Saturday, December 22, 2007

My Christmas prayer

Lord Jesus Christ we have come this morning for all kinds of reasons, some nobler than others. But, regardless of why we are gathered, there is a deep sense that through the birth of this baby Jesus the world has been made a better place. We want to celebrate today that in the eyes of this child we have seen a great light, a light that matured into a message of hope for so many. Into the most humble of circumstances you approached us - to think that we might sacrifice our lives to one who was born and nursed in a place fit for animals. We celebrate today knowing that you came not for the cause of the powerful but for the hope of the lost and weary. You showed that power comes from another place, a more humble beginning. True influence in this world is to be found in the least expected places. The shepherds a bunch of unclean, illiterates were some of the first to hear the news of this event – it causes us to linger a little longer on the meaning and reason of Christmas. Thank you God, that we don’t find the answers to this life in the dressed up windows of the shopping mall. Thank you God that our peace and rest do not lie in the trappings of wealth. Neither are they to be found in the high places of government or religious institution. We give you thanks that you have undressed the illusions of this world and provided us with the truth of living through this “Son of life.” A Son whose birthday we mark in our calendars each and every year because his birthday was the day our true life began. Be patient with as we unwrap and unbundled this birthday gift today. We are often not quite sure how to handle such a valuable gift. We are not sure whether our surprise and our emotions justify the enormous grace with which this gift has been given. Forgive us when we mishandle this gift at Christmas time. We sometimes keep it wrapped up in glossy paper and ribbons because we are too fearful of the truth beneath. But, we remind ourselves today that you only bring gifts that ultimately bring life and life to the full in the end. Give us the strength and courage to open the gift of Christ in our lives. To allow the truths, principles, and measures of the entire universe become ours. We kneel before you with open gifts today, thank you for loving us to this extent, forgiving to this proportion, for knowing exactly what we have needed for our lives. Jesus the gift of all gifts from the giver of all givers - glory be to your name for ever and ever Amen.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Just an ounce of contrition Zuma!

The last two days I have been feeling rather depressed and I couldn’t work it out. Then I began to talk about the ANC, politics, presidential candidates and the newly appointed leader of the ANC and I realized that behind my consciousness was this sense of grief. It is no doubt misinformed by sensational media hype but the sense of loss was felt and this was all I could pin it on. We all want a super hero to lead us I suppose but there are only a handful of these in the world. The Mandela’s are rare but every so often they arrive in our world and make the impact that lasts for some time. However I don’t think it foolish to long for a leader who I feel proud of, somebody who speaks with an independent voice that assures you that his/her heart is in the right place. To be in power is such a responsibility and the temptations that it brings are sorely evident across our border. I am willing to accept and see through all the weaknesses of humankind but this is made so much easy when the person concerned shows an ounce of contrition and does not rely on a lawyer to clear his name. South Africa we love you – long live the Rainbow nation.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

An incarnation story for Christmas - "The Rabbi's gift"

It is a mythical story called “The Rabbi’s gift.” (Author unknown taken from "The different Drum - M.Scott Peck)
The story is about a monastery that had fallen upon hard times. It had once been a great order, but during the persecution in the 17th and 18th centuries all its branches had closed down to such an extent that there were only five monks left in the Main branch. The abbot and four others all over the age of seventy.

In the deep woods surrounding the monastery there was a little hut that a Rabbi from a nearby town would often use as a place away from everyone to meditate and pray. The abbot was agonizing over the imminent death of his order when it occurred to the abbot that it was time to visit the rabbi for the off chance he could offer any advice that might save the monastery.

The rabbi welcomed the abbot into his hut. But when the abbot explained the purpose of his visit, the rabbi could only commiserate with him. “ I know how it is,” he exclaimed. “The spirit has gone out of the people it is the same in my town. Almost no one comes to the synagogue anymore.” So the abbot and the rabbi shared their grief together. After reading parts of the Torah and speaking about some deep things the time had come when the abbot had to leave. After embracing each other the abbot asked if the rabbi had anything else he could tell him, no piece of advice to help save his dying order. “No I am sorry, “ the rabbi responded, “ I have not advice to give. The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you.”

When the abbot returned to the monastery his fellow monks gathered around him and asked, “Well what did the rabbi say?” “He couldn’t help,” the abbot answered. “The only thing he did say, just as I was leaving - it was something cryptic like – the Messiah is one of us. I don’t know what he meant.”

In the days and week and months that followed, the old monks pondered this and wondered whether there was any possible significance to the rabbi’s words. The Messiah is on of us ? Could he possibly have meant one of us monks, here at the monastery? If that’s the case, which one? Do you suppose he meant the abbot? Yes, it must be him, he has led us for more than a generation now. On the other hand, he might have meant Brother Thomas. Certainly brother Thomas, he is a holy man. Everyone knows that Thomas is a man of light. He could not have meant Brother Elred? Elred gets cross at times. But come to think of it, even though he is a thorn in the people’s side, when you look back on it, Elred is virtually always right. But surely not brother Philip. Phillip is so passive, a nobody.. But then, he has the gift for somehow always being there when you need him. He just magically appears by your side.
Of course the rabbi didn’t mean ME? I’m just an ordinary person. But suppose he did? Suppose I am the Messiah? O God not me. I couldn’t be that much for You God , could I?

And as they contemplated this situation, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one among them might be the Messiah. And on the off chance that each monk himself might be the Messiah, they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect.

