Friday, July 30, 2010


I visited the preschool at Brentwood yesterday for the first time since the school holidays. I found it somewhat depressed. They were starting to feel abandoned because I hadn't been to see them for such a long time. I clearly hadn't communicated well that I had three weeks of 'intensive programme' and that I wouldn't be there. So they thought that I had just lost interest. I know how I feel when I think someone has let me down. I hate to be the cause of other people feeling that.
On the other hand, as we spoke and the smiles and hope started coming back, I felt that I was doing meaningful work at the preschool. It was heart-warming and I felt that I could be a vehicle of God's love.
Ministry can be so varied - and I think that might be what makes full time ministers a bit different from others - the ability or desire to do vastly different things during the course of one's week.
So today I must do some admin - I need to write a report on the preschool for our overseas sponsors for one thing. I will also do some 'geek Greek' - setting up practice exercises on our internal web for the Greek students. I also hope to revise my PhD proposal in the light of suggestions by Dr Neville Richardson. Later, I will fetch two of my children from school/university and hopefully do some birthday shopping for my elder son who turns 14 on Monday. This morning I also led a simple Bible Study in our chapel service.
This certainly works for me - God is good!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Working with noise

I am getting into a new rhythm and routine for the second semester at seminary. After about two weeks holiday and three weeks intensive programme, I am back at my desk at my flat in the Texel residence. I've been working in one of the lecture rooms at the new campus up until now, but I thought that today I would spend a couple of hours here before heading out to 'my' preschool at Brentwood.
I had forgotten how noisy the road outside is! Do you remember my intitial attempts that involved working in the bathroom? I did eventually learn to block out the noise, but I am noticing it again now. So, I have the benefits of being away from distractions at the seminary campus, of having my own fridge and bathroom, but the down sides are the noise and today, because it is overcast, lack of good light.
I know that I ought to think about how some people have no choice but to live and work like this. And I do, and I am grateful for a place to be. But I know that I will be happier if I work at the campus from now on.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Greek Keyboard

I am doing Greek 1 at UKZN this semester. I have already done an introductory Greek course, so I don't expect to struggle for the first few weeks. However, I'd like to do Greek 2 and I don't think my introductory Greek will get me there. Fun. I am going to enjoy it.
Do you know that 'nike' means victory (or to win, not sure exactly) in Greek and 'nika' means give in Zulu? I might be well mixed up by the end of the semester!
Part of the fun is that I want to put Greek practice exercises on our internal website. But how to get Greek to display in html? It's not just a matter of fonts! I am now working with Greek keyboard layouts . . . I think I am winning. Just how do you get those little breathing marks in the right place?
I am learning stuff in seminary - and I think it is useful - but probably nobody would have planned it in a curriculum. Which I think says good things about the flexibility here.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Yesterday we had an interactive Bible study at seminary on Hosea 11. Time was short, but it had me wondering again about gratitude and worship.
In Hosea 11 God reminds Israel of how much he has done for them and is disappointed in their response. I've heard a few ideas about this.
One is that if we worship God as a sign of gratitude is that not sort of ignoble? Are we not simply showing 'cupboard love'? Shouldn't we declare that we will worship God even if he decrees that all should be destroyed (as we believe is his right)?
Second - isn't God being coercive by giving to us without our permission? We did not ask him to die for us. He has no right to then expect our gratitude. He gave and that was his risk.
There is truth in these ways of thinking. But I can't help feeling that to rebel against God because we didn't ask for his favour is pretty ignoble too. I also do think that the Bible calls for us to respond to him in gratitude.
But is our worship in response to what God has done or to who he is?
I guess the answer is both-and.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Catch Up

