God's Word for today

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Not unravelling, just unwinding

One of the joys of having a long period of leave after what has been a rather arduous year is that there is time to unwind, then time to wind oneself up again (this time, in a good way).  So things have been a bit quiet for the past few weeks, and are likely to be quiet for a little while longer.

Good news though is that I managed to pass another semester at seminary - just one more to go, then the anticipation of where we will be sent at the beginning of 2012.  Not too long until I can get cracking with some "real" ministry!  Can't wait!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Another semester ... another 9 subjects down ... another set of results

Although last Friday was the "official" end of the year at the Seminary, in reality it has only come to an end today with the receipt of our academic transcripts.  I'm glad to say that, with God's help, the results have been good.  Only another 6 months now to complete the BTh, then its onto the PhD.  Talk about being a sucker for punishment!

PS: I wonder if one's brain can REALLY explode? :-)

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Anyone can make a baby - but it takes a REAL man to be a father!

After reading this article written by Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille (posted on the Moneyweb website here), I have but two questions:
  • Where are the real men?
  • Where is the Church?
My aim during this 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children is not to attempt to provide answers, but to post various articles that I've found to be of interest in order to stimulate debate.

Anyone can make a baby - but it takes a REAL man to be a father!
Helen Zille

The 25th of November saw the start of the annual "16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence", an international campaign started in 1991 by the Centre for Women's Global Leadership at Rutgers University in the United States.

The 16 days begin on November 25 (International Day against Violence against Women) and end on December 10 (International Human Rights Day). The linking of these two dates is to emphasise that violence against women is a violation of human rights. The campaign is observed, in various ways, in some 156 countries around the world.

In South Africa we have added an extra dimension - children's rights. We call this campaign the "16 days of activism for no violence against women and children". It is an essential addition in our context.

This point was driven home when I participated in the national launch of the campaign in Khayelitsha (a township on the outskirts of Cape Town) on 25 November. I visited a shack in Site B, Harare, where I met Pumla (not her real name). My interaction with this young woman will remain with me for the rest of my life.

In a small shack, about two by three metres, without any basic services, she was raising seven children. The youngest was still on her breast. Three others clung to her skirt. The daily struggle for survival was etched on her face. It was clear that she must have started having children as a teenager.

It was difficult to have a meaningful conversation with her, as (apart from the children) her tiny dwelling was crammed with officials involved in the launch. She was also slightly overwhelmed by the occasion. I failed to establish with certainty whether she was receiving grants for her children. It was also impossible to establish why the children of school-going age were not at school. She maintained the officials had told her to keep them at home for the launch, but they vehemently denied it.

I did manage to establish that her seven children have four different fathers, who live in Khayelitsha. They are all married to other women. And none contributes to the upkeep of any of Pumla's children. I also know that Pumla's story is by no means unique.

I have always been slightly sceptical of some of the statistics relating to child abuse, such as the reported estimate of the White Ribbon Campaign (an advocacy group against child abuse) that out of South Africa's 18.5 million children, about nine million have been abused. But if you include abandonment and neglect in the definition of abuse (as indeed we should), this statistic becomes horrifyingly real.

In the Western Cape, we have made it a priority of this year's "16-days" campaign to track down fathers who do not pay maintenance for their children. Every day, throughout the 16 days, we will publish the names of maintenance defaulters in the media, conducting door-to-door searches and road-blocks, and calling on communities to help us track down the thousands of men who make babies but refuse to accept the responsibility of being fathers.

A single mother with seven children in an unserviced shack demonstrates the campaign's relevance in a way nothing else can. Theirs is literally a daily battle to survive. Their prospects of lifting themselves out of poverty are hampered by the sheer size of the family, the absence of a stable father figure and the lack of maintenance money forthcoming from the various absentee fathers.

But the fathers of Pumla's children are not on our "defaulters" list. She has not sued them for child maintenance, so they have not officially "defaulted". Women in Pumla's position rarely know how to begin this process. And even if they do, the logistics are impossible. To begin with, where would she find the money for transport to a magistrate's court (repeatedly over many months) and who would look after her children while she was away? How would the "system" track down their fathers in the absence of any reliable addresses? And even if they were found, and summonsed to court, the entire process would be futile if they could show they did not earn an income and were unable to pay.

My fury against men who neglect their responsibilities overwhelmed me. I managed to ascertain the names of these fathers, and I resolved to track them down and make them take some responsibility for their children.

And then I began to have my doubts. What if my actions triggered unintended consequences for Pumla and her children? What if any of the men subjected her or the children to violence as a result? I resolved to learn more before taking action. I will go back and ascertain all the facts of her case. Only then will I decide on an appropriate course of action.

For someone in my position, the overriding question is this: what is the role of the state in addressing the needs of the millions of women and children in similar situations across South Africa? What does the "opportunity society" mean for Pumla's children? What can society realistically do to ensure that they have a better chance in life than their mother? How do we make sure the cycle doesn't repeat itself over and over again?

Every time I ask myself these questions, I start with the basic equation: there are just over 5 million registered personal taxpayers in South Africa, and about 13 million grant recipients. This ratio, which widens every year, is becoming unsustainable.

So, I go through the check-list of the basic minimum of state services: Does the mother have an identity document?  Do the children have birth certificates? Do they receive their grants? Is there a functional school nearby where they can get free education? Do they have access to free basic services: water, electricity, sanitation, refuse removal? Is there an accessible clinic? Are they getting the medication they need? Is it possible to ensure that the children complete their schooling without becoming teenage parents or drug addicts? If they manage to pass matric in their circumstances, will they be able to acquire the skills they need to find a job and improve their lives? Will our policies encourage the economy to grow at the pace needed to create these jobs?

We cannot turn back the clock for Pumla. But we must try to get a combination of services right to improve the life chances of her children. Even this is by no means certain. Simply getting basic service delivery right is often an insurmountable challenge.

But the sobering truth is this: even if the state is entirely efficient and effective (which it is not), it cannot succeed in transforming children's life chances unless parents fulfil their core responsibilities. Functional families are indeed the bedrock of successful developing societies. Basic services (even if efficiently delivered) have minimal impact in a context of substance abuse, truancy, unprotected sex, child abandonment - and the myriad matters over which individuals must exercise primary choice and personal responsibility.

As Dr Mamphela Ramphele succinctly put it: "It starts with parents taking charge of their children; teachers will build on a foundation laid by the parents; the rest of society can firm up the structure which will become the edifice of what we call a nation."

We have an enormously long way to go. But every day counts. That is why we will spend the "16 days" campaign getting the message across: if you are not there for your children, the least you can do is to pay what you owe.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Farewell, faithful friend

Last night I received the sad news that my Mom had to have our dog put down yesterday.  The vet originally thought that he was just a bit run down, but when he was taken back yesterday the tell-tale signs of cancer in the stomach region were evident, leaving Mom with no real alternative.

I'll never forget that day nearly nine years ago when we brought home this little orange bundle of fluff with his little black tongue.  Yet despite all the warnings from well-meaning friends about how chows tend to get stroppy as they get older, our Kaito was the most benevolent creature one could imagine.  A great watchdog, too - when a chow barks, you get up to investigate, since this breed NEVER barks for no good reason.

I unfortunately haven't seen too much of him during the past two years I've been in ministry, since he's remained in Joburg while I've been gallavanting around the country at the behest of the MCSA, but in that time Kaito and Mom were absolutely devoted to each other.

It'll feel strange to arrive in Joburg in about three weeks' time and not hear that funny whooping bark of his - one that has a different note depending on whose car puls up at the gate.  He will be sorely missed...

(PS: The image on this post is not of Kaito, as I didn't have an electronic picture of him, but he was very similar in appearance)

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

It's all over!

Exams are behind me, and although I'm VERY tired, I think the picture says it all...

Monday, 22 November 2010

Feeling flat...

Feeling rather flat today ... just 2 days to go and exams will be over ...

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Are we as a Church just "going through the motions"?

In and out and out and in and up and down and all around.
We're going through it, nothing to it - all you've got to do is do it
Going through the motions - 1,2,3,4
I go you go you go me go, everywhere that we go we'll be
Going through the motions - 1,2,3,4

Bonnie Tyler, "Going Through The Motions", from the album Faster Than The Speed Of Night
At the moment I'm sitting with a take-home examination in the subject "Leading The Congregation", which means that I should in fact be working rather than blogging right now!  But the task we have been set ties in quite a bit with what I've been reading, as well as my interaction with the MCSA Minister's Forum over the past few days.

