Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Packing


Today has been packing. Books into boxes, clothes into suitcases and the guitar and computer as they come. I trust everything is going to fit into the cars!
Right now, I am nervous. I've worked through so much stuff in the last couple of weeks. I'm not really sure how to BE a minister. Maybe I mean a Minister with a capital M. I like doing the things a minister does, but I'm not into this Reverend stuff. I'm just me, that God has called for some reason known only to himself. I can only be me. I know I'm sometimes a bit 'different'. Maybe people won't like that. But if I start off pretending then things will only get worse. So, I guess I've worked through that.
But it is not good leaving my family. I know that God will see us through, but I'm not convinced that this is the best way.
We will all persevere - in the belief that it does produce character - and trust to God that no unrecoverable damage occurs to any psyches along the way.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Matric!

My daughter just got her matric results. She did very well. Way to go Charlotte!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Teamwork

The whole family has got stuck in with general house maintenance these holidays. Scraping and painting and tiling. Then we decided to put up shelves along one whole wall in the lounge. We got buy-in from the kids and have spent the last two days pretty much solidly working at the project. It has been such a great experience. Every kid has been totally involved and we have worked together so well. The wood was precut (mostly), but there was sanding and varnishing to be done in preparation and then the actual construction. Kids operated the power drill and the orbital sander. Measured, painted and got stuck in. The eldest actually looked after the kitchen, in preference, and fed us last night and has practically prepared the whole meal for Christmas Day.
God has given me an awesome family. I will miss them next year, but I'm so glad to have seen them so constructively happy during these holidays. Not that they haven't played and messed around plenty as well - that was also good to see.

Happy Christmas to all who come by here! May Jesus be real to you in a special way.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Missional?

The church where I am going in Grahamstown actually consists of 19 different preaching points. I received a copy of the preaching plan last week and am beginning to see things as they really are (and not people's guesses and surmises). Some of these points are quite distant from the centre - the furthest is 80km, but most are actually in a fairly close area. There is a school of thought that says that they should all be brought together and that they should worship together and function under the leadership of the minister. But these places resist that. They are presumably led by Methodist 'stewards' and 'local preachers'. The minister will see them to give communion about once a quarter and does some pastoral work occasionally. But the communities really run themselves.
Isn't this the ideal that many people strive for? Close-knit Christian communities that are present in their own communities as a place that Jesus is known. Able to reach out to their neighbours, because they live and worship in the same place. And they have the continuity of leadership that cannot be supplied by the church - because paid ministers cost money.
So much 'emergent church' stuff and 'new thinking' has been done by the Methodist Church in South Africa for years and years. Of course, I don't know how effective the structures are in Grahamstown - according to what I value! That remains to be seen.
Stephen Murray blogged about the requirements for missional community leaders. What will my role be? How can I best equip and encourage these leaders? Many of whom have years more experience in their situation than I will ever have.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Routine Addiction

I wouldn't have said that I was someone who likes routine. But I do struggle with holidays. On Monday I was willing to blog that I hate holidays. I felt withdrawal and frustration and boredom and loss and . . . However as my system adjusts I appreciate picking up old interests and having time to think about different things. Remembering how last Christmas I read Disgrace, The Other Side of Silence and The Whale Caller -South African books that I really enjoyed. So I went with the kids to the library today and got similar books. But it is like kicking a habit - slowing down and staying slowed down. I run from it - Christmas shopping, painting ceilings, all sorts of things around the house, but it is still different form the stress of everyday routine.
Perhaps harder because I know that I won't go back to my old routine. But easier because I am looking forward to the new. Harder because of the people that I will miss. Easier because I believe that I am on God's right path.
Going 'cold turkey' is no fun. But it is good to come out the other side. Now to stay there!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Measuring Value

I guess this is an age old question, but what makes a piece of art 'good'? By art I mean a painting, a book, a piece of music. Things that to my mind are measured subjectively. If I like it, is it good? If most people like it, is it good? If important people like it, is it good? I mean publishers trashed Harry Potter - and yet it has sold like crazy. And actually, I think (like I count!), the books are good - especially the first two.
Why doesn't popular opinion define the value of art? Why do 'experts' define it?
Why will I, quite probably, not really enjoy some 'popular fiction'?
But then I don't enjoy some books that experts call good. Although I guess I would find merit in reading them, even if I had to struggle through.
As I write this, some answers do start coming to mind. Maybe I'll write another post when I've thought about it some more.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thoughtful

I got a call from Grahamstown yesterday. An outgoing circuit steward who has been tasked with looking after me when I arrive. His job is to make sure I find the place where I will be staying and to give me money to buy groceries for the first couple of weeks. Man, I was so touched at the thoughtfulness.
I think I am going to leave my cynicism in Joburg! Everything sounds so good for next year!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Thank You

Part of leaving my current areas of ministry is all the goodbye events. It has been quite - I think I want to use the word - breathtaking. I've been taking services at Summerfield Retirement Home for years - probably more than 10 years, actually. I've been doing pastoral visiting there this year as well. I took my last services there in November and I was really touched by their concern for me for next year. Hlalanathi Preaching Place included me in their farewell for Rev Vuyelwa and again I was touched by their care. I'm not good at these sort of things - emotional farewells, whatever. Funny things that one has to learn.
My own church, North Rand Methodist, blessed me by allowing me to preach at all three services one Sunday and by praying for me and my family at each service. It was a very special day.
Moving on is good. But it is also good to remember what has been. I'm not good at remembering! Another thing to learn - while I live in the present and the future.
Thank you everyone who has been there for me over the last three years at North Rand and surrounds.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Getting Closer

I got a letter yesterday from the Phase 1 programme coordinator in PE. It is so encouraging to see that they are organised! Orientation on 13 January. Programme laid out. I've even got the notes for the Sacraments Exam which is on the 4 March - I think it said.
I hope I'm not going to struggle with being 'back at school'. I am not good at exams.
Hey, but it's happening!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Kind of Spoilt

I've been driving a VW Citi Golf, about 13 years old. It has done well, but it leaks a bit in the rain and we can't always get parts for it (such as the winder mechanism for one of the rear windows). As I will be away next year, it seemed a good time to get a new car. God has been good to us and the money is there. I really wanted to get a Chevrolet Spark - but the top of the range model, which I wanted, has been unobtainable. After being promised that they would have one by such and such a date about three times and still no show, we decided we needed to do something else. So I now have a Honda Jazz. It is the bottom of the range but seems to have pretty much everything one could want. It is bigger than the Spark -which does make everyone happier (those who were worrying about me!), but obviously more expensive. R90 000 for a Spark, R142 000 for the Jazz.
I struggle within myself to spend money on cars. But I know that this car is likely to be more useful in the long run than the cheaper Spark, and will probably last longer too.
So . . . I am very happy . . . very blessed . . . and looking forward to the Eastern Cape highways.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Masters Update

I got the comments back from my supervisor on my two chapters so far. Constructive and encouraging, I think. I haven't worked through them in detail. I can see that the biggest 'problem' is that my material isn't presented as an argument - or not tightly so. That is partly because I am lazy (unfortunately I have to acknowledge that), but also because I'm not sure yet what I will be arguing in favour of. I am so enjoying having my mind opened in directions I would never have gone by the reading I am doing.
I am somewhat discouraged by the realisation that I will probably need three years to get my Masters done - at a level that satisfies me - and I may not have that three years, due to the Methodist Church taking ownership of - my education, my calling, my life? I do sometimes wonder what I am getting myself into.
On the other hand, I am enjoying the reading and writing for itself and no one can take what I learn away from me!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Church and State

I'm writing a page or two on the separation of church and state for my Masters. It's cool to bring together the thoughts of Karl Barth, Stanley Hauerwas and John Mbiti. I was wondering what Jesus thought about the separation of church and state when he was around physically.
It is odd, now that I come to think of it, that he didn't talk to the Romans at all. He made no attempt to address the structural oppression that existed. He did not try to create a Christian state. He simply worked with people and their attitudes.
And that is so different from one of the key tenets of Liberation Theology - that one needs to remove oppressive structures before one can have freedom. Jesus was concerned for the poor and the marginalised - so far he agrees without doubt with Liberation Theology. But he seemed to have an amazing lack of concern for the Romans and structural injustice.
I need to think about this some more - can't believe I haven't asked the question before!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Church Hurts

Why do churches hurt people? John van der Laar has the following very cool quote in a recent post on his blog. (From Carlo Carreto).

