Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The sacred moment of letting go.

There is something holy in that liminal moment of letting go. I wonder if anyone realised what a profound and daring act they participated in as they let go of their child's hand, seeing him or her off to attend their first day at school. This is especially true for the parents of the Grade 1's. Do they realise that this is the day which they will talk about in coming years when they say "I remember your first day at school…". This is the moment that these young children will recall as when they entered 'big school'.

The tears and the fears, the joy and excitement should not be taken lightly. This is a pivotal moment, one that no one is ready for. As parents, we reach these moments all too soon. We wonder whether we did all the necessary things to prepare our children for this, their next phase of life. As I clasp my children's hands, a final word of advice is offered, as if it will make any difference. The bell rings and I have to let go…

The repetitive nature of this 'letting go' is traumatising enough – letting go to go to school…letting go to have fun with friends…letting go when you hear: "Dad, mom, if you don't mind, don't walk with me to class…". Of course I mind!...but I have to let go and trust that you are ready. You are strong…you are brave…you are confident…I need to believe that you can do this, and you can!

My role as parent is changing. I will always be a parent, but how I am a parent is evolving. I suppose that I am no longer the primary voice, the number one friend, the one who sets the agenda and who makes all the decisions. I realise that you can dress yourself, dish up for yourself, and arrange your bedroom like you want it… I am, in a different way, and will always be your loving safety net.

I suppose it is hard for me to let go, because I know that in your eagerness, you will make mistakes and get hurt. You will also hurt others and you will hurt us. As much as I would like to shield you from the mistakes we made in our youth, letting go also means allowing you to make your own mistakes and to learn from these. Please remember my words: It is clever to learn from your own mistakes; it is wise to learn from the mistakes of others.

I don't want to let go, but I must, for your sake and for ours.


It is for these reasons that I do not underestimate the importance of this moment, but I treat it with respect, as a sacred moment, appreciating it for what it is: you are growing up and we have the tremendous privilege of being part of this process. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Another poetry festival for the boys, another poem...


Where on earth did we find this dog? – Wessel Bentley


When Milo got his baby sister
His life was turned upside-down
Instead of a soulful, peaceful friend
She turned out to be a clown

Every morning it starts like this:
With a nibble on his ear
A lick and a bark then he wakes from sleep
What’s up next? Oh dear…

The pillows lie there scattered
Her blanket’s on the lawn
When and how did she get that right
It is not even dawn

Our shoes are her new chew toys
Milo’s now under my bed
The old boy got the fright of his life
When she dropped one on his head

That’s it, no more of this silly play
And Milo is off like a flash
Chasing Roxy around the house
That’s what she wanted…a dash

Roxy Schnauzer is a dog unique
She’s as naughty as can be
But the mischief in her eyes say much:

She must have learnt from me!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Another poem

It's poem recital time again! Nathan came with a tall order: "Dad, please write me a poem with the theme 'My kitten always copies me'. Okay, here goes:

My kitten always copies me – Wessel and Nathan Bentley


My kitten always copies me
I don’t know what to do
He thinks he is a human being
Cat doesn’t have a clue

Today he started follow’n me
Making my way to school
Jumping, skipping on my shadow
Cat makes me look uncool

In class I had to give a speech
And talk about a cow
I barely had a chance to speak
When Cat began to MIAO!

At break we went outside to eat
He wanted something too
I had to find him milk to drink
Cat drank it from my shoe!

I tell you when I go to bed
To have a peaceful rest
Guess who I’ll find when I look down
Cat, sleeping on my chest

Tomorrow I will break the news
To this, my furry pal
He may do all things that I do

Except ride my bicycle!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

"I need to feel whole"

I so valued this prayer this morning. It is from Kenneth G. Pfifer's "A book of uncommon prayer", quoted in "A guide to prayer for all God's people" (Upper Room Books). The prayer is called  "I need to feel whole". Here it is:

