Monday, November 30, 2009

Monday

Today would have been my day off in Grahamstown and I would have been going to the beach. Of course, the weather here in Jo'burg is perfect for the beach, whereas the Eastern Cape didn't necessarily oblige. But I am very glad to be home and with family. It is as if I can feel the blood flowing back into my veins.
It was interesting to monitor my feelings at church yesterday. I was very happy to be - almost a spectator. But I can feel that I am stronger. Stronger for phase 1. And stronger for being back home. Hopefully the future will hold both family and ministry together.
I am happy - but trying to tone it down for those around me who are still working and stressing!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Being Home . . .

Being home means playing 'Mozart easy duets for 2 violins' - with me on an electric guitar and my husband playing his flute. Crazy, but fun, and my fingers are cramping!

The Bible in a Few Words

I was tagged by Steve Hayes for this challenge. Put the message of the Bible in five lines. The first must have one word, the second two and so on.
I have been intentionally a bit alternative. I'm not sure if it really works if you don't already know the message and symbolism of the Bible!

God
God's BHAG
Jesus the Light
Christians, agents of Light
An everlasting victory in awesomeness

(A BHAG is a big hairy audacious goal - I don't know who originally coined it. I read it in a book by Bill Hybels)

I tag Thomas, Mark, Steven Jones and Charli.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Selling Myself

I have to make a decision. It's been coming a while and I've been avoiding it. Because I am afraid. But I really have to make a choice.
If I want to write books, I need to be willing to sell myself in order to sell my books. And I am not good at selling myself at all. "Hello, how are you? Would you like to buy my book?" That sounds extreme, but it is only extreme by a hair breadth. If one wants to sell, one almost has to live to sell.
I've been toying with the idea of getting a book out of my Masters dissertation. At times I am passionate about the concepts, at others I feel that they are too superficial. Can I believe in them enough to sell them?
They gave me an award for my Masters. For the dissertation with the most significance for the local church. Normally, I tell nobody (except my husband) if I get an award. So I've already broken through - I have told you (dear reader). But the award tells me that I achieved my aim for my Masters (to be relevant). But now, what good if it lies in a college library? Do I believe in it enough to publish it? Do I have the mental and emotional toughness to put it out into the world and then sell it?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Graduation

Last night was my graduation for my Masters degree from the Baptist Theological College. It was held at Rosebank Union Church in Sandton and was a really good evening. The worship time, led by the college band, was all that I could have asked for. The speakers were generally good and not too long! And I felt really special, which I suppose is what it is all about.
The vibrancy and passion and enthusiasm were infectious.
I can't say what I want to say, but let me just say that it contrasts with the general attitude within my own denomination.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Terry Pratchett on Religion

This is what Granny Weatherwax has to say about religion. It is from 'Carpe Jugulum' by Terry Pratchett.

'Right. Right. That's people for you. Now if I'd seen him, really there, really alive, it'd be in me like a fever. If I thought that there was some god who really did care two hoots about people, who watched 'em like a father and cared for 'em like a mother . . . well, you wouldn't catch me sayin' things like "There are two sides to every question," and "We must respect other people's beliefs." You wouldn't find me just being gen'rally nice in the hope that it'd turn out right in the end, not if that flame was burning in me like an unforgivin' sword. And I did say burnin', Mister Oats, 'cos that's what it'd be. You say that you people don't burn folk and sacrifice people any more, but that's what true faith would mean, y'see? Sacrificin' your own life, one day at a time, to the flame, declarin' the truth of it, workin' for it, breathin' the soul of it. That's religion. Anything else is just . . . is just bein' nice. And a way of keepin' in touch with the neighbours.'

