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.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Dear President Museveni - A sermon for Transfiguration Sunday

March 02, 2014
Rev. Wessel Bentley
The Glen Methodist Church

Transfiguration Sunday
Exodus 24:12–18

Psalm 99
2 Peter 1:16–21

Matthew 17:1–9


Dear President Museveni
Sir, I have never directed a sermon to an individual before. With prayerful
consideration, I believe that I need to address you, because the pen was in your hand
when the much discussed bill on homosexuality was signed into Ugandan law. This
message is for you and the leadership of Uganda. This message is also for leaders of
State on our beautiful continent, and elsewhere, who have shown contempt for justice
and who have failed in being compassionate and understanding towards their citizens,
especially the socially marginalised. The words I share with you today are not from my
own will or interpretation, but I address you in the name of our Lord. As with all
prophetic proclamations, this is also a message for the rest of us.

Mr President, it is immensely confusing to consider how it is possible that in a country
where 84% of the population, if not more, profess to be Christian, a law can be passed
which states that homosexual people can be jailed (for life) because of their sexual
orientation and practice. Did we hear you wrong? …

Let me state from the outset: the issue raised in this letter is not on the question
whether homosexuality is right or wrong. Whether one agrees or disagrees with
homosexuality, is beside the point. People from around the globe, holding diverse
views on homosexuality are united in stating that there is something glaringly wrong
with a law coming into place where people are persecuted and imprisoned for who
they are. This is especially troubling when it emerges in a nation where Jesus is
professed to be Lord.

To be fair, Sir, please tell me about your Jesus – the one whom Christians call Lord first
and foremost over and above the powers of the State. Surely he must have had an
input in your convicted support of the newly instituted law. I sincerely want to know
who this lord is whom you worship. Perhaps if I and others get to know him, we will
have a better understanding of the perspective that you hold. Does this Jesus approve
of what you have done? Can the church shout “Amen” when it hears of the new social
changes that will come into effect in your country? Who is your Jesus? I do not know
him if he smiles when the act is read.

Mr President, although your lord and my Lord seem to share a name, it truly seems as
if they are different altogether. Is the Jesus of this law the same Jesus who offered a
preferential option for the poor and oppressed? Is he the same Jesus who called the working class, not the social elite to be his most devout followers? Are we talking
about the same Jesus who spoke to women, even prostitutes, an act which was in
itself considered to be a social taboo at the time? Is it the Jesus who once said
something to the effect of “Love your neighbour as you love yourself” – by the way
with no hidden clauses, and I’m sure that when he spoke these words, he meant “Love
your homosexual neighbour” too? Who is your Jesus?

Let me venture to say that I think I understand where this law comes from, even
though it raises innumerable questions in my mind. You see, I think you are being
sincere in your faith and I assume that you think that you did a godly thing by setting
the scene for homosexual people to be removed from society – let’s state it as it is: to
be locked away. What I think has taken place is the following: Human history tells us
that we are no different from the likes of Peter, James and John, the disciples who
were invited to witness the great transfiguration of our Lord. Can you imagine
witnessing such a spectacular sight? It must have been life-changing for them. We have
similar experiences. It is the moment of sobriety when we come face to face with the
reality of God and our most intimate need to deny ourselves and acknowledge that
God is God. For Christians, it is called “salvation”, “being born again” or “to be
saved”. I am sure that you too can testify to that moment when one stands in this
awesome (and I mean this word to the full), presence of God. There is absolutely
nothing like it. With eyes fixed on who God is, no other challenge in this world dares
profess to be greater than the one who simply is. Do you remember that moment?

But then a strange thing happens. We read in the account of the transfiguration that
Peter wants to build houses – One for Moses (the Law), one for Elijah (the Prophet) and
one for Jesus (the one who is and who shows God to us). He wants to institutionalise
his experience and understanding of God. He wants others to be drawn to this place,
this moment, to this understanding so that they can believe in the same way he
believes, to witness the vision that opened his eyes to the lordship of Christ. He wants
to capture the moment and present this snapshot of God’s self-revelation to all who
are willing to take a look. Capturing the moment… with sincerity, he wants to capture
God; this is an ambitious and impossible task. For him, this moment captured is what
it means to be touched by God.

Unfortunately our human tendency in conviction, even religion, works in a similar
fashion. We experience God and we want to build huts, monuments where we can
return to from time to time to remember the thrill and the sense when we stood in
the presence of truth. By doing so, we mistakenly universalise that experience and
understanding and impose it on others as if it were a static moment, a fundamental
truth that cannot change. And with it, we drag what we believe to be the will of God,
what we think to be the standards and norms which God requires and we profess it as
if we are the mouthpieces of God. So, it comes as no surprise that many Christians will
make statements like “God hates fags” with utmost certainty and conviction. I wonder if God will own this statement in His name?