It so happened that people still occasionally came to visit the monastery to picnic on its lawns to wander along some of its paths, even now and then go to a chapel to meditate. As the did so, without even being conscious of it, they sensed this aura of extraordinary respect that now began to surround the five old monks and seemed to radiate out from them and permeate the atmosphere of the place. There was something strangely attractive, even compelling, about it. Hardly knowing why, they began to come back to the monastery more frequently to picnic, to play and to pray. They began to bring friends to show them this special place. And their friends brought their friends….. so within a few years the monastery had once again become a thriving order and thanks to the rabbi’s gift, a vibrant center of light and spirituality.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ordering God's work through Chandler Open Source PIM

It's the end of the year and I am again shuffling through what I should use as my standard personal information manager. I need these things like the church needs a WA! Yes, well, I stumbled over the Chandler project which promises organizational heaven. It's iCal on steroids for Mac uses. Number one it is Open Source (no money!) and secondly it works on Mac, XP, and Linux. You can set up a free server account and you can sync with it via your net connection. The best is anybody else can sync with your calendars from different operating systems in no time. It also has a nifty to-do system that lets you leave things for later and they pop up in so many ours back into your priority to do list etc. Check it out @

Monday, December 17, 2007

Microsoft let the Church down

I am venting my utter frustration this morning. I had a DVD to play in Church last night and the laptop with Windows XP would not read the disk. Yesterday afternoon I played it happily on my Macbook with no problem. After realizing the dilemma I raced back home to pick up my wife's PC as my video adaptor for my last ibook does not work on my new Macbook. I got to church and it worked, that is until the time it was meant to play. There was no sound. The guys at the back fiddled for ten minute but to no avail. I had to wing a sermon. Now before you get spiritual on my and tell me there is a lesson in all of this. I must just trash Windows as being the most temperamental OS out there. Aaaaaagh!!!! I need therapy this morning.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Something for the Methodist control freak!

‘Life is not something to be solved, but a mystery to be lived’

This little truth helps the control freak within us to abdicate so that we can appreciate all of life and all its vicissitudes. We look weak when we are not in control. We are afraid of our reputations as leaders when we are not telling people what and how to do things. Fresh in a church I was in one of its first meetings and one elderly church stalwart said, “just tell us what to do and we will do it!” He had no idea of the group process of collective ingenuity or group spirit. The boss had to give the orders. Subsequently I felt like I was a bad leader. Who was this guy who would not give orders? Tight organization is a pet hate of mine. I am at my worst in meetings where the tables are placed in lines one after the other and a head table is up in the front. I know I am going to have a bad time when members of the meeting insist on changing every spelling error in the last minutes. I wonder if we Methodists need to live the mystery a little more (generalization sorry!) and put to death the organizational megalith that dictates our outcomes?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Christmas family likeness

Another Christmas around the corner. A time with people we were born with. A time with people we got involved with through marriage and maybe a time with those friends we accrued through life’s interests. That yearly community that sits around the table with silly coloured hats, crackers and turkey drumsticks. Every year those Christmas photographs look exactly the same. The only differences are issues of weight gain, greying hair, and baldness. A strange community it is. Yours no doubt very different to mine. I sometimes think I can do without it. Just give me sandy beaches, blue sky and a fishing rod ! But, there is something about that group of present swopping folk that reminds me what I look like and where I come from. The group that formed my initial reference point for life, its questions and answers and will no doubt be the ones who will wrap up my end?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

AA for everyone

“Recognition of the continuing crisis of alcoholism is part of the genius of AA.” This thought by M. Scott Peck is worth consideration. The perpetual recognition (confession) of ones brokenness in community is medicine for the human condition. The moment we exempt ourselves from the perpetual human lot of unmet dreams, broken promises, habitual ills we will not find our redemption. Peck points out that the success of AA is that there is never a time that you meet without confessing ones weakness. I suppose this is very similar to the Christian who is allowed to bring his/her confessions with them to Church on Sunday. It ties in with the “John the Baptist” text this time of year. We are never to stop confessing our need of help and our dependence on “Spirit and fire” to bring wholeness.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Psychotherapists don't heal!

M. Scott Peck writes some important stuff in his book “The Different Drum – The Creation of True Community, the first step to World peace.” A psychotherapist himself he says, “Experienced psychotherapists usually come to recognize this truth. As neophytes they see it as their task to heal the patient and often believe they succeed in doing so. With experience, however, they realize that they do not have the power to heal. But they also learn that it is within their power to listen to the patient, to accept him or her, to establish a “therapeutic relationship.” So they focus not so much on healing as on making their relationship a safe place where the patient is likely to heal himself.” For all of us minister/lay, young or old, male or female, we need places of safety where we can be ourselves, share our fears, weep our tears and expose our true selves and find in the safe community of others a healing anointment that tells that together we are whole.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Forgotten places

I have just returned from a few days down the South coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal. I enjoy it there, the seas, beaches, lagoons and rivers are places I often frequented in my youth. There is something about land and water when they meet, that line of beauty that roars with the thunderous rhythm of the waves. The rivers open to the white saline tides that push themselves inland. The lagoon, tepid warm where Legavaans (monitor lizard) wink at you as they warm their cold blooded bodies on hot baking stones. To drift up river is to journey to another land, an explorer of old discovering new and exotic life forms. How bizarre to feel an innate fear grip you when floating in uncharted brown muddied waters beneath the canopies of well branched trees. To watch the mullet skip on top of the water afraid of what lurks below. The Cicada’s (Christmas beetle in the R.S.A) rich, shrill music beating the thick humid air. Something sounds in the bushes, I cannot see. These places of natural wonder, our earth, our sea.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Grandmother's funeral today

