Tuesday, June 26, 2007

100 today




100 posts to date and still singing. The weekend of my 40th was well spent. (There will be no posts for the next two weeks for those listening)

Built on a Word


Our faith being rooted in the Judaic Christian Religion takes for itself the understanding that God reveals himself predominantly through the “Word.” In the beginning was the “Word.” The “Word” that is sharper than a two edged sword. I have always understood the “Word” to mean Jesus, his full message and not just his words. The complete act of God in the revelation of Jesus, his death, teaching, example, and resurrection as ‘all in all’ the “Word.” The truth of the matter is that in the Church there is a high prominence placed on the preaching of our faith as the central conveyor of God’s Word. Bonhoeffer stresses the humiliation of Jesus as the “Word” who associates himself voluntarily with the word of human kind. Although the preacher stands up with words that are certainly not adequate of God, God chose to speak through this weakness of humanity, this was the real incarnation, to be subject to weakness.

Monday, June 25, 2007

mini me or pro me


Martin Luther wrote, “ So it is one thing if God is there, and another if he is there for you.” We can speak about God as being outside of our existence but another thing to speak of God as having a relationship with me. I get tired of hearing the word ‘relationship’ in the Church. We get told umpteen times that it is all about ‘relationship.’ The problem is that we know its importance but most of us are completely baffled as to how this relationship works out. I preached yesterday on the ‘sheer silence’ that followed the wind, earthquake and fire that confronted Elijah and how he had to come to terms with the silent Universe as a vehicle of God’s communique. A relationship with God is a different kind of relationship and in some parts the analogy of human relationships suffices but the relationship with God is often beyond our comprehension. Bonhoeffer uses the term ‘pro me’ to describe the Christ event, the God-man Jesus is never to be understood as separate from the church, the community, you and me. Listen to it, “God is only God pro me, Christ is only Christ pro me.” It sounds a little egocentric of us to say this, but he makes the point (I think!) that the Christ event, the death and risen Lord is a contemporary experience, thus not for a relationship with humanity before our time, but for us now.
If this gives you a headache on a Monday morning, then as one of my deeply spiritual members will say, “don’t pray, take an aspirin!”

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Not How, nor What, but Whom?


We had a great birthday bash last night. We sat with blankets outside as the weather got a tad frosty. The fires were burning to keep our backs warm as we ate Kate’s soup, the Lamb was succulent and delicious and Anne’s pears soaked in wine with custard were something else. It is good to celebrate life when you can. Nobody else does it for you, unless you are fortunate?

Bonhoeffer is grabbing my attention. The contextual theology (thoughts about God that are instructed by the contemporary situation) that we are bombarded with in our theological seminary’s has almost replaced the classical theological of Christology, Atonement etc. It is refreshing to dialogue with the theological masterminds of yesteryear. Bon. (for short) suggests we ask the question Who? And not How? Or What? when confronting the person of Jesus. The error according to Bon. is to know Jesus as an influence in history, a power that has shaped the world. The other error is to see Jesus as an ideal that is imposed through a God who transcends into our history from outside of it. This thinking uses questions like How? and What? but forget the most important point of Christ and that is Who? The person rather than the power or influence is most important. How we know Christ is to recognize Jesus dead and risen. Only when we profess Jesus risen can we ask the question Who? The presence of Jesus is thus now, not history, not an influence once come into the world. So when next in prayer, maybe spend a little time on the question Who? and see where it leads you. Not what he has done for you or what he can do for you, that is all about power not person. Let his person fill us with His presence and let us find our center there.

Friday, June 22, 2007

W.W.J.D vs. M.T.P.F


Today is the day of the big party. We are having an ‘Asterix’ theme to it. The spit-braai will turn in the center of a horse shoe of tables where the folks of the Barbour clan will frolic!

Reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s early thoughts on Christology. These are lectures of his from the Berlin University. He was unable to finish them due to the war, but a helpful student was able to fill in the gaps. I think the fourth part is unavailable. Nevertheless, the thought that made me think this morning was this. The difference between the person of Jesus and the work of Jesus. Any theologians reading this article (unlikely) please excuse the poor extrapolations of Bonhoeffer’s thoughts by a small village pastor. Bonhoeffer suggests we cannot know the Christ from his works alone, we need to know the person of Christ. Christ must reveal himself (in person) to us through prayer before we will appreciate his works. The works of Christ remain ambiguous until we encounter the person of Christ. Martin Luther said that you cannot tell a good man by his works. “Everything depends on whether a person is good, if they are good, the work is good, even if does not seem to be… the work may seem good but it could be the work of the devil.” Luther was making sure that justification by faith alone was paramount and that no inference from a persons work and deeds is taken as the starting point. Some things may even seem evil, but coming from a good man (person of faith) it can still be God’s work. Another critical point Bonhoeffer makes and I think it is worth meditating on is this.. “ Jesus’ work leads to despair in me because I cannot imitate his pattern. But, if Jesus is the Christ, the Word of God, then I am not primarily called to emulate (copy) him, I am encountered in his work as one who could not possibly do this work myself.” How many sermons leave one feeling, “O boy, I will never match up to Christ!” Bonhoeffer is helping us appreciate that we never will. We are not expected to take his works as the starting point of our faith and build our lives copying that. We are called to seek the presence of the revelation of the person of Christ. The encounter of the divine person will shape our lives accordingly. Lets then think again how we do it. According to Bonhoeffer the W.W.J.D (What would Jesus do) may not be the best way to go about things, It should rather read M.T.P.F (Meet the person first.)Technorati Profile

