Saturday, October 30, 2010

15 Authors (meme)

15 Authors (meme)
Fifteen authors (poets included) who’ve influenced you and that will always stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes. Tag at least fifteen friends, including me, because I’m interested in seeing what authors my friends choose.

I was tagged by Steve Hayes over at Khanya for this one - thanks Steve, fun!
Although I find this similar to having to do the thank you's after an event - you're sure you're going to forget someone really significant! But let's have a go - in no particular order.

1. Isaac Asimov
2. Robert Heinlein (earlier books)
3. JRR Tolkien
4. CS Lewis
5. John Ortberg
6. Rick Warren
7. Terry Pratchett
8. Ken Schenck
9. Andre Brink
10. CS Forester
11. Zakes Mda
12. Millard Erickson
13. Richard Foster
14. The Bronte Sisters
15. Aldous Huxley

I'm fairly sure that if I took my time I would change this list, but there we go. Some explanation:
Two names that definitely would not come off - John Ortberg and Terry Pratchett. If I could be anyone other than me I'd like to be one of them! Just make Terry Pratchett a Christian :-) They both write with such insight.
Tolkien, CS Lewis - need I say anything?
Asimov and Heinlein - read when I was a teenager - the great unknown, survival against the odds.
Rick Warren, Richard Foster, Millard Erickson, Ken Schenck - Christian writers that help me see things more clearly.
Brink, Mda - South African writers that communicate South Africanness to me.
CS Forester - Hornblower was my hero for a long time - we see life from inside his soul, his fears and weakness (similar to Harry Potter early books).
Bronte Sisters - fascinated by their taking on of the male dominated world of literature.
Aldous Huxley - too likely to come true.

And so to tag some others:

Peter Houston
Gus Kelly
John van der Laar
Mark Penrith
Charli H
Delme Linscott
David Barbour
Ian Webster
Steve Hayes

Thursday, October 28, 2010


I am struggling at the moment with 'detail work'. I am much better at big picture things - and really hope that one day I will have a secretary! But now I find myself sitting with plenty to do - useful stuff, but dragging my heels to do it. I need to resize photos to put on the SMMS web page - the whole thing will take only 15 or 20 minutes. There are some emails I need to send, just to keep people up to speed with a project that we are doing -10 minutes. The PowerPoint for tomorrow's worship - 30 minutes - no maybe a bit longer, because there are new songs. I must make some photocopies. Remember to get the keys for the sound desk for tomorrow's worship. And so on.
The upside is that if I just put my head down and get on with it I will actually have achieved a lot in a short time!
So to work . . .

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Do we need to appease the Ancestors?

In a sense this is the easiest question to answer, but also the hardest. Easy insofar as the Bible says that we should worship God alone and through Jesus only. Therefore making sacrifices to the ancestors or being obedient to them constitutes syncretism. But it is hard because for many African people the belief is that if the ancestors are not kept informed as to events in the lives of their children they may become angry and withhold blessing or send misfortune. This is so far from my western Christian worldview that I struggle to engage with it - but I know for some, this is part of their upbringing and they see no reason for it not to be true.
It would be good if there were black Africans who could engage with me on this . . .
So next question - how do we turn the theological blogosphere less white?
How do we get black Africans to trust white Africans with their theological thoughts?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

INTJ - the friendship and the fear

The title of this post comes from a song by Matt Redman - I'm pretty sure that he's not talking about Myers-Briggs though.
The friendship - when I read the profile description of INTJ's it fits me so well it is scary. But it makes me feel good because I feel more 'normal' - maybe I am not so way out there different as I sometimes feel. Usually when I do tests that claim to 'profile' me I find that I sort of see myself in the result, but it's not striking. The MBTI does fit me quite well.
The fear - am I nothing more than a predictable result of my genes and my circumstances? If this fits me so well, then all I have done is submitted to the natural course of events. My achievements are not mine, my failings are not mine. I am just a piece of straw blowing in the wind.
It really is a reminder that God has made me who I am and whatever that is, I should be using for his work and his glory. No need for pride in achievements, but also no need for beating myself over my head for my weaknesses. Not that I can just let those weaknesses rest . . .