O God, what is Spirit?
How do I worship in spirit and in truth?
I am a solid, earthly creature,
my feet planted firmly on the ground,
my life based upon material things.
I like to touch and feel before I believe.
I am accustomed to dealing with houses, land and money, with bread, meat, and potatoes,
with objects handled, weighed, and valued
by my own standards.
I am uncomfortable with what cannot be analysed
or dissected or given market value.
What is Spirit?
Yet, O Lord, the very things I handle and see
lose meaning when they become ends in themselves.
They are all given meaning by the things of the spirit,
by love and hope and faith.
I know when I come down to it,
if I have all kinds of earthly goods
and have not love,
I have nothing.
I need the mystery beyond the tangible.
I need the things of the spirit
to give meaning to the material things I prize.
I cannot divide life up,
you have made it whole.
If I avoid love, diminish hope, deny faith,
my appreciation of my house and land,
my meat and potatoes, shrinks.
And I become a little man
with little aims and little power.
So help me to see that I worship in spirit and in truth,
not just through the use of right words
in the right place at the right time.
I worship in spirit and in truth
as life assumes wholeness.
I worship in spirit
as life takes on shape and form,
and I glory in it all.
I worship in truth insofar as I know that
no life can be separated from your Spirit.
I worship as I offer it all unto you. Amen.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The gift

Happiness doesn't just happen
Neither does love
Joy is not merely a feeling
Belonging, not an emotion.

The storm is not just stilled
It took a man to stand
Courage
It took a word
Spoken
'Be still'

It is a gem in the sand
A moment of grace
Glitter in the sunlight
The right time, right place

It is a pause in time
A risk to stop
An effort to delve
A reward to behold

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Xenophobia

Xenophobia - the fear of strangers.

Odd; I do not see fear of strangers fuelling the violence in South Africa. There is no fear in the eyes of the attackers, only hate. Perhaps the term should be xeno-cinis?

There is, however, fear in the eyes of our brothers and sisters from other countries.

I hear explanations of who and what is to blame. Nobody takes responsibility though. Fingers point away, but not towards ourselves. The victims of this violence won't find sense in saying that it is economic or political systems holding the panga's. No, they see, perhaps for the last time, South Africans.

"Cry, the beloved country."

Next week we will be hosting a conference on Accountable leadership and sustainability in Africa. No, this is not going to be another academic talkshow. Recent events demand more.

Pray for us.

"God bless Africa
Guard her children
Guide her leaders
Give her peace."

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Reflections on "Sabbath as resistance"

"Sabbath as resistance: Saying 'No' to the culture of now" - Walter Brueggemann

I often feel the need to be connected, in control, busy with something or simply to be constructive. Along with others, I too fall into the trap of seeing busy-ness as a sign of productivity and worth. Brueggemann poses a strong challenge: How do we observe the Sabbath?

Brueggemann compellingly argues that we need to slow down. We need to breathe, look around, love and enjoy life. This is, after all the space the Sabbath provides.

The book is divided into six chapters.

In the first, the relationship between the Sabbath and the First Commandment is described. God is God and God should be loved. God is also a Sabbath-keeping God, inviting creation to join in the pleasure of being, instead of racing after riches and possessions which we may hope will define our being.

Chapter 2 describes Sabbath as resistance to anxiety. This is by no means a reference to the psychological disorder, but a description of our tendency to find 'fulfillment' by being in a constant state of panic. What does it mean to worship? What does it mean to be human? Anxiety leads to treating our neighbors as competitors, and that which we are custodians of as self-enriching, person defining commodities. Worship resists this notion. Sabbath asks of us to see our neighbor as God's gift to us and ourselves as God's gift to them. To be human is to be in relationship with God, with ourselves and with our neighbor.

Sabbath is also resistance to coercion (Chapter 3). The following quote sums it up well:

"Sabbath breaks that gradation caused by coercion. On the Sabbath:
- you do not have to do more
- you do not have to sell more
- you do not have to control more
- you do not have to have your kids in ballet or soccer
- you do not have to be younger and more beautiful
- you do not have to score more.
Because this one day breaks the pattern of coercion, all are like you, equal - equal worth, equal value, equal access, equal rest." (p.40-41)

Sabbath is, fourthly, resistance to exclusivism. Sometimes we may think that Sabbath is best served when we meet with people who worship like us, look like us and believe like us. Scripture challenges this belief by showing that God is experienced in diversity. Those who refuse Sabbath in diversity "... produce sour grapes, the grapes of wrath and violence and envy and, finally, death".

Then the one that hurt most: Sabbath as resistance to multitasking. Have you ever sat at the dinner table and text'd at the same time? Have you ever sat in the cinema and attended to emails? Have you ever been in church and worshipped another god? Multitasking is "...like making deep love but all the while watching the clock". It is quite okay, therefore to give our full and undiluted attention to our loved ones in conversation, in participation and in worship.

