Thursday, January 31, 2008

Oppression of the Aliens and Outcasts

Last night police raided the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg and arrested 'illegal aliens' from Zimbabwe who were staying in the Church. Bishop Paul Verryn confirmed that the police raids were conducted without a warrant and that their raids caused damage to Church property and chaos among the refugees.

So here is a Zimbabwean perspective:
Pamela said...
I am a Zimbabwean legally in South Africa and it breaks my heart. We have been reduced to beggars. We are constantly referred to as "aliens". In that church there were fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, children who have done nothing wrong but to seek refuge in the house of the Lord. Nothing was being done in secret everyone knew of the existence of Zimbabwean refuges at the Methodist Church. By taking this action the South African Police have shown the stand of the government on the mess that Zimbabwe has been reduced to. They are in denial of the suffering of the people. The church is under a biblical mandate to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless. It is a mandate from God and I don't care that the government may not subscribe to the authority of God but I and a whole lot of other people do. What has been done is to stomp upon holy ground rip people out of their place of safety and throw them right back into danger of starvation and potential violence. The state has trespassed big time. Let me address the issue from a language that the state understands. We speak of the Bible they speak of the Constitution as the supreme law of the land. Their supreme document states that Citizens have the right to religion. Christian religion demands shelter and food for those in need. The church was exercising its right under the Constitution, its mandate from God and the urge of any sound human heart to help and the response of the state is to damage property and sanctity. It is a disgrace.

This sounds so familiar - just like the Apartheid world that I grew up in.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Evangelical Preacher

I found this at the SCP site (see the link on the RH of this blog):

Given, a man with moderate intellect, a moral standard not higher than the average, some rhetorical affluence and great glibness of speech, what is the career in which, without aid of birth or money, he may most easily attain power and reputation...? which a smattering of science and learning will pass for profound instruction, where platitudes will be accepted as wisdom, bigoted narrowness as holy zeal, unctuous egoism as God-given piety? Let such a man become an evangelical preacher; he will then find it possible to reconcile small ability with great ambition, superficial knowledge with the prestige of erudition, a middling morale with a high reputation of sanctity.

Pleasant to the clerical flesh... is the arrival of Sunday!... He has an immense advantage over all other public speakers. The platform orator is subject to the criticism of hisses and groans. Counsel for the plaintiff expects the retort of counsel for the defendant. The honorable gentleman on one side of the House is liable to have his facts and figures shown up by his honorable friend on the opposite side.... the preacher is completely master of the situation: no one may hiss, no one may depart. Like the writer of imaginary conversations, he may put what imbecilities he pleases into the mouths of his antagonists, and swell with triumph when he has refuted them. He may riot in gratuitous assertions, confident that no man will contradict him; he may exercise perfect free-will in logic, and invent illustrative experience; he may give an evangelical edition of history with the inconvenient facts omitted;-all this he may do with impunity, certain that those of his hearers who are not sympathizing are not listening.

~George Eliot, Westminster Review, 1855

Sunday, January 27, 2008

No Power

Being Church

A small part of the Church of Jesus met tonight.
They are all colleagues in the pastoral ministry: Pam and her two sisters; Dave and his family; Gerhardt and Olive; Andrew and his daughters; and my family. We sat outside and made a fire and cooked some meat; and the teenage children played with Dave’s little ones on the back lawn of my home.

We talked about life: the problems of power failures, and of financial worries; and the pastoral problems we are dealing with. We laughed together about the things that make us afraid, and gave each other courage for the week ahead. We ended the evening with a song, and prayed for one another.

And this was a great way to be church.

Friday, January 25, 2008

vox populi, vox Dei

The election of leaders is a fascinating exercise of popular will: the Americans are preparing for Presidential elections with the expectation that the eventual winner will be welcomed by a “nation under God”. Closer to home the ANC has just has just elected a President, and we are asked to support him because he has been democratically elected. Implicit in such elections is an assumption that because this is democratic, it must be good. And to some, good equates to divine approval. Certainly Churches have led the way in this kind of thinking: we affirm bishops/ priests/pastors as having being called by God when the majority vote selects them for an ecclesiastical office.

But here is my point: Democracy is not the same as the Will of God.

This idea rests upon the fallacy that the vast majority of people cannot be wrong: the people have spoken, therefore God has spoken. It is helpful to be reprimanded by a voice from the past:
In 798 Alcuin wrote the following to Charlemagne:
And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the turbulence of the crowd is always close to madness.

Crowds elect people who are popular. But popular is not the same as good. This has been ably demonstrated in the democratic election of leaders such as Adolf Hitler, or Robert Mugabe. In fact, the all-sovereign American people often choose mediocrity over excellence, and vice over virtue in their Presidential elections; and we have just witnessed the populist elections of the ANC doing little better at choosing honest, Godly leadership.

Democracy is a tool that allows the people to choose the leader they want. But it cannot deliver moral, virtuous leadership. A democratically elected leader is always in danger of being held captive by the shifting mood of those who elected her, and so will submit to the will of the people – not the will of God. And the will of the people is notoriously fickle, choosing that which serves self-interest over that which is good.