My wife’s grandmother died. Our weeks holiday interrupted to mourn the death of a generation now gone. She was ready to go, senile and out of character. The indignity of watching her become aggressive and belligerent were not memories one wanted to keep but they are the most current. After her husband died a few years ago all she has been wanting is to go and be with him. She did not want to live any longer. She encouraged family to slowly take away her life’s possessions, one item at a time. There are lists of “what I want” from the expensive crystal to the very last of handbags and brooches. It was as if she was stripped before she died. How difficult it was to go and visit her, she wouldn’t remember you and how easy it was to say, “What’s the point!” The family will gather today to remember her, but we do not mourn her death, that would be a selfish clinging to somebody who had already ‘left the building’ before she died. We instead are remembering how we were with her, we remember our moments and opportunities, some taken some missed. We mourn today the human malady of dying, decaying, the debilitating realization that we are mortal.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Conflict resolution skills

Conflict can either rip us apart or bring healing in and towards greater expressions of Godly community. When leaders of the Church are at logger-heads we are aware that they are not seeing past the things they have idolized. The matters at hand have become the ends in themselves and not the means through which we establish the reign of God. I can foresee that the only true means of embracing conflict is to embrace a deeper prayer life that helps us transcend the finite. Let us neither forget the important work of conflict management studies that provide an excellent way of helping people see beyond themselves and the competitive environment we live in. I stumbled over this site on the internet yesterday, it could be of great help to anybody having to deal with conflict, there are some excellent free resources…. “Conflict Resolution Network.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Pop the bubble

“When we feel like a small child during the day, our frustrated mind is all too willing to make us into tall and great heroes in our dreaming moments: into victorious heroes admired by all those who do not take us to seriously when we are awake, or into tragic heroes recognized too late by those who criticized us during our life.” Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out.

The illusory world of imagination is our joy and our sorrow. The poet ‘builds castles in the air’ entertaining and instructing our hearts as we are carried away by her deeper perceptions of life. The ethereal castles if not understood as such can also become places of hide and seek - bastions of the soul that hide us from the reality of our mortality and other’s suffering. Our dreams, a cinema of pop corn with beginnings and ends, plastic tears and merriment. God’s dreams, a galaxy canvas breathing reality into hearts that touch fire air and water – making a pulse.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Immortality Sucks!

I am still reading Henri Nouwen’s book Reaching Out – The three movements of the spiritual life. For those who are yawing you will be happy to know I am in the last chapters! However, the last section of the book deals with our reaching out to God. He makes an interesting point that our sense of the ‘immortality’ of all things breeds insipid sentimentality and/or violent behaviour. When we mask our relationships with others with the illusion of immortality we create a sentimentality that creates false expectations of human relationships and when shattered brings about depression. Violence is bred when we start to own others, property and material goods as ours for eternity and when this is challenged it brings about violence as we try to perpetuate our ownership of them. Interesting thought, the idea that concepts like eternity and immortality can be as negative as they are positive in our faith journey.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Teacher and Student

“Healing means first of all allowing strangers to become sensitive and obedient to their own stories. Healers, therefore, become students who want to learn, and patients become teachers who want to teach. Just as teacher learn their course material best during the preparation and ordering of their ideas for presentation to students, so patients learn their own story by telling it to a healer who wants to heart it. Healers are hosts who patiently and carefully listen to the story of the suffering strangers. Patients are guests who rediscover their selves by telling their story to the one who offers them a place to stay. In the telling of their stories, strangers befriend not only their host but also their own past.” Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out.

Isn’t it great, sharing our story with others who listen? Having the freedom to weave our narrative through current consciousness that interprets the events in new and sometimes predetermined ways. How great it is to have a listener who asks us questions that places another reader in our story. A question or comment that shows the listener listened and found it interesting that we defined it so. Sometimes I am the teacher and other times the student, the secret is never to find myself as only one or the other.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Get a new brain

I have played around with this piece of software for number of years - on and off. It is a management system that works graphically if that makes any sense. I thought I would let you know a few of the software programmes I have found useful. Check it out at Personal Brian.

Free education

“One of the greatest tragedies of our culture is that millions of young people spend many hours, days, weeks and years listening to lectures, reading books and writing papers with a constantly increasing resistance… practically every student perceives his education as a long endless row of obligations to be fulfilled… constantly trying to ‘earn’ credits, degrees and awards… students perceive their teachers more as demanding bosses than as guides in their search for knowledge and understanding.. sometimes teachers speak about love and hate, fear and joy, hope and despair… when we realize that the students themselves have not had the opportunity to make their own experience of love and hate, fear and joy, hope and despair available to themselves and allow their questions be born from their personal source… therefore, [teaching] asks first of all the creation of a space where students and teachers can enter into a fearless communication with each other and allow their respective life experiences to be their primary and most valuable source of growth and maturation.”
Nouwen, Reaching Out.