How much I must criticize you, my church, and yet how much I love you! You have made me suffer more than anyone and yet I owe more to you than to anyone. I should like to see you destroyed and yet I need your presence. You have given me much scandal and yet you alone have made me understand holiness. Never in this world have I seen anything more compromised, more false, yet never have I touched anything more pure, more generous or more beautiful. Countless times I have felt like slamming the door of my soul in your face - and yet, every night, I have prayed that I might die in your sure arms! No, I cannot be free of you, for I am one with you, even if not completely you. Then too - where would I go? To build another church? But I could not build one without the same defects, for they are my defects. And again, if I were to build another church, it would be my church, not Christ's church. No, I am old enough, I know better.

My thoughts are so mixed with this. Is any relationship idyllic and fairytale-like? If it was, wouldn't we worry? In this last week I've been through the extremes of feeling about my church. Loving it and hating it. When I was sore it was awful. But the fact is that a meaningful relationship has times of pain and times of joy. The deeper the relationship, the more the struggles. I'd love my relationships to be free of pain - but it is not realistic in any setting. Even our relationship with God involves both pain and joy. People (including myself!) have very unfair expectations of the church sometimes.

Still thinking, still wondering . . .

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Church like Starbucks



I know I'm tired, but things like this video just depress me. Most of us in churches are actually just doing our best. I think God loves us anyway!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Shaw Memorial Church

This is Shaw Memorial Church where I will be working next year. Thanks to Kevin Endres, the minister currently there, for the photos! We leave Jhb on 1 January. I need to report for duty on 8 January. Everything sounds very good about where I am going!



Monday, November 17, 2008

Cool Blog

This is a cool blog that I found. Dr Bongi is a surgeon in Mpumalanga. Humourous, topical, willing to stick his neck out. The link is to a long post, but worth the read!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Something New - Journals!

You can tell I'm not a 'real' academic. I've always wondered about these things called theological journals and haven't had the remotest idea what they looked like or how one obtained them. Now for my Master's thesis I require 25% of my bibliography entries to be from journals or periodicals. I also have been looking for a broad range of ideas on what Christian community looks like from a Christian point of view and I really hoped to get ideas across different denominations - which I thought would be really difficult, thinking 'books'.
Now I find that my college library has a reasonable collection of journals, indexed online so I can search at home, and that these journals range from pentecostal to evangelical to missions to youth to whatever. Both problems brought close to resolution!
Only problem is that journals stay in the library and can't be taken out. I have another four weeks before the library closes and thereafter I'm being shipped off to Grahamstown, so every spare moment is being spent in the library. Hopefully this morning is going to see much progress made.
Does anyone know if there is such a thing as a Southern African Methodist theological journal?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Working Together

I received an email from someone concerned at the Methodist Church's involvement in an inter-faith event. There were lots of angles from which I could choose to answer him. One that I didn't use was the question of whether attempting to cooperate with other faiths wasn't simply a waste of time - in terms of getting stuff done (like social upliftment). Working together is a noble goal, but so often we don't get it right even when there are two or three Christian Churches in the same suburb. To think that we can get it right on a larger scale may be optimistic.
But thinking about this and, having just been to a Circuit Quarterly Meeting, I was encouraged by what the Methodist Church does actually get right. For those who do not know, our societies are grouped into circuits, by geographical area. So our Church in northern Randburg forms part of the Fourways Circuit. We don't do much strategic stuff together - churches tend to be too independent. But we pool finances to support people who work for the good of the circuit. The ministers and pastors meet together regularly. The more wealthy societies help support the poorer societies - often paying for probationer (student) ministers to pastor work in them. The circuit is also a point of accountability for ministers and societies and will carry out any disciplinary measures required.
So often we are irritated by politics and long boring meetings and we see circuit stuff as a waste of time. Yet I'm not sure if any other denomination has such an effective structure in place.
It will be interesting to see how the circuit in Grahamstown operates.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Good News

Good news for Hlalanathi Preaching Place is that although both Vuyelwa and I are moving on next year, someone has been found to care for the new, growing little church community. She will be employed by the Methodist Church part time. She is passionate about mission and is doing her MTh with a mission focus. It turns out that she is also a Methodist Local Preacher, so she will be able to take the Sunday services - although she cannot do Communion services.
Lord - please bless her and bless the fledgling community. Thank you for providing someone to carry on your work there. May she be a real blessing to the people!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Shallow?

Hooray, another chapter submitted for my Masters. A short one this time, but progress is being made. I am so overwhelmed by the fact that I am touching the tip of the iceberg in my reading. There is SO much stuff out there. But I don't need any of my chapters to be definitive - I don't need to read it all. If I have to restart my Masters or if I do a doctorate (distant future!) I think I will try to choose a really narrow topic so that I can research definitively in the space available. There is much more of a sense of achievement and discovery, I think. Although I am learning a lot from my reading now. My chapter now was on John Wesley and community - the obvious contribution he made was class meetings, but I was quite inspired by a lot of what I read. He set pretty high standards for living - but I (in good post-modern fashion) struggle to reconcile the way he lived - and treated his wife - with what he teaches. By no means was he a hypocrite - he gave his life passionately to the cause. Perhaps I am overly critical. Am I demanding perfection and unable to forgive the discrepancies in his character - the like of which we all undoubedly have?
I'd better be careful!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Educating Squirrels

How much will a squirrel learn in order to get nuts. Quite a lot! I found this 1957 movie clip via Boing Boing and it had my kids and myself intrigued. I can't get the imbed to work, but here is the link.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Trampled

Here's another thought, inspired by Trevor Hudson, but from the well-known story of Jesus washing his disciples feet. I was trying to recontextualise the idea for me, here and now. Foot-washing, while a good experience is not part of our culture and doesn't really achieve what Jesus was trying to get us to understand. How in our society do we truly serve others? And it can be silly things like making a cup of tea or doing the dishes. Even those we can sometimes invest with some significance as 'acts of service' to be admired. How do we truly serve in humility?
But I got sidetracked onto thinking - what would have happened at the next passover? Would the disciples have expected Jesus to wash their feet again? Would they scramble to do it? Because the reality is, in our lives today, that if you humble yourself to an act of service one day that is not the end. That will probably be expected of you from then on. Unless you have awesome authority like Jesus did. So we lay ourselves open to be trampled on - or if you resist, you are viewed as ungracious and unwilling to help. Perhaps this is from my perspective as a woman.
But there is a difference between a once-off act of humility and a life of humility. And there is a difference between a humble life and a trampled life. I need to struggle with this a bit!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Reversal

I'm getting old. I don't remember what I know or have read. Is a thought new or did I read it the other day? Trevor Hudson's book 'Questions God Asks Us' (which in my opinion is brilliant) reminded me that everything started in a garden (Eden) and finished in a garden (the garden tomb). It struck me that the Garden of Gethsemane is also there at the end. Jesus prays and wrestles with God and his conscience and ends by saying 'not my will, but yours be done'. There we have the absolute reversal of that which Adam and Eve did in the first garden. In that place, without too much wrestling, they came to the conclusion, 'my will, not yours, be done'. Their choice - which seemed so insignificant - brought death. Jesus' choice - to lay down his life - brought life.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Getting Something Done

I have achieved something. I have submitted the first draft of the first chapter of my masters to my supervisor. It's actually chapter 3 (which I have completed first), but could constitute about a quarter of the the thesis (36 pages at the moment). I am not finding it easy to work on my masters. I get too focussed on it and then need to emerge to realise that life is carrying on around me. So then I put it aside completely. I somehow need to learn to operate with more 'focuses' in my life. And to work on the thing when I have time (like now!).
I wish that I could count on time next year, then I could work at a fairly relaxed pace, but I suspect that I will have too much on my plate with phase one probation. Which is also cool.
My thesis, in colloquial terms, is about how to make Christian community 'sticky'. It has a strong Biblical component because technically it is a Masters of Theology in the field of Biblical Studies, in the area of Practical Theology. I'm not sure, really, how that all fits together. Chapter 3 deals with worldviews encountered in South Africa and how these affect the expectations that people have of any form of community.
The word 'sticky' might make one think 'attractional' rather than 'missional', but that is not a foregone conclusion in the thesis!
I am not a natural academic, although I enjoy it very much. So I am pottering around in the dark, and I hope I actually get somewhere in the end!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Last Time!

