Friday, December 30, 2011

Bible Reading

Last year, about this time I started a 'read the Bible in one year' programme - so how have I done? Actually, pretty well, although I'm not all the way through to the end. Somehow I have lost about six weeks during the course of the year! And I didn't notice, although there were many times that I had to double up readings. So somewhere along the line I didn't read and I didn't notice ???
In 2012 Stephen Murray is proposing reading through the Bible in the year on a blog. He is calling it 'honest Bible reading' and inviting participation, so here is a plug for his project.
I have felt for a while that we keep talking about finding God's will by studying the Bible in community and wrestling with contentious issues until we come to agreement but that we don't have fora to do this. I hope that Stephen's project might be a way in to this.
Find the blog at

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Yellow Table

I sorted out a bit of a work area today. Our house has a study with an outside door - a proper minister's study, where visitors can come and go without disturbing the family. The church work parties have left this room until last in their awesome efforts to fix up the house, but I really need to try and get myself into gear for the new year. So, I have cleared some of the stuff that we dumped here because we don't know where to put it. I have put in a little carpet on the bare concrete floor and put up a yellow trestle table left here by the church. I added a chair and my laptop and then spent a few minutes printing all the documents that have been emailed to me in the last three weeks. Now it looks like I am working!

Monday, December 26, 2011


Christmas marked my official beginning in my new station. I preached on Christmas Eve at Strandfontein Methodist Church and on Christmas Day at Wesley Mission in Lentegeur. These are the two societies of which I shall be part.
Strandfontein is on the edge of Mitchell's Plain and is a newish area. Lentegeur is in a older, more densely populated area. Both services were full and just about overflowing - a lot of curiosity to see the new minister, plus the usual attraction of the Christmas services! The Wesley building is a little bigger than Strandfontein. I guess they seat 150 to 200 people.
Both services were lively and felt good! I enjoyed the worship and the people seemed to respond well to me and my family.
The services were quite different to each other in some ways, but they both work for me. I am looking forward to getting involved.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Preparing to launch

Things are starting to wind up again. We now have ADSL installed - so I don't have that excuse not to blog! But I have managed to slow down enough that blogging seems like work. This is actually a good sign. It means that I have switched off enough to relax. I can feel that my batteries are starting to recharge - just in time as my first service is tomorrow night. But hopefully the week after Christmas will still be quiet.
I am looking forward to getting going - but I must admit that I have very little idea as to how to allocate my time. I know that I will work it out as I go along, but I have a tendency to get too busy that is exacerbated by a fear of being ineffective or of being bored. I also haven't managed to find myself a comfortable workspace at home - it always takes time and with many boxes of books still unpacked things are still a bit cluttered.
So the next ten days will be gritting my teeth and establishing some sort of routine and rhythm and plan for working - while, of course, the rest of the family is still on holiday!
But I am keen to get started and I'm not sure that there is anywhere I would rather be than here in 2012.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Country Bumpkins

We've sorted of had to admit that Mitchell's Plain is bigger than Pietermaritzburg! We find ourselves going around shopping centres saying 'oh wow, look what you can get here'. And there is more than one mall. The roads are big and wide. The only things we lack are Incredible Connection, (which we found that nearby in Somerset Mall as well as Dion Wired which we hadn't seen before) and we haven't found a good bookshop in Mitchell's Plain itself.
But then, of course, the beach is ten minutes away!
God is good.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Holiday Mode

We are very much in holiday mode and enjoying it! But one of our frustrations is lack of good internet access. The MTN data network seems to be very overloaded - sometimes we get on, other times we watch it downloading at 1Kb/s (very, very slow almost stopped.) We have applied for Telkom ADSL - hopefully conditions will then be more suitable for blogging!
Otherwise we are settling in well. The weather has improved and today has been beautiful. We had a good walk on an almost deserted beach this morning and then a swim.
I met with the society stewards of the two societies that are under my care last night. That was very cool! I am working with the Strandfontein and the Wesley Mission societies - but I am still technically on leave and I'm trying very hard to protect that, because I know I need the time to reset.
Everything is looking pretty good - we are grateful to God for all!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Still settling!

I am starting to think about the world beyond our immediate home, but only just!
Observations so far:
Cape weather is weird. Right now it looks like it is going to snow! The dogs are skulking around looking most put out.
The late evenings have us totally confused. We find ourselves eating supper when we would normally already be in bed. But we have to come right because our youngest is starting to look seriously sleep deprived.
I feel the cross-cultural nature of where we are staying far more than in Grahamstown where I was put in a Xhosa context. In Grahamstown, everyone shopped 'in town' and there was a total racial mix in most shopping areas. Here everyone is 'coloured'. Very few black people or Indian people and just one white family to be seen wherever we go.
The previously 'white' beaches are jam-packed with holiday makers, whereas our 'coloured' beaches are chill and relaxed.
But people are friendly and the house is warm. Curtains are starting to go up to help with the strange light.
God is good.

Friday, December 09, 2011

This is Cape Town

We have been in Cape Town for just over 24 hours. I  must admit that I am feeling exhausted. I don't know how many times over the last three months I have felt that I have nothing more to give and that I am all used up! But now, I hope, we get a few days to slow down.
We have spent our first night in Mitchells Plain - in a house that has just been revamped for us. It is very cool and the family and animals are happy. We just have to unpack gazillions of boxes!

Monday, December 05, 2011

Busy Moving

We are in the process of moving. People are carrying boxes out the house. Teenagers are armed with lists, ticking off every box and piece of furniture. The dogs, rabbits, birds and mouse are in the outside store room and patio.
Tomorrow night we will be camping in East London and the night after in Sedgefield. All being well we will be in Cape Town for Thursday night.
I don't have much head space for blogging right now - so I will catch up later!

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Bethlehemian Rhapsody

I've seen links to this all over, but it is cool. Even more cool if you actually know Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen! (Written by Mark Bradford and directed by Darla Robinson.)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Never say impossible

Three weeks ago I thought that my PhD hopes via UKZN were dead. The last Higher Degrees Committee meeting had come and gone and my proposal was not yet complete. Prof Draper offered me a ray of hope by suggesting bringing Dr Billy Meyer on board as a co-supervisor, but I wasn't sure if there was time to make it work. A couple of days later I came to the end of another project and decided to email Prof Draper and say let's give it a try. And so Billy and I worked together and in less than two weeks the proposal was good enough in his eyes. Today Jonathan (Draper) also okayed it and I have a signed contract with my supervisors and a promise that they will submit my proposal as early as possible next year.
Thank you Billy! And Jonathan. And of course, Jesus, through whom all things are possible. God is good.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Church and 'Sexual Immorality'

This is one of those posts where I want to talk about 'the church' and 'Christians' as being people somewhere over there, because I feel so inadequate to respond to his issue as a Christian. Moderate Christians have in a very muted way (to my mind) warned of the slide into sexual immorality within society. The muted moderates have found themselves between extravagant extremists - those who picket gay funerals on the one hand and those who advocate allowing adolescents to experiment with sex on the other. And all in the name of Jesus.
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Jennifer Thorpe on Thought Leader entitled Criminalising Adolescent Sexuality - Murky Waters  The article is mostly a description of current South Africa law, but here is hint of opinion.

