This is a picture of my son James, who had just come home from school after a hard basketball practice. Check out that roastie on his arm - this is what happens when one steps on the ball rather than trying to dribble it!
As I write this post, I'm not in a good place. In fact, right now I'm feeling that I want to pack my bags, jump into my bakkie, and when I'm about 300km away send an e-mail to the president of the Seminary telling him where the disciplinary committee can come and find me.
I won't do that, of course - but right now, that's how I'm feeling.
There are a number of issues simmering below the surface, some of which I'm not at liberty to comment on using a public forum. And I also know that most of these issues will be sorted out in the next few days - some by speaking to the persons concerned, and others by simply sleeping on it. But there are one or two that are going to take a fair bit of soul-searching and prayer so that I can approach them in the appropriate Christian manner.
One of the minor things that is bugging me at the moment is the way in which we conduct ourselves in meetings. Now I know that not everyone has had the benefit of Toastmasters training, but surely it's just common courtesy and decency to keep one's big gob shut when another is in the process of asking a question and having it answered. On a number of occasions during our community meeting today, there was this massive upsurge in noise whenever someone asked a question. On this one you can stuff "culture" or any other "reason" for having private "meetings" within the main meeting - it's just rude as far as I am concerned! In my corporate days I sat in meetings with people who didn't even know (or care) that God existed, yet they had the common courtesy to keep quiet while the person speaking had the floor. Yet we are supposed to be ministers of the Gospel? Where's the respect?
But that is just a minor matter that is adding to the general feeling of unease. Of greater frustration is all the regulations and procedures that govern every aspect of Seminary life, right down to where and how medical claims must be paid! Now don't get me wrong - I understand the need for rules, and I DO appreciate everything that the Seminary and the Church is doing for us - but sometimes I feel quite humiliated by some of the processes.
Like I said earlier, there are one or two other things that are bugging me, which I need to deal with in private. Hopefully I can meet with the appropriate persons over the next few days, and that the "powers that be" and I can come to a mutual understanding - even if it means agreeing to disagree.
I guess I'm having one of these days where I REALLY wish that God had called me to ministry when I was 18 (or, if God HAD called me then, I wish I'd listened!). Because as much as I try to remind myself that not everyone has had my background and experience of holding senior corporate positions, running their own business, and playing a meaningful role in Church leadership, the fact that I have had these experiences makes my current life as a seminarian very frustrating at times.
The disappearance of Prof Steve de Gruchy over the weekend as a result of a tubing accident on the Mooi River is also eating at me a bit (and probably clouding my judgement as well). While I only know him as the head of the School of Theology and Religion at the University of kwaZulu-Natal and not personally, the number of tragedies has been piling up over the past year. First there was the death of Barry Marshall in a kayaking accident last year, then there was the tragic death of Prestbury Methodist's former youth pastor in a car accident at the beginning of this year, followed by the murder of Fikile Makananda's wife last month, and now Prof de Gruchy's disappearance.
Maybe my reaction to these tragedies is causing me to blow these other issues at the Seminary completely out of proportion. That may be true. Yet I know that sweeping them under the rug will eat away at me as well. All I know is that right now I need to pray - and wait - and listen - and, if need be, act (appropriately).
I guess this is all part of what Ross calls "formation"...
Somehow we managed to scrape a few bucks together, and so we started off the weekend by making Friday a "McDonalds Day". When it's hot and you're tired, who feels like cooking? Of course, seminary living allowances (R1350 per month) do not allow this indulgence too often, which makes it all the more appreciated when we can spoil ourselves!
Then in the evening James went to his first meeting at his new Scout troop, 4th Pietermaritzburg. Some of the other Scouts are in his class at school, so he soon felt right at home. While James was at Scouts, Belinda and I managed to steal a couple of hours to go out on a "date", and I can't remember when last my favourite girl and I shared a waffle together!
This morning it was up bright and early for James' rugby trials at school. I'll give my kid credit - he has a go at everything! He made it onto the "yellow" team - I'm not quite sure where that is in the pecking order, but considering that he's never played rugby in his life before, we're proud that he made a team at all! We also had a bit of a chuckle as these 11 and 12 year olds engaged the scrum, grunting as they made contact (just like the "big boys" do on TV). And who knows? Maybe we'll see some Sharks coming out of this young squad in about 7 or 8 years time? I know my father (an ardent and die-hard Sharks supporter) would be most proud!
Tomorrow is Sunday, which means church at Prestbury followed by a service at one of the local old age homes. I always used to get a lot of leg-pulling in Uitenhage about my harem of octogenarians, so this may end up being an area of active ministry here as well. It's also the Scouts' annual "BP Parade" and service in commemoration of the birthday of the late Robert Baden-Powell, who was the founder of the Scouting movement. Some vehicular juggling is clearly going to be needed!