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Viva Jesus!


Thanks for all the birthday wishes. I have never in all my life been so inundated with phone calls and best wishes. By the end of the day I was swamped by exhaustion and collapsed into a post birthday coma. I have a family gathering tomorrow night around a spit braai (barbeque for those far off). My wife loves to stoke up a party if she can, but I suppose the ripe age of 40 deserves a thoughtful celebration. Got up early this morning, 4.30am, not so good with anticipating social events, picking up people from airports and all that kind of thing.

I was given Bonhoeffer’s book on Christology which I am plowing through. “For the working class world, Christ seems to be settled with the church and the bourgeois society. There is no longer any reason why the worker should encounter Jesus Christ. The church is all one with the fossilized sanctions of the capitalist system…. Up with Jesus, down with the Church.” He had his suspicions about the church being the purveyors of God’s way. The church too often bolsters up the status quo. It does this by stopping to ask the critical questions of itself and its new clothing. Why should we have any encounter with the risen Christ when our social world is idealized and classified as Christian. When we the church have ordained this society as good, why meet with the risen Christ? It is to hide with leaf and choice bitten fruit again. To run away from the shame of calling our way Godly and our systems ordained. Let Jesus rock our church, our world, our capitalist structures, not with worship bands but by the dismantled gloss and dross of our idealized world. To hear the revolutionary speech of the risen Lord, to undress, take off the uniforms of the world, and put back on our naked selves the clothing of Christ.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A real mystery


Well, say no more. It is my birthday. Forty years back on this day I was brought screaming into the world in the capital city of South Africa, Pretoria. It always amazes, the vicissitudes of ones life. What seems like a minor decision turns out to be the eventual succession of your life’s work and purpose. A decision I made in 1988 in a Air force barracks to serve God in mission, took one phone call and my life moved off in another direction, toward a social world of faith, church, mission, and ordination. It could have turned out so differently, but lets not go there. We don’t understand the greater picture, we get glimpses of it now and again, our world is wrapped up in the greater dream, the mystery we seek. I found myself criticizing a couple who drift from one church gathering to the next, they are always going up for prayer and accepting altar calls for this and that. They are searching for a touch of the almighty mystery that will transcend and satisfy but I am afraid they will keep searching for the taste of that they just cannot reach. But, why not, should we stop seeking the infinite and conclude our job is done, our lot is satisfied? The search needs redefinition.

Only God opens our eyes to the reality that is before us, that the reality is in fact the mystery. We are so used to the existence we breathe we call it normal, real, mundane and routine. But, look a little closer and you realize that this is the miracle, this is the life we so longed to find, it is the gift we have been waiting for all these years. It just took you a little longer to see it. The longer I walk this journey, the less I need to find other worldly abstractions. The more I embrace the silence, that is God, and my reality which is the mystery, my joy is complete and my heart is satisfied.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Sic transit gloria mundi


I am not a man of ancient languages nor for that matter modern ones. I am still trying to get English under my belt let alone Latin. I picked up this Latin phrase in a commentary on the story of Naboth’s vineyard, which should rather be titled with this caption which means, ‘Thus passes the glory of the world,’ or in more common understanding, ‘Fame is fleeting.’ King Ahab grabs hold of the deceased Naboth’s vineyard but the moment of glory soon turns to his own demise for allowing such an atrocity to happen. God is seen in and behind the words of this story, not influencing the free will of the characters but certainly passing judgment on their choices. Ahab’s blood is soon to be licked up by the dogs in the same place that Naboth was slaughtered. He got what he wanted but the joy of possession did not last long. It is an old tale retold in many a tradition, a tale that warns against greed and getting things without considering the ethics of the means. It cautions us in how we use our free-will and the limited power we have. Each of us have a ‘power zone’ if you want to call it that. We can have sway and influence within a certain radius around us. For some it is vast like King Ahab and Jezebel. They can call a fast and stir a nation into action. For others their only sphere of power and influence is the home, brothers and sisters, or ones children. This story plays itself out in the micro narratives of our lives. The tragic stories of fathers who abuse their children, mothers who neglect their children for the sake of their own interests, children who manipulate their parents with vain threats just so they can get what they want. Why this story of Naboth is so intriguing is just because we can identify its tale in our own sorry backyards.

