Saturday, August 03, 2019

I have a New Website

I have a new website! I spent a lifetime expressing myself in words: through sermons, articles, books, teaching series, and daily thoughts. I have begun to collect some of this together in one place : take a look at this brand new website located under my name.

I am resuming writing on my blog, which has been moved over to the website.

You can also sign up on the site to receive it via email. 

Friday, December 08, 2017


We are in the season of Advent: this is derived from the Latin word meaning "coming" and is the season for celebrating the coming of Jesus into our world. 

Those who would insist that we “make Christmas great again” have missed the point of Christmas – it was never about the coming of greatness! Jesus did not come in majesty and power, but instead came as a baby into a poor family who existed on the edges of society. 

Let us use this Advent season to care for the poor, the neglected and those people who give birth to their children in stables. 

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

A Lenten Discipline

We are in the period of our Christian calendar known as Lent. This is a time of spiritual preparation for Easter, and many Christians use some form of “fasting“as a reminder of this 40 day journey. Some people choose to abstain from a beloved addiction (such as chocolates or coffee or Facebook) as their spiritual discipline. Others choose to begin something new as an aid to their journey, such as a particular daily prayer, or a specific spiritual practice.

For many years it has been my custom to mark Lent by choosing a spiritual practice. This year I have been convicted that being called to be a Methodist Minister does not mean more privilege than those who follow the call of Jesus in other ways. We all serve in the Lord’s Vineyard at the pleasure of the Owner of the Vineyard. (Matthew 20: 1-16). In order to keep this reminder alive, I am choosing to wear overalls for the period of Lent. Clothing can often become ways of demonstrating power and privilege – and so I will be taking off the clothing of privilege and dressing in the clothes of a worker. This is my reminder that I am a labourer in the vineyard of the Lord.

When you see me wearing overalls during lent, please do not see this as disrespect for you. Instead, please see this as part of my journey in being a faithful servant of God.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Comment by Richard Poplak on the President's State of the Nation Address last night:

"Jacob Zuma spoke at length about economy. He did not mention firing his finance minister. He spoke about the platinum sector. He could not bring himself to utter the word “Marikana.” He spoke about the “demon of racism”, even promising to inaugurate an anti-racism day. He said nothing about systemic, structural racism. He mentioned the maligned, rotting state owned enterprises. He claimed they were doing just beautifully." 


Thursday, October 22, 2015

#Fees Must Fall

I am part of a Methodist tertiary educational institution - and we are one of the very few tertiary institutions open today. Everywhere across the country tertiary education is on strike. I have a daughter studying at UCT,  and a niece studying at Wits University. I also have friends who teach at Stellenbosch University, Pretoria University, University of KwaZuluNatal and the University of South Africa. As I listen to them, the one common theme is that tertiary education is frustratingly expensive. And that people are unable to pay the increases for next year.

These increases are for a number of reasons, including a weakening economy, a steady decrease in Government funding, and the resultant difficulty of funding an educational institution in our South Africa context. I should know, because we are struggling with this issue here at our seminary. And our students - like students elsewhere - are also feeling the pain of increased financial pressure.

At the same time, allow me to offer one comment:
I find it sad that it takes study fees to mobilize people.
·         We have had xenophobic attacks on foreigners in Durban – and no University Students protested
·         We have seen corruption and dishonesty amongst our politicians – and no university protested
·         Our communities experienced women raped and children murdered – and nobody protested.
But the moment something touches our pockets, then we are on fire:
It is tragic that it takes self-interest to mobilize us.  

In the light of this I turn to Jesus for guidance:
Mark 3:31  Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32  A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you." 33  And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" 34  And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! 35  Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."

Jesus is not saying that his mother and his brothers and sisters are not important. What he is saying is that those who follow him ought to show the same compassion that they have for their immediate family for others in their community.  Self interest is when we care for our own family’s needs to the exclusion of others. God-interest is when we are willing to make the whole community our family.

So let us protest the increase in fees – but only after we have protested the plight of other poor people in our community! 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Will you go where you are sent?