Last night I played my last hockey game for the year. Some sadness, because it may be my last game ever! There may well be Masters hockey in the Grahamstown area, but I suspect that I will not be able to commit to a team, from a time point of view. I have really enjoyed playing hockey for the last two years and it has been good for me. I guess God will lead me somewhere new next year.
Anyway, it was a good game. We won. I scored a goal. Not a spectacular one, but it counts towards the score! I wish I played hockey better - and this time I can't say, 'I'll do better next time'.
So, some sadness, but still looking forward to the challenges - and the opportunities to serve next year.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Two Good Men

Contrasts are interesting. Especially when they reveal to us what is actually the same. I guess that sounds odd. I went to two funerals this weekend. Both of old (black African) Christian men who I have known for some time, although not very, very well. Both dedicated to the church. Both with immense humility. Both with wonderful welcoming smiles.

S. was buried from a 600 seat church in Sandton. The church and foyer were packed with people. All sorts of people. Old, young, black, white, smart, casual. There was a sense of dignity. Of loss, but also of peaceful passing.

J was buried from his shack in an informal settlement. A tent was erected adjoining the one room building. It was packed. People streamed in from the community and from the church. All sorts of people. Such different surroundings, yet also that immense sense of dignity. Of loss, but of peaceful passing.

The illustration in this is that - we can be God's people in whatever situation. For S humility would have been much harder, perhaps, than for J. Yet he was a humble man. J might have found it harder to smile sometimes, yet he was always cheerful.

I was impressed that there was so much the same in such different funerals. God is awesome.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Getting Clerical

I went this morning and bought some 'clerical shirts'. I have been avoiding doing anything like that - I guess this could be called the first step out of denial! I really can't believe that I am going to be a 'reverend' and be expected to wear a collar. For some people, I have come to realise, there is a lot of romance in this situation. For me, I would a hundred times rather work 'underground'. There is still going to be some serious ironing out of quirks in my personality. It is at times like this that I have to know that God is calling me and that he will look after me. Because I want to run a mile. I trust that he will use me - and direct my sometimes non-conforming instincts to meaningful places and help me to conform where it is most necessary to do so.
I look so serious in a black shirt with a dog collar that I almost take myself seriously!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Is Google Making Us Stupid

I asked in an earlier post whether Google could rule the world. An article in the latest SA issue of Popular Mechanics asks a similar question. There is a introduction to the article here. The article really deals with the difference the internet has made to the way we think. Are will still able to read and digest long articles in books? To take the time to do book research? It is so much easier to 'google' a topic and get all the info we need in a few minutes. The author says that we lose the ability to read contemplatively. There is no going back, and not many of would want to - but it certainly is a good reminder that we run the danger of only being able to understand predigested material (like baby food) and losing the ability to do our own digestion.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Faithfulness

"Old Man John" passed away on Wednesday. He was over 80 years old - really fitting the description 'old and full of years'. He was one of the founding members of our congregation at Hlalanathi Methodist Preaching Place. I knew him from when he was part of the Lanseria Preaching Place, before the community was moved to its current location.
In the early days of this little church, I arrived more than once to find no one there for the service - except John. He would walk all the way from his shack with his walking stick in his hand - slow, but sure. He was very quiet. He said he came from Malawi and he did not speak much English. But he believed in church and in what church means. I like to pray for anyone who needs prayer as the closing part of the Sunday service. John always came forward - increasingly for pains in his chest. I knew he was going to go. I have very mixed feelings - I'm glad he didn't suffer and fade away slowly. I know people can't live forever here. But he was a real character and a 'good guy'.
I was privileged in those times when church was just him, me and the Lord. When we shared with each other briefly and I prayed for him.
I will meet him again one day.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Stationed!

So now it is official. I will be going to Shaw Memorial Church in Grahamstown next year. Well, at the end of this year. Now we can start seriously planning.
I love the thought of Grahamstown. A new place, a new way of being, new people to observe and learn from. But I think my husband is going to have a bit of a rough time being a single parent. I wish we could be together. The possibility is still there that we all move to Grahamstown, but I don't think it is very likely!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Technology in Church

Safely back from the Kruger Park and sort of wishing we were still there! I've read so many blog posts written by people who are struggling with reliable technology in church - and now I am one of them. Our church has a wonderful problem in that our building will not hold the number of people who want to come to the main morning service. While we wait for things to work out so that we can build, we are trying to maintain an overflow area and also a Cry Room. For both of these we need sound and video to be sent from the main sanctuary. What a mission, when it should be so easy!
So this week we had no sound to the Cry Room and we had to choose between video to the overflow or video to the cry room because only one power supply was working. Suppliers on the internet advertise this or that wonderful device - but when you actually want to get one they don't seem to exist.
However, people are using the overflow area and that does make it worthwhile. But what a painful process. I guess missionaries in days gone by braved wild animals and disease. Today we must brave technology and frustration!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Rhino and More



We landed in the Kruger Park this afternoon and have already seen some cool animals. Rhino and elephant in the road. A herd of buffalo near the road. Dwarf mongooses playing and even allowing themselves to be photographed. An owl in a tree. Warthog and giraffe close enough to count the hairs on their heads. Bushbuck, grey duikers, kudu, a gnu - all in a few hours.

Our problem is that it took us about an hour and a half to do the first 7km and then we needed to move smartly to get into camp before the gates shut. Tomorrow we can be as slow as we like! That's what holidays are for. And for realising how fast the children are growing up. And for just enjoying the company of family.

My daughter saw me on the computer and asked me if I was reading 'work emails'. I can't think of church stuff as work, it has always just been a way of life. I need to make that adjustment in my thinking though - because increasingly my kids see church as my 'work'. That is a real pity and I would have liked to avoid that. I hope that they can come to see church as primarily the community of Jesus' people and only secondarily the place where their mother works.

Now I am going to write one 'work' email, but then it's back to holiday mode!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hooray A Break

We are going to the Kruger Park for a few days. To give our poor stressed out matric student daughter a break and also my poor stressed out matric teacher husband a break.
I think I might quite enjoy the break too!
Someone lent me 'Questions God Asks Us', by Trevor Hudson, so I will be taking that with me. And I bought myself 'Jingo' by Terry Pratchett.
It's going to be good!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Stressing

Friday evening and I'm wondering why I'm struggling to focus. Irritated with myself. So much I want to do.
Then I realise that I am stressing - if only quietly to myself. Methodist Church Conference this weekend. Stationing for next year should be finalised. They have a great website http://www.mcsa-conference.org.za/. I keep hoping that the list of stations will suddenly appear there. Nothing I can do about anything. No point in worrying. I'm not worrying. But I can't focus.
Eldest daughter is at her Matric Dance. She was pretty stressed. I guess I'm worrying about her too. For no reason. She can look after herself. She's gone with a great young guy from church. But, one does worry.
Sometimes I do forget to have faith. Maybe more often than sometimes. Yet I do believe with some conviction that God is with me, with my daughter, with Conference.
He is so very good to me and my family. How can I forget to trust him?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sleeping Beauty Goes Ballistic

Long, long ago - well in June 2007 to be exact - I wrote a blog post which mentioned that I told the story of Sleeping Beauty to my son. It also had a link to a picture of Sleeping Beauty. The popularity of that particular picture meant that my blog stats went crazy as people picked up my blog in searches for the picture. I was getting over a 100 hits a day. I took off the link to the picture and used an uploaded one instead, and slowly the number of hits decreased. (Very few people seemed to be actually reading the post). Now, all of a sudden, Google is returning that post when people search for Sleeping Beauty - and returning the old picture link even though it has been gone for ages! This happened for a week, then calmed down and now it is growing again. So my blog looks increasingly popular - thank to web accelerators that preload pages without people clicking on them. The link is now to the blog archive, so if people do go there, they are actually presented with my discussion on a theological paper written by Dr Dion! The link is here, if anyone is interested.

Could Google rule the world?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Large Hadron Collider



With all the hype about the hadron collider I thought I would link to Dion's post about it. He has a link to a really cool rap on the collider. Apparently the career of the rap artist involved has taken off as a result of this rather odd production.