But if I'm making this whole family "thing" sound like work, nothing could be further than the truth! When I think of all the long hours I used to spend cooped up in an office, being able to cart my family around to various events is indeed a joy and a privilege. God has truly blessed me!
One of the things that I learnt during my very short Army career in 1988 was the concept of "hurry up and wait". To the uninitiated, this usually onvolves being put under HUGE pressure to be at a certain place at a specific time, only to hang around picking your nose for two hours waiting for things to get underway.
Today it seemed that with the advent of the New South Africa and the demise of National Service, this "hurry up and wait" doctrine had become orphaned - and adopted with glee by the Methodist Church - as we hung around waiting for an 8-seater Venture to shuttle back and forth ferrying nearly 80 of us to a local childrens' home for our weekly field work slot, which is part of our ministerial training at seminary.
And speaking of fieldwork, I must confess to being somewhat uncomfortable at the decision by the "powers that be" that we wear clerical clothing when going out for field work. If you can picture 20 bewildered kids having 80 penguins bearing down on them, looking back at us like hares caught in the headlights, and you'll understand my unease. Besides, clericals are not exactly the ideal attire for playing "horsey" with toddlers or kicking a football around in 40-degree heat, but "ours is not to question why..."
However, every excursion is meant to provide an opportunity to learn something new, and today taught me another useful thing that one can do with a dog-collar. Thus far, in the 14 months that I have been in ministry, I have discovered that collars make great bookmarks (which also helps straighten them out), are useful for picking bits of biltong out from between one's teeth, and provide a more hygienic way of scraping doggie-do of your shoe (ideally not the same bit of Tupperware you use for the biltong removal!).
And now (drum roll please), I've found that they make great chew-toys for one-year-olds who are teething! Talk about a novel ice-breaker for ministry! Thankfully I was able to retrieve my collar before being slapped with a disciplinary charge for inappropriate attire, with it being covered in baby spit but otherwise still perfectly serviceable as a device designed to choke aspirant clergy into a sense of humility.
So although the afternoon may have seemed like a dead loss, with the only "official" tasks being the taking of roll call and most of us being crapped out for not wearing our name tags, I managed to at least be a bit useful with me being able to relieve a tot's itchy gums with bits of my uniform, and then drawing on maths work that I last looked at nearly 30 years ago to help a young girl with her homework. If these two children saw even a glimpse of Jesus this afternoon, then something worthwhile was achieved after all.
Well, I'm back! I've had a couple of weeks of enforced blogging inactivity imposed by me switching over from hosting the blog myself to having it hosted on Blogger but still with my own domain name. Don't ask me how the technical gobbledegook works - all I know is that Blogger no longer supports FTP, my service provider had to do some tweaks on their side, and it's costing me an extra 150 bucks per annum to be able to continue venting my spleen in cyberspace.
Speaking of which, let me get onto the topic of today's post.
I've been giving some thoughts about how higher education REALLY works. For instance, when I studied BCom at the old Rand Afrikaans University (RAU) in 1987, I soon came to realise that the criteria for obtaining a degree was a combination of finding your way through the labyrinth that is a university campus to be able to get to all your lectures, schmoozing money from your bank manager / parents / pimp to pay the fees, and the ability to survive three Rag weeks without dying of alcohol poisoning. Somehow, in between all of that, you had to actually do some studying to complete thirteen subjects - five in the first year, four in the second, and four in the third.
My RAU tenure was unfortunately cut short after six months. It wasn't the alcohol poisoning (I don't drink), nor was it anything to do with being directionally challenged - we simply ran out of dosh, which meant that I had to go and get a job. Still, the "yearning for learning" remained undiminished, but now that I had joined the ranks of the working stiffs, the only feasible option open to me was correspondence study through the University of South Africa (UNISA). Being a distance learning institution, UNISA allows you to prtty much set your own pace, completing as few (or as many) subjects per year as your schedule will allow.
Eight years and an Honours degree later, I cried "enough" and said goodbye to UNISA. Three years later the studying bug bit again - this time back at RAU to do my Masters. It was a coursework Masters, which meant weekly evening lectures plus a number of mini-dissertations. And I loved it! Even though the second year coincided with me being nominated to do a management development programme through the University of Manchester Business School, I managed to get to the end of it without having a nervous breakdown or getting divorced.
Fast forward to 2006, when God called me to full-time ministry. This meant hitting the books again - this time at the Theological Education by Extension College (TEEC). For three years I was studying by correspondence again, and because the bulk of the evaluation is through assignments, I felt like it was as though I was doing Masters all over again. Since I enjoy research projects, this was a good thing!
But now I'm at the Seth Mokitime Methodist Seminary (SMMS), and it's a whole different ballgame. Having converted my TEEC credits to complete the BTh on the SMMS programme, and since we are now studying full-time, I expected this to be pretty plain sailing!