I think she's got a point.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Taking Control

Now, I have no choice but to start sorting out all the things that have just had to wait! We need to pack our stuff into boxes to move to Pietermaritzburg. That means my hording kids need to throw stuff away! And I need to sort through my email which has got into a mess of disorganisation and sometimes unanswered emails. And we need to form a new routine at home that includes 'Mother'.
Putting our lives into boxes leads to some quite philosophical thoughts. Certain postmodern thinking rejects boxes and systematic reduction. They say this takes modern thinking too far. But I don't know how to move house without the boxes. But now . . . how do we pack?
We could put all the books in book boxes and toys in toy boxes and crockery in crockery boxes and so on.
Or we could think in systems. Then I would put all my guitar stuff in one box - books, cables, gadgets and all. Pots, pans, cookery books and flour in another box.
Or we could categorise systematically in another way. We could put all the blue things in one box - the blue curtains, blue books and blue cups.
We could do it without any order whatsoever and enjoy the surprising arrangements that result!
The reason that I am 'postmodern' is that I love to look for these different options and sometimes see far more clearly by looking from a different perspective. One can do theology in the same way.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

End of the Journey

Today finished my journey at Shaw Memorial Methodist in Grahamstown. Tomorrow I drive back to Johannesburg. We had an enormous farewell service this morning/ afternoon and I feel quite overwhelmed. There are many, many good people here at Shaw and I am going to miss them. It has undoubtedly been a hard journey, but Jesus has been part of it and somehow he has made it work. I know that there is a lot that I could have done better. I know that I have learnt more than I have been able to give. But I think somehow, in spite of that, Jesus has used me.
I have my husband with me - life feels so different when you are not alone!
Thank you to all my internet and blog buddies . . . you helped me keep going!
Now, a bit of a holiday and then the move to Pietermaritzburg. Stay tuned.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Wesley Guild Executive Committee

This is our Wesley Guild Executive Committee in the Grahamstown Circuit. We had our last official meeting for the year at the Wimpy. Although the year has been hard for us in many ways we all learnt a lot. I am glad that I have this photo to remember them by.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Struggles around morality

Inclusive or exclusive? Is there an absolute right and wrong? Shouldn't we as Christians be making a stand against 'free sex' or sex outside of marriage? What about homosexual people? How do we handle difficulties around cultural differences regarding nudity? Does the church have a 'prophetic voice'? Should it?
In the last two Saturday sermons that I preached I challenged people to see that being a Christian meant acting like a Christian, not just saying words. I nearly always do this, but these last two times, instead of giving them examples of wrong and right I told them to look into their own hearts and see what God was telling them. I said that they were the ones who should know what is right or wrong. They received this quite well.
The 'problem' with the church and 'prophetic voice' and 'moral stands' is that we think that by making rules we are going to make Christians or ultimately change society. But Christians are made by God and society will change when individuals or communities are convicted from within themselves (by the Holy Spirit) that they themselves should change.
CS Lewis reckoned that we could know that God exists because of our inbuilt sense of right and wrong. I wish that CS Lewis could be here now and help me to understand this in an African context. Sometimes right and wrong differ from culture to culture. But I do believe that God will lay a fairly consistent sense of right and wrong on the hearts of people, regardless of our culture.
The question is, 'will we subject ourselves to God and be prepared to sacrifice our own pleasures to a greater good?'

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Comrades

My vague aspirations to run the Comrades next year have been dashed by the discovery that they received their 5000 novice entries within 27 hours of opening on 1 November! Still, I think I will try to join a club in Pietermaritzburg next year and take running seriously. I am looking forward to the Pietermaritzburg adventure.

