Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Catching Up

I think that I am catching up with my life. On Saturday I just said 'no' to seminary commitments and did about three hours of ironing and two hours or so of cleaning and I'm sort of on top of that. It also meant that I was just around for my husband and kids. Then Monday night's Community Forum was cancelled so I sweated at my Greek and also my Zulu (subversive Zulu - not at the seminary!) and I think I might be ok.
What is odd is that because I now feel on top of these things I feel much more able to cope with my other commitments.
And then my son's fish died yesterday and I know that I should have chased him to clean the bowl before - and again I'm reminded that my family and kids really do matter and I can't let that get out of hand.
But I feel more in tune with the way God wants me to live at the moment. There are people who are upset with me - who feel that I should be doing what they want (and I don't mean seminary staff!!) but that's actually ok. This is about Jesus and his work. So there!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Evangelical - the Bible a life-giving resource

Another thing that keeps coming back to me from the Merm convention and which I find liberating is a role that the Bible plays.
The Evangelical 'lives out of the Bible'. We read the Bible and are inspired, motivated, taught, challenged, but also corrected (ok, that sounds just like 2 Timothy 3:16, but I wasn't meaning to quote). Often the Bible is rather used as a judge or a 'place to check if something is ok'. If that is the primary way that the Bible is used it can become something that breathes death, rather than the life-breathing that is given when we read the Bible and live out of it.
So our lifestyle comes out of what we read in the Bible.
Putting that into theological language we can say that our praxis is determined by our theology which is obtained by our reflection on Scripture. A problem may come if we do not in turn reflect on our praxis - is it in fact achieving what we desired after reflecting on Scripture?
So this does part company with Liberation Theology type theologies which say that our theology comes as a reflection on praxis. I'm not sure how the Bible fits into that theme.
As always, I need to think more about this, but I like the idea of living out of the Bible.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Unexpected Celebration

Today at Brentwood I received a present. In honour of it being women's month. I still go through the 'why me? I don't deserve anything just because I am a minister!' but I have learnt to understand. Mrs Kumalo (the ordained minister's wife) and I were just the focus for a celebration that people wanted to happen. They wanted to party, they wanted to collect money and buy presents, they wanted to show love. It's all part of the fun. And we get chosen to be a focus because it is acceptable favouritism. They couldn't buy presents for all. So choose one or two. The leaders are an obvious choice.
That is not to say it is completely impersonal. The love and generosity is genuine and I felt very honoured. Rev Kumalo says that the gift of traditional clothes for both of us demonstrates that we have been truly accepted by the community.
God is good - because who am I and what have I done?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Cow Update

The motivation for the sacrifice of the cow can be found at www.smms.ac.za - you will find the link to the MS Word document at the end of the 'News Update' article. I'm afraid that those looking for a comprehensive, reasoned Biblical article will find it somewhat incomplete. I'd love to hear from any black African readers of this blog - what do you have to say about this?

The Cow Obsession

Longtime readers of this blog will know that last year was dotted with reference to cows. They filled the fields between Grahamstown and Kenton and Port Elizabeth and walked the streets of Grahamstown itself. This year, in Pietermaritzburg, my encounters with cows have been limited. Today, though, there is a new interest in cows. A cow that is coming to the seminary. To die.
Next weekend is the official opening ceremony with the accompanying influx of dignitaries and presumably long speeches. This weekend is the African initiation of the seminary - complete with cow sacrifice.
I do not have the faintest idea how to respond to this!
It goes against so much of what I have learnt and believed about God and sacrifice. But I also understand that it is deeply important to African people - and this is usually reflected in a separation of 'church' and 'tradition'. If church won't accept the tradition then the traditional practices will be done seperately.
I've been speaking to black African people over the last few weeks, trying to understand what it means to them. My bottom-line understanding is that the sacrifices offered are in order to appease or placate the ancestral spirits or living dead. The 'worst case' scenario (in my mind) is that the sacrifice is being made asking the spirit of Seth Mokitimi for permission to name the seminary after him. I asked what would happen if he wasn't happy and was shrugged off - 'we would have known by now if he wasn't happy'. The best case was that it is simply a sign of thanksgiving.
Does the Bible say that we should not have minor gods after the One true God? I know that there should be none before him, could there be some after? The 'ancestors' are not idols made of wood and stone, but 'living?' beings.
I have just received the seminary president's explanation of the event, but have not read it yet. I will make more comment when I have read it!
(Actually, I think I am supposed to put it on the seminary web page! I'll post the link when that is done . . . there goes my time to work on my proposal!)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bowling Along

