Thursday, April 30, 2009

Reading

I am trying to figure out how to remember what I read better - and also where I read it! It is such a waste of time to read and then forget in a matter of days. I might start an on-the-side-blog of what I read, just to force the discipline.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Giant Snails and Ministry

Yesterday seemed to be the day for giant snails to attempt to cross the road. On the way from Grahamstown to Port Elizabeth I saw two on the tar, heading optimistically across. There were also a few crows picking stuff up from the road - which may have been ex-snails.
The grass is green, the bushes are leafy. I wanted to tell these snails - just turn around and 5 minutes you will be back where the good food is. Stay on your path and you face hours of tar and almost certain death. But they seem oddly determined to pursue their chosen route.
I feel pretty snailish myself. Phase 1 is a dry, hard place much of the time. It would be so much easier just to give up. Go back to my family in Jhb. Go visit some churches and find one that needs a lay pastor or preacher.
But, like the snails, I don't really know what lies ahead. My vision doesn't extend to the other side of the tar. I don't know what the chances are of my being wiped out by a passing truck. Am I on a fool's errand? Or is there something better on the other side of the road?

Monday, April 27, 2009

New Hobby - Escher

escher box This rather wobbly picture is an example of my new hobby. Sometimes my hobbies even last a whole week! But I thought I would have a go at drawing the sort of pictures that Escher drew - the sort that confuse the eye. So I have started by drawing boxes - I copied it from a detail of a larger picture.
This 'hobby' has the advantages that I can do it at college, I can do it when I haven't had enough sleep and can't study properly and it suits the anarchical frame of mind that I find myself in quite often at the moment!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Trial Service

This, to me, is weird. My trial service, on which I will be reported to synod, is next Sunday 3 May. I looked at the lectionary readings today because I must choose hymns before Monday. The lectionary is exactly the same as for my trial service last year. I think both my sermons from last year are etched permanently in my memory. So, what do I do? Preach the same sermon and try to improve on my mark? Start afresh?
My instinct is disapointment because I always want a new challenge. But, it would be very good for me to rework the sermon and improve on it. Pity I never keep my notes! I suspect I may not have had notes for that service . . .no, I think I did.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Mighty Men

I have mixed feelings about the Mighty Men Conferences. I only realised today that it is happening this weekend. I guess the Grahamstown township is really out in the sticks. What do I feel? Sort of a resentment.
I suppose the obvious reason for feeling this would be because I'm excluded from the event.
But, actually, I wouldn't want to go anyway. Would I? I can't tell. Maybe it's sour grapes.
Part of me enjoys the feeling of comradery that can come from a big get together. But I am too much of an introvert for that comradery to come easily. I guess I'm jealous of people who can experience it.
The Methodist Young Men's Guild in the Grahamstown District are having their Convention this weekend. I watched our guys leave. They packed up their minibus and trailer with all the joy and excitement of teenagers going on holiday. I can imagine them in their black, red and gray, with their sticks and their songs and their dancing having a mega-jol. I think I could join them - in spite of my femaleness - because I am a minister. Hmm. But then again, there's a lot of preaching. Maybe not.

Reasonably Busy

Yesterday counts as a good day for me. I felt that I was productive pretty much all day with church stuff. Every now and again there is evidence of consolidation. What we (ministers) are doing in the church is starting to take root.
They say that you need to hear four positive things about yourself to counteract one negative things. But I find that one or two small successes can keep me going through a lot of work and effort. And I suppose failure isn't failure until you give up!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Deviant Art

Deviant Art sounds really twisted - but it's a cool site for people to display their art. My husband and daughter have both got addicted to it and have their own gallery pages.

For my husband's photos goto http://africanobserver.deviantart.com/.
For my daughter's origami http://paperdart.deviantart.com/.

