Thursday, June 30, 2011

Postmodern and all that

The Women's Auxillary of a local church invited me to speak at one of their meetings. The subject was to be 'anything I liked'. I don't have hidden interests in embroidery or gardening and have not been to any exotic place so I was at a bit of a loss as to what to speak about. After a while I decided to use these hapless people as guinea pigs in an attempt to present some of the material from my Master's thesis. I only had half an hour, so I had to be quite selective. I chose to talk about some ideas regarding 'worldviews', although I know that in some circles this has gone out of fashion.
Three observations:
1. Although the presentation went ok, I don't think that I am an ideal speaker for a women's group.
2. I do think that I could do some interesting stuff with my Masters to make a set of workshops that could be useful. While 'worldviews' are going out of fashion in the western world I think that they still have something to offer in the multicultural South African setting (assuming one acknowledges that we are in South Africa, not America or Europe).
3. I believe that Christian postmodern thinking is the way to engage people in South Africa today and that it is the hope for the church. I am re-inspired by this and determined to resist being dragged back into pre-modern or modern thinking and ways of 'doing church'. There are elements of postmodernity that are unwelcome - such as moral relativism when it is taken to mean that that there is no right or wrong. However we need to engage people where they are and with authenticity. I seriously believe that Jesus is the answer - the way, the truth and the life - and communicating this to postmodern young people is what gives me a buzz!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Good Break

We have just spent a few days in Johannesburg and the break was good! Although we stayed on the edge of Randburg in the middle of everywhere we didn't have good MTN internet signal, so I even got a bit of a break from the web. We visited our old church and joined in a service in their new building. It was very encouraging - God is working there! It was so nice to be reminded that there is a bigger world beyond the seminary. I have a new perspective - or perhaps have regained an old one. I do believe that God will find a way to use me in ministry.
Just four more days of holiday - I plan to make the most of them.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


This morning I read the last reading for Week 26 in my Bible reading plan. I am half way through my 'read the Bible in a year exercise.' There have been several days when I have had to read two or three portions as a catch up - but by and large I have kept up! I have been enjoying it and reading from a different part of Scripture every day works for me. At the moment, during one week I will read be reading Luke, Philippians, 2 Kings, Psalms, Proverbs, Ezekiel and Leviticus. I described the plan and there is a link to it here.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Self Tests

In a mildly anarchical holiday mood I have been trying some of the personality tests at Psychology Today. You might be able to tell something about me from the tests I have chosen to do . . . and then you might not. Actually, one or two were because I was curious, one or two because of something someone else said and others just on a whim.
Test: Do you need therapy? Short answer - No. Actually, doing this test made me so aware of the things that one could be struggling with that I really appreciate my good health.
Test: Assertiveness (are you a human doormat?) - The little snapshot answer includes 'As a typically self-assured individual, you are fairly comfortable with. . .' I like being a typically self-assured individual!
Test: Mental Speed (Can you think on your feet?) - The answer includes 'You must have had your coffee today, because you finished this test in record time'. Not sure if I'm satisfied with that.
Test: Self Esteem/Worth - The answer includes 'Your results indicate that your sense of self-worth is fairly healthy'. Is 'fairly healthy' good enough, I wonder? This test had other results that I would need to pay to see.
I don't take these too seriously - but they are fun. There was talk of doing Myers-Briggs tests at seminary. I wonder if that is still in the pipeline?