In conclusion the book outlines the relationship between Sabbath and the tenth commandment. We started by focussing on Sabbath and loving God. Now it finds expression in loving our neighbor. It comes with a warning: love your neighbor, not your neighbor's possessions!

"Sabbath is taking time...time to be holy...time to be human".

I am deeply challenged by this profound teaching.

Leadership and respect

I am so proud of our boys.

Matthew was made a monitor at school and is taking the responsibility very seriously, but with great sensitivity. This morning I asked him how the monitoring is going. Here is his response which made my heart very proud:

"Dad, I think that when you treat people with respect, they are much more likely to listen to you. When the children walk in the gutters instead of on the pathways, I ask them nicely: 'Can I please ask you to walk on the path?'. Then they do. If they don't, I ask them nicely again, just in case they didn't hear what I said. If they still don't, I tell them how they can injure themselves, so the rules are there to protect us all. And when I speak to younger children, even grade 1's about litter, I say 'Sir/ma'am, may I please remind you to help us pick up the litter on our school grounds?' You know what? They cooperate. No problem."

I am very proud of him and his approach.

Nathan then chipped in and said: "It is true. Matthew asked me that way to pick up litter and I did. It was so funny; I got busted by my own brother. Hahahaha"

Did I mention that I am proud of our boys?

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

God, school and Christian education

Question: Would the Bentley's send their children to a Christian school?

Answer: We will send our children to schools which provide them with a good education, whether they are Christian or not.

And by education we do not mean indoctrination, but our children's exposure to ideas, philosophy, science, conflicting perspectives, all which will help equip them to add their own contribution to life.

You see, we actually have more questions about Christian schools than schools that have no overt religious affiliation. Personally, I would like my children to learn about, for instance, different understandings of beginnings...I don't mind at all that they learn about Darwin and his evolution-theory. I would similarly also like them to hear about the indigenous South African understandings of beginnings. I think they should be exposed to as many ideas as possible. In our house, we celebrate the diversity of life which we believe God has given as a gift.

We've had some bad experiences with Christian education.

Story number 1: Scouting for schools when Matthew was little, we checked out a Christian school in our area. Visiting the class of 5 year-old's, the teacher proudly said: "Class, this is Reverend Bentley, his wife, Natalie and little Matthew. Let's show them what we learnt today". The class then, in unison, recited the whole of 1 Corinthians 13.

It was impressive, I admit. I also hoped that the teacher would rather spend her energy guiding these little ones in learning the meaning of the gift of love, rather than reciting a long passage of Scripture. I am sure my phone has an app that can do the same (reciting Paul's epistles), but it will never know the meaning...We did not enroll Matthew there.

Story number 2. One of the young women in my confirmation class, who went to a Christian school, came to confirmation-class in tears. Her class was called onto the field and were told to stand in a circle. The teachers prayed over each of them individually, until they were able to "speak in tongues". She didn't. What did this mean? Was her faith too weak? Did God not love her? I told her about the difference in Scripture between "Glossolalia" (the use of sounds to utter feelings that cannot be expressed in words) and "Xenoglossia" (the ability to speak in a different language); that these were not and are not prescriptive to a meaningful relationship with God. I asked her to clarify with the teachers (if this were to happen again),  whether they preferred glossolalia or xenoglossia? She did. The ritual stopped.

Story number 3. Some of my congregants applied to enroll their children at a local Christian school. Of course they needed the pastor's approval that both parents were filled with the Spirit. Because I am Methodist, the answer was always "Yes". Once, attached to the form, was a school policy document outlining how people from different denominations had to be redeemed in order to become true Christians. Needless to say, this became a discussion point whenever I was asked to sign an application letter.

I came to this conclusion: It would be in Christianity's best interest if SOME schools withdrew their "Christian" status, because the Christianity they promote has nothing to do with the gospel.

I admit. I am the one with the problem. I cannot help but question the prominent use of "Christianity" in school constitutions when children are subject to the abuse of denominational proselytizing. Yes, I know, slating Christian schools on the account of hypocritical behaviour is the same as renouncing gyms because the guy on the treadmill has a drive-thru meal on his way home.

There is a further constitutional problem, but I deliberately do not want to discuss this here. Constitutional experts can do this much better and a lot has been said about this already in the media and elsewhere. My response here is precisely that: my response.

Let me look at this from a different angle: Why do people insist on having their children go to a Christian school? What are their expectations?  What is the picture they have in mind? In my dealings with people, I have heard two main responses.

