Saturday, October 31, 2009

Pleased With Myself

I am feeling pleased with myself. I ran for about 15 minutes yesterday - I'm not sure how far, but it is about a year since I played my last hockey game and I've pretty much vegetated since. I ran again today - the same distance in ten and I was tempted to do it again! There is hope for me yet. But I guess I won't quite manage the Comrades in seven months.
I'm also keeping up with watching a bit of tv and watched a bit of the Pirates/ Chiefs game and will shortly watch at least part of the rugby.
I think that I have found myself again - even though I didn't know I was lost!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Head, Heart and Hand


I'm not very good at selling myself and generally would prefer to go and hide in a corner, but . . . The picture above is the printer's proof for my mini-book which arrived from the printers yesterday. I hope you can enlarge the picture enough to read the description on the back (Click on it to enlarge)! I haven't actually seen it yet (it is in Jhb), but it should be about 65 pages and will be selling for the princely sum of R70. If you are interested and not near enough to me or my base in Jhb to be nagged to buy the book, please email info@cobblecrab.co.za. You can also email this address if you have a book lurking inside of you that you'd like to write, but feel that you don't want to have to convince a big publisher that your book is meaningful - or if you are nervous about having to do initial print runs in the thousands! John is trying to make a space for small writers to be published.

From the introduction:
Welcome to a handful of adventures in the Biblical meta-narrative! To some people the idea of ‘head, heart and hand’ will be very familiar, but for others . . .

Why Head?
This is inspired partly by John Wesley who formed a Bible Study club at Oxford. He and his friends were determined to start taking the Bible more seriously and to wrestle with it and to understand it themselves. Nowadays, too many people don’t even read the Bible, let alone wrestle with it. This is a call for all of us to start taking the Bible seriously again.

Why Heart?
Studying the Bible can become an academic exercise which has as much relevance to our lives as our least favourite subject at school. Reading the Bible is not supposed to be dry and boring, but rather fascinating and life-changing. As the Holy Spirit helps us to read the Bible he will always use it to transform those who have committed themselves to Jesus. Without Jesus, the Bible can seem dry and irrelevant.
This transformation comes about in our attitudes – our attitude towards God, our attitude towards others and our attitude towards ourselves. There are times when reading the Bible can seem to leave us untouched, but we continue to read and study in faith that God will bring us those awesome moments of revelation that make daily discipline worthwhile.

Why Hand?
Sometimes people think that being a Christian is just about what they believe. Or they may think that it concerns only themselves and is a private thing. While there is truth in these, there is more than that to being a Christian. Our Bible reading needs to lead us to action. We may need to change the way that we live our daily lives. We may need to speak out against injustice and abuse. We may need to refocus on our relationships, and so on.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Jesus Understands

I spent some time yesterday taking Communion to elderly people in the township. We randomly allocate areas to myself and my supervising minister and I don't remember doing this particular area before. It was a very much poorer area than most I've been to. For some reason our system of letting people know that we were coming didn't seem to work and we were getting many old people out of bed. In one of the last houses the granny was asleep with someone else beside her. The granny came through, but the other person seemed to stay asleep. As we got going this other person woke up and it turned out to be a girl in her twenties who was quite badly disabled - I would guess cerebral palsy. She eventually came through to us walking on her knees and making talking noises. The noises she made were quite frightening, but she seemed to be very good-natured. When we gave out the elements of Communion I gave her a wafer. She was elated, but eating the thing was quite a performance. She didn't notice when I didn't give her a little glass of communion grapejuice. In the midst of all this chaos and noise the steward with me said quietly to me, 'Jesus understands'.
I was so pleased - it was something that I said to him on the first day that we did communions together. There is usually a lot of ceremony and the people wait for the minister wearing their church uniforms. But I said if the people were bed-ridden they could take communion in their beds. If the people were too fast asleep or too sick, I said that Jesus would understand if we just prayed for them and didn't give them communion. I was so chuffed that this simple guy who doesn't manage much English had owned the concept. And reminded me of it!