Nouwen makes an impressive contribution to education in the light of hospitality. The power of creating an environment where the student is not fearful of being honest with his/her questions and sees themselves on a spiritual quest for self knowledge and spiritual growth. We all remember teachers who made our education a drag and those who made it living and vital. Those who listened to the strangest of questions and made everyone feel as though they had a treasure to share. To all teachers who break down the walls of competitive, assignment, mark driven education I salute you.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Generous hospitality

“ I would not have anyone adopt my mode of living on any account; for, beside that before he has fairly learned it I may found out another for myself, I desire that there may be as many different persons in the world as possible; but I would have each once be very careful to find out and pursue his own way, and not his father’s or his mother’s or his neighbour’s instead.” Thoreau

We are, or should be ever transforming and thus never be too set on our thinking, theology, or our pat answers. If we believe this, we are co-learners with all we meet, exchanging ideas and learning the differences in others to embrace them or allow them to define our particular perspectives. Let me be honest, I love to think I am right especially amongst the fundamentalists! Most of the time we are aggressive towards divergent views because we are doggedly holding on to our worn out perspectives as if they are tablets of stone. Let us rather be generous with our minds and gracious with others.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Shared property

“The movement from loneliness to solitude is a movement by which we reach out to our innermost being to find there our great healing powers, not as unique property to be defended but as a gift to be shared with all human beings.” Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out.

Our inner search is not a solitary delving to separate us from the world around us. Within our struggling with identity, our place in God’s world, and our prayers with the worlds pains and issues we find the gifts of healing that are there to be shared with others.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Divine interruptions

“You know, … my whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work.” Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out.

I love routine, it sometimes becomes my god! And by that I mean it becomes my security. I know that I have certain tasks to achieve in a week and they are sorted out into days, mornings, afternoons and evenings. I feel good when a day goes by and I can say I have achieved my goals. However, the upset when it doesn’t go according to plan! The irritation when I know that the last two days I was interrupted by unplanned meetings, pastoral calamities, and family visits. How important it is for me to realize that just maybe all these interruptions are the things I am called to work with. Instead of squeezing them into times when I can deal with them, to rather see them as the goals of my life. The world cannot be put aside and be dealt with according to my agenda, the world is my agenda!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

At peace with others

“Without solitude of heart, our relationships with others easily becomes needy and greedy, sticky and clinging, dependent and sentimental, exploitative and parasitic, because without solitude of heart we cannot experience the others as different from ourselves but only as people who can be used for the fulfillment of our own, often hidden, needs.” Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out.

We speak about being at “peace” with ourselves. I think the often painful experience of being faced with who we are in moments of solitude is the matrix of reality that instructs and teaches the soul. That place of being at peace with God alone, is the source of complete fulfillment that transforms how we live our lives out with others. We approach others in unselfish ways, ready to receive them for who they are and not what we want them to be for our sake.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Paths of Solitude

“Instead of running away from our loneliness and trying to forget or deny it, we have to protect it and turn it into a fruitful solitude. To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude.” Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out.

There is a depth of thought in Henri Nouwen’s books that resonates with the truth. You cannot deny his tug at the very fabric of ones soul. The human makeup is a complex thing and it takes the spiritual genius to simplify it and reach down with poignant precision and mark off the parts that need repair. We are keen to find the solutions for our soul from without and the impression Nouwen makes is that the answer lies buried in the desert of our loneliness. If we are able to confront the pains of our heart in solitude we will unravel the many paths we have taken to substitute loneliness with temporary solutions.

Saturday, November 03, 2007


“ The roots of loneliness are very deep and cannot be touched by optimistic advertisement, substitute love images or social togetherness. They find their food in the suspicion that there is no one who cares and offers love without conditions, and no place where we can be vulnerable without being used.” Henri J.M. Nouwen, Reaching Out, pg 26

I wonder whether everybody is lonely? Some people seem to have it all together, the veneer of social smiles, social wit, and public appeal. It is frightening to think that one can be lonely in the midst of a crowd, friends, colleagues, and even in the family. Loneliness is not dispelled because we have found another. I am often lonely, but I quickly fill it up with things that supposedly matter. The result is that loneliness is always with us, a circuitous famine of emptiness woven with festivals of communion. The communion is sweet when experienced, but never to be taken for granted.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Luke 19:1-10
Zacchaeus! A miniature reflection of the ministry of Jesus. Accepted by outcasts, despised by some, and eventually sacrificial to the uttermost. It is a story of the transformation of a person. It is a story about the source of all our societies problems, greed and self aggrandizement. It is a story about the manner in which God can transform corruption into heartfelt generosity. It is the kind of story that cynics cringe to hear in that it gives us hope for the human heart. The power of this story rests in the way Zacchaeus allows God to deal with his misery and loneliness. How often do I reject needy criticism of my life? How many times do I know that if I let another in, I would benefit greatly? Maybe its time we get a better look at this fellow Jesus! Get up a tree and watch the master at work. Who knows he may even invite me home?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Unholy perfection

“But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” At the heart of the story (Luke 7, 36-50) that highlights this maxim, the God man is showing up the one who knows they have erred and appreciates the forgiveness compared to the one who knows little of their wrong doing and only their goodness. This creates a tension in the spiritual growth of the Christian. Yes, we are forgiven, we appreciate the forgiveness and then we sin no more as expected and we rejoice in our freedom. The issue is resolved so we think, but how do we continue to love much when the sense of forgiveness has past, the tears have dried up. Does it mean we must continue to remind ourselves of the sinfulness of the past so we can remind ourselves of the forgiveness that brings us to love again? Ought sin be the precondition of our worship and admiration of God? I suppose the essence of Christ’s teaching is that we never reach a place that we say we have made it. The sanctifying road is one of continually recognizing the depravity of our heart, finding freedom, loving much, recognizing it again in other areas of our life, finding freedom, loving much until we reach perfection. But, be warned, if we think we are perfect we cannot love much!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A wide neighbourhood