Prophets and Personality

Charles Villa-Vicencio's talks are still echoing through my mind - partly I suppose because I have a week of holiday coming up and am not having to prepare for anything immediately and so have space to think. The two images that he used that have stuck in my mind are the one about allowing  seminarians' claws to grow sharp and their manes to grow long (which I mentioned in an earlier post) and the other is about having the courage to say so when the king is not wearing clothes (in reference to the story of The Emperor's New Clothes).
This morning I was reading the book by Reinhold Niebuhr from which Villa-Vicencio took the excerpt which named his morning talk - it is quite a cool book for a seminarian to read! The book is 'Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic' and can be downloaded as a pdf if you just search for it. Niebuhr shares his thoughts on being a new minister very frankly and I can certainly identify with some of what he says.
But what does the lion do (the one with the claws and the mane), when approached by a zoo-keeper with a disapproving expression and a pair of nail clippers? Humbly succumb, swat the keeper, or take advantage of the open cage door and flee back to the beckoning wild?
The reason most of us give up as prophets is just that we care too much about what others think. It is not a safe occupation!
I was reading a Psychology Today article about internally and externally imposed perfectionism. Unfortunately I couldn't find the online test to which it referred in order to find out if I was a maladaptive perfectionist! It might be an excuse for being a tame prophet.
Perhaps these reflections are a little random - I am nearly on holiday.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

1 Corinthians 15:29

Here is some more Greek. I am afraid that I am going to forget what I learned very quickly! Sigh, another thing to do every day - revise Greek. This verse is chosen because it is a topic of discussion at the moment at the B-Greek forum. I find the forum helpful, but I am still new and finding my way around. You can read the topic here. It is about being baptised on behalf of the dead!

Ἐπει τὶ ποιησουσιν οἱ βαπτιζομενοι ὑπερ των νεκρων; εἰ ὡλως νεκροι οὐκ ἐγειρονται; τὶ και βαπτιζονται ὑπερ των νεκρων;

Ἐπει - This is a conjunction, literally meaning thereon. Its translation depends on the context! Greek sentences nearly always begin with a word linking them to the preceding sentences and so they do not carry the weight that they would in English.
τὶ - what or why. Here it means 'what'.
ποιησουσιν - future tense of 'they do' ie 'they will do'
οἱ - article 'the' (plural)
βαπτιζομενοι - plural passive participle of baptise. With the article it means 'those who are baptised'. Literally the 'being baptised ones'
ὑπερ - this is a preposition and its meaning is determined by the case of the following noun. In this instance, the case is genitive and ὑπερ means 'on behalf of'. If the case had been accusative it would have meant 'above'.
των - article 'the' (genitive case, plural)
νεκρων - dead ones (genitive case, plural)
; - this is a Greek question mark.

So far 'What will those who are baptised on behalf of the dead do?'

εἰ - if
ὡλως - wholly

νεκροι - dead ones (nominative case, plural)
οὐκ - not
ἐγειρονται - passive of they raise ie 'they are raised'
; - question mark

this part - if, wholly, dead (people) are not  raised?

τὶ - why
και - and
βαπτιζονται - they are baptised
ὑπερ - on behalf of
των - the (genitive case, plural)
νεκρων - dead ones (genitive case, plural)
; - ?

this part - and why are they baptised on behalf of the dead?

Thus the complete text - 'What will those who are baptised on behalf of the dead do? If, in whole, dead are not  raised? And why are they baptised on behalf of the dead?'

The discussion on the forum is as to whether the text could not be translated as 'above the dead', because people were often buried below houses and churches. This is tempting as regards meaning, but I can't see it being justified from the Greek.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Phakamisa Graduation

On Monday we had the first Phakamisa Pietermaritzburg 'graduation'. The six month Childminders course came to an end and about ten faithful students received their certificates. It would seem that they have found the course worthwhile and most of them have signed up for the Educare course starting in August. The Phakamisa journey has been a good one so far. Not only do we empower teachers, so that they are stronger, but the children that they teach have a start in life that is vastly improved over what they would have had otherwise. I am so inspired by the trainers who have come from Durban every second Monday to teach, the monitor who is employed to follow up at the preschools to see how the learning has been implemented and the local church members who have just got involved.
I am beginning to believe that God just wants to do stuff, but he is held back when we don't make a start. In Phakamisa we took a little step and he has carried us the rest of the way. In Jesus, we have an awesome God!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Greytown leads the way

Isn't this a cool thing to read, hot on the heels of my posts on prophecy and corruption? Thanks to Common Dialogue.

