Monday, April 30, 2007


So it is the middle of the night.
And I woke up to see the light on and the computer running – well it hums away to itself. And upon further exploration found my daughter Lisa working on an essay in her room. And I despair of the modern youth. Because she has to submit a University assignment by tomorrow. And so last night (Saturday) she watched a DVD with the family in the lounge and painted. She is working on a trilogy of canvases depicting a girl dancing. And this morning (Sunday) she watched another DVD with her sister Amy. Then she went out to lunch to celebrate the birthday of a friend. They just had to go to Nandos in Camps Bay….in the pouring rain nogal. Then she came home and told the family she is stressed out because she has to submit this Religious Studies Assignment. “And I will be working all night so don’t ask me to do anything else”…like drive to the rental shop to return the DVDs that she had watched!

So now I am awake. And I went through to her room. And I read through her work and helped her make sense of what she is writing. It is an assignment of mysticism within the Muslim tradition. And what do I really know about Sufism anyway? But I tried, because she is my daughter and she is “stressing” and it does not really help to berate her now for socialising her weekend away. Although it is very tempting to say “But why did you not begin this on Friday?” I guess we were all young once. Except that this stuff makes me old. And once I am awake it is harder to get back to sleep than it used to be. So I sit and write

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Imagining God

I grew up with a God who was on my side.
God helped me with class tests and conversation with girls. God was this Magical Male in heaven who had blessed me with a stable family, opportunity to study, and a wonderful (White’s only) beach to play on after school. I was dimly aware that things were not well in my country, but thought that if Black people really believed in God then they would stop rioting and knuckle down to gain a good education. And they would discover the joy of serving the Lord.

I have since realised that this was a God of my imagination. I projected my needs onto God – and viola: a God in my own image. Richard Rohr puts this well “God turned into a mirror image and projection of our own self”. (Simplicity: the Freedom of Letting Go New York, Crossroads Publishing 1991 pp21-22) Rohr continues:

In the end we produced what was typically a kind of tribal god. In America God looks like Uncle Sam, or Santa Claus, or in any case a white Anglo-Saxon. In England, God evokes the British Empire. A Swiss God, perhaps, resembles a banker or a psychologist….we find it very, very difficult to let God be God who’s greater than our culture and our projections…..and so we’ve created “God” to go on playing our games: a God who fits our system. A God who stands outside our system and who calls to us is something we can’t endure. Thus, for example, we’ve continually required a God who likes to play war just as much as we do. We’ve required a domineering God, because we ourselves like to dominate.

Once we realise that God is a projection of our own need we have one of two choices: either we reject the notion of “God” and plough our own furrow in life. This allows me to live life as I please, choosing my own beacons for direction. The other option is to seek a Divine Being larger than my personal imaginings. This option asks me to dissolve my personal ego-driven life into the possibility that there is more to life than I will ever understand. This asks me to allow for a God who is beyond my explanation. This asks me to submit my life to a Divine Will that is beyond my manipulation. A God who will take me to places that are alien, that will make me uncomfortable, and even afraid.

I choose to be drawn into life by the Unknown God.
And ask your prayers that I can occasionally glimpse signs of the promptings of the Divine Spirit.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Freedom Day

Today is Freedom Day for South Africa.
We were once a people divided by race, oppressed by hate, and trapped in fear. A miracle of transformation saw those who were once oppressed become the rulers of this land. Desmond Tutu coined the phrase “a rainbow nation” to describe our dream that this land should be a home for all who live here. We have eleven languages, people with roots in many different parts of the world, and a variety of social and political cultures.

But are we free?
The short answer is that we are only free when our neighbours are free too. Our Zimbabwean neighbours are (mis)ruled by a despotic President Robert Mugabe. Slightly further north are the fearful people of Darfur, who are terrorised by other Sudanese citizens intent on driving them off their land. And then there is the Congolese struggle for power between government and rebel forces. So we are not free while their citizens flee to find refuge in our country.

But are we free?
Another answer suggest that we are not free while some South Africans live comfortably with access to education, work, and healthcare, and many others struggle to survive. While people face the ravages of HIV/Aids, TB, hunger, rampant crime, and homelessness, we are not free.

