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

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".

Wednesday, September 07, 2011


Today I went on a day retreat with my colleagues. This was one of the best retreats ever. This is what I did:

Reclined under a big tree, looking at the sun shine through the leaves and branches

Read Psalm 139


Listened to Mozart's Requiem


Listened to Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor, Opus 64


Left in peace.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Farewell to Sungarden school

Last night I said farewell to Sungarden Nursery School.

I had served as the chairman of the Board for the past 3 years and served as an ordinary boardmember for 3 years prior to that.

Sungarden School had become part of my life. Along with an excellent team of people, and largely by the grace of God, we managed to build a new school in record-time and now look forward to expanding the school into a fully fledged, affordable, community primary school. Grades 1 and 2 are visioned to open in 2013.

To anybody who does not believe in miracles, I invite to simply come look at this school. Last year this time, we heard God's call to build a school on the property of Eastside Community Church. By end of August we got plans together and estimated that it would cost in the region of R1mil. Nobody had the money and we were smack-bang in the middle of the global economic recession. Furthermore, the plans needed to be approved and the necessary government and municipal regulations had to be met.

Well, where plans usually take months to approve, our were passed within 48 hours of submission. This in itself is a miracle. No special contacts, no bribes :-), just prayer and people committed to walking with the papers. The last outstanding amount on the building was paid in April. NO DEBT!!!

Was it a stressful time? Absolutely! Did it keep us on our knees? Like you cannot believe!!! The school is now operating AT A slight PROFIT (with 55 children), with room to grow (up to 100)!!! I cannot rejoice enough. Most important, the children are happy. This makes me happy and thankful that I had the opportunity to be part of the process.

The school has now been, with me stepping down as chair, completely handed over to Eastside Community Church.

There were moments in the process when I couldn't wait for this day, as one's patience was continuously tested by people, doubt and a general output of tremendous energy. This is not what I am feeling now. I shed a tear on the way home, but with great hope as I listened to our dreaming continuing of a school which is environmentally friendly, exposing children to the greenbelt which borders the school and allowing them the opportunity to enjoy nature within a safe context. My sincerest thanks go to the staff of Sungarden and of Eastside.

I look forward to sending Nathan to Grade 0 there next year.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sermon notes on Gen 29

The deceiver is deceived. Do you remember the story of Jacob and Esau, how Jacob deceived Esau in selling his birthright? Do you remember ho Jacob got Esau’s blessing by covering himself with lamb-skins? These stories and this one seem to be linked. The Jewish Midrash tells of how Leah was destined to marry Esau (eldest daughter to marry the eldest son), but because of the deception, Jacob was now considered the firstborn and therefore designated to Leah. We read that “her eyes were weak” (NIV), because of her constant crying that she actually wanted to marry Esau, and not Jacob. And so, the deceiver has to eat the fruit of the seed he planted, to face, according to custom of the time, the consequences of what he had done. He furthermore goes on to marry Rachel as well, something that would be considered a taboo in Jewish law later on – for a man to marry two sisters. Perhaps this became the reason for such a law. We don’t know. A complex story. Stories of deception often are. How many stories to we hear of public figures caught in webs of deception? Besides our own public figures, the globe is looking on in interest as the stories of deception in “News of the world” are revealed. As one listens to these stories, they become so complex that one struggles to differentiate between victim and perpetrator. The story of Jacob teaches us a few things.

Deception has a way of coming back to you.

Jacob seems so surprised and angered by the fact that someone managed to pull the wool over his eyes. “Why did you deceive me?” The so-called truth of deception only comes at someone’s cost. Esau carried the first cost. Now that Jacob faced the cost, now all of a sudden it all seemed so unfair! You cannot have your cake and eat it! Truth be told, if Jacob only dealt honestly with those around him, especially his brother, Rachel would have been rightfully his to marry (according to Jewish teaching on this Scripture). So, there is a warning to those who deal in deception: Don’t think you will get away with fooling anybody for your own benefit. The very deception you are dealing out will become your own downfall. The seeds that you plant will produce a harvest, and you will have to eat of its fruit as well.

How people try to make their deception right.

