Sunday, October 30, 2011

Messing with your mind

How is this for a question? From FlowingData via @workforcetrends. The original blog post had 330 comments after only one day!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Learning from #occupy

This follows on from my previous post where I said that I suspect that the church is contributing to the economic divide between the wealthy and the poor. Because the church tends to see everyone as rich, it encourages sharing and distribution of wealth amongst its poorer constituency without challenging those who are in real terms financially wealthy. This means that the better off (middle class I suppose) becomes poorer as they support the very poor and the divide grows.

I'm not an economist, but perhaps the structure of society in South Africa looks like this (very simply!):
Top 1% - Company directors, highly paid professionals eg doctors
Comfortably off - senior managers, small business owners
Doing ok - teachers, middle managers, supervisors
Just ahead of poverty - manual workers, clerks

Instead of allowing limited wealth to cycle amongst the lower four levels it would be better to raise the 'Comfortably off' level into the 'Divide'. It makes sense that each level should focus on raising the level beneath them. So the top 1% needs to make opportunities for the 'Comfortably off' to rise.  The 'Comfortably off' should make opportunities for the 'Doing ok' and so on. What we have at the moment in the sense that the 1% should be raising the 'Unemployed'. This is good because wealth flows into the lower section of the economy, but it does not close the divide. It could even mean that the 'Unemployed' are raised to the next level without any provision made for that level to also rise - thus there is a greater demand for jobs at this level, but the jobs are not there and so people drop down to 'Unemployed' again.
So what #occupy is saying is that if we don't deal with the divide we are never going to break the cycle.
It is totally unintuitive, but job creation and empowerment needs to happen for the 'Comfortably off' in order to lift the whole economy.
So as a church minister - do I assist those with nothing, or those who are working their way up the economic strata?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The rich get richer

I suspect that the church's message is contributing to the divide between rich and poor. This is why.

This #occupy thing first struck me as a western oddity, but I am beginning to see the sense of it. Graeme Codrington wrote an article, in which he quotes in full another article from Vanity Fair, which throws a fair bit of light on the causes of the #occupy movement in America. The gist of it is that the rich (the 1%) are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer and the divide between them is getting ever larger. South Africa has a similar situation. Graeme says:

What are they protesting against or for, though? Maybe you haven’t been watching very closely.
You should. History is going to judge these events as the beginning of something big. The way the rich have been behaving in many countries is now under unprecedented scrutiny, and will not be allowed to continue. How this will all play out is not yet clear. History tells us that when the rich and poor get too separated, the poor rise up and kill the rich. That’s unlikely to happen (although it can’t be ruled out, even in the most ‘civilised’ of nations), but something will happen. 

The following graph was culled out of tax return figures by Roger Saner (via Twitter).(Click to enlarge)

This is South Africa's 1% and it exists as a separated entity.

Now there are three interesting things - the obvious is that 99% of all people are not part of the 1%. This means that the vast majority of the population is feeling a little hard done by when they look at this graph. It's not a matter of my not being happy with just a Blackberry, but rather the wondering why 1% of people have so much and can buy iPads in bulk, while I am so pleased with my Blackberry (in the USA the 1% has 25% of income and they control 40% of wealth).

Another is that white people constitute 10% of the population. Now probably the 1% is predominantly white, but not completely. Whatever, at least 90% of white people fall outside of the 1%. Thus previously advantaged people find themselves part of the considerably less well-off 99% and have a sense of fellowship with the previously-disadvantaged-trying-to-advance people. This has got to have an effect on bargaining power.

The third relates to the message of the church. We commonly tell people - you are rich! Whatever you might think about your circumstances, understand that as long as there are people poorer than you, you are rich. Spread it around guys. This does result in upliftment of the very poor to some extent but also sees a drop in the living standard of the middle class. Thus even the church's message is contributing to the divide between rich and poor. The church should, like the prophets of the Old Testament, be sending a message to the 1%, not castigating the middle class.

Abdul Milazi writes an interesting piece about ubuntu which I think relates (and is funny!) Go read the whole thing!

“The thing is we don’t have ubuntu anymore, our leaders only think of lining their pockets,” stumpy said without missing a beat.

“Ubuntu is for poor people. It’s a survival system where very little is shared among many. When you can afford things, then ubuntu becomes redundant,” I told stumpy and watched the shock on the six faces around me.

