Thursday, September 30, 2010

Killing ourselves gently (1)

My grandfather had a story, an experience, that I think many share. He suffered from gout and took it off to the doctor. The doctor explained that the food that he ate determined the severity of the gout. For this reason he gave him a prescribed diet - I think it might have been a list of acceptable foods. At the the next few visits to the doctor it was noticed that while the gout was improving, my grandfather was becoming thinner and weaker. Eventually, the doctor asked him what he was eating and my grandfather showed him the diet that he had been given. "Are you keeping strictly to this?"
"No man! No wonder you are so weak. When we give you a diet, we expect you to cheat on it. You are going to kill yourself."
My grandfather was understandably peeved.
In the Christian life, we have the words of Jesus, "Love your neighbour as you love yourself."
Yet advice in many leadership and lifestyle books is, "Don't worry so much about pleasing others/ what other people think about you."
Somehow we have turned Jesus' words to love each other into a thing that destroys us. We try to please others and . . .
Abandon our principles
Abandon our self-interest and self-worth
And probably other things.
How do we reinterpret those words into our society today?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


It's funny - I enjoyed chapel last night, after saying I found it hard. Good preacher, friendly people. Maybe God is showing me it can be done - hope so!
I thought of something that helps me pray - should have thought of it ages ago - yesterday morning I prayed for the people whose Facebook updates and tweets showed up on my cell phone during my prayer time. I prayed for people that I've never even thought of praying for before. I'm going to try to add that to my regular routine.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Keeping the spark

I've come back to seminary life somewhat more refreshed than I anticipated. This is good and bad! Good because I'm throwing myself into things with some enthusiasm. Bad because I resent the cage bars that seminary puts up (and which I had managed to forget). I know I will adapt to the routine again. One of the things that I (and others) have been told is to never allow the church or anything else to put out the spark or flame for ministry and God's service.
But so often it is the structures that are supposed to bring life that breathe death. I try to enjoy chapel worship, to connect with God, even just to speak to him, but I find these times so so hard. And I don't think it is because I am irreligious!
But, we try to keep the spark - Jesus and me!

Monday, September 27, 2010

New Week

I am parked at the Msunduzi Museum at 7.30am. The most noticeable thing is the noise from the taxi rank next door - consistent shouting. It all sounds like business as usual - I realise how little I know about public transport. This is a big taxi rank - more like a train station!
I am at the museum for a meeting at 8am - early because I needed to drop my daughter at the university in time for her lectures. Feeling a bit bad because I am missing chapel and my covenant group meeting. And I'm not sure where this meeting is going. It is with one of the local churches and the Pietermaritzburg Pre-School Association looking at a project we want to do. I'm not sure who else will be there.
It is the first week of the last term of the year. I have quite a busy time ahead. I am looking forward to the holidays - even though we will be moving house in that time. Hopefully we find a house!
Focus for this term - make sure that Jesus is part of any projects that I participate in (if I can). It is so easy to play church, even play kingdom of God. Easy to do things as if they were just organisational and not essentially spiritual. And yet, things go so much better if we are working with God, not independently of him, however pressurised we may feel to go with the flow of busyness.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


I think that my plan for this holiday was that I wouldn't have a holiday. It would be a good opportunity to catch up with myself and the work that is nipping at my heels. Somehow, though, I seem to have fallen into holiday mode (with some degree of 'alas-ness' because the work is still there.)
Am I doing the right thing with my life? Where will I be next year? What are my goals for the next 15 months?
Realising that I am changing - in many ways back to the person I was ten years ago. Is this a good thing? In some ways, yes - an increased emphasis on academic thinking, on assertive leadership. In some ways , no - becoming more independent, needing 'people' less. I feel part of the seminary machine. I need to be part of a family - seminary family?
But it is a phase and I think that I will keep the good and hopefully the bad won't stick too closely when I move on. Two more months and this year is over. I wonder what God is planning for me for 2012? I wonder if I will be conscious of 2011 being preparation for that?
Choices - but I am glad that I have choices. I am glad that I am busy. I need to work at seeing Jesus in all of this.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Looking too far ahead

This morning my eldest daughter and I are heading into Durban to investigate places for her to stay next year as her studies will move her to a Durban campus of UKZN. It is nice to see her becoming independent, although a bit hard for her parents. We are also looking for somewhere for the rest of the family to stay in Pietermaritzburg next year as our current lease will be up - and we are reluctant to lose our dogs, which we would need to do if we all stayed at the seminary.
This can give rise to a mild sense of panic - but especially when I start thinking of the year after next when the church will (hopefully) send me into circuit. We will then have a child studying in Durban and one in Pietermaritzburg. I see us travelling around the country, leaving a child in each university town and having to pay for all their lodgings (as well as university fees) . . .
I think it is a grace of God that we cannot see the future! I am sure that everything will work out alright.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Sunshine, birdchirp, scent of jasmine. 7am and I'm still in bed. I'm on holiday for a week!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Being Profound

