Saturday, December 23, 2006

Sex, Christmas and Virginity

Christians have inherited a fear of sex from our church fathers (always the men!) who repented of their sexually profligate lives and chose celibacy. Augustine of Hippo formulated this into 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. Because, the theory says, 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 a natural God given human function has led to the distortion of sexual expression 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 please, this Christmas, let’s decide to ignore the dirty old men of our Christian history, and cease to call Mary a virgin. Surely a greater miracle would be for God to take the seed in her womb and create Jesus from it. This certainly gives me hope for the power of God to transform my life into something good.

Oh yes - lets celebrate sex as a good gift from God.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

O Come All Ye Faithless

O come, all ye faithless,
Beat up, and defeated
Come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem
Come and behold him,
born the Friend of Sinners
O come, let us adore him O come, let us adore him
O come, let us adore him, Christ, the Lord

Sing, choirs of vagrants, sing for inspiration
Sing, all ye citizens on earth below,
Glory to God, giving us new courage
O come, let us adore him O come, let us adore him
O come, let us adore him, Christ, the Lord

Yea Lord, we greet Thee
born to bring us joy
Jesus, to Thee be all glory given
Hope for the Hopeless, now in flesh appearing
O come, let us adore him
O come, let us adore him O come, let us adore him, Christ, the Lord

- adapted by J. Barrett Lee, and revised by P. Grassow

Thursday, December 07, 2006

See how we love one another!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Happy Holidays

The Americans are right! (Well you will not hear me say this too often, because I am highly allergic to the Bush led desire to crush anyone who dares to threaten American access to oil). But the Americanism “Happy Holidays” is a very helpful greeting.

Because where I live the people all say “Happy Christmas” instead. This essentially Christian greeting is said to everyone and anyone – irrespective of whether there is Christian or any other form of faith behind the greeting. I was greeted this afternoon by a very drunk man, who sought to excuse his public drunkenness by telling me that “it is Krismis afterall”. Christmas became his excuse for inebriation.

Just like Christmas becomes the excuse for overeating; and Xmas becomes the excuse for shops to invite us to max out the credit cards; and Kersmis becomes the excuse for nookie with the secretary at the office party; and Krrissmass becomes the reason for drunkenness and violence. And what we really mean is “Holiday”. These activities are really holiday induced. A mass for Christ will not invite people into gluttony, and debt, and debauchery. But holiday fever can.

So for those who want to break free of socially accepted restraints – please blame the holidays. Perhaps some of us can wish people a happy Christ-mass.

Thursday, November 30, 2006


Fifty is an amazing number. It is a goal, a lure, an idiosyncrasy, a notable record, and a marker. Cricket lovers applaud 50 runs, Paul Simon sang of Fifty ways to leave your lover, and the US of A discovered a way to collect a country into 50 pieces. Interesting trivia is published under titles such as Fifty ways to freak your friends; Fifty years of Stock Car Racing; Fifty roads to Town; Love songs of the last fifty years

In Latin it is symbolised as ‘L’. Other languages have their own appellations; Chinese: 五十 (wǔ shí), Korean: 쉰 (swin), Russian: пятьдесят, Greek: πενήντα, Hebrew: חֲמִשִּׁים (khamishím) and the language of heaven hanner cant vigesimal (Welsh)

So where does all this take us?
Well this is my 50th blog. And I have just entered my 50th year on planet earth. And, to use the cricketing term, I am “not out”. Thank you to all who stop off in this space. The thing I enjoy about this is that I write what I like. And if you do not like it, you are not compelled to return.

50 mark questionnaire (2 marks per question)
I got this from e-mail. Try it with your friends.
Things you may not have known about me...(and probably don't want to know!)

My Name?
Rock in the Grass, which is a play on my name. It also speaks of the capacity to stub the toe of the passer by. And I hope that those who read this blog are sometimes stumbled into wakefulness.

Four jobs I have had in my life:
1. Bicycle shop assistant
2. Military Physical Training Instructor
3. Flange machine operator.
4. Teacher

Four places I have lived:
1 Cape Town
2 Mthatha, Transkei.
3 Pietermaritzburg
4 Standerton

Four Books I am glad I read:
1. James Michener – The Novel
2. Eric Lomax – The Railway Man
3. Pamela Stephensen - Billy
4. Arthur Ashe – Days of Grace

Four places I have been on vacation:
1. Livingstonia, Malawi.
2. Ugab River, Namibia
3. Murchison Falls, Uganda
4. Zanzibar

Four of My Favourite foods:
1. Pasta anything
2. Butternut Soup
3. Cappuchino Muffins
4. Bobotie

Four places I would rather be right now:
1. Having coffee with my wife Jenny
2. Walking the Camino de Santiago
3. Camping with friends
4. Standing on Table Mountain.

Please have some fun today!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Explaining God

Today I participated in a “collaring service”. This is a service for someone who begins their journey as a student minister. Her name is Pam, and she takes up an appointment in Uitenhague in 2007. This is the beginning of a 5 year journey, where she will learn pastoral skills, and complete an academic degree.

And I was reminded that becoming a pastor is not about gaining the “right” academic knowledge; or learning the “correct” church doctrines; or in knowing the “best” religious explanation of God. Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion very eloquently demolishes these God theories. As Dawkins shows, it is simply impossible to explain God. For Dawkins, this proves that there is no God.

While I agree that the God explanations are inadequate and often illogical, I draw a different conclusion. The truth is that most of what we believe is only an approximation of the truth anyway. We are attempting to put the unknowable into words. The only place from which we can speak is personal experience. We have a human experience of the unexplainable – and then we try to explain it. We experience a touch of the divine, and attempt to put this into words. Of course our words will fail us. Because we are attempting to explain the inexplicable. What Dawkins calls the self-delusion generated by chemistry in the brain, I choose to call epiphany: the unexpected touch of the Divine.

I pray that Pam will never get to a place where she thinks that she can explain God.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


The Shorter Oxford Dictionary (3rd edition) defines Pornography as “the description of the life and manners of prostitutes and their patrons.” And a 1593 definition of prostitution is “the act of selling something of value for base gain”. So where am I going with all this?

Here it is:
There are many people who sell their bodies for money – I have seen them on the web. I have unearthed such manner of activities as paedophilia, incest, fisting (you do not want to know!) bestiality and asphyxiation. It is all weird, and degrades the beauty of human sexuality. The sale is also presumably lucrative, otherwise the beautiful people in the photographs would not be there!
I am both curious at why people do it, and saddened that something that is so beautiful can become an object of commercial transaction.

But while I am shocked by what I saw, I realise that I have the propensity to absorb shock, and come back for more. What is it in me that is both repelled, yet attracted by shock? This is the same thing that makes us human beings slow down to look at a car accident victim, or causes us to scream at the WWE Smackdown TV show. We actually love it when people sell themselves for cold cash….whatever is for sale, we watch!

Perhaps the saddest moment was when people stopped at a cross 2000 years ago to be shocked by a crucified man, and they still found energy to mock him. Or is it sadder today when people look at the suffering people of Dafur, or watch the bombing of Lebanon, or watch refugees stuffed on a train back to Zimbabwe – and don’t even blink!

We are the patrons of porn.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Grace Denied

I have just been taken to task by the Executive Secretary of my church for praying for God’s blessing on a same sex couple. In fact he was so disturbed that he copied his letter to my Bishop and to the chair of our church’s doctrine committee! What distresses me is that we have forgotten the place of the Grace of God.

I am convinced that every person on earth needs to hear words of God’s Grace spoken over them. There is no one excluded from God’s Grace. If P W Botha can be buried with words of Grace spoken at his funeral, then a same-sex couple asking to hear God’s Grace spoken aloud should be allowed the same dignity.

Of course I have no control over the blessing of God: this is God’s to give. But I can verbalise the desire of the heart into words of Grace and Love. I hereby give notice that anyone who wants to hear God’s blessing spoken aloud can come to me.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Someone asked me today if blasphemy is an unforgivable sin.
And I wondered “What is blasphemy?” I remembered a moment as a 7 year old when I heard a boy in my class use a word with such emotional expression that I immediately wanted to say it to. It was in Afrikaans and sounded like “Gghhortt”. I have since heard “God” said with many other inflections. But never as guttural and expressive as then. But when I tried it on my teacher she let rip at me. Something in the Ten Commandments about ‘taking the name of the Lord in vain”. And I have carried this vague guilt about saying God’s name ever since. And have tried my best not to insult God again. But was this ‘blasphemy?’