Jacob runs to his mom, Rebekah (who is just a guilty as him)
Jacob goes to his dad and says: “Ok, I’ll go away”
Jacob bargains with God: “If you only let this go away, I promise”
Jacob appeals to Laban: “But I paid my dues”
Jacob makes a covenant with Laban
Jacob sends gifts to Esau
If it made headline news, it would probably read: “Problem, what problem?”
The point is that in order to deceive people around you and to think you can get away with it, you first have to deceive yourself in thinking that it will all turn out alright in the end. Fact is, it doesn’t. The seeds we plant will produce a crop from which we too have to eat. So, where is God in all this?

Jesus encourages his followers to sow seeds that will have good consequences.

As Christians, we learn from Jesus that the Kingdom of God is about sowing seeds that will have good consequences, where everyone can experience the love and presence of God in their lives. Jesus calls this “The Kingdom of Heaven”. It doesn’t come about by a sudden change or transformation. It comes about by sowing small seeds of goodness, love, compassion, and in this instance honesty and integrity and it will grow into a tree that will benefit even the birds of the air. So, we start off with doing the small things right.
Secondly, we learn from Scripture that the Spirit intercedes for us so that we can grow in truth and in the love of God, for in God’s presence there is no room for deception. But perhaps the most profound teaching is that despite Jacob’s rich history of deception, God is still able to use him to become instrumental in fulfilling the promise God made to his grandfather, Abram and to his father, Isaac. As the new firstborn and as he grew in his relationship with God, he became a recipient of grace. God did not abandon him, but pursued him, wrestled with him made him painfully aware that God is a God of justice, but also of grace and forgiveness.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

PC Scam alert

I have just been phoned by a lady who stated she was from Microsoft. She told me that they picked up a number of errors coming from my PC and that I should check it. Unknown to her, I work on a Mac, but I wanted to find out what she was on about, so I hauled out my netbook.


She told be to go to Start and in the command tab, to type in cmd. This takes you to the DOS-command panel. She then told me to type in “assoc”. Luckily I know DOS pretty well. This command lists all the associated prompts and files for specific programmes. I was told to look at the third last line, which reads “.zfsendtotarget CLSID” followed by a number.


I opened my browser and looked up the meaning of this number. She told me that the number 888DCA60-FC0A-11CF-8F0F-00C04FD7D062 refers to my specific computer. I responded: “That’s not what Google says!”. This number is not unique to individual computers, in fact, if you are running Windows Vista or Windows 7, it will probably be the same. She then tried to persuade me that it was indeed my computer and that she could gain access at any time. I then read her the “Scam-alert” from


Needless to say, the conversation ended rather abruptly. So, friends, this is just a heads-up to be careful when people phone you claiming that your computer is infected with a virus.


Keep your Windows security updates to date, install a good antivirus, make sure you only access dependable websites and you should be safe from harm.





Saturday, July 09, 2011

If I didn’t

If I didn’t injure my finger yesterday, I would not have taken my boys’ bicycles to be fixed instead;

And we wouldn’t have gone to MacDonalds for lunch;

I wouldn’t have seen them enjoy themselves on the jungle-gym;

We wouldn’t have meandered around in the hobby shop talking about cars, boats, planes and trains;

The excitement in their faces to get back their fixed bicycles would have been missed;

Excited by being in a bicycle shop, we wouldn’t have thought about going for a “long ride” to the park;

We wouldn’t have had our first downhill-race;

Natalie wouldn’t have met us at the park, cheering the boys on as they played their hearts out;

We wouldn’t have promised each other to do this again.

Now, if I woke up knowing that I would experience the excruciating pain of pinching my finger with a pair of pliers, I would have refrained from even opening the garage.

