Sunday, August 30, 2009

Who judges the Judges?

Mar 7:5 So the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law asked Jesus, "Why is it that your disciples do not follow the teaching handed down by our ancestors, but instead eat with ritually unclean hands?"
………..Mar 7:9 And Jesus continued, "You have a clever way of rejecting God's law in order to uphold your own teaching.

Jesus is in Galilee…. which was a religious state. So the leaders of the temple were responsible for teaching the law, and they were responsible for judging those who broke the law.

Today’s passage tells of a moment when Jesus is criticised by the Pharisees because his disciples had not washed their hands in the required manner before and after eating. This issue about hand washing was not about hygiene. Everyone washed their hands before eating: The Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, and the Jews…. The issue here is that the Pharisees had invented elaborate ceremonial religious teachings around this common practice. And the Pharisees warned the people that if they did not do it exactly right, then God would be angry. (A Talmudic teaching from this time has been discovered that says that if people do not wash their hands before a meal then God would either destroy that person, or reduce them to poverty)

But this was not a command of God! The Ten Commandments do not command hand washing. The Torah does not command handwashing.
The Pharisees wanted the ostentatious ceremonial handwashing – because it made them seem superior to everyone else who did not wash their hands in that way.

So Mark’s Gospel tells us that Jesus was angry at how God blessings and curses had been dragged into the issue of social standing. It is for this reason that Jesus warns the Pharisees:
Mar 7:9 …….. "You have a clever way of rejecting God's law in order to uphold your own teaching.
Here are Judges who lack the love of God because they are corrupted, biased, and motivated by self-interest.

Certainly at a national level I find the words of Jesus absolutely appropriate: Judge John Hlophe, the Judge-President for the Western Cape, has been accused by the judges of the constitutional court of trying to interfere in a case they were hearing. This case involved a company called Thint, and the then ANC President - Jacob Zuma, and whether they were in a corrupt relationship when an arms deal was signed. The Constitutional Court accused Jodge Hlophe of attempting to lobby two of its judges for pro-President Jacob Zuma rulings.
The first attempt by the Judicial Services Commission at holding a hearing was stifled because Judge Hlope was sick. They then re-convened to discover that he had fired his lawyer, and so another postponement. Just before the next sitting of the JSC, the President changed the members of the panel. And lo and behold, they met and have decided that Judge Hlophe has done nothing wrong.
My dilemma is this:
Who was lying? Were Justice Bess Nkabinde and Acting Justice Chris Jafta lying when they laid the complaint….. or Judge Hlope, who denied the accusation they made against him? We do not know because this gap in testimony was not interrogated.

I believe that our Judges are human beings – like anyone else.
They are subject to personal bias, and prejudice, and social pressure. I believe that all of these have come into play in the decision not to proceed with this investigation. And for this reason our Judges need to remember that there is a greater law over them: this is the law of God. They will be held accountable for their decisions.

I am asking you to pray for our Judges.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


I knew that I was betraying his trust….

Dash is two years old, and is responding to his inner hormonal promptings. He has turned from a cuddly, lovable puppy into a moody, sometimes obstreperous, young adult. He has no problem recognising my authority as the Alpha Male of the house, but he is challenging Nugget for the place of ‘top dog’ after the boss. The only problem is that Dash is a shortish Springer Spaniel, while Nugget towers over him as a Great Dane/ Labrador mix. This has not put Dash off from his attempts to barge through the door ahead of Nugget, or to challenge for the right to guard their food bowls. This has resulted in lots of snapping and snarling, and the occasional physical encounter which is dominated by Nugget. So the vet suggested that we reduce the hormone rush by giving dash “the snip”.

So I dutifully took him to the vet on Monday. I reassured him that it would be OK (after all, I have been though it too) and then left him looking forlornly at my retreating figure as I climbed into the car. I felt like I had betrayed his trust. His unconditionally effusive welcome later in the day only served to heighten my sense of having let him down. But we were reconciled and happily went home.

Only for me to return him to the vet today. He has an infection. I will not betray his confidence (again) by telling you where, but there is a Rugby team in Pretoria known as the Blue Bulls – and my boy Dash has developed an association with the blue bulls. I marched him to the door of the vet… and it dawned on him that we were back. Suddenly the brave “do not check me skeef” young man dissolved into a quivering jelly. His feet could not move, his jowls shook, and his breathing became a pant. As he gazed beseechingly in my direction I could hear his thoughts: “do not leave me here…. again”.

This time I did not. I held his head as the indignity of a rectal thermometer was endured. I calmed him as the vet prodded his rugby team, and I led a very happy boy out of the consulting room to collect an anti-biotic from the receptionist. Then we drove home with Dash happily sniffing the breeze from the window.