Sermon preached to the Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary
16 September 2015

John 21:15 – 22
“Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go." (John 21:18) 

Every Methodist Minister is asked this one question: “Will you go where you are sent?” This question is asked when a candidate offers for the ministry, this is again posed as one of the conditions of ordination, and this is an implied question every year when the Bishops meet in a stationing committee. The tradition of being willing to go wherever the Methodist Conference sends you is drawn from the ancient monastic vow of obedience – a vow rooted in the Biblical conversation between Jesus and Peter at the lakeside in John 21.

The story of John 21 takes place after the resurrection of Jesus, and therefore after the appearance of Jesus at the tomb and later in the upper room. This is no longer a conversation about the good news of resurrection, and about reassuring frightened disciples. Instead this is a conversation about what comes next……
Jesus speaks to Peter:
Peter do you love me?
Yes Lord.
Then feed my sheep
Here is a threefold repletion: “If you love me, then feed my sheep
Here is the commandment to become a servant of God. In essence, the commandment is to show love through caring and service. And then to make his point, Jesus says these words to Peter: “Will you go where you are sent?”
Well – not exactly those words, but close enough:
Joh 21:18  Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go."

To paraphrase this –
“Peter: when you were young you went wherever you decided was best: but as you mature into a Christian leader, you will need to be willing to go wherever you are needed – even if this means going where you do not want to go! Now - will you go where you are sent?”

It sounds really heroic to stand on the floor of a church Synod and commit oneself to going where you are sent: but as time passes we all begin to think we know best.  We become important and powerful in the church. We become Senior Ministers, and Superintendents, and Bishops. And with this comes the temptation to become powerful:
-      We are consulted by business leaders and politicians
-      We are invited to conduct state funerals and very important weddings
-      We exercise power over who can come to Holy Communion and who cannot
-      We exercise power over who can be baptised and who cannot
Most frightening of all: we even think we have the power to decide who God loves, and who God does not love!

It is at this point that the health of our souls demands that we surrender our power ….. before we use this power to become destructive!

The best way to surrender our power is to remember that we are under the discipline of those who have been placed in leadership over us: In fact nobody should have spiritual authority unless they are under authority. The tool the church uses to remind us that we are under authority is this question: “Will you go where you are sent?” And more importantly – will you do the work that is asked of you by your local leadership, or Superintendent / Bishop / Presiding Bishop?

Just when I think I am a person of status and power, I meet a poor, struggling outcast on the margins of society who asks me to kneel down and care for her.  
“Will you go where you are sent?”

Just when I think that I am an important and powerful preacher – the Superintendent phones me and asks me to take a service in a very unimportant little community.
“Will you go where you are sent?”

Just when I think I am an important and powerful Superintendent – the Bishop phones and asks me to go into another circuit and chair a very difficult meeting.
“Will you go where you are sent?”

Just when I think that I am a very important Chaplain at a Seminary – the Presiding Bishop phones me and tells me that he is moving me out of the seminary...
Will you go where you are sent?

The Apostle Peter’s reaction to this question reflects his human frailty: He looks over his shoulder and sees John sitting next to Jesus and says “But Lord what about him?” Is this not true of all of us? When we are asked to be obedient – we look around to see if anyone else is being asked to make the same sacrifice. And we might say something like “Lord this is unfair – what about him / what about her? They are getting a better deal than me!!”
Will you go where you are sent?

The way we test whether we are willing to surrender our power to God’s plans is by asking this one simple question:
“Will you go where you are sent?”

Saturday, August 15, 2015


“…the goose pimples of rejection run up and down your spine.” – Alexander Solzhenitsyn [1]

I have failed – and have spent the last two months licking my wounds.

I entered the 2015 Comrades Marathon, run on 31 May. This is an annual 90km road race between Durban and Pietermaritzburg that has to be completed inside of 12 hours. I last ran it ten years ago – my 12th run - and upon finishing it I said I would never again run it.  But this year was the 90th edition of the race, and the whisper of the challenge saw me entering the race again. I worked hard, running 1200km of training between January and May. I ran two marathons, and three ultra-marathons and when race day came I felt that I was ready to prove my mettle. I set off at sunrise along with approximately 17000 other runners as we wound our way from Durban to Pietermaritzburg. And this uphill run became a mental ‘uphill’ for me – because I had a bad day and every step became an effort. I found myself running with the 12 hour ‘bus’ of Vlam Pieterse, which carried me to the halfway mark. However, when they pulled away from me on the Inchanga hill I knew that it was all over. I dejectedly walked all the way up this painful hill, found some momentum on Harrison Flats, but was pulled off the road at the Umlaas Road cutoff – 57km completed but 30km short of the finish. I felt relieved and deeply disappointed. I had struggled all the way and was glad to stop, but had never before had I failed to finish this race – in fact any race. I had worked so hard at preparing for this race, and I felt the crushing weight of failure.

