Sunday, December 30, 2007

Rachel is weeping

When I began my preparations for preaching today: I thought “I have nothing more to say…..
Last week I preached three times on Sunday, twice on Monday, and again on Tuesday. I have said all that I am going to say about Christmas”.

Then I took a look at the New Testament passage set for today (Matthew 2: 13-23) and the more I read, and researched, and prayed – the more I discovered there was to learn. I thought that Herod killed all the babies in Bethlehem. I have always thought that this was a terrible way for God’s “Jesus project” to begin.

I have now discovered that there was no massacre – and that Matthew’s opening story is brilliant allegory, intended to introduce the purpose of Jesus’ coming. So here is the sermon I preached this morning: I have learned some new things: and will try to pass them on to you. Some of this is technical – please bear with me. Some of this might be new to you: it was new to me too. But all of this is good news: news that can help us as we prepare for 2008.

Today I have used two passages from scripture that use the same words: Jeremiah 31: 15-25 and Matthew 2: 13-23.

A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted, because they are not

These words are first used by the prophet Jeremiah to speak of the children who were carried off into exile. Then Matthew picks up the words of Jeremiah and uses them again: this time to speak about the birth of Jesus. This is a difficult verse, because if taken literally - Matthew seems to suggest that Jeremiah has predicted that Herod would kill the children of Bethlehem. However:
• Archeologists have dug up the graves of Bethlehem, and cannot find a grave full of babies.
• And the Roman historian Josephus, who hated Herod and recorded all his atrocities in great detail, says nothing about this event. So what is going on here?

This is one of those moments when we discover that we are reading a document that is written within a completely different culture, using a completely different philosophy of history and education.
Here is a moment when Matthew tries to teach us something about the reason why Jesus came. And he uses a story telling method called allegory: he tells one story that points to another story.
Matthew tells a story of a king who kills all the male babies – but one is spared who becomes the leader who helps the people escape, and who helps them establish a covenant relationship with God.
While you and I hear this as King Herod and Jesus – Matthew is actually pointing to another story…..

Any clues?
A king who killed the boy babies?
A baby who escapes by hiding in the bull rushes?
And people who are saved?
People who enter a covenant with God?

Matthew uses allegory to say: Jesus is the new Moses.
Just as Moses brought the first Covenant – so Jesus comes to bring a New Covenant.

Matthew tells us that the story of Jesus begins just like many other stories in the Bible: with a mother weeping over her child’s safety.
This is a verse of great pain:
Rachael weeps for her children and refuses to be comforted

This is one of the great themes that runs throughout the Bible:
Rachael is the wife of Jacob – the grandson of Abraham.
She dies in childbirth: giving birth to Benjamin.
And so a mother dies weeping, because she has lost the opportunity to raise her child.

Then the descendents of Rachael weep: this time it is Pharaoh who decides to kill the baby boys of the Egyptian slaves. You will remember that Moses was hidden in the reeds to escape death: but many more did not escape. And their mothers wept.

Again, in the time of Jeremiah, the descendents of Rachael weep when the children of Israel are conquered and taken off as captives. More mothers are in tears because their children are carried off – and they will not see them again.

And now Matthew tells us that mothers are weeping in Bethlehem because Herod seeks to kill any baby boy who would be a threat to his throne.
And Mary weeps as she flees in the night to escape Herod’s soldiers.
Rachael weeps for her children and refuses to be comforted

This is truly the terrible story of human history:
Mothers weep for lost children:
This is a history that goes beyond the Bible… and into the modern era:
this is a history of mothers weeping in
Nazi Germany
And Rwanda
And Northern Ireland
And Palestine
And Iraq
And Zimbabwe
And our own beloved South Africa:
Rachael weeps for her children and refuses to be comforted

Mothers weep
• because their children are abused, and raped, and killed.
• because their children run away, and go missing, and are abducted.
• because their children get HIV/Aids, and TB and Malaria.
• because their children are hurt, and disabled, and
Rachael weeps for her children and refuses to be comforted

And perhaps there are some of us today who weep because our children have got lost:
• We might have lost the close relationship we wished to have with them
• We might have experienced the loss of the dreams we had for our children
• We might have lost children through drugs,
or through distance
or through death
Rachael weeps for her children and refuses to be comforted

and maybe some of us are grieving the loss of our own inner child:
• we lost the dreams of our childhood
• we have lost our capacity for wonder and curiosity in life
• and we have killed our childlike innocence
Rachael weeps for her children and refuses to be comforted

But Matthew says that there is good news: we do not have to weep forever.
He asks us to go to the words of the prophet Jeremiah: When the writers of the New Testament quote from the Old Testament they do not just refer to a single verse. They might quote a single verse, but the quotation is intended to point to an entire Old Testament passage. Therefore, when Matthew quotes Jeremiah about Rachel weeping in Ramah, he also has in mind the verses that follow
Jer 31:16 Stop your crying and wipe away your tears. All that you have done for your children will not go unrewarded; they will return from the enemy's land.
Jer 31:17 There is hope for your future; your children will come back home. I, the LORD, have spoken

Those who weep for their children’s future: the time has come to trust God. “Stop your crying and wipe away your tears”
And I hear a word for us today: Let us stop acting like God has no say in South Africa, or in our world. God’s prophet says: “There is hope for your future”

And for those who are afraid of the damage done in your life by the passing of the years:
Those who think that it is too late for new beginnings:
Those who say - “so gemaak, so gelaat staan”
Jer 31:31 The LORD says, "The time is coming when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.
Jer 31:32 It will not be like the old covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of Egypt. Although I was like a husband to them, they did not keep that covenant.
Jer 31:33 The new covenant that I will make with the people of Israel will be this: I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
Jer 31:34 None of them will have to teach a neighbor to know the LORD, because all will know me, from the least to the greatest. I will forgive their sins and I will no longer remember their wrongs. I, the LORD, have spoken."

Those who weep because you are afraid of what you have lost: the time is here to renew your relationship with God.
This is the time to make New Year’s resolutions;
To dream new dreams
To dare to try to be a new person

I am pleading with you to resist the temptation to be cynical:
Dare to believe that God has forgiven all your sins:
And that you can have a new Covenant with God.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Not Helping

I help people.
I am a natural assistant: If you are stuck, ask me. If you need encouragement, come to me. If you want advice, my door is open. Oh I know that this is all about my needs – that altruism fills a space inside of me, and that the smile on the face of another is good for my own fragile self-worth. So I help people.

But I am unable to help Joe.
Joe lives on the street. He has spent some time in his life in the navy; and some time as a shaft sinker on a mine. But now he chooses to live on the street outside of my church. I have tried to help him. I found a place for him to stay off the streets. My colleague Lynn found a job for him. Which lasted for most of 2006: until just before Christmas...when the alcoholic lure of the festivities was too much for him. And he lost his job and his accommodation. I had hoped that he could make a new start in 2007. And again found him a place to stay. And employed him for various jobs around the church. When he is contrite and sober he works with great care and skill. And is gentle and kind. He had a wonderful work opportunity at the beginning of December, and on the basis of his work was offered further work in January. But Christmas fever has again seized his blood.

And here is where my helping nature tried to step in.
I knew that he was carrying a large amount of money around with him – money that would turn to liquid down his throat. So I offered to keep it for him. All of R500. And he gladly asked me to lock it in my safe. Then the day before Christmas he arrived, inebriated, and demanded his money. I tried to temporise. And eventually gave him R50.