Monday, October 25, 2010

Being INTJ

I go through days where I feel 'anarchical'. I think I found something of an explanation here:

INTJs can rise to management positions when they are willing to invest time in marketing their abilities as well as enhancing them, and (whether for the sake of ambition or the desire for privacy) many also find it useful to learn to simulate some degree of surface conformism in order to mask their inherent unconventionality.

Some days, running the simulation is just too much effort!

Sunday, October 24, 2010


I preached at Brentwood (the little Zulu church where I work) this morning, and somehow it was encouraging. For one thing the church was open and things were happening at 9am - there have been times when I have arrived to find the door still shut. One of the ladies is running a Sunday School for the children that seems to be very successful - she can only have been doing it for a few weeks, but there are quite a few children. Many of the congregation were wearing their organisation uniforms and it is a sign of a genuine interest in the church, of making an effort.
I had a sense, for whatever reason, that they were glad to have me there today!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Ancestors - do they have power over us?

When I was in Grahamstown last year our circuit went on a 'mission' to the people of a township near Alexandria (which is near Bushman's River Mouth). In, what is often true Methodist style, we had no training or preparation for this - but I suspect that one gets the hang of it after a while. I found myself as the spiritual expert (minister!) of a small group of people going from home to home. I was expected to spontaneously give a sermon at each home. The weather was rainy and at one home there was quite a large number of people gathered - it was quite an opportunity to give an evangelistic message, because the people did not seem to be church-goers, and I did so. This was well-received and I was relieved because there was a sense of 'aggression' in the home that I could not understand.
As we were leaving a belligerent looking young man came after us and said he wanted to ask me a question. He pointed to the African shrine in the corner of the garden or yard. What about this? What about the ancestors? I was quite scared and didn't have time for a thought out answer and just said, 'Jesus is more powerful than any ancestor could be.' Suddenly the man was full of smiles and said that he was glad to hear what I had to say.
It was only a long time after that I understood that the reason he was glad was that I hadn't just said that the ancestors don't exist. It wasn't helpful to him to be told that something he perceived as a real and dangerous power in his life did not exist. But to be told that there was a greater power was helpful.
More in another post!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Slowing down . . .

The end of the year is really coming. I have written my Unisa Zulu exam, so that is now done and finished. One more week of Greek lectures at UKZN. This morning when I thought through what I needed to do today I didn't need to stress, doable. I should be able to take tomorrow and work on my PhD proposal. I don't need to work on Saturday, except to prepare a sermon.
But slowing down, the tiredness kicks in. Even though the work is less, I don't want to do it! Push just a little harder, just a little further, nearly there. I hope that being a minister isn't like this - I don't suppose it is . . .

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Do Ancestors speak?

If we accept the possibility that in fact the ancestors do live among us, the question is, 'Do these ancestors interact with us? In particular, do they speak to us?'
African culture and religious belief relies heavily on the concept of guidance by the ancestors. They believe that ancestors speak to them in their dreams and direct them. While western Christians talk about the call of God on their lives, Africans will speak of the call of the ancestors. I am not sure whether the church, by and large, has managed to differentiate between these two ideas of calling.
Now, what does the Bible say about the dead speaking to us?
We have the Old Testament prohibition against consulting the dead - which Saul defied when visiting the witch of Endor. We also have Hebrews 11:4 which says that Abel, though dead still speaks. We have the Lord's refusal to allow the rich man to warn those still alive of the future consequences of their actions. We have the meeting between Jesus, Elijah and Moses on the mountain of transfiguration.
In cases where people are spoken to by spirits these are always referred to as dangerous, if not evil - and there is no case where the spirit is permitted to remain. There are so many instances of spirits being cast out that I don't think I need to list them!
Perhaps I should mention three other 'experiential things'. I don't believe that I have ever conversed with a dead person. I do believe that when someone has experienced the loss of a loved one there is the tendency to believe that the loved one is around, watching over them and listening to them. The Roman Catholics' belief in the intercession of the saints may come into this discussion somewhere.
However, I cannot come to the conclusion that the Bible admits of safe, healthy interaction with the dead. The trend is to warn us away from 'other' spirits. So, if the dead are living amongst us communication with them is not the norm - to say the least.
It occurred to me after writing this that I have not taken angels into account. Angels are really God's messengers - could he use ancestors in this way? It is possible - although then one would assume that the ancestors are living with God (as we know the angels do) and not among us.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Of Houses

