our church courts.

I understand the thinking of her Superintendent. He believes that he is defending the truth, and therefore needs to protect our church from people who do not conform to the traditional teaching. This is familiar to me: It was this thinking that prevented people of different racial groups getting married in our church in South Africa’s past. It was also this that prevented divorced people from being married in our church. But we changed: God convicted us to move beyond the limits of the racially segregated marriages proposed by the Apartheid government. And God helped us to become more Grace-filled in our approach to divorced people who wish to marry for a second time.

I have discovered a God who challenged me to outgrow my prejudices. And for this reason I am convinced that my church needs to change our position on same-sex marriages. I would rather see us encouraging people to live in committed relationships, than see the secretive behavior manifested by gay and lesbian Christian people. I believe that the uncommitted relationships (and often promiscuous sexuality)of Gay Christian people are a result of our failure to ask them to commit to marriage.

I therefore wish Amanda and Ecclesia God’s blessings as they begin a new life together.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

No Words

Hi Pete,
Just checking all is well, you have not been blogging for a while and I have missed you!!
Love in Christ,
Stephen


Dear Stephen
I am so tired. Not physical tiredness – I am running 5km per day at the moment and am beginning to feel fitter again. I am also eating well, and am generally sleeping at night.

No - I am emotionally tired.
I have had seven funerals in seven weeks. And it has wiped me out. I meet with the families; I plan the service in a way that has personal meaning for the family; and I try to say something that both celebrates the life of the one who has died, and that offers courage to those who continue with life. And I have run out of words.

But I have to find the words:
Because outside of the funerals life goes on: I have to come up with words for Sundays, and for Christmas, and for New Year. And for the 4 week teaching series in January that needs to be printed now before the Christmas shut-down of businesses.

So I have nothing to say in a blog right now.

Except that I am very, very grateful for the friends like you who ask me how I am. And who pray for me. And who write from time to time to give me courage.

God Bless
Pete



(Stephen’s only fault is that he supports England’s sports teams. Naturally as a South African I support the World Champion Springbok Rugby team, and the world Number 1 Protea cricket team, and world ranked golfers like Ernie Els and Retief Goosen, and surfski world champion Dawid Mocke).

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Lost

He lost his way in the middle of the sentence.

I was invited to attend a dinner tonight – along with seventy other people. And we were standing around the bar making “before dinner small talk”, when he struck up a conversation with me. After exchanging names we talked for about ten minutes. But the conversation never went anywhere, because it consisted of half completed sentences. He would begin a sentence and forget where he was going. He could not remember the names, places or events he wanted to describe. His memories have been locked up in a place he cannot find. And my heart bled for him.

Here is a man with an illustrious history behind him, but who is unable to maintain coherence in his present. His brain has become forgetful/foggy/distracted. And so we chatted together about nothing - literally. And I wished him well; and he thanked me for my good wishes; and he wandered off with a gentle smile.

And I deep down inside of me I prayed that I would never get lost like this.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Calling back the Past




I am sitting in a service at the Rusthof Methodist Church. I was the minister here from January1988 - December 1997. This congregation was established 100 years ago, but was torn apart by the forced removals of the Apartheid era. So today they celebrate their survival and growth here in 'the wilderness' of what was the Rusthof farm. This congregation has worshipped in this building for the past 40 years. Many tears were shed, much bitterness has been overcome, and this church flourishes long after the Apartheid government has been buried. I thank God for this resurrection from the ashes of the old past.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Living and Dying

He is dying.
He looks healthy and well – but after blood tests, scans, a biopsy, and surgical investigation, the doctors have told him that cancer has invaded his body to such an extent that there is nothing they can do. So he and I sat one afternoon last week and talked about his future. Then he summoned his family and friends to a meeting on Monday evening.

And about 25 people gathered in his garage. This is the place he plays darts, and drinks beer, and generally hangs out with his friends. And we talked together about life, and death, and about dying well. He told them about his illness. Then he asked his family and friends not to feel sorry for him, or to begin treating him differently. I invited them to help him die well – to go out with “all flags flying.” I suggested that they get hold of the movie “The Bucket List” and watch it. And I suggested that he draw up his own list of things he wants to do before he dies.

I facilitated a moment when his friends and family each expressed a wish for his life. Amongst these were wishes for strength and courage and joy. They also suggested that he needs to go fishing, hang out with his grandson, and let go of bitternesses and hurts from the past. We sang some hymns, I read Psalm 23, and we prayed for him.

Then we had tea together. His friends teased him that he was hiding the “good stuff” because the minister was present, and he promised to leave a will where he allocated all his financial debt amongst his children.

When I left his home I knew that he would die well.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Baptism


The congregation mostly walks to church – and today is grey with rain. It began raining yesterday afternoon and has not stopped. And so the people dodge puddles as they arrive, wet and shaking umbrellas.


Today is a baptism service and the church soon fills up with family members, supporters and congregation. The band members trickle in and begin to tune their guitars - waiting for the keyboard player. I too am waiting for him, because I want this service to go well. Not only does he play the keyboard, but he owns the laptop which is connected to the projector for the words to the songs. But he does not appear so I allow the band to lead some community singing: which is really the old favourites that (hopefully) can be sung from memory.

I am in the vestry praying with the stewards when we get a message that one of the members of the congregation has had an epileptic fit. He is known to everyone – and so I lead the congregation in a prayer for him while various church members get him out of his seat and carry him to a side room where he recovers.
I read from John Chapter 4: the story of a Samaritan woman who engages a Jewish rabbi in conversation about religious division. (OK, OK, I know that there is much more in this passage – but I spoke about the way we use religion to perpetuate our religious divisions). I invited the people to discover God’s blessing that transcends the human barriers we erect. And I invited them to see the baptism of infants as a moment of God’s unconditional welcome.

Then I invited the parents to bring their children: there were four of them: dressed in their “Sunday best.” And amongst them was a little boy whose mother is lost in a haze of “tik” – but whose granny brought him so that we could pray for him and, in her words, “so that the church could know who he is.” And I baptised him, and prayed for him, and introduced him to the congregation.