Except that (unbeknown to me) there seems to be too many candidates for the ministry at the moment. That's the only explanation that I can think of for the culling process that is being attempted. For we are not students, we are seminarians, which means that we are being formed, not just educated. I'm not quite sure what "formed" fully entails, but having 10 (yes, ten!) subjects this semester is proving to be a strain. Our periods are 45 minutes each with a 10-minute break in between, which means that, with the exception of Mondays and Tuesdays, if I need to take a dump during the day I need to request a dispensation note!
Add in the various chapel services, discipleship groups, seminary duties, and umpteen assignments, and chances are looking good that my 40-year-old body is not looking good to get to 41!
I guess that all of this is part of the process. But right now, I'm really taking major strain...
Talk about going from the sublime to the ridiculous! Last week I was complaining of boredom, and now that the year has got under way at SMMS, we have a program that hardly allows time to go to the loo. (In fact, if I needed the loo on a Thursday anytime betweem 07h45 and 18h00, I run the real risk of a disciplinary hearing due to lateness at a class!)
So I guess that part of the "formation" here at seminary is that of learning to manage one's time well - or develop an addiction to Red Bull...
Last night (Sunday) when I came home from church at Prestbury Methodist, my wife expressed concern that I was rather quiet (unusual for me, as those who know me will confirm!). And I guess this was probably due to the feeling of uselessness that is slowly creeping over me.
I suppose this is natural - after all, I didn't suddenly "discover" the Church when I entered the ministry - I have a long history of active involvement. Last year, the level of involvement hit the steroids in a big way as I grappled with the rigours of Phase One - academics, attending college each week, and Circuit work which included pastoral visits, numerous meetings, and preaching twice on most Sundays. And I loved it! Especially the Circuit work, where I really felt like a "real" minister doing God's work.
Then came the end of November, and while I was grateful for the break, doing nothing besides conducting two services for the whole of December made me feel like a bit of a spare part.
And this year so far - nothing! Zilch. Nada. Squat.
So if I was leering at Jenny's husband Grant with a tinge of green in my cheeks on Sunday night, please forgive me. You see, Grant's church life didn't come to an end when Jenny entered the ministry, and he has already got involved at Prestbury as a local preacher, dabbling in the sound, and by all accounts having a whale of a time. Jenny and I, on the other hand, are a pair of lost farts in a perfume factory - simply because (a) the seminary year has not yet got going, and (b) we are under instruction not to get involved in any local church for the first quarter (other than to attend worship) because we will only be formally attached to a congregation from April (which may be a different one to the one we are currently attending).
But today I started to feel useful again. Deciding this morning that doing anything is better than hanging around doing nothing, and seeing as the SMMS staff are running themselves ragged trying to get everything ready for the start of lectures on Wednesday, I volunteered my services in the admin office. Granted, drawing up class lists is not exactly the most exciting job on earth, nor is it exactly rocket science, but I was grateful nonetheless to at least be able to take some load off Ross and his staff.
And tonight I've managed to put another decent dent into a project that I'm currently busy with, together with the Methodist Connexional Office, which is looking at the implementation of the 2009 King Report on Corporate Governance (King III) in the MCSA.
So as I write this, I'm feeling a bit worse for wear (12 hours staring at a PC screen does that to you), but I'll go to bed with a smile on my face, knowing that I can still be useful!
I was reading this psalm in my quiet time this morning, and thought that it would be most appropriate as a prayer by those facing adversity. My prayer is that Paul Verryn (and others) would find comfort in its words.
1 Declare me innocent, O LORD, for I have acted with integrity; I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.
2 Put me on trial, LORD, and cross-examine me. Test my motives and affections.
3 For I am constantly aware of your unfailing love, and I have lived according to your truth.
4 I do not spend time with liars or go along with hypocrites.
5 I hate the gatherings of those who do evil, and I refuse to join in with the wicked.
6 I wash my hands to declare my innocence. I come to your altar, O LORD,
7 singing a song of thanksgiving and telling of all your miracles.
8 I love your sanctuary, LORD, the place where your glory shines.
9 Don't let me suffer the fate of sinners. Don't condemn me along with murderers.
10 Their hands are dirty with wicked schemes, and they constantly take bribes.
11 But I am not like that; I do what is right. So in your mercy, save me.
12 I have taken a stand, and I will publicly praise the LORD.
It may have been the sampling of that pineapple beer in Standard 8 that resulted in me choosing accountancy as my first career (and not touching alcohol since), but a far stronger Spirit has called me into my second career as I prepare for the exciting journey towards becoming a full-time minister in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.
Being married to my wonderful wife Belinda, and having been blessed with an amazing son, James, is living proof that accountants DO have a personality. (Or maybe Belinda just felt sorry for me, perhaps?)
Judging by the blogs of Dion Forster, Wessel Bentley, and others, it looks like being able to blog is one of the requirements for being a minister (!), so here goes...