Sunday, December 30, 2007

Can't do it well all the time...

The rock group U2 have a philosophy. They will stop making music when they have two unsuccessful CD's in a row. Spot the open door? If they do manage to create a flop (perhaps Pop Mart came close) they could always make a comeback.

Besides Easter, Christmas is a very busy time in a minister's life. Preparing for multiple services in one week is not easy. But the congregation always expects new insights, an "aha" moment, and so the minister has to be on top of his/her game all the time. Would we expect any less from any other occupation? I would surely hope that my car mechanic or banker perform at their best all the time. But performing at one's best all the time is simply not possible.

Last week Sunday we had a good service, Christmas was a winner, but today I felt as if I was wading through peanut butter and syrup. I am sure the congregation noticed. I am certain that they felt the same.

UUGGGGHHH it felt terrible. Then I try to console myself by saying "Hey, you can't hit a home run every time.". It still feels terrible.

I'll prepare better this week. Like an out-of-form batsman spending a few more hours in the nets. Luckily congregations on the whole are forgiving and I'll probably see the same faces in the pews next week. Hopefully I didn't scare the newcomers away today.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

An atheist’s Christmas wish

Here is a very interesting article from Mail and Guardian. To go to the link, click here.

An atheist’s Christmas wish

24 Dec 2007 23:59
Michael is a recently lapsed Jehovah’s Witness living in my block of flats at the end of the corridor. Since he split from his wife of five years, he’s been dabbling in Anglicanism which, from his description, sounds less like a faith than a hobby. He tried Catholicism first, but found the hymns grim and the sermons hard on his knees. Now, as before, Michael is an affable guy, though he is still affable a little too frequently. So, there’s the knock at my door on a Saturday afternoon. Luckily, Anglicanism isn’t the only new thing Michael is trying; he has, in each hand, a cold beer. The kind of cold that sticks to the palms of your hands.

If only he’d thought of this technique when he was trying to covertly slip Watchtower magazines on to my coffee table. In fold-out chairs, our feet up on the balcony rail, I feel the deep, dull satisfaction of heterosexual male bonding. Tedious, yes. But comforting too. Somehow we land on that old conversation about the commercialisation of Christmas. “Are you trying to save me again, Mike?” “I’m not! It’s just ... since when is it all about the gifts?” Feeling the yawn coming on, I suggest that it might have started with frankincense, myrrh and gold. “Surely the three kings could’ve just given Baby Jesus a nice homemade Christmas card,” I say. Michael laughs and I feel very hip and edgy. “If Jesus were around today,” I continue, “do you think he’d wear Crocs? They are, after all, holey.” Michael stares me down and I know that I’ve crossed the line by suggesting that the Son of God would wear plastic shoes. Then he mumbles: “There’s nobody more religious than an atheist.” He has a point. And we’re only getting more religious. It’s been a good year for the Smartypants Squad.

With Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great, we have the kinds of books we can tuck under our arms, as snug and as obvious as Bibles while we wander about airports looking for converts. This past year, I’ve even found a couple. Now, I’m busying myself by putting the X back into Xmas. But I’ve hit a couple of wobbles. Two things are testing my faith. One, there’s something quite ugly about the new atheism. It carries a petty, childish tone. Every sentence of Dawkins’s big red book seems to end with an implied, “Ha!”, “I told you so!” or “So there!” Two, there’s something quite appealing about that old time religion. That thing is ... denial. And denial isn’t all that bad. Seems to me that religion is one way of denying our animal nature, of thinking ourselves beyond our biology and beyond the obvious. It’s obvious, looking at a dead body and observing the disintegration that follows death, that the human being that was, is no more. But, we imagine something beyond that.