The examination task is as follows: You are newly arrived in a congregation.  Over the past few years the congregation has been in a rut.  Not much growth has occurred and there are high levels of apathy among the members.  Morale among congregants is low.  A number of people have shared with you their hope that your arrival will bring around a turnaround in the life of the Society. 

No pressure for this particular minister, then!  But while the examination question deals with the formulation of a re-visioning process for this particular (hypothetical) congregation, I started thinking about what causes congregations to get into such a "rut" in the first place.

I think one of the main culprits of a "dead Church" is the concept that We Have The Answer.  Now in one sense this statement is true for Christians, since we honestly DO believe that we have the answer - the one found in Jesus Christ.  I'm not talking about that.  I'm talking about the need to be "right", which comes with the covert (or even overt) implication that if I'm "right", you must, by definition, be "wrong".

A British Methodist minister now based in the United States, who blogs as PamBG, raised this issue in one of her recent posts.  Entitled "Faith In Your Damnation", she questions the attitude amongst many Christians today that we somehow have the "ticket to ride" (to badly misquote the Beatles song out of context) and that everyone else is going to hell.  I could summarise what she is saying, but since she puts it so succinctly, it's best to quote "from the horse's mouth":

[Y]ou might very well have got the impression from many of my fellow Christians that the main meaning we Christians derive from our faith is that you are damned and we are not. And I don't blame you if you've got that impression because I think that's the main message that Christians have communicated.  After all, some would argue, why be a Christian if everyone else is going to get into heaven too?

Source: The Ongoing Adventures of ASBO Jesus
A recent exchange on the MCSA Ministers' Forum has been rather like this.  Yes, I know that the whole same-sex issue is a touchy subject for many, but in many ways the "issue" is not really the point - rather, it is about who has the "true" doctrine; about who is "right".  Both "sides" seem to have great difficulty in accepting that their opposite number may well be a sincere, God-fearing Christian who has come to their particular understanding on whether gays should be "in" or "out" based on an honest, prayerful searching of the Scriptures.  Most disturbing of all are the personal attacks, whereby one side accuses the other of heresy, discarding the Scriptures, etc. with the inference that the other side will go to hell for holding the views that they do.

In the meantime, while the protagonists continue to draw their battle lines, the Church looks on with increasing apathy.  Quoting fellow blogger Allan Bevere, PamBG hits the nail on the head once again in another post:

The three great things that in my opinion we have to let go of are the following.  First there is the compulsion to be successful.  Second is the compulsion to be right - even, and especially, to be theologically right.  That's an ego trip, and because of this need churches have split in half, with both parties the prisoners of their own egos.  Finally there is the compulsion to be powerful, to have everything under control.  I'm convinced that these are the three demons Jesus faced in the wilderness. And so long as we haven't looked these three demons in the face, we should presume that they're still in charge.  The demons have to be called by name, clearly, concretely, practically, spelling out just how imperious and self-righteous we are.  This is the first lesson in the spirituality of subtraction.

To quote PamBG again:

We've made the "good news" into the message "Good news!  God will love you if you are just like us and believe exactly what we tell you to believe."  But the flip side of that belief is "Bad news!  God doesn't love you for who you are." 

The only people who can't seem to see through this message is us.

That's a funny kind of faith - a faith that mainly focuses on the question of who is outside the Holy Fence.  To talk to a lot of Christians, it's as if there isn't actually any meaning, reconciliation with God or salvation to be found inside Christianity, so we need to find our meaning in the idea of "Thank God I am not like that sinner."  (Oops, didn't Jesus have a parable about that?)

Do we Christians really believe that there is
good news at the heart of Christianity?  Can we stand before God, just me and God, and find forgiveness, reconciliation, transformation of life?  Or can we only feel "saved" if we have the comforting knowledge that there are some people who God just doesn't like - not now, not ever?

In the book "Right Of Admission Reserved" by Kevin Light and Frances Rogers, which is a collection of short stories based on the experiences of people who have felt excluded by the institutional Church for whatever reason, one of the stories deals with a person who is "in exile" from the Church because of its dogged adherence to one single way of belief and action - the so-called "We've Always Done Things This Way" syndrome (otherwise known as "The Last Six Words Of A Dying Church".  However, if the example of a young David being sent into battle against the mighty Goliath teaches us anything, it's that there is often more than one way to look at things.  For King Saul, the only way to go into battle was to be fully suited-up in heavy armour, whereas for David, such garb was a hindrance to his maneuverability.  In many ways our blinkered attitudes represent our own understanding of "truth", and God help those who don't see things the way we do...

One thing that clearly stands out in the ministry of Jesus is that he often has to break the letter of the Law in order to honour the spirit of the Law, whether this meant healing on the Sabbath, talking to the Samaritan woman, or sharing fellowship meals with "sinners".  And at the risk of being overly simplistic, we can only call truly call ourselves Christian - followes of Christ - if we follow our Lord's example.  Churches that don't di this will dig themselves into an increasingly deeper rut, and eventually die.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

How to be happy without the Internet

I found this stunning post that helps to bring some balance into the lives of us technophiles that (let's be honest) spend more than our fair share of our time stuck behind our computer screens. (The original article can be found here)

There was a period of your life when the Internet didn’t exist or it was not well known.  Do you remember?  Everything was done by using books such as: white pages, dictionaries, vocabularies, encyclopedias, etc.  Do you remember the sound of their pages while you browsed them with your fingers?  If you wanted to speak, you had to use your home 'phone or some public 'phone outside, maybe at the end of the block.  If you wanted to write, you had to use an electrical machine or, in the worst cases, your pen.  If you wanted to listen to some songs, you had to buy music cassettes, and if you wanted to watch a movie you had to buy or rent VHS cassettes - and own a VHS player, of course. 

It is rather difficult to think about those days, they seem to be so far away.  It is even difficult to picture yourselves in a hostile environment like that.  It seems to belong to another world.  An impossible, primitive, weird world that is part of some lunatic fantasy.  Believe it or not, but what you think to be a far away world is something you used to live in just few decades ago - namely, the seventies and the eighties.

If you stop for awhile and start thinking about all the commodities the Internet has brought you, and how comfortable and secure you feel with them, a doubt may grab you.  How could you survive without them?  And above all, what did you do without them?  You don’t know, you can’t remember, but you are more than sure that you used to do something - you had to do something without the computer and Internet.  Yes, of course!  You used to play with your Commodore 64.  No, wait, that was a computer, one of the first and without Internet (what a tragedy!). 

Well, you had a lot of spare time, that’s for sure, right?  So what did you do?  The fact is that it is really hard to remember.  What happened?  Have you forgotten what you did without your loving laptop stuffed with 3 Gb of RAM, 120 Gb of hard disk, Windows Vista, Windows Office, Norton Antivirus, Halo 3, Google Earth, Skype, Yahoo Messenger, 5 Gb of pictures, 15 Gb of songs, and another 12 applications?  I think so.  You are too busy downloading, updating, upgrading, fixing and tweaking, chatting and calling, reading and digging, posting and sending that you don’t have time to think about those happy days when your life used to be calm, relaxed, funny, full of real friends and of…reality.

Now, you sit down before your computer and in a snap two hours are gone, before you know it the afternoon is over.  Computer life and Internet have eaten your life.  They are a drug and once you try it, you don’t want to live without it anymore.  You need it, you want it, you deserve it.  It is part of your life, and in some cases it is your life.  At this point you feel doomed, you would like to close the lid of your laptop, you would like to go out and start running, but…wait a minute, somebody buzzed you, you have to reply to your online friend.  You have never seen him in your life, but you know he is a good guy, well, he’s your friend, your best friend.  You start replying to him.  Your fingers run fast on the keyboard and your eyes are ready to jump on every single word that appears on the bright monitor.  What were you thinking before?  You don’t remember, maybe some silly thoughts.  Soon the next antivirus update will come in a couple of minutes.  You better hurry up or you will miss it.  You open a window, and another, and another one, and click, click, click…

Ok, maybe I exaggerated a little bit with this story, but believe me, there are many people who are so addicted to the Internet and the computer that they barely go out.  Sometimes during a day it may even happen to us.  We lose track of the time and what seemed to be two minutes on the Internet end-up becoming two hours.  I have to confess to you that it happens to me many times, more than I would like to.  That’s why I decided to write this little guide to teach myself, you and whoever will have the patience to read it, to remind how not to be swallowed by the Internet and its electronic world.  The thing we have to keep in mind is that there are really many things we can do apart from playing, posting and chatting.