Thanks to Google for the image!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Iridium Flares

This looks like fun for people interested in astronomy and 'things in the sky'. Apparently, a few years ago the Iridium Corporation sent a whole bunch of communication satellites up into the sky. They orbit at quite low levels. As with all satellites, when the angle is right the sun reflects off them and we can see them from earth. Apparently, these flashes can be quite bright - brighter than Jupiter or Venus. Somebody, who obviously understands plenty of maths has created a website to predict these flares for a particular location. So if you're interested click on the link :http://www.heavens-above.com/. There is also info on comets and asteroids and more.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Enlisted Soldiers

I grew up with the RSV translation of the Bible and still many verses come to mind from that translation before the NIV words, although I use the NIV now. The other morning I picked up my RSV, because my NIV seemed too have wandered off somewhere, and read from there. This verse jumped out at me. 'No soldier on service gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to satisfy the one who enlisted him.' I had read the same passage the previous day in the NIV and the verse just went past me, so I got the NIV and looked it up. 'No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs - he wants to please his commanding officer.'
The RSV packs a whole lot more punch - to me anyway.
On service - serving as : the first sounds more intentional than the second.
entangled - involved in: involved is good, entangled not good and stronger word.
aim - wants: the first word is goal driven, the second just slightly more than passive
satisfy - please: the first word gives the idea of achieving something, the second of just raising the stakes
one who enlisted him - commanding officer: the first implies a personal relationship, however slight. The second gives no idea of relationship.

I really like the RSV translation - because I like things to happen - I guess I'm not that passive. Which one is correct?

The Greek for On service - someone (male or female) active in war. (RSV better)
Entangled - no Strong's word. Lexicon offers entangle or involve!
Aim/wants - better to say 'in order that' (NIV better)
satisfy/please - to be agreeable (NIV probably better)
enlisted/ commanding - no Strong's word. Lexicon - one who got the army together. (RSV better).
So two points to NIV and two points to RSV!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Prodigal Husband



I read this book by Lazarus Miti over the weekend. It is an African cultural book and deals with the issues related to polygamy - through a story. It really gave me such insight into African culture. The book is written with understanding, warmth, honesty and without moralising. It is not a high-action book. It is a book that made me think - and keep thinking. Lazarus Miti is a professor of linguistics and happens to be a member of our congregation - I guess we are pretty privileged!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Always Rethinking

I am told, by someone who claims to know, that Methodist Probationer Ministers will be required to attend two years of residential college from next year. This is a thought that troubles me. I know there is a lot to learn - but I don't think I can survive two years of undergraduate theology and 'spiritual formation', along with the lack of active involvement in church ministry that residential college requires. I have dreaded even the thought of one year in college which might have come my way. I am too old. Too interested in practical ministry. I read too much.
Phase 1 - which I do next year - is a sort of church ministry boot camp. It is meant to be hard. And although I know that it is going to be tough at times, I am sort of looking forward to the challenge. But to see that I am likely to spend the next three years being essentially unproductive is very hard for me.
Maybe I should be looking for a job as a lay pastor. The time to pull out is now. I won't, I know. But I will think very hard about it. Trust God.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Reactions

It has been interesting to see people's reactions to the thought that I will be going to the Eastern Cape next year. The most common has been a moment of shell-shock. Everyone has known, at least in their heads, that I will be going and quite likely far away, but generally people have somehow felt that it would not happen. But the next reaction is that the place I am going is pretty cool.
Now I am hoping that the powers that be don't change their minds - I like the thought of the church that I have been told about!
We are thinking about how to cope as a family. Everyone is optimistic and we see plenty of goood things ahead - but there will almost certainly be separation and that is going to be hard. Of course, everyone I speak to has their ideas as to what we should do. And then I shut down - because I get obstinate when told 'do it THIS way'!
I am looking forward to confirmation from Conference, because until then we can't really plan.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Stationing

Well, I know unofficially where I will be going next year. I'm not sure how widely I am supposed to spread the news . . . So, just to say that it is not in the Central District, but rather near the PE phase one centre. Difficult for the family . . . , but I am very excited! God will bring things through. I knew I was going to learn about myself in this process and already I am learning.
I got the phone call from my wonderful 'unofficial source'. Do you want to know where you are stationed? And then I knew what I was hoping and what I didn't want! This was a very good news answer to the question.
But pray for the family. Being separated is not God's ideal for any family.
And things could still change. But I do like this option.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Trinity Methodist Linden

On Saturday I had the opportunity to be part of the Women's Day Service at Trinity Linden. It is always a privilege to speak to a congregation and I enjoy seeing different churches, so I had a good time. It felt a bit odd coming so soon after trial services and I had to let go of the feeling that I was going to be marked!
It was good to meet Candice and Joy again after being with them on mission to Mozambique, and also to meet Jonathan (Candice's husband) who found my blog while we were in Mozambique. The internet does make the world smaller.
Impressions: Trinity is a warm friendly church, I felt very welcome. And I have developed a tendency to talk too fast. Always stuff to learn.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Shack


I've just finished reading 'The Shack' by William P Young. I enjoyed it very much. Someone from my Bible Study group lent it to me - she couldn't believe I hadn't heard of it. It's basically a sort of theological metaphor or allegory. Eugene Peterson compares it to Pilgrim's Progress in the quote on the front cover.
The author has really done a good job - I can be very critical of intellectual consistency and this book stands firm. I love his characterisation of the three persons of the trinity. It would be great to use this book in a Bible study and pick up each theological concept, studying the scriptures that relate.
I'm not sure that I agree 100% with his theological viewpoint - I might shift the emphases. But then again I might not. Definitely a book that is worth reading.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Church is Fun

I arrived at Hlalanathi 'Methodist Church' yesterday and found the people in a good mood and just looking to having a good time. I was tired and I struggle with the Methodist liturgy - does it really touch the people? But we got going. We sang quite a few choruses, which feels more like worship to me. The congregation participated well in the sermon - and laughed at all the right places. The church is firmly there now. No longer do I arrive wondering if there will be a congregation. There were nine adults - ten counting me - and five children old enough to listen. Next hurdle - grow the church! But God has been good. Rev Vuyelwa and Lay preacher Khuthala have both had a positive impact on the place. Unfortunately, as happens in the Methodist Church, Vuyelwa only has this one year in that community. Next year - is wide open.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Generosity

We've been talking about stewardship during the last three Sundays. Our minister spoke about generosity being key to our Christian life. It struck me as he was speaking that generosity is a good opposite to selfishness. We talk about being unselfish, but that is a little vague. We talk about being sacrificial, but that is scary. But generosity is something that we all appreciate. We all want to be generous.

So I like the idea of generosity as a positive, practical way of encouraging us to get rid of a 'me-first' mentality.

There is a little about our sermon series on the church blog.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Judgement

Why doesn't God judge the nations today as he did in Old Testament times? Why does he allow evil to continue under 'illegitimate' leaders?
We've been studying the prophets at Bible Study and the message that comes through is 1. You are doing wrong. 2. God will send punishment. 3. Ultimately there will be restoration, and mercy will triumph over judgement.
My group keeps asking the question - why doesn't God do something today?
Yesterday I thought of a pretty unacceptable answer, but it is making me think. Maybe God is judging the nations. Maybe Robert Mugabe is part of God's judgement on Africa. Maybe the wars in DRC and Darfur and wherever are part of God's judgement on Africa.
But how can God use Robert Mugabe? He is not a good guy (so far as we can see). Well, God used the Assyrians and the Babylonians and they were certainly not Godly nations. How can God allow such suffering under Robert Mugabe? Well, you are asking for JUDGEMENT aren't you?
I'm scared when I think thoughts like this, but there is quite a lot of consistency and it almost makes sense . . . What has Africa done? Well, left God. Shut down mission schools and hospitals. Secularised previously Christian institutions. Labelled missionaries colonial, anti-African activists. But surely God would never be so petty . . . Well, why are you asking for judgement if everything is ok?
Imagine if instead of mourning Africa we said - Guys, we in South Africa need to catch a wake-up. God is warning us. He has allowed North Israel of the Old Testament to fall, but Judah still stands. Can we turn to him and ward off judgement?
But we won't, except maybe in pockets of rather odd Christians. Because God is not cruel and cannot be using Robert Mugabe.
Rev 9:20 'The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent . . .'