If you are between 12 and 15 years, 11 months and 31 days you are still legally too young to consent to sex, and yet according to research done on children, sexuality is part of normal childhood growth. Indeed most South Africans have their first sexual experience in adolescence. What our law says is that anyone older who has consensual sex, or commits sexual acts, with someone between 12 and 15 years, 11 months and 31 days is committing statutory rape or statutory sexual assault. The complexity arises if the two people having sex fall within this age bracket. Technically they can both be charged with statutory rape or assault, even if they have both consented to sex or the sexual acts (including kissing as defined under our law). If they are convicted of this crime, then they will never ever be able to work in a position that allows them contact with children.

I don't want to live in a society where sexual experience for teenagers outside of a committed long term relationship is normal. I don't want to live in a society where the family is no longer a fundamental unit. I am afraid that our 'higher values' are being determined by our selfish desires rather than a desire for the common good. We are being extremely short-sighted.

What would Jesus do? I have my own answer for that, but as church I think we are too divided to speak into this possible future.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A New Phase

My seminary journey ended last Thursday. I may reflect on that journey more later, but for now my dominant feeling is that it was an intense journey. I was busy. There were highs and there were some lows. In some ways quite emotional.
But I was not bored. And that is quite an important thing for me.
Another important thing is that my time was spent in very practical exercises. If the observant reader can remember back to my blog posts before going to seminary they will know that I did not want an increase in head knowledge of which I already felt I had too much. I believed that I would do better applying my knowledge in practical situations. And I thoroughly appreciate the flexibility of the seminary programme in that this is what I had. By the grace of God I was not stuck in a classroom but spent time doing work in the field.
But I did also study Greek to a level that I can meaningfully use in my PhD and embark on the PhD. I 'lived and moved and had my being' in a multicultural situation and experienced varied worship and small group activities.

I think that the last two years were well spent.

But now it is time to move on. Get my head and heart tuned into what God's wants me to do and be next year. To give some thought to the direction of this blog. To go and pack lots of boxes!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Truth and Culture

This is such a good article by Ken Schenck. Here is part of it:

It is an excellent illustration of what I meant in a previous post about "thick descriptions" of things in cultures.  Here are two fundamental insights into meaning:
  • The meaning of language is in how it is used, not simply in defining each word.
  • The meaning of an action or an event is a function of its socio-cultural context.  If an action has a universal significance, it is because of commonality between every such context.
If I say, "There's an elephant in the room," you cannot know what I mean without knowing the context.  I could be a zoo-keeper.  I could be using an idiom.  Or it could be code for my sister to pour Cool-aid on your head.  If turn my hand and make a V in America, who knows what I'm doing (victory symbol?).  In England I am flipping you off.

So it is with truth telling.  I remember being at a church where some of the leaders would get very upset that individuals from another culture would tell them they were going to be at church Sunday and then would never show up.  To me, this was a cultural conflict rather than a matter of them being liars or, worse, it being typical of their "lying culture."  I knew what they were doing with their words.

The use of the words, "Yes, I'll be there Sunday" had a social function rather than an informative one.  "Yes, I'll be there Sunday" meant "I like you and don't want to offend you... even though I don't know if I'll come Sunday or not."  I considered it the cultural ignorance of the church leaders to assume that the meaning of words is always propositional, that the meaning of the words must be straightforwardly and literally defined in order to be truthful (if you disagree with me, don't ever step anywhere near a mission field).  The meaning of words has to do with what we are "doing" with them rather than some propositional content... unless of course what we're doing with them is in fact propositional.

Read the rest here.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


As we head off to Mitchell's Plain:
My daughters have accomodation here in Pietermaritzburg that is walking distance from the university. They are staying with two others in a house in a cluster complex. A real answer to prayer.
My husband has a job teaching science at Bergvliet High School - which of all the schools advertising in the area was his first choice and is the only one that has actually come back to him so far. My sons will be going to school there too.
We should be leaving in two weeks time - still not 100% sure where we will land on the other side (the circuit is trying to find the best option for us) but we know that things will work out.
God is good.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Flying Rhino?

What about this? A flying rhino?

I think this image is by Michael Raimondo/Green Renaissance/WWF 

The World Wildlife Foundation has been rescuing black rhinos. Here they were airlifting a group of rhinos by helicopter onto trucks to move them from the Eastern Cape to Limpopo. Story at New Scientist. (Click to enlarge photo.)

Oh yes, power!

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Bert Olivier, Caravaggio and money

Bert Olivier is Professor of Philosophy at NMMU in Port Elizabeth. He writes about the painting The Calling of St Matthew by Caravaggio. I know so little about art that I find interpretations fascinating - all about the light, the pointing fingers, the clothes.

Here is an excerpt from the conclusion. Read the whole article here.

But I would argue that, understood in this way,this divide denotes the relevant chasm in exclusively economic-material terms, and to my mind this is not the most significant divide in question. What Jesus’ gesture towards Matthew represents on a universal metaphorical level — to be sure, instantiated differently in every culture — is something more important, captured powerfully by the implication of a possible qualitative leap on Matthew’s part, should he rise to the occasion of his “calling”, namely the possibility on the part of every person living in this time of conspicuous consumption, of making a similar qualitative leap from crass materialism to a discovery of “meaning” that vastly surpasses it.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Gull and Eagle - Awesome Picture

(Image: Markus Varesvuo/

Isn't this an awesome picture? It's not photoshopped! The story is at New Scientist.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Wesley Guild Charter - 1960

I found this in the vestry at Greytown Methodist Church.(Click to enlarge.)

The General Secretary whose signature is hard to make out was Rev Ted Floweday. He was a supernumary (retired) minister at Randburg Methodist Church when I was a member there, and that is where he passed away. There is a plaque in memory of him in the Metro Methodist Church in Pietermaritzburg, where I spend some time as well. I don't know the other signatories.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Messing with your mind

How is this for a question? From FlowingData via @workforcetrends. The original blog post had 330 comments after only one day!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Learning from #occupy

This follows on from my previous post where I said that I suspect that the church is contributing to the economic divide between the wealthy and the poor. Because the church tends to see everyone as rich, it encourages sharing and distribution of wealth amongst its poorer constituency without challenging those who are in real terms financially wealthy. This means that the better off (middle class I suppose) becomes poorer as they support the very poor and the divide grows.

I'm not an economist, but perhaps the structure of society in South Africa looks like this (very simply!):
Top 1% - Company directors, highly paid professionals eg doctors
Comfortably off - senior managers, small business owners
Doing ok - teachers, middle managers, supervisors
Just ahead of poverty - manual workers, clerks

Instead of allowing limited wealth to cycle amongst the lower four levels it would be better to raise the 'Comfortably off' level into the 'Divide'. It makes sense that each level should focus on raising the level beneath them. So the top 1% needs to make opportunities for the 'Comfortably off' to rise.  The 'Comfortably off' should make opportunities for the 'Doing ok' and so on. What we have at the moment in the sense that the 1% should be raising the 'Unemployed'. This is good because wealth flows into the lower section of the economy, but it does not close the divide. It could even mean that the 'Unemployed' are raised to the next level without any provision made for that level to also rise - thus there is a greater demand for jobs at this level, but the jobs are not there and so people drop down to 'Unemployed' again.
So what #occupy is saying is that if we don't deal with the divide we are never going to break the cycle.
It is totally unintuitive, but job creation and empowerment needs to happen for the 'Comfortably off' in order to lift the whole economy.
So as a church minister - do I assist those with nothing, or those who are working their way up the economic strata?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The rich get richer

I suspect that the church's message is contributing to the divide between rich and poor. This is why.

