Saturday, January 26, 2013


I grew up loving musicals. My first memory is of Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke singing in the musical film Mary Poppins. This was followed by Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, and Julie Christie and Christopher Plummer in The Sound of Music, a host of singing stars in Oliver, and the catchy songs from the Jungle Book. My coming of age memories were deeply shaped by the Rocky Horror Picture Show, John Travolta and Olivia-Newton John in Grease, and Neil Diamond in the Jazz Singer. With the arrival of my children I have happily sung my way through the songs from the Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and a host of other Disney movies.

My love of musical movies was supplanted by a love of musical stage productions. Because of South Africa’s apartheid-isolation from international arts, we had to be content with hearing recordings of the musicals by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice rather than seeing them.  I learned the words for Joseph, for Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita and Phantom of the Opera. In 1984 Jenny and I visited London, and were blown away by the live stage performance of Evita, followed a few nights later by Cats. We were hooked on live musicals – and as South Africa opened up to musicals we have enjoyed everything from Chicago to David Kramer’s District Six. But my all time favourite is Les Misérables.

Les Misérables , first published as a Victor Hugo historical novel in 1862, is a reflection on the tension in live between Grace and Law. My friend Alan Brews bought Jenny and me tickets to see it in Cape Town, and we were deeply moved by its message of hope in the love of God. I was privileged to see it again in New York with my friends Charmaine Morgan and Sidwell Mokgothu. Again I was moved to tears. Now it has come out as a musical film, and I intend seeing it. Will keep you posted.       

PS: I am intrigued to discover that the lyricist for the English-language musical adaptation is South African born Herbert Kretzmer. Born in Kroonstad in 1925 of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants William and Tilly Kretzmer, he left South Africa to become a journalist and theatre critic in London. He turned the original French words into the English version that – as of the end of 2012 - has become the longest running musical in the West End.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Breakfast Ride

There were 16 bikes and an open road. Need I say any more?

The club is called 100s - as in "how is it going?" "I am hundreds". This is local slang for "everything is just great". And that was the mood this morning. It poured with rain last night, with storm warnings for today. But we set out in relatively clear weather, and had a dry day. The club insists on three rules: wear a reflective jacket, ride in formation, and no drinking and driving. This suits me because it makes for safer riding, and less stress when there are a whole lot of bikes around me on the road.

We headed for Scottburgh for breakfast. And took the back road/off highway road. Not only was it a great ride, but I got to meet some great people. I am just hundreds today.

Sent via my BlackBerry

Friday, January 11, 2013

Thundered into Submission

Mark Duncan & Pete Grassow

Last night I was washed away.

A text message from my friend Mark initiated the episode: “Pick you up at 5:15 to run the time trial”. This is a weekly meeting of our running club where we either run a fast 4km or 8km over a measured (and timed) route. It is intended to keep us sharp, and to improve our speed. Usually it is my reminder of how the passing of the years has slowed my legs, so I did not go often in 2012. But this is a new year, and time for new resolutions. Mark and I have committed ourselves to being at the weekly time trial for 2013.

Yesterday saw a gradual building of an enormous thunderstorm, and by mid-afternoon lightning and thunder swirled over Pietermaritzburg.  When the text popped into my in-box I had hoped it would say something like – “Let us skip this afternoon” but instead he added “Be prepared to get wet”. Mark is a hard core runner! Because I was not about to be outdone by him, I waited dutifully at my gate at 5:15 ... in the rain. We drove to the run with mark cheerfully reassuring me that the rain was stopping.

Six of us arrived to run. A few more arrived, declaring that they were not running – one of whom is the top female runner in the club. She said that the thunder was returning, and Mark scoffed at her comment: “It has stopped raining” was his confident assertion. We set off at a blistering pace (in my opinion), and within minutes it began raining. At the 1km mark the rain got harder, and one of the (many) runners ahead of me turned back home. I gritted my teeth and kept going:  Mark was ahead of me, and I was not going to be out done by him. By 2km thunder was cracking overhead, and rain was running down the road in rivers. The 3km point saw me drenched to the bone, and splashing through the water that ran off the pavement. A car stopped to offer me a lift – and behold it was Mark! He had taken a short cut back to start to get his car and told me to get in.

Smugly I waved him on, telling him that I was a better man than he, and would not be frightened by a little bit of water. As he drove off I immediately regretted my hasty words as lightning cracked nearby, and the rain came pounding down. “Foolish prideful idiot”! But instead of leaving me to suffer the consequences of my pride, Mark proved to be a good friend, and stopped further down the road where I gratefully accepted a lift. As things turned out, everyone had abandoned the run and found shelter.


Oh – the “blistering pace” turned out to be a very pedestrian 5:30 minutes per km!     



Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Sunday - Stormday

Sunday was a hot and humid Pietermaritzburg day. The kind of day that wakes you to sticky lethargy.  Lisa, Jenny and I went to church at Prestbury Methodist, where I had the privilege of leading worship, and being able to appreciate the preaching of Dianne Worringham. She is a gifted minister, and I valued her challenge to discipleship. Her essential thought was this: “A disciple of Jesus can only become a leader if first prepared to be lead by another.”
We then shared a long, lazy lunch at the Duckpond. This restaurant is behind a nursery, under shady trees with – naturally – a duckpond ..... and lots more ducks than we normally encounter. It is run by Riaan, who told us that someone had contacted him just before Christmas and asked if they could drop off some ducks. He was away, and told his manager to expect “some ducks” to be added to the three or four that normally swim in the pond. To his dismay, when he returned he found forty ducks swimming in his pond. I would not be surprised if the Sunday menu is altered shortly!

