God's Word for today

Friday, 29 July 2011

Cry Out, Beloved Country

This was too priceless not to share. Acknowledgements to Lead SA

Cry Out, Beloved Country (Stanley King, 2011)

Who am I? I am nobody.
What is my name? It doesn’t matter.

I am a voice crying.
Crying out in the wilderness of service delivery.
Crying out in the barren lands of peaceful protest.
Crying out in the desert of safe streets and neighbourhoods.

I am stuck.
Stuck in the muck and filth of murder, rape and robbery.
I trudge through the swamps of material poverty at the base of the cliff of financial inequality.

I shout.
I shout out against the din of bribery and corruption.
I shout out against the tumult of idle and careless work.

Why don’t I care for you?
I don’t care because you’re not important to me.
I don’t care because my needs and wants are all that matter.
It’s all about me, not about you.

But I am you.
I am you when you are waiting in the queue and you see me go off for lunch.
I am you when I refuse to help you until you put some money in my palm.
I am you when I won’t let you go off to tend to your mother.
I am you when I lie to you about how sick I am for a day off.

I think for a minute.
Who am I to demand such a high increase from my boss?
Who am I to deny my worker a decent wage?
Who am I to go through red lights?
Who am I to drop litter anywhere but in the bin?

I am my Country.
What I do matters to you because what you do matters to me.
I make my country by every action and every inaction.
If I speed why should I be angered when you drive on the hard shoulder?
If I steal an hour off work why should I be surprised when you steal my car?

So I commit.
I commit to the little things such as wearing my seatbelt.
I commit to the little things such as paying my taxes.
I commit to the little things because that is the big thing.

Therefore I choose.
I choose to afford you the respect I deserve.
I choose to give a little more than is comfortable.
I choose to remember each day to be a person of compassion and integrity

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

2012

It's been anticipation and apprehension this week as we received first news of where we have been pencilled in for stationing in 2012.  And while we have been given the usual warnings, disclaimers, "things could change", "subject to confirmation by Conference", terms and conditions apply, E & O E, we are a licenced financial services provider, winners know where to stop, etc. warnings and admonitions, at this stage things are looking exciting for me, both in terms of ministry as well as on the personal / family front.

More news to follow...

(Postscript to my previous post: I see that the masthead on the ANCYL's webpage has been changed, with all references to a R16 million home being removed.  I wonder if someone had hacked their website over the weekend?  Either way, regardless of the hype, accusations and counter-accusations by Malema and media alike, that's sure one seriously fancy pad the self-proclaimed "champion of the poor" is building!)

Monday, 25 July 2011

Is this arrogance personified, or what?!

This past weekend I was doing some research for a piece I was writing on tax policy, based on recent statements made by Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini that the wealthy should be taxed more heavily than at present.

As much as we all hate paying taxes, not so much because we resent contributing towards the common good but because we often see how certain state departments mismanage the taxes they collect, the concept of those with substantial means making proportionally higher contributions to state coffers has inherent merit.  However, one fact that needs to be acknowledged is that our tax tables are already structured according to a progressive scale, which means that while a person earning, say, R50 000 per annum pays no personal income tax, the person earning R5 million per annum contributes almost 40% thereof in direct income tax.

My premise in this particular piece was therefore that taxes aimed at "punishing" the wealthy, especially if they are not carefully thought out, can have unintended consequences.  It is in human nature to protect what one has - after all, you and I would not leave our wallets on the dashboard of our cars with the doors unlocked, would we?  Worldwide experience has shown that excessively high taxation rates have in fact produced lower state revenue when expressed as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product.

Okay - enough of the Tax 101.  Where does Julius Malema fit into this?  Well, calls for a so-called "lifestyle audit" by the South African Revenue Service aside, Malema has been in the news mainly for his stance on nationalisation, stating publicly that such state expropriation of private assets in the mining and banking sectors should be without compensation if necessary.  Needless to say, I expected the ANC Youth League's website to have some sort of statement to this regard, since there is not much different between taxes and nationalisation when you come to think of it - both rely on the coercive power of the state to generate revenue for state coffers.

Let me also state that while the finance person in me does not agree with Malema's proposed methods, and the minister in me has problems with his lavish lifestyle, the Christian in me has to recognise the very real needs of poverty alleviation and access to land that Malema is ostensibly seeking to address.  Horrendous as the prospect may sound to some, the Church needs to in fact be partnering with organisations such as the ANC Youth League insofar as common interests (i.e. social upliftment) coincide.