But today I admitted my failure. Joe arrived on my doorstep and demanded all of his money. “If you do not give it to me I will go to the police” he stormed angrily. And even though I knew he would go directly from my house to the bottle store, and even though I know that he will be hungry and out of pocket by the weekend, I gave him his money. After all – it is his money.

But my need to be a helper is left deeply disturbed. I am unable to prevent Joe from being a drunk. I cannot exercise life-choices for him. And I cannot prevent the consequences of his actions....even when I can see that they are destructive. And in this I understand something of how God must feel about humanity’s freedom to choose. We are free to choose our actions – and trapped by their consequences. The good news of our faith is that God does not abandon us to “face the music” alone. God chooses to accompany us as we cope with the consequences of our actions. And God helps us to learn and grow from our experiences of life.

And so I will not give up on Joe. When he returns in the New Year and asks for work – I will help him.....again!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

(More) Sex, Christmas and Virginity.

I have a traffic monitor on this blog. And I have noticed a surge in visits to this site.... all of them to something I wrote a year ago. I suspect that the title has been picked up by people doing a Google search. And that the person is probably disappointed when it does not yield a naked virgin, or a sexy Christmas fairy. But I thought it worth republishing the blog anyway: So here goes:

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

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

JZ Rulz

Sounds like a gansta rap.

This is the story of a Zulu freedom fighter who emerges as an astute post-revolutionary politician aspiring to lead the country. Jacob Zuma has just been elected the leader of South Africa’s dominant political party.

But – doesn’t he have some very dodgy friends?
Yes. One of them in now in prison for soliciting bribes on behalf of Zuma, who (it is said) promised to supply government contracts to gift-bearing arms dealers. But then this is not unusual amongst politicians: gifts and favours were the lubricant to deals between American politicians and American oil barons in the election of George Bush Jr, and the whole Iraq fiasco. And Gordon Brown is discovering that the British Labour Party has solicited some dodgy funding in exchange for signing some official papers. So JZ is in good company.

But – might he not land up in court for the same charges?
Yes, the national prosecuting authority is planning to charge him. But he will be in good company: Silvio Berlusconi the former Prime Minister of Italy, and Jacques René Chirac the former President of France are both facing charges of fraud and corruption. This seems to be the way of modern politicians.

But didn’t he have an inappropriate sexual encounter?
Yes - with the much younger daughter of his best friend, who was entrusted into his care on his death bed. And again, he is not alone in his sexual peccadilloes. Just ask the former American President Bill Clinton or the former Israel President Moshe Katsav.

But – wasn’t he democratically elected as party leader?
Yes. This is true: as was Aldof Hitler democratically elected as leader of a German political party! Democracy is not the will of God. It is a human election tool that ensures that the most popular leader gets to be in charge. This does not ask the leader to be moral, or ethical, or visionary. It just asks the leader to be popular. JZ is popular.

And perhaps this is the core problem with modern politics: leaders are elected because of their ability to capture the popular appeal: this has very little to do with personal faith/morality/integrity, and everything to do with the public persona of sound bite, image, and a strategic use of opinion polls. I do not support Jacob Zuma as president of my country. But I do not think him different from the President/Prime Minister/Illustrious Leader of any other country in the world.

I believe that Christ followers need to engage political leadership at every level. We must offer our opinions, our prayers, and our participation. We dare not abdicate our public civic responsibility in favour of some “other world” that we think lies beyond death. This is the world given us by God. It is this world that we must engage....for Christ’s sake.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

He who wears the Crown

Here is an exerpt from my sermon to my congregations today:

Right now South Africa’s dominant political party, the African National Congress, is meeting in Polokwane. And there will be elections for a party president – who might become the next President of the country. And the nation is asking who the right leader might be.
Isaiah 11: 1-10 describes a good leader as follows:
He will know the LORD's will and honor him,
and find pleasure in obeying him
He will rule his people with justice and integrity

A good leader is one who seeks God’s will rather than his – or her – own who finds pleasure in obeying who will rule with justice and integrity. Isaiah says the sign of this will be that “there will be peace in the land”. This peace is not just the absence of war: it is “shalom” – this is a peace that speak of healthy relationships, and a healthy society, and a healthy environment, and a healthy spirituality.

As Christians we believe that Jesus is the ultimate fulfilment of the words of Isaiah: to paraphrase Isaiah, Jesus “ knew the LORD's will and honored him, and found pleasure in obeying him" ..He was a living example of justice and integrity. Jesus is the standard against which we measure all leadership.

So where does this leave us?
When the ANC meetings in Polokwane are finished there will be a leader who might become our next president:
And we have a way of testing him as a leader (Unfortunately the ANC has committed itself to nominating a male leader):
We need to ask:
Is he a person of justice and integrity
Is he someone who delights in obeying the will of God –
Do we see signs of the character of Jesus in him?

If this is not so: then we need to begin praying for that man – that the Spirit of God will touch his life and change him.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Revisiting the Past

I swore that I would never return – and yet, yesterday, I went back...

The 1980’s were a politically turbulent time in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. I was the pastor of a small, white, rural (read politically conservative) congregation. These were very loving, caring people who sacrificed much for one another, and saw themselves as epitomising the love of Jesus to those less fortunate. But these dear people never paused to ask why the distribution of wealth was so sharply divided along racial lines: their prevailing culture just assumed that black was poor.

I tried to say to my congregation that responding to poverty demanded more than handouts and kindly feelings. I noted that much of the deprivation was politically engineered by Apartheid, and we needed to work at ways of empowering people to shape their own lives. I helped the Black Sash establish an Advice Office, and became its treasurer. I spent time encouraging the political activists in the area. And sheltered children caught up in the school riots, rubber bullets and tear gas. The congregation indulged me – until the day I was arrested by the security police. Then the heads nodded knowingly: “No smoke without a fire” said one at a church meeting; another said to my wife “I knew he was up to no good”... and a well meaning colleague of a sister denomination prayed in his Sunday Service that the Methodists would be “kept from the evils of the socialist gospel”.

And my congregation stopped paying. The money simply dried up. And people stopped coming to church. And the Bishop was forced to withdraw me from the church.. .and when I left I swore that I would never return. And yet, twenty-two years later, I went back...

The congregation was celebrating a 50th anniversary. I walked in to a church full of the variety that is South Africa: I saw white and black members holding hands and embracing one another. I saw worship led by a team that transcended culture. And heard of a variety of community empowerment programmes initiated by the church.

And I wept inside of myself:
• I wept for myself because most of the congregation do not know my history of struggle with that church.
• And I wept for those die-hard members from the past who came over and shook my hand as if nothing had happened. Either they are choosing to re-write the past, or – more probably – what was a cataclysmic moment of change for me was nothing more than a blip on the radar for them.
• But mostly I wept for joy because the Gospel of Jesus truly is subversive: that tightly knit, conservative, white enclave has been blown wide open. And the church has been changed.

Pray with me for many more such changes in the Christian Churches of South Africa.
And pray for me that I might let go of the hurts of history and grow in the ways of Grace.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Two Wheel Bliss

Two Bikes, Three Bays, Four Passes, and High Fives.

Jimmy and I climbed onto the bikes at 8 this morning: a Triumph Tiger and a BMW R1150 GS.