As I watched the tears run down the cheeks of his granny, I knew we had done the right thing.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Prayer for Preparation to Study


O God
It is exam time again. And I want to do my best.
I believe that You gave me my mind and the ability to think; and that You gave me my memory and the ability to learn. I am grateful for all I have learned in the past, and I choose to trust You for all I am to learn today.
Open my mind Lord as I read my books and notes. Help me not to be distracted by the other things of life. Keep me from getting into a panic and help me to do justice to all my work and preparations.
O Jesus Christ may this be a worthy time that is faithful to you. I offer this time and prayer in your holy Name. Amen.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Baptism


There are sixteen families living in this City Council concrete block: four apartments across and four levels up. Graffiti, children underfoot, dogs, minibus taxis with loud hip-hop music, and young men sitting on the pavement.


She lives on the ground floor, corner apartment. Warily eyeing the dog of nondescript origin, I carefully open the property’s gate and walk down the short cement block pathway. She is sitting in a worn chair at the door, managing three toddlers who busily clamber around her furniture. They are her grandchildren. She cares for them, assisted by state welfare grants. Her youngest daughter finished school two years ago and has yet to find a job. She is not a mother, and helps to care for the three toddlers. Her sisters live elsewhere and struggle with their addictions.

I am here to talk about the youngest addition to the family. His mother is addicted to “tik” (Methamphetamine, also known as “speed” or “crystal meth”) and her only interest in life is satisfying her craving. She used to live with her mother, but exasperated with the constant theft of her possessions, granny kicked her daughter out, but kept the grandchild. And now wants to “do the right thing” for her grandchild: she wants him baptised.

And I will do this – because baptism is not a reward for good behaviour, or a way of getting people into heaven, or a way of showing that someone has been especially righteous. Baptism is a sign of the Grace of God: a grace that says to a struggling grandmother that she is not alone. God is with her as she raises this child.

This coming Sunday the welcome of God’s community will freely embrace her and her grandchild. We will sing songs, and pray for her, and assure her of the love of God. Perhaps you can pause on Sunday and pray for her too.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I Will Not Die An Unlived Life

I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
Of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
To allow my living to open me
To make me less afraid,
More accessible,
To loosen my heart
Until it becomes a wing,
A torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significant
To live
So that which came to me as seed
Goes to the next as blossom,
Goes on as fruit.

Written by by Dawna Markova.
Dr. Markova is a psychotherapist, a researcher, and a consultant to leaders of organizations from education to health care to corporations. She is an author and a storyteller, a parent and grandmother.

I (too) Have a Dream



Well here is the good news for today:
Mat 5:3 " Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.



Jesus spoke this in a context where religious people believed that healthy, wealthy, emotionally stable people were the result of God’s blessing. And poor, sick, struggling people were suffering the curse of God.

But Jesus turned this upside down. He insisted that those who are spiritually poor, and those who mourn, and those who broken can know the blessing of God in their lives – irrespective of their social location (Read Matthew 5: 1-12). Matthew’s Gospel tells us that Jesus called a community together and asked them to re-imagine their religion, and see a community where people are made whole:
 Where those who mourn are comforted.
 Where those who are humiliated discover the promises of God
 Where those who are persecuted find a place in God’s family
 And where those who suffer from the slander and gossip will be loved by the people of God.

Sadly many religious people still confuse wealth, and health, and happiness with the blessing of God. As a consequence there are people who hide their brokenness in the company of Christians. So they fix a smile on their face and leave their problems at the door and fake it with the familiar exchange of greetings: “How are you? I am fine!” Or the even more bizarre reply: “I am blessed.” Eugene Petersen’s paraphrase The Message puts it this way:
Mat 5:3 You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope.

So I dream of a world without this kind of religion.

I dream of a Christian community where there is no judgement, no gossip, and no humiliation. I dream of a Church where there is no exclusion based on doctrine, ethnicity, gender, or sexual preference. I long for a spirituality that has no desire for numerical superiority, no pursuit of wealth, and no grand legacy to be established.

Not only do I invite broken people to come to God - but I dream that we should become a community of healing: a place where broken people can be made whole.








Friday, October 16, 2009

Prayer for a Loved One writing Examinations:


The academic year in South Africa is drawing to a close. Thousands of high school matriculants and college students begin preparations for their final examinations. And we begin to worry about them.

I offer the following prayer as an alternative to worry:


Dear Lord.
I pray for ………………(someone I love) who is writing exams. I believe that You made this person, and that you love him/her even more than I do.
Please bless him/her with concentration and clarity of thought. Help him/her to do the very best with the task that has been given. May she/he think clearly, remember the work that has been covered, and give an honest account of all that has been learned.
Thank you that I can trust you to be with him/her in the examination. And so help me to stop worrying about this exam.
Amen.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

"Sembra una vespa!" *


Vespa is both Latin and Italian for 'wasp' — a name derived from both the high-pitched noise of the two-stroke engine, and adopted as a name for the vehicle in reference to its body shape: the thicker rear part connected to the front part by a narrow waist, and the steering rod resembled antennae.



After World War 2 Enrico Piaggio decided to answer Italy's urgent need for cheap and easy mass transport. He built a two wheeled vehicle that was built on a spar-frame with a handlebar gear change, and the engine mounted directly on to the rear wheel. Unlike the motorcycle, the front protection "shield" kept the rider dry and clean and it had a pass-through leg area to cope with women’s skirts. The front fork, like an aircraft's landing gear, allowed for easy wheel changing and the internal mesh transmission eliminated the standard motorcycle chain.

Voilà – a Vespa.

• "It resembles a wasp!"

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Him again

Remember Joe ?
After I threw him off our property, he has been trying to get his life together.
He is sober. He has asked to work in the garden at my home.
Last Saturday we had a church leader’s gathering, and he washed the cars of the leaders – free.

But then on Sunday he blew it.

He was arrested at a local chain store for secreting a bottle of the store’s alcohol on his person as he walked out the store. And the security guard caught him; and Joe told them that he was very sorry; and that he was getting it to help a friend; and that he worked for the Methodist Church under the supervision of our caretaker.