I am a bit hesitant to be so certain, after all, the law teaches that we should not use the Name of the Lord our God in vain. We build houses. We call these houses by different names. We call it
church. We call it truth. We call it divine will. We may call it culture. We may call it
heritage. We may call it science. We may call it the natural order of things. We may
call it biblical truth. Here in South Africa, we called it Apartheid. We build these
houses out of hospitality, firmly convicted that it is the worshipful thing to do. But
instead of inviting Jesus as a guest, our motive is to imprison Jesus in our ideas of
what is right, what is wrong, what is truth and what is a lie. With the laying of that
first brick, we cease worshipping God and we convert to worshipping our religion. Such
religion becomes the basis on which we justify our prejudices, our moralisms, the way
in which we think the world should operate. We build houses in which Jesus will not
live.

Sir, when this law comes into effect in a nation which professes Him as Lord, when this
house is built, somehow the magical moment of the surreal passes and the Jesus of
the Bible says: “Let’s get out of here. He says: “Don’t tell the others”; as if to say
“Don’t hold on to this moment, this experience as if it is the full revelation of God’s
truth. It is not. Yes, God will speak, but God meets us where we are and will speak in
ways and languages that we understand. But it is always in the language of love, not
imprisonment. God speaks in tones of freedom, not captivity, redemption, not
condemnation. Mr President, when through the law it is said: “Imprison and condemn
homosexual people for it is sin, Jesus says: “He that is without sin among you, let
him first cast a stone ”. When the minister for Ethics and Integrity says that it is
natural for a man to rape a girl-child, or wait, even to go further to state “it is more
natural for a man to rape a girl than to be homosexual”, “this is an acceptable form of
rape”, then hear the words of Jesus: “If anyone causes one of these little ones – those
who believe in me – to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone
hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” There is no
acceptable rape, sir. There is nothing natural in a man forcing himself onto a girl, yet
it seems that this law turns a blind eye to this violence that poisons the human race.

As a Christian, sir, we ask you and those in power to repent. Repent with us.

This week is significant for us as Christians. This week we embark on the journey of
Lent; it is the Christian tradition where we symbolically turn from self and turn to God
by giving something up which dictates our sense of self and being. Some people give
up coffee, others give up chocolate. These forms of sacrifice are easy. With you,
President Museveni, and the leadership of Uganda let us consider this Lent
surrendering our prejudice. Let us give up fear of people who are different from us.
Afterall, homophobia refers to exactly that: Phobos is fear. Let us cast off our own
shackles and the shackles we wish to imprison others, for these shackles will bring
nothing but despair, violence and death. Jesus never wants this for his creation. Instead, He wants us to experience joy, hope, and most of all, love. Perhaps when we surrender our fear of homosexual people, we will note that this fear is not based on
Scripture, neither does it come from the mouth of the Lord whom we worship; it is a
fear which stems from ignorance, insecurity, bigotry and a moralism which our Lord
never owned.

Our prayer for you and the people of Uganda, Nigeria, Swaziland, Lesotho, the people
from the African continent, and even here in South Africa is that God’s peace and love
will reign.

In Jesus' Name.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Sermon notes

Isaiah 11:1-10  
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 
Romans 15:4-13   
Matthew 3:1-12

Prayer
Almighty God. This week we heard the news of Tata Madiba’s passing. We know that no-one is immune to death, but this news has still moved us. It is in times of mourning that we are led to remember, to contemplate, to show and receive acts of compassion and comfort.
 
And so we remember the life of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and we give thanks for the gift of his life (Time of silence)
 
We thank you for displaying in him the gift of life
 
Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo (God bless us, your children) - sung
 
We thank you for displaying in him the gift of letting go of self
 
Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo (God bless us, your children) - sung
 
We thank you for displaying in him the gift of hope
 
Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo (God bless us, your children) - sung
 
We thank you for displaying in him the gift of striving for justice
 
Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo (God bless us, your children) - sung
 
We thank you for displaying in him the gift of tenaciously working for the realisation of equality, forgives and reconciliation in society
 
Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo (God bless us, your children) – sung
 
We pray for his loved ones, that they may know your peace and comfort. (Silence)
 
 
And so, too we contemplate our own lives
 
We pray Lord, that we will be moved by the testimony of your servants throughout the ages, but more so by the life of Christ
 
May our lives be a gift to others
 
Lord, hear our prayer
 
May we let go of self and accept more of Thee
 
Lord, hear our prayer
 
May our voices be filled with hope
 
Lord, hear our prayer
 
May our hands never tire of working for justice
 
Lord, hear our prayer
 
May our lives be a testimony to your call for equality, forgiveness and reconciliation
 
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer
 
We pray for the people of South Africa, that we may be united in our journey, bound together by your gifts of faith, hope and love.
 
