Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Mission

standing notably tall
above corrugated iron and tyres
the green head blows proud 
in this place of shade where my
children swing safely in branches
to and fro, to and fro, to and fro

when hungry I reach for low hanging fruit 
then climb branches for a view, 
away from my flat life 
to picnic with honest friends 
allowing ants crawl over ankles 
and bees balance on bottle rims

there I lean back on the trunk 
to make myself feel young
against seed planted years ago 
by missionaries who loved us
their roots far below 
stuck down firm in 
the mud of our lives 
soaking up our spirit 
into things earthy and eternal

here I taste the fruit of my ancestors 
they who dug the hole 
and danced with joy 
that I may lie here and hear my children 
sweetly swinging, sweetly swinging

* The mission brings health to a community once devastated by HIV/AIDS but now bearing stories of hope

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Christmas comes to Mpophomeni

I have shared on this blog before my involvement with the HIV/AIDS mission in Mphophomeni, a town outside of Howick. Yesterday, when asking the group what stopped them praying one of the answers was "self image." The manner in which this person said this I realized that there was great significance or lack of it in her answer. She struggled to pray because she felt insignificant. At that moment Luke's account of the coming of Jesus flooded into my mind and I was able to share how Jesus was born in the most insignificant places amongst the most insignificant people and I felt the spirit of Christmas flood into that room like I have never felt before. I think it is those who know they have little who are most surprised by Christmas.
It would be great to hear any stories or experiences where you have felt the true spirit of Christmas.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Praying through a Crisis

I don't know about you but have you ever felt worse after praying
through an event that has left you depressed, anxious or broken?
Sometimes by going to pray we can actually worsen the impact of this
event in us if we are not careful. By going into a a time of prayer
we may inadvertently spend too much time on the event itself and it
becomes more of an obsession than a time of healing and freedom. The
Catholic writer Ronald Rolheiser says, "Prayer is focus on God, not
upon ourselves". The image of a mother and child helps us understand
this. The child is hurt and when it goes to her mother the
overwhelming presence and love of that mother is the comfort and the
healing they receive. The problem so often with us is that we go to
pray and spend more time churning over the event that we don't receive
the healing of the mother. I suppose this is where the discipline of
private worship is so important. I am going to try this the next time
I have a speed wobble with somebody or some issue. I will endeavour
to spend more time worshiping God in prayer than fixating on my
emotions and feelings. I am convinced it will not be easy but I am
also convinced it is the truth.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Ghost Park - Poem

Down on the plain the buffalo ghosts
graze in midday sun.
Higher on the plateau amongst the acacia,
giraffe necks sway transparent
in timeless azure.
The river snakes down the basin
to where the hippo’s are dead rocks,
still, as water passes.
Elephant shapes are a sight for sore eyes
as the herd disappears over the intrepid ridge,
and if one squints your eyes tight,
so tight you can barley see,
the shadow of the lion lies there
lazying under the tree
in the African mirage.

*Gazing over the basin formed by the Drakensburg mountains one can only imagine what used to be.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

My Rainbow - Frank Meintjies

I read a poem by a South African poet Frank Meintjies yesterday that gave me a haunting sense of where many of those I taught on Wednesday were at. There were 13 folks listening intently as I shared the hope we have in Christ and how this transforms ones living. All of them HIV/AIDS clients at Masibumbane mission. They were all on my mind when I read this poem. I will just quote it in parts as I don't think it is legit to copy it all:

" on better days
my rainbow is your smile

frequently, my rainbow bleeds...

my rainbow's sharp edges
as i try to pick it up

deep patterning
its marks
on the palm of my heart

my rainbow is a purple bruise
sluggishly regaining
the colour of living flesh"

They are such lovely, smiling people, but I know as I try to encourage them and lift them up, their hurts and past wounds will cut me and make my heart bleed. But, when they smile it is my rainbow of hope.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Stories work

I spoke about using pictures when teaching at Masibumbane (HIV mission) but I have learnt that stories work even better. I was teaching on 'Grace' and what that meant to about ten clients who volunteer to be there. I began with a story I adapted from "Companions in Christ" about a boy who was given a catapult by his father and told not to kill any birds. It was great fun, I acted out this story of a boy in the township who was told how he wasn't allowed to shoot any chickens or goats with the sling and then a big white chicken strutted in front of him and thinking he was a bad shot he couldn't resist picking up a stone and whamo he hits the chicken. Remorseful he climbs into his bed all tearful and dreading his fathers return. His father comes to his bed but instead of a sjambok (whip) he comes with forgiveness and turns the day into a lesson. It was such fun, they laughed and got into the story and from then on it was no problem explaining grace. We know these things but when we see them work it just drives it all home.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cathedral with a difference


My cathedral of soft walls,
creation, a sacrament taken
with no words from a hymnal
or sermon to convince.