It was a bright sunny day with a touch of the south-east wind. We crested Kloof Neck to be greeted by a panoramic view of Camps Bay beneath us. The sea was glittering blue, and as we wound our way down the mountain we could feel the layers of cold air rising off the Atlantic Ocean. Then left along the sea-front towards Hout Bay. The long graceful curves of the road are exceptionally motorcycle friendly and it was wonderfully invigorating to lean either left or right into the corners. The drop into Hout Bay down Suikerbossie Pass was matched by the climb up Chapman’s Peak, where we stopped at the top to admire the view.

Then down the pass to Sun Valley, right to Ocean View, and left to Misty Cliffs. The road past Scarborough took us to the top of Red Hill, and the wide vista over False Bay. We twisted our way down Red Hill Pass and turned right into Simons Town, stopping at Jubilee Square for breakfast. Our strength renewed, we set off up Black Hill, and over Ou Kaapse Weg Pass to the Blue Route and home.

For those who are exceptionally bored you can check: I have mentioned two bikes, three bays, four passes. And if you are so bored that you actually counted – get a bike!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Chaotic Joy

They descend on us from all over our neighbourhood.

50 of them are between the ages of 16 and 25. They have been busy with their own lives/exams/malls/sport/movies for the past six months and we have seen very little of them. But when the word is out – they arrive with generous hearts and plenty of enthusiasm. They have signed up as volunteers for our annual December Holiday Club. They raise funds through washing cars, selling boerewors rolls, and assiduously scrounging donations.

Then there are the others: Anything up to 200 of them between the ages of 6 and 12. This is their first week of school holidays. Many come from single-parented homes, or homes where both parents are working. And their parents worry about how to care for their children during the day. And so we offer a week of free child-minding to our community.

Right now our buildings are screaming with children as they express joy and general enthusiasm. They cling to leaders like Velcro, copying the way the older leaders walk and talk. The leaders take away as much as they give: they learn life-skills in leadership, management of funds, accepting responsibility, and working as a team.

It is true that they trash our buildings, and enthusiastically tramp all over the gardens, and leave crisp packets and cooldrink cans lying in the sanctuary. But then it was Jesus who asked us to allow children to feel at home with him. And I know that God celebrates their chaotic joy.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Youth Exodus

There has been a 20-year decline in the number of clergy under the age of 35, especially among mainline denominations. But this is only the beginning. The baby boomers are preparing to retire and the sad truth is: there are fewer and fewer people to replace them.

The (American) United Methodist Church recently completed a survey that shows the average age of its ministers to be 51, and only 5% of their ministers are under 35. In the study released this year*, a similar pattern is seen in other denominational churches: the Roman Catholic Church shows only 3.1% of its minister under the age of 35; the Episcopal and Lutheran churches are at 4% and the American Baptists at 5%.

While the Association of Theological Schools (the accrediting agency for all North American Seminaries) shows that seminary student numbers are up nearly 22 percent from previous years, only 55% of these ageing graduates plan to take on traditional ministrial roles. Which means that by the year 2012 there will be nearly 5 times as many members of the clergy retiring as there are people to fill those positions today.

I have no figures for the mainline denominations in South Africa, and wondered if anyone cares to offer comment? Anectotal evidence suggests that while there are some young South Africans in training for mainline denominational Christian ministry, most of them are from rural areas. The street-wise city youth are generally absent from formal ministerial training.

I am curious about the following: are young church leaders moving to emerging churches? or to fundamentalist charismatic churches? or are young people simply abandoning organised Christian religion?

* by the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary

Sunday, November 25, 2007

An Uncommon Generosity

Today I was reminded that the very poor can also be very generous.

I accompanied my colleague Kamogelo Monoametsi to Vrygrond (“Freeground”), an informal settlement of wood and corrugated iron shacks, lots of white sand, and some tarred roads. Kamogelo has been their pastor for this year, and now leaves to complete his academic studies.

The congregation:
Working class people colourfully dressed for the occasion: the black suited church stewards, red, black and white clad members of the mens’ and womens’ organizations, the blue and white of the youth, and many members of the church who do not belong to an organization – but who literally put on their “Sunday best”. They had come to say thank you to their pastor. They did so with speeches and gifts. Each speaker earned the right to speak on production of a gift of money placed on the table in front of Kamogelo. I watched the work worn hands as one by one they laid R10 on the table and expressed their thanks. These poor people, who needed this money to get through the month, gave gladly to express their love for a good pastor.

And then there was the stranger:
A poor man dressed in ragged clothes. He wandered in looking for someone to say a prayer with him. The Stewards shifted up and found him a place; my Colleague invited him to Holy Communion and prayed for him; and at the farewell event after the service he was given a plate of food and a cool drink. I knew that each member of the congregation had paid for their meal in advance – which meant that this man was eating someone’s plate of food: I discovered later that the catering team had shared their lunches to create an extra plate....given gladly to express the love of Jesus to a stranger.

An Uncommon Generosity.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Good on You

Bishop Desmond Tutu is a man of integrity and courage.

He was a key participant in the emergence of a new South Africa. He wrote deeply pastoral letters to President P W Botha pleading for change in our country. He marched in the streets for justice. I remember this brave cleric as he rescued a man from a township mob intent on “necklacing” him with a burning tyre. And he was criticised by President Botha, and by many, many white members of the Anglican Church in South Africa – as well as many others who wanted to retain the status quo. Mostly his critics said something about “keeping politics out of religion”.

Fr Desmond’s integrity did not end with the emergence of a democratic South Africa. His goal was never political: he genuinely believes that God loves all people, and that God calls us to work for a renewed land. He took up the struggle for free anti-retroviral treatment for HIV/Aids sufferers. He also challenged former deputy president Jacob Zuma to relinquish his bid for our country's Presidency after Zuma admitted to having sex with a young HIV-positive woman: "What has come over us? Perhaps we did not realise just how apartheid has damaged us so that we seem to have lost our sense of right and wrong," he said in a lecture at the University of Cape Town. And found himself roundly criticised by his erstwhile comrades in the struggle. Amazingly he was told to keep religion out of politics!

Fr Desmond has also spoken out on international issues: most often in opposition to people who want to wage war as a solution to the world’s problems. And his words have not always been welcome. In April the University of St. Thomas initially refused to invite him to speak because its officials were worried that his opposition to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would offend the Jewish community.

In this past week he spoke up on the way some Christians have created the perception that God hates gay and lesbian people: "We treat them as pariahs and push them outside our communities. We make them doubt that they too are children of God - and this must be nearly the ultimate blasphemy” Tutu said he was "saddened and ashamed" of the Anglican church over their opposition to the ordination of a Gay Bishop: "If we are going to not welcome or invite people because of sexual orientation...if God, as they say, is homophobic, I wouldn't worship that God."

I salute this man. He has not wavered in his opposition to any form of discrimination. His photograph hangs in my office. And I pray for him each day – that he will remain a troublesome prophet. We need people who are willing to speak uncomfortable truths.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Shame on You

Sometimes I am so angry/sad with leaders in various parts of our world – and at my inability to do anything about their disgraceful conduct. So instead of shrugging my shoulders, I am calling for “shame on their heads”:

Shame on the court in Al-Qatif, Saudi Arabia: a 19 year old women raped by six armed attackers was sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in jail “for being in the car of an unrelated male at the time of the rape”. In fact she was originally sentenced to 90 lashes, and when her lawyer appealed this injustice, the court increased her sentence for her “attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media”. It is un-Islamic to punish the victim of a crime: Shame on you!

Shame on the Japanese Fisheries Agency: who have launched 4 ships to hunt 50 humpback whales – the first known large-scale hunt for the whales since 1963. This fishing expedition will also take 935 Antarctic minke whales and 50 fin whales between November and mid-April 2008. Shame on you for calling this “scientific testing”, when the whole world has opposed your destruction of whales.