This #occupy thing first struck me as a western oddity, but I am beginning to see the sense of it. Graeme Codrington wrote an article, in which he quotes in full another article from Vanity Fair, which throws a fair bit of light on the causes of the #occupy movement in America. The gist of it is that the rich (the 1%) are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer and the divide between them is getting ever larger. South Africa has a similar situation. Graeme says:

What are they protesting against or for, though? Maybe you haven’t been watching very closely.
You should. History is going to judge these events as the beginning of something big. The way the rich have been behaving in many countries is now under unprecedented scrutiny, and will not be allowed to continue. How this will all play out is not yet clear. History tells us that when the rich and poor get too separated, the poor rise up and kill the rich. That’s unlikely to happen (although it can’t be ruled out, even in the most ‘civilised’ of nations), but something will happen. 

The following graph was culled out of tax return figures by Roger Saner (via Twitter).(Click to enlarge)

This is South Africa's 1% and it exists as a separated entity.

Now there are three interesting things - the obvious is that 99% of all people are not part of the 1%. This means that the vast majority of the population is feeling a little hard done by when they look at this graph. It's not a matter of my not being happy with just a Blackberry, but rather the wondering why 1% of people have so much and can buy iPads in bulk, while I am so pleased with my Blackberry (in the USA the 1% has 25% of income and they control 40% of wealth).

Another is that white people constitute 10% of the population. Now probably the 1% is predominantly white, but not completely. Whatever, at least 90% of white people fall outside of the 1%. Thus previously advantaged people find themselves part of the considerably less well-off 99% and have a sense of fellowship with the previously-disadvantaged-trying-to-advance people. This has got to have an effect on bargaining power.

The third relates to the message of the church. We commonly tell people - you are rich! Whatever you might think about your circumstances, understand that as long as there are people poorer than you, you are rich. Spread it around guys. This does result in upliftment of the very poor to some extent but also sees a drop in the living standard of the middle class. Thus even the church's message is contributing to the divide between rich and poor. The church should, like the prophets of the Old Testament, be sending a message to the 1%, not castigating the middle class.

Abdul Milazi writes an interesting piece about ubuntu which I think relates (and is funny!) Go read the whole thing!

“The thing is we don’t have ubuntu anymore, our leaders only think of lining their pockets,” stumpy said without missing a beat.

“Ubuntu is for poor people. It’s a survival system where very little is shared among many. When you can afford things, then ubuntu becomes redundant,” I told stumpy and watched the shock on the six faces around me.

“But we need ubuntu for the country to work. We need to look after the poor and spread the wealth,” said stumpy now frothing at the mouth. I handed him a paper towel, but he didn’t get the hint.

“Well, try spreading your own buddy. I have worked hard to get out of poverty and into a comfortable middle class life. Any poor person who wants to get out of poverty should do the same,” I said, pulling out a Monte Cristo Gran Corona and sniffing it.

Another man whose face escapes me now jumped in: “But this is the exact attitude that has led to tenderpreneurship and all the corruption in the country,” he said.

“I don’t need to borrow a lawnmower from my neighbour because I own one. I don’t need to borrow a cup of sugar either, so I believe my neighbour and I have a constitutional right to be left the hell alone, and the less fortunate have a constitutional right to share everything among themselves to survive,” I said as I left the group with my daughter in tow.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


This is Kikeri aka Kiki. 
She (or possibly he) is the latest addition to the family. He (or possibly she) is a three week old Hahn's Macaw.

She has been hand reared and we will carry on. I expected a slightly older bird . . . that would be a little less demanding . . . but she will soon be off frequent feeds.
Macaw's and parrots are seasonal breeders, so now is the time for baby birds.
The names Kikeri and Kiki were chosen from children's story books. My kids helped choose.

Me: What about Mr Mephistopheles?
Child 1: No mommy, we can't have another bird named after a cat.
Me: (I had to agree, she was right) Kiki then?
Children: (Somewhat non-commital)
The next day.
Me: What about Piglet?
Child 2 & 4: NO mommy. Kiki would be a good name.
So, I guess they chose?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Desperate for your touch

Take me to that secret place  
Where I can only see Your face  
And nothing else will ever feel this way
You take away my guilty stains  
The things I've done that I can't change 
It's only by the power of Your name

I stand here in this place 
See the glory on Your face  
I'm taken by the wonder of Your name
I'm desperate for Your touch 
Never needed it so much 
'Cos all I want is You

Lyrics by Planetshakers

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


I've lifted this from the NT Resources blog by Rod Decker. Rod tells the story of John Brown of Haddington and how, as a child or teenager, he taught himself Greek using an old Latin textbook and the Greek New Testament. Talk about determined! The story carries on as follows:

He wanted a copy of a Greek NT for his own. The nearest bookstore that would have one was 24 miles away at St. Andrews. He arranged for a friend to watch his flock of sheep (he earned his room and board as a shepherd) and walked all night, barefoot, arriving at the bookstore in the morning. Robertson describes what happened (quoting from Mackenzie).

Going in, he startled the shopman by asking for a Greek New Testament. He was a very raw-looking lad at the time, his clothes were rough, homespun, and ragged, and his feet were bare. ‘What would YOU do wi’ that book? You’ll no can read it,’ said the bookseller. ‘I’ll try to read it,’ was the humble answer of the would-be purchaser. Meanwhile some of the professors had come into the shop, and, nearing the table, and surveying the youth, questioned him closely as to what he was, where he came from, and who had taught him. Then one of them, not unlikely Francis Pringle, then Professor of Greek, asked the bookseller to bring a Greek New Testament, and throwing it down on the counter, said: ‘Boy, if you can read that book, you shall have it for nothing.’ He took it up eagerly, read a passage to the astonishment of those in the shop, and marched out with the gift, so worthily won in triumph. By the afternoon, he was back at duty on the hills of Abernethy, studying his New Testament the while, in the midst of his flock.

From: A. T. Robertson. The Minister and His Greek New Testament. New York: George H. Doran, 1923. (See ch. 9.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What am I afraid of?

I've been watching myself. That sounds odd, I guess. But the last ten days or so I have been watching to see when I feel stressed - what causes it, how do I react? I am surprised at how often I find myself being on 'red alert' to deal with some sort of problem or other that I anticipate. In general I think that I do ok.
But I've been asking myself a deeper question that I can't answer. I sometimes find myself in situations I find uncomfortable - or I may just suddenly feel insecure - and I am asking myself what I am fundamentally afraid of. What is making me unhappy? They say some people are driven by a need to be in control and so they fear losing control, others need to be competent and they fear being seen as incapable, others need to be liked . . . I don't know how far the list could go. I can't figure out what my basic fear is. Is there really such a thing?

