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.