But nothing could have prepared me for the sheer gall and arrogance that is portrayed in this picture on the ANC Youth League's website masthead (and no, I did NOT PhotoShop the picture - this is as I found it.  Check it out for yourself on the ANC Youth League's website.)














You've got to hand it to Julius Malema and those in charge of the ANC Youth League's website for showing the rest of us how to do arrogance in style.  Malema may as well have one of those horridly offensive bumper stickers that has "F*** the Poor" printed on it stuck on the back of his car.  All I can say is, if I was a poor person (or, for that matter, an ANC Youth League member) having seen this picture, I would have some degree of difficulty fighting back a very strong urge to punch Julie Baby squarely, fiercely, and repeatedly in the middle of his fat smirking mug!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Homeless!

One of the steps taken in my transition into ministry was the decision to sell our house.  With the property located in Johannesburg and us located in Pietermaritzburg (and likely to be relocating again at the end of this year, depending on the outcome of last week's stationing committee meeting), and our parents having moved out earlier this year (my mom to a retirement village, and Belinda's mom having come to join us in Pietermaritzburg), we felt that trying to manage it as a rental property from far away was a stress we could do without (a previous foray into rental property having ended in tears).

So we decided to sell.  A buyer was found on Easter Saturday, and transfer went through this past Friday.  This means that for only the second time in our adult life, Belinda and I do not own any fixed property.  This is a strange feeling that will take some getting used to, although being housed in church property we are of course not "homeless" in the sense of not having a roof over our heads.

My African colleagues have a different concept of "home" to us Westerners.  For them, their birthplace will always be "home", and many endeavour to acquire property in the area they call "home".  We have a more fluid concept of "home", and while my own situation is necessitated by the itinerancy of the Methodist ministry (resembling a line out of the Paul Young song Wherever I Lay My Hat, That's My Home), generally any place of abode where my family and I are recently settled is considered to be "home".

Onward then to the next adventure in ministry - stationing!  Amongst other things, knowing where we are to be stationed will give us an indication of where we can next call "home"...

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Boys and their toys...

One of the many benefits of being at seminary, and especially at a state-of-the-art campus that SMMS is blessed with, is that we get to play with state-of-the art toys from time to time.  One such "toy" is the unbelievable sound system that has been installed in our chapel.  I don't know the exact specs of our kit, but suffice to say that all the top brands are represented - JBL speakers, Crown amplifiers, Shure microphones, Tascam CD and DVD player, and Soundcraft mixing desk.  Total power output is, oh, about a gazillion watts, and while mere words cannot describe the sound that this thing puts out, suffice to say that when the speakers were mounted, the installers had to hire a mini-crane to lift them!

Where do I fit in?  Each seminarian has certain duties, and because my passable singing is completely overshadowed by my total inability to dance (I have a problem with my left foot, i.e. I have two of them!), which means that I've been put on the sound desk.  Now you also need to know that although I am training for the honourable vocation of ministry, I am also (like all boys) doomed to forever remain nine years old.  So picture the scene - a deserted chapel, the brass all away at the stationing meetings, all this amazing kit ... and this video clip.

I'll leave the rest to your imagination, but I suggest that before you click "Play", you make sure that your PC is connected to the finest sound kit you can get your grubby paws on ... and enjoy!

video

Sunday, 17 July 2011

My body's in another time zone - and academics are to blame!

Most people engaged in academic pursuits will at some time or other utter the lament, "if it wasn't for the annoying need to sleep ...", usually because of a sense that the workload exceeds the number of waking hours available. Over the years I have been studying as well as during my corporate career, I have been no stranger to the term "pulling an all-nighter" in the quest to meet some or other deadline or to get an assigment submitted on time.

Trouble is, one's body can only cope with so many nights of three hours of sleep before it shuts down in violent protest, and I have tried to find creative ways in which to overcome the sleep deprivation.  This is no easy task for someone who needs (on average) about 7 hours of sleep per night, and as last semester drew to a close I decided that since pushing late hours was becoming a futile attempt in shoving an indeterminable amount of knowledge into an increasingly recalcitrant brain, getting to bed early and waking up before sunrise seemed like a good idea.

