Sunday, July 31, 2011

Preaching and Greytown

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

Friday, July 29, 2011

Withdrawal, Compassion and Baskets

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

Monday, July 25, 2011


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

Friday, July 22, 2011

Can we not help Africa?

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

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Fighters or Shadows?

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


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

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

And once more into the fray

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

Monday, July 18, 2011

Memories (2)

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

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Minister's Spouse

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

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Memories (1)

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

Friday, July 15, 2011

What did I learn today?

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

Thursday, July 14, 2011


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

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


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

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Excess Greek

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

Different Things

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

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Progressive Christianity

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

Saturday, July 09, 2011

The Kingdom

I want to write so much and there is so little space . . . on verses in Greek about the kingdom of God. But for a start here is Luke 17:21.

οὐδε ἐρουσιν ἰδου ὡδε ἠ ἰδου ἐκει, ἰδου γαρ ἡ βασιλεια του Θεου ἐντος ὑμων ἐστιν.

οὐδε - but not (or possibly and not)
ἐρουσιν - they say
ἰδου - look (imperative) sometimes translated 'behold' or 'lo'
ὡδε - here
ἠ - or
ἰδου - look (imperative)
ἐκει - there
so far - but not they say look here or look there
Let me try to put that into better English - but they do not say, "Look here!" or, "Look there!"
It's interesting that this is often translated in the future tense, but I see no indication of future in the Greek.

ἰδου - look
γαρ - for or because (timid word, should be at the beginning of the clause, but has moved)
ἡ βασιλεια - the kingdom
του Θεου - of  the God. The 'of' is denoted by the genitive case. Proper nouns in Greek often have the article.
ἐντος - inside. This is, I think, a stronger preposition than just in (ἐν). It is also used in the NT in the context of inside a cup.
ὑμων - you (plural, genitive case as required after ἐντος)
ἐστιν - is (third person singular)

This part - for, look, the kingdom of God is inside you (pl).
The whole verse in my translation - But they do not say, "Look here!" or, "Look there!" for Look! The Kingdom of God is inside you.
When one bears in mind that this comes after verse 20 where Jesus tells the Pharisees that the kingdom of God does not come with 'observation', the important part of this verse seems to be that the coming of the kingdom is hidden because it is inside people.
Of course there are other verses that say more . . . but that will be another post.

Friday, July 08, 2011

CPE One Week Down

I have completed one week of our three week CPE course. My observations so far:
1. I am glad that I am doing this course, it is the right thing for where I am now.
2. I have had a headache all the way through it. I expected it to be stressful, but it is even more so than I thought!
3. This is more consolidation  than learning brand new stuff, but I am appreciating the chance to put things into practice and then solid reflection.

The hardest thing is working with the language barrier. I think that the small command of Zulu that I do have just offers both the patient and me a glimpse of what could be, but is unobtainable!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Day to Day CPE

Today was what is called a 'normal' day at our CPE course. Monday was 'normal', Tuesday was not and apparently tomorrow will be again. What this means is that we have a basic structure to the day that is not nailed to the concrete floor. It looks like this:
8.30 Worship (after seminary, starting at 8.30 is a luxury!)
9.00 Admin
9:15 Lecture
10.30 Tea (and sandwich)
11.00 Visit patients in the wards
12.30 Lunch
13.30 Small groups led by a supervisor
15:00 More ward visiting
16.00 Debriefing and wrap up (the length of this varies and I suspect will get shorter as we go along!)

I have been placed in a surgical ward - patients have taken to showing me really impressive wounds. I am glad that I don't get grossed out too easily! The language barrier is frustrating - sometimes people are so pleased to have a visit from a minister, but they can't tell me what their struggles are. They are very pleased when I pray for them - and I reckon Jesus doesn't know too much about language barriers.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Clinical Pastoral Education

I am doing a Clinical Pastoral Education course at Grey's Hospital for the next three weeks. The idea is for pastors to get a grip on being part of a healing team, rather than seeing ourselves as independent agents. We will learn more about hospital routines and what visiting pastors should and shouldn't do - in terms of getting in the way rather than helping! It is also very practical which is something that I have been looking for. I have done many counselling courses, but have always felt it would be nice to see it done properly or have more guidance myself in a real situation.
Today we were allocated to wards and, amongst other things, spent two and a half hours in two sessions visiting the patients. In the afternoon my ingenuity ran out - just over half of my patients don't speak English and I couldn't think of anything more to say, anyway. So I just sat in one of the general wards and made notes on my cell phone and listened to the general chatter. After a while they started to include me and I actually thought it worked quite well.
I was quite pleased with how well my scrappy Zulu was understood - actually, I was completely taken aback when the first lady I spoke to was able to respond to me first time with my questions (I wanted to shake her - do you really understand? My odd Zulu and funny accent? hallelujah!). But it will never take us to even superficial pastoral conversations, never mind profound ones.
Two of the non-English-speakers were from Greytown, which at least gave us some common ground.
This is going to be a tough course for me with my sometimes super-introvertedness, but I think it will help me do better in future. Two weeks and four days to go!

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Changing Battlegrounds

I had a little reluctance to learning Greek because I was afraid that it would just change the battlefield in my struggle for understanding. By this I mean that when we study the Bible in English we may have some frustration and so we go to the Greek to look for clarity. While I didn't know Greek I was happy to believe my interlinear/lexicon combination or to believe a commentary. Now I can read the Greek (well, a lot of it) and I question the translation. Ok, no problem, go check the word in the lexicon - oh right, the accent is in a different place! But hang on - the original texts don't show accents do they? So an interpretation is already being made when showing me accented Greek. Now if I want to know the truth I must go back to the original manuscripts . . . no wait, which manuscript of several with minor variations is correct? I am not sure that I want to spend my life digging deeper and deeper!
My specific question was from Luke 17:20 where the Pharisees ask Jesus when the kingdom of God is coming. It struck me as odd because of the present tense of the question. The Greek for when is ποτε which also means once (when accented differently - I haven't shown any accent). The text could mean 'once, the pharisees asked Jesus whether the kingdom of God was coming (currently, in progress)'. I have to concede that because I am very new at this there may be a multitude of reasons why the usual translation is preferred. Also, I don't think it makes much difference to the meaning. But now I have to ask!
I'll put the Greek for verse 21 (Jesus' answer) in a later post.

Friday, July 01, 2011

People Thinking

Here are two 'must read' links if you want to be up with what people are thinking. The first is a survey that was done of evangelical leaders who attended the Lausanne Conference in Cape Town last year. It gives all sorts of information regarding what 'evangelical' leaders are thinking and is cool because it covers leaders from across the globe. It is a Pew Forum survey.

The other is put out by the World Council of Churches and is guidelines for Christian mission work - how to be effectively Christian without treading on the toes of the other faiths. Christian Witness Recommendations.