"Father, forgive them for they know not what they do" (Painting - Asian woman's resource center. Isn't it great!)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A moody King

"Let justice roll down like waters" ... Amos 5:24 (Painting - Asian woman's resource center)


This morning the “Witness” had as its headline, “No taxis, small march.” Things don’t always work out the way they should in the game of power and politics. The supposed support by the taxi associations turned in upon itself as many protesters could not get to the lunchtime march.
This week I am preaching on Naboth’s vineyard, that so vivid a story of land issues and political machinations. It is such an African story as the possession of land is not just a property purchase but a sense of being one with mother earth and the ancestors. The issues in this story also evokes poignant memories of forced removals in the Apartheid era. Where entire settlements were broken down and moved to other areas and out of the way places because of the segregation act. The Naboth story is also about politics and warped power, those who have and those who have not. It is about ‘tribal’ and ‘urban’ clashes, where King Ahab demands land to increase his wealth, his land and ultimately his power. The issue may not be around wage increases, but the issue revolves around the understanding of who owns the land. Naboth stood his ground with the assurance that it was divinely allotted to him, his clan. Giving up the land would break his religious vows, it would trample on the covenant between his people and their God. The obsession for land and power turns sour in King Ahab’s stomach. He his found sulking on his bed when the infamous Jezebel, the queen gets ear of the situation. Although she is wickedly cunning, she is also misled by the pouting King who only passes on half the information. The information that is inflammatory, not the deeper and more theological arguments that were given to him by Naboth. All she heard was Naboth wouldn’t give the King his land. With that injustice to a Monarch’s pride, the queen sets out to destroy the life of Naboth and the land issue she thinks is resolved. Half information is usually the cause for much evil. Half truths of newspapers, half truths of gossip, half truths afforded by politicians, these bits and bites of information form our opinions, lecture our attitudes and ultimately steer our actions. Lets not play into the hands of such and evil, half truths and greed.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Strike it unlucky


We in South Africa are being crippled by a national strike. Today in Pietermaritzurg the headlines read “ Total City shutdown, 30 000 to march on CBD; fears municipal workers might join strike.” There are no children at school, there is barely a nurse left in the hospitals, the police and defense force are threatening sympathy strikes. This is a complete meltdown of an orderly society. I don’t want to chew too much on opinions already clich├ęd by editors of newspapers and social gossip columns. Who’s to blame is not an easy answer to give. There is a new elite in South Africa who if one can generalize have lined their pockets with tax payers money. Corruption and exploitations of government funds is rife. The few have again taken from the many. This is what the strike is all about for me. The forces that are in battle in South Africa are between the powers of opportunistic wealth and the powers of the disempowered working masses. It is an unprecedented voice against the greed of some. But, like all good stories the villains are not easily discernable. Power, in what ever clothes it likes to dress itself, can become as ugly as the powers it detests and tries to mitigate against. The worker who decides to go to work is threatened with her very life. The teacher’s who we entrust our children to are foaming rabid at the mouth. Hospital workers are dancing restlessly outside hospitals with jovial glances whilst bodies who’s hearts once beat are being wheeled down empty corridors into the morgues. The villain is also on the other foot by the looks of it. So where is the redemption is such a stalemate? Does justice have to be so cruel and to what ends will justice fight until it realizes it has turned face and become the one infringing on others rights?

These solutions do not lie in the answers constructed by well-heeled politicians and neither are they answered by those obsessed with equal footing. Justice in itself is not enough to heal a country. The religious will tell you that you are seeking for peace in the wrong quarters. Justice without love is not worthy of the glory it seeks. It might gain the world through all the protests its embarks upon, but without Love it is nothing. It is a Paul may say, a mere clashing gong, but it will lack the treasure it really seeks. The other lesson the religious would argue is that the desire for possessions above love is the cardinal mistake of the human soul. The soul that seeks for fulfillment in the values, hopes and dreams of the physical world will often find themselves in places of dire disappointment and disillusionment. This worldly dream is stilted and always has a end. The hope of a new world order needs to transcend the confines of this world, it needs to reach up into the beyond and declare a world that is not dependent on the human ego, but rather transformed and bent by a greater Justice system that calls on its adherents to lift the ‘rights of others’ above our own.
"Do justice ... love kindness ... walk humbly with your God" ... Micah 6:8