1. "We want our children to go to a school with good morals"

I hate to burst anyone's bubble, but Christianity does not have a monopoly on morals or ethics. In response to their statement I ask: "And what do Christian morals look like? What are they?". It turns out that the morals people are looking for in Christianity appear not only in many religions, but also in secular humanism.

2. "We want our children to learn about God"

I suppose this is also the reason why many parents drop their kids off  at Sunday school while they either sit in their cars reading the Sunday newspaper or jet off to catch a nice breakfast - trusting the church's free babysitting services on Sunday mornings. Honest, naked newsflash:

YOUR CHILD WILL NOT LEARN ABOUT GOD AT CHURCH AND NEITHER WILL YOUR CHILD LEARN ABOUT GOD AT SCHOOL. YOUR CHILD WILL LEARN ABOUT GOD FROM YOU!!!

Stop saddling someone else with the responsibility of making your child religious, hoping that one day when they stand at the Pearly gates they will be granted access because they went to this-and-that Christian School or baptised, confirmed, blessed and anointed at this-or-that church under Bishop/Pastor/Rev/Apostle Whatshis/herface.

I spend a lot of time driving this point home when we have Baptism classes. If we want our children to "learn about God", then it is not achieved through a curriculum or school constitution, but in an education by modelling. It is for this reason that congregations are asked at children's baptism: "Will you so maintain the life of Christian worship and service that all these little one's among you may learn to trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord?" Parents are asked: "Will you provide for this your child a Christian home...Will you lead them by your words and example...Will you encourage them to serve Christ in the Church and in the world?" Sponsors are asked: "Will you assist these parents in the Christian upbringing of these children?" - It is all about community, examples and a mutual responsibility to help parents guide their children's development.

A school does not need to have a Christian clause if we are serious about setting the example of what it means to "Love the Lord your God" and to "Love your neighbour as yourself".

I get equally irked by the "Get God back in school"-lobby. As if God needs an education... Do we really think we will get God back in school by having religious education? No, no, no. That is very poor theology. "Get God back", as if God is absent... God is everywhere. God is in school already, not only when there is religious education or a Governing Body resolution. Building on my last point, God is in school through our children and the committed teaching staff exercising their gifts.

If we place the priority on our children living out the modeled lives they learn at home and their religious communities, then our children are the Body of Christ at school. Isn't that what we preach every Sunday? "Church is not just about attending here every Sunday...this is the gathering of those who try to follow in His footsteps. Church goes beyond these walls...to the boardroom...to the playing field". Why not trust that our children have the same responsibility at school? Or perhaps are we  not confident enough in the religious example we hope they will model?

I don't really worry about whether our children go to a school where there is a Christian clause or emphasis. I am concerned about whether our children will hold onto their convictions with integrity. I do worry about their ability to respect and listen to those with whom they may differ.

For this reason we pray in the car every day before they head off to class: "Lord, help us all to let our little lights shine, to make a positive difference in this world, to love You, to love all your people and to love ourselves."

Just my 5c worth





Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Thank you for our family

I am sitting with our boys, Matthew and Nathan, waiting for them to fall asleep. Tonight I am first sitting with Matthew. While he slowly drifts into dreamland, I thank God for his life. His gift is that he sees the world through his own eyes. He is not afraid to question, or even to confront if the need arises. He is a brave young man, full of compassion. Matthew loves life and everything that lives. Animals, plants, nature...this is his world. He is respectful and gentle, strong and fair. Thank you Lord, for Matthew.

Now Nathan wants me to tell him a story. It must be one about sea creatures, and so I make up a story that helps him swim away in his imagination. I thank God for Nathan. His gift is that he revels in new experiences. He is not afraid to try anything new, and enjoys every moment of breaking through new boundaries. He is witty and funny. He shrugs off any attempt to be too serious, helping us to see life from perspectives that we tend not to think of. Thank you Lord, for Nathan.

Thank you Lord, for my wife, Natalie. She is my best friend. She is loving, caring, gullible, just, honest, patient, forgiving, trusting, courageous and beautiful.

Thank you Lord for our family.

I feel blessed.


Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Walks with Matt

Matthew and I have started walking together on Monday and Wednesday afternoons. Nathan is at rugby, so he can't join us for that hour. We walk and we talk. Of course we have chats every day, but these moments are special. Every single time we wander around, I am astounded at how mature our young man has become, not to talk about his intelligence and his knowledge of the world in which we live. (Besides Mondays and Wednesdays I make a point of spending time each day just to catch up.)

