Thursday, August 30, 2007

Using Violence

Can violence ever be a necessary tool to achieve a desired consequence?

Yesterday a would-be robber was shot four times by a security guard during an attempted cash-in-transit robbery. A witness phoned a radio talk show and described how the security guards then kicked and pushed the wounded robber, who was lying on the ground screaming in pain. Now this witness may, or may not be right. The thing that I found disturbing was the reaction inside of myself.

Because I know the ethical theory: that even the crooks have civil rights; and that when we treat a person inhumanely we lose our humanity; and that abusing the abuser makes me abusive. I am, after all, a convinced pacifist

But my first reaction was “Serves him right”. And the multitude of SMS messages and phone-in callers agreed. Some went as far as wishing that he had been shot more times, or that he had been shot in the head, or that the ‘bleeding-heart’ witness should get in touch with reality. And I understood all of this.

Because I am afraid of being the next victim.
And this has changed my behaviour:
I no longer walk on Table Mountain, because people are being mugged on the mountain
I look carefully in the car’s mirrors when I approach my home, because people in my area are being attacked in their driveways.
I do not like entering public toilets on my own, because it is a place where people are robbed.
And so I found a place in my pacifist heart that understood exactly why those security guards, and all those radio listeners, wanted to use violence on the robber.

Pray for our country – that we can find ways of retaining our humanity without being tempted to rejoice in violence.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Big Man

So what makes a big man?
Today George Bush, the big man of the United States of America, raged against Iran. He blamed Iran for being the source of evil, and for supporting acts of terror. And seemed to be threatening war against Iran. This is in keeping with the tradition of big men: wave your fist, gun. economy (name your weapon) in the face of the enemy and threaten to wipe them off the face of the earth. Many big men have done this – from the Caesars of Rome to the Presidents and Kings of nations. Come to think of it – the church is good at this too: Popes, Presiding Bishops, and Senior Pastors act like big men and wave the Bible, the Church Rules, or the threat of excommunication at people.

Today there was also another big man who spoke from a public platform. Nelson Mandela unveiled a statue in London, and spoke of this being a sign to all who struggle for human rights. He noted that while the statue may look like him, he accepted it on behalf of all who had suffered for what is just. Here is a big man who is received by Presidents and Popes – yet who is able to identify with those who have been made to feel little by “big men”.

And I am reminded of a Big Man who chose to set aside his glory in order to live amongst the poor; a Big Man who chose to strip off his status to wash feet; a Big Man who allowed himself to be mocked and whipped and killed – so that little people may live. And I choose to follow big men who seek the way of humble service.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Familiar Voice

I have often heard her voice.
I dial Telkom for a phone number and she is produced by the computer to recite the required number to me. A crisp, well modulated voice that inflects authority, and inspires confidence in her answer. And then today I met her. Not face to fact, but on the radio.

She is Helen Naude. And she was phoned by a radio jock, who pulled a stunt with her. And I learned that she is a poppie from Radiokragbron in Witbank. And she got rattled by his stunt, and was irritated, and lost her familiar voice, and hung up on him. And I laughed. Because I discovered the gap between that which was familiar and comforting, and the new things I was now learning about her. Here is my choice: I can return to dialling the safe number to find that familiar voice, or I can pay attention to new perspectives on the voice.

And I was reminded of how I read the Bible: a familiar voice that inspires confidence – until someone points out a perspective in the Bible that I have not seen. And my familiar voice takes on an unfamiliar note. I believe that when we move beyond the familiar Scriptural voice, we hear new overtones that will lead us into new spiritual growth. And the only way we can discover this is when we are willing to allow the jokers/outsiders/ little people of life to prod us in uncomfortable ways.

May God send many people my way who move me beyond the familiar voice.

Friday, August 17, 2007

My Bed

I have slept in many different beds in the last month...ranging from single beds to wonderful double beds. And of course Emirates Airlines offered me a number of different plane seats for overnight accommodation. However, despite all this amazing hospitality, I know that my own bed is best.

My bed has contours that fit my body – mainly because I have been lying on “my” side of the bed I share with Jenny for many years. I know exactly where the light is if I need to turn it on at night. I know exactly how the blankets fit if I am cold, and how to position the pillows to get maximum comfort.