But are we free?
I see the greedy self-interest that drives many of the newly elected Parliamentary representatives and Government officials. I note the lucrative bonus incentives given to the newly appointed board members of large corporate business – the same businesses who pay minimum wages to their workers. I despair at the consumer society that traps our children into thinking that PS3 and Motorola, Disney and MacDonald, Paris Hilton and Beyonce, are the desired objects of their affection. And I am aware of the passion for sport that drives our nation to national despair when our teams lose. We do not live live with joyful freedom.

So what is it to be free?
Richard Rohr observes that true freedom is when we learn to let go. We are free only when we let go of our limited image of God, and discover a God beyond our controlling explanations. We are free when we abandon our self-centred individualism, and embrace the community around us. We are set free when we discover that the rule of God is far bigger than the Christian church. And we are free when we abandon prayer as a spiritual duty and discover the gift of silence. (Richard Rohr Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go).

Pray for me that I may be free.
And pray for my land – that we may never abandon the dream to be a Rainbow Nation.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The People formerly known as the Congregation

Let me introduce you to Bill Kinnon The People formerly known as The Congregation.
He wrote a comment on the church that has swiftly spread across the bloggosphere:

There are millions of us. We are people - flesh and blood - image bearers of the Creator - eikons, if you will. We are not numbers.
We are the eikons who once sat in the uncomfortable pews or plush theatre seating of your preaching venues. We sat passively while you proof-texted your way through 3, 4, 5 or no point sermons - attempting to tell us how you and your reading of The Bible had a plan for our lives. Perhaps God does have a plan for us - it just doesn't seem to jive with yours.

Money was a great concern. And, for a moment, we believed you when you told us God would reward us for our tithes - or curse us if we didn't. The Law is just so much easier to preach than Grace. My goodness, if you told us that the 1st century church held everything in common - you might be accused of being a socialist - and of course, capitalism is a direct gift from God. Please further note: Malachi 3 is speaking to the priests of Israel. They weren't the cheerful givers God speaks of loving.
We grew weary from your Edifice Complex pathologies - building projects more important than the people in your neighbourhood...or in your pews. It wasn't God telling you to "enlarge the place of your tent" - it was your ego. And, by the way, a multi-million dollar, state of the art building is hardly a tent.
We no longer buy your call to be "fastest growing" church in wherever. That is your need. You want a bigger audience. We won't be part of one.
Our ears are still ringing from the volume, but...Jesus is not our boyfriend - and we will no longer sing your silly love songs that suggest He is. Happy clappy tunes bear no witness to the reality of the world we live in, the powers and principalities we confront, or are worthy of the one we proclaim King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
You offered us a myriad of programs to join - volunteer positions to assuage our desire to be connected. We could be greeters, parking lot attendants, coffee baristas, book store helpers, children's ministry workers, media ministry drones - whatever you needed to fulfill your dreams of corporate glory. Perhaps you've noticed, we aren't there anymore.
We are The People formerly known as The Congregation. We have not stopped loving the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Nor do we avoid "the assembling of the saints." We just don't assemble under your supposed leadership. We meet in coffee shops, around dinner tables, in the parks and on the streets. We connect virtually across space and time - engaged in generative conversations - teaching and being taught.
We live amongst our neighbours, in their homes and they in ours. We laugh and cry and really live - without the need to have you teach us how - by reading your ridiculous books or listening to your supercilious CDs or podcasts.
We don't deny Paul's description of APEPT leadership - Ephesians 4:11. We just see it in the light of Jesus' teaching in Mark 10 and Matthew 20 - servant leadership. We truly long for the release of servant leading men and women into our gifts as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. We believe in Peter's words that describe us all as priests. Not just some, not just one gender.
We are The People formerly known as The Congregation. We do not hate you. Though some of us bear the wounds you have inflicted. Many of you are our brothers and our sisters, misguided by the systems you inhabit, intoxicated by the power - yet still members of our family. (Though some are truly wolves in sheep's clothing.)
And, as The People formerly known as The Congregation, we invite you to join us on this great adventure. To boldly go where the Spirit leads us. To marvel at what the Father is doing in the communities where He has placed us. To live the love that Jesus shows us.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Baptiszo Sum

Christian Baptism – traditionally the sign of welcome into the Church – has become a place of exclusion

I participate in a tradition that practices infant baptism. We baptise babies as a sign that God’s Grace is at work in our lives before we even know that there is a Divine Spirit. I willingly embrace the idea that we do not find God, but rather that it is God who comes in search of us. I believe that infant baptism is a wonderful, symbolic way of expressing this.