And because the store manager knows our church, and knows many of the members: he let Joe off with a warning.
And I am mad......
Joe has abused the reputation of our church to get out of a tight spot.
And I was at the point of giving him his room back.

And…I am mad because Joe reminds me of how often I am like him: I try to get out of a tight spot with God by pretending that I have integrity… or at the very least that I associate with people of integrity.

Because deep down I know that I am frail. I fall short of my best intentions. I am afraid when I should be courageous. I get impatient when I should be kind. I am grumpy when I ought to love. I am intolerate of failures in others while giving myself plenty of latitude. I really am a very imperfect human being.

And for all these reasons I will continue with Joe.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Earth - the movie

Tonight I saw this Disney documentary about our planet.
It is a moving and beautifully shot film. There are stunning photographs of ice, and of waterfalls, and of mammals, and of birds – even ducklings falling out of a tree! The photographs of elephants dancing in the water, or of the baboons delicately picking their way through the marshes are stunning. But the poignancy for me was the reminder that all life comes at a cost. One life’s survival is derived from another’s death.


The wolf lives because the baby moose dies; the lions get to live because they overcome an elephant; the great white shark’s amazing aerobatics come at the expense of a seal. And most of all… the quality of human life comes at the cost of the life of our planet.

I use electricity and bury its nuclear waste on the West Coast for my children’s children to deal with; I love my petrol driven vehicles, and try not to think of how the wasteful byproducts are dealt with; I use plastic wrapping/bottles/containers and wonder if it all goes away. And the planet is getting warmer, and less able to absorb this abuse. It struck me that if each person took responsibility for changing just one planet-damaging activity, then all of us together could make a difference. So I am determined to find my personal contribution, and will let you know.

I also reflected moodily that my life is nourished by death – the death of other beings on this planet: I ask a fish to die so that I can live; or demand the chicken/cow/sheep/pig surrender life for my braai, or my burger. And this feels uncomfortable. I would never directly take the life of any of these beings, because it would feel wrong. I even squirmed when I saw the cheetah take down a buck, because I do not enjoy seeing a “kill.” But I readily admit that thus far in my life I have relied on professional killers to do it for me, and have tried not to think about it when I eat. So it is time to change. I am resolved to learn how to diminish my need to take a life in order to stay alive. I do not know where this will lead me, but I want to try.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Beginning a Looong Road




Today I feel inspired. I have been running at the foot of the majestic Langeberg Mountains, close to the Breede River, on a farm between Bonnievale and Swellendam. Today is day three of my journey towards the 2010 Comrades Marathon. This 90km race takes place on 30 May next year. It is the 85th running of this race between Pietermaritzburg and Durban, and will be my thirteenth run. I wish all my runs could be as satisfying as today.... And I know that the memory of today will be the inspiration for tomorrow.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Vincent




He lives in the city but chooses to cycle the obscure semi-desert roads of the Karoo. Vincent catches the train to Laingsburg, unloads his bicycle and sets off for Ladismith through Seweweekspoort. This was where I met him last Sunday. On a previous trip he had befriended my hosts, Geoff and Jette. So he phoned them and arranged to come for lunch. He duly arrived, having covered the 60 kilometres from town since sunrise. I met a retired airways manager, who lives in Observatory, Cape Town. He went to France in the '70's as a conscientious objector to military service, where he lived until Nelson Mandela became President. He has cycled all over Europe, and now chooses to explore South Africa from a bicycle saddle. He has no car, speaks with warmth of his French-speaking Congolese neighbourhood in Cape Town, and volunteers as a receptionist at FAMSA (a community counselling service). Vincent makes friends as he rides, and has a wealth of stories to tell...'with eyes that watch the world and can't forget.'

Friday, September 18, 2009

Road Trip


Today I climb on my BMW GS11:50 and head for Vleiland.

This is a farming community about 300km from home. Head up the N1 to Laingsburg and turn right along a dusty road towards Seweweekspoort (tr: 7 weeks pass). Just before the cutting in the mountains is a lovely fertile valley watered by the Huis River.



Three years ago my friends Jeff and Jette Vye abandoned the city to farm tea and vegetables, and have invited me to stay with them for the weekend.

I have twice been to visit this valley: each time to take a church service for the community. 10 farmers bought the old Dutch Reformed church, and they take turns in leading a fortnightly Sunday service. Some of them can do this: one studied at the Stellenbosch theological seminary before his father’s death called him to take over the family farm. Another is the son of a Dutch Reformed Minister. (Of the latter – Jeff says that it feels like he reads his father’s old sermons when he takes the service). But when it is Jeff’s turn he asks me to come.

The farmers are a mixed group of people, some of old faming stock, and some like Jeff having escaped the busy city life. They and their workers all crowd into the church, forming this fascinating, mostly Afrikaans, congregation. The pianist is hard of hearing, so she takes the bit between her teeth and sets off at her own tempo, dragging the singers behind her. And there is a whiff of Saturday night’s revelry that fuels the lusty singing.

The last time I was there I encountered a wizened old man who announced that he had brought his son to be married. He explained that his son was 40 years old and had lived with a woman for 20 years and he was so glad that I was there to see that they “did the right thing”. He was bitterly disappointed when I pointed out that I did not have my marriage documents with me. So I promised to return.

Tomorrow there will be a wedding. And I will take the Sunday service. And I am grateful to be part of the life of this community.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Joe


I have written of him before. He is his own worst enemy.

Joe is a kind, gentle man who speaks quietly, and is a thoroughly nice man…. When sober.


Sadly, Joe is a binge drinker. He can go for months on end without drinking. But when the urge hits him he keeps drinking until he has destroyed all that he has so painstakingly built up over the previous months of sobriety.
He longs to stop.
But this disease eats at him. Sober he says that he needs help – only to reject the help when the alcohol kicks in. And, once again, he is self destructing.

