Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bullshit and Beauty

I love South Africa. This is a country of baffeling extreems. This past week we visited Laingsburg, Beaufort West, Aberdeen, Graaf Reinet, Cradock and in each were besieged by begging children. The poverty of these rural towns is sad. Somehow we as a country need to learn how to share our wealth. And this begins in the attitude of our hearts. Yet we are so blessed. Today i drove a 4X4 track through a game park. We experienced the beauty of golden-blond grasslands, blue tinged mountains, and vast vistas. We experienced the rich diversity of God's animal life, including: zebra, springbok, buffalo, bontebok, black wildebeest, reedbuck, black backed jackall. With this abundance there is so little reason for us to be selfishly posessive. The bullshit is the way we become comfortable with a few who have great wealth, and most who have very little. The beauty is always just below the surface - waiting to be unlocked.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Such a Tough Life

Mountain Zebra Park.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Uniquely Privileged

Camping at the Karoo National Park just outside Beaufort West. Drove through rain, which is greedily welcomed by the parched land. Soon this arid semi-desert will bloom green. There is life all around us: Mossies (Cape Sparrows) Red Bishops, Weavers and plenty of LBJs. Also tortoises, buck, baboons.... and allegedly lots of snakes. And so I sit in silence absorbing the sunset.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Going Camping

We are going away for a week.
First to the Karoo National Park; then on to the Mountain Zebra National Park. And home via the Baviannskloof. This will be in our Toyota Raider 4x4. And will include tents, animals, stars, rain, food cooked on fires, insects, and......
No meetings, no administration, no telephone calls to make, no traffic, no pressure.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I Voted

I joined the queue to vote.

The voting station is a short walk down the road. Although normally known as Plumstead Tennis Club, the property was today occupied by the Independent Electoral Commission. I was accompanied by my wife Jenny and her mother Edwina. Edwina turns 85yrs old this year, and was eager to vote. Mostly she wanted to “keep that blighter Zuma out”. I understood her sentiment, but pointed out that the greatest probability existed that our next President would be Jacob Zuma – whether she liked him or not.

We joined a queue…. greeting a number of neighbours already there. Eric and Angela were ahead of us, and soon emerged sporting blue painted thumbnails as proof of voting. Behind us was Mike from across the road. He and I spend time bewailing the Stormers Rugby team’s dismal string of losses in the Super 14 league. We both knew what should be done in selection, and wondered why the coach did not ask our advice. Others in the queue agreed with us and soon between us all, we had selected a better team. The mood of the day was relaxed, and it felt good to hang out with the neighburhood.

Then it was time to vote. We had our Identity Books checked, had our left thumb nail painted with indelible ink, and were presented with the ballot papers: one for the national government, and one for the province. And there I stood : deciding where to place my mark.

I have voted for the African National Congress ever since the emergence of our new South African democracy (before that I had refused to vote for racially segregated candidates). I vote for the ANC because they had led the struggle for liberation, and best represented the values I believed in. But I am currently not willing to give them my vote. I will not support their choice of Jacob Zuma as President. His innocence of corruption is the decision of a politically appointed Director of National Prosecutions, and ought to have been tested in a court of law. I am also unhappy with the way in which a political elite have enriched themselves, while the majority of the people in our country still struggle with issues of poverty, health and education. The final nail in the ANC coffin is the way in which they abandoned support for the Dalai Lama under pressure from China. Their proud history of struggle for human rights and justice lies in ruins.
But who else to vote for?
• The Democratic Alliance has been a testy political conscience in parliament – and more particularly in the Western Cape. But the DA is too white and too wealthy. When they have black leadership, and work for the poor, I might offer my support.
• The recently formed Congress of the People contained many who followed Thabo Mbeki out of leadership in the ANC. These were the people who supported Mbeki’s myopic view on HIV/Aids. These were the people who refused to support a probe into the arms deal. And for this reason it is very hard to be enthusiastic about them. The only reason they might get my vote is simply to prevent the ANC from political hegemony.
• The Rest are too small to make any political difference: I will not support the religious bigotry of the various Christian political parties; I will not touch the racial bigotry of the Afrikaner Vryheidsfront; I do like the feisty nature of Patricia de Lille – but she is really just “one woman and a political banner”.

So I stood locked in indecision. Until I finally made my mark – a vote intended as a protest against the abuse of power by ANC majority, rather than approval for any other party.


