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