We have housed him in a room at our church in exchange for odd-jobs around the premises. But he has gradually stopped doing anything. He has a girl friend with a monthly pension. And Joe has been visiting her for liquid comfort. Yesterday I found the two of them drinking on our church premises. On top of this he managed to find the food that was prepared for a church function and finish it off on the two of them. And when I challenged him he explained that he did not steal it, he only “took it”. And he explained that his girlfriend needed somewhere to sit because she felt unsafe. And that they were not drinking – and the bottles in the room were a co-incidence.

So I blew my gasket and ordered them off the premises.
And now Joe is sitting on the corner across from the church glaring at us.
Within a day or two this will turn to self-pity, and then despair. And finally he will arrive with deep sorrow and heart-felt apologies to ask for his room back.

And, because he is a 58 year old man, I will not patronise him by thinking that I know what is best for his life. I do not agree with the choices he makes, but I cannot prevent him from exercising his choice of lifestyle.

I will not stop giving him my friendship and support. And I will continue praying for him.
Perhaps you might pray too.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Who do people say that I am


Mark 8:27 - 33

This has been quite a week for gossip!
The South African 800 meter athletics champion, Caster Semenya, has had her dignity stripped from her by gossip. But this is what human beings do: we gossip! Today’s Gospel story is all about reputation and gossip.
Mar 8:27 Then Jesus and his disciples went away to the villages near Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, "Tell me, who do people say I am?"

Jesus is in Caesaria Phillipi, a Roman Town built by someone who worried about his image. Caesarea Philippi was a holiday resort on the Jordan River built by Philip the Tetrarch. This was a ruler who lived in the shadow of his father, King Herod the Great. Imagine growing up hearing everyone calling your father “The Great”. And then your father dies and you get to rule part of his kingdom – along with your two brothers. And as you try to settle in and take control you hear “Herod the Great” this, and Herod the Great” that. The last thing you want is that people remember you because of your father.
So how do you establish yourself?
Philip built a city, and named it after the most powerful man on earth: Tiberius Caesar. And then he linked his own name with Caesar and the city is called Caesaria Phillipi. This is a town built by someone who worried about his image. “What are they going to say about me? Well they can say that Caesar and I are in charge”.

I have the sense of Jesus and his disciples joking about Philip the Tetrach and his fragile ego. And then Jesus turns to his disciples and asks"Tell me, who do people say I am?" Here is Jesus asking his disciples: what do you think of me? And they fumble around for an answer:
- Is Jesus like John the Baptist: come to call the religious people back to God..
- Is Jesus like Elijah: come to reform the nation.
- Is Jesus like the prophets – come to speak a word from God.

Peter then gives an answer that probably surprises even himself: “You are the Messiah” This is considered a highlight of the Gospel story: Here at last is recognition. The penny has dropped/ the light bulb has come on. This is an “Aha” moment. “You are the saviour who has been promised”. And the whole of creation breathes a sigh of relief. The Messiah has come.

And it is at this point that everything comes crashing down for Peter. Just when he thought he knew Jesus – he discovered he did not. Because he heard Jesus speaking about suffering and struggle….
Mar 8:31 Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: "The Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law. He will be put to death, but three days later he will rise to life."

And this did not fit his picture of Jesus. So Peter tried to correct Jesus: Because the Messiah that Peter wanted was not the Messiah that Jesus wanted. Jesus speaks of a Messiah who suffers but Peter wanted a Messiah who crushed the opposition.

Which takes us back to the question: Who do people say that I am? Which is the challenge of this story. We form a picture according to our expectations….We want Jesus according to our desires….We make Jesus in our own images. But Jesus refuses to be boxed!

Today’s reading invites us to be open to discover Jesus according to Jesus. So when we discover that Jesus is our ‘anointed one’ we also need to remember that Jesus is also the Messiah of my neighbour.

Jesus is the Messiah of white, blond haired, blue eyed people.
But he is also the Messiah of black, curly haired, African people.
And he is also the Messiah of Chinese people.

Jesus is the Messiah of Men
And he is also the Messiah of Women
And he is also the Messiah of Children

Jesus is the Messiah of couples
And he is the Messiah of single people

Jesus is the Messiah of heterosexual people
And he is the Messiah of Gay people
And he is the Messiah of people who are caught between genders.

I invite us to stop gossiping about each other: and become accepting of one another. And as we learn to welcome each and every person on our planet: we will learn a little bit more about our Saviour.

The only real picture of Jesus is when we see Jesus in other people – because each person reflects a bit of Jesus.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering those who died

Chile 1973
2001 New York

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Going to a Funeral



My friend Barry died tragically last week - aged 37. He set off for a morning’s exercise with his surfski, and was blown out to sea. I am going to Port Elizabeth today – for his funeral tomorrow morning.


I have discovered different reasons for being there:


I am going in support of those who mourn. While the presence of other people does not lessen the pain of sudden loss, no one should mourn alone. I too am mourning. So I am driving with three friends who loved Barry, and I need their company.

I am going because Barry’s death has reminded me of the fragility of life. I cope well enough with people dying who are older than me. But it is hard when people die who are younger than me. It reminds me of my own mortality. And of all the things I still want to do in life…. And of how often I defer them because I think the time is not yet right. Moments such as these remind me of the importance of living in the present.

I am going because I need ministry. I am normally the one who offers care when other people die. I visit the bereaved; I preside over funerals; I visit people in the lonely months when everyone else has got on with life. This seldom allows me to grieve, because I have to hold the show together for other people’s tears. But somehow the years have caught up with me – and I need space to grieve: I am in pain not just for Barry, but for the many other people I have loved and lost.

Thursday, September 03, 2009


My friend Barry died yesterday.
And I am sad.
I am sad because he is so young.
I am sad because he has a young family who will grieve terribly.
And I am sad because he brought joy, challenge, integrity and laughter with him.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Who judges the Judges?



Mar 7:5 So the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law asked Jesus, "Why is it that your disciples do not follow the teaching handed down by our ancestors, but instead eat with ritually unclean hands?"
………..Mar 7:9 And Jesus continued, "You have a clever way of rejecting God's law in order to uphold your own teaching.


Jesus is in Galilee…. which was a religious state. So the leaders of the temple were responsible for teaching the law, and they were responsible for judging those who broke the law.