So I looked up the meaning of the word. Blasphemy : it is a combination of two Greek words: blaptein, "to injure", and pheme, "reputation". And it is mostly used in connection with that which is holy. So blasphemy is to injure the reputation of God.

I do not believe that the Creator is in any way perturbed when someone uses the word “God” or “Jesus Christ” as an expletive. While this certainly shows lazy linguistic skill, it cannot dent the ego of God. It can, of course, be offensive to someone who respects God.

Similarly I do not believe that the Creator needs us to defend God’s honour. God is perfectly capable of self-defence. So when Salman Rashdie, or Dan Brown, offer ideas that are uncomfortable, they make people unhappy. But God is not perturbed by human opinions.

But I do see blasphemy:

* I see blasphemy in those who go to Church on Sunday, and then on Monday seek access to the world’s oil reserves through bullying, threats, and war.
* I see blasphemy in those who pray for God’s blessing before unleashing bombs that kill innocent people.
* I see blasphemy in people who use the name of Jesus to insult and denigrate those who are lesbian or homosexual.

And these are sins that will be hard to forgive. Because they claim to be done in the name of God. And as such they injure the reputation of God.

Friday, October 13, 2006


Fear of Friday the 13th is a pervasive superstition..This is the day that intersects both the unlucky number 13, and the unlucky day of Friday – a double whammy.

Some tell of 13 being the number who sat down for the last (unhappy) supper with Jesus. But there are also much older stories of people being unable to count beyond 12 (ten fingers and two feet). Any number beyond this was the fearful unknown number full of vague and unimaginable possibilities - and therefore a number to be avoided by any peace-loving person.

As for Friday: Scandinavian mythology marks this as the day of Freyja, and as such was associated with the worship of Love. Fish was offered to this goddess, and love was made on Freyja day. As with many other customs "adopted" by Christians missionaries, ‘Freyja day’ is no different. Fish was accepted as the correct Friday diet. But the worship of Love on the Friday of each week was frowned on by the Church, who believed that mourning was the only appropriate response to the crucifiction day of Jesus. So what began as a celebration of love became an unhappy day instead. 'And on a Friday fil al this meschaunce,' wrote Chaucer in 'The Nun's Priest's Tale'.

Which is all bullshit as far as I am concerned. Because today is my birthday. I was born on October the 13th, and so far in my life I have experienced eight Friday 13th birthday celebrations. And they have all been very happy events. Today has been no exception. I had a very contended breakfast with my wife Jenny. I had an amicable lunch with my good friend Alex. I have had many, many happy SMS greetings and phone calls from friends. And I had a great supper at home with my family.

Of unlucky Friday 13th? Dicken’s Scrooge would have said “Bah. Humbug.”

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Not a Church-goer

Yesterday I buried a good man. He had lived for 80 years, and died very suddenly of leukaemia. Here was someone who had started his own company and provided employment for many people in the garment-knitting industry. Someone who participated in Rotary for 35 years, organising major fund-raising events for scholarships for deserving children – for which he received the Paul Harris Award. Here is someone who gained his pilot’s licence so that he could volunteer to fly mercy missions for Red Cross. A man who is remembered by his children as one who paid attention to their lives and encouraged their dreams. His granddaughter spoke at the funeral of a Grandfather who taught her fishing, and gave advice on boyfriends and other important 12 year-old issues.

He walked on the mountains every Sunday morning. Sometimes instead of the mountains he would go to sea in his boat, or go into rough terrain in his 4X4 Pajero. This was a real man’s man, who gathered other men around him and inspired them to live life more fully. There were many, many men in church, attesting to this fact.

This man did not go to church. His wife did. And she asked if I would be willing to lead the funeral service. And I heard her apologetic tone that he had “not been a churchgoer.” As if not going to church was some shameful thing!

So here’s the thing: going to church does not qualify a person for anything. We are not better for being a church-goer; we are not wiser, or happier, or more loved by God. In fact I have met some of the most bigoted, spiteful, hateful, pompous people in church. And I know some of the most gentle, generous, compassionate people who have nothing to do with any church.

You see – I believe that God does not keep a register of “Sunday’s absent” from church. There is no heavenly reward for the number of hours given to church. Church is a human invention that meets a human need. And if it meets your need – then fine. But please do not feel guilty for not being a “church-goer”. What really counts is whether we have led lives that are Christ-like: Are we compassionate? Do we strive for justice? And do we show mercy?

Personally I believe that by collecting Christ-followers around me I will find courage when I am weak, and a place of accountability when I am arrogant. But the bureaucracy of organised religion, and the strutting of peacocks in clerical garb, and the blatant manipulation of people’s fears in order to keep bums on seats have nothing to do with Jesus. This is about the human attempt at control. And I want nothing to do with it.

So please bring the unchurched to be buried – and to be married, and encouraged, and to be blessed. I do not care if you are a member of a church or not.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Bible as Sacred Myth

I believe the Bible to be myth… sacred myth. Before you get the wrong idea, read the following extract from Karen Armstrong’s “A Short History of Myth" (Edinburgh; Canongate Books 2005)

Today the word ‘myth’ is often used to describe something that is simply not true. A politician accused of a peccadillo will say that it is a myth, that it never happened. When we hear of gods walking the earth, of dead men striding out of tombs, or of seas miraculously parting to let a favoured people escape from their enemies, we dismiss these stories as incredible and demonstrably untrue. Since the eighteenth century, we have developed a scientific view of history; we are concerned above all with what actually happened. But in the pre-modern world, when people wrote about the past they were more concerned with what an event had meant. A myth was an event which, in some sense, had happened once, but which also happened all the time…mythology is an art form which points beyond history to what is timeless in human existence….a myth, therefore is true because it is effective, not because it gives us factual information….if it forces us to change our minds and hearts, gives us new hope, and compels us to live more fully, it is a valid myth.

I am totally frustrated with people who want to reduce the Bible to factual information. And then they try to ‘prove’ selected texts as historical fact. Much of the Bible was never written as fact. It was written as myth. It was intended to transform the lives of those who encountered its stories. I absolutely believe the Bible – as the sacred myths that guide my life. And in choosing to believe, I have found challenge, transformation, and new hope.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Francesco di Bernardone 1182 - 1228

He is one of the heroes of my faith. A man who voluntarily chose to challenge the prevailing culture of the day, and has left an indelible mark on history. Today is the feast day of Francis of Assisi, who was instrumental in founding the monastic Orders of the Poor Clares and the Friars Minor.

He gathered a group of people around him who were committed to a life of apostolic poverty. This meant letting go of the need for possessions, choosing to share the gospel of Jesus from the perspective of the poor, and emphasising the love of God for all of creation. Everyone was a brother/sister, and all of creation was to be treasured. Francis challenged his culture’s obsession with clothing as a sign of status, and possessions as a sign of achievement. And Francis brought a compassion for the poor, the forgotten and the ignored.

Francis had his blindnesses: he was anti-Muslim and pro-Crusades. In 1219 he helped the Crusaders capture Muslim-held Damietta in the Holy land. The man who created the great prayer for peace was unable to see his part in creating violence! What makes him my hero is this blend of both greatness and fallibility. Greatness is not about being perfect. Greatness is the ability to keep the vision alive – despite the personal flaws.

A man like Francis gives me hope that I might be able to hold to a Godly vision despite my personal flaws. Please pray for me.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Of Mixed Parentage

South Africa has just marked “Heritage Day” – a day where we as a nation celebrate our rich diversity of culture and history. And I am part of this diversity:

My Paternal Ancestors came to South Africa from Germany, landing in Mossel Bay in 1870. (I Googled my name and “bingo” I have a namesake in Germany today). They soon moved to Outshoorn and became Afrikaans. One of their children then moved to Cape Town, and rejected learning Hooghollands in favour of English. So on my Father’s side I am German/Afrikaans/English.

My Maternal Ancestors were the English aristocracy of Cape Town. Ralph Henry Aderne had sailed from England on the “Eliza” at the end of 1830. Add to this my Grandfather’s passion for anything Scottish, and a Kilt of the Ancient Frasers inherited through his mother, and I am English/Scottish.