Just the whispering of wind,
the whistle of a duck,
the sip of the swallow and
the splash of spoonbill
is the unpracticed choir
that moves my soul.

The willow and I dip thirsty
straws to the depths of this sacred place,
longing to be quenched by
the spring of dreams.

This membrane thin between
earth and heaven, is where I am.
My offering to such can only be
to breathe, write and proclaim.

* Creation is a true place of worship

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

No sermon week

For those who prepare sermons every week will identify. I am not preaching a sermon or preparing for any service this Sunday. Now, for those who don't identify, preachers don't just get up on Sunday morning and think up what they are to say before breakfast. It may seem this way (hopefully not) but the preparation for a sermon can take a full day to prepare or a few days depending on how you do it. The best for me is to allow it to brew on Monday or Tuesday and then each day to return with fresh ideas. This is the ideal, it usually gets done on Thursday or Friday. I personally cannot allow a sermon to wait until Saturday or else my nerves give in. Blah, blah, blah what I am really saying is I have time to do other things in the ministry that get sidelined. Roll on week....

Friday, November 12, 2010

fading friends

solitude lost
when making new found friends
the lichened rock
the mossy grass
the angel
the eagle
and ORIBI - fading friend

* going to nature is not a solitude it is the meeting of new friends and friends soon to be lost

Thursday, November 11, 2010

lemon birds

once adrenaline-bungee
watch patiently through sparkling lens
the multi flowers dressing
dust drowsy suns and lemon birds
whilst metronome rocks receive the waters lapping

*nature tends to ease the need for adrenaline seeking entertainment

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

sparrow man

sparrow man am i,

nothing but my thoughts to read,

my mind to quiz,

to realize that i am, just me.

quietness the tutor,

the frail and vulnerable

creature small,

i am,


* this ceramic sparrow is always on my desk. it reminds me of my size in the universe. it reminds me of what is greater in the creator's domain

Saturday, November 06, 2010

A beatitude of a world

It is that place where the poor in spirit, the humble, are encouraged and uplifted as the teachers and trend setters.
A place where those who have mourned and grieved the injustices of this world will be comforted and consoled by the hope of it happening no more.
A place where the quite and the gentle people will have the chance to reign and rule the way of the world.
A place where people who search to live closely with their Creator will find their fulfillment in becoming what they seek.
A place where forgiveness, compassion and mercy will not be ideals but the actual practice of humankind.
A place where those who have pure and innocent motives will be the architects of world politics.
A place where all who fought for what was right, good and beautiful will find the fruit of all their labour materialize.

*Part of a sermon I'm preaching for a Remembrance Day service. The beatitudes paint the dream of a whole new world order.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Extravagant Generosity

Thought I would use the concept of an abstract to help conceptualize my sermon for Sunday. So here goes:

Extravagant Generosity


Generosity may not be what you think. Generosity is not just digging into your wallet and handing over money to a needy cause. Generosity is about living in such a way that is generous to the planet and thus others. Generosity is about building new community that shares life and sustains life. Generosity is a spiritual condition that is fed by the extravagance of God’s generosity. Generosity is a means of grace, a spiritual discipline. Generosity is the mother of forgiveness, mercy and offering. Generosity is at times spontaneous but mostly it is a sacrifice of the will.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Preparing for Remembrance Service

Getting myself together for a Remembrance service on Sunday. I was browsing through an anthology of poems entitled '101 poems against war' and I was reminded of this one that speaks volumes into our responsibility when it comes to defending others . What goes around comes around and what happens when it eventually comes around to our doorsteps. It also touches on the fact that there is no passive position in war, no action equals action, we are accepting the status quo.

First they came for the Jews.
But I didn't speak up because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the communists.
But I didn't speak up because I was not a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists.
But I didn't speak up because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics.
But I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me.
And by that time one was left to speak up.