Our seminary 'intensive' programme is over and today the new semester starts. I am sitting in the biggest lecture room on the campus - all by myself - trying to plan my life for the next few days at least. But I am so glad of time to breathe - by the end of our three week 'intensive' I was pretty much all used up. I suspect this is to do with the fact that I am not a good classroom person. I do struggle to sit through lectures, for one reason or another.
So, now I feel a sense of freedom as I am back to my internship programme - I am SO glad that the seminary has been able to show flexibility in meeting people's various educational needs.
Outside the windows construction workers are still finishing off the chapel and the grounds. Noise of hammering and drills. There are students wandering around waiting for a lecture that starts in about ten minutes. There is a real sense of things happening that gives me a feeling of optimism about the seminary and ultimately about the church.
God is good.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Time Intensive

I am finding our intensive programme quite intense - I'm not sure why! Maybe I am just getting old . . .
I will catch up with blogging soon - today is our last day of the programme!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Babylonian Talmud

Seminary discussions do sometimes lead me to interesting places. I've been meaning, ever since a did a course on early Judaism for my BTh, to read more and try to actually remember what I was supposed to have learned!
So Friday prompted me to go and read about Jewish law - and here's the absolute basics.
The Torah - most Christians are familiar with this. The first five books of the Old Testament, also known as the Pentateuch, traditionally attributed to Moses as author. It dates from roughly 1400 BC.
Expansion and exposition of the Torah by the Rabbis became known as the Oral Law - presumably because it was spoken and not written down! However, in the second century after Christ, huge persecution of the Jews meant that the number of Rabbis became very small and the fear arose that the oral tradition would no long be maintained. For this reason Rabbi Judah wrote down the Oral Law and this written element, along with the Torah, was known as the Mishnah. The writings were grouped by category, not following the order of the Torah, as a modern day Christian commentary might do.
So we have Torah and then Mishnah.
This writing down did not stop the growth of the Oral Law and in the fourth century and also the fifth century, these further writings were also written down and are known as Talmuds. The earlier is the Palestinian Talmud and the latter the Babylonian. Because the latter is larger and includes the former, most scholarship has been around the Babylonian Talmud.
So - if we want to understand Judaism from a Jewish point of view, our most reliable resource is the Babylonian Talmud. And it is from here that many Jewish Christians create their apologetics, rather than from the Bible.
I found it interesting.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Funny Wound Up Feeling

I'm tired - and blogging as a sort of therapy, so if you want to skip this post, go ahead.
It's the end of the last Monday of our July intensive programme. We've had two weeks of 8am to 4pm lectures. We've listened and thought and interacted. The interaction is getting better and more intense. People are talking about stuff that really matters. They are voicing unpopular positions. They are shocking others. I know that we find each other when we can talk and discuss. The issues are not about race! We can talk and race is irrelevant (almost). That just feels so good.
I'm wound up though. I am not a good classroom person. I don't do sitting still well. I've had input, I've got ideas. I've bought into vision. Now I need to do stuff. It will come, I know, but right now I just feel wound up - and intense myself. I tried to contribute to the discussion and people couldn't see the point of what I was saying. Why not? It was too subtle, I know. I shouldn't have said it, I'm usually patient enough, but I'm getting frustrated - in a good sort of way.
UKZN seems to being 'going slow' on my PhD application - so after persuading me to try to register this semester, it looks like it will only really happen next year. The seminary governing council is trying to get seminarians involved in the music for the seminary opening in September, but really they can only show good intent. There are so many people to be satisfied and the programme must be kept so tight that there is little time. While we are motivated to do be really involved, we need to be content with what is available (I'm not complaining, I understand!)

Take a deep breath. Take time this evening to do some work. Something that I can count as an achievement - even if it is not as romantic as many of the dreams and hopes that are floated before us. Taste the gritty everyday nature of reality. Unwind. Be determined to stay distant tomorrow. Become grounded again.