Here are the rules:
  1. Your life is not the Internet or your PC.  Changing your mentality is the first step to modify your behaviour and your general approach to your time and the way you spend it.
  2. Look around you.  What things do you have in your house that could be used, apart from the computer, to spend your free time with?  I am talking about books, encyclopedias, magazines, radio, CDs, hobbies you have left behind and, why not, the TV (if you used to watch quality programs).  See?  It is not important to get out of your house to have fun.  Live your house and the things it owns.  In this way, above all at the beginning, you won’t feel compelled to go out if you really don’t feel like once you turn your PC off.
  3. How many books do you have in your house?  If you own a good library then you can skip this point, but if you have few books or no books, well, it is about time to buy some.  Try to buy books about things you like (yes, even about the computer and Internet, after all it’s the first step) and things you don’t know about.  Have an open mind about things you have never heard, and try to be interested in them.  If you don’t want to buy books because you think not to be able to read them till the end, try at least with some magazine and newspaper at first.  In this way you will get accustomed to read, even short articles.  From these to reading a whole book, the step will be much easier and less traumatic.
  4. Try to read at least two books a month to discipline yourself.  After having advised you to buy books, how couldn’t I say to you not to read one?  Reading a book is good exercise to calm yourself down, to understand how the time really flows, and to discipline your restless mentality.  In fact, at first, after you stop using the computer, your mind will preserve that frantic attitude which made you jump from a website to another and from a program to another one, while in front of the screen.  Train your mind to do what you want and not the other way around.
  5. Spend some time with yourself.  Reading, listening to relaxing music, watching a nice movie or dedicating some hour on that stamp collection you had forgotten, is a wonderful way to learn how you work.  When you were in front of your computer you were totally absorbed by what you were doing.  Your whole body stopped existing and your mind was away, in another place.  It  was inside the Internet.  Your body can teach you what you like and what you don’t.  Listen to it.  You may feel comfortable with your feet on a footstool, your head may ache when you put it on that apparenlty-comfortable pillow, your left hand may be restless if you dangle it and may be relaxed when you place it on your chest or your tummy.  You may feel better when you cross your legs or when you stand up.  There are many things you can learn from your body and its necessities.  Once you have known your body, try to control it.  Again, train your body to do what you want and not the other way around.  That restless attitude of yours can be a leftover from your Internet life which made you so jumpy, nervous and unbearable.
  6. Spend time outside.  Once you have learnt how to master and manage your body and mind, you are ready to go out.  Spending your free time outside is a good way to learn how many things you can do without Internet.  You could go to that nice park close to your house to have relaxing walks.  You could even take that nice book you have just started with you.  If you want, you could even try something hard.  Try to run or exercise while out.  It is a good way to get rid of that anxiety that sometimes grab your stomach and doesn’t allow you to breathe.  Actually getting tired from some activities is a very good way to relax yourself, without speaking about the benefits your body will have from releasing toxic elements through sweat.
  7. Hang out with friends.  Do you have friends?  I think so.  We are social animals so you must have some.  Connect with them again.  Call them, invite them, ask where do they go, and hang out with them.  You will discover that having, interacting, speaking and looking at real friends is so much better than having virual ones.  Real friends stimulate your inner needs of speaking and speaking stimulate your mind, when your mind is stimulated you are more curious and interested in things; when you are interested in something you tend to gather information; and gathering information allows you to elaborate your own opinions compelling you to look into confrontation with friends and people.  This confrontation stimulate you more and more helping your inner growth.  As you can see, hanging out brings you a lot of benefits - even if you are not aware of them!
  8. Keep yourself busy with a regular activity in some organisation.  Once you are out, why don’t you start doing something useful for yourself and/or for the community you live in?  Having outdoor activities is another way to keep yourself busy and make you forget about all the long hours you used to spend in front of your computer just to tweak a small program that didn’t have any use in your practical life.  What’s better than putting your free time at the service of those people who need help?  It doesn’t matter if you choose some religious organisation, Greenpeace, Amnesty International or the group of people living round the corner who help homeless when it is really cold.  Helping is fun!
  9. Look for a girlfriend (or boyfriend).  It may look like a joke, but it is not!  Sharing your life with somebody else you love it is a nice beginning after all the years spent on the Internet following ghosts or dreams that lived too far away from you to be real opportunities.
  10. Go home and look at your computer.  Ok, after you have achieved all these goals (or most of them anyway) go home and stare at your PC.  Did you see how many things you were missing just to look at a screen?  Real life is so more exciting and real than any website or program you may ever find!  Enjoy yourself and your new life now!  Of course, if you want, you can use Internet again.  You can find many interesting information on it, but be careful not to depend on it again.  Enjoy your life!  Don’t waste it for a game or a program.  We live our lives just once.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

The Wesleyan Emphasis on Holiness

I submitted this paper recently for one of my examinations, but thought I'd post it here in case it may be of use to someone wanting to lead a discussion group on this subject.  The target group is intended to be youth, aged 16-17.  Some comments on its contents, suggestions for improvement, etc. would also be greatly appreciated.


Note: All activities to be conducted by the group are highlighted in bold italics.

Have each member come up with their own understanding of what it means to be holy.  Suggest some daft definitions, such as “a piece of wood that has been attacked by woodworm”.  Then ask the group to be more serious about a definition of holiness.  They’ll probably come up with concepts such as “perfection”, “doing the right thing”, “not breaking the rules”, etc.  Ask the group whether it is possible to do any of these things?

Scripture reading – A Call to Holy Living (I Peter 1: 13 – 2:3, NLT)
A Call To Holiness
1:13 So think clearly and exercise self-control.  Look forward to the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world.  14 So you must live as God’s obedient children.  Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires.  You didn’t know any better then.  15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy.  16 For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”

17 And remember that the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favorites [sic].  He will judge or reward you according to what you do.  So you must live in reverent fear of him during your time as “foreigners in the land.”  18 For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors.  And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver.  19 It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.  20 God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but he has now revealed him to you in these last days.

21 Through Christ you have come to trust in God. And you have placed your faith and hope in God because he raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory.

Living in Love with Fellow Believers
22 You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters.  Love each other deeply with all your heart.

23 For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end.  Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God.  24 As the Scriptures say, “People are like grass; their beauty is like a flower in the field.  The grass withers and the flower fades.  25 But the word of the Lord remains forever.”

And that word is the Good News that was preached to you.  2:1 So get rid of all evil behavior [sic].  Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech.  2 Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation.  Cry out for this nourishment, 3 now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.

The nature of Christian holiness
Christian holiness may seem like some other-worldly state of being, experienced only by monks or people who have spent many years studying theology.  Or you may think that because you come to church every week, attend youth on a Friday night, don’t give your parents a hard time, and study hard at school, these things make you into a holy person.  But ponder the following scenarios, and indicate what you might do in each situation:

  • You’ve been invited to a friend’s party.  The invite tells you to just “bring yourself”, since all food, drinks, etc. will be laid on by the hosts.  When you arrive at the venue, you discover that there is nothing available to drink apart from beers and “coolers”.  You don’t normally drink alcoholic beverages, but you don’t want to appear too fussy.  Besides, all your friends are there, and you don’t want to look spare.
  • You’ve just turned 17 and are eligible to obtain a learner’s licence.  Because you will be studying in Durban next year, your parents have promised to buy you a small car – on condition that you obtain a driver’s licence.  However, the folks have offered to pay for driving lessons once you obtain your learner’s.  Unfortunately, the only booking you could obtain to sit for the learner’s test falls smack bang in the middle of your Matric preliminary examinations, and because you’ve been under pressure to get good marks in the prelims so as to gain entrance to university, you haven’t given your learner’s test too much priority.  The net result is that you end up failing your learner’s.  The next available booking is in two month’s time.  As you walk dejectedly into the school grounds the next morning, a friend informs you that he can “source” a learner’s licence for you, upon payment of R500.
  • You’ve always wanted to postpone having sex until you are married, because you believe that this is something that should be saved for that “special one”.  However, about six months ago you met someone who has totally swept you off your feet – so much so that you’re beginning to consider whether this person could perhaps be your lifelong soul mate some day.  While marriage is out of the question until you’ve completed your university studies, you start having fantasies of yourself and this person, aged mid-20s, standing at the altar in front of your minister.  This person has expressed similar feelings about you.  However, some of your classmates have begun to taunt you, questioning whether there’s something wrong with you because you’ve been going out with this person for six months without having “done it” yet.

Having discussed the above scenarios, you may have examined appropriate Christian ways to respond – ways that would be pleasing to God, or holy.  Or you may have come to the conclusion that being holy is an impossible task.  But God has called upon people to be holy since the beginning of time.