Yet at the same time my church’s Laws and Disciplines make it so hard for parents to baptise their children. We ask that at least one of the parents be a “full member in good standing” with our denomination. And we have ways of determining how this requirement is fulfilled. We look for membership promises, regular church attendance, committed financial support for the local church, marriage, community acceptance, and a host of other unwritten values. And this works well for those who are “inside the club”. But this makes access to baptism very hard for those who are on the margins : single parents, people who cannot afford church dues, those in relationships outside of heterosexual marriage – and especially those who have drifted from regular church attendance!

We justify this by saying that for infant baptism to be meaningful, the parents must show evidence of a capacity to keep their promises: “prove that you are able to get over the bar and we will reward you with our religious ritual”. Something that should tell of a Godly encounter, has become a reward for religious success. And we get to be the judge of someone’s spirituality. A ceremony that should speak of welcome, has become a moment of exclusion.

And I am no longer in the same place as my church tradition.
I am awed when someone comes to me and asks to make a public commitment to being a good parent. I am overjoyed when someone wants me to pray God’s blessing over the life of their child. I am humbled that someone should want their child to be welcomed into the Christian Church. And I will no longer set up hoops for you to jump through before you are welcome. I will willingly baptise your child.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Unexpected Grace

Peter is a drunk.
He guards cars in the street outside my office during the day. And then at night he drinks. He has a bedroll, which he unrolls in a dark corner of the church garden. And alcohol gets him through the night. Increasingly he is using alcohol to get him through the day too.

Peter is a qualified boilermaker, who used to work on oil rigs making good money. He has a 12 year old daughter who lives with foster parents, and does not know about him. Last year he hitch-hiked to her home so that he could see her. She was at school when he visited her foster parents. Peter told me about the prizes she had won at school, and how proud he was of her. He stood across the road from her home and watched her return from school – but did not speak to her.

Peter often tells me that he is going to reform his life: “After Christmas”, and then “In the New year”. And more recently “I will be at church on Good Friday, and then I will stop drinking”. Most of the time his only contact with the church is to use our garden as his toilet. Recently in a drunken rage he threw his bedroll into the church garden and damaged a flower bed that a church couple had nurtured to life in memory of their son. And I had to explain to them that this damage was not vindictive, and that street people are loved by God too. But I am finding this hard to believe. And I am exasperated by him.

And yet….
Today I met a young unmarried mother who has been thrown out of her home and who now lives with her grandmother. They survive on a welfare grant, in a tiny city council apartment. She desperately hangs on to life, and admits to crying herself to sleep at night. “So how do you get through the month?” I ask. She replied:
“Well, I met Peter in the road. And he said I should come to you for counselling. He also gives me money from what he makes as a car guard”.
And I learned a lesson about the grace of God that is to be found in every person.

Saturday, April 14, 2007


Prayer leads you to see new paths and to hear new melodies in the air. Prayer is the breath of your life which gives you freedom to go and stay where you wish and to find the many signs which point out the way to a new land,. Praying is not simply some necessary compartment in the daily schedule of a Christian or a source of support in time of need, nor is it restricted to Sunday morning or a as a frame to surround mealtimes. Praying is living.

- Henri J.M. Nouwen
from “With Open Hands”

Monday, April 09, 2007

Christ is Risen?

Christians are not alone in believing the death and resurrection of a divine being.
Long before Jesus, the Egyptians worshipped Osiris, the Babylonians believed in Tammuz, and Syrians and Greeks worshipped Adonis. All celebrated a cyclical death and resurrection of their particular god. So is this Christian resurrection tradition not built on the already well established traditions of Mesopotamia and classical religious faith? And of course the celebration of resurrection is timed to coincide with Spring, and the return of the sun to the Northern Hemisphere. And it is all too easy to dismiss Jesus as just another in the long history of resurrections narratives.

So why do I believe the resurrection of Jesus…. And ignore the story of Osiris, or Attis, or Mithras?