Shame on Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf: for making himself the sole dictator of his country. Because he was in danger of losing another term of office in the face of an impending court judgement he arrested the chief justice, fired judges seen as hostile to his rule, curbed the media, and locked down political opponents. Shame on you for such flagrant disregard of your constitution, and your people.......

....and shame on the United States for still supporting Musharraf: because of American fear of “Islamic fundamentalist terrorists” President Bush will not suspend military aid to Pakistan. But then the USA has a long history of supporting any leader who supports the USA – irrespective of whether they are democratically elected or not. The USA is not pro-democracy, it is pro the interests of the USA. Shame on you for such blatant selfishness!

Cry bitter tears with me at how self-interest corrupts our hearts and makes us less than human. And pray for God to challenge those parts in us that become complacent with inhumanity.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Piet Promises

He was an Apartheid politician who knew that Apartheid was wrong – but enjoyed its benefits too much to actively work for its destruction.

Piet Koornhof was very bright. He began theological studies at Stellenbosch University before winning a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University. He was so bright that in 1953, on graduating with a doctorate, he was offered a permanent senior post at Oxford’s Institute of Social Anthropology. But he chose to return to South Africa to work as a researcher for Hendrik Verwoerd. And from this point on we see the struggle between what he knew to be morally right, and the lure of being powerful and important.

Koornhof had spent 10 months living in a kraal in rural Kwazulu-Natal as part of his doctoral research. Here he discovered the deep anguish suffered by black South Africans – an experience that led to a doctoral thesis that argued in favour of a united South Africa. But he chose not to publish it. “I knew that they would cut off my neck if I published it” he said in an interview with journalist John Scott. Instead he became secretary to the Afrikaner Broerderbond, was elected to Parliament for the Primrose constituency in Germiston, and went on hold the Cabinet portfolios of mines, sport, and co-operation and development - the portfolio formerly known as Bantu Affairs. He was known as “Piet Promises” because he was forever promising that things would get better for Black people, only for things to get worse.

At his memorial service today people paid tribute to his struggle to achieve change in South Africa. While in some very limited way he may have been a dissenting voice in the Cabinet, the reality is that he allowed himself to be part of the system that perpetrated immense suffering on the same black people who had welcomed him into their kraals in the early 1950s.

It is so easy to put personal moral scruples into one’s back pocket when tempted by power and privilege. I know. I have been there. And it is very hard to relinquish one’s creature comforts for the sake of moral principles. I constantly struggle with the authority and influence offered by my position in the religious organization I work for – and the integrity of action that is demanded by conscience and moral integrity. Pray that I might be more honest and less powerful.

At the end of his political life Koornhof left his wife and lived with his 36 yr old lover, Marcelle Adams and her children in Cape Town. 12 years later Marcelle left a sick and elderly Koornhof for a 56 year old German. Amazingly Koornhof’s wife Lulu (who had refused to divorce him) fetched him and cared for him as he suffered a number of incapacitating strokes "I have sworn an oath before God. I feel sorry for Piet. He is a sick man”. Perhaps Lulu understood the difference between satisfying personal desires, and doing what is morally courageous.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Old Rockers never Die

I had a great time leading worship tonight.
The worship bands that normally lead on a Sunday night were not available: some had exam fever and others an Emmaus gathering. So I agreed to lead worship....something I have not done for some time. I have begun to suspect that my children’s contemporaries do not need this old geezer in front acting like he is a rock-star with his guitar.

I asked Brendan (the father of one of the worship leaders) to join me: so the two old rockers got out in front and led worship. We both play acoustic guitar. This means clean sound, with guitar fingering, and complementary picking. Most of the stuff that the next generation plays is muddy distortion, or a guitar used as a percussion instrument with amazing rythm but little musical thoughtfulness. My daughter Amy played drum kit, so there was enough percussion, and the two old guys had fun exploring riffs, and adding overtones in some of the quieter moments. But of course the best was when we attacked some songs with traditional rock, ending up with enough arrogance to try our hand at “Be Thou my Vision” as a rock adaption.

And I do not really care that there were not many people in church. I care even less that we are twice the age of those who did come. Because we had a great time.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Long Way Home

Check out this amazing couple at

Charlie and Rensche are returning home from London to Cape Town on motorcycles. Apart from the adventure they hope that their stories from the road will raise money towards their chosen charity Beautifulgate, who are a Christian organisation helping Aids orphans in Southern Africa.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


There are moments when I want to resign.
I work in a small corner of a large religious institution that is run inefficiently, by people who have very little integrity. The things that drive this national institution are political correctness (ensuring that every committee has enough black people/women/ not gay people), naked ambition for power, greed , and old boy’s (male) networks.

And I mostly live with the junk because I believe that God has called me to be here.
But recent experiences have demoralized me:
- bureaucratic inattention closed down a training programme I loved and which gave my life meaning and purpose.
- I have been given administrative supervision that I really hate.
- My work load has been increased, with a reduction of staff to do it.

But I came across this cartoon which both challenged me, and got me over my self-pity.
So I look in the mirror and ask myself: “Whose career path do you think you are following?”
And I realise that I love the local church where I work. It is a community of caring people who often affirm me and thank me for the things I do. I work alongside local church leaders who are all that the national leaders are not. And I am reminded that the authentic church is local.

And I sense that my capacity to rise to new challenges in life is beginning to reassert itself.
Watch this space! (and keep praying for me).

Sunday, November 04, 2007


I enjoy a pancake.
Hot and crispy on the edges.
Add a bit of cinnamon and brown sugar. A dash of lemon juice, and viola....mmmm.
And to share this love of pancakes with others gives me great pleasure. To see people enjoying that which I enjoy enriches my life immeasurably. So it was logical that I should offer to run the pancake stall at our church fete today.

I have done this for the past 5 years.
Each year I have learned something more about the production.
My mother in law is the mixture-maker. She uses an ancient recipe handed down through many generations. The ingredients are passed on at the death-bed of the matriarch to the youngest daughter. My mother-in-law is one of five sisters and she got the recipe. And mutters magic into the bowl as she mixes the batter....magic that sounds like “blast” and “bother”.
My daughter Amy takes the money. Not only is she about to take Matric maths, but because this does not stretch her enough she also takes a (seventh subject ) additional mathematics class. So she does the money. And made sure that we gave R1350 to the bean counters at the end of the morning.
I command the production line like a general presiding over his troops...taking orders from my wife as every prudent general usually does. I wield the pans over the gas cookers, triumphantly producing golden pancakes for the rest of the team to sugar and fold in wax paper.

I enjoy being a team with my family. I also enjoy being a team with my community. We raise funds so that we can continue to care for old people, and for street people, and for those who are tired and wearied by life.
But much, much more: old people laughed with young people over a shared cooldrink; poor people had tea served to them by those who had more than enough in life; citizens from different sides of our political spectrum vied for a tombola prize; gay and straight worked alongside each other; grey and dyed, and naturally blond all enjoyed a moment of equality; and a community was formed because people paused for a moment to enjoy one another’s company.

And I made R4:00 a pancake.

Monday, October 29, 2007

My Blood is Green

Let it be officially noted: that my blood is green.
This was confirmed today when I went for a check-up at Newlands Rugby Stadium.