We talk about all kinds of things; friendship, bugs, history, politics, ethics, computers, games, software, dogs, plants, food, love...

We laugh.

I have one rule. I follow his lead. I listen more than what I share my opinion.

I pity people who don't have conversations with their children. They miss out on so much. And their children miss out on so much too.

Conversations while simultaneously having dinner and watching TV don't count. There are too many distractions.

If you are a parent and constantly wondering where you will find time to meet all the deadlines, make food, catch up on a soapie, take my advice: Press the Pause button and go for a walk with your child. The other stuff may be urgent, but this is important.


Friday, May 30, 2014

Calm

We all have times of pressure. Deadlines, appointments, responsibilities... I am in one of those places at the moment. I know these times pass, but it is always helpful to have a nugget of truth to remind me of where to find peace.

This morning I gathered the family for our devotional time. Before I could open the Bible (app), Nathan said: "I have a verse! It is 'Jesus calms the storm'". BOOM! Got that message loud and clear. We then read the account of the Official's son in Jn 4:46. Discussing the passage, the boys came to the conclusion that when times are tough, Jesus provides a place of safety.

Jesus calms the storm.

Ok "To-do list", I am ready.

Friday, May 23, 2014

A poem for Nathan

Nathan has to prepare a poem for school next week. It needs to be a "scary poem", between 16 and 20 lines long. I looked on the web, but couldn't find anything worthwhile. So, I wrote one. At first, I was a bit hesitant to post it on social media, but hey, it's not as if it is worth millions. Here it is. If anyone wants to use it, please acknowledge the author. :-) (Remember, it's for an 8-year old, so don't expect Shakespeare!)

There’s something in my room –Wessel Bentley

I’m lying in my bed
With blankets over my head
There are sounds, there is a noise
And I know it’s not my toys

Another screech on the door
and footsteps on the floor
My teeth chatter with fright
Will someone please switch on the light?

Let me take a chance
I quickly steel a glance
No ghosts in my room I see
To come and frighten me

Perhaps it’s under my bed
Now I’m getting scared
I must get up to look
And chase away that spook

I slip from under the cover
If it’s there, I’ll call my mother
I peep inside my shoe
What is that? BOO!

Saturday, May 03, 2014

St. Francis and remembering Oupa Goewies

Today is my late grandfather's birthday and I couldn't remember him in any better way than through what we experienced. This afternoon we visited the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, as well as his burial place. My grandfather had a lot in common with St. Francis. At the tomb I said a prayer in remembrance of him. The Basilica is rich in history, more than 800 years of history in fact. The frescos tell the tale of a man who lived in opulence, who literally stripped himself of everything and who lived in service of God, people and nature. I think every person should make an effort to visit here. Afterwards, we met in a historic chapel (where the Pope mediated peace in Yugoslavia in the 1990's) and held an ecumenical service. We were led by Catholic and Protestant priests. It is a small chapel, where each stone and brick tells a story. If they only could, libraries would not be able to hold their tales. Our music was led by a cellist and three violinists, playing Bach and Mozart as we worshipped in spirit. I thought of Natalie and how much she would have enjoyed playing here. Here too we remembered loved ones who passed on. Oupa Goewies, you were remembered a lot in Assisi today.

Friday, May 02, 2014

On a few things...

Attending conferences provides me, an introvert, with opportunities to grow. By nature, I would prefer to sit in my room, or to be alone in the dining room. I choose not to do so. If I do, I know I will be the only one to blame for missed opportunities. So, I choose to sit with strangers and get to know their stories. During free time, I force myself to leave the hotel and walk around. I choose to deliberately take the back roads, not the main routes, because this is where the locals hang out. Surprise follows, discoveries are made and I get to practise my limited Italian (this time) with people who call this place home.

During meals, I have come to get to know people from the UK, Estonia, Belgium (with whom I speak Afrikaans much to all of our enjoyment), France, Germany, the Netherlands (they prefer to communicate in English) and other parts of the world. When they hear where I come from, interesting questions emerge. They mainly want to know two things. First, how Desmond Tutu is doing, and second, about Nkandla and whether South Africa is following failed African states into the abyss of corruption, nepotism and self-destruction. Needless to say, no-one has a kind word to say about the current South African political leadership. How do I respond? Regarding the Arch, I comment that politicians love him when they agree with him and sideline him when they don't agree with him. He might be getting on in years, but he is not afraid to speak truth to power. Regarding the leadership, I remind them that we are a democracy. Yes, our leaders may be questionable, but the real problem is that in South Africa, we are quite good at transferring blame. We blame politicians for corruption, maladministration and poor service. We blame past political forces for lack of progress and while all this appropriation carries some weight, I do not think that this is honest.