I believe because of my personal experience of being loved.
The Spirit of God loved me at an Easter youth camp, and changed my life: a small resurrection happened within me. I can trace other moments too – a moment when I was an instructor in a military base and experienced an insistent urge to renounce military violence and work as a pastor; a moment when I was detained by the Apartheid police and felt the deep peaceful presence of God; a moment in college when I knew the love God as I grappled with academic pursuit. (Of course my friend Dion will tell me that these are all electrical impulses in the synapses of the brain).

And yet each of these was a moment of resurrection. Because key to each of these moments was the knowledge that despite my fears, failures, selfish motives, and deeply destructive impulses, I was unconditionally loved by a Power bigger than myself. A Power described by Jesus as my “Father in heaven”. A Power that continues to conquer the many deaths in me with opportunities of renewed life. And therefore a Power able to conquer the death of Jesus.

Christ is risen?
He is risen indeed!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

3 April 1982

On that day she was beautiful! (She still is). And I was amazed and delighted that Jenny agreed to marry me. The service was conducted by the Rev Ray Light – one of my life’s mentors. I and my two bestmen had contracted raging pinkeye (conjunctivitis). So we stood at the front of the church wearing dark glasses to help protect our painful eyes. So the stunning princess married the Mafioso!

Since then we have certainly had our ups and downs. I remember a very difficult time after the birth of Jessica, our second daughter. Jenny was struggling with post-partum depression, and we were struggling with a very fractious child . It took us 9 months to discover that Jessica had an inner ear infection, and longer to find medication to restore Jenny’s hormonal balance. And more recently we have been in counselling to understand each other as we face mid-life changes.

Do I believe that everyone should get married? No I do not! Marriage is a calling given to some. A calling that demands a lifetime of 100% commitment to a partner. Some people are not called to this, and have my unqualified support as they celebrate life without marriage. Do I regret getting married? No, never. I owe so much of my personal growth to being married to Jenny. I have enormous joy in my friendship with her. And I could not imagine living life without her.

So here’s to the next 25 years!

Sunday, April 01, 2007


It feels a bit like an April Fool’s joke: The idea of a “Crucified Christ” is absurd. How can the death of one man in ancient history have any bearing on my life today? Christianity asks us to believe that a man called Jesus was killed by a minor Roman governor, and this shapes my relationship with God 2000 years later. Assuming of course that this man ever actually lived, and is not just an image borrowed from Egyptian religious narratives, or from Greek mythology.

St Paul wryly admits that “we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1 vs 23). And articulate bloggers like Eddie (F) at Edge of Faith candidly and very effectively point out the absurdity of the notion of Jesus leading us to God.

And yet….?
And yet I have discovered that the quirky foolishness of God is far more satisfying than the post-modern logic of a modern cynic. I am attracted to the idea of a God who chooses to seek me out. I am comforted by the belief that I am unconditionally loved by a Creative Being who is beyond my knowing. And I am inspired by the knowledge that this Godly foolishness is available to all people – irrespective of their wisdom or lack therof: inspired mainly because I am a deeply flawed, fragile, insecure, and often mistaken individual who finds comfort is a God who understands my foolishness.

I have no need of a God who perfectly executes the plans of life. Give me a God who indulges in the foolishness of loving broken people, and I am able to join this project. Out of my experience of being foolishly loved by God, I find the courage to love other foolish people too.


I meet once a month with a group of bikers who reflect on our lives so that we can live with a greater sense of adventure. This morning we reminded each other of our desire to be better men. I desire personal authenticity; to be less afraid of stepping into the unknown. And this circle of men gives me courage to do so.

I also wanted to be at the meeting because yesterday I got a new bike. And it is awesome. It is a 2002 Triumph Tiger. This is an upgrade on my previous Tiger, which now has 95 000km on the clock. The new bike has 2700km (yes: two thousand seven hundren km) on the clock. And I have spent the past two days riding. For all those Vespa scooter peddlers who are reading this, come to Cape Town and you can ride over Ou Kaapse Weg, Chapman's Peak, Hout bay, Llandudno, Camps Bay. But of course you will need decent wheels.

And for those without a Tiger, I went onto the internet and found a Tiger that might interest you