We thought we had a place for the family to stay, but it turns out that the house we were offered was only available for six months. And besides, someone else managed to sign a lease before us!
So we are looking again. Enough space for border collies and four teenagers. We were really lucky/blessed to find the place where we are now so easily (not that it felt easy at the time!)
We are looking at a place tomorrow - it looks about 80% alright. I don't think we can afford to be fussy.

Ancestors, Africa and Syncretism

Here's something I've been meaning to formulate for a while and was motivated to do as part of an email discussion. There will be probably be another two posts or so later as I explore these questions. Unfortunately, I don't think my conclusions will be very creative. Let's see!

The previous writer in the discussion said, “but surely the position and location of the spirits of the dead is a theological question, and a sort of undifferentiated African Sheol located in the home is irreconcilable with the Biblical revelation?”

Is there anything in the Bible that prevents the possibility of this African Sheol? I know that Science (which could be called a western cultural construct) denies the possibility of the spirits of the dead being amongst us. When someone is dead, they are gone from the world. I am comfortable with that. But the same science says that what I perceive to be divine guidance is simply a certain natural (or unnatural) functioning of the brain and also that Jesus could not have risen from the dead. So in this case I choose not to go along with science. But as regards the living dead, perhaps all we have is a cultural conflict.

Bearing my western cultural prejudice in mind – what does the Bible say about the dead?

Jesus says that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – but he is a God of the living not the dead. We are surrounded by the cloud of witnesses in Hebrews. Jesus tells the parable of the rich man and Lazarus – where the rich man observes the living. Saul and the witch of Endor. What if we read these passages from an African worldview rather than a scientific western?

What happens after death? We are not too sure whether we go instantaneously to heaven/judgement or whether we must wait for the end of the world. Again, some of our understanding of these issues is based on the western philosophical concept of eternity as being ‘outside of time’ – this is not necessarily a Biblical concept.

But it might be that in my attempt to see things from ‘the other side’ I am missing some things that supports the western point of view – and I would appreciate any guidance in that regard!

The reason that I am thinking what I am thinking is not because I want to encourage syncretism, but rather that I feel if there is error in the African way of thinking, we need to be sure where that error lies. I do not believe that the ancestral spirits have the power to intercede for us and that can be shown from the Bible. We don’t need to appease them, again Biblical. But can we reject their existence based on Biblical evidence?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

As it is written

Friday's venture into the library in search of preliminary reading for my PhD was very successful. I am now reading 'As it is written: Studying Paul's Use of Scripture'. This is a collection of essays edited by Stanley E Porter and Christopher D Stanley. It is spot on what I am looking for as an introduction to my topic. It is also published in 2008 which is great - I have managed to choose a contemporary topic and find an up to date resource.
I also have 'Paul's Narrative Thought World' by Ben Witherington III - and I supect this is going to help me link in the South African element. How would South African struggle and post-struggle narratives shape our thought worlds and thus our hermeneutic?
However, the question still remains as to whether the South African angle can meaningfully add to our understanding of hermeneutics. I think I have enough of an idea to make a Masters - but I've got to crank it up a bit to get to PhD level.
I enjoy this very much. Maybe I should make next year at seminary an academic year!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Guilt Reduction

Today is to be devoted to reducing the sense of guilt that I have that I cannot do everything that people want me to do!
So I will be working on finding reading for my PhD and maybe homing in on a topic. I will be working on Zulu, for which I have a Unisa exam on Wednesday. And I will be working on my Greek with which I am currently always a step behind.
And I will take my teenage daughter shopping.
All things that I enjoy and have a sense of immediate benefit to me!!
Does that make sense - that it reduces guilt? Doesn't matter - because today I am not feeling guilty about ANYTHING!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I ought to be