Moral of the story: Be thankful that you don’t know what lies ahead. Even the most painful experiences can colour your day with good memories.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

South African launch of "Praying through a child's illlness"

Dear friends

You are invited to the South African launch of my new book "Praying through a child's illness: 28 days of prayer"

Date: 8 June 2011
Venue: Glen Methodist church (corner of Keeshond and Hilda Botha Streets, Garsfontein)
Time: 19:00-20:00
Dress: Casual
Refreshments available after the presentation.
Books available at R80 each
RSVP by 5 June 2011 - or 082 374 4360

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A humbling synod

Matthew 004

The 55th synod of the Limpopo District is meeting on the outskirts of Mbombela. Besides being surrounded by beauty, one sees the obvious commercial endeavours by business as shopping centres appear on every corner. There is a certain safety one feels when surrounded by commerce. I can’t quite describe this feeling, but I think you know what I am talking about. Then we arrived and after travelling for 3 hours, one needs to find relief. I saw some temporary toilets positioned outside the hall where we are meeting, but didn’t take much notice. I looked for the real toilets, the ones that flush, smell clean and have a mirror over a basin so that I can check my face. But to no avail. The decent toilets were for the ladies only. “C’mon, how can they expect us to use these facilities? Didn’t they plan properly?” And then it dawned on me. Our country has been rocked by the scandals of “open toilets” given to poor communities. By open toilets I mean that municipalities of several towns have simply planted toilets on the sidewalks or in the properties of the poor without enclosing them. People were therefore expected to do their business in the open.


My denomination, the Methodist Church, has proclaimed that we are a church in solidarity with the poor. How can we be so if we meet in the luxury of a place with flushing toilets? So, humbled, but proud to belong to this denomination, I went to the toilets. They stank already. They were dark inside. No water to wash your hands. This is Africa and this toilet would be counted a luxury in many communities.


I am converted again.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Furlough–Part 1

Every seven years, ministers are awarded a sabbatical. It comprises of 60 days whereby one is encouraged to “do something different". Add this to 30 days annual leave, and it makes for some good time out. I finished the first 30 days of my furlough on Sunday. I’ll be taking another 30 days in June/July, 14 days in October and 14 days in December. This is what I did:


1. Spent a day at Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary and valued my time there greatly!

2. Went on a 3-night cruise with my family on the MSC Sinfonia from Durban to the Portuguese Island off Mozambique.

3. Stayed a week at Scottburgh on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast.

4. Contended with a break-in at our house. They stole my iMac, Natalie’s laptop and my digital camera.

5. Virtually finished a manuscript for a book of Lenten devotions.

6. Marked about 100 scripts for UNISA.

7. Built half a war-ship (Lego). When done, it will be over a meter long!

8. Played Playstation with my sons, and soccer, and all sorts of other games.

9. Loved my wife by being home for a change.

10. Started on notes for articles I have to write in due course.

11. Spoke at a men’s breakfast in Carletonville.


This is my second furlough. This one started the same as the other. I went into a deep depression for about a week. I suppose it is because of the clean break from being highly in demand to receiving no communication at all. Believe it or not, one has a lot of time to wrestle with the demons suppressed by busy schedules and unresolved complications. I learnt two things. The thing a missed the least: People. The thing I missed the most: People.


After about a week, I started unwinding and began to find myself again. One has to be disciplined to say to yourself: “I am not going to pop into the office today”- a temptation I fell to a few times. I am glad I went on furlough and that I didn’t preach for the first time in 15 years over the Easter weekend.


But now I am back. I feel a change. There is more energy. There is greater assertiveness in protecting myself, my family and my time. And what a great gift it is to rejoin my family at the Glen – a truly amazing community of faith. In 8 weeks time, I’ll press the pause-button again and learn some more things.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Giving up social networking for Lent

So, I'll be giving up Social Networking for Lent. Some have offered
ways for me to Tweet, update my Facebook profile and blog "without
cheating". These have all been innovative suggestions :-). I have
also met some resistance to this idea from others . Let me explain
why I chose Social Networking. Well, let me first explain my
understanding of a fast, and specifically a Lenten fast. I have found
great value in the Muslim teaching on fasting and have adopted these
for myself. You see, Muslims state that there are three reasons for
fasting. First of all, one fasts as a reminder to yourself that all
things come from God. Nothing and no-one is self-made, deserved or
earned through our own efforts. Secondly, we distance ourselves from
things that have become "the second master". Thirdly, we identify
with those for whom this state of "need" is a daily reality. So, here
is my take on giving up Social Networking:

1. The privilege of being on the internet.

I have come to take for granted that I will always be connected. I
have found myself getting irritated when my cellphone shows low
signal, when the 3G connection drops down to a snail-pace GPRS.
Whenever someone asks a question, I jump on to Mr Google and provide
some knowledge within the blink of an eye. I love seeing what is
happening in other people's lives and, those who are my friends on
Facebook will know that I am equally enthusiastic about sharing my
experiences on the net. But these things are not a given and I need
to remind myself of this. It is not good that my mood is determined
by the speed of my connection, the availability of broadband or the
presence of a wi-fi network. This is why I am giving up Social

2. The second master.

Closely linked to point number 1, I thought that if I spend as much
time in prayer as what I do on Social Networking sites, I must grow a
bit in my spiritual walk. It would have helped if Jesus were on
Twitter or was a Facebook friend, but Jesus wants to be in a much
more intimate relationship with me. God longs to hear and feel my
self-expression, not get to know me through a Tweet or an update (and
vice versa). So, during Lent, every time I have the urge to Tweet or
update my profile, I am going to spend that time in prayer. This is
why I am giving up Social Networking.

3. Identifying with the internet-deprived.

How many millions of people around the world do not have access to
the internet? They do not have the privilege of seeing what is
happening around the world. More so, many of their voices are not
heard and their life-situations cannot change. We have seen the power
of Social Network media in Egypt, Libya and other countries where
atrocities are taking place. What about those places where people
cannot or may not engage in Social Networking? Who identifies with
them? This is why I am giving up Social Networking.

I pray that through this Lenten journey I will learn more about God,
myself and my neighbour.

Sunday, February 06, 2011


Today I was invited by the congregation of Eastview Methodist Church
to do the dedication of their new Memorial Wall and to pray over the
ashes of two people that will be interred there in the next few days.
I worked at Eastview almost ten years ago and have very fond memories
of this congregation. And so, we blessed the wall, and then I
proceeded to pray over the ashes. I prayed for Pam and Harold (the
deceased...), and their families and the rest of the community. While
doing so, I saw the minister trying to gesture something, but I did
not quite get what he was saying.

Afterwards, a lady came to me and said: "I'm still here.". "What do
you mean?", I asked. "I'm Pam, it's my husband that passed away."
EARTH, SWALLOW ME WHOLE!!! It was an honest mistake, an error of
miscommunication between me and the resident minister. How it
happened, I do not know. Thank heavens that Pam is a gracious person.
Apologies again to her and her family!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Whites only? No, the only whites

I had to smile.

"What, if I may ask, are you doing at a Muslim birthday party?", a
congregation member asked when she bumped into us at Zita park. "It's
not a Muslim birthday party, it is little Nawaal's birthday party.",
I corrected her. Yes, Nawaal is Muslim. Will I try and convert her
and her family. Absolutely not. That is another conversation all
together. Nawaal and Matthew are friends at school. It just so
happened that Matthew was the only white child who came to celebrate
her birthday with her. We were the only white parents. It really did
not bug us. We have been the only whites at many different functions
and celebrations. But I could see the older generation were not too
comfortable with us there. We had a wonderful time, chatting to
friends like Lee-Anne, who told us about growing up in Cape Town.
Just then our conversation was abruptly interrupted by a white
hooligan harassing a black child near the swimming pool. He went off
pop, overreacting to this child accidentally bumping into his
precious child on the waterslide. Lee-Anne came to her rescue and
confronted this bully. On her return she told us: "He betta be
careful, I'm from Mitchell's Plain. I'm a township-girl. I'm not
scared of him." The elderly gentleman sitting near us mockingly
suggested that he'll "sommer go fetch my knife from the car". He
really was joking. Then we laughed at how people get stuck in racial

I am grateful that my children have friends from every different
racial group in South Africa. I must add that there are very few
whites among them. Does it bother me? Not in the least. They must
have friends from different cultures. Embracing diversity helps us
see beyond our own boundaries. By them having friends who are from
other cultures and races, they help is make (more) friends across
racial lines as well. We learn from our children.