Today’s passage tells of a moment when Jesus is criticised by the Pharisees because his disciples had not washed their hands in the required manner before and after eating. This issue about hand washing was not about hygiene. Everyone washed their hands before eating: The Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, and the Jews…. The issue here is that the Pharisees had invented elaborate ceremonial religious teachings around this common practice. And the Pharisees warned the people that if they did not do it exactly right, then God would be angry. (A Talmudic teaching from this time has been discovered that says that if people do not wash their hands before a meal then God would either destroy that person, or reduce them to poverty)

But this was not a command of God! The Ten Commandments do not command hand washing. The Torah does not command handwashing.
The Pharisees wanted the ostentatious ceremonial handwashing – because it made them seem superior to everyone else who did not wash their hands in that way.

So Mark’s Gospel tells us that Jesus was angry at how God blessings and curses had been dragged into the issue of social standing. It is for this reason that Jesus warns the Pharisees:
Mar 7:9 …….. "You have a clever way of rejecting God's law in order to uphold your own teaching.
Here are Judges who lack the love of God because they are corrupted, biased, and motivated by self-interest.

Certainly at a national level I find the words of Jesus absolutely appropriate: Judge John Hlophe, the Judge-President for the Western Cape, has been accused by the judges of the constitutional court of trying to interfere in a case they were hearing. This case involved a company called Thint, and the then ANC President - Jacob Zuma, and whether they were in a corrupt relationship when an arms deal was signed. The Constitutional Court accused Jodge Hlophe of attempting to lobby two of its judges for pro-President Jacob Zuma rulings.
The first attempt by the Judicial Services Commission at holding a hearing was stifled because Judge Hlope was sick. They then re-convened to discover that he had fired his lawyer, and so another postponement. Just before the next sitting of the JSC, the President changed the members of the panel. And lo and behold, they met and have decided that Judge Hlophe has done nothing wrong.
My dilemma is this:
Who was lying? Were Justice Bess Nkabinde and Acting Justice Chris Jafta lying when they laid the complaint….. or Judge Hlope, who denied the accusation they made against him? We do not know because this gap in testimony was not interrogated.

I believe that our Judges are human beings – like anyone else.
They are subject to personal bias, and prejudice, and social pressure. I believe that all of these have come into play in the decision not to proceed with this investigation. And for this reason our Judges need to remember that there is a greater law over them: this is the law of God. They will be held accountable for their decisions.

I am asking you to pray for our Judges.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Betrayal



I knew that I was betraying his trust….

Dash is two years old, and is responding to his inner hormonal promptings. He has turned from a cuddly, lovable puppy into a moody, sometimes obstreperous, young adult. He has no problem recognising my authority as the Alpha Male of the house, but he is challenging Nugget for the place of ‘top dog’ after the boss. The only problem is that Dash is a shortish Springer Spaniel, while Nugget towers over him as a Great Dane/ Labrador mix. This has not put Dash off from his attempts to barge through the door ahead of Nugget, or to challenge for the right to guard their food bowls. This has resulted in lots of snapping and snarling, and the occasional physical encounter which is dominated by Nugget. So the vet suggested that we reduce the hormone rush by giving dash “the snip”.

So I dutifully took him to the vet on Monday. I reassured him that it would be OK (after all, I have been though it too) and then left him looking forlornly at my retreating figure as I climbed into the car. I felt like I had betrayed his trust. His unconditionally effusive welcome later in the day only served to heighten my sense of having let him down. But we were reconciled and happily went home.

Only for me to return him to the vet today. He has an infection. I will not betray his confidence (again) by telling you where, but there is a Rugby team in Pretoria known as the Blue Bulls – and my boy Dash has developed an association with the blue bulls. I marched him to the door of the vet… and it dawned on him that we were back. Suddenly the brave “do not check me skeef” young man dissolved into a quivering jelly. His feet could not move, his jowls shook, and his breathing became a pant. As he gazed beseechingly in my direction I could hear his thoughts: “do not leave me here…. again”.

This time I did not. I held his head as the indignity of a rectal thermometer was endured. I calmed him as the vet prodded his rugby team, and I led a very happy boy out of the consulting room to collect an anti-biotic from the receptionist. Then we drove home with Dash happily sniffing the breeze from the window.

He jumped out of the car and strutted his stuff past the big black dog as if to say “No problem”.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Burnley again


Did I happen to mention that I support Burnley FC? This was the team that beat Manchester United last week. This is the same team that beat Everton 1-0 last night. Another full house at Turf Moor saw Wade Elliott slot a dream goal.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Is she a Girl... and does it matter?

Eighteen-year-old Caster Semenya is a South African woman who has just won the 800 meter world championships. But some people from other countries think that she looks like a boy and have demanded a gender test. Clearly this is not about genital appearance. Many have attested that she has the external makeup of a girl.

So I wondered what makes someone a “girl”: Is it general looks? But what appears feminine in one culture is not feminine in another! Is it the ability to bear children? But not all women can bear children! Is it the way she dresses? But clothing is such a subjective preference – and many women choose to wear trousers, and many men have worn kilts into battle!

Some scientists have suggests that the issue at stake is “Sex”, and not “Gender. Dr Ross Tucker writes that “Gender refers to how an individual portrays and perceives him or herself---for example male or female. It is more of a social construct than a biological one. Sex, on the other hand, is biological, and that is the essence of the debate in this case, whether or not Semenya is of male or female sex, not gender.” He points out that it is possible to look like a female externally, while carrying predominantly male chromosomes. But I ask whether chromosomes should be the determinant anyway? Are social relationships and self perception automatically inferior to science? There are no easy answers to this!

What I have found particularly distasteful about the whole Semenya episode is the way it feels. It appears to an outsider like me that some white European officials felt that she did not look like a girl. I wonder if they feel the same about Stephanie Brown Trafton, winner of the Olympic women's discus, or shotput’s Jillian Camarena. These are very powerful, very square, but very Western Women. Or is it only the women of African Bantu extraction that are deemed to look male?