I can chuck in some interesting relatives like Mary Arden, the mother of William Shakespeare; Dr James Arderne, personal chaplain to King Charles II; David Philip of publishing fame; Rev Ernest Lasbrey, rector of St John’s parish for approximately 40 years; ethnomusicologist Andrew Tracey, Captain Hurrell of the Salvation Army began the Mission to Seamen in Simonstown, Ruth Grassow represented South African bowls at the Olympics; and Margaret Lasbrey played Springbok hockey. And then there are some maiden aunts and cousins that we do not mention in polite company – oh yes there is the uncle who faked his own suicide in order to escape his creditors, only to be discovered in a bar in Bulawayo some years later.

What does this really prove? Nothing at all – and everything. I am of a mixed background: German and English in my veins, Scottish and South African to the core. Add to this the fact that I was born in Mthatha in the Transkei; I have lived in a “coloured” township for 10 years of my life; I was part of the South African Military; I joined the UDF and played tennis for SACOS; and I currently live with neighbours who are Muslim, Afrikaans, English, German and Jewish.

I love this country. And I love its diversity. I am not white, or black. I am not English or Afrikaans. I am neither European nor Xhosa.
I am a South African.

Monday, September 18, 2006

God Botherers

Too much of our praying is ineffectual God-bothering. We act as if God is ignorant of our lives and has to be reminded of the God-tasks that need to be done:
“Lord – give me…”
"God – please bless….”
"Lord – bring peace to ….”
As if God is unaware of the human need!

Of course God hears the cry of the broken hearted, and the groan of the oppressed. But these cries for help can never be instructions to a forgetful God. If God is not aware of the things we need, or if God does not know about injustice and pain that need God-like intervention, then this is a distracted and inattentive deity. For God to be God, the Divine Spirit should be aware of everything we need before we speak the words.

Which brings us closer to what prayer should be. Prayer is the moment of our silencing; it is the moment of the intervention of the Divine into our brokenness and need; it is the place of silence where the Spirit engages our spirit. Anything else is God-bothering.

And in our silence is the possibility of hearing the promptings of the Divine. Here is space for the One who fills all space to engage our lives. And here is opportunity for us to respond to the call of the Other. Good prayer is when we get off our knees to offer service to other people.

I have just spent a week in prayer: some of which was my own cry for attention. And then there were those rare moments in the silence where I discovered the Divine whisper. A nudge to become more intentional about my passions. So look to this blogspace to see signs of me shedding my middle-aged disengaged cynicism, and retrieving some of my former radicalism.

Monday, September 11, 2006


I am off to a Benedictine Monastery for a week of prayer. I am privileged to share this with three caring friends - Kevin, Dion, and Peter. The gracious monks of this place of prayer have allowed us to (briefly) share their life of prayer.

This monastery is perched on a hillside just outside Grahamstown looking down a valley of bushes and trees. The monks ring the bell for communal prayer (5 times a day). In between these times we will be silent. I hope to use this as a time listening to the heartbeat of the Universal Creator of Life. And of reflection.

Pray for me.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

I do not want Someone dying for my sins!

I have made many mistakes in my life.
- Sometimes I was curious. And having tried something out of curiosity, I discovered that it was not good for me. And I learned from this, and grew in another direction.
- Sometimes I was selfish, and believed that my own needs should take precedence over others. And I have discovered in the pain of hurting those I love, a motivation to change my ways.
- Sometimes I chose to do nothing, and experienced a moment of cowardice, or a moment of selfish reluctance to assist someone. And I learned from this to be more participative in life.
- And then there were moments when I knew something to be wrong, but I did it anyway. I did it because I was angry, or I was frustrated, or I was just bloody minded. And I have lived to regret my actions. And learned to think more carefully before I just moer on with my own course of action.

Each of these moments was an opportunity to learn more about living life, and a moment of spiritual maturing.

And so I continue to learn about life – mostly through my mistakes and my selfish impulses. But these are my moments. I own them. And I find it preposterous that I should be punished by God for them! How else do I learn about life? I find it even more preposterous to think that God would both love me, yet need to klap me for my mistakes.

One Church Father tried to explain that God is both perfectly loving, yet perfectly just. Therefore, because God’s justice needed to punish someone, God’s love chose to kill Jesus instead of me. So how is justice enhanced by the death of a person? There is no opportunity for people to learn from their mistakes. One strike and you’re out! And anyway, killing the one person who was sinless is a travesty of justice, not a triumph of good.

This belief has nothing to do with God. It is a belief born within a culture of avenging crimes. If God is a loving Parent, then surely God would understand when I make a mistake? Surely God would encourage me to learn from it. I often imagine God saying to me “Ja, you stuffed up. Now try again”.

So I do not need someone to die for my sins. I am willing to take my chances with God for my mistakes. And more than willing to answer for my own actions.

Monday, August 28, 2006

An Act of Penance

The Sunday Argus reported that Adrian Vlok, the former minister of police during the days of Apartheid, visited Frank Chikane and asked his forgiveness for the past. He then took some water and washed Chikane’s feet as an act of penance.

What I found intriguing is that the newspaper chose to describe this as a “bizarre act of penance”. Which part was bizarre: washing feet, or saying sorry? I suspect that what this reporter found strange was the idea of saying sorry when there was no incentive to do so. It is too late for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and too late to avoid prosecution is the State chooses to do so. I suspect that the TRC has conditioned us to the idea that confession is rewarded. I suspect that we have also become used to the idea that confession is a prerequisite for forgiveness.

I came across the following quote by Robert Farrar Capon in the blogspot of Dave Lynch ( that makes sense of this for me:

In respect to the parable of the Prodigal Son...
The fascinating thing also is that when the father embraces the boy who has come home from wasting his life, the boy never gets his confession out of his mouth until after the kiss, until after the embrace. What this says to you and me who have to live with the business of trying to confess our sins is that confession is not a pre-condition of forgiveness. It’s something that you do after you know you have been forgiven. Confession is not something you do in order to get forgiveness. It’s something you do in order to celebrate the forgiveness you got for nothing. Nobody can earn forgiveness. The Prodigal knows he's a dead son. He can't come home as a son, and yet in his father's arms he rises from the dead and then he is able to come to his father's side.

Peter Woods would say that this is a perfect example of the unconditional love of God. Perhaps we should be learning more about forgiveness before confession!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Mission Field Too

To continue from my last blog:
You know – the one about the ordination service?

Well the venue was too small for the event. The pushing, the shoving, and the downright duplicity displayed by people grabbing at seats was reminiscent of the soccer hooligans that get arrested by the police. This was not done by people of another faith. This was the red, black and white uniformed members of the church. The seats were reserved, and tickets were issued. These faithful, but unticketed, members shoved their way in and plonked their bums on the reserved seats. When a plea was made for those without tickets to leave their seats, no one stirred. And people with tickets were shut outside.

Over the exit of this church is a sign informing us that on leaving we are “now entering the mission field”. This sign is profoundly wrong. The mission field is sitting in the pews of the church.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Go and read...

Tony Yengeni - Gus says it well so go check him out:

What an individual can do about making a difference - Jan is doing it:

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Last weekend I attended a national gathering of my church. It was an ordination service – a consecration of people to ministry within my corner of the Christian faith.

I found myself amongst my colleagues. Here, amidst the greetings and the reunions, I discovered our deconsecration. We were the Presbyters – those appointed to lay hands on the Ordinands. But in between laying on hands and taking Holy Communion we spent the afternoon comparing financial statistics and numerical attendance; we dropped names and compared influence; we gossiped shamelessly; we wore the clothes of royalty, and left the event in cars of luxury. And I felt……deconsecrated.

Today I found another pastor who is as distressed as I am: Eugene Peterson, writing in Working the Angles, tells of pastors who have become
"a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeeper's concerns--how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money. Some of them are very good shopkeepers. They attract a lot of customers, pull in great sums of money, develop splendid reputations. Yet it is still shopkeeping; religious shopkeeping, to be sure, but shopkeeping all the same. The marketing strategies of the fast-food franchise occupy the waking minds of these entrepreneurs; while asleep they dream of the kind of success that will get the attention of journalists
You see – I discover these things in my heart too. I am seductively distracted by these things. But I am determined to be different. I see how this church is turning me into something that I do not want to be. And so if being an ordained minister is about church politics, status and power, then I do not want this. So I hereby declare myself ‘unordained’…..cut off from this kind of church practice.