Millionaire businessman Philani Mavundla is arguably the country’s richest mayor – and has turned down his R700,000 annual salary to work for free.
The newly elected ANC mayor of Greytown, a bustling town in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands, this week revealed that he had no need for his mayoral salary and perks.
Instead he will use the money to upgrade the town’s pothole-riddled roads and create jobs.
Now this guy is a breath of fresh air where everybody wants to loot. Maybe we should set a standard for presidents as well, where the prerequisite for running for the country’s top office should be a certain amount of personal wealth – just to ensure the temptation to steal is reduced. And also to ensure that you are in it to help the country not for personal gain.

We pray for the town of Greytown and its leaders every week in our intercessory prayers :-)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Two Greys

I have been part of Greytown Methodist Church for nearly three months now. We have continued to settle into some sort of routine and order. It is amazing how much God can use a little bit of continuity and stability - he seems to be busy at Greytown! We had a communion service today - I still enjoy the novelty of being able to integrate communion into the service (the privilege of being a *minister*). Our amazing piano lady had invited a friend to play guitar with her.He brought his son - who it turned out also plays guitar, and he played mine. This meant that I could sing with the congregation. I suddenly realised there was a reasonable volume of sound coming from behind me - the church was between half and two thirds full. This is just awesome after being at between 20 and 30 for the first three weeks that I was there. Our amazing steward lady had to do two refills of the communion glasses. Many of those there are youngsters - young teenagers - from the local Children's home. Some younger kids also come and today there were 11 in Sunday School - about as many as my son can handle! But one of the young men in the congregation has started helping . . . so we can start doing a bit more. It breaks my heart that I will be away for two Sundays and I don't like to lose the continuity. But I also know how much I need a break from everything - just time to refresh.
The other Grey from the title is Grey's Hospital. I got a call from a local minister who asked me to go and see someone who seems to be dying. There are joys in ministry and the harder parts. Pastoral work is not my strength by any means and I am very grateful to my friend (Michael) who provides me with opportunities to grow in that area.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

On Prophets . . .

Charles Villa-Vicencio's topic for his morning talk last Wednesday was along the lines of 'Why do fired-up young prophets become tame parish priests?' He encouraged seminarians to let their 'claws grow sharp and their manes grow long'. He spoke about the roles of a minister (I'm not sure if he was specifically addressing ministers here) as being prophet, priest and political counsellor (or statesman). By including statesman he was meaning people who can draw together different people and encourage them to move on together - and given that this is something of the ultimate force of my PhD thesis, with Desmond Tutu as a model, I obviously concur.
However, having wrestled with the idea of prophecy and the complications of the cultural aspects (do the Old Testament and Black Consciouness define prophets in the same way?) I am now feeling that actually the country has enough prophets. There are so many voices - shouting, ranting, complaining and sometimes even being constructive that I don't believe we need more prophets. We need people who can and will listen. People with wisdom and discernment and people who will lead others into constructive action. Maybe this is what Villa-Vicencio meant by statesmen - but I think it goes further.
As far as the church is concerned - it needs to focus on being the people of God in a world that needs God and needs love and grace and hope and all those good Christian things. We need to teach our people that personal holiness and a Christ-centred lifestyle will lead to social justice. The three go hand in hand.
And that is my little prophetic rant for the day.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sons of God and Daughters of Men

Compare this from New Scientist:

The publication of the Neanderthal genome last year offered proof that Homo sapiens bred with Neanderthals after leaving Africa. There is also evidence that suggests they enjoyed intimate relations with other hominins including the Denisovans, a species identified last year from a Siberian fossil. Link.

with Genesis 6:2 The sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.

Even if this is not what the Bible is talking about in Genesis - you just never know what scientists are going to turn up!

