Thursday, May 31, 2007

the Lord God made them all...

They are children trapped in old people’s bodies.
They are Joan, and Sharon, and Paddy, and oh so many others who live in a home just around the corner from me. Their bodies have lived faster than their minds. So they have inquisitive, playful, irresponsible, naughty, short tempered, kind, easily distracted childlike thoughts. But these thoughts are contained in bodies that have lived for fifty, sixty, seventy – and in once case ninety-three – years.

Life has been difficult for their families, as their parents have had to come to terms with a differently-abled child. And then the worry about providing for the future of a beloved child/adult. And then the heart-sore decision to place them in a home that can care for them in ways that an aging parent cannot. So there has been sadness.

But today was a birthday party. This home from home, Adam’s Farm, was turning ninety years old. I was invited to share cake and tea. I was invited because I have come to know them on Sunday Mornings. They come to church and sit in the pew halfway down on the right hand side of the church. This is “their” pew – and beware anyone who sits here by mistake. They will be told to move up, probably by Paddy. And when it comes to the part in the service when we celebrate special occasions one of them will claim a birthday (I am convinced that they decide in advance whose turn it is). And then Sharon will thank the congregation for praying for her family, and Joan will ask to sing “All things bright and beautiful”.

But they are good for our church. They remind us that God loves “all creatures great and small”. And their presence helps to knock the arrogance out of those of us who believe that our intellectual abilities can bring us closer to discovering God. And their participation is a wonderful reminder that we do not have to be “perfect” in order to be loved by God.

And so I shared in today’s service of thanksgiving. We sang “All things bright and beautiful”, and some prayed short uninhibited prayers about people we did not know but who were clearly loved by the child/adults, and then the happy clatter as we scrambled for the tea. And many pushed and shoved to get their pictures taken.

And I came home grateful for the blessing they brought into my day.

Friday, May 25, 2007


I am dying.
I think I have known this for some time.
I look in the mirror and see cells that are dying: my hair cells have given up trying to produce colour. My skin cells have slowed their regeneration. My knees ache when I run, my shoulders hurt when I play tennis. And my aging sinuses give me headaches when the weather changes.

I am reminded of dying when my beloved dog dies.
I am reminded of dying when I have one too many funerals for people I have loved.
I am reminded of dying when the Middle-East/Dafur/Iraq explodes once more into death and destruction.
I am reminded of dying when the Church I have worked for, and loved, for nearly 50 years shows (yet again) her capacity to squeeze the life out of me…
And I wonder what lies beyond death.

I choose to believe that the relationships of this life will reconnect after death.
I think that all of life is so sacred that death is not life’s grand destruction.
And so I believe in resurrection…..
….a resurrection of every life that has been lived – human, animal, plant, insect.
And I believe in redemption: that all of life is valuable and that no life is lost.
And that there will be things I still need to learn.
Some may have more to learn than others.
I imagine that Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Saddam Hussein, Robert Mugabe will have much more to learn about valuing life than say Desmond Tutu or Mahatma Gandhi.

This means that there are no harps and clouds, or 1000 virgins for every righteous man, or eternal rest, or thrones and golden crowns, or rewards for good behaviour. These are clearly projections of human longing. And heaven is not “above” and hell “below”. In fact there is no hell. Hell is probably meeting the one you called “enemy” and having to learn to be friends; or discovering that the one you condemned as an unbeliever is compassionately welcoming you to your next life.

I believe that God calls me to follow the way of Jesus as the most helpful way of learning my lessons, and living my life. And I will share the wonder and the passion I have found in the Jesus way of life with other searchers, in the hope that they too may grow in their spirits. And I will honour those who hear God calling them to follow a different spiritual path.

So this life extends beyond death. And the things I learn in this life will become useful in another life after my death. There is never a moment in this life that is wasted – because everything is useful. Both good and bad alike.
So bring it on.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Sheena 1/11/2000 - 19/05/2007

An Irish Setter.
But much more……
A running companion who would hop and skip while waiting for the lead to be clipped to her collar. True to her breed, she had endless energy and loved exercise.
A truly messy dog. She loved to lie in the sand, or rub herself through the bushes, coming into the kitchen with sticks in her feathering, and her long hair messed up like a nutty professor. Her permanently optimistic disposition was never put off by obstacles such as rain or wind. She would stand in the rain, or pant into the wind, until called inside.
A gentle spirit who loved being scratched behind her ears, or stroked on her face. She tried barking, but her “yip” was not enough to frighten anything – not even the tortoise.
An everhopeful spotter of squirrels in the back yard. Her task was to spot the squirrel so that Nugget, our Labrador/Great Dane, could set off after them. Together they prowled the garden keeping the small furry creatures in the tops of the trees.
An inquisitive, intelligent girl, who learned how to snatch a sandwich off the kitchen table, and to sneak down the passage in search of the cat’s food. She managed to look so contrite and bashful when caught, that Granny never thought her to be guilty. She loved fruit such as apples, banana and grapes. And biltong. In fact she loved eating.
Thank you for bringing joy to our lives for a time.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Winter is Coming

The rain is falling against the window pane next to my computer. Rain driven by the North-Westerly wind. The television weather woman has told us about the cold front marching on Cape Town from the South Pole, bringing heavy rain and gale-force winds. She added that there was a good probability of snow on the mountains that ring our city. Winter is coming.

