Wednesday, July 27, 2011


This is Roanne. She is a person of enormous courage, who takes on life with grace and laughter.

Her daughter was diagnosed with leukaemia at the age of two. (Greek leukos - white, and haima - blood - a cancer of the blood or bone). She and her husband Mark had to cope with chemotherapy and the rehabilitation of a lovely little girl - now growing into a lovely young woman.

And just as the family was back on track Rowanne discovered cancer in her own body. And who says lightening does not strike the same place twice? She is completing her second season of chemotherapy, along with daily antibiotics, vitamins and nausea.

I admire her tenacity and dogged refusal to give in to pessimism and despair. She inspires me.
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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

An addict's life: hits and myths

Article by Tanya Gold
July 26, 2011

British singer Amy Winehouse, dead at 27.

Let's stop romanticising addiction and  call it for what it is: a mental illness. AMY Winehouse is dead and any useful understanding of the mental illness that killed her seems far away. Already the portrait is painted and flat-packed, smelted and ready to become myth.

There is tiny Amy with the swaying beehive hair and the frightened eyes, tormented by her talent and the chaos it brought, famous at 21, dead at 27, now a member of the repulsively named ''27 Club'' of musicians who were also addicts and died at 27: Joplin, Hendrix, Morrison, Cobain. All dead, all revered - as if it was their illness that made them interesting. The initial, rushed obituaries made much of Winehouse ''making it'' into the 27 Club. Would she make it to 28 and be shut out? No, she got in, with 54 days to spare.

Why do we give so much energy to the thrilling pantomime of an alcoholic dying in the public eye, and so little to understanding the illness that took her there? It was obvious years ago that Winehouse sick was more grotesquely interesting than Winehouse sober. As she temporarily dried out, so did the press coverage. But she relapsed and came home to fame.

When an addict self-annihilates, stalked by paparazzi, it is easy to imagine the story belongs to us all. We all had a stake in Amy Winehouse, you might believe. Her fall, and the redemption that will never come now, had a universal meaning. But it didn't. Winehouse didn't belong to us; she belonged to no one, not even herself. But you can forget that. Creative addicts - particularly female creative addicts - are always clutched to the cold global breast, even as the corpse is carried out.

Take Judy Garland, little Dorothy on Benzedrine, who kicked off her ruby slippers. She was a legend even before she was pulled off the toilet she died on in Chelsea in 1969; even this year there was a play in the West End about her collapse. I saw it and could only smell yet more exploitation of a woman who always exploited herself. Sing us a song, Judy - even though you're dead!

There is no wider parable about the relationship between addiction and talent, and I think that is junk too - a straw man that burns easily. Winehouse was simply an alcoholic and drug addict who had no idea of her own worth or how to cure herself. She died at 27 - not because she was the magical mystical twin of Janis Joplin - but because 27 is a normal age for the body of a compulsive user of hard drugs and hard alcohol to give out.

Thousands like Winehouse die every year and they are not venerated or even pitied. We will not educate ourselves about the disease, or reform drug laws that plunge addicts into a shadow-world of criminality and dependence on criminals. Winehouse got away with too much, said one copper, after a tape of her using was released. Did she? Did she really? Winehouse walked barefoot through the streets because that is where the drugs were and, even as her bewildered face splatters across the front pages, drug support charities are closing, expendable in this era of thrift.

Recovery rests on the edge of the self-harming knife, because no one yet knows what causes addiction, or how to cure it. The disease is impenetrable to outsiders because it is anathema to our all-conquering species that a person can be genetically predisposed to poison themselves. Addiction is still uniformly called ''a self-inflicted disease'' and only the most enlightened doctors will recommend Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous - self-help groups that sometimes get results, although no one knows why. A psychiatrist once told me that I should try to ''limit'' my drug use; he obviously knew nothing, even as he charged £275 ($A413) for 15 minutes.

Winehouse was in the Priory two months ago. I was in the Priory

11 years ago, where I was ''treated'' for addiction, and, in my experience, the Priory is not the sort of place where many people get better. (I await the letter of complaint from their ever-vigilant marketing department.) When I was there, they offered en suite bedrooms and in-room TVs, not the absolute knowledge that a tiny flicker of the reality of the predicament is essential to stay alive. She stayed a week, came home and died. She died for nothing, because she thought she was nothing.

Not that we will learn. The beehive was too high, the eyes too photogenically tormented, the voice too beautiful. Her new album will be released and it will sell 10 million copies, maybe more. And there, reader, is your meaning. The addict is dead. Long live the myth.


Tanya Gold is a London-based freelance journalist

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Injisuthi Drakensberg

I have just returned from two days in the Drakensberg. Yesterday my colleague Mike Stone drove Jenny and me, his son Brian, and friends Mike Hoffman and Brian Tarr, to Injisuthi in the Southern Drakensberg.

Leaving the bakkie at the ranger's office we headed up into the mountains. A six hour walk brought us to a cave, where we spent the night. Coffee, pasta, biscuits, and a cold breeze accompanied us to bed.

The sun woke us this morning. After a bacon and egg breakfast we then walked back down. Lovely mountain views, great company, and tired legs added to a great day.
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Tuesday, July 19, 2011


"Uzziah followed God during the lifetime of Zechariah, who taught him how to honour God." (2 Chronicles 26:55 )

Here is a powerful testimony to an older man who gave time to mentor a younger man. We all need people who can take us by the hand and "show us how". I thank God for people who took the time to mentor me: including Ray Light, Charles Villa-Vicencio, Sr Agnes Fynn and Ken Beard.

As I get older I discover the responsibility of example. I have no desire to tell people what to do. But I would want to live in a way that can inspire someone else to contribute to a love-filled community. So I am challenged to be more aware of my opportunity to mentor. Pray for me.
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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Faithful Servants.

