Monday, July 30, 2007


and in case you do not know where Corrymeela is - it is just outside Ballycastle.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


I am now at Corrymeela. And waiting for the students to arrive from the airport. They fly in from different parts of England. Corrymeela is a Christian community committed to bringin healing in society - and we hope to add to this dream.

Friday, July 27, 2007


York vs Kent at Scarborough.
John and Sue Culver took me to a day of county cricket. Scarborough Cricket Ground is small and intimate. £15 for a day of ribald commentary from the old gents sitting at the back on their deck chairs, passionate crowds who clearly wanted York to win, dark threatening clouds overhead, and beer. Oh yes – cricket.

We sat on the wooden benches and joined the comments on the performance of the cricketers. We also ate hot chips, and drank a variety of beverages. In the afternoon the heavens opened and everyone scurried to the bar to shelter from the rain. More comments about the weather, and the game, and the weather, and the state of the pitch, and the weather, and the calibre of the players, and the weather. Until it became clear that there would be no more cricket because the outfield was collecting water.

A cheerful crowd wound its way out of the grounds – the old timers to the nearby fish and chip shop where they will get a pensioners discount. Local cricket is just great.

(Wouldn’t it be wonderful if local church was as good?)

Silence with St Benedict

I have spent three days at Ampleforth Abbey. This Benedictine Abbey is set in beautiful Yorkshire countryside, which I both ran and walked in exploration. There is a 4.8 tonne bell to summon us to worship, offices are accompanied by a 5000 pipe organ; Vespers are in Latin; and the food is a new adventure: rice pudding must have some jam mixed into it.

I used this time for preparing for the Summer School in Northern Ireland. I am to present information on the Truth and Reconciliation process of South Africa. I also lead some Bible Studies, and preach at the closing Eucharist. The Bible Studies will be looking at Conflict (Luke 9:46-55) and Leadership (John 18:33-38) while my closing word will be one of encouraging the students to discover the call of God to bring healing to our world.

I loved sitting with the monks at 6am Matins – and knowing that around the world there are people praying as the sun rises. I ask that those who pray might know that God holds us together, irrespective of how we pray, what words we use, or what images we need in order to assist our prayers.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Row your Boat....

My friend Rory Dalgliesh treated me to the rare privilege of a trip down the River Ouse. The Romans sailed up this river and built York as a fort, complete with wall and gate. And when they left, the Vikings sailed up the river and made their acquaintance with the locals.

Rory belongs to the Canoeing Club and took out a canoe for the two of us. We set out in the rain, but this English rain is soft, without wind, and not cold. We paddled with the stream (river) and soon were passing through the town of York. The city looks completely different from the water. The flood water mark is visible on the walls of buildings along the river – and Rory told me that one bar stops serving when the water comes over the bar counter.

Past the Archbishop’s Palace (yes it is huge) and past beautiful riverside homes with large manicured lawns and the boat moored at the private dock outside. There was a dinghy race, with sailors vainly seeking wind, river cruise boats with the rich clutching drinks, and river house boats where people live.

We ended in glorious sunshine, at the lock, where the first effects of the sea-tide are felt. Thank you Rory for a great day.

Oh yes – not everyone is as happy as I am with the water.
Please pray for the many, many people along the western side of England who are suffering from too much water. Floods have driven people out of their homes, and thousands are without drinking water.

Mary and Martha

Yesterday I preached at Haxby and Wiggington Methodist Church. I believe it is always a privilege to be invited into people's lives, and I do not take this lightly. It is also amazing to cross cultures and still be asked for a religious opinion. I do not believe that I have any right to presume to know about York and how Christian people in York should live. So the best I could do was to reflect on what it means to be a Christian in South Africa. I have included an edited version of the sermon so that you can see what I said:

Text: Luke 10: 38-42

The story, of Mary and Martha seems seems to be a story about laziness:
Here is Martha working hard in the kitchen to prepare food for guests.
In the middle-eastern culture of hospitality there were probably more
than just Jesus the 12 disciples. It is no wonder that Luke tells us that
Martha ‘was distracted by all the preparations.’ The one person who could
have helped her was her sister Mary. But Mary is sitting in the lounge with all the guests – and so Martha is angry.

You would be too!

At first glance this seems to be a family squabble (which we all understand), But why write this story into our Holy Scriptures? There were plenty of other stories that never made it into this book – so why this one?

The fact that what seems to be a minor incident is remembered, tells us that there is more going on than we understand. I am convinced that this is one of the great moments of the New Testament. This is far more than a spat between sisters: This is a moment where Jesus challenges human prejudice.

We need a little background to this story.
Jesus lived in a culture where only the men talked about religious matters. Each man was expected to talk to his wife about the religious practices of his family – but only men would talk in public. It was thought that women were incapable of understanding the things of God. There is a well known prayer of a rabbi who prayed: “I thank you Lord that I was not born a dog or a woman” .because he would not be able to pray to God.