Listening Carefully

I suppose that there is always the danger when writing in public forum that one will be misunderstood. The fact is that whatever one writes, it is read from the perspective of the reader's own context. The same thing when one preaches. I know that I have sometimes put so much thought into making sure that I've covered all the possible areas where I may be misunderstood that I don't have time for the meat of the message. So I don't belabour possible areas of misunderstanding and trust that God will let people hear what he wants them to hear.
So, someone took my previous post to mean (I'm putting it a bit strongly) that I thought that I was ineffective as a minister and that my congregation was intransigent. Which isn't what I meant at all. It implies a sort of arrogance to me that I am not comfortable accepting, but quite possibly I did not express myself well. My reaction is to want to rush around putting comments clarifying what I meant, but I know that the comments won't necessarily be read. However, anyone reading my post, following that particular link, will see it in the light of that frustrated arrogance. Which just isn't fair to me - or for that matter to this congregation.
On the other hand, I read an article referred to by another blog which I found interesting. Then the writer said we should 'encourage our brother bloggers'. For some reason (because I'm not much of a feminist) that caught my attention and I felt excluded. And I don't want to take a deep breath and remember that this author is writing from a very different context to mine. Because it's nice to get uptight - get all those chemicals flowing. But I do anyway. And I am reminded that I am also human and can misunderstand people.
Which all goes to say that we need to listen to each other very carefully!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Disturbance

In some ways doing church in the black African way is very different to the English-speaking churches.
In the church where I was leading on Sunday there is a birds' nest. There is a broken window, which has been there ever since I landed in Grahamstown and this pair of red-winged starlings has made itself at home. I think the congregation is used to having the birds swooping over them during services and meetings. This Sunday a little sparrow creature got in. It hopped up onto the pulpit to say hello to me and then fluttered off to the roof beams. Eventually the starlings spotted it and then there was war. They chased the poor thing all around the church until it crashed into the ornamental hangings behind the pulpit and hopped off under a table in temporary safety.
I can't really understand the lack of interest in church that means this sort of thing happens. Does no one care to fix the window? Whose fault is this? The congregation's? The ministers', who have come and gone over the years? God's? This is one of many symptoms of a church society that doesn't have any real roots.
Apparently one of the church stewards (like an elder) was there at the beginning of the service, but decided to go home. No one is quite sure why.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Saturday or Sunday Church?

Yesterday I took a Sunday Service in the Grahamstown township. Previously I have preached at combined services where several societies had been brought together. This was the first time I preached to only one society. (I wish I could have done it a whole lot more, we had a strange action plan this year!) There were about 100 people there - most of them not very young.
On Saturday I preached at a funeral in the same church and the church was nearly full - I guess about 500 people.
There is no question in my mind - funerals need to be taken seriously as an avenue of ministry. I would use funerals as outreach events (explain Jesus, do evangelism - the ultimate words of comfort) and Sunday services for teaching and encouraging. If the people had solid teaching every Sunday I believe that they would start coming to church.
I have a vision for Shaw section in Grahamstown, but I just don't have the language skills.

Bongani Mkhize

This story from Independent Online is really frightening. I wonder what the other side of the story is?

"One by one they die - thugs pay the price for cop's murder," read the headlines in a Daily Sun article dated October 18 last year and included in Mhkize's High Court application. "When a top cop (Chonco) was shot dead in an ambush, his angry colleagues vowed to avenge his death. And this is what's happening. Today the seventh suspect in the murder lies dead, riddled with bullets."

They apparently shut the Chonco shooting case because all the suspects had been killed by police.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

I did it!

I did it. I ran 5km this evening. I reckon I can keep running through the pain of anything that comes my way. My God is SO big.

Theme Song

Tired. That's my theme song for the past few weeks. I was exhausted yesterday, had a good night's sleep and I'm still exhausted. I think that has been the most difficult thing this year.
The thing with church work is the energy has to come from somewhere. I guess the other thing with church work is that God always takes you through that last bit when you just think that you can't anymore.
I don't want to spend my last week half asleep. I will be stronger tomorrow!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Leadership

One of my circuit stewards was sounding off to me in the car yesterday. She knows we think alike, so it's ok. One of the things she said was about leaders - people must know that if you are a leader some people will like you and some people won't like you. That will never change. The important thing is that you do what is right.
Something like that makes me feel good. But also I know that it is not a popular idea in many arenas. After all, who am I to say that I am right? Are there not many truths and many rights? And then I just want to go into a mush of 'I am a victim, help me,' screams into the distance. I sometimes feel that if I am leading a meeting and there are two opposing ideas and I have a third, then somehow both of the other ideas are right (even if they are opposites) and mine is wrong, by definition.
Fortunately, this is all just happens inside my head, and, without too much trauma, I do what I think is right - which of course might be adopting someone else's idea!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Persian Bones