Anne Robertson writes a devotion this week that shares her experience with her immediate neighbours. The problems she encounters are ones of noisy, bad behaved, incalcitrant folk who ride noisy off-road bikes past her quite lakefront home and disturb the peace. I don’t know what her neighbourhood looks like on the whole, but I wish my neighbourhood was as homogenous and clear cut. Living in South Africa our neighbourhood includes the starkest of contrasts. Neighbourliness means mingling with many who cannot speak ones language, with those who celebrate when they can get a loaf of bread to eat, with those who live in sprawling mansions fenced shut from the outside world, with those who beg for your last cents, with those dressed in khaki and those in red T-shirts, and those transfixed at boxed sports shrines on weekends. To love ones neighbour in South Africa requires nerves of steel, hearts of gold, and minds that are expansive in there quest to be inclusive.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Hilton Arts Festival

We enjoyed the Hilton Arts Festival for the first time this year. It has been running for the past 15 years at Hilton College. The grounds of this school make it a magnificent venue with the age old Cape Dutch architecture and sprawling lawns for people to roam and for the vendors to sell their bits and pieces. The Grahamstown festival is its mother but the greatest difference is that all South Africans do not get a chance to belong to its Arts and Culture. We saw a production put on by some American students that was so avant-garde we could not make head or tale of it - “Freedom and the sticky end of make believe.” If anybody saw this and they understood and could shed some light please let me know. It no doubt spoke truths into the Iraqi scenario and some truth into the ideals of freedom and institutional life, but the rest was above and beyond. Makes one think how complex a story ought to be? We in the Christian world are so used to parables that take an everyday occurrence to tell a story so that we can understand it. Although Jesus did claim that he used parables so that certain others would not understand? It is terrible to be the certain others.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Another vision

I am from what they call a ‘cusper’ generation which is neither here nor there in the definition of the main generational bands, between the ‘boomers’ and ‘generation x’. I fall on the generation x side, born in 1967. Thus I am officially confused! Yes, vision statements, mission statements, and objectives a strong characteristic of the optimistic boomers is somehow part of me, but the ‘whatever’ who cares anyway generation x also throws a spanner in the works. I don’t like labels, one of my pet hates is to be branded as a this or a that. It is fun to be an enigma. I have also got progressively allergic to vision statements as my years increase. Kennon Callahan’s book on Small Congregations has breathed enormous amounts of grace back into my understanding of ministry. The one suggestion is that instead of the popular Vision/Mission statement or Purpose driven statement, why don’t we instead have a Compassion statement? Isn’t that the core ingredient and motivation for faith? That God so loved the world and not as Callahan puts it, that God was so committed to the ‘vision statement’ of the world.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The indescribable described?

Have you seen indescribable? I was asked this numerous times until I eventually got to watching it. If you want to know who the presenter is check out his bio. on Wikipedia, click here. If you want to watch it on the internet click here. I enjoyed the pictures from the Hubble telescope and I enjoyed much of his enthusiasm for ‘astronomical grace.’ The only problem I have was the way in which he ties up this picture you see on the blog with the omnipresence of God. This picture is some distant image in a galaxy very far from us and just because it shows up in a cross we are to get excited about it? Come on, that is like the Christian finding the face of Mother Teresa in the cinnamon rings of a Chelsea bun. That kind of thing cannot get me excited, what if you viewed it from another angle, would it still look like a cross? And if God is indescribable, then lets stop describing God. If God is so indescribable then lets stop calling God “He” all the time. I also could not help but think how I would feel if I was a Muslim watching this show. I would feel unloved and cut off from God’s love. The astronomical grace of God could be understood in that God is beyond all our human preconceptions. Understanding how small we are might actually get us to understand how petty our differences are. It could open up channels of Interfaith dialogue but instead he describes and leaves others cold.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Shoal of Christ

Thoughts have swum around in isolated fashion each flashing a side of light and brilliance. The vision is the shoal of fast moving collective thoughts, this way and that. Watching them twitch together is miraculous as if they are all connected with one string. The shoal bursts to the left and then to the right, the last and first in symphony. A synergy that defies logical determinism. A run that shines glorious when hearts in worship talk mission. The shoal of Christ in unison.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Loin chops

I listen to a great daily devotional on the internet that is run by the Jesuits called ‘pray-as-you-go.’ It is not verbose or evangelical but a soothing meditation that causes one to stop and meditate on a section of scripture and then to dialogue this within oneself. You can download it on your ipod and take it wherever you go. This morning I was listening to a part of Jeremiah that spoke of God telling him to ‘gird up his loins.’ Although sounding rather odd to the post modern, post liberal, post existential (whatever) ear, this phrase literally means to get dressed and face your challenge. Sometimes we are called out of our sleepy eyed stupor and stand before this world’s darkness and oppression. Now, before I start sounding like George Bush junior, heaven help me, let me clarify that girding up ones loins does not mean to pack your lunch box with plastic explosives and surprise the ‘infidel’ at school with your combustible sandwich. It is rather a call for the faithful to bring judgment upon all that degrades life, the environment and human freedom onto which is added the gracious ointment of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Walk the dog

Yesterday I fumed so, enough to pop an artery. Thinking it gone I marched off into the day with many a visit and encounter. Alas, the same red fury stormed into my heart and lungs and had to be leashed each time it jumped for a bite. This dog called anger caged and snarling with saliva stained fangs and throaty growl is chained behind civility and decorum. It runs the hardened fence path to and fro looking for a gap, a hole to escape. Oh how I pity the stranger and those unaware of it fury. The beast is taught its tricks from long ago lessons, its an old dog with little penchant for learning. I wonder how those yellow stained eyes might soften if gently spoken, kindly stroked and a bone thrown for easy distraction. Today, the night has passed and the pillow has spoken. I push the dog away as it licks my face and barks for my attention. Another day, another chance at playing fetch and walking in the park.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Caught fishing