Nkosi sikelela, thina lusapho lwayo
 
We thank you Lord, that for Nelson Mandela, the tribulations of this world are over and death is past. We commend him into Your hands of eternal love and comfort.
 
In Jesus name we pray.
 
Amen.
 
When we were in Israel, we visited the Garden of Gethsemane. There, in the garden, stand olive trees that are close to two thousand years old. The only signs of their age is the visible portrayal of life and death, death and life intertwined. There are old, thick branches that have died. But where there is death, there is life, for the signs of renewal break through the old, dry wood and fresh saplings appear. At places you can see that this has happened numerous times, three, four, five layers of new life sprouting out of that which went before. To me, this picture encapsulated the image of resurrection – that death never has the final say. It spoke to me profoundly of the importance of hope – that there is never such a thing as finality or conclusion. God uses the gift of former lives to become the foundation for something new. I am sure you know where I am going with this. But before we get there, it would be important for us to remember something from the nation of Israel.
God continuously raises up leaders, prophets, priests and kings
When Abraham died (the father of the nation), God blessed Isaac, when Isaac died, he blessed Jacob, when Moses died, God blessed Joshua, when Elijah died, he blessed Elisha, when David died, he blessed Solomon. I can imagine that every time a giant in Israel’s history passed on, the people asked the question: “What now? – It will never be the same”. And yes, history tells us that things are never the same, but extraordinary people never close off their legacies in finality. In our nation, a giant has passed away. The olive branch has split open. Do not think for a moment that life has ceased. Here is an opportunity for new life to break through. God has blessed us with a tremendous person, a gift to humanity. The opportunity is there for us to continue the gift that God has placed in this man’s care. And what a tragedy it would be if we fail to heed the call to continue in this country God’s gift of striving for equality, peace, forgiveness and reconciliation.

But wait, there’s more!
And this is the story of Advent – there is more! This is not all there is to life. The story of advent is not the story of great people being raised up. Advent is the story of God’s promise that God is with us! It is not just the dream of the great ones among us for what can be. Advent is the story, the promise of what God dreams can be! And it is only possible in the presence of Christ, here in between us. Listen to the promise again as recorded by Isaiah! Out of all the legacies, breaks through a new branch – and He is unlike any other. He will work for justice, he will make sure there is peace, he will bring together those who thought that they were irreconcilable! If you want to see unity, then look no further! And the bonus is this: His Kingdom shall have no end! Isn;t this good news? Isn’t this something to hope for, to life for, to die for?

Repent!
Friends, we need to get ready. The change happens through us, not to us. Repent! Turn around! Let us life for justice and life with integrity. Let us lose ourselves in striving for godliness. Let us seek the life for the downcast and not the bulging of our wallets. Repent! Let us speak truth in love, let us get our hands dirty and not folded in apathy. Let our minds be filled with thoughts of purity and not pollute it with the toxins of desire. Let us live and let us die for freedom, not only for the sake of our country, not only for the continuing of the legacy of Tata Madiba and other great people in history, not for the sake of our own self-preservation, but repent, for the Kingdom of God is near!

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Bullies(?)

Okay, let me stick my neck out here... (and I do so with the utmost respect for my American friends and the deepest compassion for the friends I have not yet met in Syria)

I used to be bullied at school. Like many other children who have fallen prey to vindictive attitudes and actions, I have known my fair share of being pushed around, being called derogatory names and living in fear of crossing the paths of those who saw me as an easy opportunity to give expression to their inner frustrations.

At the time, I loved those Hollywood movies where victims stood up to their bullies and the bullies run away crying. It often took a quick karate lesson, a blow to the nose which restored equilibrium. I used to believe in that stuff - that the only way to get rid of a bully is to stomp them to the ground.

Then I heard about the allegations of a Syrian president bullying his own people. He used force to which they could not respond. He used his secret power in a mismatch of strength. They say that he wanted to send a message - that he and his government are in power. And like the bystanders who watched me trying to find composure, much of the world looks on, but says and does nothing.

Someone responded. Despite calls from the United Nations and other state authorities to wait and get all the facts straight (and to collectively respond to the situation), there are talks of a response to this alleged bully. This will be done by showing force, not too much, but just enough to get the message across of who is boss. This is what I read in the news:

"If we don't take a stand here today, I guarantee you, we are more likely to face far greater risks to our security and a far greater likelihood of conflict that demands our action in the future," Secretary of State John Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee at a separate meeting on Wednesday. "Assad will read our silence, our unwillingness to act, as a signal that he can use his weapons with impunity," Kerry said. (NEWS24)

The bully must be punched on the nose, it seems. If we don't hurt him, he will continue to hurt others. He needs to be shown that we are strong and that he is weak. But wait a minute, isn't that what Assad did to his own people (allegedly)?