Perhaps as Christ-followers we need to remember that the way we are is absolutely OK. Whether we are clearly identified in terms of gender, or whether our human characteristics are to be found in the grey areas of chromosome confusion and transgendered identity, we are loved by God. Let us refuse to be amongst those who seek to determine the worth of a person based on their gender. Scripture reminds us that every person is lovingly created by God to be exactly as they are:
Psa 139:13 For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Football ... over 33 years.


Last night newly promoted Burnley defeated defending Premier League champions Manchester United 1-0 for the first time in 41 years. Founder members of the 1888 Football League, they are nicknamed “the Clarets” because of their claret and blue club colours. They are based in Burnley, Lancashire, where Turf Moor has been their home ground since 1883.


For me – it all began in high school when Jeremy Schrire and Howard Shapiro ran an English football pool in our school: We all chipped in a couple of Rands, and guessed the results before the weekend’s football. I knew nothing about English football, but it seemed foolish to pick a team that everyone else followed, because the payouts were paltry when the popular teams won. So I decided to become a Burnley supporter, and Burnley and I enjoyed moderate success between 1973-1975.

I left school at the end of 1975, and Burnley left the top league of English football. And ever since then Burnley has drifted down the football leagues, until 1984 found them in the Fourth League, followed by an ignominious scramble to prevent relegation to the part-timers Conference League two years later. Bottom of the world… followed by a gradual rise through the leagues. Then a disasterous run of 19 losses in 2006/7 season, which was followed last year by the unexpected – but very welcome – championship playoff against Sheffield United to secure promotion to the Premiership.

Which is a long way around to discovering that I left school 33 years ago! Jeremy is now a successful stockbroker in London, and Howard is an Orthodox Rabbi in Israel.

Anyone for football pools?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Life under the Stars




We were hosted in Sutherland by Naomi Brink. She has lived her entire life here. This has included owning the local butchwry, a stint working for the local farmer's Co-Op, and now running a guest house called 'Cosmos'(which is not the flower but instead refers to Space/stars/universe. The town makes its living off the planatarium, so the places to stay take on 'starry' names such as 'Halley se kom eet', Jupiter, Andromedia, Galaxy and The Southern Cross. The town has an agreement with the observatory to limit public lighting, so as to maximise darkness. A town off National highways, but well worth visiting.... Go look up Tannie Naomie's Cosmos just off the Main Road.

Sno




Snowing in Sutherland




Woke up to snow this morning.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sutherland




Turn to the evening news and wait for the weater forecast. Now look for the coldest place in South Africa. i am there: Sutherland boasts an annual minimum temperature of 3 degrees Celcius, and can drop to -13*C in winter. Situated on the Roggeveld escarpment of the Northern Cape, it has on average 88 frosty mornings, and nearly every night is cloud free. So I ventured out for a run this evening, just as the sun was setting. It was clear, crisp.... very crisp... in fact it was very, very cold. 20 minutes and I was back indoors. A hot bath and a lighted fire became a welcome antidote. The evening weather report tells me that the minimum expected temperature for tonight will be 0*C, rising to a maximum of 7*C tomorrow. Oh well - 'more is nog 'n dag'. (picture taken from Northern Cape Tourism Authority publication).

In the Middle of Nowhere.




Driving on the road between Middelpos and Sutherland we came across this vacuum cleaner...... 'tussen niks en nerens' (check the heading for an English paraphrase). This lonely household appliance evoked much discussion - with little explanation.

Middelpos




Middelpos is a spot on a farm in the middle of nowhere. We drove north from the Tanqua nature reserve towards Calvinia. After cresting the picturesque Gannaga Pass we stumbled across this proverbial 'one horse town'. It consists of a hotel, a general dealer and petrol pump, a boerbul breeder and the ubiquitous bottle store. Ouma Marthie welcomed us into the hotel lounge and spoke of how she had arrived with her husband Colin some 30 years ago. They continued the dream begun one hundred years earlier by Mr Daniel Tomlinson, the originator of this dorp. He was a Jewish lappiessmous from England, who decided to settle down. He chose a strategic spot on an old traveller's route to provide rest and provisions. And so we rested, and drank tea..... and wondered what the walls would tell us if they could speak.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Silence




Spent the past weekend in arid semi-desert that is fabulously flowered with post-rain splendour. The best part was that we had no electricity, no cell phone access, horizon to horizon blue sky, and ..... silence! Remember the bit in Psalm 23 that links 'besides still waters' and 'restores my soul'. Well my soul is restored.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Connecting with the Past




This afternoon my sister and I took my parents to see members of our extended family - who live on Riverton Farm. I have visited this farm for all my life. It now belongs to my cousin Duncan, who inherited it from his father George, who inherited it from his father, who inherited from his father. And so I returned to a familiar place, one that is deeply rooted in my bones. I inhabit a world that is in constant flux, and it is wonderful to return to a place that seems familiarly the same. Of course this is not true: we have all aged, and the farm is both mechanised and unionised. But for just a moment I was again that young boy on holiday on my uncles farm. And I was at peace.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Bread of Life

Joh 6:35 "I am the bread of life," Jesus told them. "Those who come to me will never be hungry; those who believe in me will never be thirsty.

When Jesus says “I am the bread of life” we should actually begin at a place that says: “I do not have a clue what he is talking about”.
The problem is that we forget the Jesus was speaking to Jewish people who lived 2000 years ago … and we try to understand this as if he was saying this today.

When Jesus says “I am the Bread of Life”: he is speaking as a middle-eastern Jewish man. and he was speaking to Middle-Eastern people 2 000 years ago. These were people who saw bread as something sacred. Because Bread was more than food: it represented a cycle of life:
- Bread speaks of those who planted grain – and of God who gave the sun, the rain to make the grain grow.
- Bread speaks of those who harvested the wheat – and of God who gives the strength for the harvest.
- Bread speaks of those who ground the grain, and made the bread mixture, and kneaded the dough, and put it in the oven – and of God who blessed people with water for the flour, and with earth to make bricks for the oven, and with fire to heat the oven.
So when the bread comes out of the oven, and people break the bread to eat it – this is a culmination of a long process of thanksgiving to God and to a community who made it.
Breaking bread together was a sacred moment – a reminder of everyone who had worked together to make this bread, and of all who sit down to eat it, and of God who made it all possible.