Traveled to a little dam called “Broomy” near Rosetta yesterday. It was a gusty day and the prospects of catching a slippery predator were slight. My little PFD short for “Personal floating device,” bobbed up and down in the windy South Westerly. I paddled like a duck with flippers into a quieter corner of the dam where the face of an Otter kept me company as he foraged for his recommended daily allowance. The reeds lanced through the water all around me like soldiers of the lake. The Spur-wing goose took flight, indignant of the intrusion in its sacred precinct. Up on the farm land the full moon stood buoyant between two irrigation water jets as if balanced like a beach ball. The Willows dipped thirsty into the water with their long green straws. The fly-line doing its figure of eight casting neatly between the banks in hope of a tug. These are my off days, my Sabbath, my time, my intimate moments of reverence, my Cathedral. Creation a sacrament around me imbibed with each breath, each sighting, each bird call. It doesn’t have to sing words from a hymnal or preach to convince. The silent whispering of wind, the whistle of a duck, and the splash of the Otter are the unpracticed choir that moves the soul.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Alternative party plans

The Christian gathering is unique in that it does not posture with social ranking and competitive elegance. The banquet we are called to is strange in that the host sits at the table which is least adorned. The speeches are given by those who are not dressed to impress and get their grammar muddled. This is the party I like to be invited to. Not where the top tables of banquets are officiated with fine cloth, shiny edge and always get to eat first. The Christian revolution happens when we invite strangers and reprobates to the party. When we acknowledge that life is given to the least as well as the great. The most acclaimed academic may find wisdom in the company of the HIV infested gardener. The rich magnate is drawn by the reflections of the widowed mother of five. The highly moral are stumped by the cries of a young teenagers pregnancy. I wish we would throw more of these kind of parties in the Church.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The inward face

It is not often I have a chance to sit and reflect on a Sunday morning. I am preaching tonight and Ian Webster is preaching in the morning service. There is no rush to get the sermon inside my head. I am at the moment feeling rather dry inside. Not much going on down there. The emotions are not all revved up. I don’t feel like jumping on tables and dancing. The method of prayer is vague and I am wanting opportunities to distract my soul. The core is so important in our spiritual development. When the inside is not in communion with life it starts to rot. The purpose of things become superfluous and void when attention to the core is left to waste. The outside luster, its pressure and texture are determined by the inward pressure, its nutrients and water. That place we cannot see, but when we stop we hear it speak. The inner sanctum that bursts out in tear or flame if pressed too hard. That place we cannot avoid even though we do with one hundred and one things to hide its presence. The deeper one that speaks our heart, our reality, lies buried either a bomb to surprise or if discovered an honest resting place. The joy of connecting from time to time is to know oneself in every day. How important it is to learn the strings of the inward face.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The others

Faith by example. Vicarious learning. If he can do it, well, so can I. They are rooting for you. The perfect example in Christ. These are the thoughts that surround the Hebrews reading for this Sunday. The community that encourages. The community who persevered for Love, the community who knows your name when cheering on the sidelines of your life. I have thought it quite scary to think that there is this cloud of witnesses gawking on at my life. I usually think, “What would they think if they saw me now?” I had a grandfather who was a Methodist minister. I have a box of his sermons and a few bits and pieces of his prayers still with me. To be honest, I am not sure what he would be saying to me now. I did not know him that well. All I know was that he married off a number of people in my congregation in the 1950’s and that he was a typical minister of the early 20th century, still Victorian in moral stature and autocratic in nature. Would he be encouraging me or would he be making clicking noises with his mouth? On further reflection I think 'Gamps', the man I once spilt coffee on at a drive-in would be very proud to have a grandson in the Methodist ministry. It is a great pity we did not have the time to talk and share things. If we did he would have had the chance to share how he had persevered and how he had sacrificed much to bring the Gospel to this country. Oh, how I wish he had had a diary, a journal from which I could have gleaned something from. That would have encouraged me greatly. The cloud of witnesses stands ever before us to encourage and empower us by their example. We can still read the journals, the autobiographies, the biographies, and history books that tell us much about this cloud of witnesses. Not only do our examples lie buried in history. There are currently in our times people who are burning examples of the faith. In our confirmation class this year the one exercise was for the confirmation candidates to find somebody who they regarded as a ‘saint’ and go and interview them. They asked about their lives and how they lived out their Christian example. It is good to look around and be encouraged by so many who have shown us the way.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Small & Strong

I am busy reading Kennon L. Callahan's book titled "Small Strong Congregations." I am finding it a very interesting read. It helps the smaller church loose its guilt of not being able to accomplish all things but to rather focus itself within its strength areas. You will no doubt hear more about it in the next few days. It is a joy to move away from the mega-church mentality that keeps placing the emphasis on bigger is better. No, bigger is bigger not necessarily better. If anybody has read this book, I would love your comments.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Hilton College Chapel Service

