Friday, February 29, 2008

Leap of Faith

Today women are allowed to ask men to marry.

It is thought that this tradition was started in 5th century Ireland when St. Bridget complained to St. Patrick about the unfairness of a woman having to wait for a man to propose. According to legend, St. Patrick said the yearning females could propose on the 29th of February. And what if the man refused? Well in 1288 Scotland passed a law that any man who declined a proposal in a leap year must pay a fine. The fine could range from a kiss to payment for a silk dress or a pair of gloves.

So ladies – take you courage in hand and choose what my university professor called “a leap of faith”. But this professor was not referring to the 29th of February. She pointed out that all of life ought to be an act of faith. Getting up in the morning required the capacity to have hope. Getting through the day is energised by choosing to believe. Her point was that life cannot be lived rationally. Reason alone is insufficient motivation to get through the day. We all need to practice faith in order to live life to the fullest. And a day such as today opens the possibility of an “unreasonable” leap-year’s risk.

In fact life is at its richest when we risk everything to follow a sense of Divine Calling. A life lived in response to such a Calling is unreasonable, but (as I suggested yesterday) a life lived in response to a Calling will cope with anything thrown at it.

Oh by the way:
Yesterdays post never suggested that my friends who have left the Methodist Church live without call... or that God’s Call is only to be found within the ordained ministry. Many of my friends have heard a Divine Call to leave the Church – and have obediently chosen to follow God into other activities of life. I salute their courage and continue to appreciate them as very dear friends. I wrote yesterday’s post in answer to someone who asked why I had not yet left the church. As with everything in life – it is all about Calling. I am a Methodist Minister for as long as God calls me to be one. If God calls me to be something else – I will take the leap of faith.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Old Fart

I feel like a dinosaur.
Wayne Burrows, Wade Britton, Rick Matthews, Ray Dibden, Neville vd Walt, Geoff Ryan, Cedric Muller, Eric Jurgensen, Alan Brews, Charles Villa Vicencio, Errol Grey, Mike Chapman, Pieter Greyling, Yvette Edwards, Vic Smith, Kevin Light, Mike Crommelyn ... names of friends of mine who used to be colleagues. They resigned from being Methodist Ministers and have gone on to other things. And sometimes I feel like a dinosaur because I have stuck around.

I often think of leaving.
I am disappointed by the poor national leadership of this church; I am embarrassed by the theological nonsense spoken by some of my colleagues; I am deeply saddened by the immoral behaviour of some ministers/leaders/preachers; I mourn the unthoughtful churchiness of many of our members; and I long for more Christians to be passionate about justice and righteousness and spiritual integrity. I notice how many really good people have left the confines of organized religion - not only the colleagues mentioned above, but the many, many church members who have moved out. And I know that God has continued to bless the work they do. And I have often thought of leaving too.

But I stay.
I stay because I am convinced that a small bit of yeast can make a difference to the loaf of bread – and I choose to be the yeast in this church. This is not from some sense of self-importance. No, it is rather from a conviction that God has called me to be here. So even though I feel like a dinosaur, I will stay... because this is a calling.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Wht are Scooter Drivers such berks?

I spent a couple of hours today at a bike repair shop having the brake pads and back tyre of my Triumph Tiger replaced. Which gave me ample opportunity to observe the stupidity of scooter drivers. Here is my gripe – they think they ride in a different world from motorbike riders.

They do not wear protective clothing, and show scant regard to head protection. One arrived to collect his repaired Vespa wearing shorts, a T-shirt and slipslops. He then placed a small pisspot helmet on his head, and declined to strap it on. No gloves in sight. He revved his scooter into the traffic as if he was immune to injury. Another arrived wearing a spaghetti-strap top, tiny shorts and sandals.... no problem with this except that she was riding a chinesesomething two wheeled vehicle. Again, no gloves, and a helmet that looked like it was bought in a toy store. The final example of idiocy was the dude who rode past wearing a vest, shorts and MX boots – no gloves and a helmet that must have been rescued from a trash can.

The rule of the road is always dress for safety:
Do not ride without gloves; wear a decent helmet; wear a padded jacket; preferably choose padded pants (I know, I know, I often do not wear these); and wear boots. These are simply not negotiable. But scooter drivers seem to think that because scooters are not the same category as motorcycles, they do not need to dress for safety.

Oh yes – there are many, many motorbike riders who also ride as if they are invincible to tar burns and smashed limbs. Sliding across the road on your butt or chest causes a huge amount of heat to be generated. This means that skin and cotton will melt when in contact with the road surface. Let us support the culture of dressing for safety by wearing all the right clothes all of the time. “It is better to sweat than to bleed”.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Shopping in the Neighbourhood

I was feeling very mellow, having just completed a 10km run and shower. As I stood outside the local supermarket in pursuit of a Saturday newspaper, I saw Piet braaing wors under the Brazilian pepper tree. And I just knew this was for me.