I don't think I have the tiniest atom of ability for visual art - but it's tempting to try something, just to see what it's like being a deviant artist!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Dandala, Cope and Altruism

I've asked a few people in the township in Grahamstown (Methodist people) what they think of Mvume Dandala joining Cope. The response has been negative and cynical. He ran out of power in the Methodist Church and so now he is looking for influence and status in politics. I don't know if I am overly naiive, but I find this such an unhelpful attitude.
I would like to think that Mvume Dandala had options for his future and that he felt God say that the time had come to make a stand for what he believes in through political activity. That he believed that he could make a real difference to the South African people. That he believed that this country could benefit from Christian leadership and a stronger Christian voice.
Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe his motives are all messed up. Maybe nobody ever does anything except for selfish reasons.
But this sort of thinking is what led to Jesus being crucified. The people could not believe that he was really there for their benefit. They thought that he must have ulterior motives. They couldn't trust him. So they killed him.
In some cases, I would rather give people the benefit of the doubt, even if I do seem naiive.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Progress

I emailed a first draft of about 75 pages to my Masters supervisor yesterday. I have about 50 pages that I submitted last year that I must now rework. There are two chapters which still need to be written properly and submitted for the first time. And then some sort of intelligent sounding (hopefully) conclusion. I know that the work I have done is very rough - and I'm already thinking of ways to improve what I submitted yesterday. But I'm starting to believe that I might actually complete a markable dissertation. I am, however, somewhat anxious to hear my supervisor's comments.
Today is more studying, but it's for Methodist College. A whole two days to work by myself without the interruption of tutorials! And I also still have a synod exegesis to complete. I keep saying that I'm not an academic, but I have to admit that I enjoy this. Maybe I should go and work in a college and forget this 'ministry' stuff. It's an option to bear in mind!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Blog Stats

It's been interesting comparing what Google Analytics gives me and what Sitemeter gives me. Sitemeter registers many more visits - but, as I have said before, most of these are preloads from web accelerators. Sitemeter registers 41 hits for yesterday, but Google Analytics 7. I think this is good. But Google Analytics is still picking up web accelerator pages - because my Sleeping Beauty post is the top post according to Google Analytics (and I know that that is because of image searches, not actual visits). Also Google Analytics doesn't seem to pick up referrals from search engines properly (I mean they are not allocated to the search engine category). I know that sitemeter does not pick up every hit. I'm not sure yet about Google Analytics. It is interesting using the two together.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Amphictyony

I am feeling so much better! Acting on the words of Bishop Paul Verryn, who everybody says does too much, I set some boundaries. And I refused to be coerced into a short notice meeting this afternoon. I realise now that I just needed time to catch up on the stress of last weekend. Not that I did nothing. I worked on my studies last night, and before and after the funeral I conducted this morning.

That is why I learnt new word. An amphictyony is a 'league of tribes', which is what the Israelites were - up until they had a king, I suppose.

Friday, April 17, 2009

More on Hard, Bitter and Disillusioned

The thing is, sometimes we need to be hard. The trick is to finding the right place and time. For me circuit (working in my church) is like being in an overgrown jungle. The church has been in a state of neglect. They started working on it last year, but there is still much to be done. My supervising minister and I have now spent just over three months watching and learning. We need to start making paths through the undergrowth. And this is not going to happen by sitting on deck chairs on the edge of the jungle. It takes a lot of courage to take a machete knife, step in and take that first swipe at the weeds. We're taking risks. We are going to be hurt. We may hurt people unintentionally. We will make mistakes. There will be people that resist us - because they don't like change, because they are nervous - and sometimes because they have a source of power in the system. But if we get it right, we will be doing what God has called us to and what most people will know in their hearts is right. This is no place for wimps. [I am talking about small changes here - nothing major for a while yet!]

On the other hand, college is like marshmallow. After the rigours of screening and the candidates' year and compared to the difficulty of circuit, college should be easy. It's almost like the separation between a stressful job and the home environment - one shouldn't deal with them the same.

But really it is the wrong way round. If college is preparing us to work in circuit, it should be presenting us with more preparation for circuit. The challenge in college should be greater, so that when we get to circuit we begin to feel that we understand what we are doing. But for most of us, if college was even as challenging as circuit, we would pack up and go home. Actually, I already have a four year theology degree, whereas the others don't - so I am not challenged by the undergrad courses like some of them are. It is hard for me to see the challenge that college may be presenting them.

Maybe, maybe phase 1 is not such a good idea after all. It must be hard for those who are struggling with academics as well.

