Monday, June 30, 2008

Off to the Festival

It is freaking early in the morning and I stumble out of bed to say goodbye to Lisa, my eldest daughter.

She is one her way to the Grahamstown Festival. Which means that she and three friends will squeeze themselves into a ridiculously small (old) car and drive all day to go to a student city...well it is called a city because it has a Cathedral, but in terms of comparison it is really a University with a town attached to it. A town for the students of Rhodes University that hosts this annual event that consists of very little sleep, lots of street theatre, some amazing performers, and a haze of places to socialize.

I remember my days as a student at Rhodes University. I find it hard to believe that my little girl is going to Grahamstown...... and hope that she will not be a stupid as I was.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


Western Province dramatically overturned a 14-3 half-time deficit to run out thrilling 26-17 winners over the Blue Bulls in today's Currie Cup derby at Newlands.

Friday, June 27, 2008

I write to thank friends for their caring.

Joe Lightowler and Steven Richardson are colleagues who, with their spouses, visited Cape Town earlier this year. They have just completed their studies at the York Insititute of Theology and spent time with my church and circuit as a field work assignment. They were great in April – and have been wonderful now: they sent us a financial donation towards the cost of housing the refugees. This generosity has meant that we could pay our water and electricity bills for the past four weeks. This might sound trivial, but our church runs on very limited income, derived from what old people on pension can afford. We cannot afford extra expenses, and the arrival of the refugees was financially stressful.... until Joe and friends stepped in with unsolicited generosity.

Dinsy has often visited my blog, but I did not have a clue who she was until this past week. I discovered that she lives in Scotland with her husband when she placed a donation into our church account. As a consequence of this I have been able to do the following:
• We helped Chris buy a welding machine and a grinder to replace the machinery that was stolen from his workshop when he was chased out of his home at Philippi. He is now able to support himself again.
• We paid a deposit on a month’s accommodation for Tonderai, and also for the family of baby Blessing.
• We gave Simba a donation towards a Tefel course he wants to do so that he can qualify as a teacher for 2nd language English students.
Dinsy – your unexpected gift has given a second chance at life to some very needy people.

And I am grateful for people who live generously without any expectation of reward or personal gain.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Praying for the End to Unjust Rule

I remember June 16, 1986. I joined thousands of other Christians in prayer for the end to an unjust rule in South Africa. (This was strongly opposed by most white people – we were reluctant to relinquish our white privilege).
It is time for us to pray for the end to unjust Zimbabwean rule.

Zimbabwe's President Mugabe has dared to challenge God.
Mugabe said on Friday that "only God" could remove him from office. "The MDC will never be allowed to rule this country -- never, ever," Mugabe told local business people in Zimbabwe's second city, Bulawayo, referring to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. "Only God who appointed me will remove me -- not the MDC, not the British." He later added: "We will never allow an event like an election reverse our independence, our sovereignty, our sweat and all that we fought for ... all that our comrades died fighting for."

I am praying that God will remove Robert Mugabe from power.... permanently.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

People behaving Badly - and a God who never gives up on Them

This Sunday’s Old Testament reading is the story of Hagar and Ishmael. And it is a tragic, awful, embarrassing story to own as my faith history:
Sarah, the wife of Abraham, chases Abraham’s first-born son out of the house so that he does not inherit anything from his father.
This is more than just jealousy – it is an effective death penalty: They live in a desert, and without a family to protect them, they will die of exposure. And the worst of it all is that Abraham gives in to his wife’s jealousy. (Go read it in Genesis 21)

And it is quite possible that if this family had placed more trust in the promise of God, then both Abraham’s sons could have grown up together. And together become the leaders of the people of God.... and the rift between Jew and Muslim might never have happened.

But it was not to be.
Sarah’s jealousy of Hagar, and her desire for her son to be the only son of Abraham, caused her to drive the two into the desert.
And so Hagar and Ishmael became outcasts.

It shouldn’t have happened,
it didn’t need to happen,
but it did.
And we have it in the Bible, staring us in the face, bearing witness to the failure of our ancestors to treat each other with the most basic level of human decency.