(Written supposedly by a U-boat captain Pastor Martin Niemoller)

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Teaching in pictures

Last week I started my first teaching session at Masibumbane. (Masibubane is a Methodist HIV mission that runs from Mpophomeni)
I am working with a great guy by the name of Duduzi. I am helping him in the spiritual growth & development part of the mission. On Wednesdays I have the privilege of conveying the message of hope to the clients of the mission. I have started by drawing pictures on the blackboard that relate to the scriptures, we then read the relevant scripture and use the pictures to draw the meaning out in ways that are memorable. The critical aspect of this ministry is to help Christian spiritually be a reality and not some disconnected part of their lives. To help them realize that their lives are important and can add value to the relationships around them. If anybody has material that could assist us we would be most appreciative.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Two seasons in one

Good morning, yes, the morning is good.  
I ranted and raved yesterday morning in my half sleep state after a dire meeting concerning the circuit in PMB. When I send a blog it goes rocketing into my facebook account and I thought I would remove it from there as my experience is that 'real' feelings are often divorced from these social platforms. 
Thanks for listening to my groans and pains.  Sometimes one has to be honest with your feelings and not put on the mask of respectability we prize so much. 
By doing so I received the greatest of gifts.  I received emails from old time friends that were most encouraging and wise.  I want to thank you for you love and your support even after these many years - love you all.  

Just to say, I am so encouraged by the local church in Hilton.  Just before the ghastly meeting I mentioned I had been in a Society Steward's meeting that was so alive and ready to fulfill mandate of the Spirit.  It was such a contrast to then walk slap bang into a age old personality church controversy issue later on.  So the sun does shine, the seasons often being two in one and I will take my slingshot faith and slay that Goliath. I love my name.  

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mourning to Morning

I literally weep for the church this morning. We are so lost at times that one wonders how God persists with us. 
John Wesley's dreadful fear that Methodist's would ever become a dead sect was realized in a Circuit Quarterly Meeting last night. 
"I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out."
I am not going to go into any details as this will not help anybody but I just express my feelings - broken, disappointed, angry, powerless. 
But, there is always a but in the Christian faith, the risen Lord lives in the hearts of his people and will rise up and have the last word.  As the Psalmist wrote: " My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning."  (130:6)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Books - our friends

I am so enjoying John Van der Laar's book "The hour that changes everything". All those involved in worship ought to read this and gain a new depth in how worship transcends the mundane bringing new perspective on life. John brings theological depth to a subject that may seem cliched in some circles.
It also provides great resource for small groups, sermons, personal devotions etc.

My next reads are can you believe it a Bill Hybels book called "Just walk across the room." I have a nature that stays clear of hype and popular church expressions but I know I am prejudiced and need to hear what God is doing in these circles. Then I have Ronald Rolheiser a Catholic author that I have only recently discovered, this book is called "Forgotten among the lilies - learning to love beyond our fear." The previous one I read was an extremely well presented theological reflection on loneliness in the human psyche and helped me appreciate that this is the sole consequence of human sinfulness.

May we continue to be stretched in wider community than our own.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A new future

I have been wrestling with the joys of ministry, minister's retreats and fitting in my long leave. 
Writing routines have been rather broken of late but I am still around for those like Delme who keep reminding me I have not written a post in awhile. 
What inspires me to write this morning is a meeting our circuit (group of church's) had last night.  I only slipped into my warm and cozy bed at 11:30pm but there was a glow around me and here I sit at 5:30am awake and ready for take off.  The reason is that decisive and clear decisions were made to see certain parts of the church die in Pietermaritzburg in the hope of it rising from the ashes (or should I say grave?).  The old proverb of the people perishing if there is no vision was witness in reverse last night.  It felt as if somebody barren for many years whispered in my ear - "Guess what, I have fallen pregnant".  To think I would feel this about the Circuit? One will go through all pains to see birth of a new child.  May the proposal of joining the two inner city church's be a blessing to all.   

Friday, September 10, 2010

Christianity in flames if Quran burns

Some advocates of the Church are clearly not humble enough to recognize that their reading of scripture and interpretation of the faith is in part. None of us have a complete and holistic theological viewpoint. The recent call to burn the Quran on the eve of 9/11 has rightly stirred condemnation worldwide. The brother concerned might not have read the beatitudes in awhile which in my book clearly advocates that we become peacemakers. Pastor Terry Jones, please we beg you not to go ahead with the burning of those Qurans. Jesus moved us away from an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” toward seeking no revenge but loving our neighbour and our enemy. In Christ the cycle of retribution is broken, may our religion not be the cause of more violence. For God’s sake. (Just heard as I send this blog that he has called it off - Thank Terry, you have done the right thing.)