When Jesus says “I am the bread of life” he speaks of himself as holding the community together….. he is the centre of it all … he is the life of the whole community.

But I suspect that we are tempted to use a modern understanding of bread when it comes to our relationship with Jesus:

Bread, in today’s world – is a sandwich.
Bread is decorated – with tomato and cheese, or with jam.
Bread is what we eat while we wait for supper.
(I know that some of you will tell your tough times stories of how when you were little there was only bread and tea for supper).
But today’s world understands bread as a filler – something to keep you busy inbetween meals.
And this is how we understand Jesus:
We want Jesus the sandwich: Jesus as convenience food

 Jesus is useful when we have nothing else to chew on: we think of Jesus in between the “real’ stuff of life.

And then when we do think of Jesus, just like a sandwich, we want Jesus to suit our tastes
 We look for messages that we agree with: and when we hear a message that we do not like, we throw it away and find another one: a bit like saying – “I don’t like that sandwich filling, give me another”

 We want Jesus cut to a size that pleases us
And when Jesus has difficult things to say to us?
Well we treat them like the crusts on a sandwich – we cut them off!

Perhaps we can hear this echo today too:
The invitation to make Jesus the centre of everything:
The centre of our work: so that we are prepared to share our profits with those who have nothing.
The centre of our mealtimes: so that we are willing to share our food with those who are hungry.
The centre of our friendships: so that we give time to those who are alone in life.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A New Chapter




It is done. i was honoured to be asked to marry my friends John and Jolene in Kimberly today. I have been married for 27 years and I continue to believe in this particular way of organizing a relationship. I celebrate the richness of committing my life to the wellbeing of a beloved. I affirm the depth to be found in 'for better and for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health'. i pray that they might have joy and wisdom in their new chapter of life

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Wide Open




A Kimberly farm, where stars diamond the night and a crisp cold invigorates the soul.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The King is dead – long live the King!*

This past week saw the commemoration of the death of Michael Jackson – and the recurring phrase “The King is dead” has dominated the media. Millions of people around the world were saddened by the death of “the King of Pop”. Many attended his memorial, and many more watched it on television. And mixed up in this was some amazing hyperbole, such as “he is the greatest entertainer this world has ever seen” (Really? In all the years of the existence of this world?).

This has been said before of others: Frank Sinatra: CNN wrote that “Sinatra was a master craftsman and ranked as one of the most influential singers in this country's history”. Elvis Presley is remembered as the King of Rock and Roll and the “greatest performer of all time”. And there are others. Charlie Chaplin surely must be considered one of the greatest entertainers ever . He was not only a great movie actor but also a comedian, musician, writer, director, mime and acrobat. And then there is “The Master” - Noel Coward – who was a playwrite, director, actor, writer, singer, comedian. And what of Judy Garland: she certainly dominated the movies as one of MGM's most popular stars ever. So the passing parade of “superstars”....each to briefly shine and then to fade.

Perhaps the truth we need to remember is found in Job 20:6 “They may grow great, towering to the sky, so great that their heads reach the clouds, but they will be blown away like dust. Those who used to know them will wonder where they have gone.” This is useful for us when we are tempted think that someone irreplaceable is gone. Because God will raise up new people in our lives. It is useful for us when we are tempted to overvalue our own importance. Because we are only what we are through the grace of God. And it is useful for us to be reminded that all of life is in God’s hands…. We are born, we live, and we die…. All of it in the care of God.


*This traditional proclamation is made following the death of the King. It was translated from the French “Le Roi est mort. Vive le Roi!", which was first declared upon the coronation of Charles VII following the death of his father Charles VI in 1422

Monday, July 06, 2009

Religion's own worst enemy

"No doubt about it, religion is often religion’s own worst enemy. The tension
between religion at its best and religion at its worst drives people from church
to church, searching for authenticity. It drives them, as well, from the God of
the institution to the God of the spirit within. When religion makes itself God,
when religion gets between the soul and God, when religion demands what
the soul deplores––a division of peoples, diminishment of the self, and
closed-mindedness––religion becomes the problem. . . . But religion at its
best anchors us to the best in ourselves. It enables us to find meaning in life.
It sets the human compass toward home. It raises our sights beyond ourselves".
Joan Chittister
Called to Question

Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Homecoming (Mark Chapter 6)


Everybody loves the kid who makes good: he is the local who goes away and becomes famous. And then there is the “Homecoming”... when the locals welcome their own.


The Bible tells such a story: Mark Chapters 1-5 tells of how Jesus becomes famous:
• Ch 1: Jesus goes to Capernaum where he teaches with authority and heals people. And everyone is amazed.
• Ch 2 & 3: Jesus heals a man who is lying paralyzed on a bed. And he challenges the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law – and 12 men are so impressed that they decide to become his disciples.
• Mk 4: tells of a crowd that is so large that he has to sit in a boat just off shore to teach them
• Mk 5: Jesus heals a mentally sick man, a woman who has been ill for 12 years, and the daughter of Jairus.
Here is the local kid making it big: everyone flocks to Jesus. People want to hear his teachings.

Then comes Mark Ch 6:
This is the Homecoming……
It seems logical that Jesus should want to return to his local synagogue. This the place where it all began. Here is the place where he first learned his faith. He would have looked for those who prepared him for bar mitzvah. He would have looked for his religious mentors. And then he is asked to speak. And I imagine how proud his mother was. And then everything falls apart:

Mar 6:2 On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue. Many people were there; and when they heard him, they were all amazed. "Where did he get all this?" they asked. "What wisdom is this that has been given him? How does he perform miracles?
Mar 6:3 Isn't he the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon? Aren't his sisters living here?" And so they rejected him
.

This is not a happy story!
People say of Jesus: “where does he get this wisdom?”
They were not able to celebrate the evidence of his wisdom. They were jealous of it.

Note who the people are who speak like this.
- They are not the sick little girl who Jesus healed
- They are not the mentally ill man in the graveyard who got his mind back
- They are not the crowds out in the countryside
No: they are the religious people. It is the people of God who reject Jesus.