Because God had brought the people of Israel out from Egypt, rescuing them from slavery, God called upon them to be holy.  Likewise, God has delivered us from slavery to sin and death, having given is the “precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God”.  Just as God required the people of the old covenant to be holy, just as God is holy (Leviticus 19:2), so Peter requires the same from the new covenant people: “You must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy” (I Peter 1: 15) (NLT Study Bible, 2008: 2,129).

John Wesley recognised that it is not enough just to experience a “heart strangely warmed” at the moment at which you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Saviour.  That would be like getting your driver’s licence, saying that you’re qualified to drive a car, but never getting behind the steering wheel and actually driving.  That’s just dumb!  Surely the object of getting a licence is to enable you to drive?  But getting your licence doesn’t immediately make you the consummate driver, either – becoming a good driver requires skills that are acquired over many years, perhaps even involving advanced driver training.

So it is with your Christian walk.  What Wesley terms “sanctification”, “Scriptural holiness”, or “Christian perfection”, is in fact your journey towards living the kind of life that would be pleasing to Jesus.  After all, if Jesus gave his best for you, surely it’s reasonable for him to expect the same from you?

However, holiness is not something that happens overnight – it takes discipline, requires that you behave according to what you believe, and needs to become a “daily habit of the heart” (Storey, 2004: 14).  By God’s grace we are made holy in Christ, changing us into something we were not before.  Jesus restores our relationship with God – this is called “justification”.  But the Holy Spirit works within us, helping us to live holy lives as the image of God is restored in us – this is called “sanctification”.

Christian holiness – the personal dimension
If John Wesley was alive in 2010, he would probably view the Christian walk in terms of “putting your money where your mouth is”.  According to Wesley, “being a Christian is not just about getting together to talk, or sing, or even pray about how you feel about Jesus; it is about a new way of behaving, about joining a disciplined order, about practicing new habits of the heart” (Storey, 2004: 16).

To this end, Wesley insisted that all of his members be part of a class meeting – what we might call a cell group today – and each member of the class meeting were required to adhere to the following rules (Storey, 2004: 16):
  • Doing no harm – this entailed avoiding evil of every kind;
  • Doing good – not only in a personal sense, but also in the way one interacts with fellow human beings; and
  • Attending upon all the ordinances of God – this included regular attendance at worship, reading one’s Bible, taking part in Holy Communion, prayer, and fasting.
Members of class meetings held each other accountable for their spiritual walk with God, asking one another a series of rather hectic questions in the process.  Consider how you would feel about being asked some of the following questions (Olivier, 2010) that were asked of each other in the early class meetings:
  1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am?  In other words, am I a hypocrite?  (No-one wants to be called that!)
  2. Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
  3. Do I confidentially pass on to another what was told to me in confidence?  (In other words, if someone shares their deepest feelings, thoughts, and fears, can you keep your mouth shut?)
  4. Can I be trusted?
  5. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work, or habits?  (The old “everybody’s doing it” syndrome.)
  6. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?  (No-one likes being around someone who is self-centred and whining all the time.)
  7. Did the Bible live in me today?
  8. Do I give it time to speak to me everyday?
  9. Am I enjoying prayer?  (Note: The English of the 18th century may well take the word “enjoying” to mean “taking part in”, but if we understand this word in its modern context, is prayer a source of enjoyment to us?)
  10. When did I last speak to someone else about my faith?
  11. Do I pray about the money I spend?  (How we spend our money reflects where our heart lies.)
  12. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?  (This speaks of discipline in one’s personal habits.)
  13. Do I disobey God in anything?
  14. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
  15. Am I defeated in any part of my life?
  16. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy, or distrustful?
  17. How do I spend my spare time?
  18. Am I proud?  (This is not speaking about pride in one’s achievements or in the achievements of others, but rather of an arrogant form of pride.)
  19. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisees who despised the publican?  (We have a long way to go, and even when we are doing our best to live holy lives, we must remember that often the only difference between us and the out-and-out sinner, is Christ.)
  20. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward or disregard?  If so, what am I doing about it?  (Grudges are for parking cars in, not for holding against other people!)
  21. Do I grumble or complain constantly?
  22. Is Christ real to me?

Christian holiness – the social dimension
The Christian life, however, is not one that can be lived in isolation.  Imagine taking up a team sport, such as rugby, and going out to buy all the kit, obtain the best possible coaching, learn all the rules, and watch video footage of every game the Boks played during the previous World Cup – and then refuse to play the game with anyone else.  Not only would this be absurd, but it would also be impossible.  One simply cannot play rugby without involving others.

Yet as Christians we think that we can go it alone.  And as you will have seen from the questions discussed in the previous session, growing as a Christian comes from interacting with one another, holding one another accountable for one’s Christian walk.  So-called Christians who believe that they are in the Secret Service would not be considered to be true Christians by Wesley.  According to Storey, “a Wesleyan Christian is one who grows from the experience of the warmed heart into a life of disciplined love for God and neighbour, expressed in acts of devotion and worship, compassion and justice, and is willing to be held accountable to this by one’s fellow believers” (Storey, 2004: 17).

But social holiness cannot stop there.  While being a Christian according to these standards would be impressive enough, living like this would be incomplete.  Returning to our rugby analogy, it would not be enough simply to have all the kit, training, and skills.  It would also not be sufficient to assemble a team in order to play the game.  If one were to truly give something back to the game of rugby, one would need to be involved in some sort of development of younger and/or underprivileged players who have yet to benefit from the facilities you have enjoyed.

So it is with our Christian walk – it’s not enough to live a disciplined life so that we can become part of a “holy huddle” – Jesus calls us to make an impact on the world.  Inasmuch as the Spirit of the Lord anointed Jesus to “bring Good News to the poor … to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, [and] that the oppressed will be set free” (Luke 4: 18, NLT), so have we also been called by Jesus to share this “Good News” with the world.  In fact, Wesley’s main ministry thrust was to the poor and the marginalised of British society.  Indeed, it was Wesley’s work amongst the poor that shaped him as a person – so much so that he came to view being with the poor as being as much as a channel for God’s grace as receiving Communion.  As a result, Wesley came to discover that unless one engaged with the poor of the earth, one could not really call oneself a Christian (Storey, 2004: 19).

Challenge: Discuss ways in which one can carry out “acts of mercy” within your own community.  How do such acts reflect on you as a Christian?  In what way would one grow personally from the experience?

Conclusion: Bringing it all together
Holiness cannot be seen as having only a personal dimension or a social dimension.  It’s not “either / or”, but “and / both”.  Having personal holiness without the social dimension is little more than “playing at church”, while having social holiness without the personal dimension ends up simply being a “works programme”.  Action is meaningless without faith, yet faith without action is dead, according to James 5: 17.

Being a true Christian in the Wesleyan mould entails acts of piety (a search for inward peace with God); acts of charity (showing compassion by caring for the poor), and acts of justice (addressing structural poverty and becoming an agent for social change) (Storey, 2004: 19).  It is because of this three-fold witness that Wesley and his followers brought about much social change.  While none of this would have happened if it wasn’t for Wesley experience of a “heart strangely warmed”, nothing would have happened either id the “warmed heart experience” was all there was to being a Christian (Storey, 2004: 20).  Wesley needed both – and so do we.

Challenge for the week ahead: Identify and carry out one “act of mercy” that will make a meaningful difference in the life of someone else.  Reflect on what this meant for the person you helped, and reflect on how this impacted you personally as a Christian.


  1. Holy Bible, New Living Translation (2nd edition) (2008).  NLT Study Bible.  Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
  2. Olivier, RAJ (2010).  Class notes and discussions from course SYS102, Wesley and Social Holiness.  Unpublished documents.  Pietermaritzburg: Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary.
  3. Storey, PJ (2004).  And Are We Yet Alive?  Revisioning our Wesleyan Heritage in the New Southern Africa.  Cape Town: Methodist Publishing House.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Family, ministry, and the MCSA

I was going to title this post Have the Catholics Actually Got the Right Ministry Model After All?, because if I was to become a Catholic priest, one of the requirements would be to be single.  While I'd imagine that life would be quite lonely (speaking in hindsight, of course, because my family means the world to me), ministry would certainly be a lot less complicated!

Right now I'm going through one of my "illogical anxiety" phases, where it has suddenly dawned on me that I need to get my application for a high school place for James for 2012 submitted by the end of February 2011!  Adding to the anxiety is the fact that there are good schools, and, shall we say, not-so-good schools.  The result of this, of course, is that the good schools fill up faster, which means that if one drags one's feet, the only places available tend to be in institutions that are not exactly the best academic grounding if one's child is to have the option of going to university one day.