Generally my blog attracts more comments if I say something - well, thoughtful or thought-provoking. It would be nice (in some ways) to live in a world of theory, of analysis and criticism. To struggle with ethics and right and wrong and better and best.
In reality, my life consists of bits and pieces. Today I tied myself down and did some admin (boring, force myself!) Now I will go out to Brentwood pre-school and just be 'pastoral'. So ordinary and unromantic.
Yet in this postmodern era (and it is postmodern) the theory only has any life when combined with a recognition of the reality of day to day mundanity (is that a word?)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Summer - happy!

Summer has come with some intensity to Pietermaritzburg - it is hot. But for one reason or another I am happier in summer, regardless of the heat. So I am trying to build on my summer happiness.
I also have space today and tomorrow to catch up with my work. I have the gist of my sermon in place for Sunday - it's a complicated Sunday, being WA Sunday and part of a course of Contagious Christianity - got to fit it all together.
The problem with coming out of myself is that I am more aware of other's struggles - my husband is sitting with matric trials to mark and deadlines.
Sometimes, in all of this, I wonder if I am really still a Christian. Going to seminary doesn't make me a Christian (by any means!), going to worship doesn't do it, reading my Bible - better, but not there. Praying - much better. But I think that it is the sense of living every moment of the day (or as many as possible) in the awareness of living in and for Jesus that does it. His Lordship has actually got to be an integral part of my day or I've lost the plot. That has been harder to get right this year than ever before! Today, I believe I can get there.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Black Methodist Consultation

We have a movement within the Methodist Church in Southern Africa known as the Black Methodist Consultation or BMC. The defining feature of this body is that one may only be part of it if one has skin that is black. This organisation emerged during the apartheid years as part of the black consciousness movement and although certain white people wanted to stand with black people in their struggle, the BMC felt that it needed to separate.
Nowadays, the BMC is making itself more public within the church and is making its role one of providing empowerment to black people within the MCSA. The more noticeable role over the last year has been the way it is has 'organised' people into senior positions within the church by rallying votes within the BMC for the leader of its choice. Thus (?) the leader of the church's education unit is a senior member of the BMC. The Dean of Studies at SMMS is the connexional president of the BMC.
Many people feel that the days for the BMC are over. Obviously many more don't.
Perhaps there is a place for it. It is clearly racist - without apology.
Sometimes I feel angry, sometimes hurt. I try hard to be friends with black and white. Sometimes this feels like a slap in the face for those of us who are determined about reconciliation. Sometimes we understand.
But how much better if we could all work together.

Monday, September 13, 2010

No one home

Yesterday I went off to the little church called Brentwood in a relaxed mode - I wasn't preaching, or leading liturgy and the weather was warm and summery. However, the gate was locked and the place deserted. I went for a drive through Howick and came back 20 minutes later - still nothing, just one lady who flagged me down in the street to ask what was happening. This is Africa. It is only the second time that it has happened to me this year - in most ways I am not stressed. But three things that I observed.
The first was my feelings. I was a bit angry because I could have done other things that morning. I had to make arrangements for my kids to be looked after, I'd put people out. But it was also nice not to have to sit through a long service in a language I didn't understand on a summer's day. As I drove back for the second time I couldn't tell whether I was hoping for people or no people. I'm not sure that this says good things about my commitment to the place.
The second was about respecting other people. Mvume Dandala asked a question in our colloquium last week which was phrased around the idea of black people suffering from self-hate and a sense of inadequacy as a result of apartheid. That is undoubtedly true, but the lady who was hoping to find the church happening on Sunday could feel that same sense of self-hate and inadequacy - from her treatment by the church. And maybe I should have been more assertive there.
Thirdly driving through both Howick and Hilton (I was too late to go to service there, although I thought I might) it was good to see that most churches had full parking lots and a good overflow. One might be inclined to think that more people would go to church if there was more parking.
I must admit that I really enjoyed my drive around Hilton and Cedara - it was a sort of a Sabbath for me.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sneaking time off

I woke about 2am and couldn't go back to sleep, so I reckoned I would just take today off. I had to go into chapel - which rocked! First multicultural contemporary seminary worship in the new chapel. God is good.
Came home and did nothing. For a bit. Then I fixed up some stuff on the seminary web page. Then I tried to work on my UNISA Zulu course, but had to fight with my cd that isn't co-operating. Drove past some houses that are for rent to see what they were like. Went to the shops. Will write an end of term report just now for my internship programme. But somehow it still feels like I'm taking time off - maybe because I'm at home!
Nice, summery weather, with the end of the year and holidays in sight.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

A day in the life . . .

