Thursday, October 27, 2011

fac et aliquid operis, ut semper te diabolus inveniat occupatum*

Luk 5:5  Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets."

Western civilization has been built on the idea that hard work will produce success, wealth and positive results. Deep in its cultural bones are injunctions to succeed by  working hard – “the devil finds work for idle hands” / “Don't just stand there, do something” / “hard work never killed anyone”. I was raised on quotes on the Bible that bolstered this idea: “Go to the ant, you lazybones; consider its ways” (Prov 6:6), “Hard work always pays off” (Prov 14:23). I have often worked hard, and more often I have worked very hard. But as the years have passed I have discovered the fallacy in the idea that hard work equates to success, because there are some people who work extremely hard without any success at all. Certainly this was the case of the disciples of Jesus in Luke 5:5 – they had fished all night without success.

This is also the case with many, many people who are trapped in the cycles of poverty, illiteracy and illness that characterize our modern society. Many people work hard all day for a pittance of a wage. They are not lazy, or stupid, or unfaithful to God. They are simply victims of their birth: born in the wrong place, in the wrong social class, of the wrong gender, or in the wrong culture. They do not have access to education, or to opportunity, or to the social conditions that enable their work hard to allow them an escape from their struggle for life.

I have come to see that hard work is not the panacea for all of life’s ills. Instead I have learned that the key to successful living is finding the person we were created to be. Luke 5:5 has the disciples moving beyond hard work, to obedience to the call of the Master: “If you say so, I will”. This is about an inner calling rather than our material successes; this is about our self-knowledge rather than our achievements and status; this is about our sense of God’s purpose for our living rather than a desperate striving to achieve goals and acquire more possessions.  Kipling, in his poem “If” captures this for me:

“…..If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same … you will be a Man my son.”

* [St. Jerome Letters cxxv. xi.] “do something, so that the devil may always find you busy”; cf. [c 1386 Chaucer Tale of Melibee l. 1594] Therfore seith Seint Jerome: 'Dooth somme goode dedes that the devel, which is oure enemy, ne fynde yow nat unocupied.'

Friday, October 21, 2011

Mourning Libya

Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi ( 7 June 1942 – 20 October 2011) ruled Libya for 42 years. In 1969 he seized power in a military coup and was absolute ruler until 2011 when his government was overthrown by a popular uprising and foreign intervention. Born into the bedouin tribe of the Qadhadhfa, Gaddafi called himself “the Brother Leader" and "Guide of the Revolution”. He held his position through the use of nepotism, military force and the intrigue of the secret police. It is beyond dispute that he was a brutal, cruel man who personally supervised the execution of many who thought to oppose him. Between 1980 and 1987 Gaddafi employed his network of diplomats and recruits to assassinate at least 25 critics living abroad.  So I join the many, many Libyans who do not mourn the end of his rule.

But I do mourn the way his rule ended.

·         I mourn the summary execution of Colonel Gaddafi alongside the road. He should have gone on trial, faced his accusers, and been confronted with the consequences of his crimes. Life is sacred, and no-one has the right to execute a prisoner without trial.

·         I mourn the inevitable struggle for power in Libya. I am convinced that a transfer of power is always preferable to a vacuum where the ‘strong’ will battle it out to take over.

·         I mourn the intervention of western powers in African politics. I do not see why First World countries assume it to be their right to become the policemen of the world.

·         And I mourn our blood-thirsty nature that so easily embraces war as a solution for injustice, and so avidly watches violence as media entertainment.    

Let us pray for Libya: for all the families who have lost people they love, for the nation to grow in political wisdom, and for peace. Let us also pray for a world where  world leadership becomes less willing to send war planes to bomb the nations of others.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Completing the Days

Eze 4:8  See, I am putting cords on you so that you cannot turn from one side to the other until you have completed the days of your siege.

Today is my birthday.
Which is a useful moment to reflect on my life.

The one enduring theme of my life is a sense of God’s calling. I experienced this as an inner compulsion that binds me to a course of living - like Ezekiel I have lived a life where I sense God saying “ you cannot turn from one side to the other until you have completed the days” .

·         I felt a call to be trained at The Federal Theological Seminary – something I could not shake even when it was unpopular with my closest friends and family; even when it became a very hard place to be; and even when I wanted to resign and do something else.