Like I said, it is making me think.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Holiday!

This looks idyllic, until you realise what the weather is actually doing!

We spent a week at Kelso on the South Coast. It was a good time away with the family, although it was very windy.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Using Evil for Good?



On Wednesday of our week in Mozambique, one of the village 'monitors' objected to our presence at Lucia's home. He said that we should move out of his area. We had, in our visiting, met with the Community Leader, his son and also the 'Secretary' - who had all given our work their blessing. So, our interpreter went off to tell them that we were having hassles. The people in the picture are from left, the Leader's son, the secretary and a teacher from the school. They arrived in response to our hassles. We were very much under scrutiny. After listening to us teaching for a few minutes the Secretary went off to the monitor's house and clearly told him to leave us alone. The Leader's son came to all our training after that and was chosen as one of the leaders of the new church. He is a very, very quiet man - but obviously intelligent and more highly educated than most people there.

We are grateful to the Monitor for trying to stir up trouble, because he caused some very influential people to be directly touched by the gospel.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Living Ball


This is our interpreter, Charles, sharing the gospel message with a group of children. We were given these 'Living balls' - they have different colour panels which are used to explain the story of Jesus and salvation. Black for sin, red the blood of Jesus, white for clean hearts, green for continuing to grow. You've probably seen the formula before. I've never used the phrase 'washed in the blood of Jesus' before - but it just seemed to make sense to the people there in this context. How do we make our hearts clean? We wash them in the blood of Jesus.
The idea of the Living Ball is that you engage people in a game of soccer and then when a crowd has gathered you stop and explain the message. Afterwards, the ball is left with the community. Derek and I did most of the gospel-sharing on the first day. Then we encouraged Charles to do it and then members of the community. There was quite a feeling of pressure in that we were only there for a week. We had to get people to take real ownership of their faith and of evangelism as soon as possible.
But it is all in the power that God gives and I hope that they are continuing even now!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mozambique Mission Official Report

This is the official report I put in on our part of the Mozambique mission - for those who like stats. The picture is of Lucia's home where our work was based.

Report on Mission to Belasse Village near Messica in Mozambique July 2008.

This church plant was at the request of Pastor Quenha from Messica/Manica Methodist Church.
Mission team: Derek Weston (Randpark Ridge United Church), Jenny Hillebrand (North Rand Methodist Church), Charles Mondlane - interpreter.
We were told that we would find that a group of people had been meeting at a certain house in Belasse. On arrival on Monday morning there was no one there. That afternoon we found a young widow (Lucia) who had agreed to allow us to work using her home as a base. There did not seem to be any existing worshipping community.
We spent the whole of Monday and the afternoons of Tuesday to Friday visiting homes in the community and offering to share the gospel. It is difficult to know with how many people we shared the gospel. We were generally very well-received. As a result of these visits we had just over 100 names of those who had prayed the sinners' prayer and made a commitment to Jesus - teenagers and adults. These names were given to Pastor Quenha by Charles.
We spent the mornings of Tuesday to Friday training those who came to our base at Lucia's home - nearly all new Christians. By Friday, these numbered about 20 adults and a number of children. By Wednesday the gospel-sharing was being done by members of the community, under the oversight of the mission team.
Amongst those who came to the training was the son of the community leader. The community leader had previously encouraged us to work in the village. We were also visited by the community secretary who received a Bible, but did not join the church.
We delivered 30 Bibles to those who believed and who could either read Portuguese or had a family member who could read it to them. It would seem that no one in the community had previously owned a Bible. The Bibles were treasured by those who received them and there were some who had to go without as there were not enough Bibles. We also gave 10 Bibles to Charles who belongs to the Messica Assemblies of God and whose pastor had requested them.
On Saturday night we showed the Jesus film. There were between 500 and 700 people in attendance. After the film Pastor Quenha spoke a few words and appealed for people to believe in Jesus. About 150 people came forward and prayed the sinners' prayer as a group.
On Sunday we held the first worship service at Lucia's home. This was conducted by Pastor Quenha and was attended by about 70 people of whom over 30 were adults. Pastor Quenha selected leaders from among them. Also about 10 people accepted Jesus and prayed the sinners' prayer after the service.

Friday, July 11, 2008

18 56,011 South - GPS

One of the fun things about going to Mozambique was that the doublecab we drove up in had a GPS. The closest I've ever come to one of these is looking at ads in the newspaper!
So - although I was deprived of my new computer (I even dreamt about it one night) - I had somebody else's wonderful techy toy to play with.
GPS in Joburg is often a bit unnecessary, but it was very reassuring to have in Mozambique! We did on two occasions find ourselves on tiny dust roads that it could not identify, but even then it would give us the direction to travel to reach a specified point. And when on the roads, with signposting in short supply, it was encouraging that the GPS would tell us that we were on the EN1 or the EN6 or whatever.
I smsed the GPS co-ords to my husband occasionally, and he tracked us on google earth. I had a look when I got back and it is amazing! The picture here is from Google Earth, with Grant's labelling (and spelling!). You can zoom in much further, on the real thing.
For anyone interested, Belasse is found at 18 56.011 S, 033 12.703 E. The farm where we stayed is near Chimoio at 19 13.614 S, 033 20.522 E. According to Google Earth we travelled about 60km from the farm to Belasse.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Awesome


Mozambique was awesome! We didn't make it to Nampula, which was a pity. It took us so long and we had so many vehicle hassles that we gave up near Chimoio. Jonathan Hart, the mission leader from Harvesters International, found us accomodation and replanned the mission pretty much on the spot.

Even with things being difficult because there had been no preparation in that area, we had a brilliant time. My little mini-team consisting of Derek Weston (been preaching for 40 years), Charles Mondlane (interpreter who lives in the area) and myself were so well-received. On paper, we had between 200 and 250 first-time commitments to Jesus, in the Belasse village. I'm sure that not all those will stick. Probably not all were sincere. But I'm sure that in some of the people the faith will take root. We left a little church community of about 30 adults with many children. The trained pastor lives many kilometres away, so we pray that God will strengthen them to keep going as a church and that he will raise up leaders and pastors. Harvesters' International will also follow up and provide training for the leaders.

For me, there were many amazing stories. A guy we prayed for who seemed almost mentally retarded and who pitched up at meetings two days later a completely different person, in full possession of himself and actively participating in training sessions.

There was also much personal growth. I coped away from my family, although I missed them very much. I coped with my need to be by myself for some time every day - I just went away from people when I needed to and didn't feel bad about it. And I'm challenged with church planting and evangelism.

I'll share more of all this later!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Where is Nampula?

Nampula is where I will be spending the next two weeks - well, some of that will be travelling. There is a better map here - one that doesn't have 'Salisbury' on it!
Nampula is apparently the 'commercial capital' of Mozambique and has about 380 000 residents. I assume that our missioning will be done somewhere on the outskirts - as I do believe we will be working in rural areas.
I actually didn't realise that I was so ignorant about Mozambique - I mean, I hadn't heard of Nampula before - yet it has an airport and seems to be a happening place. We leave tomorrow at lunchtime to get over the border before it closes. We should arrive at Nampula some time on Saturday morning. We lose some travelling time because of having to cross the Zambezi by ferry. And we are not going through Zimbabwe, which would be a shorter distance!
I'll ask my other half to update the blog if I manage to get contact with him going, otherwise things will be quiet until 9 or 10 July!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mozambique

I am going with a team from Harvesters International to Nampula in Mozambique next week. Believe it or not, this is the first time that I will have been beyond the borders of South Africa. We will be away from home for two weeks and will be helping plant a church. More than that I don't really know!
I am looking forward to it - for very selfish reasons. This is going to be a great personal challenge (away from family, doubtful cellphone contact, introvert with a group of relative strangers). It is also going to be a break from routine that I desperately need. A time for reflection. I hope a re-energising time. I am going to learn a lot about rural mission work, which I am sure I will be able to apply in many situations.
But I do also hope that I can be involved in blessing the people in Nampula and that I can help to show them Jesus.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

One Hundred Posts!