Friday, June 08, 2007

Help me find me


Being Stewards of each other is an imperative of the Gospel. Many of us are drowning in the ignorance of our true nature. Many of us have been blinded by ill considered word and the worst of all, no word at all. We have not been encouraged to see the unique giftedness that lies in us. We have images like movies that replay scenes of our lives that affirm or disproof beliefs we have of ourselves. How true were those words spoken to us those years back, was the person really considerate when they said it, were they saying it out of spite or were they trying to manipulate us. We are often found drowning from the lack of words that are truly spoken to encourage and uplift us. The true word spoken to identify the parts of us that bring life to this world. To name them and claim them is the most powerful thing you can do for yourself and the world. Trevor Hudson quotes in his book ‘Invitations to Abundant life’ from a Gordon Cosby, We are to call forth the gifts of other people, to set them free, to throw the lifeline to them and be the one who, under God, helps a person discover that for which he or she was created.”

Thursday, June 07, 2007

least of all


An important point we need to consider when examining our talents and gifts is that for some they will have gifts that are seemingly small and insignificant in the light of others. There will always be better musicians, better banner makers, better cake bakers, better knitters, better teachers, better leaders, better administrators and so forth. The parable of the talents helps us by making the point that even the less talented can live abundant lives if they recognize the potential of the gift within them, and use it regardless. Some of us live under the misnomer that to be the best is all things. With this comes a price. The temptation of pride, the frustration when one performs lesser than, the loneliness when others feel intimidated to perform with us, and the trappings of fame. In God’s way the lesser talents are the ones most priced. Paul’s analogy of the ‘body’ in Corinthians to describe the different gifts makes it very clear that we cherish those gifts that are less honourable. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The idiot's guide to ministry - I wish


Yesterday I got the greatest response to my blog that I have ever had before. I didn’t realize that my tone may have been a somewhat moaning and complaining one. I was really responding to the book by Trevor Hudson, who was making the same point in an illustration of his life when strangers came to his church looking for the ‘minister’ and the people searched him out and after a long week and night of ministry he was expected to minister to this man whilst everybody else went home. I however do acknowledge that there was some anger buried in my entry. Thank you for your phone calls and emails, I am doing alright ‘really’, but it is as if a huge gong has been sounded. As one email response said “ Empowerment, empowerment, empowerment, delegation, delegation, delegation.” Thank you, you made my day. I had a good laugh, but realized the importance of the training game. This Sunday I am preaching about being Gospel minister’s – all of us. The process of mobilizing people into their ministries is however not a simple ‘tick’ this column and there you go. Ministry belongs to the world of a persons spiritual maturity, past experience, their natural talents, current circumstances and the level as which the church can train, equip and adequately accommodate different ministries. Your thoughts on the subject are most helpful to me as we draw ourselves closer and closer to the service ordained for us.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Clergy Schizophrenia


A Methodist minister often feels like a neurotic octopus. The expectations on minister’s are often ludicrous and so varied you might be disappointed if your local minister did not sing opera. The impression that the minister is the ‘full-time’ and professional priest gives lay folk the divine opportunity to delegate all tasks seemingly church related onto his or her shoulders. The burnt out minister comes as a shock to congregants who expected a better example of divine representation. Lets be frank, how can you possibly expect a minister to spend one hour on every minute of his sermon as they should do, spend at least one to two hours of prayer each day, put together an order of service that shows musical precision and technological skills that provides creative prayers, and liturgies on glossy projector screens, be a ‘spiritual psychologist’ who has in-depth knowledge of the human soul and has counseling abilities that cover not just one area of expertise but areas such as, before marriage counseling, after marriage counseling, divorce counseling, crisis counseling, grief counseling, family counseling and then he or she is expected to visit every member on a regular basis on a home visitation programme, then there is the expectation that this minister has oodles of time to read theological tomes and have ample time to study their bibles, the next expectation is to insist that your minister is a ‘church growth’ specialist, they must know the principles of growing church’s and how to mobilize an entire congregation into action, the mission of the church is their responsibility too, the lost souls who need to be saved, the social development projects that need to be started, the justice issues that need to be addressed, and then the minister should be good with the elderly and be able to address the teenagers on their level. This is not to mention, being chair of the board, honorary chair of the Woman’s Auxiliary, a member on each committee, being involved in circuit and/or district matters, ecumenical ties with other local churches, etc, etc. The dream church can only be realized when the minister is doing 3 or five of these and the congregation is doing the rest. The greatest challenge is for the congregation to appreciate the work done by lay folk and see themselves as ministers of the Gospel in their own right.