I suppose I'm feeling a bit philosophical and you can hear it when I say that my life feels like a bicycle rim being rolled down the street. The rim stops moving if it slows down or if it loses balance. I felt that last semester I managed to slow down too much. I gave myself to little to do and I became bored and unhappy. So now I'm on the other side. I feel as if I am on the edge of panic - will I ever get everything done? But I'm pushing myself through it - in a way I see this as the 'spiritual formation' that I'm supposed to be doing at seminary. I want to be able to build the stamina to work hard and creatively without losing balance.
Helping with strike relief is great - but my programme is not lecture based and the time I give to the strike is lost. It doesn't help me if the seminary cancels lectures (although that only happened for one day anyway). But somehow I am keeping going and in spite of spending this afternoon at the hospital again I am starting to feel like I am winning.
I worked in a more general ward today at the hospital - young psychiatric patients. Even apart from the strike their situation is very sad. But I guess it is better than being on the streets and uncared for.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


The seminarians spent the afternoon at the hospital again today. When I arrived I was waved away from the gate by the seminary president who was on his cell phone to union leaders. The striking workers had warned him that if we went in to the hospital they would call a crowd who would make it difficult for us to get out again. He negotiated, and as far as I understand, it was agreed that we could go in for two hours, we were to clean the wards, but not care for patients and one of the union members would come with us. There were a handful of policemen and a handful of strikers.
In the end we went in and out quite uneventfully.
I know that the strikers want more money, but I can't see the justice in allowing helpless people to suffer as a tool to get their own way.
But I am glad that we could make a contribution. And those taking the laundry to the seminary residences and operating the machines have been working way beyond the few hours spent at the hospital. It is good to see people willing to give and to sacrifice themselves for others.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Remember Carol Burnett?

It was Carol Burnett, wasn't it - who sang with a bucket and mop? My favourite part of today was like that. The seminarians spent the day volunteering at a local hospital in order to fill in for striking hospital staff. Four of us were assigned to a ladies' geriatric ward. After waiting for a while, being introduced to the patients - there were about 18 old people in two distinct sections with one staff member - and drying some dishes, I was given a mop and told to clean the TV room. So, I mopped, with the ladies sitting around watching. After a while one of them started singing 'How Great Thou Art' quite softly, but I joined in and soon another lady joined in and then another seminarian came in for a moment and sang too. I just love the image of the mopping and the singing!
Unfortunately, I had to mop out the door and down the passage. My singing lady tried to come with me, but a visiting nursing sister chased her back into the ward. So I mopped by myself. And the old people sat in the ward/tv room by themselves.
But for a moment it was good!

Is the Bible self-explanatory?