Allow me to suggest that this is not a story that remained in the pages of the Bible. This still happens today. It is sad to see how cruel church people can be:

I think of a member of the church who volunteered to do something for the Lord. And others got jealous: words were expressed such as “Who does he think he is?”
It became even worse – “I have been here all my life - He is just a newcomer

I think of someone I knew who responded to a call to be a youth pastor: and when I took it to the leadership someone said:
I know her family…… she must not think she is something special

Well …. In the eyes of God everyone is special.
And if God calls someone – let us not try to put them down.
(Why is it that religious people are so cruel?)
And if you are called by God – look to the Lord… do not allow the opinions of people to make you inferior.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Rape Nation

Her mother is angry with her for reporting the rape to the police.
I fetched her for work today and she is struggling…. because her mother wants her to withdraw the criminal charge. She is accused of bringing shame on the family. Her mother says that her case at the police station will turn her brother into a criminal. “It is bad enough what has happened…. Why is she making things worse? “

This is a familiar story. The victim is further victimised by being asked to remain silent. In fact there is great silence in our land. South Africa is notorious for having one of the highest levels of rape in the world. Only a fraction are reported, and only a fraction of those lead to a conviction.

A recent study into rape and HIV in the rural Eastern Cape and Natal, by the Medical Research Council (MRC), has revealed the shocking statistic that one in four men admit to rape - and many have raped more than one victim. Professor Rachel Jewkes of the MRC, who carried out the research, said: "We have a very, very high prevalence of rape in South Africa. I think it is down to ideas about masculinity based on gender hierarchy and the sexual entitlement of men." ( Mail and Guardian ).

I agree with Barry .

What is wrong with us? What is wrong with masculinity? Even old-fashioned ideas about maleness suggests it’s the mens role to “protect” the so-called weaker sex. What kind of protection are we offering?
I am not in the 1 in 4 category. I have not raped a woman. Which puts me in the 3 in 4 group… But there’s no comfort in being in that group for me. I’m asking myself, what have we 3 done to make it possible for the 1 in4 to do what they have done?
How have we colluded with questionable ideas about being “men”?
How have we failed to speak out against attitudes and actions that are not respectful of women?
How have we failed to act - holding our fellow men accountable for their actions?
How can it be that 1 in 4 men have raped a women, and the other 3 know nothing about it? What is our (what is my) responsibility



I do not have easy answers. I do not know how to respond.
It sounds like a Christian evasion of responsibility to say – “I will pray about it”. But I am praying for guidance. Because we men cannot sit comfortably with this… Ever.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Pain

She was raped by her brother.

They had had visited their mother’s home to celebrate her 80th birthday. And her brother began to drink. Later that night he raped his 40 year old sister. She screamed for help, but the rest of the house remained silent. They were too afraid of his drunken violence to respond to her distress. When it was over he ran away, leaving her broken. “I trusted him… and look what he has done” she said.

This was two months ago. A charge has been laid at the police station, but since then new crimes have overwhelmed the system. And he has vanished. So she has had to glue her life back together. She went to the clinic for tests, and they have said that she does not have HIV/Aids. She now wears lots of clothes to cover herself. She drinks at night to help herself sleep. And she glues a smile on her face to get through the day.

And I grieve for my twice-weekly domestic worker. She is trustworthy, caring and absolutely reliable. When we go away she looks after our home, loves our garden, and lavishly pampers our pets. When we are not coping with the domestic chores, she comes in and organises the washing, tidies the lounge and kitchen, and packs away stuff in hard to find places. And we love her dearly. And right now I wish that I could heal the broken places in her memories and relationships.

But I cannot.
So I offer her respect and dignity in our relationship. And pray for her to know that she is loved.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Brave Woman

For millenia women have dedicated themselves almost exclusively to the task of nurturing, protecting, and caring for the young and the old, striving for the conditions of peace that favor life as a whole. ... The education and empowerment of women throughout the world cannot fail to result in a more caring, tolerant, just, and peaceful life for all.
- Aung San Suu Kyi,
Burma's pro-democracy leader and political prisoner, who turns 64 today and awaits the verdict on her most recent arrest.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

My Epitaph


I am part of a group of men who meet once a month to hold each other accountable for the way we live our lives. And the question we were asked this morning was: “What do you want written on your tombstone – and what do you not want to have written?”

As I reflected on my life I realised that I have always been a responsible person.
It was drummed into me from small: “be responsible for your sister; think carefully before you commit to something, because you will be held responsible for your actions; go and study because you are responsible for your career; choose a job that has a pension and a medical aid, because you are responsible for your old age; take political responsibility for your country; take religious responsibility for your church…….. ”

Now this is the stuff of a successful life: everyone from my generation received this information – from parents, from teachers, from the very air that we breathed. We Baby Boomers are put together like this. And have this written on our consciences: “We are responsible for this mess….” But I no longer want this epitaph. I am tired of being responsible. I am tired of taking up causes. I am tired of feeling the weight of doing the right thing.

I want to be remembered for living adventurously. Oh Yes - there have been the moments when the adventure breaks through: like the time I took the family on a two month trip as far as the northern Uganda border; like the time I asked to live and work in a cultural environment different from the one I grew up in; like the motorcycle trips and the camping trips; But underneath it all lies the sense of “being responsible”. I feel responsible for my children’s education; for encouraging my wife’s failing health; for keeping my church solvent; for living an exemplary life; and for encouraging other people to keep going. And somewhere this crushes my spirit. Something has got to give.

So watch this space?
I really do not know. I will always act responsibly…. It is my nature. But I am determined to begin to shed those things that prevent me from living with more curiosity. I want to be more adventurous, more inquisitive, and far less sure of what each day brings. For example - inside of me is a writer struggling to get out. But this is always overshadowed by life’s duties. I am determined to allow the writing to break free, even if this means being irresponsible. For example - inside of me is a creative, non-conformist. But this is crushed by the tasks of authority and seniority. I am determined to shed the shackles of institutional expectations and allow the anarchic spirit of God free reign.