Television

For a very long time I have watched very little television - where to be honest, very little equals zero. This isn't out of any conviction of any kind, just that I struggle to sit and just watch and I get bored. About 5 years ago I chose to watch some programmes aimed at youth to help with an assignment I was doing for my BTh. As a result of that I decided to watch TV every day that week from 6pm to 10pm. It was a very good exercise -although I was grateful that I had church activities most evenings so I didn't have to watch the full four hours. The biggest problem was my four year old who could not understand that his mother couldn't be interrupted in case she missed something on the screen!
Since then I've had a vague determination to try to watch more television - because I ought to know what everybody else is watching and knowing.
I thought that this year would be an ideal opportunity. I'm away from my kids, I was likely to be bored and lonely. I plugged the TV in, in about August, but couldn't get into it. But I think that my problem has been that I've tried to watch the soapies. I stuck the TV on on Tuesday night and watched the news and a bit of other stuff. Same thing last night. I might be winning!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Getting Higher and 350

I've just realised how many of my last posts have sounded flat. Got to make a plan to get some interest in life!
So I am playing with MyBlogLog to see what that does with stats and whatever.
I ought to go running, having made the connection that I will be in Pietermaritzburg for the next year or two - Comrades world!
Here's what I think is a good idea. Many people have heard the eco-guys pushing 350 day on 24 October. At least one Methodist Church in SA sent in a photograph. It's such a good way of raising awareness in the congregation and also being something of a prophetic voice.

Feeling Grumpy

I am still feeling out of sorts and I am so angry with myself for feeling like this! Writing in my prayer journal this morning was line after line saying thank you to God for stuff he has done. While I might be struggling with my call, God just seems to be answering questions and sorting things out. It's not all sorted - still a couple of big issues - but I can't deny the hand of God in proceedings.
I wonder if, apart from all my usual idiosyncrasies, I am suffering from not talking this stuff out? The church tries very intentionally to put support structures in place for us, but they don't replace relationships that have been built up over time. When I am back in Jhb in December I think I will make a point of following that up.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Feelings

Again I am in a place where things seem to just boil down to feelings. I am in PE but will leave for Grahamstown in a few minutes. We had an exciting flight last night with a landing in 100km/h wind. There were suddenly a lot of Christians on the plane!
But now I have just under four weeks left in Grahamstown. I still feel tired. What happened to that restoration that I was looking for? I'm struggling with a sense of future or vision perhaps. Next year will be good. A new town. My family with me. But I am struggling with the lack of control that I have over my life.
I just feel like moaning!!!
I guess that God will see me through this too.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Grace

I said something stupid that hurt someone. My internal reaction when they were upset, 'Can't you show me some grace? I didn't mean it like you heard it. I didn't want to hurt you.' But when we start demanding grace from others we are on a slippery slope. Especially when we demand it from God. Grace is something that is freely given and is not a right. It does become complicated because God does expect grace from us and so in a sense we have the right to expect grace from others. But actually it's God's right, not ours.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Cleaning Up

I spent most of yesterday digging through the layes of chaos on my boys' bedroom floor and other flat surfaces. This does not count as fun in my book - so I had to ask myself, which is more fun being a phase 1 minister or being a mother? The fact is that everything has good and not good aspects. But sometimes we accept the not fun aspects as a 'necessary evil' and at other times we are dragged screaming and kicking through them. I hope that I can learn to distinguish between necessary struggles and unnecessary struggles!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Good to be home

I'm home again! And I am reminded once more of how much my husband and kids have to do in order to enable me to be in Grahamstown learning how to be a minister. Although my year has been tough, theirs has not been easy either.
But good to be home. My bed is more comfortable. The climate somehow more familiar and the rooms somehow lighter than those in Grahamstown.
Already my soul is expanding.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Restoration