Monday, October 17, 2011

White Liberals, Black Consciousness and the Good Samaritan

I know that much of the way we understand the Bible comes from the context that we believe it is addressing. Just like a golf ball looks different in the snow to when it is on a putting green. Sometimes if we don't understand a Bible passage we 'reverse engineer' it from the context.
I guess most people have been confused by Luke's account of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. The sequence is:
Expert: Love your neighbour
Jesus: You've got it
Expert: Who is my neighbour?
Jesus: Tells story. Which of these three men was a neighbour?
Expert: The one who had mercy.
So, following the sequence, who are we to love? Those who have mercy on us.
Now this doesn't really gel with us. We are expecting a 'love your enemy' scenario, not a 'love your friend' scenario. So we focus on Jesus's next words 'Go and do likewise'. In other words, act as the Samaritan did. I think that the reason we choose to focus on those words is because our context tells us that the issue is not loving those who help us, but rather loving those who differ from us (Jews/ Samaritans) and so we find the force of the parable in the context, rather than the parable itself.
In South Africa we are moving into a new context. A context (driven by Black Consciousness) that says 'don't allow others to help you - stand up for yourself' (and generally these others are labeled 'white liberals'). In this new context, what does the parable of the Good Samaritan say? It says that you may be utterly galled by having to receive help from someone that you despise, but love that person anyway. He or she is your neighbour.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Finishing Up

I have about six weeks left in Pietermaritzburg. I am finding that I am under a complicated set of stresses. Partly there is the underlying knowledge that we have to move the family 2000km and then settle on 'the other side'. But there is also the finishing off of projects. Just a few more weeks at Greytown - am I leaving them better off than I found them? What else do I need to do? Have I been reasonably faithful to my task?
The Phakamisa outreach project needs to be handed over and that is happening. I'm learning to take a deep breath when I realise that things won't happen exactly as I had in mind - the project must move on and I already need to let go.
Two more weeks of UKZN lectures - what will I do next year with the PhD? What can I still do this year?
And I'm fighting the temptation to just stop as if the next few weeks don't count for anything. But I need to believe that I finished strong, so fight the lethargy and keep moving!
God has been good to me.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Gelotology - lol!

I thought this was funny - I'm not sure how much of a scholar (nerd?) one has to be to appreciate it! Beautifully evolutionary.

So, here’s the sitch. Ur txting ur BFF & they tell a funny joke, rt? OMG, ur ROFLing 4eva! And, of course, desirous to explicate the amount and volume of your gelotological response to said stimuli, you endeavor to articulate it with the greatest degree of concision and the maximal amount of verbal economy, thus seeking out the optimal acronymous designation for such behavior. Fortuna has cast her benevolent gaze upon you, my friend, for close at hand lies nothing less than that beloved favorite of the texting masses, the very paragon of wit-ensouled brevity, the palindromic trigram: LOL.

It comes from a blog called και τα λοιπα. where author Daniel R. Streett continues in order to construct a Greek alternative for LOL. He is a relatively new blogger and highly innovative teacher of New Testament Greek. 

BTW Gelotology refers to laughter and its effect on the body.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Changing Church

The Faith Communities Today Survey 2010 has some interesting data about the change in American faith communities and the church. You can find the survey here. (And thanks to TSK for the lead.)
 I haven't read, yet, how 'spiritual vitality' is determined - but it's interesting that a higher percentage of congregations in the extreme positions have a higher vitality. This graph does not say that 'very liberals' are more 'spiritual' than others - just that a 49.8% of those who are defined by the survey as liberal have 'spiritual vitality'. Bottom line - most churches have low vitality, but those who think more about their theology have a higher percentage vitality.
There is a similar graph in the survey showing spiritual vitality rather than attendance growth, which showed that innovation was key. Here contemporary is key. In both, innovative and contemporary is the ideal.

 I am interested in the different dynamics around ethnicity and church that we see in America compared to here in South Africa. In America the white population is dropping and increasingly ethnic groups are forming their own congregations rather than attending 'white' services. Many churches encourage this and I know of at least one seminary that is actively producing study material in Spanish to cater for the training of Hispanic pastors. In South Africa, in the Methodist Church, white congregations are generally trying to become multiracial - the desire is to include wherever possible. I think that we could learn a lot from the American dynamics if we were to analyse the similarities and the differences.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Tract

I think this is cool - given the way that tracts are seen as un-pc.
For people (like me) who don't know enough about popular culture to understand the picture: The character is Admiral Ackbar from the Star Wars movies. He is the rebel leader of the Mon Calamari and is a popular character with fans. His most famous line comes from the Return of the Jedi, "It's a trap!"
Thanks to Matt Stone, from whose blog I took the picture.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Group and Identity and You're not so smart

I am starting to acknowledge what some black theologians (where black describes the theology, not the human being!) have been saying for a while. Post white-supremacy/ colonial Christianity and politics boils down to two streams. That which says we should be colour-blind, aim for a non-racial society and move on. And that which says my colour and ethnicity is a fundamental part of who I am and I can never move on without it (and by implication I define you by your colour and ethnicity). I am able to understand the first quite easily, but I am busy trying to get myself into the skin of people who believe the second. I can glimpse it, tantalisingly close, but still can't comprehend it.
I was reading an interesting (but long) article on It's about 'asymmetric insight' which we know best by the fact that we tend to consider our own motivations innocent (when I did that I made a mistake) and others' less so (when they did that they were being nasty). But it revolves around research into group behaviour that I think helps to understand some of the dynamics.

 Just as you don a self, a persona, and believe it to be thicker and harder to see through than those of your friends, family and peers, you too believe the groups to which you belong are more complex, more diverse and granular than are groups of which you could never imagine yourself a member. When you feel the warm comfort of belonging to a team, a tribe, a group – to a party, an ideology, a religion or a nation – you instinctively turn others into members of outgroups, into outsiders. 


The research suggests you and rest of humanity will continue to churn into groups, banding and disbanding, and the beautiful collective species-wide macromonoculture imagined by the most Utopian of dreams might just be impossible unless alien warships lay siege to our cities.

I would like to believe is that following Jesus can do better than alien warships could!
Read the article here

Friday, October 07, 2011

Sibongile's Pre-School

I went to visit a couple of the preschools in the Edendale area which have teachers being trained by Phakamisa Pietermaritzburg. Here are some pictures of Sibongile's Pre-School.

This is the outside of her home, where she holds the school. She made the mud bricks herself.

Here she is teaching the children - it's a pity they all turned to look at the camera, they were nicely involved in the lesson.

You can see some of the Phakamisa materials - the shapes and colours. The letters on the wall are not from Phakamisa - but there is a lot of pressure on pre-schools from the parents to teach the children to write their names.
 This is another pre-school, but the setting is very similar to that of Sibongile's.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Desmond Tutu and a perspective on heroism

When Desmond Tutu has harsh words for the ANC government, most of us sit up and listen and applaud. Especially if we agree with him! But mostly our respect comes because he shows himself to be a man of principle. I have been reading so much about his activity during the apartheid era and the struggle for liberation (for my PhD thesis) that I can quote words that he used then that would apply so well now. He is consistent.

But my observation is on the nature of heroism. We see his stance now (about the apparent reluctance of the ANC government to grant the Dalai Lama a visa to enter the country) as heroic. We see him as heroic because he speaks against the powerful state and against those alongside whom he struggled for liberation. Perhaps most of all he is heroic because if he is not supported by public opinion he could lose his status of 'struggle hero'. He would no longer be popular and admired and even idolised. From a human point of view he could lose all that he has earned in a long and useful life. The ANC could trash him and badmouth him.