Drawn by the inviting smell of barbecued sausage drifting off the coals glowing in the brazier, I placed my order. Piet took a length of sausage out of his coolbag and placed it on the fire. “I do not sell cold wors” he said. “This is freshly braaid”. He greeted a lady approaching his stand, and assured her that her order was ready. With which he handed me a pair of tongs. “Keep turning it while I attend to her.” While he handed her a prepared order of two rolls with sausage I turned my breakfast on the coals.

Piet told me that he had retired from the mines in Potchefstroom ten years ago and now lived in Southfield – just down the road from me. He supplements his meagre pension with this weekly sausage stall. “I have made many friends” he added, as passing pedestrians greeted him. One lady, with purple “blue-rinse” hair complained bitterly that she had given him her address and he had not come to tea with her. He good naturedly greeted her, and suggested that she ask his wife to tea too.

I took my sausage off the coals and wrapped a roll around it, along with some tomato and onion mix. And enjoyed being part of the life on a local street.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Dying Well

I buried a good man today.
I was his minister 20 years ago. He sold cool drinks at the church fete; his dry sense of humour got me though the insecure first months in a new congregation; I officiated at his son’s wedding. And then I moved on to other congregations, and we lost touch.

Until a few years ago when his wife joined my congregation. I asked how he was and she said he was fine – but that he no longer wanted to attend church. And I said that this was OK, and that God did not love him any less. Then last year I heard from a number of people that I should “go and pray with him because he has liver cancer”. But Pierre himself had not asked me. So I prayed for him, but did not intrude on his life.

Towards then end of last year he asked me to come and visit him. And I rekindled our friendship. His sense of humour was as welcome as ever; his spirituality was deeply peaceful; he knew that he was dying and was thankful for a life well-lived. He told me that he had stopped going to church at the time of a heart operation. He described the rudeness of people who had visited him in the hospital ward and attempted to “convert” him. He spoke of his hurt at the way they had insulted his faith, and his character. And he resolved not to return to church. He described how he felt closest to God in nature, and of how he loved to sit in the silence of a game park and thank God for his life.

We were able to speak about dying well, of the love of God for him, and of taking leave of his family and friends. We celebrated his wedding anniversary with his family and friends. His sons cared for their dying father in ways appropriate to their characters. I prayed with him and his wife each day at lunch time. I was privileged to be with the family when he died last Thursday evening. And God was with him – and with his family.

Today we celebrated a life well lived.
Pierre Snyders: Go with God.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Ten Reasons Why Men Should Not Be Ordained

Wasp Jerky posted this a while back, and I thought it was pretty funny, so I'm re-posting it here. Women have been subjected to similar reasoning for why they can't be ordained. Enjoy.

10. A man's place is in the army.

9. For men who have children, their duties might distract them from the responsibilities of being a parent.

8. Their physical build indicates that men are more suited to tasks such as chopping down trees and wrestling mountain lions. It would be "unnatural" for them to do other forms of work.

7. Man was created before woman. It is therefore obvious that man was a prototype. Thus, they represent an experiment, rather than the crowning achievement of creation.

6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. This is easily demonstrated by their conduct at football games and watching basketball tournaments.

5. Some men are handsome; they will distract women worshipers.

4. To be ordained pastor is to nurture the congregation. But this is not a traditional male role. Rather, throughout history, women have been considered to be not only more skilled than men at nurturing, but also more frequently attracted to it. This makes them the obvious choice for ordination.

3. Men are overly prone to violence. No really manly man wants to settle disputes by any means other than by fighting about it. Thus, they would be poor role models, as well as being dangerously unstable in positions of leadership.

2. Men can still be involved in church activities, even without being ordained. They can sweep paths, repair the church roof, and maybe even lead the singing on Father's Day. By confining themselves to such traditional male roles, they can still be vitally important in the life of the Church.

1. In the New Testament account, the person who betrayed Jesus was a man. Thus, his lack of faith and ensuing punishment stands as a symbol of the subordinated position that all men should take

Friday, February 15, 2008


He is his own worst enemy.
The navy gave him his trade, and an opportunity to escape his alcoholic father. The mines gave him lots of money and an opportunity to house and care for his family. Now the streets are his home, giving him little other than sporadic income from parking cars, and shared bottles of wine.

Joe is a kind, gentle man who speaks quietly, and invariably describes himself as feeling “just great”. He has painted the facia boards and gutters of my home with care and diligence. Right now he is cleaning leaves from the driveway, and will cut the back lawn, paying attention to the edges with precision. He is a thoroughly nice man.

