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.