This has given me an opportunity to reflect on how I feel about failure.
Let me begin by saying it as it is: I do not like failing! Since I was a child I have been acutely aware of the feelings associated with failure: shame, embarrassment, humiliation and inferiority – what Solzhenitsyn has so evocatively described as that moment when “…the goose pimples of rejection run up and down your spine.”   The reason I know this so intimately is because these feelings have often visited me: I was a reserved child who hung back and hoped that someone else would be asked to speak/play/run/shine, just in case I failed to do it well. To make matters worse, I did not attend schools big enough to have many winning teams. I played rugby for the teams that got beaten by other schools, and got thrashed by the tennis teams of the bigger schools.

I have found two conflicting reactions to attempting anything that has a prospect of failure: the one choice is to avoid doing anything that might cause me to fail. However, in contrast, maturity has produced a stubborn streak in me that whispered “try it” when a challenge was presented. It is not that I lost my aversion to failure, but rather the greater debilitation of the knowledge that I did not try, has motivated me to face my fears. So when I did my compulsory military service I volunteered to do the Physical Training Instructor’s course, precisely because it was tough and I feared it. When my friend Alan began postgraduate studies I again heard the aggravating whisper of the difficult endeavour and enrolled for further study. And when a friend mentioned that he was running the Comrades Marathon, I knew that I would have to do it – in order to pacify that internal challenge. To my amazement I discovered that I could rise to these challenges. Truth be told, I have generally succeeded beyond what I deserved or believed myself capable of.

This is not to say that I have never failed. I failed my Biblical Hebrew exams – twice! Which means that I graduated from seminary two years after my class. I have lost many league tennis matches, and come at the back of many road running events. A big one was when I applied for a position that I really, really wanted – and was turned down. I have learned that the fear of failure does not go away. It sits out there as a beacon that mocks me, entices me, and sometimes seduces me. Which brings me to my most recent failure.

It has taken me some time to recover. My running shoes mostly collect dust in the corner. I have been back on the road – but now have niggling injuries. It is therefore easier to stay in bed in the morning. I have just seen that the theme for the 2016 Comrades Marathon is IZOKUTHOBA - IT WILL HUMBLE YOU.   Ironically I was humbled this year! So do I put my hand up to be humbled again next year? Right now I do not have an answer for this question. It is in this space that I hear the echo of Winston Churchill’s observation that "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."  This reminder of the impermanence of both success and failure challenges me to embrace my journey through life as an adventure, rather than a competition. It is this that is drawing me out of my self-imposed hibernation. It is this that now enables me to think of trying new things. So here is my resolve:
·         I will continue to choose to live a curious life, something that might lead me to attempt difficult things.
·         I will continue to risk the possibility of failure by trying things that frighten me or stretch me beyond my current experience.
·         I will continue to embrace the opportunity to learn new things – even if it mean falling flat on my face and learning how to get back onto my feet.

Throughout my struggle with the vicissitudes of success and failure I have treasured the encouragement of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. He is a man whose writings and life embodies the courage to rise above the rejections of life: 

"Live with a steady superiority over life ...
don't be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn after happiness: it is, after all, the same: the bitter doesn't last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing.
It is enough if you don't freeze in the cold and if thirst and hunger don't claw at your insides. If your back isn't broken, if your feet can walk, if both arms can bend, if both eyes can see, if both ears hear, then whom should you envy? And why?
Our envy of others devours us most of all. Rub your eyes and purify your heart - and prize above all else in the world those who love you and who wish you well. Do not hurt them or scold them, and never part from any of them in anger; after all, you simply do not know: it might be your last act ... "

- Alexander Solzhenitsyn: “From Island to Island” The Gulag Archipelago

[1] Alexander Solzhenitsyn: “From Island to Island” The Gulag Archipelago