I really ought to write something significant to celebrate 100 posts!
Maybe it is a turning point.
Leaving behind life as a lay person.
Leaving behind the local church I've been at for the last four years and that has taught me so much.
Leaving behind ideas I had about the life, the universe and everything that maybe weren't actually in line with reality.
Leaving behind a dependence on my family - the church can do anything with me.
Leaving behind . . .
But I know it'll be ok. It'll be good. I know that I have never been in a situation where after a few days I didn't get deeply interested and want to be passionately involved. Wherever I am next year, whatever the situation, I know I will still be me and Jesus will still be Jesus. Just got to get through the next few months of leaving behinds . . .

Sunday, June 15, 2008

New Stuff

I have a new laptop computer. Really cool and I'm so lucky. I've actually had it for nearly two weeks. Running Microsoft Vista, with some trepidation, but so far no major glitches. But then I got the max spec I could. It's a Lenovo y710, 17 inch screen T5550 dual processor and 2 gigs of ram. It's got this gadget bar on the side where it puts a calendar and whatever toys you can get hold of. I have a meter that show cpu usage and ram usage. CPU is never taxed. Ram sits at around 50% most of the time. I don't have the patience to figure out what of the many services running I don't need and the pc is not struggling, so it can sit at 50%.
I struggled to get our church Easy Worship package to run, but an email to support got me an unlock code and all sorted pretty quickly. I can't get my pc to talk to the Lexmark printer on our church network - but I think this is Lexmark's problem rather than Vista's. This is an irritation, but I now have an old HP printer by my desk doing a great job.
I'm going away in 10 days and I'm going to miss my laptop!

Friday, June 13, 2008

A Sense of Occasion

My kids are all writing exams. My boys, who are homeschooled, are quite excited at this new adventure. The elder has spent a few months at 'proper school', so he has written exams before. For the younger, this is a completely new experience. He sat down at the table on Wednesday. With a deep breath he said, 'This is the first time I am writing an exam. I feel like . . . I'm going to write an exam.' He has a wonderful grasp of language and sense of occasion. Obviously nothing else in his experience felt quite like he was feeling just then. So far, they are enjoying the exams. Wonderful thing homeschooling. God has been so good in allowing me to do this for my children. And I know that next year, although I will be in the hands of the Methodist Church, God will continue to look after my kids and give them the best.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Story or Argument

On Sunday I preached at the main morning service in an English-speaking congregation - which in our circuit is a great privilege. In response to comments at my one trial service that my exegesis was poor I thought I would preach a real 'old-fashioned' exegetical sermon. Afterwards as I analysed how the sermon went, I felt on one hand that I wasn't 'old-fashioned' enough. I didn't draw every element of the text into my argument or explanation, although it had been there in my preparation. I didn't communicate the richness that was there.
On the other hand, I felt that the people were tuning out too often and I needed more 'story' and less 'argument'. I suppose that is the balance to look for - enough illustrations but not too many.
I'm not really sure how many people are actually interested in 'cause and effect' type argument. I don't know how much impact it really has on them. They would rather be drawn into a story and challenged by it - perhaps by their reactions to the circumstances described, perhaps by the reactions and actions of the characters, whatever. Very few people, I think, especially younger than, say 50, are really willing to apply their minds to a sermon.
So I'm struggling with this.
But part of it is the local preacher thing - I preach only very occasionally to this congregation. Perhaps with this sort of preaching consistently a congregation can be trained to listen more carefully and perhaps critically.
The challenge for me is to preach genuinely from the Bible but also so that people can understand without too much effort.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Intellectual Christianity

Here's a question that I've been asking myself. Do we expect Christians to be intellectuals? With our emphasis on the Bible and exegesis? I guess I tend to 'look down' on people who look for Christian experiences - perhaps going to worship services wanting to be 'touched' on a regular basis. Because I want them to grapple with the real meaning of Christianity. I want them to have an informed understanding. I look at events like the Mighty Men Conference with an underlying feeling that they promote superficial Christian experience. But why is that experience less valid or meaningful than my intellectual understanding of Christianity? Some people are never going to understand the concept of justification by faith. Or care whether the Kingdom of God is a here and now thing or something we have to die to get. They need to believe in something bigger than themselves. They need to know that someone important loves and accepts them. And maybe it is all about emotions and feelings for them. We put ministers and pastors through academic seminaries and so get intellectuals. And to be honest, are we out of touch with the needs of the majority of the population?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Central Synod Experience

I am currently sitting in the synod of the Central District of the Methodist Church. Yesterday was d-day for my candidating journey. Those looking to be accepted into training for the ordained ministry needed to give their testimony and call to ministry for the 'last' time. Synod broke into small groups to hear us all more efficiently. It wasn't too stressful, in the end. I had a really supportive group and met some interesting characters. I was led to expect that there would be very few questions, if any. I don't think anyone told the committee that. However, they seemed happy with me and the actual synod voted me (and all the others) in. So now the next step is stationing and acceptance by the Methodist Conference. The odd thing is that I didn't feel anything. Not relief. Not excitement. Just nothing. I think I need a holiday!
My reactions to synod in general - well it is living up to expectations of not being very entertaining. Actually, it is perhaps less bad than I anticipated.
I have come to realise, though, in the last two days how cynical and pessimistic I have become. It's partly stress of trial this and that. Partly stress from the uncertainty about next year. Also some stress from my day to day work. I definitely need a break.
But I still very sure of what I am doing and I'm looking forward to next year. God is good.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Community Pressure

About ten days ago I spent some time at our Local Preachers Association District Convention. I am glad to do this as an attempt to encourage racial mixing in the affairs of the Local Preachers. What struck me from some incidents at the Convention was the power of community over people - particularly in the African tradition. And as the reverse, my (I'm white!) enormous need for independence and 'don't tell me what to do'. At one point there was some very slight friction between our circuit representatives and the district reps. My reaction was - not seriously - let's go make our own association, we don't need to be here. This horrified one lady who said 'no - we need to be with the community, it is not good to go out and be on your own' or words to that effect. Now, what she says is good and true. But in my mind not good and true when the community is telling people to spend money they do not have and is in general putting a large amount of pressure to do things that do not make sense to me. Now the people will do these things. They will pay money - even if they don't know what it is used for. They will wear different clothes because they are told to, even if they must go buy them on domestic worker wages. And if anyone objects, they are virtually pariah's.
I see this and I begin to understand Zimbabwe. The community rules. If you separate or say something different, the question is not 'does this make sense?' The question is 'is this from the community leaders?' And so the community says 'vote Zanu-PF' and they don't question they follow. Because to separate from the communty is unthinkable.
From a western - I suppose this is existentialist - point of view, it is unthinkable to follow the crowd like a sheep. We are all responsible for ourselves and our communities. If I follow a course of action that I believe will damage the community, I am guilty of that damage if it happens.
I can reconcile many things in my mind, accept many different points of view, compromise in many ways, but I really struggle with this disparity. I cannot just follow where I believe danger lies. I cannot follow a leader that I do not trust and believe credible - although I will suspend my own judgement when I am convinced of the fitness of my own leaders.
This is not easy and runs very deep in most of us.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Update on Hlalanathi

I was preaching at Hlalanathi in an informal settlement again today. We have introduced 'Planned Giving' which is the giving system used in traditionally white Methodist Churches. The people at Hlalanathi wanted some sort of recorded giving scheme, but we were reluctant to use the 'Pledge System' - I don't really know how that works, but I believe it can be abusive. We have given out ten sets of monthly envelopes and have three on the waiting list. We started giving them out last Sunday and even got the first envelope in the collection today. It is important to us to show the people that we take their giving seriously and to be totally open with what happens to the money. The congregation believes that a previous minister used to take their offering and use it to buy airtime for his cell phone!
I also preached a commitment sermon and did an altar call - a bit difficult without a communion rail! Most of the congregation came forward (about ten people) - probably recommitments - and I am hoping that taking a public step like this will motivate them to take their Christian faith even more seriously.
I am taking the service again next week and hope to build on this! God is good!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

What really matters?