What did his heroism look like in the apartheid era? He spoke out against an unpopular government and a system that disadvantaged the vast majority of the South African population. He may have lost the good opinion of certain white people, but he spoke for the masses. His courage was in that his personal safety was threatened. The TRC hearings showed how ruthlessly the apartheid government physically eliminated their opponents. He had some measure of protection after winning the Nobel Prize as he became more famous, but nonetheless he had to suffer fear and victimisation of both himself and his family.
It is odd that nowadays we have politicians continually surrounded by bodyguards as if they are in fear of their lives - yet I doubt that Tutu feels that fear now. He has shown a special sort of courage. He has stood up in spite of his life and family being threatened and he has stood up again now in spite of his reputation and acceptance by the community being threatened.

It is a moral courage that is both physical and existential and I suspect that it is quite rare.

Monday, October 03, 2011

When the tackie hits the tar

I have a feeling that for the next few weeks, whatever the outside of me looks like I'm doing, the inside of me is going to be figuring out moving. We do trust God - and he has shown himself to be trustworthy time and time again - but we have to do our bit. So we are applying for jobs (husband), looking for a school (for the boys), agonising about whether to come or stay (girls) and looking like we have everything under control (me).
The church provides a house (manse) but I still need to hear from them. Will we fit? Comfortably? Pets? The information filters through . . .
Um, yes, it is stressful!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

National Planning Commission

This is an opportunity for people who want to make a difference to the way the SA government thinks. Some of the links from the letter below probably won't work unless you register, but it gives an idea of what is happening. This is on for another couple of days, I think. Trevor Manuel is someone who has his head screwed on right!

Dear NPC Jammer

The NPC Jam is now well into its second day. Do you have a simple, pragmatic idea that may stimulate thought? Given the current realities of South Africa, it's not surprising that job creation and unemployment are key themes in the Jam. Below you will find three examples of some simple ideas that may spark bigger ones. What are your thoughts regarding these topics? What specific experiences can you share to help stimulate further discussion? Consider joining any of the conversations below or start your own.

Another Day, Another Opportunity: Community pilot program to offer Internet access

Sustainable jobs: Cleaning contracts?

Institutionalising necessary social/community work

To log in, go to:

Finally, please, forward this email to your colleagues, family and friends and encourage them to join the NPC Jam. They can register here:

We look forward to Jamming with you!

Quo vadis?

The annual Methodist Conference has been and gone and our stations for next year have been confirmed. We will be packing up and moving to da-da-da-daaa Mitchell's Plain, which is near (in) Cape Town. It is a Coloured community and I don't know much else at this stage!
I am looking forward to being there - but before that there is a lot to be done. My husband needs to find a job, my boys need schools and my daughters need to decide where they are going to live. The younger has only done year at UKZN, so she could move with us. The other needs to stay in Pietermaritzburg to complete. And then we must pack boxes and move the household about 2000km.
So, exciting times, but somewhat tempered by the realities of family and moving.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Google Plus

I am experimenting with Google+ and hoping that it will turn out to be a bit more discreet than Facebook. I think many of us struggle with the way that one can chance upon a Facebook discussion that is busy totally destroying a person's or an organisation's reputation. Or you read a comment by someone and you are pretty sure that they wouldn't have written that if they thought you would see it - but basically they forgot how many people get to see what happens on Facebook.
Google+ with its circles and limited publishing should be more discreet - but I suspect that it very much depends on the user. And, unfortunately, I think that many people are drawn by the freedom, interconnectedness (access to friends of friends of friends) and lack of accountability on Facebook.

You can find stats about Google+ at So, if you believe it, the person with the most Google+ followers IS Mark Zuckerberg.
And two thirds of Google+'ers are male and one third female. Somehow, I think I ought to feel guilty about that ?!?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Dead Sea Scrolls and Google

Google has got it right to digitise some of the Dead Sea Scrolls. You can check it out here. It's part of a project with The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Of course, it helps to be able to read Hebrew - but if you can, you can read for yourself. There is also translation and stacks of useful information. Looks like fun!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Being righteous in Greek

There is a new post on my Greek blog - mostly I wanted to do something with an assignment I wrote!
You can click here.

Music Connection

Ok, this post is a 'good service' award for a shop that really made it happen. It is also probably my sound tech husband's favourite shop. This same husband bought me a guitar (at Music Connection) when we were in Johannesburg in July - not exactly because he was tired of me borrowing his, but it was getting a bit complicated trying to juggle who he was lending it to when! It was a nice guitar - much envied and there were threats that it would be run away with . . . But the neck started to come away from the main box of the thing. A nuisance - seeing as it was bought in Jhb and we live in Pietermaritzburg. But many noddy points to Music Connection - we sent them photographs so that they could see what was happening and next thing they couriered down a replacement and we sent back the sad guitar.
So here's a plug for Music Connection

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


There is a new post on Singukukhanya. (It is interesting to try to write on the Beatitudes in Zulu when I have just studied them in Greek!)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Fun with Technorati

I have always wanted to do this, and then I did it by accident. (This is about blog stats - please feel free to skip if you are not a techie!)
Technorati provide blog ranking stats ( It's a bit of a mission to find out the rankings of the South African religion blogs that I am interested in, but there are a few that I check once in a blue moon. Blog rankings are based on what Technorati calls authority. Authority is calculated from number of hits to the blog, how often posts are created and links from other posts - I'm not sure if they use anything else. This works quite well because it stops inactive blogs topping the ranking. You also can't manipulate it with 'link farms' because links must be current.
All the South African blogs were sitting at around authority 100. Then Steve Hayes linked to me from his Notes From Underground Blog. I started checking Technorati - yes! My blog went up to authority 408. Then I happened to link back to Steve's Khanya blog. He linked to Cobus van Wyngaard from Khanya and I also linked to Cobus. Now Steve's Khanya blog and Cobus's blog are both around 400. And I've just linked to them again, so let's see what happens.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Remembering Black Consciousness

This is the month Steve Biko died, quite a few years ago now. I have also been writing a section on Black Theology for my thesis (limit 1500 words, eish!) So I have many thoughts churning around my head about black consciousness. Perhaps this is a cop out - but here is some stuff that is relevant because it's recent, or because it has stuck with me over a few months.
First a quote from Antjie Krog in 'Country of My Skull' as I have put it in my thesis:

Antjie Krog reports on an interview with an unnamed black author which gives life to the concept of black solidarity. She was asking him about a part of his book where a murder has occurred and someone has reported the murderers.

“Why does your main character condemn the splitter and not the murderers?”
“Because black people must always stick together.”
“But the woman who saw a white man running away from Chris Hani’s dead body didn’t say, ‘He was white, so I’ll shut up.’ She said, ‘The deed is wrong, so I’ll speak out.’”
He looks at me. “No one can destroy whites – they have survival in their bones. But for us, if we don’t stand together no matter what, we’ll be wiped out.” (2009: 12)

Second, an article by Khaya Dlanga. He doesn't call it black consciousness - but this strikes me as a from the heart explanation that I can identify with (even if my skin colour is all wrong!)
Why Black Folk Don't Vote DA

The real reason most black people won’t vote for the DA is because they want to fix their problems for themselves. They don’t want to feel like they need a white person to solve their problems for them. If they allow the DA to take over, this is what it will feel like, “We can’t do it for ourselves, let’s let the white people fix this for us.”
Third an article by a young student, Zama Ndlovu, who is discovering black consciousness. I feel she is confused - many white people are educated and successful, but that doesn't mean that education and success are 'white things'. But perhaps I misunderstand.
My Consciousness is Not Up For Discussion

Another young person, fellow blogger Cobus van Wyngaard has challenges as a young Afrikaner trying to 'live' black consciousness. I identify with his struggles.
How Good White People Keep White Superiority in It's Place.
Roger Saner has had similar posts, but I couldn't find the one I had in mind.