Much of what I heard at MERM affirmed what I already believe. It helped me think more clearly and offered new interesting angles. There was one thing that made me stop and think because it challenged me to change my belief. Dr Martin Atkins mentioned that John Wesley said that the Bible was not self-explanatory (or was it self-revelatory?) and that was why we needed preachers. I've held for a long time that ordinary people are quite able to understand the Bible - with the aid of the Holy Spirit. But I have also wondered then why we have preachers and teachers. I know that I read and understood a lot of the Bible 'by myself'. I am afraid of a sort of elitist thing that says 'I am a trained minister and therefore I can interpret the Bible and not you' which is open to abuse. Also, I think it is terribly unsettling for a congregation to be told too often 'I know this is what you think this Bible passage means, but actually it means that'.
On the other hand, training in understanding the Bible is definitely helpful, as is preaching. So is the Bible self-revelatory or not?
I wonder if the real thing is that the more we know of the Bible the more we can understand it. We talk easily about 'the whole tenor of Scripture' - but how many people genuinely know for themselves what is in the whole of Scripture? Yet academic training in Biblical Studies tends to teach selectively rather than holistically.
It's coming clearer, but I need to think some more!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Strikes and Action

Now here is something that I like. Tomorrow the seminary is effectively shutting and all the seminarians are being bussed off to a local hospital to provide relief. Today there was apparently only one staff member and over 250 patients in the hospital. This because of the wage strike that has hit the country. We will probably be washing floors and similar exciting chores, but I'm sure that we will do whatever what is needed most.

Consultation Reflections

Here is round one of my personal reflections on the MERM consultation that I have just attended. This is the stuff that 'spoke to me'. There will be other later that made me 'think'. I'm afraid some of this is vague - somethings are difficult to blog about in detail.
Firstly, the conference was a time of deep healing for me of wounds that I just did not know that I carried. I really need to focus on allowing that healing to 'take' and to remember this moment. I feel so reinspired to be a 'good' Christian and I can sense God's love and grace for myself and others in a way I haven't felt for years. I am so humbled and challenged and afraid that I can't live up to this.
Secondly, I have become aware of the real damage that is done by labelling each other - particularly within the Methodist Church. I know that I and others in presenting the Evangelical position have been labelled Fundamentalists, which is not fair and is not the same thing. Beyond that, there is the sense that all Fundamentalists are judgmental and graceless and that again is not fair - although we all know people who are like that. I realised that many people who take the label 'liberal' are not liberal in the sense of the 19th century liberals, but are often more dogmatic about their position than Evangelicals. Our labels in the Methodist Church are not helping!
Thirdly, I was so affirmed by meeting people who think like me. They were intelligent, deeply committed, loving Christians. I feel I am in good company (although I may have a way to go to be like them!) I have read Ken Schenck from Indiana Wesleyan University for some time and have enjoyed his thoroughly Wesleyan position. Martyn Atkins from the Methodist Church in Britain encouraged me so much with his intelligent and reasoned understanding of Evangelicalism. I am not alone!
By the way, the key speakers were Rev Dr Martyn Atkins who is general secretary of the Methodist Church in Britain and has been principal of Cliff College for some years. Also Ross Olivier, our seminary president and also a former general secretary of the MCSA. There was also an address by Rev Norman Raphahlela from the Education for Ministry and Mission Unit (part of the MCSA structure).
God is good!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Being Evangelical

I've just spent the weekend at the Methodist Evangelical Renewal Movement consultation - or countrywide gathering. It was such an encouraging experience. I must admit that I went along with some hesitancy as I have struggled to fully understand what this fairly new movement is all about. I hoped to catch a sense of their vision - and I did. I am still trying to process and absorb everything and I hope that I will blog about it all eventually.
What I think at the moment- it's ok to believe the Bible is the word of God. It doesn't mean I am a fundamentalist (I don't read it word for word literally).
It's ok to believe in a 'whole salvation'. We speak of both personal salvation and social salvation. Personal holiness and social holiness.
The Bible informs us of these salvations and 'holinesses'. I go to the Bible to discover how to live in order to bring about the kingdom of God.
Sometimes people understand the word 'evangelical' differently and even negatively - that doesn't mean I am like their understanding!
The Methodist Church has always had a missional ecclesiology and we should reclaim that.
There is too much more and I really need to process it properly.
I came away believing that there is real hope for the Methodist Church and the God truly is a God of love and action.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What headache?