Well over 30 000 fellow green-blooded supporters arrived at Newlands Rugby Stadium at lunchtime. We came in all shapes and sizes: some came on busses or trains from very poor homes, while others arrived from affluent areas in private vehicles. Some were old grannies with pink-rinse hair, some were large “mamas” with beautiful toi-toi dancing, and many were school children who had escaped school to be at the event.

The event?
Meeting the team that won the Golden Grail of Rugby: the World Cup.

The Springbok Rugby team are the world champions. And they brought the cup to Cape Town. And as they walked onto the field at Newlands the stadium erupted. Never have I experienced such euphoria. Singing, cheering, Mexican waves, and screaming for Percy Montgomery and Brian Habana (pictured).

The greatest part of the event was the sense of unity I experienced: here was a moment in the history of our very fractured nation when we stood together: black / white / rich / poor / old / young / boer / bra’tjie / bafana. Next to me was a young black man wearing a miners helmet on which he had mounted a springbok skull; wearing earrings made of the South African flag, a face painted green and gold, khaki shorts, and shoes painted the colours of the national flag. And he furiously blew his vuvuzela in support of the team.

This was the moment that I knew that we all belong together: our blood is green.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


Daniel Siebert is 53 and dying of Pancreatic cancer.
But Alabama state authorities want to kill him before the cancer does.

Siebert is a convicted murderer on death row. If he is not executed he is not expected to live more than a few weeks. But not if Alabama Governor Rob Riley can help it. He has refused to intervene in Siebert's execution. "I would in essence be commuting his sentence to life in prison and that is not the sentence he was given by a jury," Mr Riley said. "His crimes were monstrous, brutal and ghastly." I wonder how we can so have lost our humanity that we want to kill a dying person.

Even more bizarre is the story of convicted murderer, Jimmy Bland. In June, Oklahoma state put to death 49-year-old Bland who was suffering from advanced cancer of the lung. The state went so far as to pay for Bland's chemotherapy to keep him that he could be executed!

This has nothing to do with justice, and everything to do with revenge.
And we in South Africa know this feeling: there have been many moments when members of the public have called for the re-instatement of the death penalty: most recently after the senseless death of Lucky Dube. Some deeply religious people support this, arguing that it is ordained by God that murderers be executed. Personally I do not understand how killing someone teaches us not to kill.

I find the Genesis 4 parable of Cain and Abel very helpful. Cain killed his brother Abel. But the story does not call for Cain to be killed. We read of a God who refuses to kill the murderer. This does not mean that Cain escapes the consequences of his action: he is banished from his community and goes to live “east of Eden”....where he is allowed a fresh beginning at life. This is how God deals with human sin: we are granted the Grace to begin again.

And I am so grateful: because I have killed...and deserve punishment: this might not have been a physical action, but I have known murderous thoughts about someone, and participated in the character assassination of someone else. I am guilty and should be murdered in turn (metaphorically speaking). But Grace is extended, so that I can learn from my mistakes.

Has the time not come to move away from murdering the murderer? Godly action is all about rehabilitating those who sin. But I suspect that the desire for revenge is far stronger than the desire for a renewed world....and so humanity will continue to want to kill killers.

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Beautiful Day

This morning was fantastic.
First of all, Friday is my day off.
Secondly the sun was shining from horizon to horizon and the air was still and calm.
After dropping my daughter Amy at school I took my trusty BMW 1150GS for an outing.
We drove down the Blue Route. We were ticking over comfortably when this Mazda came zipping past me: “Hmm...Should I or should I not show him what a bike can do to him?” Just as well I did not, because the next moment a flashing blue light pulled the Mazda off the road.

Up and over Ou Kaapse Weg feeling sorry for all the cars queued behind a large truck, and very glad that I had two wheels. Because of the truck, the pass was open road and I drifted all alone, enjoying the freedom of leaning into the corners unobstructed by cars. Through Sun Valley and up Blackridge Road. The bike’s torque came into its own as I opened the throttle to 5 000rpm and welcomed the acceleration. I crested the hill relishing how the warm Sun Valley air was replaced by sea-cooled air and a panoramic view of False Bay over the Glen Cairn beachfront. Turning onto the main road alongside the bright sand and white topped crashing waves, I drew in a lung full of salt-laden sea air and was instantly taken back to my childhood days of swimming in this bay. A slow canter alongside the blue sea took me to my breakfast spot at Simonstown’s Jubilee Square. So I sat – coffee, newspaper, and a relaxing view over the yacht club.

My good friend Sue tells me I need to get a real job. Not on a day like today.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Let Me Die!

“I have just asked the doctor to give me an injection that will make me go to sleep and not wake up. But he refused”.

This was said to me today by an 87 year old lady in hospital. She fell and broke her hip, and is in constant discomfort. Until now she has moved with a walking frame, but now might not walk again. Her husband of a 60 year marriage died last year. Her children live in countries that are far away from here. And she is tired of living. So she looked at me and explained that she has had enough of this life. She is not afraid of dying – in fact she would welcome dying as an opportunity to reunite with her husband.

So what do I say to her?
I am not going to offer platitudes about “feeling better in the morning” or some nonsense about God taking her at the right time. She is allowed her feelings without me adding layers of guilt. I held her hand and said that I know that God understands her feelings. And I prayed for God to give her peace....then I went to the hospital chapel and asked God to release her from life.

I do not presume to know if her life should come to an end. Who am I (or anyone else) to know when a person is ready to leave this life? But I do know that there is no merit in pain and suffering. I know that living a long life is far less important than living a useful life. And that this old lady ought to be allowed to leave this life at the time she desires.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

World Champions

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Rugby Etiquette

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


I know some people in England.
A bit embarrassing to admit right now....considering the looming Rugby World Cup and all.
But I am a very liberal and tolerant sort of fellow... and I am committed to accepting all sorts and types of people. And I am even willing to admit that there are some Englishmen who are better than most. The best Englishmen are those who are willing to buy Springbok kit and wear it in acknowledgement of our great team.

But some are just so blind and besotted that they cannot see the light – especially when it comes to the Gentlemen’s game of Rugby. I suggest that you take a look at John’s Blog to see how low some of my ‘friends’ have sunk. I was more comforted by Sue , who is a deacon in the British Methodist Church. She has offered to send me an English Rugby jersey for a ceremonial burning when they lose the game.

Please pray for the English. They are going to be so sad.

*Eish is used to express sympathy when someone falls flat on their face.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Railroad Songs

Next Saturday evening South Africa plays England in the finals of the Rugby Union World Cup. And the supporters of both teams will sing songs about a railroad:

The English will sing Swing Low Sweet Chariot - a United States spiritual folk song. This was composed by Wallis Willis , a one-time slave of the Choctaw Indians in the old Indian Territory. He was inspired by the Red River which reminded him of the Jordan River and of the Prophet Elijah being taken to heaven by a chariot. Some historians trace a connection between this song and the so-called “Underground Railroad” system of safe houses that allowed escaped American slaves to move from the South to the North.

Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home
Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home

South Africans will reply with Shosholoza, a sad song from our history of black workers travelling by train to work on the gold mines. The simple beat of the chant assisted workers to keep rhythm during hard physical labour. The Zulu word Shosholoza means "Go forward" or "Make way for the next man". The word also sounds like the noise of a steam train. (Stimela is the Zulu word for a steam train).