But I wonder how many of you have ever heard a sermon on Hagar an Ishmael?
I wouldn’t expect many of us, because this is not just a dark story, it is not just a story of our Abraham and our Sarah behaving so badly, it is also the story of the beginnings of Islam. And we have evidence right here before us as Christians and as Jews that Ishmael and his descendants were under God’s care from the very beginning and part of God’s plan.

I think we haven’t really known what we should do with that information and so we’ve just not talked about it very much. Because so much of the prevailing wisdom of Western society makes Muslim people out to be evil. The way stories and Movies are told have shifted ground: The bad guys used to be the Germans; then they were the Russian Communists; now – they are Muslim fundamentalists. But the children of Ishmael are the people of God.

As are every other kind of people who have been chased out into the wilderness. The aliens, and the orphans, and the gays, and the street people, and the refugees from Zimbabwe/Congo/Somalia are all loved by God: The story of Hagar and Ishmael is a story that warns us against our jealous rejection of other people.

In fact, the more I read the Bible the more I think that the Bible should come with a longer title, something like, “The Holy Bible: the story of people behaving badly and the God who never gives up on them.”

I am indebted the Rev. Sara Buteux, First Congregational Church of Hadley, for her rendition of the story of Hagar. She got me going.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Charity is not Romantic

This is the fourth week that we are hosting displaced people in our church hall.
And that which began with chaotic good humour has now become a more considered act of charity. We have invented systems for feeding people, clothing them, and housing them. We have learned how to estimate the food requirements, and how much soap and toilet paper will get used each day. But the congregation is getting tired – what some call “donor fatigue”.

The refugees have also adapted. They began as a disorientated collection of individuals. The only thing that they had in common was an experience of rejection and loss of both property and dignity. Four weeks later they have begun to recover some independence. Many leave our premises during the day to go to work. And the women report each morning to the office to discuss catering arrangements and other housekeeping needs. But the newly forming community is showing rifts.

The family units provide leadership in terms of cooking the food, and organizing community life. But there is a large group of young men who go out in the late afternoon and do not return until late at night. They often show signs of having been drinking – and on their arrival they demand food. This has caused tensions, and I suspect has led to some of our guests choosing to move out.

Today two family units moved out.
And tomorrow there will be unhappiness, because the cooks have now gone, as has Baba Abel, who acted as the glue to hold the community together.

So pray for us tomorrow.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


He is two. Big eyes set into a broad forehead, framed with short curly black hair. And for almost two weeks he has burst into tears every time he sees me. I do not pretend to know why. Other than the knowledge that his mother fled a mob of people intent on burning her home down. And he was traumatised by her fear, and the screams of the people, and the sudden insertion into the strange world of a church hall.

His name is Blessing. After a few days of living with us he cheered up, and began to play with a car given to him by Kyle, another two year old from my congregation. Kyle is from the same Nguni ancestry as Blessing, but with parents who did not flee from Zimbabwe.

Over the weekend Blessing managed to get his fingers caught between a closing door and the door jamb. A visit to the clinic across the road put two stitches into the wound and a white bandage around the painful fingers.
So tonight I went to see how he is doing – and for the first time he smiled at me without tears.

Perhaps he is cried out of tears for now.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Teacher

He is a teacher in Khayelitsha. This is a contract post, renewed each term, employed by the school’s governing body. But now he is uncertain of his post – because he is a Zimbabwean.

He is uncertain: not because he is teaching illegally. He has a work permit from the South African government. The uncertainty is not because he is unqualified, because he has a teacher’s diploma, and many years of experience. The uncertainty is because he knows that he is not welcome.

He lives in my church hall with his wife and son. And he gets up early to catch two trains and a taxi to school. But as he travels he wonders who is going to accost him and ask him to say something. It is in speaking that he reveals his nationality. He bears the same colour skin, and the same Nguni features as those who travel with him. But his inadequate Xhosa language skills reveal his nationality.

He failed the test yesterday: and was robbed of his cellphone and wallet. Many passers by saw him being robbed, but did nothing. He is convinced that people see foreigners as “fair game” for robbery. The township will protect its own against theft, but will not rally to protect the alien.