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Sheepy Seminarian’s

Yes, the Seth Mokitimi Seminary got me thinking about certain dynamics of education. The fear of being ‘institutionalized’ versus the ‘independent spirit.’ It no doubt has its roots in my own fear of being boxed into things I am not. I heard Lawrence Anthony speak yesterday in Howick. He wrote “Babylon Zoo” and the “Elephant whisperer.” His one comment was, “Why do we like to think out of the box? Isn’t it better to be out of the box?” So here are some more unboxed thoughts on the subject of Seminarian’s in training.

Yesterday I touched on seminarian life being born rather out of ‘Presence’ versus ‘Vision.’ This may tie in with the difference between being ‘Driven’ versus being ‘Called’. The ancient image of the shepherd and the butcher comes to mind. The butcher is behind the flock pushing them and the shepherd is leading them from the front. The latter shows a different attitude in the sheep. The sheep are happy to be in the presence of the Shepherd, who calls them by name and thus they follow even if they don’t know where. The former part of the illustration the sheep are disquieted and are being driven by forces unknown to places they don’t know. In both cases the myopic sheep are unaware of their destination but their temperament is different.
I think this is another model for ‘presence’ in seminarian education. The art of helping seminarians (what a word?) hear their names called rather than be driven and packaged into the ‘perfect’ seminarian. I have a feeling SMMS will help this process more than our previous models of education.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

How ought a seminary change us?

I knew a young man who came from a rural area who enrolled as a student at the Evangelical Seminary of Southern Africa. He walked into the library on his first day and wished he had never enrolled.  When asked why, he said, "If am expected to read all those books I will never succeed."  Could it be that an institution of spiritual learning could impede our spiritual formation by its overbearing presence? 

Watching the seminarian's at the grandiose opening of the 'Seth Mokhitimi Seminary' in Pietermaritzburg I wondered if they were traumatized or encouraged by the large edifice and monumental speeches.

Speaking from my own experience and no doubt far to Eurocentric.  We may loose our personal contribution as we are traumatized by corporate vision.  When we think that 'our becoming' demands we look like another product of the seminary we may loose our bearings.  If we think we ought to have the capabilities of all that is flaunted as 'expected' we may fade in its shadow. Our seminarian growth ought to flourish as we are joined together by 'Presence' rather than 'Vision".  This may seem heretical in today's language but "Presence" for me is the life throbbing dynamo we have with God through Christ, actualized by the fertilizing Spirit of God. When we speak about a 'Seminary' in my eyes we are speaking about a well-kept hothouse where this dynamo is nurtured carefully.  It is a place where all different plant DNA types are matured for their God created actualization. There is none alike, each cherished for what it can contribute to the function and beauty of the world.  It is not about being a Methodist or a Charismatic, a Church builder or a Pastor, an Artist or an Accountant exclusively. The power of encouragement grows us into the plants we are meant to be – nothing more and nothing less. Spiritual formation is discovering the boundaries. It may even lead us outside the confines of Methodism.  I had better stop there.    


(Seminary mid-15c., "plot where plants are raised from seeds," from L. seminarium "plant nursery," figuratively, "breeding ground," from seminarius "of seed," from semen (gen. seminis) "seed" (see semen). Meaning "school for training priests" first recorded 1580s; commonly used for any school (especially academies for young ladies) from 1580s to 1930s. Seminarian "seminary student" is attested from 1580s.)

Friday, September 03, 2010

Tell your story - come on...

A shared story is a doorway to freeing ourselves.  When we listen to the journey of another person it ignites the patterns of our own similar life experiences. We come to realize that our life's paths are not that dissimilar. Somehow in the mesh of swapped life experiences we embrace each other in a shared humanity.  The more honest our story telling the more it will resonate within the heart of another.  The Christian is a person born in stories, stories of how molecules aggregate to form species, how a nation crosses the deepest rivers to safety and freedom, how law and order ratifies a nation born, how a Creator's love never ceases and the story of a god-man who rested the worlds problems on his shoulders. From there on the story becomes our story and the Spirit that burned in the hearts of those early believers still swaps its stories with those who will listen.  Don't underestimate it.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Another author to have coffee with

The books I have been reading lately have blown me away.  "The restless heart" by Ronald Rolheiser is another such enlightenment.  I suppose it is my fascination with how the human works that draws me to these writers.  The book lends itself to a deep look at the human condition of loneliness that is unpacked and explained so carefully. There are great differences between what we term, loneliness, alienation and solitude.  I cannot do this book justice by skirting its content but if you are concerned about the spiritual heart then do yourself a favour and step into the pages of this Roman Catholic priests mind.