“But we need ubuntu for the country to work. We need to look after the poor and spread the wealth,” said stumpy now frothing at the mouth. I handed him a paper towel, but he didn’t get the hint.

“Well, try spreading your own buddy. I have worked hard to get out of poverty and into a comfortable middle class life. Any poor person who wants to get out of poverty should do the same,” I said, pulling out a Monte Cristo Gran Corona and sniffing it.

Another man whose face escapes me now jumped in: “But this is the exact attitude that has led to tenderpreneurship and all the corruption in the country,” he said.

“I don’t need to borrow a lawnmower from my neighbour because I own one. I don’t need to borrow a cup of sugar either, so I believe my neighbour and I have a constitutional right to be left the hell alone, and the less fortunate have a constitutional right to share everything among themselves to survive,” I said as I left the group with my daughter in tow.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


This is Kikeri aka Kiki. 
She (or possibly he) is the latest addition to the family. He (or possibly she) is a three week old Hahn's Macaw.

She has been hand reared and we will carry on. I expected a slightly older bird . . . that would be a little less demanding . . . but she will soon be off frequent feeds.
Macaw's and parrots are seasonal breeders, so now is the time for baby birds.
The names Kikeri and Kiki were chosen from children's story books. My kids helped choose.

Me: What about Mr Mephistopheles?
Child 1: No mommy, we can't have another bird named after a cat.
Me: (I had to agree, she was right) Kiki then?
Children: (Somewhat non-commital)
The next day.
Me: What about Piglet?
Child 2 & 4: NO mommy. Kiki would be a good name.
So, I guess they chose?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Desperate for your touch

Take me to that secret place  
Where I can only see Your face  
And nothing else will ever feel this way
You take away my guilty stains  
The things I've done that I can't change 
It's only by the power of Your name

I stand here in this place 
See the glory on Your face  
I'm taken by the wonder of Your name
I'm desperate for Your touch 
Never needed it so much 
'Cos all I want is You

Lyrics by Planetshakers

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


I've lifted this from the NT Resources blog by Rod Decker. Rod tells the story of John Brown of Haddington and how, as a child or teenager, he taught himself Greek using an old Latin textbook and the Greek New Testament. Talk about determined! The story carries on as follows:

He wanted a copy of a Greek NT for his own. The nearest bookstore that would have one was 24 miles away at St. Andrews. He arranged for a friend to watch his flock of sheep (he earned his room and board as a shepherd) and walked all night, barefoot, arriving at the bookstore in the morning. Robertson describes what happened (quoting from Mackenzie).

Going in, he startled the shopman by asking for a Greek New Testament. He was a very raw-looking lad at the time, his clothes were rough, homespun, and ragged, and his feet were bare. ‘What would YOU do wi’ that book? You’ll no can read it,’ said the bookseller. ‘I’ll try to read it,’ was the humble answer of the would-be purchaser. Meanwhile some of the professors had come into the shop, and, nearing the table, and surveying the youth, questioned him closely as to what he was, where he came from, and who had taught him. Then one of them, not unlikely Francis Pringle, then Professor of Greek, asked the bookseller to bring a Greek New Testament, and throwing it down on the counter, said: ‘Boy, if you can read that book, you shall have it for nothing.’ He took it up eagerly, read a passage to the astonishment of those in the shop, and marched out with the gift, so worthily won in triumph. By the afternoon, he was back at duty on the hills of Abernethy, studying his New Testament the while, in the midst of his flock.

From: A. T. Robertson. The Minister and His Greek New Testament. New York: George H. Doran, 1923. (See ch. 9.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What am I afraid of?

I've been watching myself. That sounds odd, I guess. But the last ten days or so I have been watching to see when I feel stressed - what causes it, how do I react? I am surprised at how often I find myself being on 'red alert' to deal with some sort of problem or other that I anticipate. In general I think that I do ok.
But I've been asking myself a deeper question that I can't answer. I sometimes find myself in situations I find uncomfortable - or I may just suddenly feel insecure - and I am asking myself what I am fundamentally afraid of. What is making me unhappy? They say some people are driven by a need to be in control and so they fear losing control, others need to be competent and they fear being seen as incapable, others need to be liked . . . I don't know how far the list could go. I can't figure out what my basic fear is. Is there really such a thing?