Fulfilling Work

I'm reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and am enjoying it. It is unusual in that the premise of the book seems to be 'you can't make your own success'.
I like Gladwell's take on work - it is satisfying, he says, if you have autonomy, if the work is sufficiently complex and if you receive reward for effort.
That could be quite a useful checklist if one is feeling frustrated with one's daily routine.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sacraments and Culture

Today our 'intensive' at seminary was dedicated to the sacraments. Some of the stuff was pretty much as it has to be, but some was really interesting in that we began to engage with the differences between the black and English-speaking churches. As far as Communion is concerned the black part of the church's theology and practice seem to be very much more closely related to that of the Roman Catholics than that of English-speaking Methodists. They have a greater respect for the elements, attach a greater importance to symbolism and ceremony and perhaps less to personal devotion. Most of this surfaced - with many seminarians seeming to prefer to move away from this towards what is expected in the constitution of the Methodist Church. There is never enough time, though, to work through the issues. Also, I think that the debates would blow up quite soon. It will be very interesting to see the level of maturity and the group dynamic after two years of seminary - I am quite optimistic that it will be very positive.
We spent so much time laughing in our afternoon session today. It was Friday. Maybe we were tired. But I think we were being constructive and it can only be good if we are able to laugh together.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


One third of the seminary contingent is visiting a prison today. Some of the rest are off sick - flu sweeping the campus!
So today when I got to chapel early (as a result of dropping kids at school early) it was absolutely quiet. Peace.
It was great to just have a few minutes to be in silence.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

That's Better

I spent some good time with the president of the seminary, Rev Ross Olivier, this afternoon, talking about my programme for the second semester. Apparently I misunderstood about needing to do diploma courses. I'm not going to quibble - I'm just happy that things are looking better. I'll be doing Greek at UKZN, which is what I wanted to do. I think that maybe some of the communication difficulties are just a result of the teething process for the seminary.
I like the flexibility of the 'formation internship programme' and apart from the occasional knocks it is fun to be part of the process of developing the programme. Now I need to hear from UKZN about the PhD stuff.


Somebody chirped behind me that they 'liked my accent' when I said the word siyakudumisa in answer to a question in our worship class. He was teasing - so I listened carefully to how someone else said it and heard the difference in emphasis.
For me, this is a difficult stage in learning Zulu/Xhosa - I am starting to get the words, but now that isn't enough - for me or the congregation - now they need to understand what I am saying first time.
I don't have a good ear for languages, so I don't ever expect to achieve perfection, but I guess I'll keep trying.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Double Predestination

I learnt a new theological term today. But I apologise to my Reformed friends if it is an objectionable phrase - one website referred to it as 'perjorative'.
My Wesley Studies notes refer to Wesley's dislike of Calvin's concept of double predestination - of which I had never heard before - and which, I suspect, was not Calvin's idea anyway.
So what is it? The dual sense of predestination as regards both election and reprobation. Here again I was stuck - I've not (as far as I can remember) come across the term reprobation before. Election is the idea that God chooses beforehand who will be saved (as far as we can see arbitrarily) and he causes these people, by his grace, to turn to him in repentance.
Reprobation is the symmetrical idea that God chooses beforehand who will not be saved and causes them to sin and thus earn their condemnation. This carries the confusion of the sense that God causes these people to sin and thus he is surely as much at fault as the sinner. As far as I understand, most Reformed thinkers don't find the doctrine of reprobation necessary. Because, surely, human beings have sinned and are already condemned, there is no need to supply a symmetrical doctrine to election.
Which is probably why I haven't come across the term double predestination.
As Methodists and from the Wesleyan tradition, we believe that God provides, in his grace, the opportunity for all to repent and turn to him, and that the final choice is ours. We believe that he predestined that all who believe in Jesus will be saved - so that he chose the way, not the people. I'm ok with that - very ok, in fact.
[As a matter of interest, I had to find out about double predestination via Google, but I do hope that our theological discussions will sometime get to that level. To be fair, we were short of time.]