Friday, August 20, 2010

What we learn when visiting…

I went visiting a few days ago and a lady complained that I was not there at her time of crisis when her husband died. It was a Monday (My day off) and she phoned the manse to get an answering machine.  She left a message that I only picked up the next day. I did ask her why she did not contact the number and person I left for emergencies on the answering machine and they would have got hold of me. She could have contacted any one of the Society Stewards of the church. She could have contacted the leader of her Fellowship Group who lives a stone throw away in the same complex but she didn't.  Instead she begrudged the fact that she could not get the minister immediately and it comes out months after her husband's death. 

I have thought it through and I am convinced I did everything to attend to her need the moment I was informed about it.  The concern for me was that she did not think anybody could help her but the minister.  This highlights for me one of the greatest dilemmas of the mainline church.  The understanding that the minister is the minister and the congregation are the ones to be 'ministered upon'.  Michael Cassidy reminded me this week at a breakfast hosted by African Enterprise that the greatest problem with us 'mainliners' is that our people do not know that they are the troops and unless we get this right nothing much will change.   

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Compassion Resurrected

“If we do our grieving deep and well, we become participants in a communal uprising, a resurrection in which the dead live on in the commitment of the survivors.” Parker J. Palmer

Without the thoroughness of loss we cannot experience the transition into resurrection. The log in the fire is transformed utterly into energy, heat and ash. Those who have died are energy if we gather around our loss of them and experience the fire of their lives. This pertains especially to the loss of those who have died through injustice. When we gather around their graves and mourn we are lifted up by their transcendent resurrection energy, our compassion grows and their hope becomes ours. The reverse is no doubt true when we avoid our grief and thus miss out on the resurrection fire. (Thoughts inspired by Parker J. Palmer & Latin American poem – ‘They have threatened us with resurrection’)

The truth is that our grieving with others attaches us with their cause, their lot, suffering and condition in a profound way. Teach me how to grieve God that compassion may flow abundantly.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Myth 1: Not Enough Food to Go Around

There are two worldviews, the one is that there are not enough resources to go around and another is there is an abundance of resource. 

The scarcity option drives the competitive nature of survival of the fittest and we land up with a few who have the art of survival and the rest suffer the consequences.  This option keeps the wider community at hands length and the individual building their stockpiles. 

The abundance option breeds community and sharing. If there is a sense that there is enough for all it is easier for us to share what we have.  Within the generous community the gifts of all multiply to abundance and we are satisfied.

The Stop Hunger Now organization deals with the number one myth:

Myth 1: Not Enough Food to Go Around

Reality: Enough wheat, rice and other grains are produced to provide every human being with 3,500 calories a day. That doesn't count other foods including vegetables, beans, nuts, root crops, fruits, grass-fed meats, and fish. Enough food is available to provide at least 4.3 pounds of food per person a day worldwide.  

The problem then lies somewhere else. It lies in the psyche of the fearful soul that is threatened by its survival.  God has provided – we need to share.  

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Struggling to keep a stone a stone?

In an examination of 'Christian work'  we are often tempted from the destiny we are intended to follow. 
Those more studious than I suggest that the first temptation of Jesus in the wilderness was around the issues of his identity - "If you are the Christ - turn this stone into bread"  It is the temptation to become what your role expects you to do. If you are the Messiah then do this and this and this as we think you ought. The other aspect to this temptation (again from those more studious than I) is the temptation to work with that which fulfills immediate expectations - "You look hungry - come on - turn this stone into bread."  It is the temptation of the Christian struggling to fulfill the work of God.  The struggle not to limit ones call to others expectations but only to the expectation of what you are really meant to be doing in your life. Then to make sure you are not too busy with meeting urgent needs at the expense of your greater destiny.  