I switched on the television and stumbled onto one of my least favourite news channels. Wolf Blitzer was interviewing a senator. I remember Wolf Blitzer covering the invasion of Baghdad in the early 90's. As a schoolboy, there was something gratifying about listening to this man describe how a bully was being beaten up. I have grown from there, and it seems, so has Mr Blitzer. He asked the senator a pointed question: "Why does America always have to get involved in these situations? Why not Europe? Why not the Arab states?" I wanted to extend the questions to "Why does America not get involved in Zimbabwe? Swaziland?" Why no regime change there? Does Mr Obama really think that the rest of the world sees America as their big brother - the one who will sort out all our bullies? If so, then there is a complete misreading of international perception. Of course there are the conspiracy theories that state that it is in fact all about oil, that governments are not concerned about morals or justice, but only about interests. There may be some truth in this, but I am open to the idea that the powers are more clever than that.

This leads me to the question: How does one deal with bullies? A shot on the nose might of course work, but where does it end? Assad gets a hiding and then the States are seen as the bullies...there is retaliation and a resolve to punch this bully on the nose and in turn people are labelled again and pursued until they run off with a bloody nose. The cycle goes on and on and on. This is not a solution. Showing who is boss, who has more power does not shift people to calm sobriety. It may subdue them, but inside they boil will vengeance. Ask any victim of bullying. They anticipate the day when they will have the guts, the power and the means to stand up and kick the bully in the unmentionables.

Let's move on. So, over supper last night, our 9 year-old son spoke some words of wisdom. It is his birthday next week (on the 11th of September(!!!)). Out of the blue, he said: "Dad, I want to invite the bullies from my school to my birthday party. If I am friendly to them, perhaps they will become my friends". My jaw dropped to the ground. In effect he was saying that by inviting these bullies to his party, they will be forced to face their own aggression, hypocrisy and attitudes towards him. They will be coming to HIS party where they cannot bully or intimidate, but are received as guests and will be showered with hospitality, not intending for this hospitality to shame them, but to restore the equilibrium. The tables will be turned. But at the same time, there are no guarantees of this being a long-lasting solution.

Of course I am not suggesting that Mr Obama should throw a party for Mr Assad. But my son's words reawakened in me the sense that there are ways beyond violence that calls for accountability, justice and non-violent restoration of relationships. As my dad always says: "With violence, you break your finger off in your nose". I know it's crude, but I think it displays the pointless nature of violence.

Congress will be meeting over the next week to decide on a course of action. I hope that they will find creative, innovative and wise words to help bring back equilibrium in a nation which has had its fair share of bullying.


Friday, March 29, 2013

The brave tree - an Easter Story


There was a time when trees ran around; when they had no leaves and did not bear any fruit. Birds also made their nests on the ground. And everyone thought that this was the way things were meant to be.

Summer, autumn, winter, spring; the trees would play outside. They did not care too much about anything or anyone but themselves; as long as they felt happy and did things that made them laugh. There was one tree, though, who was very careful where he stepped, not wanting to accidentally kick a nest or step on a mother-bird’s eggs. In fact, he loved the birds so much that he would spend hours in the field talking with the birds and helping them build their nests where the other trees would not damage them when they played. The other trees teased him and they told him to stop what he was doing and to play their games. They said, “This is the way things were meant to be”.

One day, the sky grew dark. The clouds became thick and grey. A storm was coming! The wind picked up and the trees knew that this was going to be a storm like no other. They became scared and decided to run away. But not our loving tree. He was too worried about what would happen to the birds and their nests. So, instead of heading for a safer place, the tree turned around and rushed to the field, where all the birds were trying to hide.

“What are you doing?” the other trees asked.
“I have to save the birds!”, the tree shouted back.
“Leave them alone! Save yourself! This is the way things are meant to be!”

But the tree didn’t listen to them. He knew beter.

By now the wind was blowing stronger and stronger with every gust.

He stood on a hill where all the birds could see him, stretched out his branches and shouted, “Come, little birds! Come hide in my branches! Come here if you are scared, come here if you are tired!”

The birds started flocking together. The woodpeckers quickly pecked holes in his branches for the birds to hide in. Although it was sore, the tree didn’t mind. He knew it would make them safe.