Ok, some random thoughts I suppose. Thanks for listening as I try to work myself out!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Stress

I am getting too hard, bitter and disillusioned! I don't want to be there, but I'm realising that I am getting shorter with people and less patient than I should be.
It has been a difficult few days and I'm sure things will be better again after a while. My family came - and then went again. Easter was very good, but tiring. Being robbed didn't help and on Tuesday there was some quite heavy friction at college.
I need space to - reassert my identity to myself - to remember why I am here, what God has asked from me, and to separate stuff that just happens and I must just let flow through. What makes me count as a person? What must I defend or fight for and what is actually unimportant?

I did not enjoy school - particularly high school. I used to wonder if I exaggerated the memories, but I am starting to feel the same about college. At school I used to do all sorts of stuff to just get through lessons. Once I had an exercise book with squared paper and I used to spend lessons colouring each square a different colour. Once I had a book in which I was calculating the powers of 2. The numbers stretched across the page - eventually covering more than one row - and I kept on just doubling the number above. I was learning French at school (although I was never any good at it) and I used to make notes and write stories in French. Then in English using Greek letters (transliterating), then in French using Greek letters, then in French using Greek letters and with my left hand. And all the possible variations of those.
I am going to have to start doing these things again to get through college. I wish I could get it right to use the time constructively and also listen to the speaker, but I can't seem to do it. And I want to participate appropriately. There is just something in me that struggles with a classroom. And this is part of what is making me stressed and frustrated and less than what I should be.

If I need to colour in squares in order to be some semblance of a 'nice person', well that's what I'd better do!

Back Blogging

My 'old' computer arrived from Johannesburg yesterday, so I am now connected again. It's quite nice to have my familiar machine back - the one that was stolen was less than a year old and my fingers still know the keyboard on this machine. It is going to be interesting to see if I miss any of the Vista features now that I'm back on XP.
This pc is a nice one - 2.8Ghz processor which is still pretty good, although single core. But - the battery is unreliable, the hard disk is very slow and the cd drive is not what it should be.
I am definately not complaining!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Life carries on

The people I stay with (who have been mega-wonderful) have offered to let me use one of their pc's and their adsl while I am discomputered. I hope to have a replacement pretty soon though, because I have plenty of deadlines that need typed submissions!
Interesting - the pc is running Ubuntu. I've not worked with Ubuntu before and I wonder if God is saying something.
I'm not in a hurry to go back to Vista, although I haven't found it as bad as some say. Also netbooks use Ubuntu. And they are kind of cool.
I thought I had lost a major portion of my masters thesis. BUT my daughter had that chapter on her pc where she had checked through it for me. I will have to redo a small amount of work. The worst though is that I am on a tight schedule and cannot afford to lose this time.
Hopefully the post hasn't lost my phase 1 assignments, because my only backup was on my pc!
My worst loss is my feeds and my favourites - especially stuff I had favourited for future use in my masters, but if that is the worst, I can live with it.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Washing Feet 2

Well, I was wrong. The foot-washing was a blessed service. There were not a lot of people there and the 'special' preachers were only coming the next day, so those who had their feet washed were a bit rag, tag and bobtail-ish. And that was great. I'm sure they felt humbled at having their feet washed, as I felt humbled washing them. And when I told the congregation that I was not Jesus, they agreed vehemently. Which made me happy.
I think that when one is determined that the focus will be Jesus, he takes up the reigns.

Washing Feet

Today I have to wash the feet of 12 Local Preachers. I guess the imagery is that of Jesus washing the feet of the twelve disciples. Easter feels to me like a pageant where the show is the same every year, but the players behind the mask may be different.
In my culture, the washing of feet at Easter is intended to be time when we acknowledge and participate in the humility of Jesus by washing each other's feet. None of us 'play Jesus', because Jesus is there himself, although unseen.

In the cultural context where I am working it seems to be interpreted differently. 12 preachers are chosen for Good Friday. There are two Good Friday services in this section, so that means 24 preachers are chosen. There are nearly 150 preachers altogether, so being chosen is quite an honour. It is therefore an honour to be one of the chosen 12 and to have one's feet washed. While the disciples, particularly Peter, were distraught at having Jesus wash their feet, in this culture it now becomes an expression of being 'chosen' and in a sense one of the 'elite'.