I ought to be more aware of what is happening with Lausanne III.
I ought to have been awake enough to catch the same-sex synchroblog.
I ought to be participating more in other people's blogs.
These oughts ought to be telling me something!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Looking good

We seem to have found a house for the family for next year - or rather from next month! It is not as fancy as where we stay now, but there is space for each child to have their own bedroom and enough garden to keep both dogs and boys happy. It is on a rather noisy main road which is a drawback - but it has a pool and the rent is lower than where we are now. I think that we can be happy there. God always has the answer!
I've been speaking to the seminary president about my plans and hopes for next year at seminary and I think that we will work out something useful. I am finding that there is too much that I want to do - and it is very difficult to know what to drop. Which is a much better place to be in than having too much that I don't want to do! The principal components of the plan are my PhD studies and working in a local church. Nothing that requires too much rocket science to put together, but somehow it does require a fair amount of thought.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Killing ourselves gently (2)

I have been struggling with how to express the idea of this post, so I am just going to go ahead and see what happens.
A major part of Jesus' ethos was humility and not 'lording it' over others. He consistently tells us to take the lower place and put others first. Amongst Christians, understandably, this has become the 'way to be and the way to do things'. However, Jesus doesn't actually completely do away with the idea of respecting our elders and giving honour to those who deserve it. But we have forgotten that part.
The problem comes in that if someone because of their ability is promoted to an area of greater responsibility there would under certain systems be an expectation of greater reward, respect and status. This is many ways compensates for the increased stress and pressure. BUT because we need to see everyone equal and we feel that striving for status is wrong we do not wish to reward these people for what they are doing. In fact, we may make them feel guilty for having achieved a position that can be seen as a status position. For this reason many people (who have all the right Christian principles in mind) resist taking any position of authority - in spite of the fact that he or she may well be the best person for the job. And so - those with less qualms and possibly less ability get planted in positions of responsibility.
I wonder if we don't need to regain a sense of giving people status and privilege where it is due. Now, how do we stop people pursuing position for the privilege it gives?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Church Camp

My family and I went to Dawnview campsite this weekend with Prestbury Methodist Church on their family camp. It was a good break for me! I enjoyed just being part of the group without the pressure of either being a seminarian (I am in this situation to learn) or of being a minister (I have a leadership responsibility to the group). It was a time where I could just 'be' and enjoy the discussions. The group was small enough that we could all participate - in the spiritual work and in the fun times.
My children enjoyed being with other kids and also the fact that they were welcome in the activities, but were also welcome to go off and play if they wanted to.
It was good to get to know people. Prestbury, for me, is where I go to church on Sunday evenings, but for the rest of my family it is their church home. It was nice to get to know the people they know!
God is good.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Animals and Culture

Here are two interesting ways of seeing life and nature:

[St] Francis seems to believe that there is a knowing passing between all creatures, and that the animals have a kind of consciousness that they can give to us. Have you ever let an animal hold a gaze into your eyes? I know it from my Black Lab, Venus, and from other animals I have encountered in nature. It is somehow healing and connecting at a deep level. It is always compassionate. (Richard Rohr)

You track the antelope. He knows you are there. He knows he has to give you his strength. But he runs and you have to run. As you run you become like him. It can take hours and exhaust you both. You talk to him and look into his eyes. And then he knows he must give you his strength so your children can live. (Vimbai Gukwe Chivaura)

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Tears of Hope

I am reading Tears of Hope by Mmutlanyane Stanley Mogoba as preliminary reading for a PhD. Mogoba was President of Conference/ Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church in SA for a number of years. Simanga Kumalo recommended him to me as a powerful preacher and I am motivated by this book of addresses/sermons. They were given between 1988 and 1992 - a time of significant change in SA and which preceded even more significant change. Mogoba writes with conviction, with knowledge (that is rare these days) and with love (unfortunately also rare). His call for reconciliation and co operation between races and ethnic groups is deeply Christian. We need more of this today and less focus on black and white and so on.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