Another blogger Steve Hayes - shares my views on the virtues of non-racial thinking.  Whiteness, Whiteliness and White Studies.

. . . might be funny, but it also shows that “white liberal” has become a racist stereotype like “lazy kaffir” and “devious coolie”, and I’m not sure that racist stereotypes are all that funny in a society where too many people still take them seriously and believe them.
And just to mention Tinyiko Maluleke's level-headed approach from his post today.

Closing with words from Black Theologian Simon Maimela (also in my thesis):

Black Theology contends that it is as people candidly face the racial factors that breed alienation and conflict that they will be open to the transformative power of the gospel, which will lead whites and blacks to acquire qualitatively new ways of becoming human in their relationships to one another.

Friday, September 16, 2011


Tekiah, Shevarim, Teruah and Tekiah Gedolah - those are the names of the blasts played on the Shofar on Jewish special days. Listen to them on the video below. I didn't know that I knew so little about the shofar - until I read all of this!
The shofar is made from a ram's horn and has been used since Biblical days. It is played especially at Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
The Tekiah is a long sustained blast.
The Shevarim consists of three broken blasts (shevarim means broken).
The Teruah sounds the alarm and is at least 9 quick short notes.
The Tekiah Gedolah is a VERY long sustained blast.
There is some uncertainty about which of the Shevarim and Teruah are supposed to be played at festivals, so generally both are used.
Listen to them on the video below - way more musical than a vuvuzela!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Kentridge and Biko 2011

I've said it before and I'm saying it again - I think that Steve Biko is going to be an extremely influential figure in the 'new' South Africa. While he has been, and is, an icon of Black Consciousness, what he stood for was far more fundamental than skin colour politics. He had a deep sense of justice - which in his context was enraged by the demeaning and dehumanising of black people. We are mistaken if we believe that he only stood for black rights - he stood for justice and for human rights. And he didn't just talk - he stood for them - political oratory is one thing, being willing to die for your beliefs about justice is quite another.
Rebecca Davis writing for the Daily Maverick reports on the recent annual Steve Biko memorial lectures and I quote part of what she has to say about Sydney Kentridge's (Biko's lawyer) address:

And despite Kentridge’s efforts, the inquest's verdict found nobody was to blame for Biko’s death. The reason for the sham verdict, Kentridge reminded us, was that the independence of the apartheid judiciary was undermined by biased judges appointed by the state. At this point there was an almost audible intake of breath from the audience seemingly putting two and two together about recent events around the appointment of the Chief Justice. 

Read the whole article to get it in context here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A nice long stretch

Today was satisfying. A nice long stretch of time that I could dedicate to academic pursuits. I started by rearranging my workspace. Away with my cramped setup - I now have space for books and papers and my laptop and external monitor - much, much better!
And I am now in a position to start crunching away at my thesis. The proposal is still not complete, but I don't think that any modifications which are called for will change the structure or nature of the thesis. So, starting today it's 500 words a day, minimum! I've started, it's slow, but it's flowing!
I also started work on my assignment for the Greek exegesis class. That is a bit of a sidetrack, but the discipline of doing a set paper is worth the effort.
So, a different day, a different pace, but satisfying! God has been kind to me.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Academic Ranking of World Universities 2011

Last month Shanghai Jiao Tong University published the annual rankings of universities around the world. South Africa has three universities in the top 500. They are the University of Cape Town which is ranked between 201 and 300, the University of Witwatersrand which is ranked between 301 and 400 and the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal (where I am studying!) which is ranked between 401 and 500.
I'm not sure if Departments of Theology are used at all as an academic indicators, though!
South Africa does not seem to have made it into the top 100 in any particular field.
The top 3 universities in the world : Harvard, Stanford and MIT.

Come on South Africa - we can build on this!

The full list of the top 500 universities.
The list of South African universities in the top 500.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Church, State and Service Delivery

I am doing a course on Greek Exegesis at UKZN and the part of scripture under study is Matthew's gospel. There are just three of us in the class with Prof Jonathan Draper so there is some space for discussion, which is fun. I can't think how it related to Matthew, but we were talking about 'the believers having all things in common' and the way the context has changed from then to now. As Prof Draper pointed out, the early Christians were building a community that was pretty much independent of the outside world. Nowadays, we are economically part of the state community that levies taxes and redistributes wealth in that way.
One of my mentors last year spoke of how the church's job was to force the state to provide the educational facilities it was constitutionally obliged to offer.
I guess people have been talking about this and I just haven't grasped it - but what does a church community look like in our cultural context - bearing in mind taxes and social welfare? We talk about separation of church and state - and that is fine, but how do we cooperate meaningfully?
Some stuff to think about!

Sunday, September 11, 2011


For some reason, the passing away of Rev Angela Shier-Jones, in the UK, has touched me. She was a minister in the Methodist Church in Britain and was recently diagnosed with cancer. I didn't know her, or read her blog - but heard of her passing from a twitter friend. I still don't feel I know too much about her - but somehow I am inspired by her. I think it might be from the way she is described as being angry with her church, because she loves it so much. I can identify with that.
Her blog is here. 
A tribute to her is here.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Making Heroes

I enjoyed reading Tinyiko Maluleke's post about who our real heroes are. You can find it here (you have to scroll down quite a bit to get to the post). He writes about the South African university academics who were being acknowledged by the international community for their achievement - and about how the South African media was talking about Julius Malema. Seriously - why aren't we celebrating the people of whom we are proud and making them media icons? Why don't we hold up these awesome scholars and innovators to our young people as examples? I'm grateful to Tinyiko Maluleke for showing the way.
And as an aspirant church minister - I hope to do the right thing by the congregations in which I work and to lift up the true heroes.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Unzondelelo Mission with SMMS 2011

 Some of the seminarians, having just arrived at Chesterville Methodist Church in Durban.

The programme cover.

 In the church, waiting for things to begin.

 Visiting houses on the hillside in Chesterville.

Staying with a local family.

Visiting at Ridgeville.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Preaching and Greytown

I have been very fortunate, over the last eighteen months, to have had many opportunities to preach. However, I've been starting to wonder if I haven't been getting lazy in my preparation. So last week for my service at Dalton I did a 'proper' powerpoint for the first time in ages. This week for Greytown I dug out my old illustrations book and webpages - it was actually cool to apply myself a bit more. It is amazing how easy it is to let things slide!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Withdrawal, Compassion and Baskets

As is often the case, I looked at this Sunday's lectionary reading and after wondering what new there was to say I was touched by a fresh, individualised understanding. (That means it 'spoke' to me.) The story is Jesus' feeding of the 5000 in Matthew's gospel.
Sometimes I have rough days. My response tends to be to withdraw from the place of hurt until I can cope better. So often we are told that withdrawal is an inappropriate response. But in this story we see Jesus choosing to withdraw - he had just heard that his cousin, John the Baptist, had been killed and he decided to go by boat to a quiet place.
Often what brings me out of withdrawal is a sense of being missed. However inadequate I might feel, however at odds with the world, however much I might feel a failure I find that there are people waiting for me - often at church on a Sunday morning - who want to hear the news that God is good and that he cares for them. And I have to drag my last resources to a place of prayer and get a grip on myself. And so it was for Jesus. Having travelled for some period alone with friends on the boat he pulled into land and there were people waiting for him. We could be cynical and say they just wanted their sickness healed - but that is not so, otherwise they would have left as soon as they were 'done'. Rather, they chose to be in his company. And Jesus had compassion on them.
My third thought on this passage is about baskets and is just a bit off the wall. Something has always niggled at me about the end of the story, and I think now I've got it. How did they come to have twelve empty baskets to collect the scraps? I'm sure I can think of a few good reasons and it seems totally inconsequential, but it just struck me as an oddity!