For hours the storm raged and the tree stood firm. The water flowed and covered his feet with mud, burying them deep in the soil. Eventually the storm subsided. The other trees came back and found the tree still standing and holding all the birds in his branches. He didn’t move.

“Is he dead?” they asked.

A few days passed, and the tree didn’t move or make a sound.

But then, one glorious morning, when the trees came to see what was happening to this brave tree, they found something strange going on. He had these funny green knobs growing on his branches. The birds were still sitting in his branches. More than that, there were little blossoms. And then the tree opened his eyes.

“This is how things are meant to be!” He said. His feet had become roots and drank up all the water and nutrients from the soil that covered them. It gave him life and made him beautiful like no other tree.

It did not take long for the other trees to recognize his beauty and so they decided to become like him. They followed in his footsteps and whenever a tree planted his or her feet in the soil and opened up their branches to welcome little birds, they started growing green leaves and beautiful fruit, just like the tree who stood bravely in that storm.

Now, there is something about this story that reminds me of Easter. When I look at the cross, it looks like arms stretched open. It is as if Jesus is saying to me: “Come, let the children come. If you are thirsty, come. If you are scared, come, I will keep you safe”. It also reminds me that if I should follow in Jesus’ footsteps, Jesus promised that my life would start bearing fruit – showing the signs of His Kingdom.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

New York - Day 5

Central Park. And I had my hotdog there. Enough said. 1 Down on bucketlist. Still have to experience New Year's on Times Square. My business in NYC is not done!

Friday, October 05, 2012

Some African proverbs mentioned at our conference

Nobody is silent; people are deaf" - Prof. Oduyoye
"An army of sheep, led by a lion can defeat an army of lions, led by a sheep" - Prof Opoku
"Wisdom is like a baobab tree; it cannot be embraced by the arms of one person" - Prof Opoku
"Know who you are before they tell you" - Prof Opoku
"When the axe went into the woods, the trees said to it 'Your handle is one of us'" - Prof Opoku

New York - Day 4

Another lovely day in New York.

Natalie went to Madame Tussaud's and other amours shops.

After the conference today - by the way, my paper went very well - Natalie and I went to the Empire State Building. The sun was busy setting, so we went on the skyride and then to the 86th level. By this time it was dark and a cloud skimmed the top of the building. It was an awesome sight.

From there we walked to Times Square (a bit further than I thought) and had supper at Ruby Tuesday. Awesome food and amazing service!

It is now 11pm and we just arrived back at our guesthouse. our time is running short :-(.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

New York - Day 3

Conference started

Took me 20 mins from West 11th to Grand Central station...and I had breakfast on the run!

Conference is good so far. My question is just whether our contemplation has any real effect on the people at grassroots level. For instance, what do the miners of Marikana think about us contemplating Blackness? Does it really make a difference, or am I being too critical?

Natalie went shopping today, by herself, in Manhattan. Must say, I was a bit nervous the whole day, fearing that she might get lost, or mugged, or something. And then the following at the end of the day...

Coolest thing ever: Message on phone - "Meet you at Apple shop in Grand Central".

Nat and I had sushi at the sushi-bar around the corner on Hudson street. Then went for ice-cream. I still can't get used to seeing young girls and little old ladies walking alone in the middle of the city at 10pm. Blows my mind. A lot is always said about American arrogance. Honestly, I haven't seen it. Just thinking...until such time that little old ladies can walk alone outside in our cities back home, it is better that we keep our opinions subdued. There is something that works here which we could learn from. Respect.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

New York - Day 2

Rainy day, but awesome!

Went to Ground Zero and to the memorial. What an inspiring place.

Took Staten Island Ferry right past Statue of Liberty. Thanks Dion for the tip.

Had lunch on SI, best pizza I've ever had.

Body exhibition - pricey, but spectacular.

Going to Greenwich village for supper tonight close to Washington Square Park.

Tomorrow work starts. Feel so rejuvenated already. BTW, our bags arrived!!! Thanks SAA, I think...

See photos on Facebook.

New York - Day 1

Got off to a bumpy start. SAA lost both Natalie's and my bags.How do they manage that?

Well, got to Alma Mathews House, a Methodist guesthouse in New York (275 West 11th Street). It is absolutely fantastic and less than half the price of other places in Manhattan.

- Went shopping for clothes in Harlem
- Went to Grand Central Station
- Went to the Chrysler Building
- Went to Times Square, ToysRus and had supper at Applebees on TS.
- Caught subway home to find plenty people, especially women, walking around alone at night.
- Saw our fair share of strange today. When we boarded our first subway train, we were met with an Evangelist preaching funny theology. This was followed by a guy who believed he was a boxing champion, shadow-boxing.