Today South African citizens go to the polls.
Today will determine who will be the next SA government, who will be the official opposition and what coalitions and alliances may form over the next few days - and how this may end up affecting our rights as defined in the SA Constitution. Today we decide on the future of our country.
And so I am determined to vote – because this is as much my country as it belongs to those who would play God with my life.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Little People matter most

Susan Boyle, 48, walked on to the stage of the Britain’s Got Talent show and won the hearts of audiences across the world with her rendition of I Dreamed a Dream from the musical Les Misérables.

11 million people watched her first appearance on the programme. An unemployed Scottish woman, without the grooming and social graces of aspirant starlets, and a life confined to her cat, her house work and her local church, she was deliberately set up as a potential flop. I dread to think of how Susan would have left the stage if her voice had been less than exceptional. But the minute she began to sing she rendered the judges silent and the audience cheering on their feet.

More than 25 million have logged on to YouTube to see the clip of her audition. (If you haven't - then take a minute and look at the clip: Susan Boyle

Susan Boyle connects with me in a deep and powerful way. For me, not only does the ugly duckling spread her wings, but she takes on the cynical, patronizing judges and flattens them with her talent.

But there is more: Paul Wood is a construction worker in London, who builds video networks on the web in his spare time. Steve Rosenbaum tells how Wood had seen Susan Boyle in the auditions and decided to take a risk. He bought the URL Susan-Boyle.com and Sunday night - moments after the broadcast - he had a fan site for her up online. Four days later he had a website that gets close to a million page views a day and has over 12,000 registered members.

I am always attracted to the triumph of the “little person”. I cheer for the underdog to win…… and in our current world we just don't have enough of this stuff. Right now Governments are bailing out large financial companies while the little people suffer; political parties ignore the hardworking community workers in favour of their chosen candidates; and workers on factory floors are retrenched while company directors are paid handsome bonuses.

Perhaps here I glimpse the reality of the Easter story: an itinerant Jewish preacher who is crushed by the political and religious leaders of his day – only to rise again in defiance of those who would silence him.

So Susan Boyle and Paul Wood inspire me. And I will continue to believe that the marginalized, the outcast, and the rejected are the beloved of God.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Saviour for All

It is Easter Sunday : and Cleopas has lost his faith.

He had travelled to Jerusalem for the Passover….which was a time when Jewish people are reminded of their liberation from Egypt!
And Cleopas had heard of Jesus – who he believed was the Messiah. He hoped that Jesus would use this moment to stir up the people to throw the Romans out. And the weekend had begun so well:
+ Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey in fulfillment of prophecy: The crowds recognized it and cheered him on.
+ Jesus entering the temple and challenging the religious rulers about the way they compromised with the Roman oppressors.
He had hoped for so much from Jesus.
Listen to him:………..
Luk 24:19 Jesus…was a prophet and was considered by God and by all the people to be powerful in everything he said and did. Our chief priests and rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and he was crucified.And we had hoped that he would be the one who was going to set Israel free!

Here is a disillusioned man. Jesus had been arrested, tried and executed. And now he walks back home from the Passover – a cynic. We can hear him saying to himself: “I trusted Jesus – and he let me down. I am sorry that I ever believed in him”

There are many today in the same place. These are people who go through religious experiences: They fervently say their prayers, go to church, go through confirmation/baptism; and then they are disappointed and abandon it all. And like Cleopas end up saying that this is all nonsense.

Cleopas was disillusioned. But there were things about Jesus that Cleopas did not know. And this “not knowing” limited his experience of Jesus. Ceopas believed that Jesus was a Jewish Messiah who had come to throw out the Romans and extablish a Jewish Kingdom. But Jesus was way more than this: Jesus never came to save one group of people. He came for the whole world. He was a messiah to the Jewish people in Jerusalem, but also to the Greeks, and the Romans, and the Medes and the Persians, and the Babylonian – and every other nation on earth.
• the words of Jesus when he goes into the temple on Palm Sunday?
He quotes from Isaiah 56:7 “My house shall be a house of prayer for all nations” The anger of Jesus was that there were people who were being prevented from worshipping God:
• the words of Jesus when he hung on the cross?
“Father forgive them”...Not Father forgive some and punish others!

Cleopas needed to discover a Messiah who was not just for him. And just like Cleopas, we too become disappointed when Jesus does not do things for me. It is easy to treat Jesus like my private possession. But Jesus is not “my” best friend. He is my Savior – and the Savior of everyone too.

And so the invitation: To discover that Jesus loves people from outside of “my group”. Jesus loves people who are like me, and people who are not like me – and even people who I do not like.