Monday, July 25, 2011


The seminarians heard today where we are likely to go next year. I think I am probably not allowed to put the exact location on my blog just yet, so that will have to wait.
I can say - I am not going to any of the places I dreaded going. I hoped that I would go somewhere unexpected that I knew little about and I don't think there could have been anywhere more unexpected than this. Except that I did vaguely anticipate the broad location (which is a bit too far from home). But the circuit sounds cool and very like a place I can enjoy!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Can we not help Africa?

This map comes from this National Geographic Page (and there is a lot more interesting information). You can click on the map to enlarge it.
It shows average gross income per capita for each country (denoted by the colour) and also population density (where a lighter shade means a higher density). It's interesting to see that South Africa falls in the second largest income range, whereas most of the rest of Africa is in the lowest range. We know that income is unevenly distributed, but nonetheless, South Africa as a whole has money!
Surely we should be able to work with our neighbouring countries to turn them purple? We have expertise. We have an economy. Maybe church groups could get involved in this? Read the Good Samaritan at a new level?
I know that a country like Zimbabwe would probably not welcome help, but Mozambique?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Fighters or Shadows?

Why did God give the Israelites the law of Moses while they were in the desert? Why did he give them instruction about mildew on house walls when they lived in tents and about gathering grapes when they were nomadic shepherds?
Was it because his intention was that they should very soon reach the Jordan cross over and settle in the Promised Land? They needed to be prepared before they scattered and settled in their new tribal areas. But things didn't work out. Moses sent twelve spies across the Jordan and God's plan to attack was outvoted 10-2. And so the Israelites had a law that was somewhat irrelevant for the next 40 years.
Is God in control or isn't he? How come human beings outvoted him? Our understanding of our relationship to God in this respect is so important as it affects the way we live our lives. I am often led to believe that we should be passive participants in God's plan - shadows who flit from place to place in utter faithfulness but are ultimately impotent. Like a small child sitting on his parent's lap 'driving' with his parent's hands over his on the steering wheel. We thinks we are in control, but actually God has it all sorted without us. It will all work out ok, because God is really running the show.
The story of the law and the promised land tells something different. Although everything did work out in the end, a whole generation was lost because of the ten spies who did not have the courage to step into new territory. I don't believe that as God's people we are helpless shadows. Rather we are active fighters expected to take the initiative and to step into enemy territory. We are expected to be bold enough to vote for God when there is a decision to be made. This doesn't mean to go to the other extreme and believe that we are in the battle alone and that it all depends on us. We need to fully grasp that God and people are partners in the struggle to bring about his kingdom. We need to be active and courageously so. We also need to trust God and allow him to be the source of our energy.
The stationing committee of previous post has a tough task. The Israelites are hearing the words of the spies and struggling with decisions. They need to be courageous. They need to trust. At the end of the day they want to vote together with God.
And me? I've got to learn both that courage and that trust . . . sometimes I think I have a long way to go! But God is good, above all things.


Yesterday, today and tomorrow the Bishops of the MCSA and various other people are meeting together to do the stationing for next year. In the Methodist Church a station is basically a Methodist Society (or group of societies). Ministers are sent to stations. Many stations are filled by the process of invitation - where the society invites a particular minister to come and work with them. Those stations that are not filled by the time of the synod held in May and those ministers that are not placed by means of invitation must be brought together by Conference appointments. Probationer (student) ministers are not eligible for invitation and must be placed by Conference. Those who are leaving seminary at the end of this year (like me!) are thus waiting to hear the Conference appointments with eager anticipation. Where is the church going to send us next year?
The meeting that is being held now will produce a first draft of stations which will only be confirmed when Conference meets in September.  Nonetheless, it will be good to have an indication of where we are likely to go!
Please pray for us all! We are nervous as well as excited.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

And once more into the fray

Our CPE course is winding down - as in coming to an end, not as in slowing down! We are all tired. It has been intense, but very beneficial.
And the end of one thing leads to the beginning of another as the new seminary semester starts on Monday - although I have my first 'new semester' meeting at UKZN on Friday afternoon. The week after has a PhD meeting with my supervisors, one or two postgraduate seminars, and a Phakamisa meeting in it already. I still need to see what the general seminary timetable looks like for chapel, covenant discipleship groups and Zulu. But the biggest thing is that I want to get my PhD proposal as perfect as possible before the August Higher Degrees Committee meeting.
This Sunday I am taking a Communion service at Dalton Methodist Church. I haven't been back to Dalton since Good Friday, so I am looking forward to it.
Other things on my plate, so far, for the semester: Extending my work at Greytown - I have started with pastoral visiting and need to continue that and then there are other things that can be done, like working with our embryo worship team, and other - to be revealed if and when it happens! I have been asked to be a substitute teacher for the UKZN Greek 1 course - this should be interesting but involves only two weeks of lectures. I am considering the possibility of continuing to do hospital visiting at Grey's to consolidate the CPE course - but that would need the seminary's permission. The seminary is also saying that I need to do more community work (maybe Grey's would count?) so I think I will be quite busy.
The end of the first week of August is also the World Methodist Conference in Durban where the seminary is sending us as ushers and other helpful people.
Four more months, and all being well, my seminary journey will be over.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Memories (2)

I said, a couple of days ago, that Friday's CPE course triggered some memories. The other that is worth recording is from . . . about 25 years ago. Experiencing the death of a patient with whom I had hoped to establish a relationship reminded me of a time that a similar thing happened long ago.
I met a Methodist minister called David Newby on a young peoples' church camp. We chatted one evening and I expressed a frustration at being unable to be involved in church and mission as much as I would like. A few days later I got a call (or calls?) from what was called the Christian Citizenship Department (CCD) of the Methodist Church. That got me linked up with three different activities, but one of them was with a man named Jannie Janse van Rensburg and involved the Johannesburg General Hospital. Jannie was absolutely passionate about the work of visiting at the hospital. I attended a training session with him and then started visiting the hospital with him. We went out one evening a week with a determined commitment. He taught me a lot of what I now consider to be instinctive. After a while, he decreed that I was ready to go solo and gave me a key to the chaplain's room. I don't remember how long I kept this up - one year or two years? I was young, time didn't mean what it means to me now. I stopped going when I no longer worked a day job in the centre of Johannesburg and the travelling became a mission.
The memory came from one particular occasion when I met a man, in his forties I guess, who was dying of something very like AIDS (although that was pre-AIDS). For some reason he touched my heart and although he was not a church person or terribly inclined towards becoming one, he was willing that I should bring him a Bible. That was a Wednesday evening, I think. I took a special trip in on the following Saturday and found that he had died two hours before I got there. I promised God that I would never forget him.
I haven't forgotten him, but I have almost forgotten that I have had all this experience. Jannie taught me a lot of the stuff that I am being reminded of at CPE.
God has sent some good people across my path. Or me in their paths!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Minister's Spouse