But there is a glimmer of hope: those who made their ordination vows last weekend bring a breath of fresh air with them. I celebrate new colleagues such as Ecclesia, and Hilton, and Delm. They seek to be different. And I look to them to keep reminding me that the pastoral ministry is a response to the call of God, and not of this deeply flawed institution. Pray for me, that I may respond to life with a God pleasing integrity.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Bikers are Players

In my last blog I noted my appreciation for “Men who had decided to set aside the cares of their lives and play a bit”. Well here is a player to be admired for his courage under fire. I suspect that all the lunatic, laughable, joyous moments in life are the work of the Creator. And I sense the Creator enjoying this moment.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Smelling the Viscera

Biking evokes all the senses of the body.
My motorcycle leads me to discover the joy of feeling alive in ways that are beyond reason. Biking is visceral. It touches the intestines - the stuff of feeling, and emotion and passion.

I was reminded afresh of this on Sunday.

I met with seven other two-wheeled enthusiasts just outside Port Elizabeth. We did the usual dog-like thing of sniffing around each other bikes to see whose arse sat on what size engine. And then we were off – howling down the highway testing the early morning air. This sunshine-warmed air soon gave way to the chilly Gamtoos valley, where we stopped to pee in the river. Then on through farms that exuded the distinctive smell of cows, followed by the fresh sea air of Cape St Francis. This section of the trip concluded itself with the smells of bacon, egg and sausage. And as we sat around the table I enjoyed the visceral passion of seven other men. Men who had decided to set aside the cares of their lives and play a bit.

And I sensed the Creator playing along with us: a Being who had sent a variety of sensory experiences our way. And I was content.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Gods are Dying

The gods are dying. The gods of this world are sick unto death.

Which gods? The gods that we worship. The gods that our enemies worship. Their sacred names? There is Science, for one: he who was to redeem the world from poverty and disease, on whose mighty shoulders mankind was to be borne onward and upward toward the high stars. There is Communism, that holy one so terrible in his predilection for blood sacrifice but so magnificent in his promise of the messianic age: from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. Or Democracy, that gentler god with his gospel of freedom for all peoples, including those people who after century of exploitation and neglect at the hands of the older democracies can be set free now only to flounder in danger of falling prey to new exploiters. And we must not leave out from this role of the dying what often passes for the god of the church; the god who sanctifies our foreign policy and our business methods, our political views and our racial prejudices. The god who, bless him, asks so little and promises so much: peace of mind, the end of our inferiority complexes. Go to church and feel better. The family that prays together stays together. Not everybody can afford a pyschiatrist or two weeks of solid rest in the country, but anybody can afford this god. He comes cheap.

These are the gods in whom the world has put its ultimate trust. Some of them are particular gods, and there are plenty of others, each can name for himself. And where are they now? They are dying, dying, and their twilight thickens into the night. Where is the security that they promised? Where is the peace? The terrible truth is that the gods of this world are no more worthy of our ultimate trust than are the men who created them.

And where are we? Stripped of our securities and bereft of our man-made gods, we stand as lonely and hypnotized spectators at the dance of death as it is being played out in our time. With the gods that we have created all going or gone, soon all that may remain is the God who created us, brooding over our darkness.

The former things are passing away and the gods are dying, just as the former things must pass away and the gods must die so that the new things can begin to come to life beneath the dark wings, so that creation can go on happening. My question is this: Are there in us, in you and me now, that recklessness of loving heart, that wild courage, that crazy gladness in the face of darkness and death, that shuddering faithfulness even unto the end of the world, through which new things can come to pass?

If not, God have mercy upon us, for we will soon be as yesterday when it is gone. If so, then we, even we, will have some part in the new heaven and the new earth the God is creating.

Excerpts from the second chapter of Frederick Buechner's book entitled "The Magnificent Defeat"....and thanks to the guys at for taking me to this. If you have not visited this site then I recommend that you do.

Monday, July 31, 2006


We drove 3000km across our country. And just about every dorp and town has a prominent koppie or ridge with a fluorescent cross planted on it. These are particularly visible to the traveller at night. I suspect that Christian people think this is a way of witnessing to their faith in Jesus….and wonder if the people who erect these Christian symbols ever ask what people of other faiths experience when they see this.

I recently read a letter from Dr Thillayvel Naidoo, a Hindu, who comments as follows about his experience of Christian witnessing:
Hindus would welcome a display of willingness on the part of Christians to at least begin to understand that others too have a perspective on life that is worthy of much recognition….Surely proselytizing religions will yet reach a stage in history when they will develop the maturity of outlook they lack at present...We hope this means too that disrespectful missionaries from other faiths will stop trying to convert us to their religions.”

I wonder if the towns that display the fluorescent crosses will encourage Muslims, Hindus, Jews and people of other faiths to erect their religious symbols in a lighted form that appropriately matches the Christian crosses.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

I Don't Understand

I hated mathematics at school - in fact I ducked out of school and went surfing at Glen Beach during the maths lessons. Suffice to say that I don't understand maths. But that does not prevent me from appreciating the symmetry in numbers:

1 x 8 + 1 = 9
12 x 8 + 2 = 98
123 x 8 + 3 = 987
1234 x 8 + 4 = 9876
12345 x 8 + 5 = 98765
123456 x 8 + 6 = 987654
1234567 x 8 + 7 = 9876543
12345678 x 8 + 8 = 98765432
123456789 x 8 + 9 = 987654321

1 x 9 + 2 = 11
12 x 9 + 3 = 111
123 x 9 + 4 = 1111
1234 x 9 + 5 = 11111
12345 x 9 + 6 = 111111
123456 x 9 + 7 = 1111111
1234567 x 9 + 8 = 11111111
12345678 x 9 + 9 = 111111111
123456789 x 9 +10= 1111111111

9 x 9 + 7 = 88
98 x 9 + 6 = 888
987 x 9 + 5 = 8888
9876 x 9 + 4 = 88888
98765 x 9 + 3 = 888888
987654 x 9 + 2 = 8888888
9876543 x 9 + 1 = 88888888
98765432 x 9 + 0 = 888888888


And finally, take a look at this symmetry:

1 x 1 = 1
11 x 11 = 121
111 x 111 = 12321
1111 x 1111 = 1234321
11111 x 11111 = 123454321
111111 x 111111 = 12345654321
1111111 x 1111111 = 1234567654321
11111111 x 11111111 = 123456787654321
111111111 x 111111111 =12345678987654321

I also don't understand the Creator of life. But that does not prevent me from appreciating the gift of life. And this appreciation keeps me searching for clues about the Originator.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Dirt on the Mirror

Telescopes are amazing things. They help us to see that which is unclear with new clarity. The best telescope in the world is SALT, and is to be found at Sutherland, South Africa.

SALT (Southern African Large Telescope) uses mirrors to reflect light from space into a computer. These polymer mirrors are treated to a Kodak polish, and layered with aluminium...all at a cost of R300 000 per mirror. There are 91 of them. And they gradually gather a layer of dust. This is not solved by whipping out a Kleenex, because this would damage the aluminium surface. So every two years they are taken out and the aluminium is replaced. And clarity is restored.

And I thought of St. Paul's idea (2 Cor 3:18) that God's beauty is reflected into our lives. But I know that God's reflection in my life becomes obscured by my self-interest and my fears. I also know that I become used to this dirt. It becomes part of the way I see life, and the way others see me. And then people no longer see God in me, and I lose sight of God.

I am indebted to faithful friends who act as my spiritual maintenance crew: Jenny, Peter, and Kevin are amongst those who confront this dirty mirror with cleansing honesty. And I am grateful.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Slowly but Surely

Paternoster caught the scent on the morning breeze. Slowly he moved his head from side to side as he tested the strength of the attraction. Finally he made up his mind. It definitely was female, and he wanted to meet her. So he set off, out of town into the Karoo veldt. The object of his desire lived on the farm of Sheila Snyman, some 10 km outside of Carnarvon. This distance did not deter Paternoster. His attention never wavered, and many days after disappearing from under a bush in town, he arrived at the back door of the farmhouse – determined to meet the new mountain tortoise that Shela had been given. The product of this adventure was Bloukraans. He is a 16 year old mountain tortoise, who has now translocated from Carnarvon to Cape Town.