I, of course, as the designated 'Jesus', have no choice as to whether I will wash feet or not. I won't wash their feet out of humility or even many of the other things that Jesus probably felt, but because I am forced to. Because I am afraid to offend the culture. Because there is no possibility of ever doing the foot-washing any other way.

But I get a chance to speak. And I will humble myself to their culture even though it is in some ways offensive to me. So that I can speak. So that I can just explain that as Jesus washed his disciples' feet he expects us to serve others. And that Jesus is still present and is willing to wash our feet. And that he reaches out as a living presence that transcends every attempt to explain him by legalism.

[And then, of course, there is the interesting aside that I, as a white woman, will be washing the feet of twelve black men (probably men). That will introduce some interesting cultural conflict and questioning for them too!]

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

They're off again

Today my husband and kids head back to Johannesburg. We've had very nearly two weeks together. Letting go is going to be very difficult. But I suppose I must just start looking forward to the next visit - sometime in May.
I also heard yesterday that I need to do a funeral today. It makes the timing a bit awkward and I know I'm going to want to be alone . . .
It really helps that there are times when I feel needed in the circuit, though. I hope that God can use me to help the parents of this child who has passed away.

Google Analytics and Better Blogging

Phillip Gibb on Synaptic Light is recommending a course of 31 days to better blogging. I've signed up for this, so we'll see how it goes.
One of the things they recommend is Google Analytics which is a traffic analysing tool. I put it on my blog yesterday and it looks like it will be interesting to compare it to Sitemeter. I'm hoping that it will filter out my fake hits - people who search for images and their 'web-accelerator' loads my page, but they never access it.
Their map overlay confuses me. Today I've apparently had two new visitors from three different countries!? And yesterday South Africa was coloured in, but when I load yesterday's stats now, it only shows American hits. I guess I'll figure it out in time!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Pressure

There's good pressure and bad pressure. I've got enough to do this week that it constitutes good pressure. Three sermons to prepare for the Easter weekend, with not much breathing space during the weekend. The African Easter celebrations are pretty much flat out from Thursday afternoon until Sunday lunchtime. In fact, they started Holy Week last week already. But a lot of it seems to keep going without the minister. They have different expectations of the minister to the English-speaking setting.
I've got a phase 1 assignment due on the 15th and also two exegeses to do before the 21st. The exegeses form the basis for our synod oral exam (which will happen on 5 May).
I'm also trying to keep my Masters bubbling along - but that happens strictly in my time off, so that's ok.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Learning

I get quite frustrated with the Phase 1 training programme at times. But I have to admit that I am learning things. Those things that you have to experience yourself - you just can't learn them from a book (or college!)

I'm working with a group of AIDS caregivers in the township. They asked me to help them incorporate Bible teaching into their support groups for 'orphans and vulnerable children'. I have done two sessions with them, teaching them to communicate two parables to the kids. To my surprise the teaching has impacted them personally and they are being challenged to pick up Christian lives that have fallen away. God is good - because I didn't think of what I am doing as 'evangelism'!

This last week I have had three meetings cancelled and have been surrounded by general disorganisation. I don't like this, but it helps to learn to just let things go. But I will never choose to work in this sort of environment.

We had our circuit quarterly meeting on Saturday afternoon (three hours!) I was so angry with some of the stuff that happened there. But I came to realise that people are simply uneducated about church process and are ignorant - although their behaviour comes across as destructive. If the people are to have a significant voice in church proceedings they must be taught how the systems work. Or the leader must keep quite a tight reign on the discussions. Although I was angry, I now have a whole bunch more insights into leading that sort of meeting.