See photos on my FB page

Friday, September 28, 2012

"I am a pacifist, because I'm a violent son of a bitch"

"I'm a pacifist because I'm a violent son of a bitch" - Stanley Hauerwas

I share Hauerwas' admission. I am a pacifist, I try to be. Why? Well, partly because I know my own violence. The Hulk made its appearance again, and I was reminded once more of how far I have to grow in order to walk the road of true peace. For this I apologise to my Maker and to humanity at large. I write this to get it out of my system. I do not want your opinion or judgement. I feel bad enough about it already.

Natalie and I went to the shops in two separate cars, having gone to look at a house for sale. I drove behind Natalie and got caught at a traffic light. She went on ahead. When I got to the shops, the traffic was backed up and I saw a large crowd gathering as spectators for something that happened near the entrance. I immediately thought that Natalie was involved in an accident. Matt and Nathan were in her car too. Was it them? Were they OK? Then, luckily I saw Natalie peering through the crowd. Thank goodness.

What happened was that a robber stole a bag from a car, jumped in his own car and sped off. In the rush of getting away, (having just driven past Natalie), he crashed his vehicle in the centre entrance. His accomplice jumped out and ran away. The bystanders plucked him from the car and tied his hands behind his back and escorted him to the buildings, sitting him down in a empty corner.They waited for the police who only arrived an hour later. He was surrounded.

I parked my car, met up with Natalie and the boys and joined the crowd. We started making our way to the shops, when my anger got the better of me. The flashbacks of all the robberies we've had, encounters with those who trespassed on our property, all came back in a flash. I turned back, holding Matthew's hand, wanting to show him what a robber looks like. "Remember his face! Remember what he looks like! This is the face of shame! This is the face of someone who does not respect or love". And then one of the security guards asked him to phone his accomplice. He didn't want to and the guard started to beat him on his back. The smacks soon resulted in pleas to stop. Part of me wanted to intervene and end this physical assault. My anger joined in, urging the guard quietly in my mind to "Bliksem hom!". We turned and walked away with the sound of smacks continuing behind us.

I am angry. I am angry that I have to unlock three locks before I can enter our house. I am angry that I sleep poorly, jumping at the slightest sound outside. I am angry that an elderly lady was attacked and raped in her house, a few blocks from our church. I am angry that I have to hide all our valuables each time we leave the house. I am angry that there are those who disrespect other people and their possessions, and even when they are caught, are out on the streets again in no time. I am angry that this idiot could have crashed into Natalie and the boys, or some other person, hurting others because of their crime. And, no, this was not a crime stemming from poverty. He had nice clothes, a nice watch and a nice car. I am angry because I could see the same anger in the eyes of the bystanders, black and white. I am angry that this episode is going to make me suspicious again of every passer-by. Perhaps it is better that I am a pacifist. I apologise for my violence.

Friday, September 21, 2012

"We have more rights than you"

Last week I watched a parliamentary debate whereby the President answered questions posed by the opposition parties. At one point he alluded to the fact that the ruling party has more rights, simply by virtue of the ANC being in the majority. He went on to explain that because the opposition parties were fewer in number, they by default have fewer rights.

This concerns me. I understand that in a democracy, "more" means that your point of view is exercised, but it does not mean that you have more rights than those who are fewer in number. In fact, Nelson Mandela spoke endlessly about "equal rights". Be that as it may, I concede that the President did not speak in his first language, and so may have used the word "right" in a wrong manner.

But then I thought, well, if more means more rights, if we were to paddle this boat a bit further, then it must also mean the following:

There are more poor people in SA than rich, therefore we should concern ourselves with the rights of the poor;
There are more children in SA than adults, which means their right to education should supersede the poor excuse for schooling offered by the State which we see in the country;
There are more ordinary citizens on the road than those needing blue-light brigades, hence the question "Who should actually have right of way?";
There are more victims of crime than criminals, so let's give the victims more rights...

I am sure you can add to the list.

Just thinking......


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

I got my ticket to New York!

One of the privileges of being an academic is that we get to travel. Now I know that many people have grown tired of sitting at airports or travelling to foreign countries, but please understand, this will be the first time I cross an ocean.

I have been to Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Botswana and Lesotho. That's it.

On the evening of Sunday the 30th, Natalie and I will be heading for NYC. I will be speaking at a conference named "Beyond the ivory towers" (making sense of academic theology), presenting a paper on redefining the church's prophetic witness. I am convinced that the church has become fixated on having a prophetic voice, but forgotten about prophetic action. A lot of my research to date has focussed on the role the church can play in building communities and standing for justice. A bit more about my paper later.