After struggling with flu and headaches for the last two weeks, they finally seem to have broken. I feel better . . . Now, does this have something to do with the fact that my covenant group prayed for my headaches? Or were they going to go away anyway? God is good.

On Spirituality . . .

I have been continuing to reflect on my experience of African spirituality at our recent outreach. Not that this was the first time I encountered it, but it was my longest sustained encounter.
The 'trouble' with spirituality is its personal nature. My spirituality is the way I encounter God heart to heart - or at least that is my current understanding of the term. I come from a tradition that is rooted in a modern worldview and therefore things are analysed and explained - to a large extent I understand my spirituality and can explain it to others.
I don't think that this means that those spiritualities that cannot be analysed and communicated so well are wrong. Something like centring prayer is probably practised in many different ways - some I might see as right and some I might see as wrong, but I will only understand it if I can experience it. And even then, I might not understand it. I see African spirituality in the same light. I'm not sure that it can be taught. It needs to be imbibed. I may well never come to understand it or experience it fully.
The other thing is, of course, that while something may not be wrong just because it cannot be explained, that does not mean that it must be right. The question I would ask is whether one demonstrates some sort of positive change as a result of one's spirituality - fruit, I suppose.
But then change is also a cultural bugbear.
Still wrestling.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Greek and other churchy stuff

I am enjoying my Greek classes. I suspect that one thing that appeals to me is the fact that a Greek translation is either right or wrong and so Greek is a bit like Maths in that way - as opposed to Biblical Studies where 'right' and 'wrong' are defined by the interpretation that the lecturer chooses to use. We also have a really good lecturer - Pat Bruce. She keeps going, we don't get sidetracked and she explains everything clearly and confidently. I am so lucky, blessed, whatever!
I started today with 'double Greek', including a test. I then dashed off to Brentwood where we took Communion around the township of Mphophomeni - which is about 5km from Brentwood. I had to rush back to UKZN where I was late for a Greek SI (which means Supplementary Instruction, although it seems to be compulsory). Then to the new seminary campus where the computer guys have managed to sort out enough that I can upload photos onto the web page again. After that, time away from the seminary while I did the family's weekly grocery shopping and then rush back for 'Community Worship' at one of the residences.
I can't complain - it was a useful day. God is gracious.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Preaching Sick

I took a service at Brentwood on Sunday - and I didn't feel well at all. It's not the first time (nor I suppose the last) that I've preached while not feeling too good. But I wondered if it wouldn't have been better if I had just stayed home and felt miserable by myself.
There are two ways of looking at it.
1. The congregation expects the minister to provide hope and optimism and so if I can't pitch up cheerful and full of beans I should rather stay at home.
2. The congregation needs to see that the minister is a human being just like they are and they also have the responsibility to care for their minister.
I somehow want to make both work.
I don't think I preached well, but I wouldn't have got through at all without somethiong extra from God!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Some interesting people

We currently have an American couple working at the seminary. They are retired from business and have decided to come and see what they can do to help at the seminary. They are energetic and excited, so we should see some good things! Doug and Cheri have a blog and I find it fascinating to see how they are adapting to South Africa and what the obstacles have been. You can find their blog here.

Another South African Methodist blogger who I only discovered recently - Don Scrooby.

And for those who haven't discovered this 'mobile' Christian site So What?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Boxed - unboxed

I am getting ANOTHER cold, so I am feeling somewhat grumpy and fed up. Also, I am feeling a little frustrated because in many areas of my life I am waiting for someone else to do something before I can carry on with my work. BUT I am realising that I still have plenty to do, so I have no need to be frustrated. I think I might be getting the balance right - I'm not taking on too much (panic, stress) or too little (frustration, boredom). Of course, if you see me running down the street screaming, you will know that everything went wrong . . .
Today - we did worship for chapel. Nearly everything went wrong and some of it was my fault. So, we learn from that. I also need to figure out what the actual enrolment is at the pre-school and put together some sort of accounts to have a vague idea of what is actually going on. I'll post more about this another time.
I need to figure out what is going on with the SMMS web page - we have several computer companies involved and I don't know who has moved what where. I have minutes and emails to write. I'd like to almost complete the revision of my PhD proposal, but my motivation is low, because I'm not sure if they will have a supervisor for me at UKZN anytime soon. I have notes to write for one small group session for my local church (fun) and local preachers workshops to plan for Brentwood. And a sermon to prepare for Sunday. I guess I won't get it all done today!
It's nice to be busy. God is good. Now, if he could just remove my sore throat and the rest, I'd be happy!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Stop and Go