We spent the night at “Out of Africa”, a B&B in Carnarvon run by Marie Jacobs. She is hospitable, gregarious, and very helpful (even to posting Jessica's shoes left under the bed. Armed with her directions to Sheila Snyman’s tortoise farm, we set off on a farm road into the veldt. We missed the farm – by 30 km! Eventually the driver (me, male) conceded that we needed to ask directions, and we stopped at a farmhouse where we were put right. The amazingly friendly farmer could not understand why we did not first have a cup of tea before going back along the road to the tortoise farm. But we, the city people, had things to do. We needed to see the tortoises, have lunch at the local café on the square, and get to Douglas. So we declined the offer of tea. Little did we know that we would engage in a leisurely walk among 60 or so tortoises, and then chafe under the unhurried hospitality of the lunch venue.

Sheila Snyman is an expert on Mountain Tortoises, and published the definitive South African Mountain Tortoise book 1987. We learned about their mating habits (the female can store male sperm for up to 4 years), the egg-laying process (they are stored inside the top of the shell while a hole is dug to lay them), and the rings on the shell that denote each year of age (much like a tree). And Sheila gave us Bloukraans, who now has residence under a bush in the back garden.

I was reminded of the story of the tortoise and the hare from Aesop’s Fables: I, from the city, wanted to get through the day. The people of Carnarvon, however, wanted to meet us. The former required time frames and deadlines. The latter asked connecting and building relationships. I, the hare, wanted to get to the goal. Paternoster proved that the tortoise approach can also reach a goal – but with greater texture to the journey.

Monday, July 17, 2006


The Farm is called Dwaalfontein – literally translated as “wandering fountain”. To be in a dwaal can also mean to be "zoned out", to be elsewhere, or to be mentally in neutral.

Dwaalfontein is just outside of Hanover, exactly halfway between Johannesburg and Cape Town. And we were booked into the guest house. Van Zyl and Jolene Venter run the place. Van Zyl is a sheep farmer and is the seventh generation in his family to farm this land. Jolene runs the guest house, and loves this life. She spoke of the joy she finds in the business of sheep farming, and how she loves working with the meat, and making sausages, and making soap from animal fat, and the thrill of the auction. She tells of her love for her young son, and her contentment at the wide open spaces, and her four Labrador dogs, and the interaction with the wild game on the farm. The only word to describe this is "passion". Jolene, who lives without the ready comforts of a city, lives life passionately and joyfully.

And I wondered at myself, who lives with every modern amenity that the city life can offer. I wondered at how easily I can dwaal around in the city, and how Jolene can live with such passion in the middle of nowhere.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Road Less Travelled

Our aim was to drive from Cape Town to Johannesburg without using the National Highway. And so we set off on a route that combined our English Colonial past with  Afrikaner political history: we drove through Ceres,  Sutherland (the coldest place in the country), Fraserburg, Loxton, Carnarvon, Prieska, Douglas, Kimberly, Boshoff, Hertsogville, Bothaville, Viljoenskroon, Parys & (an unavoidable bit of highway) Johannesburg.

At least half of this was on gravel roads. The rest were minor roads. All were the kind of roads that don't have one-stop stations dispensing fuel and fast foods. They were the kind of roads that have no container-bearing transport trucks; roads that have people who wave as we pass by; roads that go through towns rather than around their perimeters; roads that require us to pay attention to the river crossings, the stunning views of the onder and bo karoo, and of wild game alongside the Northern Cape roads. We took three days, and learned something new from each place we stayed the night - bits of which I will offer in subsequent blogspace. We arrived at our destination wiser, more curious, and refreshed.

Robert Frost writes of choosing roads to travel: 'I took the one less travelled by and that has made all the difference' I find this a useful analogy: it is only when I choose to step out of the well worn paths of my life that I  learn new things.

Of course this is hard. And uncomfortable. And I become afraid. But if I am unwilling to be challenged by new roads in life then I will slowly shrivel and die. In the words of M Scott Peck (from whom I borrowed the title of this weblog):
A life of total dedication to the truth also means a life of willingness to be personally challenged.
To my friends and enemies - please challenge me. Vigorously and often. I have unknown roads yet to travel....and much still to learn

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Prayer for the Nation

While not word-for-word accurate, this is a fair transcription of an actual prayer delivered before the Kansas House of Representatives by Central Christian Church Pastor Joe Wright on January 23, 1996. It has circulated continuously on the Internet ever since. At least one legislator walked out during the prayer, according to the Kansas City Star. Others made speeches criticizing what the House Minority Leader, a Democrat, called "the extreme, radical views" reflected in the prayer. It was aired nationally on the radio in February 1996 by Paul Harvey.

Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask Your forgiveness and to seek Your direction and guidance. We know Your Word says, "Woe to those who call evil good,," but that is exactly what we have done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values.
We confess:
We have ridiculed the absolute truth of Your Word and called it Pluralism.
We have worshipped other gods and called it multiculturalism.
We have endorsed perversion and called it alternative lifestyle.
We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery.
We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.
We have killed our unborn and called it choice.
We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable.
We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem.
We have abused power and called it politics.
We have coveted our neighbor's possessions and called it ambition.
We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.
We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.
Search us, Oh God, and know our hearts today; cleanse us from every sin and set us free.
Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent to direct us to the center of your will. I ask it in the Name of Your Son, the living Savior, Jesus Christ.

My Comment:
In reflecting on this I wondered what I would pray if asked to pray in our Parliament. I do not like this prayer, because it shuts out people of other religious beliefs. But instead of criticising it, I thought to respond to it. Using the structure of the above prayer, I offer the following as my suggestion:

"O God our Creator, we come before you today to ask your forgiveness and to seek your direction and guidance. We know that the prophets Amos and Hosea said, “Woe to those who call evil good”, but that is exactly what we have done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values.

We have exploited the poor, and called it the lottery.
We have rewarded laziness by practicing ‘closed door tendering’ for government projects
We have killed our unborn with our slowness in providing antiretroviral medication
We have not paid attention to our children, and called it building a career.
We have abused power, and called it politics.
We have coveted our neighbour's possessions, and called it ambition.
We have sexually abused our women, and called it culture.
We have destroyed our natural environment, and called it 'development'.
We have selfishly accumulated material possessions, and called this God's blessings.
We have closed our eyes to crime, and asked the victims to emigrate.
We have ridiculed the religious beliefs of our neighbour, and called it evangelism.

Search us, Oh, God, and know our hearts today; cleanse us from every sin and let us treasure our hard won freedom. Amen!"

Your comments?
And I hope that you will find a way to pray with me for our nation.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Piero Grasso

Here is one seriously brave man. He deserves all the support and encouragement that he can get. I saw his name in last night's Cape Argus. He has just arrested the new leadership of the Mafia (remember that the previous leaders were sent to gaol?). Well he has taken the mafia head-on. I wonder what the cost to his family, and personal freedom of movement? But if there are not people willing to stand up against bullies, then we will all live in fear.
Pray for him.

PS: he has such a cool name. It rhymes with...well almost anything. You can hear in it a sociable wine, a French mineral water, a paste for polishing brass, a man who thrives on the holy weed, and a man with a derriere. Ask me - I have heard them all!

Friday, June 16, 2006

June 16, 1976

Where were you today, 30 years ago?
I was sitting in a military camp in Pretoria, clutching a R1 rifle and 20 rounds of live ammunition.

It was a cold Wednesday evening and we were confined to camp. “Something” was happening in Soweto. And we were on standby, in case “something” happened in Atteridgeville, the black township outside Pretoria. And so we sat, speculating the night away. We heard snippets through the military grapevine – but nothing on the news. We heard that the ‘blacks has gone mal”; we heard that the “blacks were getting fucked up by the police”; and we heard that “if even one of them tried anything in Pretoria we were to shoot on sight”.

I sat in puzzled silence. Partly because I was an Englishman in an Afrikaans environment. Our world views did not mesh. I came from Cape Town and saw the world differently. I did not really know any black people, because they had generally been legislated out of the Cape. And I believed that I did not support Apartheid. But I had not believed enough to refuse conscription, or to refuse to bear arms. All I wanted to do was get the military thing over and get on with my life. A life where white people ruled the land. And there I was, holding a rifle. Would I shoot? I did not know.