This is a very cool story. Apparently there are historical accounts of a Persian army lost in Northern Africa about 500BC. Archaeologists think that they may have found their bones. 2500 years later! That blows my mind.
This would have been right around the time of the exile of the Jews in Babylon. The Persian king concerned (Cambyses) had both father and son called Cyrus and my history isn't good enough to know which Cyrus ordered the return of the Jews to Jerusalem.
I have some Googling to do! (Story originally found at Boingboing.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Competitiveness, Jealousy and Invincibility

So, yesterday wasn't such a good day. I drove in to PE to visit some people. The Methodist Church where we had our phase 1 college was robbed of the Sunday collection on Monday morning while the admin lady was counting it. The bishop's secretary hauls out a newspaper and says 'did you see this?' An Anglican priest has been murdered at the college in Grahamstown (the town where I stay). I go to the Christian bookshop - 'we had all our takings stolen this morning'. The bishop's secretary says there is just a feeling of oppression around.
So, I got five hours sleep last night and woke up feeling grumpy and bad tempered. At least I knew it would be a busy day, so I would cope. Spent three and half hours in 30 degree heat driving around the township taking communion to the elderly. I don't mind doing this, but by the time I was saying the communion liturgy for about the fifteenth time my mind was wandering all over and I felt I was letting the people down. My husband smses to say that we lost the option to rent a house in Pietermaritzburg that the family was hoping to stay in.
I guess I was feeling pretty flat by this time. Get home, check in to the internet. Load Facebook and there are the chirpy doings of my less busy, higher achieving friends. I just wanted to give up and go home. I hated them for a moment. There is some competitiveness in me that I see when I am at my weakest. You can't beat me. You may not do better than me. You can't have more friends than me or more blog readers than me or a better ministry than me. So there! I know that competetiveness is always there, but usually it is controlled (not always in the best way, but that's another story . . .) It frightened me to see it so near the surface at that moment when I felt so insecure.
I've got a Learning Partnership meeting tonight. I didn't want to go feeling like this. The heat is oppressive. It physically drains me. But it's 5 o'clock and I'm going to run. I'm going to do my longer route. I've gone 200m and I feel the life pour back in. I am invincible. I can run forever. And I do. There's a male runner pounding it out ahead of me. Wow, he's going. I'm not that good. But check out that stomach - I guess running doesn't help you lose weight. There it is again. Can't let anyone beat me. I catch up with him a little way on. He's walking now. Everyone's walking now, except me. The route that took me twenty minutes last time took me fifteen today.
What am I doing with my life? What is God doing?

Mysteries of God's Revelation

How do we know about God?

Through natural revelation? Through what we can see in nature?
But then is God seen in the warm sunshine and gentle breeze or in the desert heat and the hurricane? Is he seen in sweet puppies and kittens and new-born children or in AIDS and cancer and polio?

In the Bible?
But then is God the God of the Old Testament, of Jesus, of Paul? How do we read the Bible? Literally, allegorically, contextually, reductively (by which I mean in a way that produces a systematic theology) or deconstructively (by which I mean that the meaning is determined by the reader's understanding and not the writer's intention)?

Surely God is also revealed in the church - in his people?
Is he the God of the Crusades? Of the first choir to sing Handel's Messiah? Of the early martyrs? Of the Benedictine monks? Is he God of the Roman Catholics, the proponents of the prosperity gospel, the Muslims, the Methodists?

And in individual believers?
Is he God of the self-righteous Christian who mocks and sneers at Christians who do not want to bless homosexual marriages? Of the Christian who believes that the Bible encourages racism? Of those Christians whose beliefs waver according to the person they are speaking to? Of the one who kills a doctor who does abortions? Of the quiet Christian who spends his life alleviating the poverty found in one small family? Of the arrogant and the afraid and the contented and the dissatisfied, of the greedy and those who seek poverty?

'Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.' 1 Corinthians 13:12.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Amatomu

I see that Amatomu have put a message up. They are trying to sell the site. If they can't sell it they want to give it to the community to run. I wonder how that would work?
Apart from the fact that Afrigator is a bit 'buggy' I'm finding it interesting to visit a different set of blogs.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Humanism

I am beginning to think that the struggles I have with many theological thinkers is that their philosophies are humanist rather than Christian. I'm probably getting the words wrong in a technical sense, but I want to get my thoughts out before I get confused! By humanist I mean that, loosely speaking, they believe that we should all live for the greater good of humanity. Now, apart from those who clearly only live for themselves, is this not the only sane philosophy for any human being? As Christians we are gung-ho, talking about transformation of the world. Is that humanist or Christian or both? Where does the difference come in?
I think that maybe the difference is in where we see that the repository of wisdom lives. Does it live in human experience and human rationalising? Or does it live in the revelation that God gives us about himself? Of course, this opens up a whole new can of worms - does God's revelation exist outside the realm of human experience? But the difficulties in answering the second question shouldn't stop us honestly answering the first.
On another tack, I am now realising that there are people who say that animal rights are just as important as human rights - and for this reason we do not live for the greater good of humanity, but rather the greater good of all 'creation'. In other words, medical advance (such as the discovery of insulin) which leads to the saving of human lives does not justify experiments on animals. How does this fit into Christian thinking? Humanist thinking?

Sunday, November 08, 2009

It's all about running

It's odd, but I'm living for my running at the moment. I almost count the minutes until 5.30 when I reckon it is cool enough to hit the streets. I took the car and measured the distance I have been running - a bit further than I thought, 1.6km. The last time I ran it I did it in 9 minutes, which isn't bad seeing as I've been running just over a week. I missed three days because of the retreat and then couldn't run yesterday because I was out all day and back after dark. Today I ran further and I would guess that I did 2.5km in 20 minutes. I think my body might still be up to the Comrades. If only it was towards the end of next year it would make an ideal focus for the year. But it's too early for me to get fit and too early to 'live for'.
I am really tempted to just work at getting fit over the next few weeks. I am pouring energy into my church work because I feel I'm doing wrong if I don't, but it is like pouring water down a drain. I am too embarrassed to even say what I am wasting effort in, I feel such an idiot. I really was more of what I think a minister should be for the five or six years before this one, than I have been this year. So I feel frustrated. But I also know that I have learnt a lot and this knowledge is worth its weight in gold. I don't know how I am going to cope without being in meaningful ministry next year. But I guess there are many things to learn.
If I can run 10km before the end of the month, maybe I will enter the Comrades if there is still space.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Feeling Loved

I did a funeral in Grahamstown this morning. Sometimes I feel so loved by the people in my congregations and I am so grateful to God for them. I am able to do so little for them and yet they are so welcoming of me.
Today my soul needed a bit of restoring and God sent the people to do it.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Last Stretch

I am on the last stretch of my time in Grahamstown. The retreat that I have just been on was the last activity outside of the circuit and I now have just over two weeks to complete. I feel quite a lot better now that there is some pressure on me! I have only two weeks to finish various tasks. Most of these are related to financial reporting and don't exactly inspire me, but they must be done. I have a busy weekend with a funeral tomorrow morning (I think!) and a Local Preachers meeting in the afternoon. These tend to last around four hours and are conducted in Xhosa, but I think I will get through it. Then Sunday is a Communion Service and election of society stewards in one of the Grahamstown churches. After that I'd like to go to the farewell service of one of the ministers in Port Elizabeth, but I will have to see what the time is when my church service is done. I am happy to be busy! Even though that means I will have to spend Friday evening preparing sermons.