A day in the life of a somewhat atypical seminarian.
Drop daughter at UKZN - omitting the now often heard instruction as to what she should do should student protests turn nasty (which happened yesterday).
Fix bug in web page due to MS Word putting its own interesting XML code into documents.
Still to do: Greek homework for this morning.
Create document for photocopying of song words for tomorrow's chapel service because the projector set up is not working yet.
Going to look at a project at Pinetown Methodist Church - with special interest in their training of creche teachers - some interesting plans as to what we might do at a church in Pietermaritzburg.
Greek lecture.
Meeting with UKZN/Sorat admin guy about their web page.
Workshop with other 'Formation Interns' about church viability and audits.
Fetch any kids still not home. Go home. No worship practice because we did it yesterday!
My days aren't usually quite this full, but getting there. I do believe that somehow God will use me in all this and it feels meaningful and worthwhile.
God is good.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Having Fun

I spent a couple of hours today revising my PhD proposal so that it would fit more neatly into the Biblical Studies discipline. I enjoyed it and have become more motivated about my thesis (after despairing that my studies would ever get going). I have emailed that proposal off to Prof Jonathan Draper to get an idea of whether he thinks it will work. I haven't spent enough time properly thinking through the amendments, so I hope that he doesn't find my ideas too scatterbrained (evaluating church systems against a Scriptural 'web'.) I'm excited about the potential of my ideas. I hope it's at least mostly ok.
I'm starting to read for my thesis again - that's also good.

Monday, September 06, 2010

A Little Unsettled

The past few days have had something of a 'good news/ bad news' feel. The best news is that my PhD seems to be back on track. I had planned to do my thesis in Practical Theology, because it seemed the most honest placing of the content, but it could also fit under Systematic Theology or Biblical Studies. The problem was that the Practical Theology programme at UKZN is understaffed due to the death of Steve de Gruchy and the imminent retirement of Edwina Ward. On Friday Prof Jonathan Draper encouraged me to pursue the Bib-Studs option. Hooray! I will need to modify my proposal a little, but I think I actually like the modification better than my first idea.
The bad news is that the owners of the house we are renting are coming back to South Africa and need their house. So we have two months to find accomodation. That was a bit of a shock, but at least we are here in Pmb - it will be a nuisance, but not impossible.
We rented this house while my husband was in Johannesburg and I was in Grahamstown and neither of us knew much about Pietermaritzburg at all. We accepted the house based on photos emailed to us. And it worked out very well - we will be sorry to move.
No doubt God has a plan.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

The Seminary is Open

The end of quite a tiring weekend - but not as bad as I thought it would be! The seminary ceremonies have happened. The dedications done, the speeches made. I think it all went well.

I was challenged by the colloquium on Saturday night where Dr Simanga Kumalo and Dr Greg Jones spoke on 'Forming Transforming Leaders for Church and Nation', which is the seminary's mission statement. I would love to have this sort of engagement more often - but it is still too diffuse. We try to cover too much ground in too little time. It is good to be talking and I see the possibility of doing more!

I also enjoyed being with, and seeing John van de Laar 'do his thing'. He wrote the liturgies for the services and was on hand to keep everything running smoothly. He is an inspiration.
Thanks John, you touched me!

Friday, September 03, 2010

Seminary Opening

The next three days are going to be full of the official seminary opening activities.
Take a deep breath.
I don't enjoy 'functions', but I presume that many people do.
There are people who have worked very hard to get the seminary to where it is and they certainly deserve a celebration.
May God be glorified and the name of Jesus lifted high this weekend.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

PreSchools, governance, questions

My adventures with the Brentwood pre-school are not really following the formula that they ought. As we get to the end of the year I would like to see that I have made progress, that things are on track for someone to take over next year and that everything is looking good. Unfortunately, I am still struggling with many of the same questions with which I started the year.
Am I trying to apply western solutions to an African problem? Is there an 'African governance' that doesn't require contracts, financial statements and measurements of goals?
I still don't know what is required to make the pre-school 'legal'. In a formerly white suburb there would tend to be checks and forms and threats of being closed down. These things are just not viable in formerly black areas where there is a crying out for anyone to be helping the vast numbers of people in need. In the western world we talk of qualified teachers and accreditation and minimum salaries. We talk of the need to pay school fees and follow up for those who don't. These things are just not feasible in the area where I am working. We can't afford an accredited teacher. We don't really need one - we need someone who cares passionately for the children and is willing to learn.
Sponsorship doesn't seem to work. The system must be self-sustaining. Apparently those schools who are sponsored don't last.
I am floundering.
But you know what - the school will work and will keep going . . . in spite of me.