Villa-Vicencio and 16 June

Yesterday we had Charles Villa-Vicencio at the seminary to give special June 16 addresses. I guess the best way to describe him is as a 'struggle academic'. My previous knowledge of him was just that he and John de Gruchy, both of UCT co-authored books about apartheid, struggle and theology. It was cool to hear him speak and to meet him. I was perhaps a little disappointed in how ordinary he looked . . . I'm sure I must have seen photos somewhere of a more dramatic figure.
But I wasn't disappointed in his speaking - he has my thoughts going in about seventeen directions and I know that I'll never think through all of them. Here is one train of thought - every step could be debated and I might disagree with myself tomorrow, but I quite like the end of the train.
I landed up somewhat unexpectedly in conversation with Charles and someone else (Michael if you want to know . . .). So I started with a question based on a premise that some might disagree with strongly and others would see as obvious. Something to the effect of 'I think that the death of apartheid was inevitable because it was essentially an unsustainable system and we need to be careful about congratulating ourselves too much on overcoming it. Can we really learn anything from it about combating injustice that may occur in a more sustainable system?' After unpacking that a little, and remembering that people did very bold and sacrificial things to defeat the system, I think we agreed that the premise was ok. Unfortunately the conversation got derailed so I never got an answer.
Step 2. In the evening lecture Charles quoted Maphela Rampela who in conversation with him said that it was not the struggle leaders who brought about freedom, but the people. That fed into my thinking. As I write it, I see that the link to step 1 may be a bit obscure . . . but I can see it! The power of the people and external pressure. How can that be brought to bear on say, corruption? External pressure is capricious. But the government is afraid of discouraging 'investors'. People power?
Step 3. I've mentioned somewhere here before my thoughts on the role the church could play by providing Christian trade unions. Charles made a connection for me that I hadn't quite seen in this context. And that is that the unemployed are not represented by the trade unions. This is why I felt a sort of disconnect when Vavi spoke about the disillusionment of the unemployed youth. It is a real concern, but Vavi and COSATU are not necessarily in a position to fight for them. The conflict of interest with the workers is too great.
Step 4. And that really opens up clearly defined role for the church - to be the voice of the unemployed youth. To whom does the voice speak? That's important. It needs to speak to the corrupt elite who because they feel that they have arrived have forgotten those who sent them. It's too easy to speak to business - which is already making an impact through social upliftment programmes. I do believe that the church can help by forcing an awareness of the struggles of the youth on the people with the power to make a difference and I think that this would also ultimately result in a diminishing of corruption.
I now need a few more steps . . . but am quite excited that as a church minister I may actually be able to complete those steps. Let me pray a bit . . . a lot.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


I am trying, today, to not take myself too seriously. So if you are looking for something profound, please skip this post! Otherwise here is a question about breakfast. In our family we all make our own and eat it while on the go. I don't actually know what my kids eat, except that I suppose it comes out of the groceries that I buy every week. I don't like to eat in  the mornings and have to force myself, so I tend to be creative - usually in a boring way - no one really looks at me oddly anymore when I have breakfast cereal and coca cola. On my birthday we were camping by the sea and I was in a rush to get to the beach - I got the oddest expressions from the family when they saw weetbix spread with peanut butter and gherkins. But my latest is the best and that is plain granola (Jungle Oats) with sugar, half a spoon of hot chocolate and hot water. For the first time I got a request to 'taste my breakfast' (which I was eating at lunch time). Why now?

Monday, June 13, 2011


Today has left me longing for simplicity. For a world without subtexts, cultural differences and busy-ness. Why can't people be transparent and open? Why can't we work together to solve problems without some of us hiding what we know or misrepresenting? Are we so afraid of each other? Why can't we be willing to give, to serve?
I suppose that I might be just as frustrating to others. I guess that if I was, I'd like someone to tell me so.

But today I also saw genuine people. Our Zulu teacher who is not experienced at teaching third language speakers, but who has a sincere desire to help me. The SMMS panel of staff who listened to our postgrad research progress and made helpful comments.

I'll try to remember the good bits. And pray for the people who have been hurt by the silly bits.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Shape and Form

More Greek in honour of having received a pass mark for my Greek course! This is Philippians 2:7. For some reason e-sword extends the Greek of this verse into what is verse 8 in other versions. I like that, so I am going to keep it.
ἀλλα ἑαυτον ἐκενωσεν μορφην δουλου λαβων, ἐν ὁμοιωματι ἀνθρωπων γενομενος, και σχηματι εὑρεθεις ὡς ἀνθρωπος.