Ku lezontaba
Stimela siphum' eSouth Africa
Wen' uyabaleka
Wen' uyabaleka
Ku lezontaba
Stimela siphum' eSouth Africa

Rough English translation: Move faster, You are meandering on those mountains, The train is from South Africa. You accelerate, on those mountains, The train is from South Africa

And may I suggest that the English pay attention.
Because our train is going to accelerate right over the English team – who will need a chariot to carry them home!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Be Blessed

Today Muslim believers around the world celebrate Eid ul-Fitr. This concludes a month of fasting and reflection on life. And Muslim people will greet each other with the traditional Muslim greeting Eid mubarak (Persian/Urdu: عید مبارک). But there is an alternative : “May every year find you in good health!”

I like this:
because I have discovered that as each year passes, good health becomes more precious.
And so I wish all who read this space good physical health, good mental health, good emotional health, and good spiritual health.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Civil Religion*

South Africans are religious.
We practice our religion whenever we are not working – and often while we work. Right now our religion has taken on proportions of national intensity. Newspapers headline our faith – or lack of it. Radio and TV commentators all offer their input into how well we worship.

Some gather in small groups in one another’s homes. Others gather at local community centres. There also those solitary individuals who prefer to worship alone. Many people have the clothing of our religious practice, and dress for the event. And many – if not most – prepare the sacramental elements that enhance sensory stimulation. Sometimes a sacramental fire has been lighted and the sacrifice is ritually burned over hot coals. The smoke adds to the occasion, and the offerings from the fire brings out the best in the worshippers. When the burned offering is added to the ritual drink, we enter into a state of religious readiness.

As with many other acts of religious worship, the time of worship begins with a song. Those who participate most fully in this moment will rise to their feet and place a hand over their heart. Some will even sing with tears in their eyes. But no-one can escape being moved by this moment. In response many will lift the sacramental cup in a toast to the blood soon to be shed.

Our worship is passionately pursued: cell phones are stilled, the non worshippers are banished from the room, and we sit shoulder to shoulder for the next 80 minutes. Worship is participatory: comments, outbursts of wisdom, corrections to the decisions of the levitical adjudicators, and shouts of joy, or groans of passion are often heard.

Our object of worship is a Golden Grail. And the means to recovering the Holy Cup is a small oval ball. There are 15 good high priests who protect this ball from 15 bad high priests. Sometimes the ball needs to be physically rescued from the evil high priests – an act that requires daring courage reminiscent of the quests undertaken by the knights of old. Our high priests wear green and gold. As of now the evil high priests wear white, or blue. But we will overcome them because our cause is noble.

And within two weeks we will have the Holy Grail in our possession.
And the nation will sings songs of gratitude and weep tears of mystical joy.

*(Robert Bellah wrote about “Civil Religion” as a way to describe the social activity that gave a nation its cohesion).

Saturday, October 06, 2007

"One and Undivided"

I belong to a divided church.
And some of you who read this will understand how Sundays sees our nation divide – with black people going to black church services, “coloured” people attending “coloured” services, and some white people going to church (most do not go to church at all).

But this is not the division I think of – I am referring to the division between straight and gay people. The Methodist Church of SA has chosen to maintain a distance from gay people. No – this is not overt: as my Bishop’ pastoral letter says : “ We must, and I do, care for them pastorally and with sensitivity.” But this is exactly the divide: “we care for them” and them. “They” are not understood as being “us”. In fact, after the humiliating treatment dished up by straight Christians, I am surprised that there are any gay people left in church.

And to add insult to injury, the MCSA has affirmed that we must be “one and undivided”. But this is not about being in unity with gay people. No, this is about maintaining our unity with those who are anti-gay. Our desire to remain united with the anti-gay lobby outweighs our desire to be one with the gay members of our church. And so we have compromised truth in the name of unity. And we have not even questioned the ethical correctness of this unity.

Here is my pain: the statement that “we are one and undivided” was a statement of courage in the face of the 1958 Apartheid Government’s desire to divide our church on racial lines. We had moral courage – then. We adopted this statement, in the face of a threat by white members to leave our church. We understood that this was a particular kind of unity. It risked division in the name of a greater unity – a unity with the truth of the Gospel of Jesus.

We have lost this. We are so afraid of losing members that we would rather forfeit Gospel truth. I am convinced that the mantra “one and undivided” now gets in the way of our ability to be a church in mission: there are many, many people who look at the Christian Church in bewilderment. All they see is prejudice and bigotry in our response to gay people. And they want nothing to do with us.

Our division undermines our Christian witness.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Back Home

Yes – back home and back at work.
As I reflect on my trip:

• I am aware that many farmers have moved off the land: small farms have been swallowed up into large farms. We can only compete against European subsidised farming by consolidating farms. So people are out of work. And farm houses stand empty.

• I saw many new houses that have replaced the dirt-poor hovels that used to surround the rural towns. I am grateful that our Government has been able to provide so many new homes. But I wonder where the people find work. Because the consolidation of farms has denuded the small rural towns of viable economy.

• I saw decaying tennis courts. The rural towns used to be the backbone of our tennis playing population. But town after town has windowless tennis clubhouses and rotting courts. I doubt that we will soon see world-class players from our country.

• I saw many, many pot-holed roads. I was grateful to be riding a GS11:50 – a bike with a long travel to the suspension. So I survived the roads. But the backroads are in bad repair. We are not much different to countries to the north of us.

Nevertheless, as I reflect on the trip I am aware of the amazing attraction of my country. Not just the variety and the vastness of the land, but the interesting people who live in hidden corners. I am in love with being a South African. And am more committed than ever to participating in building a new nation.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Not a Sex Shop

Jenny and I visited Ronnie’s Sex Shop.
Situated between Ladysmith and Barrydale, it draws on average 200 customers a day. If you walk through the door you will see my business card pasted prominently at eye level in front of you. Ronnie was only too happy to welcome us and sell us his wares.

You see...this is not a sex shop.
Ronnie owned a derelict building in the middle of nowhere, which was humorously painted “Ronnie’s Shop”. One weekend while he was away someone inserted the word “sex” into the sign, and an instant landmark was provided. After enduring 18 months of people stopping to take pictures, Ronnie was persuaded by his friends to capitalise on the potential customers. So he opened a pub. And ever since then his customers have supported him: some buy drinks, some take photographs, and more than one has hung her bra from the rafters or written his greetings on the walls.

And Ronnie is Lord of his Manor. He presides over his pub: listening to sad tales, understanding life’s mistakes, and dispensing wisdom. He also offers advice on local accommodation and opinions on everything. Come to think of it, Ronnie's occupation is really no different to mine. Most people want someone to point out their significance and to give them courage to continue living. The one freedom that I envy Ronnie – is the freedom to speak his mind. I am often constrained by the limits imposed by Church bureaucrats. Perhaps it is time for me to open my own pub.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Not a Dried Fruit Shop

Drive through Calitzdorp towards Cape Town and you will see Elnatan Dried fruit stall at the side of the road. It is filled with every sort of dried fruit product - even some with a layer of yoghurt, or chocolate. The best part of this experience is the manager - Ursula - who encourages you to taste the products before buying. And we did: taste and buy.

But this is not just another Dried Fruit Shop.
We discovered that this was an outlet for a job-creation project being run by Ursula and Klaus Triebe. They are Swiss, and came to South Africa in response to a call from God on their lives. Arriving in Calitzdorp (which is just a rural main road and a collection of poverty stricken hovels allocated to so called "Coloured" people) they chose to live in the coloured section of dorp and work alongside the poorest of the poor. Ursula began a pre-school in a tent on a nearby farm. And speaks of her satisfaction at seeing her first preschoolers top of the Grade Five class in the local school. Her husband taught local people construction skills and together they built a factory to dry local fruit. Now they sell the fruit from the shop.