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

"Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing" Dostoyevski

From one quote to another. 
"When God's love for the world pierces our armour of fear... it is an awesome experience of calling and accountability." Parker J. Palmer

I hear many Christians clamouring to be filled with the Holy Spirit and less so being filled with the love and compassion of God. 
The reason is no doubt in our fear that it will demand more from us and it certainly will. But, this is what makes the Christian life - real life. 

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Real living means something else

Matthew 16:25 (New International Version)

"25For whoever wants to save his life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it."

This verse of scripture always niggles somewhere at the back of my mind.  I suppose the reason is it just doesn't make any sense in the normal run of things.  It is a call to live outside of the current paradigm of 'success & failure', where success is rewarded and failure is ignored or frowned upon.  My experience is that the more we live for the successes in life we quickly drop in the in-between times to being disappointed until we reach the next success story.  We are programmed to move upward towards greatness but the opposite may be called for when encountering Christ. This would mean embracing our failures and in doing so embrace the reality of the human lot.  To learn from the 'downs' in our life and enter into the reality of the human race as weak, broken and in need of healing we tell the real story. To 'find life' is about the real things of life, the way we walk with others, hear each other and to live in the light of the greatest 'failure' story - the lonely Christ who identified with human weakness.  

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Woodcarver and the wood

If you read the "Woodcarver" (previous post) you are aware that the master carver did not go out and carve any piece of wood. 
There was a much deeper level of engagement with the 'object' of his work. One could almost say there was a 'life' relationship between him and the wood. 
It speaks volumes into a culture that would have been inclined to mass produce the object and fell a forest in the process. Whatever object we work with we ought to contemplate it in the wider sphere of things, its meaning for others, our relationship with it, the consequences of our actions and the like. (Words inspired by Parker J. Parmer, The Active Life) 

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Woodcarver - Ancient Poem

I have been reading the poem below and a commentary on it by Parker J. Palmer. 
It has a very important lesson about our 'work' and how it ought not be influenced by 
our pride, outside pressure and fear.  As Christian's we are also in need of examining 
our everyday work and how in tune we are in working with God and co-creating with others.

Khing, the master carver, made a bell stand
Of precious wood. When it was finished,
All who saw it were astounded. They said it must be
The work of spirits.
The Prince of Lu said to the master carver:
"What is your secret?"
Khing replied: "I am only a workman:
I have no secret. There is only this:
When I began to think about the work you commanded
I guarded my spirit, did not expend it
On trifles, that were not to the point.
I fasted in order to set
My heart at rest.
After three days fasting,
I had forgotten gain and success.
After five days
I had forgotten praise or criticism.
After seven days
I had forgotten my body
With all its limbs.
"By this time all thought of your Highness
And of the court had faded away.
All that might distract me from the work
Had vanished.
I was collected in the single thought
Of the bell stand.
"Then I went to the forest
To see the trees in their own natural state.
When the right tree appeared before my eyes,
The bell stand also appeared in it, clearly, beyond doubt.
All I had to do was to put forth my hand
and begin.
"If I had not met this particular tree
There would have been
No bell stand at all.
"What happened?
My own collected thought
Encountered the hidden potential in the wood;
From this live encounter came the work
Which you ascribe to the spirits."
        - Chuang Tzu
from The Way of Chuang Tzu by Thomas Merton)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

For those who tell stories

" A story must be told in such a way that it constitutes help in itself. My grandfather was lame. Once they asked him to tell a story about his teacher. And he related how his teacher used to hop and dance while he prayed. May grandfather rose as he spoke, and he was swept away by his story that he began to hop and dance to show how the master had done. From that hour he was cured of his lameness. That's how to tell a story." Martin Buber 

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Going nowhere slowly

I have always liked that TV programme "Going nowhere slowly". 
It is the kind of holiday I like the best - getting into a car and heading to well, who knows where. 
At the moment I am stationary in Ramsgate but feeling just this - "Going nowhere slowly". 

Howard got the Rota virus last week and thus for 6 days and 6 long nights we spent cleaning up 
all that this horrid virus had to offer.  We stayed in Durban for the week where we could be near doctors 
and helping parents who gave us some needed help. 