But at the same time, while the voice of the many is seldom wise and good, it is irresistible. You might as well try to stop the tide of the sea as to resist the vox populi. It is for this reason that people of faith and moral conviction must participate in public debate and social engagement. The people of a nation must be enabled to reflect on the ethical and moral choices of the day. And it is this engagement that opens up space for the voice of God to be discovered. This is not some arbitrary pronouncement from a sacred text, but rather is found in the challenge to find ways for a nation to live with compassion for the widows and orphans, justice for the oppressed, and a sharing of resources with the poor.

Let us not confuse the voice of the people with the voice of God. The voice of God always challenges the voice of the people so as to create a society of justice, truth and compassion.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Light and Dark

South Africa is caught in a cycle of power cuts.
Put simply: we do not have enough power to run out country, and so are experiencing rolling blackouts as different sections of the country take turns to be without power for two hours (or more) at a time.

Ten years ago the new democratically elected Government became distracted by the upgrading of our military capacity, and ignored the power needs of the economy. And so now we sit with armaments we do not need, and without power stations that we do need. And the country is suffering: businesses sit idle; traffic is tied in knots without lights at intersections; computers, life-support machines, laboratory equipment.... crash; and new investment in our country is drying up.

The lessons of history are never learned: once again people have chosen to spend scarce resources on weapons that take life, rather than on the resources that sustain life. When will we learn that true peace is not found through the barrel of a gun? I am convinced that a secure South Africa is not militarily achievable: our security lies with transparently accountable government, led by people who are morally and spiritually true.

Pray for us.... that we might find light at the end of our darkness.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Old Can Rock

He is 60 yrs old, has dodgy hair, is short, portly and has stubby fingers…. And he held a 50 000 crowd inside of Newlands stadium for 190 minutes of rock ‘n roll, honky-tonk piano, and some amazing keyboard improvisation.

Born Reginald Kenneth Dwight on 25 March 1947, he changed into Elton John, and as they say “the rest is history”. We gathered in the grounds of the famous Newlands cricket grounds, with the setting sun gradually purpling Table Mountain behind us. Elton John, sartorially elegant on the giant screens, took his place behind the piano. And the magic began.

I happen to have lived through much of his musical career – so loved every minute of it. My children less so. They knew the songs of the second half of the evening, and joined me as we danced and sang along to the words of Crocodile Rock, Candle in the Wind, and Circle of Life.

And he inspired me: here was a man filled with passion for his craft: someone committed to excellence; someone who refuses to allow age to diminish his skills; someone who did not need naked girls or fireworks and lights to cover his inadequate musical ability. He is a consummate musician who provided a satisfying evening’s entertainment.

And I look forward to turning sixty – because I have seen that the old can rock.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


I am blessed with friends.
Tonight I went out for supper with some of them.
We were celebrating Kevin’s birthday – and he chose to go to a Thai restaurant.

We ate our way through chicken seasoned with ginger, or honey, or cashew nuts; and honeyed ribs, and duck, and vegetables that were sprinkled with cinnamon, and hints of cloves and garlic and spices, and chilli. Kevin concluded his meal with the sago pudding, while others sampled the chocolate mousse or the rice pudding. And we ended the night with gourmet coffee made by Kevin’s own fancy coffee machine.

And I hung out with Jenny (my best friend, who is also my wife), Lee, Gus and Heather, Kyle, and of course Kevin. Kevin is a raconteur of note. And kept the conversation going with us, and with the waiters, and with others who passed by our table. We heard stories of other memorable eating establishments, of weddings, of funerals, and of other good friends like Deon (“cuddlebuns” says Kevin) and Mandy. We celebrated life, and were glad to be able to do this together.

And I am grateful for the laughter. And deeply held values and beliefs. And the mutual accountability and love for one another.

Monday, January 07, 2008


No doubt about it – I am blessed beyond my deserving.

I have a life partner: Jenny and I were married 25 years ago, and our relationship has not only survived – but we have grown and matured together. I do not ask for more.

I have three daughters: all of whom speak their own minds. Sometimes I do not agree with them, and in this disagreement have found space to learn new things. Often we agree, and in this have enjoyed our mutuality. I do not ask for more.

I have friends: they value me sufficiently to criticise me; and to encourage me; and to laugh with me; and to share life with me. They are generous with their time, their skills, their coffee and their hospitality. I do not ask for more.

I have vehicles: a 13 year old 4x4 truck that has allowed the whole family to cram inside for memorable trips to places such as Namibia, Botswana, Zambia. Tanzania and more. A 3 year old BMW 1150 motorcycle that gives many hours of happiness, some with Jenny and some on my own. (I used to have a 23 year old, little red Charade 900cc motor car. Now my daughters think this car belongs to them). I do not ask for more.

I have faith: This is not the kind of faith that demands that God shield me from the ups and downs of life. Just enough to believe that God will accompany me though whatever the future holds. I do not ask for more.

I am blessed.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year