So, back to NYC. Natalie and I will be staying at a Methodist guesthouse called Alma Mathews House. I found this guesthouse per chance as we were first going to stay at a Catholic guesthouse. When they communicated that they were full (and for a moment I felt like Joseph at the inn...no, Natalie is not pregnant), I Googled "Methodist guesthouse Manhattan", and there you have it.

Obviously my paper is ready and I am all set to go, but I cannot help but plan our free time. How about, after we dropped off our bags we go to...Ground Zero, Ellis Island, Statue of Liberty...next day, up north to Central Park, Times Square, Empire State building....

What I want to do most is photograph the bridges in Central Park. Better get a bicycle...

If you have any other suggestions of places that are a "must experience", let me know.

EXCITED!!!!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Worry

"Pappa, when I grow up, how will I know how to get to Menlyn?", Matthew (8) asked with anxiety in his voice. We were driving home from school and I could see that tears will filling his eyes.

He was worrying that he would not know how to get to Menlyn to buy food and that he would starve to death as an adult. Now, you and I might find his question a bit illogical, immature, irrelevant or even amusing, but to Matthew it was a real worry.

The apple does not fall far from the tree. I can remember how I worried as a boy (about Matthew's age) about where I would get enough money to buy a washing maschine. I reasoned that I could buy fresh produce, and therefore did not need a fridge, eat salads, so I would not need a microwave, read books, so I would not need a TV, but washing my clothes...that was the real problem.

I listened empathetically to Matthew's concern. In my mind I wanted to tell him, "Matt, it is really not something to worry about. You'll easily find a shop near you where you could buy food". I could have told him that there would be more important things that will cross his path, which will be much more demanding than finding his way to Menlyn. Instead, we agreed that over the weekend, we will climb in the car and drive slowly from our house to Menlyn. He can then take notes as we go along, mapping the route until he is satisfied.

This led me to think, how many of my worries are real worries in God's eyes? They feel real enough to me, but I am so grateful that God does not respond by saying, "Ag, stop worrying, it's such a silly think to spend your time on!". I have experienced God taking my hand while I worry, and walk the path with me until I am satisfied that a situation is resolved. Everytime I worry now, I remind myself of God's commitment to us, to never leave us or forsake us. Does it take away the worry ? No, but it does help me realize that I am not alone. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Worship helps us stay calm

In the course "Manna and Mercy" (written by Daniel Erlander), we are reminded of what worship is.

Let us perhaps start with what worship is not:

  • It is not the slow songs we sing at church;
  • It is not the mere gathering of people for a church service.
According to Erlander (echoed by friend Allan Storey), worship consists of the following three steps:

  • Remembering
  • Retelling
  • Giving thanks
You see, the Israelites of old loved telling stories. Festivals and holy seasons were shaped around their stories. During special days, we are told, the young ones of the community would go to the elders and ask: "Why are we celebrating this day?". The elders would then tell the stories of God's faithfulness, of Israel's liberation from Egypt, etc. Remembering helps us grow in faith. It reminds us that if God was faithful back then, then God will be faithful now.

The second step is retelling. I think the point is covered partially in the previous point, but our retelling is not only of what happened in the distant past, our stories grow each day. Every day we can have something new to share. I think we fail to retell, because we miss the first step. We don't make time to remember. The third step is to give thanks. When we remember and retell, we find that we have reason to give thanks, acknowledging that God is part of our story...or perhaps we are part of God's story.

Do you struggle with worship? Well, try this. When you wake up, look at your diary. Pray for all the events that lie ahead, all the people whom you are planning to meet. Live the day fully. Before you go to bed, go back to your diary and think of how God was present in each moment. REMEMBER. Now, tell someone of at least one experience in the day where you felt God's presence. RETELL. Take a moment to GIVE THANKS.

The more we do this, the more we will notice that we are not the masters of our own destinies, but that we are part of a greater story of which God is the main character. When we don't do this, Allan tells us that FEAR + FORGETFULNESS = HIERARCHY (Power struggle). Don't go there today.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Footnote to all prayers

I came across this poem by C.S. Lewis, which, I thought is absolutely astounding.


Footnote to all prayers by C.S. Lewis

He whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow
When I attempt the ineffable Name, murmuring Thou,
And dream of Pheidian fancies and embrace in the heart
Symbols (I know) which cannot be the thing Thou art.
Thus always, taken at their word, all prayers blaspheme
Worshipping with frail images a folk-lore dream,
And all men in their praying, self-deceived, address
The coinage of their own unquite thoughts, unless
Thou in magnetic mercy to Thyself divert
Our arrows, aimed unskilfully, beyond desert;
And all men are idolators, crying unheard
To a deaf idol, if Thou take them at their word.
Take not, oh Lord, our literal sense. Lord, in Thy great,
Unbroken speech our limping metaphor translate.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

News from the Bentley's

Dear friends
 
Just to share some news (which may be of no interest to most - apologies for cluttering your inbox)...
 