He jumped out of the car and strutted his stuff past the big black dog as if to say “No problem”.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Burnley again

Did I happen to mention that I support Burnley FC? This was the team that beat Manchester United last week. This is the same team that beat Everton 1-0 last night. Another full house at Turf Moor saw Wade Elliott slot a dream goal.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Is she a Girl... and does it matter?

Eighteen-year-old Caster Semenya is a South African woman who has just won the 800 meter world championships. But some people from other countries think that she looks like a boy and have demanded a gender test. Clearly this is not about genital appearance. Many have attested that she has the external makeup of a girl.

So I wondered what makes someone a “girl”: Is it general looks? But what appears feminine in one culture is not feminine in another! Is it the ability to bear children? But not all women can bear children! Is it the way she dresses? But clothing is such a subjective preference – and many women choose to wear trousers, and many men have worn kilts into battle!

Some scientists have suggests that the issue at stake is “Sex”, and not “Gender. Dr Ross Tucker writes that “Gender refers to how an individual portrays and perceives him or herself---for example male or female. It is more of a social construct than a biological one. Sex, on the other hand, is biological, and that is the essence of the debate in this case, whether or not Semenya is of male or female sex, not gender.” He points out that it is possible to look like a female externally, while carrying predominantly male chromosomes. But I ask whether chromosomes should be the determinant anyway? Are social relationships and self perception automatically inferior to science? There are no easy answers to this!

What I have found particularly distasteful about the whole Semenya episode is the way it feels. It appears to an outsider like me that some white European officials felt that she did not look like a girl. I wonder if they feel the same about Stephanie Brown Trafton, winner of the Olympic women's discus, or shotput’s Jillian Camarena. These are very powerful, very square, but very Western Women. Or is it only the women of African Bantu extraction that are deemed to look male?

Perhaps as Christ-followers we need to remember that the way we are is absolutely OK. Whether we are clearly identified in terms of gender, or whether our human characteristics are to be found in the grey areas of chromosome confusion and transgendered identity, we are loved by God. Let us refuse to be amongst those who seek to determine the worth of a person based on their gender. Scripture reminds us that every person is lovingly created by God to be exactly as they are:
Psa 139:13 For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Football ... over 33 years.

Last night newly promoted Burnley defeated defending Premier League champions Manchester United 1-0 for the first time in 41 years. Founder members of the 1888 Football League, they are nicknamed “the Clarets” because of their claret and blue club colours. They are based in Burnley, Lancashire, where Turf Moor has been their home ground since 1883.

For me – it all began in high school when Jeremy Schrire and Howard Shapiro ran an English football pool in our school: We all chipped in a couple of Rands, and guessed the results before the weekend’s football. I knew nothing about English football, but it seemed foolish to pick a team that everyone else followed, because the payouts were paltry when the popular teams won. So I decided to become a Burnley supporter, and Burnley and I enjoyed moderate success between 1973-1975.

I left school at the end of 1975, and Burnley left the top league of English football. And ever since then Burnley has drifted down the football leagues, until 1984 found them in the Fourth League, followed by an ignominious scramble to prevent relegation to the part-timers Conference League two years later. Bottom of the world… followed by a gradual rise through the leagues. Then a disasterous run of 19 losses in 2006/7 season, which was followed last year by the unexpected – but very welcome – championship playoff against Sheffield United to secure promotion to the Premiership.

Which is a long way around to discovering that I left school 33 years ago! Jeremy is now a successful stockbroker in London, and Howard is an Orthodox Rabbi in Israel.

Anyone for football pools?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Life under the Stars

We were hosted in Sutherland by Naomi Brink. She has lived her entire life here. This has included owning the local butchwry, a stint working for the local farmer's Co-Op, and now running a guest house called 'Cosmos'(which is not the flower but instead refers to Space/stars/universe. The town makes its living off the planatarium, so the places to stay take on 'starry' names such as 'Halley se kom eet', Jupiter, Andromedia, Galaxy and The Southern Cross. The town has an agreement with the observatory to limit public lighting, so as to maximise darkness. A town off National highways, but well worth visiting.... Go look up Tannie Naomie's Cosmos just off the Main Road.


Snowing in Sutherland

Woke up to snow this morning.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Turn to the evening news and wait for the weater forecast. Now look for the coldest place in South Africa. i am there: Sutherland boasts an annual minimum temperature of 3 degrees Celcius, and can drop to -13*C in winter. Situated on the Roggeveld escarpment of the Northern Cape, it has on average 88 frosty mornings, and nearly every night is cloud free. So I ventured out for a run this evening, just as the sun was setting. It was clear, crisp.... very crisp... in fact it was very, very cold. 20 minutes and I was back indoors. A hot bath and a lighted fire became a welcome antidote. The evening weather report tells me that the minimum expected temperature for tonight will be 0*C, rising to a maximum of 7*C tomorrow. Oh well - 'more is nog 'n dag'. (picture taken from Northern Cape Tourism Authority publication).