Monday, October 17, 2011

White Liberals, Black Consciousness and the Good Samaritan

I know that much of the way we understand the Bible comes from the context that we believe it is addressing. Just like a golf ball looks different in the snow to when it is on a putting green. Sometimes if we don't understand a Bible passage we 'reverse engineer' it from the context.
I guess most people have been confused by Luke's account of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. The sequence is:
Expert: Love your neighbour
Jesus: You've got it
Expert: Who is my neighbour?
Jesus: Tells story. Which of these three men was a neighbour?
Expert: The one who had mercy.
So, following the sequence, who are we to love? Those who have mercy on us.
Now this doesn't really gel with us. We are expecting a 'love your enemy' scenario, not a 'love your friend' scenario. So we focus on Jesus's next words 'Go and do likewise'. In other words, act as the Samaritan did. I think that the reason we choose to focus on those words is because our context tells us that the issue is not loving those who help us, but rather loving those who differ from us (Jews/ Samaritans) and so we find the force of the parable in the context, rather than the parable itself.
In South Africa we are moving into a new context. A context (driven by Black Consciousness) that says 'don't allow others to help you - stand up for yourself' (and generally these others are labeled 'white liberals'). In this new context, what does the parable of the Good Samaritan say? It says that you may be utterly galled by having to receive help from someone that you despise, but love that person anyway. He or she is your neighbour.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Finishing Up

I have about six weeks left in Pietermaritzburg. I am finding that I am under a complicated set of stresses. Partly there is the underlying knowledge that we have to move the family 2000km and then settle on 'the other side'. But there is also the finishing off of projects. Just a few more weeks at Greytown - am I leaving them better off than I found them? What else do I need to do? Have I been reasonably faithful to my task?
The Phakamisa outreach project needs to be handed over and that is happening. I'm learning to take a deep breath when I realise that things won't happen exactly as I had in mind - the project must move on and I already need to let go.
Two more weeks of UKZN lectures - what will I do next year with the PhD? What can I still do this year?
And I'm fighting the temptation to just stop as if the next few weeks don't count for anything. But I need to believe that I finished strong, so fight the lethargy and keep moving!
God has been good to me.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Gelotology - lol!

I thought this was funny - I'm not sure how much of a scholar (nerd?) one has to be to appreciate it! Beautifully evolutionary.

So, here’s the sitch. Ur txting ur BFF & they tell a funny joke, rt? OMG, ur ROFLing 4eva! And, of course, desirous to explicate the amount and volume of your gelotological response to said stimuli, you endeavor to articulate it with the greatest degree of concision and the maximal amount of verbal economy, thus seeking out the optimal acronymous designation for such behavior. Fortuna has cast her benevolent gaze upon you, my friend, for close at hand lies nothing less than that beloved favorite of the texting masses, the very paragon of wit-ensouled brevity, the palindromic trigram: LOL.

It comes from a blog called και τα λοιπα. where author Daniel R. Streett continues in order to construct a Greek alternative for LOL. He is a relatively new blogger and highly innovative teacher of New Testament Greek. 

BTW Gelotology refers to laughter and its effect on the body.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Changing Church

The Faith Communities Today Survey 2010 has some interesting data about the change in American faith communities and the church. You can find the survey here. (And thanks to TSK for the lead.)
 I haven't read, yet, how 'spiritual vitality' is determined - but it's interesting that a higher percentage of congregations in the extreme positions have a higher vitality. This graph does not say that 'very liberals' are more 'spiritual' than others - just that a 49.8% of those who are defined by the survey as liberal have 'spiritual vitality'. Bottom line - most churches have low vitality, but those who think more about their theology have a higher percentage vitality.
There is a similar graph in the survey showing spiritual vitality rather than attendance growth, which showed that innovation was key. Here contemporary is key. In both, innovative and contemporary is the ideal.

 I am interested in the different dynamics around ethnicity and church that we see in America compared to here in South Africa. In America the white population is dropping and increasingly ethnic groups are forming their own congregations rather than attending 'white' services. Many churches encourage this and I know of at least one seminary that is actively producing study material in Spanish to cater for the training of Hispanic pastors. In South Africa, in the Methodist Church, white congregations are generally trying to become multiracial - the desire is to include wherever possible. I think that we could learn a lot from the American dynamics if we were to analyse the similarities and the differences.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Tract

I think this is cool - given the way that tracts are seen as un-pc.
For people (like me) who don't know enough about popular culture to understand the picture: The character is Admiral Ackbar from the Star Wars movies. He is the rebel leader of the Mon Calamari and is a popular character with fans. His most famous line comes from the Return of the Jedi, "It's a trap!"
Thanks to Matt Stone, from whose blog I took the picture.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Group and Identity and You're not so smart