I want to write something profound, but I am flying home for a long weekend tonight and that is what is on my mind! I have already started relaxing - even my day off on Monday was better. I suppose it is because I am not planning things for church for the rest of this week. You can't really stop yourself thinking about stuff, even if it is your day off. Yesterday and today are college days, but they have been devoted to panel interviews and farewell functions, with a lot of space.
Hopefully by this time next week I will be full of renewed energy!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Evaluation

Today we have panel interviews to help decide whether we advance in ministerial training or not. Well, actually I've already had mine, but I didn't get a chance to write this before.
It is very hard to say how I feel about phase 1. Was it good or was it bad? What is the bottom line about my experiences? There have been some very difficult times this year. It is hard to know whether I could have learnt what I have learnt through another avenue. But I have learnt so much. And I certainly feel stronger now and in some ways more confident. I guess I am - maybe even proud of myself for getting through the year.
How does one train a group of potential leaders who all have strong ideas, but have different gifts and different backgrounds? How do you teach them to conform to the ethos of the Methodist church, but retain their creativity and enthusiasm?
It isn't easy.
(By the way, my interview went well, so I am not stressed.)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Identity Crisis

Something that's been troubling me on and off for the last few weeks is that, very soon, I won't be a 'phase 1' anymore. It might sound odd that it is troubling me, but this has been an important part of my identity this year. Who am I? I am a phase 1 student minister in the Methodist Church. Our group that meets in PE has quite a strong group identity as well. Next year? I am a student in seminary. I guess something new will start.
Today, though, I let go of phase 1 in a good way. I was part of a group of ministers celebrating someone from my circuit starting the training journey. Next year he will be a phase 1. And instead of sitting in the pews watching, I was part of the group sending him on his way. It was kind of special.
I'm not a baby at the bottom of the ladder anymore.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Inclusivity

These are 'starter thoughts', because I'm not sure where they are going. Today I received another email from someone extolling the virtue of inclusivity and saying that it was one of the most important things that Jesus stood for.
I'm not really 'getting' this inclusivity thing. To me one of the great things about Jesus is not that he included everyone, but that he stepped aside and put himself with the excluded. He loved them and walked with them to a point of inclusion, if they so chose.
Two things bother me about inclusivity. They are probably two sides of the same coin. The one is that (and I see this in 'Exclusion and Embrace) 'I' is the centre of inclusion. Others need to be included with 'me'. What makes me so special that I should be the centre of inclusion?
The second is that it denies people the right to choose to be excluded. Maybe I don't want to be part of your central 'I'. Although I am willing that you join me in my central 'I'. Or maybe, like Jesus, I will choose to be excluded from the power 'I's'.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Illogical?

I have been very confused in meetings this year. Mostly because I don't understand the language (Xhosa). In particular, I sometimes watch people responding to something that I have suggested and from their body language I am convinced that they are disagreeing with me. Then when my interpreter catches up, I discover that actually they are supporting me. The one thing is that the Xhosa-speakers don't seem to smile as much as native English-speakers do when agreeing. The other thing is the illogic of the body language - and language of English. Specifically in this sort of situation. "So you mean that it doesn't come in a smaller size?" The English-speaker shakes his or her head and says, "No, it doesn't." The Xhosa-speaker nods his or head and says, "Yes, it doesn't." Or I might says, "you won't write any cash cheques?" and the Xhosa-speaker nods and says, "Yes, I won't." When you don't get the language, the body language is very confusing!
Someone said to me the other day, "we are just coping." To me that means that they are struggling. To him it meant that they are having no problems, they are only coping.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