I am also experimenting with linking my blog to Facebook. I've avoided doing that because my Facebook friends tend to be very distinct from my blog friends. I'm not sure how many of them would be interested in my blog or if it will change what I write. We will see.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Mysterious Monks

I really enjoyed our retreat at the monastery just outside Grahamstown. It was a 'real' retreat with times for silence and meditation and listening. Although, I must admit that I am too tired to relax. I am very grateful that I have the whole of December off (except for moving home of course!)
We joined the monks (three of them were around) for the daily offices - Vigil, Lauds, Midday, Vespers and Compline. I can't remember if the midday one had another name! It was a new experience for me to participate in English sung liturgy. I couldn't do this all the time, but I'd like to take part in this sort of thing more often.
It was also a very good way to end off our college year. The group came together very nicely and I think we enjoyed each other's company. We are set for a positive start to our seminary experience next year.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Monastery

Today the Phase 1 student ministers are heading for the monastery just outside Grahamstown. For once it is the people from Port Elizabeth who must travel, while I am nearby! I am looking forward to this. We will stay there two nights. I don't know what to expect, except that we have been told that there will be something about dreams . . .
Two challenges for me: 1. to see if I can continue with my discipline of running in a different place and a different routine; 2. to see if I can manage to promote my booklet without apologising for it. I am my own worst enemy sometimes!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Afrigator and MyBlogLog

I linked up with Afrigator quite a while ago and I have been getting about one hit a month from there. But I could never find my blog on the site. So, with my new determination to investigate blog statistics, I went seeking. My old embed code must have been hopelessly outdated, because when I put in the new code the badge came back and I could find my blog on the religion tab. So far I am finding Afrigator useful - there are some new blogs there that I haven't seen before. Unfortunately, like sitemeter, they don't seem to be able to eliminate hits from web accelerators so my stats are inflated when my 'sleeping beauty' post goes through an upswing (as it has just now).
MyBlogLog doesn't seem to be helping much. My husband really didn't like the badge, so it got moved to the bottom. I haven't really got to grips with understanding their way of doing stats, but they do seem to eliminate the web accelerator hits - even better than google analytics does. or maybe I just don't properly understand.
And Amatomu still seems to be broken - yet I got two hits from there yesterday or the day before??

Running through the pain

Yesterday I ran in a fairly solid drizzle - or perhaps a light mist. I couldn't see the other side of the valley, or the towers of the buildings in the Grahamstown valley. It occurred to me that that I have run in all sorts of weather, but not mist before. And it struck me that the old disciplines of training are coming back quite easily in spite of a break from road running of years. And as I ran up the long hill that makes up half of my run I thought about how I can force myself to run through the pain because I know what is on the other side (fitness!) And then I wondered why I can't apply the same discipline to other parts of my life.
I know that I have areas of weakness. I am trying to strengthen them, but it is an ongoing struggle and I give up again and again.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Paterson

I did a Communion service out at Paterson this morning. This is a little settlement about 70km outside Grahamstown towards Port Elizabeth. This was probably the last Communion service that they will have as part of the Grahamstown Circuit. Next year they will be part of the newly formed Addo Circuit. This is a small church but their passion and commitment is way out of proportion to their size. I really enjoy being part of them. I have only actually taken a Sunday service in their church once before. On that occasion I managed to put my foot through a broken board on the platform. I knew to be a bit more careful this time!
The people take Communion kneeling at a rail on the edge of this platform. This makes them very low! Some of the children are small - so they are even lower. I felt like an old age pensioner getting down to the children's level to talk to them. However, this is an effect of my sudden interest in trying to get fit and the stiffness in my legs, so hopefully it will pass!
I left home at 8am and got back at 3pm. That is fairly standard for a Sunday and often for a Saturday too. I don't mind, although I am fighting what could be a bad headache as a result. Somehow this is what ministry is all about. We felt the Spirit after the preaching, even though I felt my sermon didn't work so well. It's all about Jesus and what he wants to do with people.