In the Middle of Nowhere.

Driving on the road between Middelpos and Sutherland we came across this vacuum cleaner...... 'tussen niks en nerens' (check the heading for an English paraphrase). This lonely household appliance evoked much discussion - with little explanation.


Middelpos is a spot on a farm in the middle of nowhere. We drove north from the Tanqua nature reserve towards Calvinia. After cresting the picturesque Gannaga Pass we stumbled across this proverbial 'one horse town'. It consists of a hotel, a general dealer and petrol pump, a boerbul breeder and the ubiquitous bottle store. Ouma Marthie welcomed us into the hotel lounge and spoke of how she had arrived with her husband Colin some 30 years ago. They continued the dream begun one hundred years earlier by Mr Daniel Tomlinson, the originator of this dorp. He was a Jewish lappiessmous from England, who decided to settle down. He chose a strategic spot on an old traveller's route to provide rest and provisions. And so we rested, and drank tea..... and wondered what the walls would tell us if they could speak.

Monday, August 10, 2009


Spent the past weekend in arid semi-desert that is fabulously flowered with post-rain splendour. The best part was that we had no electricity, no cell phone access, horizon to horizon blue sky, and ..... silence! Remember the bit in Psalm 23 that links 'besides still waters' and 'restores my soul'. Well my soul is restored.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Connecting with the Past

This afternoon my sister and I took my parents to see members of our extended family - who live on Riverton Farm. I have visited this farm for all my life. It now belongs to my cousin Duncan, who inherited it from his father George, who inherited it from his father, who inherited from his father. And so I returned to a familiar place, one that is deeply rooted in my bones. I inhabit a world that is in constant flux, and it is wonderful to return to a place that seems familiarly the same. Of course this is not true: we have all aged, and the farm is both mechanised and unionised. But for just a moment I was again that young boy on holiday on my uncles farm. And I was at peace.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Bread of Life

Joh 6:35 "I am the bread of life," Jesus told them. "Those who come to me will never be hungry; those who believe in me will never be thirsty.

When Jesus says “I am the bread of life” we should actually begin at a place that says: “I do not have a clue what he is talking about”.
The problem is that we forget the Jesus was speaking to Jewish people who lived 2000 years ago … and we try to understand this as if he was saying this today.

When Jesus says “I am the Bread of Life”: he is speaking as a middle-eastern Jewish man. and he was speaking to Middle-Eastern people 2 000 years ago. These were people who saw bread as something sacred. Because Bread was more than food: it represented a cycle of life:
- Bread speaks of those who planted grain – and of God who gave the sun, the rain to make the grain grow.
- Bread speaks of those who harvested the wheat – and of God who gives the strength for the harvest.
- Bread speaks of those who ground the grain, and made the bread mixture, and kneaded the dough, and put it in the oven – and of God who blessed people with water for the flour, and with earth to make bricks for the oven, and with fire to heat the oven.
So when the bread comes out of the oven, and people break the bread to eat it – this is a culmination of a long process of thanksgiving to God and to a community who made it.
Breaking bread together was a sacred moment – a reminder of everyone who had worked together to make this bread, and of all who sit down to eat it, and of God who made it all possible.

When Jesus says “I am the bread of life” he speaks of himself as holding the community together….. he is the centre of it all … he is the life of the whole community.

But I suspect that we are tempted to use a modern understanding of bread when it comes to our relationship with Jesus:

Bread, in today’s world – is a sandwich.
Bread is decorated – with tomato and cheese, or with jam.
Bread is what we eat while we wait for supper.
(I know that some of you will tell your tough times stories of how when you were little there was only bread and tea for supper).
But today’s world understands bread as a filler – something to keep you busy inbetween meals.
And this is how we understand Jesus:
We want Jesus the sandwich: Jesus as convenience food

 Jesus is useful when we have nothing else to chew on: we think of Jesus in between the “real’ stuff of life.

And then when we do think of Jesus, just like a sandwich, we want Jesus to suit our tastes
 We look for messages that we agree with: and when we hear a message that we do not like, we throw it away and find another one: a bit like saying – “I don’t like that sandwich filling, give me another”

 We want Jesus cut to a size that pleases us
And when Jesus has difficult things to say to us?
Well we treat them like the crusts on a sandwich – we cut them off!

Perhaps we can hear this echo today too:
The invitation to make Jesus the centre of everything:
The centre of our work: so that we are prepared to share our profits with those who have nothing.
The centre of our mealtimes: so that we are willing to share our food with those who are hungry.
The centre of our friendships: so that we give time to those who are alone in life.