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Still Intense

We had a good talk, during our seminary intensive on Wednesday, about transformational leadership in the Methodist Church context by Dr Simanga Kumalo. It is interesting to see which speakers hold people's attention - Simanga managed that.
Today we are on Wesley Studies and although Prof Neville Richardson is doing his best, it is not a subject that can create much interest. We've all heard the Wesley stuff gazillions of times before. But we are required to do this course before they will even contemplate ordaining us.
Tomorrow is Wesleyan theology, which should be more interesting - if only because one can argue about theology. Either Wesley was born in 1703 or he wasn't - not much to think about there.
Wednesday afternoon was a bit of a crash down for me - the seminary powers-that-be are back on to the idea of first year diploma courses for me. I'm trying to see the sense - ok, I must admit that the courses do look interesting - but there is other stuff that I want to do. But I'm a little bit over that now. One of the readers of this blog suggested last year that subversion was a necessary practice during ministerial training - somehow I will keep inspired.
I am so fully convinced that I am doing what God wants me to do that I can't let things get me down.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Intensives Day 2

We are being kept busy from 8am until 4pm at seminary during this 'intensive' period. Tuesday was used mainly for describing the BTh and Diploma curriculi at SMMS. The exciting thing for the seminary is that it has been accredited by the department of education to offer the degree qualification. I guess, this was mostly irrelevant to me (because I already have a BTh), but it is stuff that needs to be communicated and I am interested in where the seminary is going.
The size of the vision that SMMS has is inspiring.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Blast Off

I'm going to try to do a new thing on this blog. That is to try to record a little bit more about seminary life. I tend to shy away from a lot of things - I don't mind if the reader sees me as weaker than I am, but I have an odd fear of seeming better or stronger than I am. Maybe this is in the line of Nelson Mandela's words about us being more frightened of success than of failure. Or perhaps it is from the Bible where it tells us to take a lower seat than we may hope we deserve and allow the host to offer us a higher one (Luke 14:8 ff).

Sunday was a seminary day for me, because I work at the Zulu church in Howick as part of my internship programme. I preached there for the first time in a few months. I think it went quite well - I've come so far since the days when I struggled to communicate with the people in the informal settlements around Jhb. But I am feeling very rusty for lack of preaching - I thought I would cope better than I am with the few opportunities to preach. But I have now taken services two Sundays in a row and I should preach at Brentwood again this Sunday.

Our 'Intensive' programme runs from 8am to 4pm every day for three weeks. I think that will be good. We are also having chapel services, so I have to prepare for our Friday contemporary worship. Fun, but I am going to be a bit short of time! The web page also keeps going, so I will have to find time to work on that. I am also badgering a few people to provide me with material to start experimenting with online courses for ministers who have completed their training, but who are interested in upgrading their skills.

I want to go through my PhD proposal one more time and then get it to Dr Neville Richardson, for some guidance, this week. I think I've already forgotten something I'm supposed to do . . . but it is nice to be busy!

In the meantime, Pete Grassow is on campus with us and you can read his comments here.

Our seminary president, Dr Ross Olivier, does not blog, but he writes an article on the seminary web page every two weeks or so.


Our new seminary campus is really awesome. We have used three of the lecture/ seminar rooms so far. They are spacious and comfortable and well-equipped. Not all the techie stuff is fully installed yet, but it is going to be amazing. Document scanners and writing boards and touch screens and radio microphones. Each room has something like 5 remote controls to run everything. Lots of fun for the moment!

(Oh yes, this post number 600. Who would have thought I'd ever get there!)

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Ready to go

The holidays are over and it's back to seminary on Monday. I am in a far better psychological and emotional space than I have been all year.
I am starting to recover from the fairly difficult phase 1 year - the separation from family and immersion in a different culture.
I am starting to come to terms with the fact that I won't be a minister for another eighteen months at least. I think that this is one of the more difficult areas of adjustment. I went from a lay person to being a minister in a strange cross-cultural environment to being a seminarian. I anticipated it to some extent, but I don't think I really managed it well.
I hope that I now have a handle on what these two years of seminary could mean - and it is much more useful and meaningful than I anticipated - although I think in unexpected directions. (We will see how this pans out!)
So, although aware of the potential for unexpected obstacles, I'm looking forward to the rest of the year.