I sat in puzzled silence. Partly because I had just met some students from Atteridgeville. The previous Friday evening I had attended a church youth evening in the Brooklyn Methodist Church (in Pretoria). And we had sung songs and listened to a speaker (now long forgotten), and exchanged names. I hoped that they were not anywhere near where the military wanted to send me. What would I do if I met them that night? Would I shoot? I did not know.

30 years later my whole world has changed.
Those students now rule the country. And I do not.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Delivering Justice

This is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. I am told that he perpetrated many evil deeds, including the beheading of innocent hostages, and the bombing of many helpless people trapped in the Iraqi conflict. There are claims that he participated in the beheading of Nick Berg and Ken Bigley. Well, this week he was killed by two 800kg bombs that were dropped on his home by F16 warplanes. The leaders of the United States and Great Britain applauded. George W Bush claimed that the United States had “delivered justice”. And the leaders of most other countries on earth are silent.

And I am confused. Because the laws of most countries believe that a man is innocent until proven guilty. And here we have a country who presumes to act as prosecutor, judge and executioner all in one bombing raid!

Not only am I confused, I am also fearful. I fear my reaction to his killing. Because I do feel a measure of satisfaction. I am glad that “they” have got their man. After what he did, he deserved what he got. “Live by the sword, die by the sword”, I mutter darkly. But this is not my worst fear. My greatest fear is that we will get used to this. Because once the military bombs individuals, we have passed a point of no return. Who will be the individual we want to condemn tomorrow? Or will I become the one who is targeted for removal?

I believe that Michael Berg is best qualified to comment on this. His son Nicholas was one of the hostages beheaded by al-Zarqawi. He noted that there is little difference between George W Bush and al-Zarqawi: he says that they are “two men who believe in revenge”. Restorative justice, such as being made to work in a hospital where maimed children were treated, could have made al-Zarqawi “a decent human being. Now he’s dead, that’s not a possibility. It doesn’t do any good. It just continues an endless cycle of one death after another.”

And I remember some very inconvenient words from the Bible:
Romans Chapter 12
19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.
20 On the contrary:
"If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."n
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

May the soul of Musab al-Zarqawi encounter God - and find peace.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Averting our eyes

They are student ministers who offer a weekly ministry to the poor. This time they were asked to spend the day on the road with street people (often less politely termed ‘vagrants’, ‘tramps’, and ‘bergies’). The idea was for each one to ask the permission of a street person to accompany her/him, and to learn from them how they make it through the day. There was an ulterior motive too: to uncover feelings and emotions that are carried inside of these aspirant pastors.

And at the end of the day the stories came tumbling out: of a morning carrying a whole bakkie-load of wood into the pizza oven, to see the R20 pay being pocketed by their street-person supervisor; of doing errands for the neighbourhood, and being rewarded by the steak house owner with a wine bottle filled with beer; of carrying furniture into a block of flats, and then seeing the R50 payment being used to buy a papsak, which was shared by all for lunch. And the understandings that came: that alcohol was a coping mechanism; that those street people walk far more than any of the students; that street people have road-skills that have been honed by many hard days.

But the greatest learning came from the moment they resorted to begging coins. They were hungry and wanted to buy rolls for lunch. They needed 75c each. They discovered that people were more willing to give coins to black people than to white people. And they discovered that many people refused to ‘see’ them. Their worst moment was when a colleague passed them. He is a Pastor of many years experience, and of high social standing. They confidently expected him to assist them. But he walked right past them. They were indignant: “he would not even look at us”!

But then the reluctant acknowledgement: we all are skilled at averting our eyes from people we do not want to see.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me...

I shudder every time someone claims to have been blessed by the Spirit of the Lord. This spiritual blessing is most often described as some kind of physical experience (tongues, fainting, laughing, weeping etc). These blessings are claimed to be the result of the right prayers being said, or the right person asking for the blessing, or the correct rituals being performed. And each spiritual blessing creates a group of those who are “in”, and another group who are “out” of the blessing. Which is nothing other than the pursuit of selfish sensory stimulation.

1. Because the blessings of the Spirit are not for a select few: Joel Ch 2:28-29 suggests that God will pour out the Spirit on all people. Why then do we Christians assume that this speaks only to us? I suspect that the Jewish people Joel spoke to were shocked to discover that this might include women, and servants. But perhaps this text could also mean that God intended this to include gay and lesbian people, and Muslim and Hindu people, and people of no particular religious tradition.
2. And there are clear signs to identify someone who is blessed by the Spirit: Isaiah 61:1-2 & Luke 4 speak of a passion for the poor, and the sick, and the oppressed.
Which brings me to my thought for the day. Countless Christians will pray for a renewal of the Holy Spirit this Sunday. How many of us are praying that this will stir up a passion for the marginalised and the poor? If this Spirit of God is truly present in the lives of the South African Christians, then we should expect an overwhelming urge to work for land re-distribution, a desire to build homes for those who have none, and a determination to include gay people, and street people, and dis-abled people into our ‘Spirit-filled assemblies’.

Pray that this will be so. And at the same time read the blog of someone who provides a glimpse of the Spirit’s presence:
Hmm…perhaps I need to preach a sermon this Sunday.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Bishop and the Mayor

All I asked was that he talk with the Mayor!
It was the last day of an extremely boring Synod. And I asked the Synod to mandate the Bishop to talk to the Mayor of the City of Cape Town on behalf of the Methodist residents. I suggested that stability in our city requires that the Democratic Alliance allow the African National Congress into a shared decision making process. There were white people who objected to me wanting the African National Congress in the executive of the City Council. They said I looked like I was representing the policy of the Independent Democrats. And then black people warned me that the church must be very careful when it got involved in political strategy. “The church must stick to its own things”, I was told. And I got a lecture from the esteemed senior colleague from the top table. He thundered against the Democratic Alliance and against the African National Congress. And I wondered why this passion has not stirred him to speak to these two bodies. I suspect that it is probably easier to thunder from on top of the fence than to get off the Synod platform into the mire of City politics. And all the while the Bishop remained silent. He probably is still. Silent that it. And all I wanted was that he speak a word from God’s people to the Mayor of the City.

Pray for our troubled city.
hmm...perhaps I must write a letter!

Friday, May 19, 2006

A Crying Shame

Day Three of Synod was not as inspiring: My good friends and colleagues Kevin and Kevin got mugged this afternoon. They left the Synod venue and went to find a shop to buy some food. On the way they were accosted, relieved of their cell phones and wallets, but unharmed. And I have no witty words to add, or wise observances on life to offer. This is just sad.
Pray for them.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Bringing Light

Synod continues to excite me. This time through Kevin - an amazingly creative, generous, and inspiring man. He has little patience with those self important people who pontificate on religion, and posture with religious mannerisms. He does, however, have great patience with people who seek faith but do not understand. His particular passion is for those who are bewildered by, afraid of, or pissed off at, the institutional church. He longs to engage with the faith of people who have no use for the formal Christian structures, but who nevertheless live faithfully before God.

And so Kevin is leaving the cradle that has nurtured him, to launch out into an unknown future. He is an ordained minister of the Methodist Church. But has been given permission by the church to take the Christian faith out of the institutional church into a post-modern world: a world where formal religious practices make no sense; the world where people meet together in coffee shops or pubs to seek answers to life’s complexities; a world that does not want to learn the religious songs and rituals in order to find God as defined by the Church. Kevin is to lead a church that does not sing religious songs, or gather for religious revivals. They might meet in a coffee-shop, will most likely have meetings on-line, and could seek ways of serving the community by touching the lives of single mothers, lonley old people or stressed extacy users.

Kevin is following John Wesley, Methodism’s founder, in his affirmation that “the world is my parish”. Please pray for him. And rejoice that my cynical heart has melted just a bit more.


Yesterday was the first day of our Synod: a day of celebrating the faith of those who have been called by God. One of these people is my colleague. She is gracious, caring, intelligent beyond her years, and called by God to serve people. Yesterday she shared her story with the Synod. A story of how she grew from being a frightened young girl to reach a place of healing and affirmation. This was an experience of such proportions that she took on a new name Ecclesia, “the Church”. And in that moment she knew that God was calling her to the pastoral ministry. In her excitement she went to her pastor and shared with him her call and passion for this ministry. His response was: “That’s wonderful – now we must find you a nice pastor to marry so that you can be a lovely pastor’s wife”. Needless to say, she left that myopic corner of Christianity and discovered a place where her call to full-time ministry did not need to be lived through the life of a man.