They have also initiated a bridge-building exercise between the white and "coloured" members of the dorp. And now the white Dutch-Reformed Church members physically work alongside the "coloured" DRC members in improving their homes from one-roomed hovels to decent houses. Here are a couple who have put their faith into action.

I am tired of missionaries who arrive in South Africa to plant yet another church - as if we need more churches! I am tired of how these foreign missionaries seem to need to plant their churches in areas that are accessable to wealth. And for this reason I salute Klaus and Ursula: they have chosen to live and work amongst the poorest of the poor.

So the next time you drive through Calitzdorp - stop at the dried fruit shop on the Cape Town side of the town. It is far more than a dried fruit shop.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Storm

It was way past black - it was now a gey green with menace.
This was the mother of all storms, complete with lightening, thunder and lots of rain.

Jenny and I had pottered around Graaff-Reinet in the morning, then visited the Valley of Desolation. And it got hotter and hotter. Until we spotted little fluffy clouds collecting on the horison. "This is a thunderstorm" I said to her, as we decided to leave town.

We headed south to Aberdeen, where we admired the leaning church spire. We were ahead of the rapidly gathering clouds, and I was confident that we would reach Willowmore ahead of the storm. The wind pushed us along merrily - but my merriness vanished when I glanced at the fuel guage. I had thought that there was enough to get us through, but the little bars on the guage were dropping faster that I wanted. Until I could not take the tension of calculating "Bars vs Km" any more, and decided to turn back to Aberdeen: 40 km back along the road, into the approaching storm.

We scooted into Aberdeen in time to put in petrol (I had 4 litres left in the tank) and settle at a table at the coffee shop. The heavens opened, and rain and little bits of hail fell. So Jenny and I unpacked our rain gear: We each wear yellow jackets scrounged from roadworkers attire, and black waterproof pants from the hiking shop. And we got back onto the road south to Willowmore.

Only this time the storm was between us and our destination. Amazing black and purple couds. And curtains of rain falling in pockets to the ground. And sheets of water lying on the parched earth. And lightening striking the ground in great zig-zags of brilliance.

And us on a motorcycle.
It was awesome!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

People of my Country

Today we got to meet three people.
We travelled 400km from Zastron to Graaff-Reinet. Blue sky from horison to horison. And grassed plains. And long open roads with very little traffic. Jenny saw an owl, a monkey, a springbok, and plenty of meercats. I saw the road. But the richness of the day lay with three people:

Aunty B runs the internet access in Zastron. She arrived in Zastron with her daughter, who works for emergency services - having previously accompanied her daughter to Hobhouse and Coloclan. Born in Austria, she is now 68 and planning her next big adventure: quadbiking. She and three school-friends are planning to ride around South Africa on quadbikes. They will do this when they turn 70, so are enthusiastically planning their trip.

We stopped at Middleburg for coffee on the Main Rd. out of town. A brand new coffee shop, with a cool stoep for shelter. And a friendly 17yr old Grade 11 student who served us. She was not only enthusiastic and keen to sell us more than we needed to eat, but is planning her adventure. She will join three of her friends in December in a cycle ride to Cape Town. A 970km ride to raise funds for a school vehicle. She is at the Afrikaans High School, which is 70% black. Her joy at planning this project was infectious.

Supper at the Spur in Graaff-Reinet. And assisted in our meal choices by Esmerelda who admitted to having had a hectic long weekend with the Harley-Davidson Ralley here in town. But she was cheerful, and readily assisted us with a lovely smile. She is also planning an adventure: in December she will give birth to a child. A new life, within a mother who radiates a zest for life.

And I am inspired by my fellow citizens. I am able to believe in the future, and find joy in living in the present. Pray for us all, that we might live life with joyful abandonment to the will of God.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


24th September is a National Holiday known as Heritage Day. A day intended as a celebration of our diversity - and a healing of our past division. And Jenny and I rode through the middle of our country's history.

We rode from Clarens to Zastron - 350km. Which is a short distance to cover so much pain, warfare, and political conflict. This used to be a grassed savannah, populated by herds of wildebeest and other game. The ruling tribe was the BaTlokwe, under the leadership of MaNtatese, a wild woman who took no prisoners. She was feared by the KhoiSan (who retreated into the mountains)and the BaRolong and other more peaceful Tswana people. Moshoeshoe was secure in his BaSotho mountain kingdom of ThabaBoseu. But then she ran into migrating Boers from the Cape Colony, who gradually forced her into smaller areas. They staked ownership of Colcolan (a corruption of Hlohlowane "ridge of the battle"), Hobhouse (after civil rights campaigner Emily Hobhouse) Wepener (named after Commandant Louw Wepener), and Zastron (the wife of President Brand)

We stopped at each dorpie, found the town square, and the familiar roads: Voortrekker Rd, Piet Retief Rd, and a Church Street replete with a huge Dutch Reformed church. The towns are small, neglected, and dusty. The sadness of this blood-soaked land is giving way to tired villages that exist for reasons of history: each is the distance an oxwagon could travel in a day.

When we reached Zastron we had ridden enough so stopped at Die Oude Werf B&B. Supper in the Maluti Hotel in little red booths, and rode back to the B&B under a star bedecked sky.

Pray for our land - that our diversity enriches our present.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Travelling Helmet

I am riding with a new helmet.
(and with a new bike come to think of it)
This helmet belonged to my friend Peter Woods. Who has given up biking and taken to sitting on the side of a hill at Giants Castle Drakensberg. This helmet has travelled over some interesting roads with Peter - and now is on its way on a new adventure.

We left Johannesburg on the N3 to Durban, stopping at Villiers 100 km away. This was to check the bike and each other. All was well. After Wimpy coffee we waved the sea gulls away from the bike...seagulls? Yes, 500km from the nearest beaches there are seagulls scavanging from tourists.

Then we turned south through the Orange Free State - former Boer Republic that was annexed by the British Army in 1902. We stopped at Reitz, a town named after a former President of the Free State. There is a Main Road, and a Voortrekker Road, and a Sarel Cilliers Road. And then we left.

The Free State was wind driven dust. They are waiting for the rains, and it is very dry and thirsty. Our destination was Clarens - at the foot of the Drakensberg. This was named after Clarens in Switzerland, where President Kruger lived in exile after his defeat by the British. A very comfortable B&B (Patcham Place), and supper on the stoep of a local eatery. A beautiful still evening.

And we are grateful for this opportunity to take time out an be with each other.
And the helmet waits for this new day's adventure.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

I am an African

Jenny and I went to see The Lion King in Johannesburg.
And I am proud of what has been done to what was a Hollywood movie.
Not only was the theatre purpose built for the show, and the props truly magnificent, but the dance and music has been appropriated by Africa. This is no longer the Western Hollywood kitch: it is African….African rhythm, Arican dance, African language. (Even to one Hyena calling another a “moegoe”).

It is not a show to watch. It is a show that invites participation. Clap with the songs, laugh with the actors, and whistle in appreciation. This is infectious.

And I know that at a very deep place I am an African.

Friday, September 21, 2007

मोटरसाईकिल Diaries

Jenny and I were married in 1982.
We were both 25 years old. We thought that we were in love – so much so that we got engaged three months after beginning our relationship. We were so innocent.