In my view, we have, for some unbeknown reason, chosen to place our hope in politicians. We wait for a messiah who is not only popular, but who has a proper manifesto and will lead our country forward. In my view, it is a misplaced hope. Even though the different political parties promise to fill this hopeful void, we repressively know that politicians have lost touch with their constituency. They won't fix the problems, not as long as they live in comfortable houses, drive fancy cars and live life which carries no resemblance to the lives of those whom they court for votes. Yet, they are not the real problem in South Africa.

The problem, in my view is not them, but us, the citizens. Who are the officials and clerks who work in government offices, taking bribes to expedite services? They are us, not politicians. Who are the companies who provide substandard contract work? They consist of us, not politicians. Who prefers to sleep on the job and not fulfill their responsibilities with a strong work ethic and personal drive to advance South African society? Us, and okay, politicians. Of course this is a generalization, but the fact remains, we can try and blame systems, policies, politicians, Apartheid, affirmative action, but unless there is a general change of heart and an attitude to go along with promoting well-being for all, I fear no election will produce the change we would like to see, no matter who wins. As the saying goes: "Be the change you want to see". Participatory democracy means that we elect leaders to positions, governed by a constitution that belongs to all of us, and which comes from all of us. Second, we all have to pull our weight to do our best to advance society. Third, we hold each other accountable through elections, properly regulated tendering processes, just policies, accountability and pride. Sadly, we are far from this. 

Truth be spoken, we lack this because we simply don't trust each other. We don't trust politicians, we don't trust political parties, we don't trust the legal system or the police, and trust is even in question along racial lines. Politicians don't trust the people, labour does not trust unions, employees don't trust employers, learners don't trust teachers and the list goes on. We too easily pass blame to everyone else, except to take an honest look at ourselves. So, we can't just blame president Zuma for the difficulties in South Africa. As a nation, we put him in this position of power - that is the nature of the vote. 

I then proceed to tell these friends that I have great hope for South Africa as we see a new generation of people who are willing to get on with the job, who will not vote out of sentiment or historic affiliation. There is a breath of fresh entrepreneurialism, open-mindedness to explore possibilities with partners with passion, experience  and most of all, strong moral convictions. There is a wave of people who strive for a non-sexist and non-racial society. These are people who will not stand by idly while shortsighted, hedonistic vacuum cleaners suck South Africa dry while it lasts. Enough is enough.

I look forward to my opportunity to vote on Wednesday. I don't know who I will vote for, but I know who I will not vote for (excuse the double negative). I will vote strategically to make sure that politicians have to earn their keep and argue well to pass bills and not simply depend on the weight of a caucus (and caucuses have significantly increased in weight since 1994).


I hope to see in South Africa what I have seen in different parts of the world - a people who collectively own and who are proud to be associated with their country, who stand together and who will live with the same passion as Tata Madiba, O.R. Tambo and the Arch to just get things on track.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Day 2 - Assisi

We went up the hill today to visit the old city. Thousands of people lined the narrow streets, savouring the experience of simply being in this place. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful! I also presented my paper today on Schemas and social change, using Holy Communion in the Methodist tradition as a point for transformation. It went pretty well. At supper, an Oxford theologian complimented my paper and we got into an intriguing discussion on the historical value of liturgy in the pursuit of social harmony. He thought what was said in the paper was of importance, and I'm deeply appreciative for his sharing. I'm still enjoying Italy tremendously. I only have one complaint: they do not serve wine at breakfast. I think it is hugely discriminatory, seeing that all other meals have this soothing tonic which stirs creative conversation. :-)

Assisi

Assisi is beautiful. That is about as much as I can say. Yesterday I took a train from Termini via Foligno to the conference. Thank goodness for a homeless person who helped me find my train, otherwise I would have missed the picturesque trip (or got delayed significantly anyway). St. Francis would be proud, I think. 