I have finished reading a fascinating book called "Poetry as spiritual practice" by Robert McDowell. 
For those into poetry it helps one appreciate that much of our spiritual liturgy for worship is styled as poetry. 
Many of our great spiritual songs/hymns are poetry set to music. If one thinks about it poetry is the first language we 
use. All those nursery rhymes and lullaby's are the way we enter this great world of ours.  As we grow up 
we are taught to discard this language for a more scientific language that uses logic and argument as its main pattern.
For those who write poetry (I am sure many of you?) it brings a whole new meaning to how you do it.  
So have fun - write some spiritual poetry and use it as your song of worship to God. 

Having fun, 


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Howard celebrating father's day

Eating out at the mt Edgecombe country club

Do you have true faith?

In Jesus' and the prophet's critique, self righteous religion is always marked by insensitivity to issues of social justice while true faith is marked by profound concern for the poor & marginalized -Timothy Keller

Friday, June 18, 2010

Howard and Anne at Moses Mabhida

This time I hope you get the picture. Doing this from my phone and sent it via sms instead of email

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The straight jacket of freedom

I am on leave (a part of my Sabbatical) at the moment and I am enjoying the thrill of not having to go anywhere at any specific time, however this generally only lasts for a short period until I can find another routine to slip into. I find the in between times of ‘arbness’ rather stressful.

I am still going through “The Reason for God” by Timothy Keller and I am trying to summarize ideas, concepts and truths about the Christian faith that will help me answer questions for myself and help me deal with questions that come from others.

I am also reading another brilliant book about poetry as a means of spiritual practice but more about that one later on.

Immanuel Kant defined an enlightened person as one who trusts in his or her own power of thinking rather than in authority or tradition (Keller, R.F.G. pg46). This is common thinking is it not, in the age of relativism, Aquarius and all those kind of things.
The underlying concept is that we cannot be free if we are ‘straight jacketed’ to anything that restricts our freedom. If one looks at the smooth stroke of the professional golfer, the easy footwork of the soccer player, the first thought is: “ how easy and free that looks.” Let us not be mistaken as what we see is really the outcome of hours, days and years of restrictive discipline and practice that forfeited much else to get that ‘easy’ look. The truth of the matter is freedom comes with a price.

The arbitrary comment often heard today is, “ We can decide our own morality. We the individual decide what is right and wrong.” The counter argument to this is surely found when we criticize leaders who are leading their countries to ruin through their personal sense of morality. We would argue that despite their personal convictions they should act otherwise for the sake of others. In other words there is a morality that is beyond the individual and belongs to all humanity.

(Thoughts inspired by Timothy Keller, The Reason For God)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

What mother would throw her child into the cold?

Timothy Keller makes the point (The Reason for God) that every community is exclusive in some way. The right and the left of any issue form a community around certain beliefs and certain values that will exclude members of the community that rebel or don’t comply with them.
So to call Christianity an exclusive community separate from others is rather rich when a closer look at your own community will unearth a similar exclusivity. What should be considered in all communities is the value of how that community respects, love and care for other communities. What should also be carefully monitored is if the community condemns, violates, is aggressive toward and demonizes other communities not like theirs. No community is entirely inclusive of all people regardless of what their moral and belief structures are.

I would like to add that although Christianity is inclusive of all race, gender and class there is a value and belief structure that is expected of all its members. In saying that it is important to note that ‘grace’ is a fundamental doctrine of the Church and thus one often finds members who contravene the core set of values still being a part of its meetings and community life. It takes extraordinary circumstances for a mother to throw her child into the cold.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

What do a St. Bernard, a flea and Tess of the d’Urbervilles have in common?

Just because I cannot understand the reason for suffering doesn’t mean there is none?
The illustration goes that if you look into a two-man tent and you cannot see a St. Bernard justifies that there is no St. Bernard in the tent. But, if you look into the two-man tent and you do not see a flea does not mean that there is no flea there (Based on an illustration of Alvin Plantinga). To say that God is not good enough or powerful enough to deal with suffering and make the conclusion that there is no God because of it, is a subjective deduction. To make claims that there is no God or there is no meaning in the suffering of the world rest entirely on our cognitive skills and who can ever claim to know the wonders and horrors of the universe. (Thoughts inspired by Timothy Keller’s book – The Reason for God).

There is suffering that leaves us wondering whether there is any meaning in it but if we examine our lives we will find that the suffering we have experienced has shaped us some way or another. I watched a BBC production of Tess of the d’Urbervilles by
Thomas Hardy recently. I could see no redemption of the suffering she encountered, she even called her dead child “Sorrow”. But, who am I to say what suffering did for her as a person. Who is to say that she would not have had more meaning in life than one who grew up eating cakes and sweet tea? It does leave one with the awkward question, especially the counselor of how we help or redeem people from their suffering?