ἀλλα - but
ἑαυτον - himself
ἐκενωσεν - he emptied
μορφην - a shape or form
δουλου - of a slave/ servant
λαβων - having taken or received. The Greek word doesn't differentiate as English does. So one can't tell if Jesus initiated the action or not. Maybe I'll use appropriated, just to remind us to think about it. The verb is an aorist participle, which in Greek has the special implication that the action of the participle comes before the main verb. You'll see what I mean in the next line.

So far - but, having appropriated a slave's form, he emptied himself

ἐν - in
ὁμοιωματι - likeness or image (don't you like image!)
ἀνθρωπων -of people (this plural is a bit difficult to translate into English in this sentence)
γενομενος - having become/ after becoming (another aorist participle)

this bit - after becoming in the image of people

και - and
σχηματι - by means of shape or form (this 'by means' is awkward and 'in' might be better, but I want it this way!)
εὑρεθεις - having been found - another aorist participle, but passive voice this time
ὡς - as or like
ἀνθρωπος - a person (singular this time)

this bit - and having been found by means of shape as a person.

So the whole verse - note the three participles, the three words for shape or form and the three references to humanity. I'm going to leave the main verb (he emptied) to last because I think it reflects the intention of the Greek.

but, having appropriated a slave's form,
after becoming in the image of people
and having been found in shape a person,
he emptied himself.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Instructions for Men

The preacher at seminary this morning said that she would be focusing on 1 Timothy 2:8 in her sermon. She seemed to travel a little more widely, but it did make me stop and think about that particular verse. In the NIV it goes "I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing." It is  my habit (and I imagine many of ours) to generalise the word 'men' to 'people' because that is usually correct according to the way the Bible is translated. In this case the word 'men' is intentionally gender specific. Do I need to say that I know this because the Greek has different words for man as in male and man as in human being?
It puts a new slant on the verse. The writer is speaking to men in particular. And I would say that this is not because he wants only men to pray, but because he has observed that men specially are/were given to anger and argument.
And this really helps bring the next two verses into perspective. Because these verses address women and presumably address a weakness that the writer has observed in women in general, or in his particular circumstance.
Verses 11 and 12 then address potential conflict between men and women (women not to teach or dominate men).
And so it becomes very likely that the writer is addressing a conflict situation. First he addresses men - your anger is part of the problem. Secondly women - your what? Showiness and competitiveness? These are part of the problem. And then he says that men and women in conflict with each other isn't helping either.
The point of these verses is not necessarily appropriate roles for men and women in all situations, but a recognition that conflict in the church is ugly and should be avoided - even if means letting go of your 'rights' for a time.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

What am I doing for my PhD?

I've seen the following quote twice - perhaps both times on the UKZN website. It is something to the effect that most PhD theses are simply the transferring of bones from one graveyard to another. I really have tried to avoid studying 'truth for truth's sake' in both my Masters and now my PhD. But it is actually quite hard! I have journeyed through a number of iterations of modifying my research question and am still not quite happy. Sometimes the concept seems totally naive (let's solve all of South Africa's problems based on the book of Romans), at others preposterous - although that is how the thought that I can generate anything new always strikes me! I tend to wander off into theology when I am supposed to be doing Biblical Studies. At the moment my research question is:

As we bring Paul and Desmond Tutu into dialogue, while limiting ourselves to the themes of liberation, reconciliation and individual identity, can we find a fresh perspective on Paul’s letter to the Romans that is useful to the South African church today? 
This is perhaps not terribly meaningful - so to explain. The idea is to do exegesis on certain passages from Romans (there is not enough space in a thesis to do the whole book) doing readings from a South African perspective (as epitomised by Desmond Tutu) and then again from an original context point of view using the approaches of NT Wright, JDG Dunn and Richard Horsley (which are something like the search for the historical Paul). The principle is that the readings will inform each other and out of it will come better understandings of both Paul's writing and its application to the current South African context. This method of using two readings is called, where I come from, Inculturation and has been described by Nigerian scholar Justin Ukpong - who is  working at UKZN just for this year.
In some ways this does seem a bit contrived - but somehow one has to juggle the bones a bit in between graveyards, just in the hope of finding something interesting!
Just hoping now to hear something from my supervisors to say whether this has enough merit ...