The conference started with a buffet reception. Italian food is special. Natalie would be particularly envious of the mozzarella balls we had with our snacks last night. Yummy!!!! Dinner was followed with a concert by Father Alessandro, a Franciscan tenor, who led prayers in song for about an hour. This was a wonderful way to start our work and to end a day.


Today we start with the presentation of papers. Cornel and I both present ours this morning. The good thing about this is that we can then enjoy the rest of the conference without having to sweat about our presentations. Time for breakfast. Yummy, again!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Holiday diary - Day ???

I lost track of which day of our holiday it is - a good sign.

Falling asleep by 7 or 8pm has its downside; I am awake by 4 or 5 at the latest. Some highlights from the past few days:

1. We attended a great sunrise service on Easter Sunday, followed by a great picnic outside the Crocworld entrance. They wouldn't allow us to take our food in to the park. I wonder why not. I thought crocs eat anything...
2. The boys are maturing in their bickering. It has evolved to battles of wit, which inevitable leads to good chuckles. I must say, they are quite sharp.
3. Matt is learning to surf and is quite good at it, judging by the way he rides the waves on his bodyboard.
4. Nathan got a wetsuit from his friend (doesn't fit him anymore), which has boosted his already inflated confidence. He now too is trying to stand on his board, leading to spectacular tumbles.
5. Time to go to the beach for what they say is going to be the last day of good weather while we are here.
6. I gave up Facebook for Lent. I am back, cautiously.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Holiday diary. Day 1

Well, we made it to Scottburgh. I am ready for this break.

The trip down was filled with difficulty - rain, foggy mist (I always confuse fog and mist, so here's a generic) and trucks. If it weren't for Stephen Fry's "The Hippopotamus", which is quite an enjoyable read/listen...then I would have rather delayed our departure by a day or two.

Falling asleep on the first night is always a struggle. I keep thinking that I am falling asleep behind the wheel and need to keep reminding myself that the trip is over.

Not that sleeping is any better. My deceased grandfather appeared in my dreams, telling me that he hadn't come to fetch me quite yet as I have a little longer (A LITTLE LONGER????!!!!), and that things are going to get tough at work (expletive - blog censored).

It is a new morning. We are at uShaka. Heeding my grandpa's words, I'll avoid the scary waterslides and watch outfor sharks. One just never knows what "a little longer means"... A well, better live it up while I can. There goes my budget.

Friday, April 04, 2014

I sometimes surprise myself

Okay, call it a Hauerwas moment.

A postgrad psych student came to chat to me about faith and psychology. It wasn't planned, I didn't have time to prepare, it was really something quite impromptu. The conversation was getting quite heavy when she popped the inevitable question: "Why do bad things happen?"

My response: "Sh!t happens"

I should have put it a bit differently, but I think it actually hit the nail on the head.

She almost fell off her chair, but asked me to elaborate. Now how do you elaborate on that?

The point I then subsequently made is that we tend to fall on our default position of causality. Someone or something causes things and it is up to us to find the cause so that we can remedy the situation. Religious people tend to blame God (and then seek to appease God), the Devil (and bind him), sin (feel tremendous amount of guilt and repent) or stupidity (in which case there is very little one can do). There may be truth in some of these explanations, but I'm bit cautious to tag the tail to the donkey.

I still stand by my answer.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

I have just thought up a fact...

"Dad, I have just thought up a fact...", said Nathan, out of the blue. He is 7 years old.

"What fact did you 'think up'?", I asked.

Nathan then told me all about why dairy cows are black and white, that it has something to do with the sun which in turns determines the color of the milk. "If their udders burn in the sun, the skin turns pink, which makes the cow deliver strawberry milk."

I love these conversations. And he is quite right (to a degree of course). We think up facts. It is called intuition, the belief in something growing so strong that it becomes a reality.

What if we were to look at the world through the eyes of a child and think up the facts of equality, dignity and justice. If we believe it enough, we can make it happen.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

God's compassion

Yesterday, in the car, I went on and on and on at our boys about doing one's best. This pertained specifically to school work. You can imagine the conversation. As the prime point of my extended sermon, I pointed out that doing one's best is a form of loving yourself...and by loving yourself, you can love your neighbour...and by loving your neighbour, you love God. Very Calvinist, I know, but sometimes Calvin helps with generating a conscience and a somewhat helpful work ethic.

After a brief silence, Nathan piped up: "Yes Dad, but God's compassion also never ends".

End of conversation. And I'm convinced Nathan is a Methodist.