I am starting to acknowledge what some black theologians (where black describes the theology, not the human being!) have been saying for a while. Post white-supremacy/ colonial Christianity and politics boils down to two streams. That which says we should be colour-blind, aim for a non-racial society and move on. And that which says my colour and ethnicity is a fundamental part of who I am and I can never move on without it (and by implication I define you by your colour and ethnicity). I am able to understand the first quite easily, but I am busy trying to get myself into the skin of people who believe the second. I can glimpse it, tantalisingly close, but still can't comprehend it.
I was reading an interesting (but long) article on It's about 'asymmetric insight' which we know best by the fact that we tend to consider our own motivations innocent (when I did that I made a mistake) and others' less so (when they did that they were being nasty). But it revolves around research into group behaviour that I think helps to understand some of the dynamics.

 Just as you don a self, a persona, and believe it to be thicker and harder to see through than those of your friends, family and peers, you too believe the groups to which you belong are more complex, more diverse and granular than are groups of which you could never imagine yourself a member. When you feel the warm comfort of belonging to a team, a tribe, a group – to a party, an ideology, a religion or a nation – you instinctively turn others into members of outgroups, into outsiders. 


The research suggests you and rest of humanity will continue to churn into groups, banding and disbanding, and the beautiful collective species-wide macromonoculture imagined by the most Utopian of dreams might just be impossible unless alien warships lay siege to our cities.

I would like to believe is that following Jesus can do better than alien warships could!
Read the article here

Friday, October 07, 2011

Sibongile's Pre-School

I went to visit a couple of the preschools in the Edendale area which have teachers being trained by Phakamisa Pietermaritzburg. Here are some pictures of Sibongile's Pre-School.

This is the outside of her home, where she holds the school. She made the mud bricks herself.

Here she is teaching the children - it's a pity they all turned to look at the camera, they were nicely involved in the lesson.

You can see some of the Phakamisa materials - the shapes and colours. The letters on the wall are not from Phakamisa - but there is a lot of pressure on pre-schools from the parents to teach the children to write their names.
 This is another pre-school, but the setting is very similar to that of Sibongile's.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Desmond Tutu and a perspective on heroism

When Desmond Tutu has harsh words for the ANC government, most of us sit up and listen and applaud. Especially if we agree with him! But mostly our respect comes because he shows himself to be a man of principle. I have been reading so much about his activity during the apartheid era and the struggle for liberation (for my PhD thesis) that I can quote words that he used then that would apply so well now. He is consistent.

But my observation is on the nature of heroism. We see his stance now (about the apparent reluctance of the ANC government to grant the Dalai Lama a visa to enter the country) as heroic. We see him as heroic because he speaks against the powerful state and against those alongside whom he struggled for liberation. Perhaps most of all he is heroic because if he is not supported by public opinion he could lose his status of 'struggle hero'. He would no longer be popular and admired and even idolised. From a human point of view he could lose all that he has earned in a long and useful life. The ANC could trash him and badmouth him.

What did his heroism look like in the apartheid era? He spoke out against an unpopular government and a system that disadvantaged the vast majority of the South African population. He may have lost the good opinion of certain white people, but he spoke for the masses. His courage was in that his personal safety was threatened. The TRC hearings showed how ruthlessly the apartheid government physically eliminated their opponents. He had some measure of protection after winning the Nobel Prize as he became more famous, but nonetheless he had to suffer fear and victimisation of both himself and his family.
It is odd that nowadays we have politicians continually surrounded by bodyguards as if they are in fear of their lives - yet I doubt that Tutu feels that fear now. He has shown a special sort of courage. He has stood up in spite of his life and family being threatened and he has stood up again now in spite of his reputation and acceptance by the community being threatened.

It is a moral courage that is both physical and existential and I suspect that it is quite rare.

Monday, October 03, 2011

When the tackie hits the tar

I have a feeling that for the next few weeks, whatever the outside of me looks like I'm doing, the inside of me is going to be figuring out moving. We do trust God - and he has shown himself to be trustworthy time and time again - but we have to do our bit. So we are applying for jobs (husband), looking for a school (for the boys), agonising about whether to come or stay (girls) and looking like we have everything under control (me).
The church provides a house (manse) but I still need to hear from them. Will we fit? Comfortably? Pets? The information filters through . . .
Um, yes, it is stressful!