Yet we have survived : 25 years... that have seen three daughters; five different homes; post natal depression; a husband who got so involved in work that he became distracted and grumpy; the deaths of three dogs and two cats; the death of a father; a mother coming to live with us; wrinkles and sore joints; and a rediscovery of the joy of being together .

Tomorrow Jenny and I fly to Johannesburg.
We will see the Lion King. Then we will collect a motorcycle (BMW GS 1150) and ride back to Cape Town. This will take us five days. Five days of ‘going nowhere slowly’. Five days in which we will reclaim our marriage. Five Days of celebrating our life together.

And I am content.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I Know My Status

Today I was tested at an HIV centre.

I took a group of student ministers to visit Yabonga, a centre that supports people living with Aids. Here we were privileged to meet three HIV positive women. All are of Xhosa background. They had absolutely no way of telling their parents that they had tested positive, because this admitted to sexual activity in a culture that traditionally does not speak of human sexuality at all.

But more sobering was the knowledge that the majority of young women in their circle had very little choice in becoming sexually active. Many were raped, or sexually molested. Many of the young men in their world take sexual gratification from girls as a right. And so young women discover themselves to be infected with this sexually transmitted illness – and bound to a code of silence and ignorance.

The worst of it is that they cannot even go to their religious leaders for help. Churches have traditionally preached sexual abstinence for people before marriage, so a young person who is infected with a sexually transmitted virus is unable to go to their church for help. This is made even more difficult by the fact that most churches are run by men, and Xhosa women cannot speak of their sexuality to men. They agreed that churches are generally perceived as unwelcoming and disapproving.

Then they asked us if we knew our status.
And I admitted that I do not.
I have never bothered because I have no reason to think that I am infected.
But I as the teacher could not expect my students to be tested if I was not willing to do so myself.
So I lined up to be tested.......

I was interviewed in preparation for the test. And asked if I have unprotected sex. Which I do. But I believe that my partner and I are sexually safe with each other. Which the counsellor said was an enormous leap of faith. I was asked what I would do if I discovered I was HIV positive. I replied that I would be shocked because I am confident that there is no reason for this.
I then had the test.
And I discovered that I was not as relaxed as my nonchalance implied.
Even thought I believed that I had nothing to worry about, I sat on the edge of my chair while waiting for the result. I felt the tension of all those who had sat in this chair before me. And felt their fear of the forgotten sexual encounters that so easily return to haunt the present. And counted the six minutes it took for the test to show.

And so I am asking those of you who read this: have you been tested?
I do not want to know your status – but you owe it to your sexual partners to know your own status.

I now know my status.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Getting over it....

I have been pissed off for the past few weeks.

I have wished for more from my students: having taught York students who are enthusiastic, keen to learn, and willing to sacrifice in order to gain knowledge and experience, I then I returned home to my Cape Town students…who I experience as expecting entitlement because of a disadvantaged history, and needing to be coaxed into learning. But I am slowly recovering my vision to help build a new South Africa through my work with these students. I know this is what I am called to do. And I know that their brokenness is rooted in our Apartheid history.

I have wished for more from my church denomination: I have given large portions of my life/time/passion to this institution…and am discovering that this counts for nothing when it comes to getting support for the things I really believe I am called to do. But I have found this to be a good lesson in humility. Because all I can really claim of my life is that I follow one who modelled the way of a servant. And I smile wryly at the way I want to be more than a servant.

I have wished for more from my life: I am being asked to be a Superintendent Minister, which is about meeting budgets, paying salaries / water accounts / building maintenance, and solving squabbles between various local congregations…all of which I hate. But I am seeing how being Superintendent gives me space to welcome foreign student ministers into this circuit for pastoral exposures. So perhaps there is an up-side to this.

I have experienced deep disappointment in the closure of a programme I have nurtured into vibrant life over the past six years. But I have discovered that the closing of this door will make space for another to open. I plan to use this time to complete long-neglected academic studies.

I have got over it….and am willing to believe that there is life after 50.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


11 September
Today is a sad day.... Sad because it marks the death of so many people.
Some died in the terrible act of terror on the World Trade Centre in New York. And I will never forget the images of the twin towers on fire. And of people trapped helplessly inside the building. And I wept on September 11.
Many more people have died as a consequence of the revenge taken by the people of the United States of America. The angry frustration of the American people boiled over in Afghanistan, and in Iraq. And now there are noisy threats against Iran. And uncounted thousands have died at the hands of modern American warriors.
And I weep at the senselessness of it all.
I cannot see how killing more people is the way to making us all feel secure. I do understand that it might grant some sort of temporary relief for those who want to hit back. And I do see how it can be some sort of outlet for those who want to be seen to be doing something.
But I do not feel safer after the blood-letting. I choose instead to follow the teachings of one who said “ not take revenge on someone who wrongs you” (Matthew 5:39)...because “I will pay back says the Lord” (Deuteronomy 32:35). When I take revenge I presume to play God in other people’s lives. And there are way too many cruel people who claim to act on behalf of God already.
Cry with me today.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Affirmative Action

I live in a country that has recognised that black people were discriminated against because of the colour of their skin. Black people were given inferior education, inferior housing, and lower paid jobs. They are at a complete disadvantage in life when competing with white people…people like me. I have had all the advantages in education, social confidence (some would say arrogance), and capacity to live life.
I believe that this is unjust. And that Black people must be given space to catch up. Redressing the injustices of the past must make space to assist previously disempowered people to get onto the ladder of life.

But understanding this does not make my life as a white South African any easier. My recent stay in the United Kingdom has allowed me a glimpse of a society where race is not the primary factor in assessing the worth of a person. It was liberating to be amongst people who valued my contribution – without first asking why a white male was leading the workshop. It was rewarding to have people thank me for what I bring, without asking why the church was not promoting black leadership instead.

And I am forced to admit that I am tired of feeling apologetic for being a white male. I am tired of being constantly scrutinised by committees who ask what a white male is doing in leadership. And I am tired of defending black incompetence in the name of Affirmative Action. Make no mistake - I completely support the policy of affirmative action. But I am struggling to know how to offer leadership. Because life in my country, my community, and my church is no longer about gifts, abilities or vision. Neither is it about the call of God on the life of an individual. It is about the colour of skin. And this makes me an endangered species.

Pray that I may have the wisdom to differentiate between that which I can change, and that which I cannot.

(and feel free to offer comment and advice)

Sunday, September 02, 2007


Diana, Princess of Wales.

I loved her.
From the first photograph of her I was entranced.
I saw her as beautiful, graceful, and everything a princess should be.

I remember her wedding day.
I was working in Ermelo – a small, conservative, rural town.
And the whole town came to a standstill. I took the day off and sat in front of the television, eating chips and drinking coke…in those days I could do this without it making any difference to my weight.
And this fairy princess glided down the avenue in her gilded coach. And her prince charming was waiting at the cathedral. And the crowds cheered. And I was supremely satisfied.

But Diana was more: she really cared for marginalised people; she hugged HIV/Aids victims; she sat with landmine victims in Mozambique and Angola; she saw the poor on the streets in Calcutta. This was clearly more than photo opportunities. Diana had a way of connecting with people of no significance.

Diana was also very, very human. She danced, and laughed, and enjoyed beautiful things. She was troubled, and angry, and depressed. She loved her children, fought with her in-laws, cried from loneliness, and was unfaithful to her marriage...All the things you and I know only too well in our own lives.

Diana was not hypocritical. She owned her life, mistakes and triumphs together.

Ten years ago she died. And I was sad.
Today (ten years later) I am again sad.