I have also managed to spend so much time with my husband and kids! I anticipated a bit of stress because I would be working while they were on holiday, but things have turned out very well. We've been surfing, canoeing and exploring on the beach - while I have kept up my study, circuit and personal commitments. God is enormously kind to me.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Let Down and Hope

I had a rough day in circuit yesterday. No one around. Nothing to do. Apparently it's the Women's Manyano Convention. Fortunately I'm not expected to be there (I don't think I am . . .) But I didn't anticipate it and my supervising minister is there and I have no clue what is happening over Easter and Holy Week. He answered my voicemail with an sms - so at least I knew where he was. I don't know what is happening this weekend. Is there a funeral? Do I need to preach at Grootdraai, wherever that is? Would they even notice if I decided to start my own church in PE? (That's sort of a joke - I'm not going to!!!)

The day before someone told me how when a minister doesn't receive a stipend from the MCSA connexion because the assessments haven't been paid, the congregation just takes a collection and gives the result to the minister. This could actually be more than the stipend! But the congregation avoids making any contribution to the connexion (overall leadership of the Methodist Church in Southern Africa). It probably seems like a good idea to them. But when the minister decides to leave, they no doubt turn to the connexion looking for a new, fully-trained minister - to whose training and general upkeep (the connexion pays part of medical aid and pension and so on from assessments) they have made no contribution. This aspect of African culture depresses me.

I read this morning from 1 Samuel 6 where Samuel says to the Israelites who are sincerely mourning God's apparent absence from their lives, if you really want to return to God, get rid of your Baals and your Ashtoreths. And I had a sense of the real repentance of the people of Israel. One of the ladies from one of my churches came to me a couple of weeks ago and said that I must not feel unwanted at Shaw. The sermon I had preached had driven many of the ladies to a deep repentance and that they appreciated me. (I preached on 'I consider all things loss compared to the surpassing knowledge of knowing Jesus Christ'). I was really touched, but it came into focus as I thought of a crowd of Manyano ladies putting aside the Baals and the Ashroreths of their lives and coming to know Jesus in a real way.

Sometimes it feels that there is no hope. That people are stuck irredeemably in their ways. But if Jesus is all that I have to give, that is riches. I could add teaching and leadership ability, but it counts nothing compared to giving Jesus. [For those who will say that Jesus is already here, yes he is. I can't 'give' them Jesus. But for many they do not know how much he is really here and they need to be given that.]

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Decisions

I suppose it is logical in hindsight, but it is interesting to see how my thinking has changed over the last few days. Showing how in some things, decisions should be made slowly!
I have a daughter in grade 11 (one year before matric). We didn't feel that it was fair to her to make her change schools for her grade 11 year and then again for her grade 12 year and that is why my family stayed in Johannesburg while I came down to Grahamstown for my one year Phase 1 stint. The idea was that we would be separated again next year and that when she was finished school my husband and I would be together again no matter what.
Now, after being apart from each other after ten weeks, my husband and I were saying 'no ways can we do this again next year'. Mostly because the separation is hard on the younger kids (10 and 12). It is so hard to find a way of getting that right that works for everyone. Eventually I thought that the best option would be for me to take a years leave of absence and just get my daughter through school. It made a lot of sense, but the few feelers I put out about that idea gave me the feeling that the Methodist Church would not really take kindly to it. And to be quite honest, I don't want to take a year out.
When I got back to my family last weekend, our thoughts started changing again and we started considering other options.
And then after a few days, all relationships restored and emotional tanks filled, we started saying well maybe we can do it next year. The probability is that I will be in Pietermaritzburg. That is 4 hours from home whereas Grahamstown is 12 hours. Seminary will have holidays. We can get see each other weekends . . . So maybe we stick with the original plan. Maybe my boys come with me. . .
Next week my family goes back to Joburg. I will see them again much sooner than 10 or 11 weeks, but I wonder how my thinking will change again.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Home?

I wondered what I would learn from my weekend break back in Jhb. I wondered whether I would not want to return to Grahamstown and how I would feel.
I did want to come back. I am not unhappy here and I feel that I can contribute more here than if I gave up on the system and went back to Joburg. Grahamstown feels like home - but my heart is split between here and wherever family is.
There are good people in Jhb and I am so glad that I have had a chance to get to know them and that they haven't forgotten me. I guess I have a renewed appreciation for them.
I am so aware, again, of how good God has been to me and how much he has blessed me. It should be so easy to trust him for the future . . . it is getting easier to trust him.