African Hermeneutic

I am embarking on a brand new investigation for PhD research. I will write more about it as it becomes clearer, but it looks as if I will be looking at 'South African Hermeneutics', probably mixed up with Evangelical and Wesleyan hermeneutics and also that of Paul.
In the meantime, reading an article on African Hermeneutics I find one statement that everyone says is true, but with which I strongly disagree and one with which I strongly agree.
1. "It is impossible for the African to separate interpretation and understanding from all other aspects of life" I think the author is referring to the idea that Africans have no separation between the secular and the spiritual. This is pretty much what John Mbiti concluded from his study of African religions. I have no doubt that he was correct. However, I think that the today's urban African has an enormous seperation in his thinking between the secular and the spiritual. How does one explain the crime rate in South Africa (high) when one sees the apparent commitment to Christianity (apparently 79%) if one does not accept that people's faith is not affecting their lifestyle? In other words, the spiritual is separated from the secular.
2. "The text that African Hermeneutics tries to understand is much wider than the biblical text, or western-oriented theology, since it includes the African world as text." I find this to be true - most African Christians (in my opinion!) give their culture and lifestyle equal status to Scripture. For them 'truth' is found in text and context (by which I mean social context). This is a difficult tension to hold - yet I think the way forward is to find the most Christian way of holding this tension, rather than to pretend that it doesn't exist.
Point 2 really interests me - but it veers away from Biblical studies into whatever the study of culture is, so I may not be able to work on it in my PhD!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

ARV's are damaging the funeral industry

How's that for a newspaper headline? Seen from the Daily Sun in Pietermaritzburg.
It goes along with the taxi drivers who were stopping motorists on the N4 and letting down their tyres if they were carrying passengers.
This country has sick elements and we need to face it!

Sunday, October 03, 2010

More Brentwood Adventures

Today was Local Preachers' Sunday which meant that Brentwood had a Local Preacher from another circuit in the district. I wondered whether to go this morning, as I thought the service might be quite long, but decided I would as I was hoping for some bank statements from the treasurer. I arrived at about 9:15 - to find the preacher and two friends, but no stewards - whose job it is to be welcoming and all. So, I apologised and tried to be friendly. Apparently one of the stewards had been there - this poor lady is increasingly taking on far too much of the work in the church - and had gone off to do something. Soon after the other steward arrived - and explained that I would be doing communion as well. Didn't anyone tell me? Um, no.
It was interesting to observe the visitors - they are obviously used to a more formal service than we have, but they adapted well. I haven't seen a manel/ frock coat for a while. His dress reminded me of Grahamstown. And made me aware that Brentwood is quite different as an African congregation.
There was a meal afterwards and then I needed to give our visitors a lift - via Howick Methodist where their colleague was preaching. I was home by 1.30 which wasn't too bad.
But it is sometimes hard to see if God is really at work in situations. It was not an easy morning for me (although I wouldn't call it hard!) Did my role help people know Jesus better? Probably I impressed the visitors (white person at a black service) - but I'm not out to score noddy points for myself. It somehow has to come back to Jesus.
Trust. I have to trust him, even when I can't see it for myself.

Friday, October 01, 2010

First Week Back

The psychology of a seminarian. Of this seminarian. I'd love to know what the others go through.
I started the week with a moderate amount of 'refreshed by the holidays energy'. I did feel like I was hitting a bit of a brick wall when I came back to the seminary - but it hasn't been too bad. Maybe it is just the usual adjustment from being in control of one's own time to being at the mercy of others. I have been working way too hard - and there is not a soul on the planet who can even begin to understand that(oh, alright - I guess everybody goes through it!) I think this might be an integral part of the minister's life - and I am very happy to confess that if this part of 'formation' then I am happy to be doing it in the relatively 'safe' seminary environment. And it is formation because I am subjecting myself, by and large, to the 'working way too hard' - it is not decreed by others.
But at the end of the week I am able to believe that God is faithful. I can see things coming together in a number of places and already I feel a sense of burdens being lifted. God is good.
Some of the seminarians are very stressed. Others seem less so. One has been discontinued by the Methodist Conference. The new term carries on.