Tuesday, July 21, 2015

On ashleymadison.com

So, 37 million users…

37 million.

Crumbs. That is more than the entire adult population of South Africa.

37 million users having, or looking at having an affair, using one website.

Does this mean that there are 37 million unsuspecting spouses? Okay, now the number has jumped to 74 million people. I wonder how many children are in these families? Let’s take and average of 2 children per family, just to be conservative. 148 million people affected by the 37 million users of ashleymadison.com. Now, we are not even counting the casualties of extended family circles or friendships. If we were to factor in those numbers, we could easily touch the mark of half-a-billion people.

That one website can have such power… What is even sadder is that it is an indictment on how we as humanity view family.

Now, studies tell us that about 4% of married couples consent to having “open relationships” – relationships where a diverse range of sexual experiences and partners are permitted. I intentionally use the word ‘permitted’, because it is a mutually agreed upon arrangement.  But this is not the target audience. You see, open relationships have both parties of the marriage in the loop. It is a relationship-form by negotiation and which operates within mutually agreed upon rules and parameters. 4%, and the stats are that even the 4% don’t always last.

The home page of ashlemadison.com makes it clear that the target group is not those who are in relationships where these boundaries are negotiated and/or agreed upon. No, it is aimed at those who want to have a bit of ‘fun on the side’, without their partner’s knowledge. No, there are quite overt signs encouraging secrecy and deception. A ringed finger crossing lips, encouraging silence, the words ‘discreet’ and ‘Life is short. Have an affair’ are a long way off from targeting the 4%.

This week’s lectionary readings tell the story of King David, going for a stroll one evening. As king, he is the custodian of the covenant between God and God’s people. But then he slips up on the 10th covenant-agreement. He covets someone else’s wife. He crosses the line. He calls her in. Despite her being someone else’s wife and her being in a ‘time of cleansing’ after her menstruation, he sleeps with her anyway. Why? Because he can. Because he wants to.

Then all hell breaks loose. She sends news that she is pregnant. The hidden wine is seeping through the wineskin of deception. (Deception, as David gets to know, is not watertight…there are always a few holes where the truth leaks out). Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, was a soldier in David’s army. He was putting his life on the line for this king who was sleeping with his wife. If only he knew…

David plans a cover-up. There is always a plan to patch the holes, isn’t there? David calls for Uriah and sends him home, hoping that after a long time in battle, he would at least sleep with Bathsheba.  Bathsheba could then break the news to him about her expecting a child and he would think that the child was his. I wonder what David would have promised Bathsheba for her silence? Pity is, she would have had to walk around with this secret for the rest of her life. But that is not David’s worry.

Uriah is a man with integrity and deep conviction. He remembers his brothers-in-arms, that they were sleeping in the wild. So, he decided to rather sleep at the gates. Integrity trumps deception. David cannot have this and has Uriah killed in battle. He does so with another devious plan. Even this deceptive plan does not remain silent. It is there for generations to read in 2 Samuel 11. Wineskins of deception leak.

To put it differently in John’s words: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it”.

Fact is, and this is something I do not see on ashleymadison.com’s user’s agreement: nothing is discreet, especially not in today’s technological age. The truth will come out, sooner or later. And what then? Will ashleymadison.com simply wash their hands and say: “It’s not our problem…if you were happy in your relationship then your spouse would not have gone looking”. Sounds a bit like David coercing Uriah to sleep with Bathsheba in order to soothe his own conscience.

My take is this: Shine the light. Own up to mistakes. Seek help. Shut down this website. There ARE going to be casualties. Marriages WILL fail. Few will try and mend what damage has been done. Children will be shepherded into broken homes. Thanks to ashleymadison.com.

I wonder what the viability would be for spouses who leave their cheating partners to file a class-action lawsuit against Avid Life Media (owners of this and other sites) and claim for expenses related to psychological and medical damage, for loss of income, for loss of benefits like pension and medical cover… And even if they got a good compensation, the fact is, everyone still loses.




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.

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.