Something that I hope I am learning this year is how to pace myself. My natural rhythm seems to be 'work until burnout, drop out, bounce back'. I think I've dealt with that some time back, but I still struggle to find a good balance. I find it very hard to stop if there is stuff to be done - unless it's stuff I really, really don't want to do!
At the moment I feel that I have plenty of scope. There are opportunities. I can pick things up or lay them down. And this is great because it is a little like a real church situation - there is always work to do!
So, I feel that I've been going flat out today so far. And I still have worship practice tonight. Now I am trying to stop and take a break for a couple of hours . . . while there is still work to be done . . .

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

More observations on outreach

To be realistic, in my English-speaking culture, we are very nervous of people who shout, in any setting, especially if there is little coherence to their words, - except maybe when watching rugby. We become concerned that this person is not 'ok'. If I think of the churches that I have called 'home' over the last 20 years or so, I can't imagine the minister standing at the front and shouting and stamping and thumping the pulpit or table, repeating himself over and over again and making little logical progress in his message or prayers. And the look of thunder on the face. We have had black and white ministers in our churches. I think that if any one of them had a 'turn' like this, he or she would be gently escorted to the vestry and their spouse contacted in order to take them home.
That is my culture. I like it - mostly because I am used to it, I suppose, but it also makes sense to me.
This makes it very hard for me to enjoy church services where this shouting is the normal procedure. Now that I am away from the outreach situation I am able to believe that this is an acceptable alternative spirituality. That it is ok for people to worship and find God like this. While I was in it and after an extended period of time I started becoming unhappy, uncertain, insecure. But I really think that was more culture than spirituality.
I have found the same misfit in Pentecostal churches. I'm not happy with extended periods of talking in tongues, when I don't know what is going on.
I need to think more, but I have a lecture - so rather this than nothing today!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Observations on Outreach

There was much to see and learn from our outreach and I will write some more later. But some comparisons between the contempory English church and the African traditional come to mind quite easily. In the English way, there tends to be a lot of emphasis on the training of the participants and on prayer for the success of the mission. This seemed to be completely missing from the African mission. We arrived and were sent.
In our African mission we were able to go from home to home and generally gain access even during the day and during the week without making any appointment. Not everyone was pleased to see us or allowed us in, but we could at least make contact. In the suburban context it is very difficult to do this because houses tend to be empty or and shut up during the day. Also people tend to be unwelcoming, which is a pity.
I think we need to include the preparation and prayer aspect and also the pastoral aspect in our outreach.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Home from the outreach