It’s obvious, looking at the way human beings are built, that we cannot fly. But, we imagine something beyond that too. Both the invention of an imagined afterlife and the invention of human flight began, I believe, with a still moment of “What if?” Sure, we believe a lot of things that are untrue. Religious nuts and atheistic nuts alike have waged wars and been nuisances at dinner parties as a result of their mad convictions. But this species also routinely makes wild dreams real by the sheer will of that same unreasonable human imagination. We defy our physiology and demand that we will fly, not only as far and as high and as fast as birds, but all the way to the moon and beyond. We bake cakes, whip cream, pick cherries and imagine that they might all go well together. And, yes, we dream up rain dances and elephant gods and men in the sky who part seas and write books. We cling to them beyond their usefulness too. But, hey, who’s perfect? So, here’s a thought. More than that, an atheist’s Christmas wish: let’s be less snotty. Let’s do better than “So there!” and “I told you so!” If we think a scientific view of the universe is useful for any reason other than being able to feel superior, then we need to spend less time snuffing dreams out and more time inviting people to dream bigger. Carl Sagan described our planet as “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam”. There are pictures taken from space of that mote of dust; our mote of dust stranded in a vastness almost completely unknown to us. And to see such a picture is to realise that the idea of an ark filled with all the earth’s animals, two-by-two, for all its human poetry, is just not big enough. Being such a finite, tiny part of something so infinite is not meaningless.

It’s just meaningful in a way larger than religion has ever imagined.

Something for Christmas

Christ is Born!

John Banister Tabb, from A diary of readings by John Baillie

A little boy of heavenly birth,
But far from home today,
Comes down to find His ball, the earth,
That sin has cast away.

O comrades, let us one and all
Join in to get Him back His ball!

Thanks Alec.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The 12 days of Christmas (in South Africa)

Click on the image to enlarge.

Used without permission. Sorry. Please buy the Madam & Eve books!!!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Hilarious! Barth in a hip-hop nutshell

When wealth and poverty collide

This is a picture of an area in Sao Paolo.

It might as well have been a picture of the Northern suburbs of Johannesburg and Diepsloot or Silver Lakes and Nelmapius.

This problem of economic disparity seems to be everywhere. The middle class seems to have ceased to exist. Now we have wealthy and poor. I am using this picture as a focus-point during my mediations in preparation for Christmas. I try to imagine how a person would encounter the Christ-child while playing tennis on the court. Is there any guilt? Is there a sense of justifying their wealth? How does this person view those across the fence?

I imagine the person in the shack. How does this person encounter the Christchild? Is there envy when hearing the ball being hit on the other side, on a court which is the same in area-size as a dozen shacks? Is there a sense of anger, desperation, or has this person decided that this is his/her lot? How does this person view those across the fence?

The Christ-child comes into this world and does not discriminate. He is the Saviour of all and in His lifetime had a lot to say about economic disparity.

Quote of the day

John Bardis, a member of the Bartian milieu group made the following remark, something I will treasure for a long time:

"But having a stupid, cold and stony heart doesn't make one a heretic.
It just makes one stupid, cold and stony--and one moreover to whom we
need not listen."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ain't politics strange?

Let me put it out there. I don't think that the word "integrity" exists in politics. To me, politics is about self-enhancement, self-enrichment and the exercise of power. Democracy is flawed, but at least it gives people the opportunity to put the least corrupt people in power... or so I thought.

Today Jacob Zuma was elected president of the ANC. Need I say more? You've read the headlines, so form your own opinion about him as a rolemodel for our children. For the first time I will shudder if one of my sons turns to me and says "Hey, dad. I want to be president of the country! I want to be like him!" - Granted, he is not the president of the country yet.

What is also interesting are politicians' views on Zuma before and after the elections. I cannot recall one opposition party politician speaking well of Zuma before the election, but now? The only person who is sticking to her guns is Helen Zille. It is as if politicians choose their battles well. It might seem the right move to now make friends with him and his allies.

Well Mr Zuma, congratulations. You have played the political game well. I hope it is in the interest of all people.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

How's this for Auld Lang Syne?