Last night I preached at Hilton College. I was underdressed in my tweed jacket and green vestments. The attire of scholar and master was black as bats in robes reminiscent of years gone by. They filed in like robots programmed from burrows this way and that. The occasional hum of 'sir' was heard but little else as they turned left and right, filed up and down to their hard worn seats to sit another chapel service out. The hidden pulse propelled us forward, tradition, the clock that brought the zombies in. We raised our hymnals to chant not sing, the governmental rule. Up came one the prayer to recite, another the scriptures to announce. No telling who was next that queue invisibly pronounced. I moved in step, the high lectern to adorn with all my Methodist attire. Lets pray I said, and as if the roof fell down they collapsed on knee to pray. One small command the power was felt like turning the light switch ‘on’ then ‘off’ and ‘on’ again. There I stood suspended in hallowed air on stilts it felt before a passage of inward looking benches all squeezed with blazers black and white. My left and right two tiers on each the eyes around me bore. Round one, I thought I heard as I began to share, a message that would go out and find an ever hopeful ear. Like a green leaf I felt, blown in from somewhere else, I felt the eyes of centuries exchange. It was glorious, most glorious to stand within the futures powers and humbly blow the wind.

(Click here for the Hilton College web page)

Friday, August 03, 2007

A Truth called Wonder

Prophets are without honour in their home town. This was Jesus’ experience when he returned to teach in his home town. They could not get past the fact that his father was a carpenter, his brothers and sisters were living amongst them and how could one of their own kind bring anything significantly life altering to them. The traveling preachers usually get the fame and glory whilst the faithful pastor living with his flock is soon regarded as family and found wanting. We love the unusual, expecting the ways of enlightenment to come from outside the familiar. But lets be honest, is it not our closest partner who speaks the greater truth? We love to pick the flowered words of those outside, the guest speaker, the rhetorical giants, and take from them snippets of wisdom to boost our sagging morale. They fix the headache but not the root, the truth lies deeper, the one who knows us knows the cause. The one who loves us, stays with us, covenants with us, abides with us, they are the healers, the truth tellers, the preachers, the wonder workers.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Mandela on living tall

Thought I would share this quote from Nelson Mandela:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in all of us. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Used by Nelson Mandela in his 1994 inaugural speech

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Our goal is?

The reading in Col. 1:1-11 this week reminds me that righteousness is not for one specific group of people. It belongs to all of us no matter what profession or enterprise we are involved in. Being with Christ demands certain responsibilities and one being the pursuit of holiness. We are being renewed in knowledge into the image of our Creator. The goal for our lives is to leave behind us the love for the world and acquire a love for the principles of God. The irony is you will do better in life once you let go the former ideals as the only things to strive for. The worry, anxiety, and tension that comes through striving for things in this world are crippling and a bondage. The freedom that comes when we let them go and walk bravely, the risk of allowing another to take control is uplifting and rewarding. At school we are perpetually reminded that we ought prepare ourselves for the future. The best way one can prepare is to prepare the heart first. One can gain many skills and technical know how, but that doesn’t make you captain of the team. That is what religion is all about, it prepares our hearts so that when we do whatever it is, it is done with the correct motives and does not just have our own glorification as the goal. Being a Methodist, this is a passage that is just up our street. “Scriptural holiness” is one of our doctrines. The disciplined struggle, together, towards a more righteous world is the means through which we seek to glorify God in all things and make Christ known.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Position filled

The thought today following on the previous two submissions is the extent of our understanding when it comes to comprehending the ills of life from the eyes of the Christian. Who are we to question or surmise what God is doing in all situations. We quickly take the seat of our Creator and act as if our minds are in tune with all God does. Only when we take on the position of ‘Creator’ do we find ourselves in the position to criticize what is. It is one position we cannot possibly occupy. One job application we will never be able to fill. There is no point in putting together a C.V. The position of Creator is taken.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Gone soft or what?

Again I am confronted with the thought that all that happens is the will of God. I realize that much of the pain that does happen is a learning curve for the Christian. However, I cannot imagine a God allowing certain atrocities to happen. God may not want it to happen, but allows it. No loving being who has the power to do something for his child would sit and watch that child burn to death, be raped by another, be tortured for a truth, or become senile. But, have we become soft? Have we got it into our minds that our lives should be easy and without conflict? Maybe that is what happens once the Christian achieves what they strive for in God. A community that is loving, caring, patient, kind, could become oblivious to the realities of life outside this domain. It settles into the dream forgetting the pains it took to achieve it. Liberty has been fought for not only by careful prayer and well considered word, but it has come by the sword. The dark forces of society have been resisted with armies and in battle fields to defend what it calls civilization, for some Christendom. But, again have we become soft? Jesus was not warrior of gun metal nor shell. Jesus took on the act of being betrayed to highlight the higher ideal, the greater reward that seeks no pleasures in this life but a hope that is beyond. Breaking the pattern of sword against sword he died to build a Kingdom not won by barbed wire or mortar but won by the few who hold the hope of a world just beyond.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Sacrament of the moment

The ‘sacrament of the moment’ a concept coined by de Caussade an eighteenth century writer has important meaning for our perception of the Christian journey. It focuses on the now of our lives and not the has been or should be thought avenues. Everything that is happening at the moment in our lives has either been allowed by God to happen or has been purposively instituted by God. This seems all fine when the things going on in our lives are great but not so when they are traumatic and bloody. We possibly have to get out of our comfortable cocoon created by our longing for the comfortable and realize that we are to respond to God even in the dirty parts of our lives. Those moments that look plain may have meaning, the time when you are in grief, you are lonely, you are feeling rejection, those moments can be converted into a sacrament if we allow them to. If we recognize that God is in every moment and has not vacated the premises.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Making space

Sacred space takes on new meaning in the light of the reading by Hawkings in the Guide to Prayer for all God's people (Upper Room books) pg 239. When we spend all our energies on ourselves there is no space for God. When we spend our energy in others we leave space for God to move in and work in our hearts. The closer we are to people, the closer we are to God, the further away from God we are the further we are away from people. This sacred space is often sought for in the quite places of our ‘quite times’ but maybe the sacred space is found as we are spent for others.