I suppose I am asking myself if I am an unnecessary pain in the neck sometimes!
I went to a Bible expo at a church near us. They had really put a lot of work into it and there was lots of interesting stuff to see. I had my two boys with me (homeschool outing!) and was explaining some of the things.
I was staring at a scroll of Hebrew writing, trying to work out why it looked odd. Eventually figured out it was upside down. The other Hebrew exhibit was also upside down. So I thought - I can probably just discreetly turn them around and no one will notice - and I did.
I guess I felt guilty about interfering and mentioned what I'd done to the local minister when he wandered past. Then I felt guilty about 'raining on his party'. No one else was likely to notice or care.
What is more important - to have something 'right', or to care about people's feelings? In this sense there is an 'absolute truth' - the exhibits were upside down. But what does the rule of love say? I suppose if I had to live that hour again, I would adjust the exhibit and say nothing. And if it had been a church further afield I may have done nothing at all!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Kensington Methodist

This is part of the front of the church at Kensington Methodist where I did one of my trial services on Sunday. The pulpit is just off the left edge of the picture. I haven't preached from that sort of pulpit for a long time - high up and on the side. In fact, I usually preach from the same level as the congregation. I like being close to the people, but it is really nice to be able to make proper eye contact with more people - which is what you get from a high pulpit. Our church has just put in a slightly raised platform - that also helps with the eye contact. And stops me from moving around too much, which I gather, bothers some people.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Trial Services

I did two trial services today as part of the journey to the ordained ministry. I guess I feel pretty wiped out. But - they are done. And I passed both of them, which I suppose is important!
Fighting feelings of inadequacy. Does God really want me to do this? Why doesn't he make me a better preacher?
But I felt his presence so strongly. Somehow it has got to work out.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

What is right or moral?

Incest case: we're 'consenting adults'"I knew it was illegal, of course I knew it was illegal but you know, so what," said an Australian man after fathering a child with his daughter.

This came in the IOL news update in my email. Why do we feel that this Australian man was wrong? Why does he feel it right?
Does the Bible offer any help? The New Testament?
What provides the standards for sexual morality?

The Old Testament rules out incest. The New Testament says nothing about it specifically. Is it reasonable to expect that the Bible should have a specific word about every possible course of human action? Of course not. Can we take the OT's stand on incest and yet reject its stance on the stoning of adulterers?

Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount seems to set higher standards for our own behaviour than the Old Testament - if you even look at a woman lustfully you are committing adultery. But he also sets a standard of forgiveness rather than vengeance - no more 'eye for an eye'. Can we take it that the Old Testament laws have value, but that these must be understood along with the new message that Jesus brought of repentance and forgiveness?

Or is incest ok? Especially if contraception is used so that there are no children.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Liturgy or No Liturgy?

I was preaching at Hlalanathi again last Sunday. I was a little disappointed to have a congregation of only five people. How soon the expectations rise! Not so long ago I was very happy if there were two people!
The older, more traditional members were not there, but I decided to try to use the abbreviated liturgy anyway. Those there made a valiant effort, but they did not really know how to sing it. I am constantly torn between those who say that they cannot enjoy church without the liturgy and those young people who would surely come if the church was less formal.
Sometimes I think it would be better if the Methodist Church did not try to plant churches in informal settlements - leave it to churches who are able to genuinely connect with people. But I guess that is not a particularly loyal sentiment!
Can or should the Methodist Church change?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Treadmill

I am struggling with how I spend my time at the moment. I know that I am by no means alone. I can get to the end of the week and I feel that I have achieved nothing! People tell me that is normal - and if I ever get to be a 'proper minister' that's how it will be. But I am not happy with it. Somehow I need to make sure that I do the things that I am needed to do - and those things are things like preaching and to some extent dreaming (or visioning). I end up supporting other people in their work (which is good) at the expense of mine (not good). And I have some very real issues that I need to work through - or perhaps areas that I need to develop in my life - before I hit the real world of phase 1 probationing.

It is so hard to pull back. To be seen as unhelpful. And besides, I like to escape from the real challenges in my life. The treadmill also takes me out of meaningful conversation with God so that I struggle even more.

But today I had time to pray. To hear God. I wish he would make things easier for me, but it helps to know that he is really there and that I'm on the right track.

I found this image while looking for pictures of hamster wheels. Someone has created a usb device that runs a motor on the wheel. The faster you type, the faster the hamster runs. I like this crazy world! Review.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Different Counting


This is the cake that my children made for my birthday last week. They couldn't fit enough candles on in the usual way, so they made a plan using binary counting. Left is low and right is high in the picture. Does anyone know how old I am?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Spy Thriller Stuff

I'm almost afraid of writing this post - in case it gets someone into trouble! In our church the services always have an opportunity for people from the congregation to share something that God has done in their lives in the past week.
On Sunday evening, one of our members who works for a human rights organisation told of his experience on Good Friday. He was in the DRC at the invitation of one of the universities. He was travelling with a Congolese colleague who was fairly provocative in his challenging of human rights abuses. As a result this guy was picked up by eight heavies from 'the DRC Intelligence' while in our church member's presence. About six hours later they came back for him. What happened is really like something out of a novel. I'll leave it to your imagination. But our member just says that God was with him because he was not physically assaulted. And they both got home safely.
We do need to pray for Africa!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday Birthday

Today is Good Friday. It is also my birthday. It feels odd celebrating my birth on the same day that we remember Jesus death. But, isn't that actually what it is all about? He died, so that we can live - be born again, if you like. It is a special day for me.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Good Friday Equinox

I am quite fascinated with astronomical links to the Bible. Eclipses and stars and so on. I thought that this year we had Good Friday on the equinox (21st March). This must be a pretty rare occurrence. (The equinox is when the day and night are the same length. There are two equinoxes in a year).

My understanding was that Good Friday is the first Friday after the first full moon after the equinox. I suppose this sounds pretty pagan, but I think it is much more interesting than always being the 21st day of the third month which is just as 'unreligious'. For Good Friday to be on the equinox we'd need the equinox to happen on the same day as the full moon and that day should be a Friday.

What I have discovered however is:

That it is actually the date of Easter Sunday that is set. It is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the equinox. Here.

Also the equinox this year actually falls on the 20th of March (at about 5am GMT). Last year it was the 21st, but it is apparently quite often the 20th! See here.

The full moon will be on 21st March at 6.40pm GMT.

The last time Easter Sunday was on the 23 March was in 1913 and will be again in 2160. The earliest Easter Sunday can be is 22 March (1818 and 2285).

Interesting! And cool to have equinox, full moon and Easter Sunday almost a day after each other.

The picture is John van der Laar's.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

An Inside Job

We've just had the third break-in at our church in about six weeks. It really looks like it is somebody from the church who knows where things are and how things work. We even think we might know who it is. But it is not a pleasant situation at all.
On the other hand, when we start making inroads on Satan's kingdom we can expect a backlash. Is that a comfort?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Getting It Closer to Right!


I took the service at Hlalanathi again on Sunday. This time it went much better!
The three things I did (thanks Herman!) were to use a translator, tell stories and involve the children. A formula I've used before, but for some reason just deserted me last time.
I spoke about the calling of Samuel in the temple. I had the kids act it out and there was much laughter. We had God hiding behind the 'lectern' so that he could not be seen. Samuel and Eli slept at different spots in the church. Samuel took great delight in waking Eli up as roughly as possible. Then as I spoke about God's calling to us the interpreter just asked for help from the congregation when she struggled to find the right words. What confuses me is that they insist they understand English, until I ask one of them to interpret and the truth comes out!
But I communicated with the people. God is good!
(The picture is a little kid who was on the go the whole time. At this point, pushing his pram up and down the front of the church!)

Friday, March 07, 2008

Kontiki

This weekend my husband and four children are off to Kontiki at Murray Park in Springs. This is the Scouts raft-building weekend and my second daughter is on the raft crew for her troop. The eldest is in charge of the shore crew. My eldest son is in a troop which decided not to participate in Kontiki this year and my youngest is yet a Cub. So the men and boys are part of the support camp while the girls are helping to make it all happen.
This weekend has become one where, every year, I stay behind and enjoy the space. I do miss them, but it is good to be by myself.
I've been looking forward to this weekend. Time to read and eat junk food. BUT - I've come down with a cold or flu or something and am feeling rotten! However, it does make me appreciate how seldom I am sick.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Pre Paleo Post Neo Whatever!