The better schools also tend to cost more, but thankfully James is a hard worker who gets good grades, so the possibility of being able to apply for a scholarship is on the cards.  However, closing dates for scholarship applications are (if anything) even earlier than normal applications.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have been exploring the option of staying at seminary for a third year in order to embark on a PhD, starting next year.  The additional time at seminary would (in theory) allow me to do much of the primary research almost on a full-time basis.  However, our attendance at a high schools expo last week has opened my eyes to the fact that if I were to stay on for an additional year, James would spend one year in high school and then we would be required to relocate.  This leaves us with three options:
  1. Stay on at seminary for a third year, let James do his first year of high school, then we all relocate to wherever the Church sends me.
  2. Stay on at seminary for a third year, let James do his first year of high school, then remain at the school as a border while Belinda and I relocate to wherever the Church sends me.
  3. Can the idea of a third year at seminary, and we all relocate to whever the Church sends me, where James will then start his high school phase.
Each of these options have its drawbacks:
  1. Moving schools after a year is academically disruptive.
  2. Keeping James in the same school is academically sound, but could be emotionally disruptive if I were to be relocated after a year.  Being apart as a family last year was rough, and we're not too sure if we're prepared to do that again.
  3. The staioning mechanism of the MCSA means that our hands are effectively tied in terms of where to apply for a school, since this is unlikely to be finalised until Conference meets (normally in September).  For that matter, there are three of my colleagues at seminary who are to be stationed from the beginning of 2011 (i.e. six weeks from now) who STILL do not have final confirmation of where they are going next year!
Right now I'm in a quandry, not least in terms of re-examining my calling to ministry.  When I candidated for ministry in mid-2007, I was clear in my heart that my calling was to full-time ministry as the spiritual leader of a congregation.  Within the MCSA, the only office realistically open to exercising such a ministry is through ordination to the itinerant ministry of Word and Sacrament.  (The MCSA also has a non-itinerant category of ordained ministry, theoretically with the same privileges and responsibilities of ministry that the itinerant folks have, but in practice non-itinerants do not get to be spiritual leaders of a congregation other than in a secondary role to another itinerant minister, so for me that was not an option in terms of what I believe God has called me to.)

When I was stationed in Uitenhage last year, this calling was confirmed so powerfully that I wanted to remain in Circuit.  Family considerations also had a role, together with the whole uncertainty around whether I would be allowed to remain there or be sent to seminary - once again, if you have been following my blog for some time, you will know that I don't do well with uncertainty, especially when my family is likely to be impacted.  However, having now had a taste of being in that role of spiritual leader to a congregation, I knew without a doubt that this was what God wanted me to do and what I wanted to do with my life.

Seminary has been very difficult in a number of ways, but the biggest struggle I have faced is a loss of a sense of providing spiritual leadership.  Within the seminary our lives are fairly rigid and scheduled around academics, whilst outside the seminary one's involvement with a local church is always (of necessity) a delicate one, in that there is a local minister who has been charged with the spiritual leadership of that particular congregation.  Wanting to avoid treading on that minister's toes is one consideration, and not really having time to do much in the way of ministry anyway (due to the academic workload at seminary), precludes one from making any meaningful contribution to the life of a particular congregation.  But one thing is certain - Circuit ministry is where I ultimately need to be.  That hasn't changed since 2006 when I first began to respond to the calling to ministry.

I honestly believed that I would feel differently about the whole seminary / Circuit conundrum after I'd been here for a while, but now that I'm coming to the end of almost a year here, my desire to be a Circuit minister has not diminished - if anything, it has intensified.  As a result, PhD notwithstanding, I'm beginning to have doubts about spending a third year here. (In terms of the rubrics that apply to our particular intake, I'm only required to be here for two years).

What this DOES mean, of course, is that I need to make a decision fairly quickly, because the deadline for applying for high school in Pietermaritzburg for 2010 is the end of February 2010, as already stated.  The PhD is not a driving factor - I can still register for it in mid-2011; it just means that the bulk of it will be done part-time (without the benefit of the year of virtually "full-time" study) if I decide to request being put into the stationing pool for 2012.  On the other hand, I have no idea where that station is likely to be, which means that my hands would be tied in terms of making an application for high school anywhere else - and will be unlikely to know before September 2011 (which will be seven months too late!).  There's also the question of rushing things - after all, I will eventually end up in Circuit ministry where God has called me to, and a year either way is nothing really in the greater scheme of things.

Life would be SO much easier if I knew I could be stationed in the Pietermaritzburg, but that is unlikely given the experiences of one of my colleagues - a "match seemingly made in heaven" concerining a local posting has been stymied further up the chain of command, for reasons unknown to me.  Under such circumstances, a similar request from me is not likely to receive a much-different response.

The long and the short of it is that I am clueless as to what to do.  I know I need to trust God - God, after all, is the one who called me to this ministry.  However, the same God also gave me my family.  I love both gifts from God dearly - and when the needs of these two gifts are seemingly different, it's a real struggle!

At least being able to get these thoughts down in the form of a blog post has helped me to clear my mind a bit, so that I can once again turn my attention to preparing for exams - but I will have to deal with this issue at some point, and soon, because time is running out...

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Honoraria dilemma

This past Sunday I had the privilege of preaching at both All Saints United Church and Prestbury Methodist Church - a rare privilege since I don't get to preach nearly as often as I did last year.

And while both services went well, I was faced with a bit of a dilemma.  You see, All Saints has the practice of giving a small honorarium to visiting preachers - their way of saying "thank you".  They include this in their annual budget, based on the number of visiting preachers they are expecting during the year.  By all appearances the church can afford this, and it's something that they do with grace and joy.

My dilemma is this - while one doesn't want to turn away someone's gesture of thanks, something I've wrestled with since entering the ministry is the concept of being paid for doing something that I'm not only called to do (i.e. it is part and parcel of my "job" as a minister), but something that I'm effectively already being paid for by virtue of being in receipt of a monthly stipend.  A small one, seeing as I'm at Seminary, but a stipend nonetheless.

I bounced this of Ross this morning, who has faced the exact same dilemma when preaching at All Saints, and he came to terms with the fact that the amount paid (which is not overly large) is a gesture of thanks on the part of that church community, which should be accepted with grace.

I hear where Ross is coming from, and in the end I split it between Belinda and James.  But something deep inside of me still feels awkward about the whole thing...

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

E-mail spam

Today I received yet another e-mail claiming that I have won the UK Lottery for the umpteenth time, added to this all the mails inviting me to claim my prize in the US Sweepstakes and any number of European lotteries.

Cash falling from heaven?  Not likely...
If such prize winnings were in fact genuine (doubtful, since the first rule for any hope of Lotto winnings is that you actually need to purchase a ticket - which I haven't), I would probably by now have been able to single-handedly pay for the building of the entire Seminary, as well as eliminate all forms of Connexional and District assessments forever.

The sad thing is that these idiots persist in sending me (and, no doubt, millions of others) this junk because many people fall into their trap, which is to obtain banking details and/or advance "processing fees".  Needless to day, the victims never see a brass farthing of any Lotto winnings, and in many cases are left with their bank accounts cleaned out.

So if I can say this simply, and slowly: If you receive ANY e-mail from someone you dont know, claiming that you have won a prize in a competition that you KNOW you did not enter, DELETE IT ON SIGHT!!!

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Mvume Dandala to return to the MCSA

I've just seen an interesting article on the Mail & Guardian website announcing former COPE leader Mvume Dandala's proposed return to the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, from which he resigned as a minister when taking up his position in politics.

What saddens me, though, is the comments that appear below the article - commentators that are clearly ignorant of the relationship between the MCSA and its ministers.  The fact of the matter is that Rev Dandala was required to resign as a minister, since our Laws and Disciplines do not allow for its clergy to hold party political posts.  In fact, as ministers we are even discouraged from being members of political parties (although freedom to vote for the party of our choice is not impacted).

My own opinion is that this is a sound policy, for the simple reason that as a minister, we are called to serve all the members of the congregation, and I don't see how this can be done with integrity if one is a member of a particular party.  The risk of alienating those who align themselves to other parties is too great.  Incidently, Rev Dandala believes that there is no inherent conflict, and that ministers should be allowed to take up party membership and even political leadership positions.  His argument, expressed at a recent Ujamaa conference in Pietermaritzburg, is that Christians should be influencial in all spheres of life, including politics. I must respectfully differ with him on this one.  While I agree that Christians can (and should) serve God in all areas, when it comes to full-time ministry, I  believe that clergy must choose which hat to wear - politics, or ministry.