A lovely man, who has twice been divorced, has three adult daughters and six grandchildren – none of whom have seen him since 1992. This was when he boarded a train from Johannesburg to Cape Town. He left ‘to escape his drinking problem’, only to discover that it followed him here. Joe is a binge drinker. He can go for months on end without drinking. But when the urge hits him he keeps drinking until he has destroyed all that he has so painstakingly built up over the previous months of sobriety. Two years ago my colleague Lynn found him a job, and we housed him on our church premises. This lasted for 9 months, until the alcoholic urge bit, and his drunken irresponsibility lost him his job and his accommodation.

He longs to stop.
But this disease eats at him. Sober, he will give us money to keep for him – only to return drunk and demand that we return his money. Sober he says that he needs help – only to reject the help when the alcohol kicks in. And because he is a 58 year old man, I give him his money and his freedom. I will not patronise him by thinking that I know what is best for his life. I do not agree with the choices he makes, but I cannot prevent him from exercising his choice of lifestyle.

I will not stop giving him my friendship and support. And I will continue praying for him.
Perhaps you might pray too.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Finding New Balance

I describe myself as a runner... but truth be told I ran very little in 2007.
I began running many years ago and set a number of goals for myself:
• I wanted to run a sub 3 hour marathon: and ran 2h57.
• I wanted to run an 84 minute half marathon and ran 84.04.
• I wanted to run 20 Two Oceans Marathons (a 56km run around the Cape Peninsula) and ran 21.
• And I wanted to run a clock-full of medals for the 90 km Comrades Marathon, and the clock is complete.

And somehow the will to get up in the morning to train evaporated. And the less I ran, the less I wanted to run. I lay in on those cold, wet winter mornings. I skipped the time trial sessions on a Tuesday afternoon, and I began to ignore the road races. Last year I only ran two races – the Bay to Bay relay (two legs of 15km each) and the Two Oceans half Marathon.

But turning Fifty last October was something of a wake-up call for me. I realised that I was deteriorating: I was overwhelmed by work, tense, grumpy, and generally sleeping badly. This culminated in a ripping head banging session with my Bishop, and me generally telling the institution to get knotted (but less politely put). I knew that I had lost my balance.

So I got back on the road.
And it was extremely hard. I found the five km route very far, and resorted to walking up the mountain at the 3 km marker (OK it is a bridge over the railway line). Every time I passed the grave yard at 4 km I made the same lame joke to myself that “I want to die right now”. I am also 10 kg over my running weight. And my knees hurt. And the old scuffed running shoes I use are past their sell-by date. But I was definitely not going to trudge along the road in shiny new shoes looking like a runner but puffing like a straggler.

And so I persevered. I have hauled these sore legs out of bed and got my feet into the damn shoes. I have cajoled this tired body into the road outside the house. And I have driven my protesting body along the railway line, left past the small business site, up and over the railway line, right past the derelict hotel, and up Victoria Street past the grave yard and home again. And on 30 January I did it at 6 mins per km without stopping.

Well today I wore a new pair of shoes. And they are wonderful – New Balance 1061. My knees did not hurt, I ran up and over the bridge, and I did not see even a single grave stone. Cliff Richard sang something about “40 Days to get back...”. Well today there are 39 days to go. Pray for me that I might be able to get back some semblance of fitness. Race day is on Easter Saturday, when I plan to run the 21km race. And then to keep running 5km a day through the winter so that I am fit for the Foot of Africa 21km in October. Who knows – perhaps I will try a longer run in 2009.

More importantly – pray that I might keep my balance in life. I need to Read, to Reflect on life, to wRite, to Ride my bike...and TO RUN.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Dust to Dust

Beverley has a flat, where some street people store their clothes. Peter stays with her. He guards the cars that park on the road shared by my church and the bank. And Peter and Beverly were friends with Sam.

Sam was born in the Transkei 53 years ago. After matriculating he headed for Cape Town, where he met his wife and made a living doing various jobs. Sam drank alcohol – lots of it. So much so that he lost many jobs. And he lost contact with his family because he did not want them to know of his predicament. When his wife died a few years ago he lost interest. He moved out of his rented accommodation and took up residence in a garage. Sam began drinking with Peter. And Beverley gave him a plate of food each evening. Then on 17 January, Sam’s heart stopped working. Beverley was devastated: “He cannot have a pauper’s funeral” she insisted. So she begged money from his current employer. And from me. And from anyone else who would listen. And put together enough to have Sam cremated.

Yesterday we held a service on the back lawn of my, Beverley and Peter. They reminisced on his life. And I prayed a prayer of thanksgiving. And we sprinkled his ashes on the lawn and around the trees. And I pronounced a blessing.

Soyisile Sam Joni: be at Peace.