·         I continue to experience a call to be an ordained minister of word and sacrament. I have had moments of great joy and satisfaction; and I have had times when I have understood Ezekiel’s reference to “the days of your siege “.  But since my ordination in 1984 I have never been able to shake off the cords that God has laid on my life.

·         I have felt an inescapable tug to issues of social justice. There have been moments when this has frightened me, and I would rather have run away from it. It has resulted in moments of great loneliness, accompanied by anger from some members of the congregation, financial boycott from some congregations, and the occasional encounter with the security police. But this internal spiritual compulsion has not allowed me to back off, and continues to ask me to challenge injustice as I encounter it.  

·         I have been bound to training student ministers. This has ranged from training student ministers in seminary, to those who have completed their seminary and are placed in local congregations.  Right now I am at the Methodist Seminary in Pietermaritzburg. As this year has passed I have become more and more entangled with this place. It has become a call that ties me in every possible way – in my time, my emotions, my passion and my prayers,    

·         I am inescapably tied to my marriage with Jenny. We were married in 1982, and we have been through “trials and tribulations” and through “joys and celebrations”.  (Truth be told I know that there have been moments when Jenny has wanted to kill me – and there have been moments when I have allowed myself to forget her kindness and generosity).  I continue to be grateful for my marriage and still hear this inescapable tug that says to me “you cannot turn from one side to the other until you have completed” .

As I look back I see the presence of God in all of this. I would not have wished for a different life and am grateful for everything that has happened. I celebrate the passing of the years – and look forward to a new year of being led into the unknown by this inner spiritual compulsion.

Bandanna Day

The Sunflower Fund promotes a donor registry to assist people with bone marrow cancer. To fund this they sell colourful sunflower themed bandannas.

12 October is national Bandanna Day and the seminarians were challenged to each buy and wear a bandanna in support of the Sunflower fund.

Sent via my BlackBerry.

Monday, October 10, 2011


Today's news: "South Africa's defeat saw outspoken coach Peter de Villiers announce his resignation and Springbok captain John Smit confirm his Test retirement."

"It was a brilliant journey," said De Villiers. "There's a time to come and a time to go and I think the journey for me is over".

Farewell Peter. You added colour to the game - literally, figuratively, and emotionally.

Thanks John Smit. You are an example of good sportsmanship.

The game will miss both of you ... But the game goes on!
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Friday, October 07, 2011

Today: 7 October.

Today sees a number of significant dates in History:

 Some are sad:

1937 in Bengal (India) a 40 Ft wave sunk 20 000 boats and killed 300 000 people.

1963 Hurrican Flora struck the island of Haiti and Dominican republic and killed        7 190 people

1985 Four Palestinian terrorists hijacked the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro, killing passenger Leon Klinghoffer.

2001 The Unites States and Great Britain launched an air strike against the Taliban in Afghanistan in revenge for the 9/11 Twin Tower attacks.

 Lord in your Mercy – Hear our Prayer for all those who have lost their lives.”  

Some are happy:

1886 Spain abolishes slavery in Cuba

1953 Chuck Norris emerges from steel and carbon.

1959 Julie Brett gives birth to her son Simon Cowell.

1993 Toni Morrison is awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

 "Lord in your mercy - hear our prayer of thanksgiving"

But nothing can match the joy of the birth of Desmond Mpilo Tutu on 7 October 1931.

I give thanks for his life and freely acknowledge the influence he has had in my Christian faith.

"Lord in your mercy - hear our prayer of gratitude"

Happy Birthday – my father in the faith.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

A Man of God

"a man who, with his powerful deeds and words, proved to be a prophet before God and all the people" (Luke 24:19).

There are many powerful preachers who claim to represent God. Some are powerfully eloquent; some derive power from their political acumen; some exert their power through intellect and great learning; and some exert power through religious rules and sanction. The Gospel of Luke tells of a different kind of power - the power of "deeds and words". This is the power that becomes visible in a life lived in service to other people.

This is neither the strutting of a demagogue, nor the largesse of wealthy donors. This is not the wheeling and dealing of political horse-trading, or the academic superiority of the educated.

Instead, this is a life that finds its power only when it is given away. This is seen when someone chooses to 'spend and be spent' for the benefit of the community. This is best epitomised by Jesus - who gave his life that the world might be redeemed.

There are many who have followed in the footsteps of Jesus - ranging from St Francis of Assisi in antiquity through to Mother Theresa of Calcutta. I choose to place my life at the disposal of my creator. And to use up my remaining days in serving God. Pray for me.
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