It is now official that I have been granted secondment to work as a senior researcher at the Research Institute for Theology and Religion at the University of South Africa. The offer from the university came as quite a surpise in the middle of December and we had literally three days to respond.
 
The Research Institute is a very exciting part of the University. We do not have any undergraduate students, only Masters and Doctorates, and it is our function to publish, publish, publish. My areas of focus are twofold. First of all, I will be looking at the faith-science discourse. This is an area of tremendous growth and requires a lot of reflection in the fields of systematic theology and theological ethics. Second, I will continue my research focus on the relevance of church in society, particularly pertaining to the Wesleyan tradition. I keep myself anchored in the local church and will be assisting at the Glen Methodist Church until such time that another minister is stationed (and hopefully beyond, in accordance with the requirements and needs of this congregation).
 
Friends, I strive to serve God and the Church to the fullest of my abilities and ask for your prayers and guidance as we venture on this new path. Natalie, Matthew, Nathan and I are in agreement that this is where we believe God wants us to be (for now), knowing fully well that God sends and we follow.
Kind regards and lots of love.
 
Wessel Bentley
- Theology is grounded in the church, serving God.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Theology and making noise

I have recently been marking a few post-graduate dissertations. One of them impressed me very much, not because the argument was good, but that one can clearly sense that the writer was not only writing about spirituality, but that the writer was sharing spirituality. Do you know what I mean?

I notice spirituality in the writings of several other writers: Wesley, Barth, Moltmann, Bell... none of whom were or are saints, and one does not agree with everything they say, but there is an honest journey with God, based on love, which is reflected in their sharing. I think one of the tests every theologian (whether "professional" or not) should undergo, is the test of self. Let's be blunt. There are those in the spirituality industry, whether in churches or academia who do theology, but it barely makes it out the office door along with them when they leave for home. A lot of noise, or the aim of making a name for themselves by trying to be shocking with controversial statements, articles or presentations. But when one looks at their lives, it is difficult to see...love.

Let me not judge, for I must undergo the same test each day myself. But I think you catch my drift. It reminds me of that passage in 1 Corinthians 13:1 "If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" (NRSV). 'A noise gong', a powerful symbol. A lot of noise, but that is all it is. No integrity, no integration between belief and knowledge. No integration between life and faith. A noisy gong.

Now, if one gives a gong attention, it aims to make a louder noise. If one tries to stop it, it keeps clanging away, trying to drown out any question. It is not subject to scrutiny or investigation, for its own sound is the only sound that seems valid. Gongs try to dominate relationships and conversations. Gongs can make a contribution through.

Take for instance the cymbals in an orchestra. There are points in a musical movement where the cymbals clash. It does so occasionally, under control, but in harmony with the rest of the instruments. One does not find any musical movement where the cymbals dominate. If they do, the audience will leave with a headache.

Love. If love does not saturate and direct one's life, then whatever comes out your mouth and performed through your actions, will be nothing but noise.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Feeling affirmed...and confused...and appreciated

Tonight at our Bible study we watched Rob Bell's DVD "Dust". It is all about what it meant in Jesus' times to be a disciple. We were all challenged by the insights shared on this DVD.

At the end of our hour together, I felt the need for us to share with our neighbour in one sentence, something that we find inspiring in that person. Call it an act of affirmation. We were supposed only to share with the person on our left and on our right. Needless to say, people bubbled over with compliments and insights for people sitting across the table, in the corners, etc. What hit me the most were the words of affirmation passed in my direction. I sat there feeling overwhelmed.

Working as a minister is not easy. It is much easier to slip into cynicism and a general disguntled sttae of being than feeling motivated and affirming. I must admit, that at times I have wondered whether this much time and effort is warrented when one seldom sees results. But here it was. Things that I did not see, gifts which I did not recognise as such were and are making a diffference in someone else's life. And then I think, "Man, I hope I can do this for the rest of my life". I am not a good minister by any means. I follow my own gut way too often for the liking of people who are around me. I follow the path of discernment rather than the path of policy, belief rather than plotting a journey, playing it by ear rather than having fixed objectives. I know it irritates some people, but I am more instinctive in ministry than aims-driven. This does not mean that I don't plan or don't have a vision. Quite the contrary.

Tonight was special and I wish to thank my Bible study folk for such generous sharing, not only to me, but that everybody left that place feeling affirmed. I think this is the Jesus way.

So, "may you be covered in the dust of your rabbi".