Which is perhaps a good analogy for the past month.
Because while I have thoroughly appreciated the hospitality of the many people I have met, I am glad to be home. I am back in the place where I “fit”. I know the networks that help to make me more efficient. I know the feel of the community. And I know that right now God’s call on my life is to work here in Plumstead. So I will be taking the many experiences and learnings of the past month and using them here.
And I am grateful to all those who have been my teachers.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Taking Leave

Tomorrow I climb on a plane back to Cape Town.
And have learned much while in the United Kingdom.
I am grateful for the generous hospitality of the people I met... people such as Rory and Linda Dalgliesh, Sue and John Culver, and Debbie Dargan. Thank you too to Ronnie Millar, Des vd Water, and Paul Howes for friendship and colleagueship.

I take leave of my daughter Jessica, who has spent the first seven months of this year as a music assistant at a school. I have spend the last 10 days with her and am amazed at how she has matured into a confident and capable young lady. She now leaves for Scotland, where she will spend the next three months at the Iona Community as a volunteer (She begins in the kitchen!)

And I head back to Cape Town to discover the next chapter in my life.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

In the Footsteps of my Grandfather

About 80 years ago my Grandfather studied at Clare College, Cambridge. He was young, far from his home in Cape Town, and in love with a ‘wee Scottish lassie’. This left an indelible mark on his life. He never married the lassie, he lived the rest of his life in Cape Town, and never spoke much of his college life. I remember the Clare College crest next to ‘his’ chair in their lounge, the Cambridge tie, and his love of anything linked to Scotland.

And here I was, walking the lawns of Clare College. I felt a connection with him. And offered a prayer of thanks for the things I learned from him: a love for the mountains, a respect for the sea, and a curiosity for people. Through him I have inherited an ability to speak to people and an interest in their lives. And I am enriched for being his grandson.

Henry Kennan Beard.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

A Community's Parade

Today was the Clacton Community Carnival.
This seaside resort hosted a parade through the town in aid of community charity funding. The theme was Pirates and the Caribbean. This morning I joined the members of Trinity Methodist Church in building their float. This involved decorating a flatbed trailer with a ship, complete with sails, and a beach with Palm trees. We finally set out for the start, calypso music belting out from the large speakers on the back. After the floats were judged (and our float won awards for best creativity) we all set off along the beachfront: horses, bands, floats, drums, and princesses. The people of the town lined the road. And here was my great surprise.

I had been given a bucket labelled “Claxton Community Carnival”, and offered it in the direction of the spectators, expecting to be ignored or rebuffed. But the community came armed for the occasion: the little children were clutching packets of coins, and as each bucket passed they would drop some coins in successive buckets. I was overwhelmed with the generosity of the people, and at the joy they had in giving. The obvious pleasure they took in giving to charity was an inspiration.

How I long for a world like this.
Where we are all willing to give to charity – without expecting something in return.
Thank you Clacton for a happy day..

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Sex in the Abbey Garden

Sue Culver is a deacon in the Methodist Church in York. And was worried about Dora, whose hormones were working overtime in just plain sexual frustration. So after some thought Sue decided to take Dora to Reivaux Abbey. Sue also took the rest of the family – including Me and my daughter Jessica.

The Abbey is out in the country, along a typical twisty, winding English country road (the English used horses to design their roads). Dorah was very excited about this visit, and when we arrived at the Abbey we were relieved to see how Dorah was the first out of the car. Sue had pre-arranged to meet Sam at 7pm. So there we were in the shadow of the Abbey, as Dora and Sam made their introductions.

They were both very inexperienced at this sort of stuff. Sue tried offering helpful hints. Sue’s husband John then lent a hand. And the rest of us offered prayers for a successful union as they eyed each other. Dora made the first move, much to Sam’s bewilderment. Dora had him in a clinch, which made the rest of us giggle with disbelief. So Sue and John got had to show them how it was done. John later confessed to “not knowing enough of this stuff”.

Finally it was decided that they were acquainted sufficiently to spend the night together. So we will fetch Dora tonight. And hopefully in 63 days there will be some Patterdale Terrier puppys. For lessons, or puppies, contact Sue at

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Got this from my friend Wessel (see my link).
Wessel is a very bright Doctor of Theology and so I believe this to be the truth:

There were 3 good arguments that Jesus was Black:
1. He called everyone brother.
2. He liked Gospel.
3. He didn't get a fair trial.