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Do Christian’s bring peace to earth?

Much has been done in the guise of Christian faith that has discredited rather than brought value to the teachings of Jesus. Christians like other religious adherents fall prey to vanity and exclusive tendencies that work their way out in anger and persecution and mimic the very opposite of what we would call peace on earth.

The fundamentalists among us Christian's love to highlight the wrongs of others, the judgment due to others and brandish the verses in scriptures that herald Jesus as being the only way to salvation. If their attitude is anything to go by I don’t know if the world needs to be saved into a place that replicates this pride and arrogance. It is a future I certainly don’t want to be a part of.

If one has to focus on fundamentals the part of Christian faith I would rather be fundamental about is the fact that we are ‘all’ made in the image of God and we all are as much ‘good’ as we are ‘bad'. What is distinct about the Christian is that they recognize the darkness within them that needs redemption and their identity is not determined by how good they are. This ought to keep the Christian humble and non-judgmental of others. The other fundamental I would be fundamental about is that we are called by Jesus to love and pray for our enemies. If we are living by this creed we have to drop our weaponry of words and sharp judgment and reach out ways that transcend the obvious. Maybe in these ways we can say that Christianity will bring peace to earth. (This has been inspired by Tim Keller’s thinking in the book ‘The Reason for God’.)

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Royal Agricultural Show (PMB) – through new eyes

I have learned over the years to avoid agricultural shows if I can possibly help it. There are so many dogs jumping through fiery hoops that a person can handle in one year. I always seem to arrive when the police are showcasing their clever hounds. If you blindfold me I am sure I could take you to at least 40% of the stalls that were in the same place last year and without doubt the year before that. Is it just me, but you have to always be careful where you tread as some over eager kid always eats too much and spews the contents over the public pathway.

That is until Howard arrived. I have never been so excited to go to the show before. I have a tendency to give my child a voice when he has not even spoken the hallowed “Dada” yet. I am thinking how my little 17 month old is going to perceive the prize bull with brass ring in its nose, the elegant horse jumping its logs and the shiny tractors with there new chrome radiators and black polished tyres. He just has to enjoy it or is it the flashbacks of my childhood roaming the old “Rand Easter show” that I project through his little eyes?

Friday, June 04, 2010

Myth – Christian faith is declining in numbers

There has been the thinking for some time that through the industrial revolution and through the advance of technology humankind would soon loose their need of God to help them in their troubles. This is what is termed “secularization thesis” (Peter L. Berger). Well here we are at the end of the first decade of the twenty first century and the facts tell otherwise. Virtually all religions are growing in numbers of adherents. Christianity is growing in explosive ways in what is termed the developing world. Timothy Keller in his book The reason for God, refers to Philip Jenkin’s book The next Christendom and highlights that there are six times more Anglicans in Nigeria alone than there are in all of the United States. There are more Presbyterians in Ghana than in the United States and Scotland combined. Korea has gone from 1 percent to 40 percent Christian in a hundred years, and experts believe the same thing is going to happen in China. So, if there are half a billion Chinese Christian’s fifty years from now, that will change the course of human history.

No matter how hard anti-religious groups, governments, regimes etc. try to eradicate humankind’s faith it just doesn’t work. It would seem that the search for divine meaning and significance will continue to burn deep in our souls for centuries to come.

The Reason for God
The Next Christendom

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Just started Tim Keller’s book “The Reason for God”

I have just started my next adventure through a book entitled “The Reason for God – belief in an age of skepticism”, by Tim Keller.
Although insulted as a Methodist on the third page: “My family later found its way to a more conservative church in a small Methodist denomination. For several years this strengthened what could be called the “Hellfire layer” of my religious formation…” I was able to continue and find grace to forgive him.
He has begun with a strong case for orthodox doctrine still being relevant and even growing in the urban cities. He sees this particularly amongst the multi-ethnic groups moving into cities like London and New York. His case rests in the fact that the skeptics and those who throw great doubt on the teachings of the church need also examine what that doubt is and so understand their own ‘belief. He also challenges the Christian to examine his/her doubt and make sure they have truly come to terms with their own faith. I look forward to the rest of the book.