So now Rev Dandala has submitted an application to come back into the MCSA fold, having resigned from COPE's leadership and left active politics.  I have no problem with that - by all accounts, he left the MCSA on good terms, and in terms of our policies, a Pastoral Commission has been convened to consider his application for reinstatement.  Due process was followed when he joined COPE (i.e. he resigned), and it appears that due process is being followed concerning his return.

Although I don't know Rev Dandala personally, I do believe that he was called by God to ministry - certainly his track record as a minister and leader in the MCSA speaks for itself - and the fact that he has spent a season in the political arena does not mean that he has abandoned that call, particularly given his views expressed at the Ujamaa conference.  He had also done the honourable thing by resigning when it became clear that there could be no meeting of the minds between the different camps in COPE - and given the number of power-hungry megalomaniacs in South African politics today, honour and integrity is a rare character trait.

So I pray that the Pastoral Commission will be just that - pastoral - and that God's will be done, whatever the outcome.  And my prayers are with Rev Dandala, that he will not only seek God's will concerning his return to ministry, but that he will also find healing after what could only have been a trying time during his season in the political arena.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

"All of self, and none of Thee..."

I went to a Circuit Quarterly Meeting last night, which started at 7 pm and finished at around 11:30.  Unfortunately, for reasons I'm not at liberty to go into on this forum, it seemed that Jesus had left the meeting at 9.

Sad when some people consider themselves above the work of the ministry...

Sunday, 24 October 2010


It always amazes me that a meeting is defined as an activity that involves hours and hours of tense debate, ultimately producing a result called "minutes".

And this past week has had more than its fair share of meetings.  On Monday we had a rather tense Community Forum meeting at the Seminary, in which Ross addressed us with a number of grave matters relating to our community living as well as other rather sensitive issues.  Then on Tuesday I attended a meeting of the Circuit Executive with two of my Seminary colleagues, which was part of the viability and visioning exercise we are assisting this particular Circuit with - and it was a tense affair starting at 7pm and ending just before 11.

Wednesday was the turn of our Leaders' Meeting at Prestbury, which Michael asked me to chair, and one or two sparks flew there as well.  Although that one "only" lasted 2 1/2 hours, I was still pretty shattered at the end of it.  Moving on to Friday, we had a dinner held in honour of Alice O'Neill who has just achieved her Springbok Scout, the highest award in Scouting.  While this was not a "meeting" in the true sense of the word, there was quite a number of speeches and (once again) I only arrived back home at 11.

After a mere five hours of sleep it was up again to take part in a tree-planting community project that the Scouts were involved in.  This entailed a 3.8km uphill schlep through the forest paths behind Cascades shopping centre to the place where the trees were to be planted.  The fact that I busted my second pair of sandals within a week, courtesy of the left sole becoming completely detached (we'll have no cracks about a Methodist minister losing his sole/soul, if you don't mind...) about 800m into the walk meant that I trekked the remaining 3km with a serious wheel alignment problem.  My feet, knees, and hips were NOT happy!  Thankfully I was able to hitch a lift back down.

Finally, to round off the week, I was asked to attend a congregational meeting at Pietermaritzburg Metropolitan Society this morning (also to do with the Circuit exercise referred to above), which I arrived at just after 10 (having ducked out halfway through he service at Unit 14).  Ross had been preaching and was planning to attend the meeting as well, but I suspect that as soon as he saw me he figured that this would present the perfect opportunity for a well-executed escape.  (Ross - you owe me one!)  After just over 3 1/2 hours of fairly intense debate, I hauled my sorry self back to Waalhaven, where the ministrations of my wife's roast beef, mash and veg, and sparkling grape juice re-fortified my weary soul.

The rest of today was spent basking my brain with Greek, ready for tomorrow's test.  At this stage I have to confess that it's all Greek to me!  Languages are not exactly my forte, and since turniong 40 I seem to have lost my capacity for rote learning as well.  In short, I'm up to my ankles in it, except that I'm head first.

Put it this way - if some people in the Seminary are getting up to mischief (and I stress, some - by no means a majority), quite frankly I don't know where they're getting the time!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

PhD, relocation, and other permutations

I am a member of a task team comprising seminary students who are tasked with assisting a local Circuit with a viability and visioning assessment exercise, part of which entails regular feedback and strategy meetings on Thursday afternoons.

After today's meeting Ross asked me, quite out of the blue, whether the plans for my proposed PhD are on track.  More particularly, whether we could do any advance spadework with the University of kwaZulu-Natal so that I could be "pre-registered" for the PhD programme so as to start as soon as I have completed my seminary studies in June next year.  (For those who are not aware, simultaneous registration with more than one educational institution is prohibited under South African law, otherwise I could have possibly been registered for the PhD already).

But the conversation soon turned to other matters surrounding my future study plans - in particular, whether my family and I are still on board with the idea of staying on at the Seminary for a further year (i.e. to the end of 2012), the purpose of which is to be within striking range of the University.  And I must say that I have mixed feelings about this.  While Seminary life is challenging in many good and pleasant ways, in particular from an education and formation point of view, it also comes with some less pleasant challenges (some of which I've articulated in a previous post).

The other matter relates to our parents, with both mine and Belinda's mothers living in our property (a pair of semi-detached houses) in Johannesburg.  The financial upkeep is substantial, but manageable.  However, of greater concern is their ages - my mother is 72, and Belinda's mother is 75 - and we are experiencing a growing degree of discomfort with having them live on their own, 500km away.  So selling up and relocating the folks to Pietermaritzburg is an option to consider.

There's also the matter of James starting high school in 2012, and given that the MCSA's stationing process can literally send you anywhere in Southern Africa (my colleage Kevin Endres, for instance, is being stationed in Windhoek, Namibia next year), I have reservations in allowing him to start high school and then have to change schools after a year.  This points to me leaving Seminary at the end of 2011.

On the other hand, if I am accepted into the PhD programme, then from that point of view, leaving at the end of 2012 is the better option.  It is also not absolutely out of the question that a station could open up in Pietermaritzburg or within striking range, whether for 2012 or 2013, and I have already indicated to Ross that I would like to be up for consideration should such a post become available.  Certainly we've settled in nicely in Pietermaritzburg, what with my attachment to Prestbury, Belinda serving in a number of different ministries, James at Sunday School, both James and I involved in Scouts, his sport, our new friends...

Obviously, if this doesn't happen, then I need to be prepared to go whever the Church sends me.  It's difficult, this - especially given the need to honour my commitment to "go to whichever Circuit I am sent to".  And I have no intention of dishonouring this commitment.  However, one has to also consider the needs of family, and hopefully the Church will be pastoral in this regard.

Still, I have time on my hands - time to talk, time to pray, and time to engage with the appropriate people.  And when all is said and done, time will come when I need to simply leave the whole thing in God's hands, knowing that it is ultimately God's ministry that I am called to serve in.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010


One of my passions is cars.  Before I was even out of nappies, I could tell the difference between the engine note of a V8 and a straight six, and as a child with a father who sold cars for a living, there was nothing cooler than spending Saturday mornings at work with him.  From the age of about seven, my job was to start up each and every car on the lot and give them a bit of a rev (so the battery wouldn't go flat, of course!).

Yet despite me being a petrolhead of note, my ownership experience of cars has been ... er ... boring?

My first car was a 1984 Ford Escort 1.3L (the first front-wheel-drive ones), which had (unbeknown to me) been rolled by its previous owner and so the roof had not been put back on quite straight.  It had a top speed of about 130km/h (down a mineshaft, with a tailwind), and 0-100 took about three weeks.  Still, I had some fond memories of that car - especially when I was washing it at my then-girlfriend's house and she brought me one her mother's pristine white towels to dry it with, so as to not scratch the paintwork.  (I figured there and then that she was a "keeper" and married her four years later).

Tiring of the 'phone messages to call the Escort agency every time I took it in for a service, I got this rush of blood to the head and decided to buy (and restore) my late father-in-law's old 1.6 Corolla - the last of the rear-wheel-drive models.  It had an asthmatic 50kW engine, leaked every kind of automotive fluid known to humankind, and had a gearshift that felt like a wooden spoon in suet pudding.  It's only redeeming feature was that i had put a reasonable sound system in (comprising "the" tape deck to have in those days - a Pioneer Arc Component, coupled to their famed GM120 amplifier).

In a bizarre way, this dog of a car cemented my burgeoning love affair with Toyotas since I traded it in (or rather, asked the dealership to take it away and burn it) on a 1987 FWD 1.6GL Corolla.  Now THAT was a great car - I bought it in 1992 with 88,000km on the clock for R22,000, and sold it seven years later with 246,000km on it - still with the original clutch - and got R18,500 for it.