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was Jewish:
1. He went into His Father's business.
2. He lived at home until he was 33.
3. He was sure his Mother was a virgin and his Mother was sure He was God.

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was Italian:
1. He talked with His hands.
2. He had wine with His meals.
3. He used olive oil

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was a Californian:
1. He never cut His hair.
2. He walked around barefoot all the time.
3. He started a new religion.

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was an American Indian :
1. He was at peace with nature.
2. He ate a lot of fish.
3. He talked about the Great Spirit.

But then there were 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was Irish:
1. He never got married.
2. He was always telling stories.
3. He loved green pastures.

But the most compelling evidence of all - 3 proofs that Jesus was a woman:
1. He fed a crowd at a moment's notice when there was virtually no food.
2. He kept trying to get a message across to a bunch of men who just didn't get it.
3. And even when He was dead, He had to get up because there was still work to do.

Truth be told - Jesus has been dragged into every cause on earth. On the one hand it does mean that many people have appropriated Jesus to their point of view. On the other hand it is a timely reminder that Jesus identifies with all people, and is as close to the Muslim as he is to the Christian. It is we who have difficulty with understanding the love Jesus has for all people. Shame on those Christians who want to keep Jesus for ourselves.

Monday, August 06, 2007

A Moment of Silence

Today – 62 years ago....August 6, 1945, a B-29 bomber named Enola Gay dropped a bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. 70,000 people probably died as a result of the initial blast. By the end of 1945, because of the lingering effects of radioactive fallout and other after effects, the Hiroshima death toll was probably over 100 000. The five-year death toll from cancer and other long-term effects was in the region of 200 000.

For hours after the attack the Japanese government did not even know what had happened. Radio and telegraph communications with Hiroshima had suddenly ended at 8:16 a.m., and vague reports of some sort of large explosion had begun to filter in, but the Japanese high command knew that no large-scale air raid had taken place over the city and that there were no large stores of explosives there. Eventually a Japanese staff officer was dispatched by plane to survey the city from overhead, and while he was still nearly 100 miles away from the city he began to report on a huge cloud of smoke that hung over it. The first confirmation of exactly what had happened came only sixteen hours later with the announcement of the bombing by the United States.

President Truman’s first public announcement noted that the Japanese had been "repaid many fold" for their attack on Pearl Harbor. Revenge (and racism) may well have played a subtle part in Truman’s willingness to go ahead with the atomic bombing of Japan. As Truman explained, "When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him as a beast." Throughout the war, many Americans viewed the Japanese as an inferior and barbarous race, deserving of annihilation.

Pray with me for all who suffered the consequences of that bomb.
And for all who continue to suffer the consequences of the stupidity of war.


I have just spent a week with 30 student ministers/priests who are training with the North East Institute for Theological Education. They are second-career people who have discovered a call to pastoral ministry later in life. These are people who have faced divorce, children, cancer, the loss of loved ones, financial worry, aging, and the many other difficult life experiences that we all encounter. And I am convinced that they are better ministers for this.

They are also people who know how to laugh, to exploit Yorkshire humour to the full, to sink a Guiness, and to sing Rugby songs on the bus on the way home from the pub. They are not snobs, and do not have time for intellectual pretentiousness. They are people who care passionately about serving God, and who are willing to work for a world of justice and love.

I am privileged to have been let into their world. I enjoyed the time spent with them - except for them singing “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” over my head. Their earthy humour, and ability to grasp life with enthusiasm has been an inspiration.

I shall pray for them as they prepare for their ordination.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Painting for Peace

We visited Derry - or Londonderry. They way you say this discloses your political loyalties. Add 'London' to Derry if you are a Unionist, or drop the 'London' if you are a Republican.

The Bogside is in Derry. It is Republican. And it has murals that depict social feelings. And the political boundaries were clearly demarcated by the murals.
During the troubles the faces of those who had died were also painted on the walls. And these murals are constantly being touched up.