I have often said that a minister's spouse has a more difficult calling than a minister. More often than not (in the Methodist Church) they are dragged around the country, forced to give up their job whenever the minister is moved and then expected to find their reason-for-being in the local church in supporting the minister. My husband has avoided the latter expectation so far, simply because we have not been in the same church. Today he came with me to Greytown and preached the sermon, as my colleague who was to take the service was unavailable. The congregation loved him and at tea afterwards he connected with some of the men from the congregation. The whole minister's spouse thing is more complicated when the minister is a woman, but I thought today that my husband managed to get everything just right.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Memories (1)

The CPE course on Friday provided some prompts that sent me back in time. The first was a particular song that we sang in Tswana at chapel. I've sung this song a number of times in different places, but we sang it properly on Friday. And I remembered a little church building with tin roof, concrete floor, tatty carpets and white walls. I remember a little congregation that sang their hearts out and lifted the roof with their worship and who sang this chorus.
I started going there as part of a project for my BTh. It required 12 hours of something or other. But I ended up spending about two and a half years with this little Methodist Church and it's sister 10 or 20km up the road.
The service started at 11am. But we always used to arrive and find the door locked and the chairs still in the shed store at the back. They never started to prepare before the preacher arrived - because so often the preacher didn't arrive. They had a new minister (a Phase 1 probationer) who was passionate, but had three churches to oversee. He and I agreed that I would anchor this church. I would attend services and support him when he was the preacher, but be ready to step in and take the other services if the preacher did not arrive. I preached quite often! The little church did well and I really loved it and its people.
This was part of a journey of work in 'squatter camps' or informal settlements that continued for about another seven years - until I left to be trained as a 'proper' minister.
I was a lunatic in those days - attending four or five services on a Sunday, usually preaching at 2 of them, sometimes more. I'd forgotten about it. It's better to remember.

Friday, July 15, 2011

What did I learn today?

Today marks the end of two weeks of my CPE course - one week to go. It has been a less stressful week - no more headaches (except from my dose of 'flu'). I am enjoying it. For some reason the thing that strikes me most is the 'normality' of the environment. I think it might be something to do with the confidence and competence of the supervisors. I like it and I am comfortable.
We were moved to new wards in the middle of the week, so it has been goodbye surgical and hello oncology (I think, in the main). There were only three patients in my wards today. And someone who had passed away. It was my first experience of seeing something that had been a patient wrapped up in plastic and ready to be taken away. I am not feeling anything about it . . . yet.
I was speaking to one of the patients who revealed that she had HIV and had been admitted because her CD4 count was so low. I asked her what is was. 50. That is very low - I wondered if I should be within twenty metres of her with my residual flu. I didn't get close and I didn't stay long!
The other patient I spoke to was a man who spoke only Zulu. I had my longest Zulu conversation so far. I realised, what should be blatantly obvious - that people who are Zulu-speaking speak more easily in Zulu. When I speak to Zulu patients who are able to speak in English the conversation tends to be question and answer with answers as short as possible. When I speak in Zulu, even though they know I can't understand, the flow of speech comes. If I was to be doing this more it would definitely be worth gaining a useful Zulu vocabulary in this area.
I wonder where I will be next year? Will Zulu be a useful part of my toolkit?

Thursday, July 14, 2011


They chased me off the CPE course for today to 'get better from my flu' - in spite of my protest that this is not flu, it is just a cold. I got off the bed to go and fetch my kids at lunch time and realised I did feel a bit flakey. I started thinking - I never seem to get flu, only colds. Is it possible for someone to go their whole life without getting flu? Sometimes it must be flu, but I don't admit it.
I've been feeling quite depressed - someone who knows me said: you're just stressed about stationing. (Stationing means that those of us leaving seminary will be allocated to churches in the near future and we will soon know where we will be working as probationer (intern) ministers next year). No, I'm not stressed. Oh, hang on - that is certainly part of it.
Sometimes I think that I am too self-aware, at others I think I am an expert at denial. I wonder what else I'm not admitting?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Our CPE course has these bogeymen called Verbatims. Apparently former students warn potential students of these dreaded things in order to cause trepidation. They are a challenge. It is necessary to transcribe an interview with a patient word for word (verbatim) and do a written analysis of the interview. The biggest struggle, for me, is remembering the interview - one obviously cannot make notes while talking to the patient. Our supervisors comment on these verbatim reports and we work through one from each student in the small groups during the course. The idea being to improve our counselling skills.
Challenging, but so helpful!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Excess Greek

I have started a blog for when I do a Greek verse translation but don't want to overload this blog. It is here: Visitors and comments welcome!

Different Things

One of the things that I am enjoying about the CPE course that I am doing is the exposure to things very different to what I am used to. These things are in some ways tangential to the course content itself. Many of the course participants are Roman Catholics. I have really enjoyed the times when they have led our half an hour of worship in the mornings. Their style is so simple - they don't need printed words or data projectors - they just teach a simple song/chant to start with and then incorporate it into the service later on. But they also do more complicated stuff. They just don't need to. In some ways I find their services and songs to be not particularly culturally sensitive - English seems to be used as a universal language. But what this does mean is that it is very inclusive - on this course we have people from all over Africa, and we all fit in together.
Having people from across Africa is also opening my eyes to what happens in these other countries. We had a talk on palliative care and AIDS and the speaker kept asking questions about other countries. We know that ARV's are supplied by the government in South Africa. What happens in Zimbabwe and other African countries? We might complain about South Africa's ability to process disability grants and so on, but we have a functioning social welfare system. This country is RICH!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Progressive Christianity

I wanted to blog about 'Progressive Christianity', but maybe I should have blogged about it two weeks ago when it was simpler. What is Progressive Christianity? It seems to be where many emergent/emerging Christians have gone. It seems to be where Brian McLaren has gone. It seems to be a reigning in of 'lets kick premodernism in the the teeth and redefine everything without rules'. Now there are rules. But different rules.
Two or three weeks ago I thought that this might make a good landing place for people seriously wanting to talk about universalism and decentre-ing the Bible without throwing out Jesus altogether. I thought that it might force (or allow) a theology and praxis to develop that wasn't dependent on the traditions and foundations and structures of evangelicalism and orthodoxy.
You see, I read some of the articles at the Patheos Symposium on Progressive Christianity when there were only a few contributions and I thought I could see a focus. Going back now, I find many more articles and a growing confusion.
We need to be clear for ourselves whether we are seeking new expressions of church and gospel or whether we are seeking a restatement of the gospel, a redefinition. I think that Brian McLaren and those tending towards universalism are looking for a redefinition and I would like them to find space to do it. Maybe Progressive Christianity would be that space. I, myself, would like to see evolving expressions of church and gospel that are culturally relevant, but that retain the centrality of the Bible and of the cross.
We muddy the water too much in our desire to . . . what? Follow the trends? Jump on the bandwagon. Let's look where these bandwagons are going and choose constructively. We can't all be everything.
So, I'm not really clear on what Progressive Christianity is, but seems to be something to watch!