I am grateful for Ecclesia, and for the other who shared their stories: Ntsikelelo, Olivia, Hilton, and Mabel. They are on the brink of their ordination as ministers of the gospel. And their passion touched me and offered to melt the icicle of cynicism about Church Synods.


Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Mission Field

For much of my formative years the mission field for Christians lay somewhere in “Darkest Africa”, or in “South America”, or in “The East”. I no longer believe this. I believe that the mission field for Christian people lies inside of organised Christianity. There are some very unChristian places, where people practice Christianity for their own personal benefit. I speak of those who offer the love of Christ with one hand, and the offering plate with the other; people who want to heal you, while offering you their banking details; people who ask for your support to make them a Bishop, or the President of a Church Organisation, and then ignore your needs while they wheel and deal in the business of Church politics.

I used to think of the Church as a platform from which mission is launched into the Community. I now realise that the Community is the platform from which the Church must be engaged – because the Church lives in isolation from society. We Church People go about our rounds of prayer meetings, Sunday services, money collecting, and general Churchiness, with little or no reference to our community.

I am about to go to a church Synod in Cape Town – with little hope that this gathering of Christian leadership will engage in the issues of this city. Cape Town is experiencing debilitating political conflict in City Government, the desolation of tens of thousands of people living in shacks, the pain of many more people living with HIV/Aids, and the glaring inequity of wealth between Bishops Court/Camps Bay/Durbanville on the one hand and Khayelitsha/Cape Flats on the other. This Church Synod will discuss the dwindling congregational numerical returns, the financial struggle to pay salaries, how to keep gay people out of the church, and the jockeying for position of various clergy intent on becoming the next Bishop!

Please pray for us – that God will raise up missionaries from the Community who will disrupt our proceedings with the real problems of our society.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Granny goes to Court

The subpoena told her to present herself today at Room No 5, the second floor of the Wynberg Magistrates Court, at 8:30am. Jenny’s mother, at 81yrs of age, was understandably nervous. She had never been to court in her life before.

It all began with her walking home from the supermarket. Like many senior citizen ladies (sounds better than old ladies – although I have also heard the term “geris”!) she carries a big handbag. This is necessary, because she carries identity document, tissues, cheque book, tissues, spare house keys, tissues, bank cards, tissues, medical card, glasses, drivers licence, medication, a wad of cash, oh yes – did I mention tissues? And the inevitable happened: a man rushed her from behind, pushed her over, and ran off with her hand bag. Well – not quite – because Granny hung grimly onto the strap, until it broke. And the amazing happened! Cars stopped in the road, people jumped out and chased after the man. And in Granny’s words, “a very scruffy young man caught him.” The police were summoned and bundled the robber into the back of the van. They took Granny to the Diep River Police Station trauma centre where Gloria was wonderfully caring and helpful. Later, with a plaster on her arm, a cup of tea in her system, and her statement given, she had nothing but praise for the treatment of the South African Police.

Today the man – contemptuously termed a rob-klong (robber boy) by our domestic worker - appeared in court. Granny was determined to give her testimony “so that he will not do it again”. By 8:30 the court was full of family and friends of all those who would be involved in the various cases of the day. The first case was delayed because the magistrate was given the wrong docket. Granny’s case came up, but the defendant was “still being transported from Pollsmoore Prison”. Another three cases were called, and each had incomplete paper work. The magistrate barely hid her frustration. There were a string of cases where people asked for the public defender, and so had their cases, remanded. There was much muttering at the front between the magistrate and the prosecutors. After two hours of waiting the rob-klong appeared, and pleaded guilty. Granny’s day in court was over before it began!

Justice was seen to be done.
Thank you to those who helped in apprehending the robber. Thank you to the police and the detective who took an interest in the case. When people are willing to pursue due process, rule of law is respected.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

What is Marriage?

Jacob Zuma has many wives, and others he ‘comforts’ in the night. And he is OK with this because he embraces a traditional African culture. While I, from a Westernised culture stand amazed that he is able to sustain this lifestyle. But then what is marriage?

In my younger years it seemed so simple: the Christian liturgy that was used at my wedding stated that “marriage is the life-long union in body, mind, and spirit, of one man and one woman”. A man and a woman met each other, fell in love and got married in church, before God and the family. They then moved in together, maintained sexual intimacy as exclusive to the married union, and lived together forever (well until one died!). But this was 25 years ago, and as the years have passed it has got less simple.

Very little of this understanding remains in society. In my experience as a marriage officer, most couples are sexually active before they decide to get married. In fact most couples choose to live together before they get married. Many couples are unable to sustain marriage “‘til death us do part”. And an increasing number of couples do not see marriage as a necessary option for their relationship. Some live with one partner, but sustain other relationships alongside of this. Some choose to engage in a series of relationships – what might be described as different partners for the different stages of one’s life. And these partnerships are no longer exclusively heterosexual. So do I bleat on to an ever decreasing number of people who actually believe and practice the traditional position of my youth? Or do I seek other ways of describing marriage that can speak to a new society?

And of course I too have shifted ground. I no longer believe that marriage must always be ‘forever’. There are often really good reasons to dissolve a marriage, and I would not want people to be trapped in a destructive relationship by our religious dogma. I do not believe that marriage is the exclusive preserve of ‘one man and one woman’. I have seen love and caring shown in the lives of gay couples which convinces me that they are as married as heterosexual couples: except that we Christians choose to deny them our ritualised blessing of this union. And while sexual intimacy is a powerful medium in deepening a relationship, the Christian Church has instilled far too much sexual guilt in us for me to prescribe when and how people should be intimate with one another. I believe that each relationship is unique, and so should also be honoured for its unique sexual chemistry.

So how about this: Marriage is the capacity of two people to commit to a shared life together in such as way as to support each other with joy and passion and a sense of fun.

If this is so, then I want to pay tribute to Jenny, who has brought me much joy, taught me many truths about myself, and inspires me to new adventures in my life.

But please: respond to this. I want to hear what others think. Posted by Picasa

Monday, May 08, 2006

Saying Sorry

The Arch – Desmond Tutu – comments that white South Africans have not shown remorse for the Apartheid past of South Africa. And he adds that black South Africans have shown great patience and magnanimity in the face of this. We white people have reacted as if we have been insulted. Some of us say that this is not helping national reconciliation. Others say that there is nothing to apologise for. And most of us whites put our heads down and wonder how to get on with our lives.

Why is it so difficult to admit being wrong? Why not climb down and apologise? Nkosinathi Biko ironically suggest that “apartheid is a cause whose victims survive in the millions and whose supporters have since all perished.” And so there are no white South Africans who will admit to supporting Apartheid. I have even heard white Christian clergy speaking of how the Church supported the struggle. If only this were true! The fact is we all avoided politics in the church as much as possible – even to the extent of refusing to pray for the end to unjust rule in SA.

Yet confession is a cornerstone of our Christian faith. We who are practitioners of the faith preach that there is no absolution without confession. But confession is not about an offering of words. Jesus teaches that confession is about accounting for our misuse of the land (Matthew 21: 33-41), restoring that which has been stolen (Luke 19:2-8), and refusing to hoard wealth (Luke 12:13-21). I am complicit in our national past. I must become part of repairing the present. Pray that I may have the wisdom to find ways of doing so.

Oh yes: it would be morally appropriate if Mr Zuma could find it in his heart to say sorry instead of celebrating! Even if it was not rape - he has betrayed the trust placed in him by his wives, and by the woman's (deceased) father.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

A Real Man

The men got together on Saturday morning. It is a group of male motor bikers who meet once a month to share our questions about life (for more about this group see The question for this week asked “What is a real man?”

And I know a real man. He is my friend the bullshit detector. He is an ex-naval officer who now works in a very tough job that takes no prisoners. And he is trained to ask very difficult questions, and to discover untruths. Some say he is brusque. Others, less charitably, call him arrogant. But the fact is that he is often right. Only he does not clothe his opinions in much by way of tact and social pleasantries. Then again if he did he would not have become a naval officer, or hold the current directorship.