Enter my first "real" job, and to go with it I bought my first "real" car - a 1991 BMW 325i (yes, the one that epitomised the "feline shriek" of a BMW straight six).  It was a seriously fun car to drive, with 126kW on tap (exactly double that of the Corolla), but after a holiday to Cape Town with wife, mother, 18-month-old son, and 3 tons of luggage and baby paraphernalia on board, I knew I needed a bigger car.

So what would any self-respecting, 30-year-old professional on his way up the corporate ladder, who had just spent two years of "sheer driving pleasure" in one of BMW's finest, buy next?  Not what you'd expect.  The honours for my first new car went to ... a boring grey Mazda 626, whose main feature was a boot that was probably big enough to park the BMW in, had I kept it...

Five years later and 151,000 trouble-free kilometres later, I made what was probably the stupidist automotive decision of my life, and traded the Mazda in on a Renault Scenic.  Great car, with it's high-up stance and millions of hidey-holes, but one couldn't complain about the service - 'cos there wasn't any.  Then came the calling to ministry, and with the prospect of being posted off to the boondocks, and glad for an excuse to get rid of that horrid French thing,  I threw all caution to the wind and bought the gay Chinese truck (see previous post here), for which I have developed a distinct fondness over the past three years.

In the meantime my wife also took to the road, with her first car being her late father's 1.3 CitiGolf.  I should have suspected that lightning would, in this case, strike twice in the same place given my experiences with his old RWD Toyota, and so it proved with the Golf being held together with prestik and wire.  When the VW finally expired, I decided that my significant other needed something more reliable, which came in the form of an Opel Astra Estate, which was quite zooty with its aftermarket mag wheels and "Bite Me" logo on the rear.

Unfortunately, after a mere 12 months with the Opel, Belinda had an altercation with an Oshkosh on the N12, in which the Astra came off second-best.  So now she drives a motorised sofa with a boot big enough to take another sofa in it, otherwise known as a Toyota Camry.  It's big, it's lazy, and it's an automatic - and it's probably THE most comfortable car I have ever driven.

However, despite my wife and I owning what many would consider to be the most boring transport on four wheels during the 19 years of our marriage (except for the aforementioned BM), my son has, thanks to Messrs Clarkson, May, and Hammond of TopGear fame, become a petrolhead in the making.

This morning, in reference to the expressed desire of Jeremy Clarkson that, when he dies one day, he be driven to his funeral at 100 miles an hour in anything with a V8 under the bonnet, James decided that if he were to die anytime soon (God forbid), he wants to go one better - a Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, the most insanely powerful (and expensive) production car in the world.

There's just one problem - since the Veyron doesn't come in an estate version, and the exhaust configuration precludes the fitment of a towbar (which would be sacrilege), the only way to turn a Veyron into a hearse would be to put a roofrack on it.

And that's just WRONG!!!

Friday, 15 October 2010

Uncelebrated milestone

It's just struck me that my last post two days ago was Number 400.  Who would have thought that so much verbiage could flow from my keyboard in what has been a relatively short period of time (three years)?

Jenny also mentioned to me that she looks for a blog post for me when things aren't going well.  Part of the reason is that I find blogging to be quite therapeutic  Which means that when I don't blog for a long time, things build up inside like a volcano waiting to erupt - which it eventually does!

Different people blog for different reasons.  What are some of yours?

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

My beloved gay truck

On a lighter side, this post came to mind as I ponder whether my double-cab bakkie will be ready for collection from the panelbeaters today.  I had to return it for some minor adjustments arising from repairs occasioned by an unfortunate coming-together with another vehicle just over a month ago.

When I bought this vehicle in 2007, I came in for some stick because I had gone for one of the Chinese bakkes from GWM.  My reasoning at the time was that an all-in price of just under R150,000 (which included leather seats, a major upgrade to the sound system, rubberising, a towbar, and a canopy), and seeing as the mechanicals were based on a Toyota engine with Bosch fuel injection (even if it does look like a "pavement special" between a Nissan Hardbody and the old Isuzu KB), I couldn't go too far wrong.

And so it has proved, with 40,000 trouble-free kilometres under the belt (apart from last month's ding).  I'll grant that the Toyota Hilux is a better vehicle, but whether it is nearly R180,000 better is a moot point.

However, owning this vehicle has not been without its moments.  When I was considering the purchase of a more rugged vehicle than the Renault Scenic I owned at the time (which was a great vehicle, but the service from Renault dealers was diabolical) in view of entering the ministry and the possibility of being stationed in a rural area, I did some online research first.

Unfortunately, since the GWM brand was fairly new in South Africa at the time, when you did a Google search on GWM you ended up with a whole lot of unwanted propositions that could result in instant dismissal from many institutions, including the Methodist Church.  You see, GWM also stands for Gay White Male, which meant that my computer screen was filled with classified ads from homosexual men looking for meaningful overnight relationships.

Three years on, however, I have come to terms with my same-sex relationship with this particular GWM.  He's not the prettiest truck around, and the ride is like a bouncing ball compared to my wife's sofa-comfortable Camry.  But then the Camry can't lug a ton of bricks / floor tiles / furniture / holiday luggage.  The GWM has relocated me twice since entering the ministry, with no problems other than a burst tyre just outside Grahamstown.  He's reliable, dependable, and does what he's designed to do - and so I love him!

Christianity vs. culture - which takes precedence?

One of the struggles that many of us have as Christians is when it comes to conflicts between our cultural practices and our Christian values.  The subject came up in one of our seminary classes, where a colleague defenced the superiority of culture over Christianity by stating that "I was born an African; Christianity is something that I only adopted later in life".

This came as a bit of a shock to me, since I have always strived to ensure that my Christian beliefs supersede any other aspect of my life.  Not that I've always got it right, mind you, but the intention and the will is certainly there.

Lest I be accused of being Euro-centric or (gasp!) racist, allow me to explain my disquiet at this concept of culture being superior with an example from my own life.  I was born in England, and even though my parents (at that stage) did not dare darken the doors of a church other than to attend weddings and funerals, it was an essential part of our Englishness to be "christened" in the Church of England.  And so it was off to the local vicar, who agreed, after the promise of an invite to a good knees-up (British slang for a party of note) afterwards (at which, I am told, the vicar got so plastered on port that he had to be helped into a taxi to take him back to the vicarage), to do the necessary sprinkling that would fully induct me as one of Her Majesty's loyal subjects.

In later years, when I had accepted Jesus as Lord, I underwent what I considered to be my first (and only) "real" baptism which, in actual fact, was "re-baptism" - this being a big no-no in the Methodist Church, but in my defence I didn't know much about concepts such as "prevenient grace" at that stage.

This experience however meant that when my son was born, my wife and I were determined, as Christian parents, that James' baptism would be given its proper place and meaning within our Christian faith, so that there would be no ambiguity in later years concerning whether he had received a "proper" baptism.  So much so that we decided not to baptise him as a baby (undergoing a dedication service instead, at which we as parents made the appropriate promises to bring James up in the love of Christ), but instead left the decision up to him to make once he had come to an understanding of his own relationship with Jesus.

The upshot is that while many of my cultural practices are cast out of a distinctly English mould, in this case my Christian beliefs firmly overrode my Englishness.

Now don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying that all cultural practices are necessarily in conflict with Christianity.  Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater here, lest we repeat the mistakes of many of the early missionaries who equated Christianity with being "English gentlemen".  But in areas where culture is at odds with Christ, surely culture is the one that has to give way?

I'll explain my specific concerns in a later post.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Standard Bank: You greedy bastards!

This article appeared on website Fin24 two days ago:

Johannesburg - Standard Bank Group [JSE:SBK], South Africa's largest bank by market value, has announced to staff that a fresh round of retrenchments will most likely hit managers based in its London and Johannesburg offices.

A confidential email was circulated on Tuesday afternoon signed by group CEO Jacko Maree and Sim Tshabalala, head of Standard Bank South Africa.

The email, which cited cost pressures for the staff reductions, was confirmed by Standard Bank spokesperson Ross Linstrom.

In its interim results to end-June Standard Bank said its earnings rose 11% to R5.9bn during the period under review on the back of improved market confidence and better returns from wealth management business Liberty Holdings [JSE:LBH]. The group also managed to nearly halve its impairment charge from R7bn in the first half of 2009 to R4bn.

The dividend was maintained at 141c.