But one painting in particular moved me. It depicts the first girl to die in the conflict. And was constantly retouched to keep her memory alive. But the changed political circumstances have introduced a change to the painting. The rifle is broken. And a butterfly has been introduced. This butterfly began as black and white, but as peace grows, so the artists are adding colour. Their hope is that the butterfly will be fully colourful.

Pray that this be so.


The Irish Republican Army has decommissioned its arms?
And I raise my eyebrows in disbelief and mutter “Who says?”
But this morning I met Harold Good who was one of the people who verified this process.

Harold is a former President of the Methodist Conference, a leader in the Corrymeela community, and a leading peace activist in Northern Ireland. He was a Protestant Minister in Shankhill Road, Belfast. And during the terrible time of conflict kept his church doors open and the lights burning day and night – so that people could find a place of refuge. He has committed his life to making peace in Northern Ireland. And as such was invited to be on the team who supervised the destruction of IRA weapons. Harold noted that of even more importance than the destruction of weapons is the change of heart. He can vouch for a softening of previously heard hearts. He speaks of his immense hope for a renewed society. And of his confidence that the IRA are absolutely committed to peaceful co-leadership.

The destruction of IRA weapons is an enormous act of good faith, of nation building. The Ulster Defence Force/Army and all the other off shoots of the Unionist cause have not had any independent verification of their weapons. They assure us that they are safely locked up. But have not allowed anyone to verify this. As an outsider it seems glaringly obvious that the UDF needs to match the faithful self disclosure of the IRA.

Pray for this process of peacemaking in Northern Ireland.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Army Withdraws

The British Army's emergency operation in Northern Ireland came to an end at midnight on Tuesday 31st July after 38 years. British troops were sent to Northern Ireland in 1969 after violent clashes between Catholics and Protestants. Operation Banner was the Army's longest continuous campaign in its history with more than 300,000 personnel serving and 763 directly killed by paramilitaries. A garrison of 5,000 troops will remain but security will be entirely the responsibility of the police.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Give me the Good News

Today we study the effect of the media on public perceptions. And how bad news sells and good news is “not in the media interest”. And so I am choosing to tell some good news stories: the stories of how people of Belfast are actively crossing the walls that divide their society.

Fr Gerry Reynolds inspired the Clonard Reconciliation Project. This is run from the Clonard Monastery in the heart of troubled Shankhill/Falls roads neighbourhood. Here is a Roman Catholic initiative that reaches out to the other churches in their neighbourhood. They invite their congregation members to “become a unity pilgrim in your parish for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel. …join in a Sunday morning pilgrimage to a Protestant congregation which is willing to welcome us.”. They go in small groups to visit the morning services of Shankhill Methodist/St Matthew’s Shankill Road/Woodvale Presbyterian, and another 37 different congregations.

We met Robbie, who is one of those who has made this pilgrimage. Who wondered why people found the divisions so important. Who was able to say that when a person has met Jesus they can see beyond the divisions. And who is completely perplexed at the theological differences that become a stumbling block to Christian unity. “Get rid of all this rubbish that keeps us apart. We belong together”.

Peace Walls

Yesterday I went to Belfast. And found huge walls/fences separating the city. They are called "Peace Walls".

The community divides into Protestant/Catholic, Loyalist/Republican, Rangers/Celtic, Sinn Fein/DUP. These ancient divisions are traced to economic, religious and political roots – and are loosely referred to as “the troubles”.

Somewhere in the dim and distant past, people of Celtic and Roman religious roots had to live on the same land. People who owed loyalty to Great Britain, and people who wanted independence had to live side by side. And people who were indigenous to the land and people who were brought in from Scotland had to live side by side. And people who were traders and people who were workers had to live side by side. And they all slowly coalesced into two competing groups of people. And for generations the only way they have lived together was in conflict. Northern Ireland divided their communities, and their religious observances, and their political perspectives, and their football teams.

And then the glimmerings of a miracle: the elected leaders of these groupings have shaken hands and taken up seats side by side in governing Northern Ireland. But this is only the beginning. Because there is so much work to be done on the ground. There are “Peace Walls” separating people from one another. What an abuse of the English language! The lesson of South Africa’s history is that walls never bring peace. Walls keep people apart. And at some point the walls need to come down and people will have to find each other as neighbours.

So pray that these security separations may come down, and that spaces between people may be filled with peace.