Check the following picture. It was designed to get us thinking. And in Seattle stirred up so much debate that the shopping malls refused to allow this to be displayed in poster form.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


Country : South Africa
Province : Western Province
Gender : Male
Age : 51
Category : Age 50-59 (Master)

Race Date : Saturday 11 April 2009
Distance : Half (21 km)
Race Number : 53677
Cut-off Time : 03:00 hours

Finish Time : 02:22:35
Average Speed : 8.879 km/h
Average Speed : 6.757 min/km
Medal : Bronze

Thursday, April 09, 2009


God was executed by people painfully like us, in a society very similar to our own ... by a corrupt church, a timid politician, and a fickle proletariat led by professional agitators.

- Dorothy L. Sayers,
The Man Born to Be King (1943)

Monday, April 06, 2009

We are Cut Down to Size....

South Africa experienced a miracle in 1994.

We moved from an oppressive racially based oligarchy to a democratically elected government. Our law was protected by an internationally acclaimed new constitution. And we boasted leaders of international stature – politicians such as Nelson Mandela, priests like Desmond Tutu; jurists such as Arthur Chaskalson and Albie Sachs; and many eminent writers, musicians and scientists.

We believed that we had something to offer the world. We believed that we had transcended narrow racial boundaries; moved beyond self-serving ideological disputes to build a “rainbow nation”; and were able to make visible the African concept of Ubuntu . I have travelled to various places in the world to speak of our national “miracle” experience….Northern Ireland; York, England; and various Methodist Seminaries in the United States of America.

Today I admit that I have been smugly deluded. I have allowed myself to be blinded by the newness of our land – and have not noticed that the same old things are still happening:
• The Apartheid politicians I despised had developed a system of self enrichment that was gleefully embraced by the new democratically elected representatives of the people. They learned how to inflate travel claims; and create jobs for their friends and family; and cobble together gifts and favours for themselves.
• The amoral Apartheid politicians set up systems with international arms traders that were taken over by the new government. And the same bribes/rewards/incentives were gratefully pocketed.
• The selfish Apartheid leadership manipulated the law to suit their personal agenda – a lesson well learned by this next generation of leaders.

And so today I witness Jacob Zuma, the next President of my country, weasel his way out of being charged for corruption and financial misappropriation of funds. He leads a political party that welcomed international solidarity when they were struggling for power – but now it refuses to stand in solidarity with Myanmar and Tibet. This is the party that enthusiastically embraced Desmond Tutu when he berated the sins of the Apartheid government, but now dismissively insults him when he points out the sins of the current government.

Today South Africa ceased to be something special amongst the nations of the world. We are just another Third World Country, adding to the litany of human rights failures.
BUT: this is my country. I am reminded (once again) that the struggle for liberation is never finished. I have been placed by God in this country to speak for truth. I refuse to give up the dream for a better land for all.

Thou shalt not be a victim.
Thou shalt not be a perpetrator.
Above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.

- Holocaust Museum, Washington, D.C

Sunday, April 05, 2009

“being honoured” is a very fickle thing.

Today is Palm Sunday.

It is the day that we are reminded that Jesus was honoured by Jerusalem… but this reminder always lies in the shadow of Good Friday – when Jerusalem stripped him of his honour.
Mark’s Gospel tells of a crowd that gives Jesus great honour.
Mar 11:8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields.
Mar 11:9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

But this is a bitter sweet moment…. Because it does not last.
A week later there is another crowd gathered around Jesus:
But this time they are hostile:
Mar 15:12 Pilate spoke again to the crowd, "What, then, do you want me to do with the one you call the king of the Jews?"
Mar 15:13 They shouted back, "Crucify him!"
Mar 15:14 "But what crime has he committed?" Pilate asked. They shouted all the louder, "Crucify him!"

Two crowds – the same man – two different reactions.
Which really illustrates the way we human beings can be shaped by the people around us.

I saw this in this past week of South African history:
1994: Desmond Tutu is the chaplain to the President of the ANC. Nelson Mandela asks him to pray for the nation and the crowds all bow their heads.
2009: The ANC refuse to listen to anything that Desmond Tutu says.
The same man – two different crowds…….

My prayer is that God would continue to strengthen Bishop Tutu. My prayer for him is found in the Palm Sunday Psalm:
Psa 118:26 May God bless the one who comes in the name of the LORD! From the Temple of the LORD we bless you.
Psa 118:27 The LORD is God; he has been good to us. With branches in your hands, start the festival and march around the altar.