Monday, January 24, 2011

I like Stanley Hauerwas

I don't like theologians or philosophers because of what they stand for. I like them for the people who they are and who they have become. Who they have become does not refer to their station or their position in the realms of academia, but refers to the place they have grown towards in their own personhood. To simply like theologians or philosophers for what they stand for, is not to like them at all, but to like their ideas. This is pretty superficial, for ideas change, situations change and you will find yourself inevitably disagreeing with everyone from time-to-time.

During the past few weeks I have been savouring Stanley Hauerwas' memoir: "Hannah's child: A theologian's memoir". I say that I have been savouring it, because it is like a piece of Belgian chocolate, to be enjoyed for as long as possible, leaving the person feeling and hoping that it will never end. And so, by reading this phenomenal book, I have grown in my liking of Stanley Hauerwas, who happens to be a theologian, ethicist, philosopher and Christian. There are some natural things that draw me to Hauerwas. First, he did not come from a family of academics, but from a family of bricklayers. Same here, except that I grew up in a mining town where my destiny was to follow in my paternal ancestor's footsteps to descend into the black hole on a daily basis. There is a ruggedness in his character, vocabulary and thinking that makes me feel at home. Secondly, he is a Barthian. Enough said.

His passion for following Jesus is inspiring. His criticism of Christianity and of religious Christians, are at times quite scathing, but for Hauerwas one thing is clear: "Jesus is Lord, and everything else is bull[expletive]". There is an honesty in his character where no presumptuous piety can find a place to linger. For instance, in his book, he recounts his experiences at Augustana:

"They were in a generalized way Lutheran, which meant in some vague way that they thought they were Christian. At least one of the missions in Augustana was to reinforce that vagueness. Or as I learned to put it - our task was to give the parents the impression that by sending their daughters to Augustana they would not lose the virginity they had already lost in high school. I had not been at Augustana long before I was drawn into a controversy about whether the doors of coeds could be shut during the times Augustana males were allowed to visit in the women's dorms. A reporter for the campus newspaper asked me what the new Christian ethicist's views might be about this crucial issue. Drawing on my experience as a Texan, as well as having just come from Yale, I responded: 'Well, I guess it's a good way to avoid getting grass stains.' I was quoted in the weekly edition of the paper. I later came to understand that such an observation was not well received by the administration."

I must confess, I read the above passage above in church while listening to a sermon. How I didn't burst out laughing out loud is a due solely to divine grace. This honesty breaks the power of pretense - very refreshing in a world where Christians are not supposed to be human.

Thank you, father Stanley! Must just put in one moment of bragging: Prof. Hauerwas owns one of Dion and my books! One day, if I get the chance to ask him whether he liked it, I hope he will not respond as Barth did to Brunner (?) by saying: "It has a nice cover".

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Words to remember

Read the following and guess where it comes from...

Seek perfection of character
Be faithful
Respect others
Refrain from violent behaviour

What do you think? Does this sound like something from the Bible, the Qur'an or other religious text?
Yes and no. All of these are written in sacred texts, but they are actually written on the wall of most karate dojo's. My son is going to his first lesson today. Some may cringe at the idea. Tough. I did karate for most of my childhood and so did my mother and my brother. We did not pray to foreign gods, in fact, my teacher was a devout Christian.

These words have stuck with me and helped me in my growth as a Christian. I hope that they will make an impact on Matthew's life before he learns to make a spinning-heel-kick.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

New year, new look

Ok, I know. I haven't blogged since October last year. Blame it on
Facebook and Twitter. It takes a bit more effort to blog, but that is
what discipline is all about... a bit of effort.

So, how do you like the blog's new look? I have also changed my
facial features a bit by growing what is known in South Africa as a
"Bokkie". It is basically a mustache and a bit of a beard on the
chin. For your safety, I prefer not to post a photo quite yet.

In any case, I want to take this opportunity to wish all friends,
family and visitors to this blog a blessed 2011. Seeing that we only
have one year to go, according to the Mayan calendar :-) we better
make the most of this one!

God bless


ps. This post is especially for Anne, who keeps asking for a new post
on this blog, and who incidentally makes a wonderful cup of tea.