I've been meaning to get to grips with Steve Hayes' blog for a while. But I haven't had time to properly engage with his thought-provoking stuff - it's not always easy reading!
But I'm getting the hang of it and enjoying him. (As do many people I'm sure, he's currently top of Amatomu Religion.) In this post he introduced me to neopaganism and paleopaganism and thus indirectly to mesopaganism. Words I had never heard before. Brian McLaren in 'A Generous Orthodoxy' is free in his use of 'post' as in post-evangelical. And all these are either premodern, modern or postmodern. Our philosophies are forming in a multidimensional matrix that becomes somewhat mind-boggling.
It's cool! If we can handle it we can almost merge the systematic nature of modernism (giving all these philosophies names and definitions) and the mystery of postmodernism (no matter how much you sytematicise you'll never reach ultimate definition). It's like an infinitely-sided regular polygon is actually a circle.
That's a nice bit of postmodern thinking. If you don't understand it doesn't matter, it was just fun to write. For more on forms of paganism go here.

Someone was telling me today about a man whose daughter committed suicide on Monday night. He was estranged from his wife and her family when he became a Christian. They rejected him because they were Wiccan. The daughter was raised Wiccan. I don't like this stuff.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Preaching

This Sunday I led two services. This isn't unusual, but it doesn't happen every week. The first was at Hlalanathi, the church in an informal settlement that we are nurturing along. The congregation was 12 adults and 4 children old enough to listen. That is so encouraging. It is not long ago that I used to arrive to find only one or two people there for church. Or to find that our venue had been appropriated by another church group. This Sunday I heard the singing from the road. It was very cool! And the painted building looks clean and bright inside.

I am very frustrated with my preaching however. I struggle to make contact with the people. It is partly language - they say that they understand English well enough, but I don't think that they do. They also avoid eye contact - I haven't really noticed that before in an African congregation. Is it a cultural thing? I have preached in several other African contexts and have rarely felt such a lack of connection. Last time I was at Hlalanathi I brought 'props'. I was talking about the vine and the branches and pruning and I took along some bits of rose bush - dead and alive. The people showed sparks of life as I explained using the objects. But that doesn't seem like preaching. It seems to belittle the people.

I am preaching there again next Sunday. I must do better. Pray harder perhaps? Because it is God who does the work in the end. But if I'm not the right person, then we must rather find the right person.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

How do you read it?

These verses were part of our Bible Study on Monday. Numbers 30:10-12. If a woman living with her husband makes a vow or obligates herself by a pledge under oath and her husband hears about it but says nothing to her and does not forbid her, then all the vows or the pledges by which she obligates herself will stand. But if her husband nullifies them when he hears about them, then none of the vows or pledges that came from her lips will stand, and the LORD will release her.


It is better to read the verses around these ones as well, but I don't want to use up space!

There are (at least) two ways to read this. David Pawson from 'Unlocking the Bible' says:
1. A Christian woman may not give away any material thing without permission from her husband.
2. This still stands today.


But, I would rather say:

1. Nowhere in these verses does it say that the woman needs to get her husband's permission before making a pledge or vow. (Although he may nullify it if he finds out and disapproves.)

2. The verses limit the husband's power over the woman in saying that he may only object if he does so immediately. Thus he may not abuse his power by changing his mind or inventing objections to suit himself later.

3. As with all Levitical law this is modified (at least) for use today.


Not so easy, really to understand. But you can see that the verses can be interpreted as being on the one hand oppressive to women or on the other as being liberating!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

I Can Like Barth!

Karl Barth At my candidates' screening reference was made to Karl Barth - not as a question, fortunately! I was suddenly aware of my determination never to read Karl Barth. Afterwards I wondered why. It is because I saw him as very theoretical. What I knew about Karl Barth: He became disillusioned with the theory that God was in control of history and that the church should support the state, at the time of Hitler. His theology is classified as 'neo-orthodox'. He is supposed to have said that God could speak through a dead dog as clearly as through Scripture. Sum total of my knowledge (and maybe some of that is wrong)! And that serious theologians study him and quote him and sound obscure. I guess it is the last that put me off. So I decided to make conscious my thought never to read him.

The following Monday looking for books for my preliminary reading for my Masters and there's Karl Barth jumping off the shelf with relevance to my topic (to do with Christian community). So what do I do? Give in, this must be a God-incidence.

And I have enjoyed his writing, to my great surprise. Far from impractical. He deals with real issues as regards church and state. And I can understand why people quoted him so much towards the end of the apartheid era. I feel like a traitor to myself, but I'd like to read more by Barth!

Growing a Church

I've just got back from 'Hlalanathi Methodist Preaching Place', the church plant that we are working on in a nearby informal settlement. Today we put glass into the windows of the garage that we are using as a church building. There are two small rows of cottage pane windows and a bigger panel of windows with a French door where the garage door used to be. Two members of our own church (North Rand Methodist) as well as myself and the 'minister-in-charge', Vuyelwa, were there. There were also about ten people from the local congregation. Vuyelwa had organised paint and rollers and brushes, so they also painted the inside of the building. This was so awesome as at the end of last year we would have been glad to have ten people at a church service, let alone pitch up to do manual labour. God is working. We achieved three really important things today. Firstly, the local congregation 'bought in' to the building and got involved in improving it themselves. Secondly, Hlalanathi and North Rand worked side by side, both financially and in a hands-on sense to improve the building. Thirdly, the building is now nicer and shows the community that we care about God, about each other and that we want to have a nice place to worship.
Now I just need to get the smell of putty off my fingers. What a privilege to work with Jesus in this way.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Now Add Nietzschke

Part of this postmodernism thing in the Christian Church is a renewed interest in 'changing the world'. We understand that God did not call us to live in holy huddles, but to take him to those who need him most (John Wesley's words!). Now this is something that I have observed myself and have taken to be in response to changes in our culture. Brian McLaren, in 'A Generous Orthodoxy', makes the point that we need to move from an emphasis on 'personal salvation' to an awareness of all creation. Unfortunately, he does it with such a chip-on-the-shoulder attitude that he irritates me and I've started asking questions about something I already believe. I mean, the Bible does emphasise personal salvation! But something is definately calling us to the broader world.
Last night I was reading Stephen Grenz on Postmodernism and he highlights the message of Nietzsche and his relevance to Postmodernism. Nietszche said that God is dead and that it is the time for the arrival of the superhuman or 'ubermensch'. I can see the logic of this progression. Pre-modern - God is in control, he does everything. Modern - it's all about science, we can see how it works, we can solve problems. Postmodern - actually science can't solve everything, but we're not sure that God makes sense anymore, it must be up to us to make things happen.
So we try to be superhuman. Fully human? And we need to look after the world, because if we don't nobody else is going to. We certainly don't expect God to do so. And after a couple of world wars and general world unrest, our expectation that God will pull things through is very low.
So our culture is telling us that we need to be doing stuff. And we find that actually the Bible agrees. But we also need to be careful of deriding people from previous generations or different cultures who find God's message and call to have different emphases.

For an interesting post on Nietzschke see Jeff Murray's Blog!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Accidental Juxtaposition














I waited to get through screening to start reading 'A Generous Orthodoxy' which I bought at the beginning of the year. I didn't know who would be on the committee and I didn't want my mind filled with too much non-Methodist stuff! (Now that I'm reading it, I realise that I would have been ok . . .) I also this weekend read through three of John Wesley's sermons as preliminary reading for my Masters. It felt so odd comparing the two writers. I wonder if Brian McLaren had read John Wesley? Methodists don't feature in his book (so far!).
The similarities are, I suppose, obvious. Both men challenge/d the Christian status quo. Both had a passion for the world outside of the established church. It has certainly been said by some people that John Wesley epitomised the emergent church movement. Both claim an allegiance to orthodox theology.
But they write from very different cultures. And I wrestle with the fact that I find John Wesley more inspiring than Brian McLaren. You see, in Wesley's writing I see God and a striving for something higher than ourselves. In McLaren's writing I see McLaren. But I know that in our culture today we are looking for personal stuff.
'Tell me what works for you. Show me your vulnerable side'. McLaren does what is requested.
'Don't lecture me. Don't quote Scripture at me'. Wesley lectures and quotes.
Brian McLaren shows a resentment of his origins, Wesley shows his belief in the future of the church.
I believe that God has used and will use both of them. But I want to figure out why and how it is that Wesley inspires me, although McLaren is more contextually relevant.