Friday, July 20, 2007

We are praying

I grew up in a tradition that placed the ‘quite time’ as a paramount part of ones spiritual routine. If you weren’t having your ‘quite time’ you weren’t in touch with God or self. The ‘quite time’ was an ubiquitous term that necessarily implied the reading of scriptures and prayer. The power of the ‘quite time’ was the ability to prioritize the other activities of life in order of importance. The time alone with God was regarded as the crucial element that should precede all other. It was that moment that would streamline and guide ones focus and direction for the day. The ‘quite time’ was very much a ‘me and God’ thing. It was about my ‘personal relationship’ with the Maker. One left the time alone with God with a sense of awkwardness at times, realizing that whatever happened there would now have to be applied in real life. It was the moment where you could dream you dreams, have your say and sense in your hear that it was all possible. The place of refuge is always a necessary place to find in the hurly burly existence of contemporary humanity. Others have grown up in a world of corporate prayer - The Morning Prayer and Evening prayer regimen. Up to chapel twice a day for prayers as a community is still practiced in numerous quarters of the Church. The bells will toll at many a monastery today, bringing the faithful to their knees in quite and communal prayer. Collective song, prayer, quietness and recitation will affirm their ‘community relationship’ with God. To be just to all, the incorporation of both means of worship is important for our spiritual make-up. The sense of being unique as an individual is bound up within the uniqueness of the Godly community. God is me and us focused.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Family Growth

Family - a model for Church growth. Amongst all the other ways we acknowledge we can do Church, the fundamental building blocks in a Church are the relationships that comprise the whole. It is better to strengthen relationships than it is to strengthen programmes. The family growth model could be the answer in creating a paradigm that continually puts the focus back onto the Church as family whose role is to equip each other to fulfill their part in the greater picture of things. When Melluish speaks about building the family unit he speaks about being a team, having family time, setting family jobs, create family traditions, being together. The translation into Church growth dynamics is obvious. When Church members work as a team, spend family time together, differentiate their Godly chores, establish traditions that bring family identity the roots of that Church would be strong and long lasting. The young would grow from that Church with a sense that it is family. They would be sad to leave its precincts and they would return each holiday to share their good and bad news. Family is family for life.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Grandmother logic

The patterns set by parents for their children in the younger years are the habitual center for life. That subconscious guide that prompts us along the road of life is often the voice of our parents, although not their voice now but ours. We often find ourselves returning back to the paths of our younger days or spending as much time as we can away from them, all depending on our experience. The more time we spend nurturing our young children in the church the better chance we have of them returning to its doors later in life. ‘Family time’ could be a key pillar in ensuring the future success of the Church. I wonder if we saw each other as a Grandmother, Father, Brother, Mother, Sister of each other in the church what a difference that would make. The biblical injunction that the Church is our family is an important one. Many of us know that our family life back home is dysfunctional in some way. Work constraints prevent us from spending the amount of time we ought with children and spouse or we are a single parent struggling to be a role model for our kids. If we see ourselves in the Church as family we can often fill the gap for others. It could be that our greatest ministry is finding how and with whom we can be a family member with. Who needs to be mothered, go and mother them? Who needs the wisdom of a grandfather, go and be a grandfather?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Family Time

Mark Melluish an Anglican priest from the UK came and spoke to the Christian community in Hilton about a month ago. In short he has a dynamic and innovative ministry in England and has put together the “Family time” course. I am reading the book this week (thought I would give Bonhoeffer a weeks break) and I must say it is a fresh and simple guide for Christian family’s today to make the most of that precious time you have as family. In reading it I have somehow got into the thought of how relevant the precepts of this book are for the “Family” called Church. Maybe it is because I have no children and the subject is not directly relevant for me. The same precepts and principles that pertain to building a strong family are just as relevant for the congregation who desperately need to call themselves ‘family’ in the prolific change and shifts of our day and age. “Family Time” needs to be inculcated into the very fabric of our members. Congregant's need to make quality and quantity time with the other members of the family. Young people of the Church need to see the relationships between adults as their model for life. As much as parents are the role models of their kids life so too are we the Church the role model for those young children. Building family traditions, having fun together, performing our necessary chores, spending time together, accepting the difference in each other, encouraging each other, helping each other through failure, are these not all very much Church family priorities?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Holiday sojourn at an end

I have returned from a great two week holiday. We went to the Grahamstown festival and getting there we almost got stuck in snow at Underberg. For those reading this from anywhere else outside of South Africa will learn that it is not always a red hot poker sun that bakes our African heads. We also experienced what it is like to camp with our rooftop tent on the Wild Coast. It is just that, 'Wild' The scenery from the hill tops over the sea is spectacular, the cliffs disappear into raging white waters below. Then back for a typical South African experience, we went to a house in Ramsgate to be robbed of most of our valuables. Strange thing is it was five years ago in our new church in Pretoria that we were also cleaned out. Eureka, we love South Africa, you are never bored! Sorry no photo's, they are being viewed by somebody who has not the slightest clue who we are and what on earth a South African Land Rover is doing in 1 meter thick snow? Will start posting soon. Got to get sermons done.