He left for work in the pouring rain this morning. “I am glad for the rain” he said. “There will be less people walking on the road”.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Barack Hussein Obama, born August 4, 1961, is the junior United States Senator from Illinois and the nominee of the Democratic Party in the 2008 presidential election. He is a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School. Obama worked as a community organizer, served as a law school professor, and practiced as a civil rights attorney before serving in the Illinois Senate and the U.S. Senate.

This is a long way from the time when black people in America had to drink from separate drinking fountains, eat at separate lunch counters, ride at the back of buses, watch movies only from the balconies of theatres, and could not vote This is familiar territory for our own country but unfamiliar to the most powerful nation on earth: one American commentator has noted that “Race is the issue that changed us, shaped us, determined our path, and even defined the meaning of our faith. Now a black man is running for president of the United States. Amazing grace.”

Let us pray for a world where race, nationality, or gender is not the method used to determine the value of a person. And let us pray for leaders who have the courage to stand for the truth, irrespective of the cost to their popularity or personal enrichment.

Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality of those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change. - Robert F. Kennedy, in a speech in Cape Town, South Africa, June 6, 1966

Friday, June 06, 2008

George Herbert

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.

"A guest," I answer'd, "worthy to be here";
Love said, "You shall be he."
"I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee."
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
"Who made the eyes but I?"

"Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve."
"And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?"
"My dear, then I will serve."
"You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
So I did sit and eat.

George Herbert (April 3, 1593 – March 1, 1633) was a Welsh poet, orator and a priest. As a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, England, George Herbert excelled in languages and music. In 1618 he was appointed Reader in Rhetoric at Cambridge and in 1620 he was elected to the post of "public orator", whose duties would be served by poetic skill. He held this position until 1628. He went to college with the intention of becoming a priest, but his scholarship attracted the attention of King James I. Herbert served in parliament for two years. In 1630, in his late thirties he gave up his secular ambitions and took holy orders in the Church of England, spending the rest of his life as a rector of the little parish of St. Andrew Bemerton, near Salisbury. He was noted for unfailing care for his parishioners, bringing the sacraments to them when they were ill, and providing food and clothing for those in need. Throughout his life he wrote religious poems characterized by a precision of language, a metrical versatility, and an ingenious use of imagery or conceits that was favored by the metaphysical school of poets.
Suffering from poor health, Herbert died of tuberculosis only three years after taking holy orders. On his deathbed, he gave the manuscript of The Temple to Nicholas Ferrar, the founder of a semi-monastic Anglican religious community at Little Gidding - telling him to publish the poems if he thought they might "turn to the advantage of any dejected poor soul", and otherwise, to burn them. In less than 50 years, The Temple: Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations had gone through thirteen printings.

There is another, contemporary, George Herbert. I wonder how history will remember him – deeply considered religious scruples......spirit moving poetry.... compassion for the up secular ambitions to serve God......hmmm?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

fuel price rises ... again

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Cheers Ben

Ben came to us last Sunday evening.
He is a Zimbabwean who had run from a crowd of township youths intent on beating him up. And had landed up with us, having heard via the grapevine that there were displaced people with us. He is articulate, funny, and deeply religious. He led the Thursday evening prayers, and offered to preach on Sunday.

His trauma was deep – having first run away from political persecution in Zimbabwe, and now having run from Xenophobic hatred in Cape Town. Each of our “guests” fills in a registration form, which asks them to tell their story. He needed two full pages to get it all out of his system.

From this form we discovered that he is a diabetic, and requires a special diet and medication. So we sent him to the clinic around the corner to check his insulin levels. The clinic nurse kept him for the day, as stress was causing his levels to fluctuate dangerously. Finally, the contacts of my circuit treasurer got him into hospital: this allowed him to jump the queue and receive emergency treatment. Having spent the night on a drip, he was discharged from hospital – with the well-meant admonition not to allow himself to get so stressed again.

He came to me yesterday to say goodbye. One of his work colleaguea has invited him to say in his home. And he shared a prayer with me, thanking God for the blessings of the past week. Truth be told – I am blessed for his brief encounter with us.