So here is the situation:
Jesus is sitting teaching about the things of God. And in a good middle-eastern household the women would have withdrawn to the kitchen and left their men to talk with the rabbi….And the kitchen here was probably a fire outside the home. So Martha withdraws, but Mary stays to listen to Jesus. Mary breaks the cultural taboos. She wants to hear the teachings. Martha then marches into this male circle and demands that Jesus should tell Mary to take up her culturally ordained place. And Jesus refuses to do this.
“Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her”

I believe that if it were not for moments like this, then all the women here today would have been back at home preparing Sunday tea while us men worshipped God.

Some thoughts:

1. Jesus did not make distinction in the religious participation of men and women. Gender was not an issue to Jesus (In fact let us be clear that Jesus did not have 12 men as his disciples. If you read the first few verses of Luke Chapter 8 you will find a list of the women disciples who accompanied Jesus too).
Let us get beyond the idea that somehow men are spiritually superior to women.

2. This is a story that speaks of Jesus welcoming people into his circle:
This particular instance it was a woman: but the underlying principle is that “All are welcome – and in particular those who our culture send to the kitchen of life”

I don’t know how things work here:
But South Africans have had to hear Jesus challenging our cultural habits that want to include some people – and send other people to the kitchen. We are learning to include people:

As you know, we had a cultural norm called Apartheid – where literally white people would sit in the lounge, and black people would be in the kitchen. And sadly this was part of the culture of the Christian Church. But the Gospel of Jesus has challenged us to repent of our ways. And we have learned to share the lounge together.

But there are other categories of people who we are still learning to include:
Such as
- Gay and Lesbian people
- refugees and asylum seekers
- poor people who do not live in formal housing and have regular income.
The issue is not one of whether we will be nice to people: I am convinced that my congregation will welcome anyone who walks through the door of the church.
My question is about what we do after this.

I know my members buy copies of the ‘Big Issue’ – but I often wonder if they actually stop to ask the seller her name. You see, when you ask a person’s name you bring them from the kitchen into the living room.

I know my congregation prays for countries that generate refugees – but will they invite a refugee family into their home for a meal: bring then from the fire outside the door into the warmth of a family.

The fact is that it is far easier to drop some money into a box than to make the effort to engage people. And while we might be kind to dogs and strangers, we only become Christ-followers when we make the effort to get up off our comfortable chairs and go to speak those who are in the kitchen.
Si I am inviting you to aks yourself - "Who are the people in my kitchen?"

Friday, July 20, 2007


King Henry Vlll resented Bolton Abbey – and burned it down.
He was afraid that it would become a place of opposition to his rule. It was independently wealthy, and supported many any people in the region. And he wanted the people to depend on the King’s charity – so that he could consolidate his power.
But despite the destroyed building, its community continued to worship. Today there is a plaque to commemorate 850 years of continuous worship on this site.

Who would have thought this when the Abbey was burning!

The Buddhists speak of the impermanence of everything in life: the rulers shall pass away, the buildings will decay, and the plans will become history. Our power as worshipping Christian communities is not vested in our buildings, or our connections to the rich and powerful, or our capacity to plan for the future. The only power we have lies in our capacity to let go; to renounce; to give up. When we are able to give up control, we have power over our fear; when we choose not to accumulate, we have the power to appreciate what we have; when we opt for humility, we deny power to the arrogant and proud; and when we choose to be peaceful we gain the power of love.

And all these are available when we allow the Spirit of Jesus into our dreams, our living, and our dying.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

I've been to London and...?

...saw that the Church and the Parliament are right next to one another.
Of course the only reason this enormous church stands across the road from Parliament is so that the Government can keep an eye on the Church. This is not a new idea. Constantine did this 1700 years ago, and England’s King Henry Vlll followed suite. Parliament appoints the Archbishops, and the other Bishops, Canons and Deans. And the Queen is head of the Church.

As a South African this is familiar: the Apartheid Government understood the usefulness of a close relationship between church and state. At one time two brothers shared this responsibility – one as Prime Minister and the other as Moderator of the Dutch Reformed Church. The political ideology of Apartheid was blessed by the religious leaders of the Christian church.

As I watch this proximity of church and state I am acutely aware of how my Methodist colleagues revel in the close relationship between our Church and the current South African Government. A former Presiding Bishop, was overjoyed to be the pastor who presided over the marriage of Nelson Mandela to Graca Machel. Another former Presiding Bishop left our church to become the leader of the Pan African Congress. And many, many Methodist Ministers currently revel in their close relationship (often by blood and clan) with members of Parliament.

In London the members of Parliament could walk across the road to Westminster Abbey and talk with God… which I suspect would be seen as a novel concept.
Actually asking God about affairs of state…why, it’s preposterous!
Probably as preposterous as the Methodist leadership challenging Thabo Mbeki’s government about the silence on Zimbabwe’s crisis; and Hiv/Aids; and the hardships faced by refugees/illegal aliens in our country; and the greed of the upwardly mobile who are steadily increasing the gap between the wealthy and the poor.