Every church has people who offer time, passion, and energy to serve God's people. Tony Doige, pictured here leading during worship this morning, is one of these gems. He is a retired farmer, who now lives away from his farm in Bergville, and without his beloved wife who died some years ago. He now offers his life to the Wesley Methodist Church in Pietermaritzburg.

Tony is a seventy-five year young adventurer who is open to learning new things. For example, he works on the sound desk during the Sunday services, and is exploring ways of improving the audio-visuals of the services. He is also managing a project to install a toilet at the church for physically challenged people. He is the "father-figure" at the Tuesday morning men's accountability group, and the "go-to" person for church maintenance. And he has just learned to Twitter (@tonydoige).

Tony is the kind of man that inspires me to squeeze every last drop from life and never give up. A true man of God.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

A Generous Sower

Matthew 13:3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: "Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
Mat 13:9 Let anyone with ears listen!"

Have you ever had a moment when – no matter how hard you try – people criticize you? Well – you will then understand how Jesus feels in Chapter 13 of Matthew’s Gospel. Let us recap what has happened up to this point:
Chapter 3: Jesus is baptized and a call from God is affirmed.
Ch 4: Jesus goes into the wilderness to refine his direction – and finds some students who are willing to follow him.
Ch 5,6,7 are spent in teaching about the way God expects us to live
Ch 8,9 : sees Jesus putting the teaching into practice
And then in Ch 10 Jesus sends his students to try it on their own.

All along he has had mixed success – some people love his teaching and follow him from place to place. And some people are very critical.
And there is a clear dividing line between those who love him and those who hate him. This mirrors the fault line of the society Jesus lived in;
On the one side those who lived in Jerusalem; these were people who worshipped regularly in the temple, who celebrated the festivals, and who called themselves the “God’s Chosen People”. And then there were those who the people of Jerusalem called ”am ha-aretz” – the “unwashed”.

These were mostly poor rural peasants: They could not read and write and so could not keep track of the Jewish laws. They could not afford to travel often to Jerusalem – so missed the regular prayers: seldom made the required sacrifices. And so they were considered sinners by those who visited the temple every Sabbath. And over time they became convinced that God hated them.

Then this teacher called JESUS travelled the rural areas telling these people that God loved them. And he hugged them, and he healed them, and he taught them the laws of God….and they flocked to hear Jesus.
But the religious people in the temple were not impressed:

Mat 9:3 Then some of the scribes said to themselves, "This man is blaspheming."
Mat 12:14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.
Mat 12:24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, "It is only by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons, that this fellow casts out the demons."

And it is in response to this that Jesus tells a story:
A story of a farmer who goes into his field in and sows seed. This is small scale farming, where seed is scattered by hand, and then ploughed in.

Jesus points out the obvious – that this is a difficult way to farm because in addition to the seed that lands on the fertile soil - some seed will land on the footpaths, and some will land on rocks, and some will land in the bushes. And in this Jesus suggests that his teaching is not equally received:
Some hear what he has to say – and their lives are changed
Some hear him and there is a small change
And some hear him and his words just bounce off.

But I think that there is more to this: Instead of focusing on the soil and the seed, I am inviting us to focus on the sower;
I have an image of a farmer sowing with Generous Abandon. Here is someone who throws handfuls of seed in every direction. I can almost hear the gasps from the rural farmers who listen, because seed is precious! There is no farmers’ co-operative to buy it from at the beginning of the season: this is seed carefully stored from last year:
Yet here is a farmer who just throws it in every direction.

Here is Jesus; saying to his critics – don’t you understand that it is the pleasure of my Heavenly Father to bless everyone in every direction. I hear Jesus rebuking the religious leaders who are so quick to write people off as sinners – rocky ground, thorny personalities, hard to teach. Here Jesus is saying that God shows love to everybody –
The just and the unjust / rocky ground and fertile soil / thorny personalities as well and the kind and the patient.

And here is the place of Good News for me, because I have moments when I am not fertile soil: I am hard to teach like a well worn footpath.
Yet God still sends his love my way. Sometimes I am thorny and prickly – yet God does not give up on me.
This is Good news for everyone – to know that even when you are struggling with life, and when you feel shallow and weak, God still sends his grace and goodness your way.

But just as I celebrate a God who so scatters grace with generous abandon, so I am challenged to learn to see this Grace extended to other people too. Let me ask of us:
Do you know someone who you think is prickly and thorny
Or someone who is hard and uncompromising
Or someone who is shallow and easily distracted
It is easy to write them off. But the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus is that God’s grace extends even to those we so readily write off as being beyond repair

Let us pray to be willing to pass the Grace of God to other people with the same generosity as we have received it from God.

Friday, July 08, 2011


Today the Seminary releases the academic transcripts for the first 6 months of 2011. It is a big moment because we all get to see how we are doing: both seminarians and teachers.

Pray that we all might remember that academic grades are only one component of our life together. We are growing ministers of the Gospel - not academic whizz-kids. We dream of forming Christ-followers who can transform Church and nation.
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Wednesday, July 06, 2011


Mark 8:22 Then they came to Bethsaida. They brought a blind man to Jesus and asked him to touch him:

.... they did not ask for a sermon; neither did they seek a healing; they wanted physical contact - a touch.

This is so rare in our world. We substitute human touch with everything else, thinking that possessions, clothing, entertainment, and words will show our love for another. Jesus showed this to be a hollow substitute by offering the one thing that is prized above every other gift: Jesus offered human contact. In touching the blind man he affirmed the fact that he was not an "unclean" reject of society. In this human touch, Jesus affirmed this man as a beloved brother.

I am challenged by this story to examine the ways I show love: and to be committed to offering human contact to those who are shut out into the margins of my world. Pray for me.
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