At the release of the results in August, CEO Jacko Maree said Standard Bank wants to become a link between international capital markets and Africa, focusing specifically on the oil, gas, telecommunications, power, infrastructure and mining industries as well as the financial sector.

"If you want to play in this game you need a strong dollar balance sheet - not just a strong rand one," said Maree.

Okay, let me put on my bean counter cap for a moment and see if I understand this properly.  Standard Bank, one of South Africa's "Big 4" banks, has just increased their earnings by 11% (inflation's been running at around 5%) at a time where South Africa (and, indeed, the world) is just beginning to eke its way out of the worst recession in living memory, and their profits for the six months ended June 2010 were R5.9 billion (yes, that's nine zeros).  Yet somehow profits of just shy of a billion rand per month are not enough, since Standard Bank has announced that retrenchments are about to take place due to "cost pressures".

Now hang on a minute here.  I've never been retrenched myself (thank God), but my mother has - twice - so I know what it's like for a family to be suddenly faced without income.  And I've also been in in the painful position in my own business where, having just about exhausted the bond facility on my house to meet payroll expenses, I've had to tell an employee (whom I went to school with) that I could no longer keep him on.  Even though all ended well for him since he was able to secure another job in which he could start immediately after leaving my employ, it was still the worst thing I've ever had to do in my life.  But to want to even consider putting people out of work because you're "only" making a billion a month?

The market reacted yesterday by pushing Standard Bank's share price up by 1% on the news of the job cuts.  So let me see if I get this one - shareholders actually profit from employees' misery?  Don't get me wrong - I'm no socialist, and I have little time for the rantings of one Julius Malema (ANC Youth League president) about nationalisation.  But if ever there was an example of capitalism gone wrong, here it is in black and white.

I wonder how CEO Jacko Maree sleeps at night.  May God have mercy on his soul - right now, there ain't too much sitting in mine.

Walking through the valley of the shadow of death

Fans of the Rocky movies will know that a fair amount of time elapsed between Rocky V and Rocky Balboa, and so it seems that a similar amount of time has passed since my last blog post.

And just like Rocky Balboa, I have a lot of "stuff in the basement" that I'm struggling to deal with at the moment.

Without a doubt, coming to SMMS at the beginning of this year was always going to represent a major upheaval in my life, but i had no idea just what a challenge the experience would be.  The fault is not that of the seminary - my struggles have a lot more to do with my stage of life than anything else, and the staff have (for the most part) been extremely pastoral and supportive to my family and I - especially when we've needed a shoulder to cry on.

Yet somehow, after nine months here, I'm finding myself facing a number of struggles.  Individually, they are manageable.  Collectively, they are becoming overwhelming.

Firstly, the workload.  SMMS represents a sizeable investment by the MCSA, and the "powers that be" would certainly not want to have us sitting around picking our noses.  And I have quite a capacity for work - after all, this is my 14th year of post-school education, and the first on a full-time basis, which means that I've spend virtually the bulk of my 20s and 30s juggling studies with a corporate career or business.  In fact, during 2001 I was seconded to a major implementation project, was completing the second year of my Masters, and had also been enrolled in the Management Development Programme (for which I had been turned down two years previously, hence the Masters).  So I know what it takes to keep the balls in the air - or so I thought.  You see, last year I had a major fight with EMMU (the body that "owns" probationer ministers in the MCSA) because they had only enrolled me for three subjects and I wanted to do four.  This would have left me with just four subjects plus an academic report to enable me to complete my BTh through TEE College this year, which would have been a doddle seeing as I am now full-time.  However, the powers had other ideas and decided to switch me into the SMMS BTh programme, which meant that we are now doing eight subjects (nine last semester).  Granted, the credit values are lower, but the time spent in class is not - nor is the assignment load.  God put me on this earth to achieve a specific number of tasks.  Right now I'm so far behind, I'll never die! 

Secondly, the culture shock.  Now don't get me wrong - despite growing up in apartheid South Africa, I did in fact have contact with black people, especially since the advent of democracy.  I've worked with a number of black people over the years, and count a number of them among my friends.  But this is a bit different - with 7 whiteys out of 77 seminarians, things are going to be a bit skewed away from the culture we have grown up with.  And that's okay.  I can handle going to church and reading the liturgy and Scripture passages in Zulu.  I can deal with Amadodana-style singing (although I SO wish that sometimes they'd pick up the pace a little).  And I've got used to the long prayers in Xhosa.  But there's other things my colleagues do that get under my skin after a while - little things like talking to one another at the top of their voices, the driver of the Quantum leaning on the hooter because the kids for school are a bit slow out of the blocks, and the animated discussions that take place between the ground and top floors when I'm trying to get some work done.  One can handle this for a few days - a month, even - but after nine months it begins to wear a bit thin.  So today, when one of my colleagues was washing her car and playing her music rather loudly, I snapped at her a bit more harshly than I might have done under different circumstances.

Thirdly, the loss of independence.  For instance, I've been a member of various medical aid schemes for 20 years.  I've got the whole procedure "thing" nailed.  And because the MCSA's medical scheme is one where you have to pay up front for your day-to-day services, I've worked out that if you go to the doctor and pay by credit card, provided that you get the paperwork in quickly, the money's usually reimbursed into your bank account by the time you need to pay what's owed on your credit card.  However, at SMMS many of my colleagues have never been on medical aid before.  The majority don't have credit cards.  Which means that a different plan needs to be made, involving the seminary handling all claims, receiving the refunds, and even having to regulate the doctor visits (one or two have seen a weekly visit to the GP as being their "due").  Unfortunately, the approach is "one size fits all", which means that whereas before it was just me, the service provider, and the scheme, now the long hand of the seminary is involved in my medical affairs.  When you've held a senior corporate position and run your own business, the last thing you want is someone else controlling your finances - no matter how well-intentioned the system may be.

Fourthly, there have been a couple of episodes where, being a minority, I've felt rather out of place - even unwanted, in fact.  I'm not at liberty to go into details, but every once in a while one comes across a person who, when they find themselves in a dominant position or a position of power, tend to throw their weight around a bit.  Add into the mix a bit of a chip on this person's shoulder about how the whites have been the oppressors for 350 years (which is true to a large extent, except that (a) I'm only 41, and (b) I'm not consciously aware of having "oppressed" anyone, irrespective of their race), and, shall we say, it's upset me enough at times to want to either leave the Seminary or punch said person very hard in the face.  Not very Christian, I know ... perhaps one day I'll look back and see God's lesson in all of this.

Add to this the "normal" pressures of trying to squeeze in some form of family life (I nearly lost my family in 2002 because I spent every waking hour at the office, so family time has become sacrosanct), earning some money to keep the wolves from the door (seminarian allowance doesn't go too far when you have a wife, child, two parents and a house to look after), and maintaining some sort of devotional and worship life (both for my own spiritual sanity and to remind myself why I'm here), and you can imagine that it would be an understatement to say that I'm feeling somewhat overwhelmed at the moment.

So this morning was (almost) the last straw when my wife came back from the washing area to inform me that some of her underwear had been removed from the line.  This is not the first time something of ours has gone "walkies", and I'm not the only seminarian who has experienced this.  It's horrible to think that there may be some amongst us who have sticky fingers, but the evidence sadly proves otherwise.

Right now, I'm not in a very good place at all.  I need time to work through these "demons" - something which, four weeks away from the start of final examinations, I'm unlikely to get too much of.  What I DO need is massive amounts of prayer.  This weekend my family and I are going away on a church camp with Prestbury Methodist.  They are good folks and many of them have become dear friends, but they're also honest and mature enough not to take any of my crap, either - which is probably just what I need at this point in time.

Yet as I write this, it seems as though the flow of words onto the screen have had a cleansing effect on me.  The issues haven't gone, of course, and they still weigh heavily on my soul, but I get a sense that they're now "out there" and I can start dealing with things.  And I can somehow begin to identify with King David who, at a time in his life when he had lost the plot in so many ways, was given, by God, the comforting words of Psalm 23:

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
       he leads me beside quiet waters,
 3 he restores my soul.
       He guides me in paths of righteousness
       for his name's sake.
 4 Even though I walk
       through the valley of the shadow of death,
       I will fear no evil,
       for you are with me;
       your rod and your staff,
       they comfort me.
 5 You prepare a table before me
       in the presence of my enemies.
       You anoint my head with oil;
       my cup overflows.
 6 Surely goodness and love will follow me
       all the days of my life,
       and I will dwell in the house of the LORD

God being my helper, the issues that are threatening to overwhelm me will also be overcome.  Like a small child who swallowed a five cent piece, this too shall pass...