The leaves on the grape vines are changing colour. Golden yellow orange turning to brown. So too are the oak trees. But their leaves are falling to the ground. Great heaps of them. I recently walked through them, kicking my way forward with the exuberance of a young boy. Remembering leaves as a sign that winter is coming.

The tortoise in our garden has slowed up. We fetched him a year ago from a farm near Carnarvon, where he was called Bloukrans. The family have taken to calling him “Tortie-boy”. All summer he ate his way voraciously through lettuce, cabbage, cucumber, and the back lawn. He would make his journey down the long driveway to stand against the back gate with his head through the bars peering across the road while he absorbed the sun. But now he emerges reluctantly from his home in the dog kennel to lie in the sun for a while. After nibbling a bit at his breakfast, he returns to his kennel. Because winter is coming.

And Sheenah, our beloved Irish Setter, is lying on the kitchen floor. Her red coat is matted with sweat and her eyes are exhausted. She has suffered from epileptic seizures over the past 18 months. Which have curtailed her enthusiastic, madly hopeful barking at the squirrels in the garden. But the fits are increasing in severity - 10 seizures in the past 24 hours. And the medication is not helping. I fear that her winter is coming.

And I sit like a rock in the grass, waiting for winter to wash over me.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Seven Secrets

I’ve been tagged by Denise to write seven things no one knows about me. It's blog tag. And I'm IT. And Denise is a wonderful writer (who is really worth visiting for her evocative writing)who has no problem with spilling the beans... Okay, little known facts about me…

One: I wish I was 10 kg lighter. I weigh 90kg, and used to weigh 80kg. That was when I was running 100km per week. But right now I am not running at all. I pretend that I am a runner by reading running magazines. But I am over my running weight and after more than 100 marathons the knees are sore and the spirit is not as disciplined as it used to be.
Two: I love writing. I feel free when words are being shaped, prodded and pushed through then ends of my fingers. I wish that I could take a year off and just write. But the responsibilities of a family, and of putting a roof over our heads and getting bread on the table are ever present. So I snatch at moments in between other things.
Three: I take great delight in initiating my daughters into the ways of men. Because they have no brothers, they need to discover that men burp loudly, that we swagger with style, that we turn up the sound when rugby/cricket/golf/tennis (in fact any sport) in on the television and we turn down the sound when Days of our Lives or Generations comes on. I take great delight in the collective groan when I begin my “manly” act.
Four: There are songs that make me cry: like when Katie Melua sings The Closest Thing to Crazy, and when Eva Cassidy sings Songbird. I cry when Ralph McTell sings Streets of London, and Johnny Cash sings Orphan of the Road.
Five: I sing to myself when I am driving. Often I sing along with the song playing on the CD or the radio. I also curse other drivers. And plead with God to open a space in the traffic for me.
Six: I have bookshelves filled with many, many biographies. I am inspired by reading the lives of other people. My favourites are the lives of Nelson Mandela, and Desmond Tutu: Mr Mandela has autographed his book. Archbishop Tutu has inscribed his book to me and signed it. These are my heroes in life. I absolutely admire their integrity. And their unswerving commitment to justice. And their capacity for forgiveness and grace-filled living.
Seven. I hate it when someone says to me “I support your position” and then they are not willing to be with me when I act on my beliefs. This last weekend I was asked to leave my church’s Synod because of my support for blessing same-sex unions. Some of my friends and colleagues joined me in a public declaration of faith. But then some who kept quiet said privately that “they were with me”. No – you were not with me. I was in the water, and you were on the river bank. (as you can see I am just a bit raw at the moment).

So who to tag? I have some wonderful people who visit this site from time to time. And would love to discover more about you. Dion is a wonderful scholar and Vesper addict; Wessel has a beautiful wife and family; David lives in the north of Scotland, inspires my dreams of an emergent church – and of birds; Murray writes from England and plays an amazing new guitar; Gus reads books, plays guitar, and loves his wife/dogs; Steve runs a wonderful blogsite to challenge Stupid Church People; and suddenly I realise that this is very male… Becky the master’s English scholar, had better come to the party.

Monday, May 07, 2007

McD Christian Churches

Our consumer culture infests the Christian Church.
We who are deeply shaped by the need for instant gratification, want to use our Church as a place to buy instant happiness. I encounter new church members who want to join my church “because of the friendly atmosphere”, or “for the great music”, or “because of the excellent preaching” (I have colleagues who preach very well).
David Fisher writes that
The church is often seen as a place to receive goods and services rather than a body whose purpose it is to serve….Consumers of religion decide church affiliation on the basis of the best services available.
David Fisher in the 21st Century pastor p.77

I long for people who will say to me that they have come to us because Jesus has called them to be here. And that they are called to serve in our street people project, or to visit the retirement homes we care for, or that that they want to participate in our summer Youth Holiday Club.
I pray that we will resist our lust for spiritual orgasm. And instead be willing to commit to a lifestyle of obedience to God’s call.