400th Post

This is blog entry #400. It seems like it should be a momentous occasion.
Date 13 October 2009. It is my second daughter's 16th birthday today - she is in Johannesburg.
It is raining in Grahamstown.
Today is Tuesday and would normally be a college day for me, but only those writing TEEC exams have needed to go to Port Elizabeth. I will be working in circuit today and tomorrow. I believe that we will be preparing the budget. Working out next year's expenses will be fairly easy. Working out how we/ they are going to pay for them is quite another story.
If the weather clears up I might be able to play tennis in the latter part of the afternoon. I seldom get a chance to play.
As tends to happen when a weekend home is coming up, I am finding it very hard to think of anything except family and home.
I want to hear what is happening with my 'mini book'. I am afraid that a window of opportunity is closing!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Unmotivated

I am finding it difficult to express how I feel right now. But I want to, because I want to remember this.
We received the questions for our 'exit interviews' that will be held next Tuesday. They are good questions. Reflective questions. At least, I think that it helps me to answer them for myself, I'm not sure how confident I will be about answering them for a panel. How has God used me this year? Talk about a conflict that I have experienced. There are 18 questions. The reality is that we will all pretend to some extent in answering those questions. I am so tired of pretending. But I am so hard to understand that if I am just myself people will be confused. The honest answer to some of these questions is that I don't believe that I have been a raging success this year. It is very much a classical case of 'the church has survived in spite of me, not because of me'. But if I project that to a committee, what will they hear? A lack of confidence? A lack of belief in myself? A lack of competence? The bottom line is that I have not had fun this year. I would not choose to do this for the rest of my life. Does this mean that I am not called by God to the ministry? That I am not called to work cross-culturally? That I am a racist? How will a committee hear that?
I go to seminary next year. To learn how to be a transformational leader. I wonder if they know more about transformational leadership than I do? I wonder if they can be as creative in church things as I can be? Have they thought about and struggled with the essence of church, community and leadership as much as I have? What do they know about the use of technology? Will they teach us?
I look at my face and I see how much this year has aged me. And I become angry with the sense of futility that I feel. What is it all for?
I am not without hope. I pray that seminary will be inspirational and challenging. I know that I have much to learn, if only they can and will teach me.

Friday, October 09, 2009

I need a project

Six weeks left in Grahamstown. My Masters is done. I've got a mini-book sitting with the printer, seemingly in limbo. I need something to do for the next while.
The trouble is that I am tired! I think I'll find something . . . I need to.

Keeping everybody happy

My thinking in the previous post regarding representation stems partly from the large group (plenary, I suppose) meetings that I have been part of in the last little while. I have always struggled with the idea that English speaking churches should sing a hymn or a song in an African language in every worship service in order to make 'black' people feel welcome. I couldn't really believe that people would tolerate a service that they didn't otherwise enjoy just because it had one African language song. But I can see the idea that it does show some desire to include.
What I see happening in MCSA meetings is the thought that if 75% of the meeting are 'black' then 75% of the worship should be from the black tradition or sometimes that 75% of the meeting should be conducted in an African language. I really can see the justice in this (and especially as we are sensitive to the fact that in the 'old days' there was little recognition given to traditional African worship styles). The problem is that the minority groups become uncomfortable with only 25% with which they can identify. So they stop participating and as they withdraw the percentage of the dominant group becomes larger, the remaining minority becomes even less comfortable, and you are left with a tiny group of diehards who would probably give their lives for Jesus.
I see this in my circuit. It has (roughly) 8 Xhosa-speaking churches, 2 Afrikaans-speaking and 2 English-speaking. As a result the quarterly leaders meetings have a strong Xhosa flavour and there is often virtually no English or Afrikaans spoken. And - the Afrikaans and English speaking people stop attending. I don't think that this is unique and in some cases it is African language speakers who are marginalised by English speakers.
It would be so much better if we struggled with this and found enough common ground that all parties could be happy at least 80% of the time.
I know this sounds critical. And there are many places where I think that common ground is found. I believe that all of us in the MCSA are on a journey to try to make this thing work.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Representation