Pray for us to find the courage to move the front door of the church a little further away from the front door of parliament – so that we make some space for the perspectives of God to come between us.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


Tomorrow morning I get on a plane to London.
I have been invited to share in people’s lives:
• Saturday 21st I lead a workshop on “Reconciliation” with my good friend Rory Dalgliesh. This is organised by the York Institute for Community Theology.
• Sunday 22nd I preach at the Haxby Methodist Church
• 23-25 I spend in Ampleforth Abbey preparing for:
• Participating in a seven day retreat at the Corrymeela Community Centre in Northern Ireland. This is a Summer School programme and I will be leading some Bible Studies, reflecting on the South African lessons in reconciliation, and leading the closing Eucharist.
• 6th – 13th August will be spent with my daughter Jessica. Where this will be will depend on her mood: right now we are possibly going to Scotland.
• And then a weekend with another good friend Debbie Dargan.

I am honoured at the opportunity. And I am really excited….I really cannot maintain a ‘studied air of indifference to it all’.

So please pray for me – and for those who will put up with me.
I will keep you posted via this blog.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Changing Brands

I confess that I have changed allegiance.

After great joy at getting a new bike, I discovered that I had been sold a bike with a cracked frame - which caused great unhappiness. Needless to say I gave the bike back to the shop and after some delay got my money back. I then had an opportunity to buy another Tiger, but the owner was extremely rude to my wife, and I chose not to pursue this any further. Then my brother-in-law in Johannesburg persuaded me to look in Jo'burg. And with his assistance, the rest is history. See the attached photograph of my new bike.

The only problem is that it is in Johannesburg. So Jenny and I plan to fly to Jo'burg and ride the bike back over the September longweekend (22-24). Yahoo.

the only true church

And just when I thought it was safe to be with Roman Catholics….

This week Pope Benedict XVI reasserted the universal primacy of the Roman Catholic Church. He corrected the “erroneous interpretation” of Vatican Two that had dropped the Catholic Church’s insistence that there is no salvation outside of the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Benedict writes that other Christian denominations are not true churches but are instead ecclesial communities and, therefore, do not have the “means of salvation”.

How can he think that belonging to his church guarantees salvation?
When will he discover that God loves all people - irrespective of the church, mosque, temple or tree they sit under?
And that God comes in search of people.
And that God does not require membership of a religious organisation to befriend human beings.
And that God chooses to save anyone God pleases - without first examining a membership card.

Monday, July 09, 2007


Yesterday I participated in a service celebrating the 70th birthday of the local Roman Catholic Church. Father Sannu was gracious in his welcome of the clergy from other church traditions. He concluded the service by presenting us each with candle to take back to our churches as a sign of our unity in Christ.

Then it was “tea after the service” in the Roman Catholic Church Hall. The four old ladies sat together. They had each collected their cup of tea, and an accompanying plate of eats – cake, scone, sandwich, koeksuster and samoosa. Now they were watching the crowd and passing comments between themselves. One was from the local church, the others were her neighbours: a Dutch Reformed member, an Anglican, and the third a Methodist. They shared one another’s churches. Whenever there was a function they all went together: “Today is the Catholic turn” they explained.

As I light the candle this Sunday I will remember the unity of these neighbours….and pray for an increase in neighbourliness between Christian traditions.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Questions and Answers

Johnny Nash is a singer of my youth. Using Bob Marley’s backing band, The Wailers, he gave me infectious reggae melodies that brought some style to my walk. Two of his songs describe my life over the past two weeks.

I have been in the mountains seeking God. I learned from a Buddhist teacher how to sit, and how to breathe, and how to be still. I spend two periods of five days each in silence, with a guided reflection in between the two times of silence. I became aware that my mind seeks distraction so that I can avoid facing the real issues deep inside of me. I found both challenge, and refuge in the silence. I have become quieter and my head has less buzz and chatter.

I am also aware that contemplating God is a bit like the flea describing an elephant. Somewhat brashly I thought that this could be a time of encounter with God and that I could come down from the mountain with clarity. This has proved to be illusive – hence the Johnny Nash song:

There are more questions than answers
Pictures in my mind that will not show
There are more questions than answers
And the more I find out the less I know
Yeah, the more I find out the less I know…..

I do not have answers for all my questions. In fact I have discovered some new questions. There is no shadow of doubt in my mind that God loves me. And that God is to be found wherever I struggle for justice, and work to alleviate human suffering. I do not have the answers for why people suffer, or why we seem to struggle with life, or why George Bush claims to have God on his side.

But at the same time my Creator encountered me. I sat in silence on a snow covered mountain and God came in search of me. I had glimpses of a Call on my life re-affirmed. And I knew moments of absolute trust in God. Above all I return to life convinced that following Jesus is the only way for me to live an authentic life.

Hence the second Johnny Nash song:
I can see clearly now, the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It's gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun shiny day

I think I can make it now, the pain is gone
All of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is the rainbow I've been prayin' for
It's gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun shiny day