And it worked like a bomb!  Trouble is, now that the pressure of being in final year BTh is over, I cannot get my body clock to readjust itself.  The upshot is that for the past three weeks I have been passing out on my bed sometime between 7 and 8 pm, and waking up anytime from 2 am onwards.

Busy people often respond to the request to add yet another task to one's overloaded schedule by glibly replying, "sure - after all, I'm not currently busy between 2 and 4 in the morning".  Except in my case, these are beginning to emerge as viable hours of availability!

The problem is not insomnia - I'm getting sufficient sleep, even if each night's quota is taken in two instalments (I invariably wake up after about four hours, read for a bit, then crash for a further three).  Also, it's not as though I'm waking up fatigued, either.  This morning I was up at 2:15, fresh as a daisy, and decided that the sensible thing was to get up and have the "3 Esses" (shower, shave, and ... oh, come on, you all KNOW what the other S stands for!).  I've also managed to put together the bare bones of a sermon I'll be preaching this coming Thursday, and even sent a couple of e-mails - all in the blissful silence of a sleeping household, long before sunrise.

The thing is, though, my current sleep / wake cycle is not something most people would regard as "normal".  Not that this is causing any problems as such - my wife has always been an "early to bed" person, so it's not as though I'm crashing out four hours before she does.  It hasn't negatively impacted the physical side of our relationship in any way.  I am awake and available during the "core hours" demanded by family, seminary, and life in general.  So is this something I should be concerned about?  Should I seek professional help?  Or should I simply adapt myself to this somewhat unorthodox sleep pattern and accept what have become three of the most productive hours of my day (between 4 and 7 am) as a gift from God?

Friday, 15 July 2011

Touch ... pause ... engage!

So this phase of my seminary sojourn comes down to this - a completed BTh.  Which gives rise to the obvious question: What next?

Readers of this blog for some time will be aware that I've been toying with the idea of doing a PhD.  These ideas have become a lot more crystalised over the last year, with my main area of interest for research being the interaction between John Wesley and the economic context of the Industrial Revolution.  It is my firm belief that it is critical for the 21st century church to understand this interaction so that it can develop its own understanding of contemporary economics, with the aim of having a similar interaction with the economy of our times that Wesley had in his day.

But why now?  Surely one reaches a point where one is all "studied out"?  At the age of 42, I have spent most of my life in study - 12 years in school, followed by 15 (non-cumulative) years of tertiary education.  Being the bean-counter that I am, I've worked out that 65% of my life thus far has been spent in some form of formal education.

Add to this the prospect of going into a Circuit appointment at the end of this year, with its own sets of pressures, combined with further training requirements that our Education for Ministry and Mission Unit (EMMU) has, and it seems that embarking on any further course of study at this stage, let alone at doctoral level, seems foolhardy.

So once again - why now?  The answer to my apparently poor sense of timing comes down to "fitness".  A conversation with John van de Laar yesterday brought up the subject of "academic fitness", which the two of us defined as being in the groove and routine of study.  It came up because of my observation that while the pressures and workload of my first semester at SMMS pushed me to the brink of a nervous breakdown, prompting me to plead to Ross for the seminary to ease up a little (and his response that I should stop being such a cry-baby!), things became a lot more manageable in the second semester, despite a similar workload to that of the first.  And in the third semester, although the workload intensified both in level of advancement (being final year) and quantity (I did 10 subjects this semester), I somehow found the work pressure to be far less intense.  In fact, I began to really enjoy what I have been studying.

Similar observations can be made in other areas of one's life, in that in between a sedentary state and fitness comes a fairly lengthy period of pain - and once you stop your given activity, the fitness soon dissipates and getting back into the habit takes time and effort.  This applies to physical activity, one's spiritual life - even this blog, as the paucity of recent posts has demonstrated.  In short, once one gets out of the habit of a particular discipline, it invariably takes a Herculean effort to get back into it.
Part of the motivation to want to get going with the PhD now is not only that the opportunity of fulfilling a 12-year dream now presents itself, but also that I am currently academically "fit" and need to keep going while the momentum is still there.

Therefore, while this moment for me is one of celebration for having completed the BTh - the culmination of 4 1/2 years of hard work, sweat, and many tears (both of despair and of joy) - I need to view this interlude as the preamble to a rugby scrum.  The referee's instruction to the two teams to "touch ... pause ... engage" represent the sizing up of the task at hand, a momentary pause to ensure that everything is in place, and then an almighty thrust as the next phase of action commences.

So onward to the next academic phase...