This man’s man wants to celebrate his 30th year of marriage. His wife is half his size in physical stature – but everything his size in feisty personality and coping skills. So he knows that a bunch of flowers will not do. And this is the measure of a man: that he plans the ultimate romantic event. On Friday evening I attended the 5 course dinner he laid on for his wife. The guests were sworn to secrecy. He had booked her into a lovely room for the night. She was pleased. Then he opened his suitcase and took out some new clothes for her (he had used a piece of string to record her dimensions off her clothes in the cupboard, and then taken this string to Woolworths and with the aid of a shop assistant bought clothes for the evening). His wife was under the impression that he wanted a dress-up dinner for two. We waited in the private lounge of the venue: their daughter from Plettenburg Bay, his son and daughter-in-law from Richard’s Bay, and her lifelong friend from Cape Town. She walked into the lounge expecting sherry with her difficult husband: and discovered instead a man who loved her enough to take the trouble to arrange an event that made her feel special.

I am humbled by the measure of this man. He has reminded me that it is not the words we use, but rather the costly extravagance of our actions that speak of our worth. Pray that I too may be man enough for my wife.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Friends are God's Gift to Life

I have some amazing friends. Or perhaps I should say that there are some amazing people out there who put up with me. My friends make sure that my opinions are moderated by theirs, that my arrogance is crushed by constant humiliation, and that I am told as often as possible that I have much still to learn.

Which brings me to my thought for today:
I have a rich life. This is because of my friends. I want to put on record some (not all) of those who presently shape my life:
I acknowledge my love for Alex, who teaches me biking – and in the process great humility; Peter, who has helped me uncover my self-righteousness – and so helps me live with my frailties; Dave and Dave – friends who hold me accountable to a monthly lunch; Deon, who pushes me out of my comfortable middle years – and has made me desire gadgets; Charmaine, who allows me to work alongside her – and in turn pushes me to greater levels of excellence; Sidwell, who told me I was an inheritor of white privilege – and helps me contribute to a better future; Ruthie, who points out frozen places inside me – and pushes me to work at my relationships; Wes, whose transparent honesty shows up my pretenses; Lynn, who keeps me in line each day - with much grace and charm; William, who challenged my manhood ( I am sure I have it somewhere!) and helps me discover new male vitality; Kevin, who offers coffee, support, and an accountablity to my use of time; Rautie, who has an inbuilt bullshit detector – and has challenged most of mine over many hours of road running; and most especially Jenny, who has loved me unconditionally – and who still continues to put up with me;

If you are reading this and do not find your name here this is not because I do not appreciate you. It is just that by publishing your name I make you vulnerable to police file!

Thursday, May 04, 2006


There is nothing in the world better than being a Dad.
No experience in life can top the privilege of being father to a child - no career move, no fame and glory, no amount of money, and no experience with chemically stimulated neurons, can beat that of interacting with one’s child.

I have three daughters: Jessica, Lisa and Amy (from left to right). They are supergirls. Amazing girls for their capacity for putting up with their father: he fetches them late from school; he is often out in the evenings; he is hard on them, expecting high standards of academic work and ethical behaviour; he is known to be grumpy when tired; and he farts and burps.

Which is really the long way around saying that I have taken my relationship with my three daughters for granted. That is until the dreaded words hit our family home a few weeks ago. And I have sat with the words inside of me, unable to give expression to what I am feeling. Jessie, (the one on the left) comes home and announces that she has been accepted by a school in England next year as a music assistant. Shit! I am hit by two conflicting emotions. On the one hand I am so proud of her. She got out there and found the position all by herself. She competed against a host of other applications and got chosen. She is so excited about the prospect of teaching the rudiments of music to six year olds. And then the other emotion hit me – the one I have taken three weeks to identify: the feeling of pain and separation. In seven months time the family is splitting up. And there is absolutely nothing I can do to halt this process. In fact I have already bought her plane ticket.

Pray for me:
that I can accept the next stage of growth in my life with grace and joy. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Friends and Their Unique Gifts

No two friends are the same. Each has his or her own gift for us. When we expect one friend to have all we need, we will always be hypercritical, never completely happy with what he or she does have.

One friend may offer us affection, another may stimulate our minds, another may strengthen our souls. The more able we are to receive the different gifts our friends have to give us, the more able we will be to offer our own unique but limited gifts. Thus, friendships create a beautiful tapestry of love.

A Daily Meditation for May 2, 2006
written by Henri Nouwen Posted by Picasa

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Detour

The long-weekend beckons. And with it comes the open road. Our family took to the N2 highway out of Cape Town: a road that twists and turns with purpose and invitation. We all gradually settle down to the rhythm of the road, and the road itself seems to settle down and become more predictable. A bit like life really. Our lives begin with so much promise and adventure. And we eagerly look forward to each moment. But gradually we settle into a routine. And now in the middle years, I feel like I know this life of mine.

But then I look around and discover that there are interesting side roads off the N2. Where is Suurbraak? And what is at Herbertsdale? And on a whim we turn off to explore Die Rooi Alwyn, and return to our trip enriched and invigorated because of this detour. A bit like life really. There are unplanned detours that life presents which, when taken, can enrich and enhance the quality of our lives. The trick is to figure out if the side-road is just temporary, or if it is a new direction in life. But a truly rich life must be lived in the detours rather than in achieving the destination. I am grateful for those friends who point me to these enriching side roads. I plan to take many detours. Pray for me: that I may have the wisdom to know the difference between getting lost, and being refreshed in life. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


So I had an accident.
I was driving down the road from Groot Constantia in my bakke. Golden-leaved oak trees lined the road, which was glistening in the late afternoon rain. I was feeling in tune with the world around me, when suddenly the City Council truck in front of me stopped. And an indicator came on telling me that it was turning right. I hit the brakes, and felt my bakkie begin to glide. The men in the back of the truck in front of me were gesticulating wildly – as if I had not noticed that they were approaching faster than I wanted. Their eyes wide, they scrambled away from my approaching vehicle, until they were flat against the cab. And I was flat against the tow bar of the truck. When we assessed the damage it was as follows: CC truck - a mild bend in a frame around the towbar. Bakkie: buckled lights, bent front bull bar, smashed bonnet, and dented ego.

The thing that struck me most was the feeling of helplessness. I did not want to go there, but was inexorably carried to the point of collision. And there was nothing I could do about it. Which has a familiar feeling to it. Because I have had moments when my life has felt as if I was carried along by forces around me.
· I felt this when I went to do military service. Decisions were made about my life that took me to places I did not want to go.
· Although I agreed to go wherever I am needed by my current employer, I have felt this when a committee made decisions about my place of work (and residence).
· I live with the knowledge that there are forces in my life that carry me – perhaps to places I do not want to go.

But in hindsight some of these events have not been crashes. They have turned into opportunities of personal growth and great joy. So pray that the inexorable forces that leave me feeling helpless, can evolve into new opportunities for growth and joy. Posted by Picasa

Monday, April 24, 2006


Remember Pandora? She’s the one who had been given a box by Zeus, who wanted to punish men (not women) for stealing his fire. Epimetheus, who loved Pandora, told her never to open the box. But Pandora's curiosity got the better of her and she opened it. And this released all the misfortunes of humankind (such as plague, sorrow, poverty, crime).

So here’s the conundrum:
was Pandora right to open the box?
In terms of what I have previously written this can be answered either way.
Don’t pick the Fruit: One answer is that she should not have succumbed to the temptation of curiosity – or as I wrote earlier: she should not pick the fruit off the tree. She would sleep peacefully at night, and the world around her would be a safe place without struggle.
Just do it: Another answer is that by shutting down her curiosity she was eliminating the risk that is necessary for spiritual growth. She had to ‘just do it’ in order to be alive. Both are answers are right, and both are wrong.
And this is my personal pain – because I am a dialectical thinker.
I see both sides of the question. And as likely to choose either!

There is, however, a positive ending to the story. Pandora tried to close the box: but all the misfortunes had already escaped. After her initial despair, Pandora "chanced" to reopen the box again, at which point Hope fluttered out. And so humankind always has Hope in times of evil.

And I have Hope when I ask if I must open the box, or leave it closed! Posted by Picasa