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Siyakudumisa - Te Deum

An important part of the Sunday liturgy for black African Methodists is the Siyakudumisa. This is the isiXhosa translation of the Te Deum (We praise you God). I started a project to make notes on the Biblical basis of the Siyakudumisa and am somewhat stubbornly persevering with it when I have any spare time. This week I am waiting to get feedback on my research proposal, so I've been working on this project. I have also been playing around with the idea of a seminary wiki and inevitably they have come together. The Siyakudumisa notes are still very much work-in-progress, but it is amazing how professional they look in the wikipedia layout!
Check it out here.


I know I am just tired. I even think I know why. But it becomes harder to just keep going . . . need to stop . . . time to pray - perhaps be prayed for . . . not to have to deal with below the surface conflict . . . pretence . . .
But it's just a feeling. Hopefully in the near future my PhD proposal will be finalised and that will motivate. We also get a week break during which my family will head to Johannesburg. That will be a holiday, time with my mom, and also time to talk to my 'mentor in ministry'. The tunnel doesn't look too long!

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Greytown Sunday School

This is one young Sunday School teacher wondering how he is going to cope because he forgot to bring glue for the Sunday School activity.
Little did he know that his troubles were only beginning. Having been overjoyed the week before last because his Sunday School doubled from one child to two, today he had 28 children. The children from the local children's home joined us again this morning at Greytown Methodist Church. I am trying to determine if there is some way of knowing when they will come, but it doesn't seem to be to any pattern! So I sent the ten years and under out with the Sunday School during the sermon and the other thirty or more kids stayed in the church.It is very cool to have them!
I must admit that without them the congregation would have been very small. It is cold and maybe that is why . . . but I hope that we can start to draw more people in.
I need to keep listening to Jesus. It's his church.

Saturday, June 04, 2011


I don't know if these people are more crazy or more brave or what. But they are certainly not apathetic, or lazy!
This photo shows Greenpeace activists boarding an oil rig that is trying to do exploratory drilling in  the Arctic. I only know the Greenpeace side of this story, but in general I think that oil is causing too much trouble in the world at the moment. We need to look for sustainable energy sources that can be made available to all.
Read the story.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Words of Calling 3

I have wrestled with this 'third word of calling' (the first two are in previous posts), trying to determine whether it expresses Jesus' desire for me or my desire for myself.
The expectations of the seminary year unfolded slowly for me this year - being one of those that it outside the main track of 'let's get a degree or diploma'. I knew I would be doing a PhD, and then I found that I would be working with Phakamisa (the pre-school teachers training project). But I couldn't see any way that I would be working in a church. preaching and doing ministry stuff. I told myself that it was ok, I would find fulfilment in the things that I had and that next year would come soon enough. I really thought that I had convinced myself, but when I was called in to talk about a church attachment I realised otherwise. At that point (and I am glad that the seminary didn't know it!) I would have been happy to be sent to the smallest, dirtiest worstest society that they could think of if I could just preach and try to grow people. This was a bit of a revelation to me, that I could feel like this. I know that I wouldn't have necessarily liked or enjoyed the experience, but if it was where God wanted me I would have been content and fufilled.
I think that is calling . . . although experienced very subjectively.
(And as it happened they sent me to Greytown, which is cool!)

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Zulu Class

I am sitting in a classroom at SMMS before Zulu class. This is a quietly sociable time. The class is small and many of the students come early and 'work' on their laptops. It is quiet. Someone is playing classical music quietly on his laptop, but for everyone to hear.
I've been working on my proposal the last three days - and am finding that the more work I do, the more work there is to be done.
Sitting, waiting for class in this relaxed environment I feel like I am on holiday!