Our outreach was to a township called Sudumbili - I might not have spelt it correctly. We were based at the Methodist Church there. We arrived at about lunchtime on Thursday and settled into a rhythm of home visits during the day and church healing services in the evenings. We also had morning 'devotions' and some people visited schools, did funerals and there may have been some other things. Our original outreach had been cancelled (I'm not sure why) and this Methodist Circuit stepped in to help at the last minute.
We ate well. We slept in various homes in the township - I shared a double bed with a (female) colleague. We were woken by roosters at 3am! People were wonderfully friendly and helpful.
We also had a number of Evangelists and Biblewomen who met with us and worked with us. These orders within the Methodist Church cater for those who wish to work fulltime in the church, but not to enter the ordained ministry - usually because they do not have the academic background required. In black African settings they are very useful as there are not usually enough ordained ministers and they carry a lot of the pastoral load. You would recognise the Biblewomen by their blue uniforms with wide white collars. Evangelists wear a clerical collar with the stud in the front, to distinguish them from ordained ministers. I think that deacons do the same . . . I'm not sure!
The style and organisation was very black African and I did find that a bit of a strain. They call the preaching 'nyuka' preaching, or YMG preaching. It has a lot of shouting and passion, and for us westerners, little content. Not that there aren't preachers who can combine the two - I have heard some good (to me) sermons - but they are few and far between! I guess, though, that if this works for people, it's ok. Sometimes I can almost understand it, but I find it very difficult.
It has left me tired and a little discouraged, but it was good to be exposed to this way of doing mission.
Monday is a public holiday - time to recharge the batteries!

Thursday, August 05, 2010


All of us at the seminary are going on an outreach/ mission for the next few days. I'm not too sure exactly what it entails, but I gather there will be home visits and church services. We are also taking food parcels. We are heading to somewhere around Mandini which is about two hours up the coast from Durban.
We will see what happens - my own feelings are neutral. I know too little to either look forward to it or be afraid of it!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

A day in the life

I am sitting in a classroom at UKZN waiting for a Greek class which starts in 15 minutes. We have a test today (do we know the alphabet!) Next, I am supposed to go to a Internship group session which is usually fun, but I have to go shopping. We are going on an outreach to a 'rural' area tomorrow and we need to wear culturally appropriate clothes. So, I have to go buy a black clerical shirt and clothes to go with it. Yuk - not my idea of fun at all.
At lunch time we have our covenant group meeting. Most of the group are keen and interested, but one or two just seem to want to be difficult. Still, it should be good.
This afternoon is Zulu classes - last week's class was good, so should be ok. After that I have pre-school governing body meeting at Brentwood.
Somehow I have to fit admin in around the edges. I think I'm getting a cold.
That's my life today. God is good.
Here comes the noise and I must stop!

Monday, August 02, 2010

Points of Excellence

At the start of a new phase of the seminary year - and in a sense of my ministry as a Christian - I have been asking questions about my goals and plans. The probability is that I won't be at the little Zulu community of Brentwood next year. I have about four months left there. What should I do? How can I make a positive difference - over and above what I have been doing?
I asked myself which five areas of church life really needed to be excellent. That's an interesting question. What must exist, what must be adequate and what should be excellent?
Unfortunately, it is also not a helpful question in the context. Off the top of my head I chose financial management, worship and preaching, mission focus, small groups and every member ministry as key areas of church life. Not one of those - from my western perspective - is even adequate at Brentwood. Ok, preaching and worship will do. But otherwise . . .
So I want to turn my back on it because the problems seem too big. There's not enough that I can do. And that is the malaise in a large part of the Methodist Church. Ministers and leaders are just overwhelmed and so ministers give up and wait for their time to move on to the next church, where they hope they will be able to make a difference.
Something needs to change. We need to be more open to God's power, even to believing in ourselves. To take risks, to change. I am thinking more about 'black' churches, but it affects English-speaking churches too.
Need to think.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

A Gentle Weekend

This weekend had a slow and easy feel to it - maybe it is the summer weather, because it hasn't been particularly quiet. On Saturday morning I went to a school fete in Howick at the request of the seminary. That was pretty laid back, if not my idea of a lot of fun. Sunday was the church service at Brentwood followed by a leaders' meeting. These sessions are hard work because it means (today anyway) four hours of everything in Zulu. But still somehow, I feel relaxed. It might be that I've preached every weekend for the last few weeks and today I just had to listen. It could be that I feel I've found my place at Brentwood. I asked if I could preach more often there, but it is not to be, so I think that now I must accept that I am doing as much as I can and do that as best as I can. I probably only have another four months there anyway.
Whatever the reason, it is nice to feel a little 'chilled'.