Back home in the afternoon saw the day getting darker and darker, as storm clouds began building in the sky. The humidity had built to a poihnt where we longed for the storm to break, and restore some cool air. Then the distant thunder was heard approaching over the hills from Durban, with the beginnings of lightening. At four in the afternoon the storm struck Pietermaritzburg. We experienced fierce winds, followed by torrential rain, and rumbles of thunder, laced with lightening. The back yard began rapidly filling with water from our over-flowing gutters, and for 30 minutes it became difficult to hear ourselves speak.  Subsequent to this storm we have discovered that many, many trees were felled across the city, accompanied by the destruction of walls, roofs and powerlines.
Jenny and I went outside to look at the retreating storm, and were struck by the silence after the storm – punctured by a lone bird tweeting a defiant tune. I can only imagine the terror this bird must have felt during the storm, contrasted by such joyous release expressed in song afterwards. Perhaps this is the essence of life: we have moments of fear.

Let us learn to sing our way through our fears, and so reclaim life after the storm.       

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Cycling and Vehicles on the road

Today South African Olympic mountain biker Burry Stander died after a collision with a taxi o the south coast in Kwazulu-Natal. This month two years ago, another top cyclist, Carla Swart, died when she was hit by a truck while on a training ride. AA managing director Karen Bryden  notes the tragic regularity of cycling accidents on our roads:  "During 2010, 252 cyclists alone were killed and an estimated 800 more injured." (
This is close to home for me. My good friend Allen Rodgers was hit from behind by a driver who never bothered to stop. He lay in a coma in hospital for a week, before beginning a very painful and slow recovery. And I have a nephew who is a professional cyclist, braving traffic every day while he trains for road races.  

I am angry. And sad. Because we drive our vehicles with reckless disregard for human life. It seems that getting behind a steering wheel de-sensitises us to the humanness of the other people who share our road space. Instead the daily commute becomes a competition for road space that is conducted with viciousness and brutal efficiency.

I will choose to drive with sacred regard for the lives of those around me.


New Blog

As noted on New Year's Day - I am setting myself the goal of a daily reflection on the Scriptures. The passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants :, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983). I plan a short reflection on the assigned passage for the day. However - this is a departure from the format of this blog, which has been running for the past six years.
On reflection it seem more useful to locate the daily reflection in its own blog - and leave this blog to continue to be my place of reflection on life. So I am inviting you to go to if you want a daily Bible reading and reflection

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Last Words of the Condemned Man

2 Peter 1: 3-11
His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature. For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins.  Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble.  For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.

If I was given the opportunity for a few final words before my death, I wonder what I might say? The words above from 2 Peter are the final words from one who knows he is about to die (see 2 Peter 1: 14 & 15).  It seems likely that it written in Rome by Peter, or a disciple of Peter, during Nero’s persecution of the church – possibly 68AD. Reading the last words of a condemned man therefore takes on a special poignancy.

 He assures his readers that we have all we need for life. This is made specific, in a world that is corrupted by lust. Put in other words – those who follow Jesus are reminded that there is a choice to be made: either allow human greed for more possessions to control you, or choose to trust that the power of God “has given us everything needed for life”.

For this New Year I will learn from one who is about to die: I choose to trust my life in God’s hands, and will keep resisting the corruption of  lust.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

New Year’s Day

A new year has begun. And I am setting myself the goal of a daily reflection on the Scriptures. The passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck,  A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants :, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983). Clearly this is an adventure that will unfold in its own time, but I plan a short reflection on the assigned passage for the day. This reflection will arise from my own devotional exercises for the day, and if anyone else finds this helpful – so be it.

 John 15: 12-17
"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.  I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

" commandment, that you love one another...”. For those who first heard this, it must have seemed a difficult activity. The disciples of Jesus struggled to overcome their jealousy of one another (Mark 10:35-45), and their anger at other groups that followed Jesus (Luke 9:49).  Now they are commanded to replace their desire for competition with a decision for co-operation.

The Gospel of John records this commandment of Jesus one hundred years after Jesus was born – a time when new followers of Jesus also found it very hard to love one another. This was a time of many different Jesus-following groups, many of whom claimed to have the “right version” of Jesus teaching. In time the Donatists, the Marcionites, the Gnostics and the Hellenists would clash with each other as they struggled to define the true doctrine of Christ. And somehow the intention of commandment to love one another was lost in the competition for religious power.   

This command has continued to haunt the followers of Jesus through the past two thousand years, as each succeeding generation of Christ-following groups have wanted to hold the moral high ground on spiritual truth. Today we see the clash of groups under the banners of liberal and conservative, fundamentalist and post-modernist, traditional and emerging church, and each time the commandment of Jesus come alive again: “Love one another as I have loved you”.

My New Year’s resolution is this: to practice the love of Jesus with unconditional regard for the group that person represents. I shall join with religious fundamentalists, atheists, and those who believe anything in-between, and seek to love each with equal passion. I shall show the same loving acceptance of those who are bewildered by the truth and of those who claim to have monopoly on all truth. But be warned – loving someone does not mean that I will be tolerant of behaviour that is the opposite of love: injustice, oppression and abuse will be opposed. To this end I shall join hands with anyone who seeks to lay down their lives in the cause of love – for all love comes from, and leads to God.

May God bless us with love for 2013.