I've been thinking for a while about this idea of 'having a woman on the committee so that we get the women's point of view' - this is from the church context (I'm not sure if my thoughts would apply to government). The thing is that if there is a committee with five men and one woman, operating in a democratic climate, is that woman really a voice? Because she is in a minority on the committee, and because she is likely to be less forceful than the men, it is really unlikely that her voice is going to be heard. So I have been thinking that if you are serious about the women's voice, you need to have the committee 50/50.
But now there are other voices that need to be heard. The major voices are those that are racially described. Because gender is a 50/50 thing, we can put 50/50 on a committee without too much trauma. But race is not a 50/50 thing. Even just simplifying the issue to black and white - white people, at least in the leadership structures of the Methodist Church, are way in the minority. And the question needs to be asked - what should be done to keep hearing the white voice? (Assuming of course that one wants to do that!) At the moment, many white people still have the advantage of a superior education and they make their voice heard, but that advantage will hopefully fade away as all people are better educated (again hopefully!)
In a local church society that is predominantly white, but wants to hear the black voice, how is this done? I really don't think that having a black person on the committee is going to do the trick.
I believe that we need to come to understand that a voice will be only heard when it has equal representation to the other voices - otherwise the majority will tend to rule.
So we need to determine the voices that we want to hear. Gender, yes. Race, yes. Age (both young and old -say 50/50 under and over 40 years). But which races? And do we include ethnicity? What about liturgical preference?
This is a challenge, but I believe that we would do best to have all committees 50/50 on gender. Equal split between black/white/coloured depending on the area and equal split between over and under 40 years. I think that would be a very interesting thing to do!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

John Wesley's Journals

This John Wesley blog is run by a Methodist minister in South Africa (Cedric Poole). Everyday he posts an entry from one of John Wesley's journals for the corresponding day. It's like reading a blog that John Wesley might have written.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Blog Stats

My blog has had another attack of interest in Sleeping Beauty images - which has resulted in it climbing to number 7 in the Amatomu rankings! The number of hits has started falling off again, so we will see what happens with the ranking.
I am fascinated by the algorithms used by google and co. If I was younger, maybe I would choose to study that sort of thing!

Confirmation

We had a Confirmation at Shaw on Sunday - well actually at the Leslie Hewson church, which is part of the Shaw Section. It was different to the English speaking churches. There was only one question asked of the group and there was no individual confirmation or prayer. It certainly made the service faster - it took four hours anyway.
One old lady - she could hardly walk - was baptised and confirmed. She cried and cried during the baptism part.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Unfriendly Meeting

I had a meeting on Saturday that left me feeling very discouraged. There was a lot of antagonism of people towards each other, tears and what looked like caucusing and hidden agendas. I left thinking, "well if that is the church and those are Christians, I want nothing to do with them." It is so hard to know whether people are acting out of slyness, or if this whole thing is just a product of . . . what? Maybe of people not being very sophisticated? But it is not pretty.
I am, however, starting to get a handle on what is 'culture' and what is just people trying to manipulate others. I am glad to have reached a milestone on that journey.
It's taken me a couple of days to emerge from quite a lot of unhappiness about this indication of the state of the church.
But, while I was busy with this meeting, my supervising minister was on an overnight retreat with the confirmation class and they seemed to have a very good time and it is great to see the relationships that he has built with them. It is not all bad!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Hooray!

So, I've passed my Masters degree. I did not think for one moment when I started that I would be finished by now. But God knew.
I don't feel any different. Shouldn't I feel brainier?
But I am happy. And I believe even more strongly that God is there watching over me.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Funerals and Salt

I've noticed that the food we eat at funerals is not cooked with salt. One of my colleagues from Soweto says that this seems to be a Xhosa custom. But I think that the other meals that I have had are also without salt. I can't find anything on the internet. Exploration needed!

Xhosa word for the week. I know that Kulungile means 'it is good'. I asked someone how to say 'it is better'. He thought for a while and then was embarrassed and said that they sometimes borrow from the English and he couldn't think of a 'proper' Xhosa phrase. So the answer is 'kubettele'.