(A. D. Cridge)

We're Communists and Socialists
And dynamiters, too;
We're slaves of walking delegates*
Who tell us what to do,
There's nothing we should kick about,
We've all got "cheek" sublime;
But we're "bone and sinew of the land,"

We're howlers of calamity,
We're crazy flat fools,
We're lawless scum and foreign scruff,
And "stubborner nor mules."
They threaten us with Gatling guns
And in our "hair to climb";
But we're "thinking toilers of the land,"

We're wild-eyed hayseeds, lazy shirks,
Alliance traitors, knaves;
We're looters of the vaults of wealth,
And our speaker always "raves";
We're a danger to the country
And Republic all the time;
But we're "honest, sturdy farmers,"

We're everything that's vile and mean,
For twice three hundred days;
Nihilists, thugs and Pinkertons
Are urged on us to blaze,
If we but demand justice,
As against a gilded crime;
But we're "valiant hosts of labor,"

They tell us of protection,
And the glory of a tax;
The right of honest capital
To ride upon our backs;
Our comfort and prosperity
(Though we haven't got a dime),
And to once more save the party,

They tax us, and they drive us,
And mock us in our woe;
They tell us we're responsible,
Though they know it isn't so;
And we stand right up and take it,
While the "bloats" their pockets line,
Oh, we're several million darndest fools,

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Nathan is baptized.

When Martin Luther felt tempted by the devil, he would audibly respond "I've been baptized!". We pledged to raise him in a Christian home and vowed to provide an example of Christian living so that one day he may respond in faith to God's grace. Hopefully his baptism will be as meaningful to him as Luther viewed his.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Quote of the day

"A lot of aeroplane accidents have happened since people started flying." - My wife.
My response: "Really?...HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH"
Now, because of "hahahahaha", I'm sleeping on the couch. No, not really.

University of Pretoria

As I am writing this, I am sitting in front of the Faculty of Theology building at the University of Pretoria. This is heaven to me. It is quiet this time of the year. There are only a few postgrad students walking around. You can see that they are thinking, debating with themselves.
There is no better place to be than here.
I am at peace.


Children have the most peculiar way to embarrass their parents. Our children are no different. Anybody who knows us will know that we are trying to raise children who respect and treat all people the same. South Africa needs a generation which does not discriminate, especially when it comes to inter-racial relationships. But today our little Matthew became aware of race and made his observations known in the most inopportune moment: in the shops.

We were walking down the sweets isle, and came to a stop very close to an Indian lady and her son. Matthew looked up and at the top of his voice said: "Hey pappa, those people have brown skins!". He meant it very innocently, but I know that those words could be interpreted in a different way which causes pain. I didn't know what to do. I wanted to just turn around and walk away, but decided not to. I turned to the lady and her son who were chuckling away at my son's boldness and apologized vehemently. I tried to explain that we try to raise our children in such away that race should not be an issue. They both reacted very graciously, acknowledging that he is learning and that this was a discovery. They also hinted that we should take him out more often so that he can see more people from a different cultural background. I wasn't going to debate that point, but all too humbly made the best of the situation.

I later explained to Matt that this "pointing out people's skin colour" is not polite, in fact, although true, some things remain better unsaid.

I still feel nervous about the whole incident. Please share your stories of embarrassing moments to help me through this one. I have learnt a lesson though. Communication is complex. What we say and where we say it may mean different things to different people. The hearers' own perception also aids towards their interpretation of the spoken word. This will make me ever more vigilant in sermon preparation, because good communication is the ability to convey a message where the interpretation of the message correlates with the intent and focus of the sender's conveyed thoughts.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Tutu compromises the Gospel?

Headlines like this do not surprise me. This headline concerns recent comments by Desmond Tutu relating to his acceptance of gay people and the church's general negative and unwelcoming approach to them. In fact, statements like these build within me the belief that religion per se has a severely debilitating effect - It makes people believe that they possess, own and have sole custodianship of truth.

Let me say this: My faith starts from the premise that I have not arrived, that may faith is as St. Anselm of Canterbury stated "Faith seeking understanding". Although I hold firm that Christ is the centre of God's self revelation, I cannot for a second think that I have understood God, God's revelation or Jesus Christ. Furthermore I hope and pray that when I meet God face-to-face one day that my mind will be blown! My faith, a journey, a pilgrimage, stands open to correction.

For these reasons I find these utter moralistic proclamations beyond comprehension. If others are so sure of this faith, then please let me in on the detail, but according to the Gospel which I have studied and still do, I cannot particularly find the way in which Tutu compromised it. In fact, the Gospel which I read speaks of one who was persecuted, questioned and eventually crucified for being "a friend of sinners". The irony is thick.