DAY 487: BUSY BOY!

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My days over the past few weeks have been crowded. A Baptism, two funerals, two concerts and a destination wedding have certainly kept me out of mischief. We arranged a Baptismal service for the proud parents of an active adventurer who crawled all over the church and delighted in making a splash with the water in the Baptismal font.

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It’s great to get families together under one roof to celebrate new beginnings. After the service I was able to make good use of the Mossop Library and track the obituary of Rev. Hodges – one time President of Conference – and distant relative of the baby I baptised. This was a life-giving moment.

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Our city felt the disappointment of the shutdown of the Cycle Tour and has rallied as one to the plight of the victims of the fire which swept through Hout Bay. I had seen the black pall of smoke darken the skyline on the Saturday morning on my way to a regular breakie on the coast. The gale force South Easter was unstoppable. Now on HUMAN RIGHTS DAY all is calm and I am preparing for something new in the “burbs”.

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This afternoon John Frans and BUSY BOY are heading over the green curtain to the Bergvliet Methodist Church. We’ve been invited to parachute our Music@Mossop experience into the Southern Suburbs. Our themed focus is on HUMAN RIGHTS. It’s a celebration of story and song as we unlock some of the hidden treasures of our hymnody. We seek to bring the real world into the church. What better way to SING THE FAITH on a day that changed the direction of this country?

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Even though Sunday was part of a manufactured long weekend, Mossop was packed with worshipers who came to examine the significance of their steps through LENT 2017. We highlighted Conflict and Suffering as real challenges on the Way of the Cross. During the service a member of the congregation presented stunning pictures of a recent trip to the Kruger National Park and John Frans played background music.

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He is such a talent! I loved the way he created a “rumble” on the keyboard whenever the Lion appeared.

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In the afternoon Arlene and I (together with our close friends) visited the Proposal Project for the development of the Foreshore and hurried off to the LABIA

 

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to see the movie “Lion” – a true story out of India, of a child lost, adopted and re-united with his mother. I could see it again!

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I had no less than 6 requests to officiate at marriages celebrated on Saturday. Those who approached me first, got the nod. Happily Arlene joined me and turned into my perfect SATNAV! I got horribly lost in the heart of Robertson (a two hour drive from Cape Town) and felt stressed as the clock clicked toward the 4.30 p.m. start time. The destination wedding took place at the Pat Busch Mountain Reserve in the middle of vineyards, surrounded by majestic mountains and under a sprawling old oak tree.

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Acorns even landed on my head! I picked one up, examined it carefully and mused at the way in which “love grows and deepens with the years”. Sometimes we can crowd out our days with “BUSY ness”. When we stop, pause, reflect and make the connections – something happens. We find balance and get ready for New Life (Springtime). It’s the EQUINOX: Equal Day and Equal Night.

For some, the night time of LOSS is tangible. Two funerals in one day on Friday drove home the reality for BUSY BOY.

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Here in Cape Town we wait for winter and look forward to much needed rain. In the Northern hemisphere SPRING arrives. BUSY BOY or not, life is all about find the BALANCE.

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DAY 486: CAREER PATH APPRECIATION

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LENT is a time of self examination and personal assessment. Twenty years ago I subscribed to a CAREER PATH APPRECIATION program to examine my output as a Methodist minister. The assessment asked whether my capabilities exceeded my responsibilities and whether I had begun to feel wasted in the work I was doing. Was I starting to look elsewhere to focus my energies?

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The test was also geared to assess STRESS. It asked whether I was competent to deal with the complexities of ministry or if I felt misused by the organisation and unable to cope with the demands of my position as resident minister.

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When knowledge and experience are insufficient, how does the decision making take place?  What, for example, is my current level of complexity of functioning comfortably? What longer term development of complexity would be needed? This was the big league. Like LENT, my ability to deal with cognitive complexity was being examined. The challenge is always there in the decisions that we make.

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The report summed up my CAREER PATH with ease. Noting my family history with generations of service to the church, my ability to “see the bigger picture” and my frustration with the leadership of the church rather than with the church as an institution was recognised. APPRECIATING an academically adventurous CAREER PATH, my examiner  recognised that from my ordination (in 1980), I was “looking for a future PATH”.

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The development of Salty Print and the Inner City Mission addressed that need. This journey helped expand personal horizons and find new and better ways of serving the community. He (the examiner) identified my restlessness and suggested that my PATH  of ACCUMULATING which morphed into CONNECTING was well suited to the level of SERVICE.

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The next level – one of STRATEGIC DEVELOPMENT – was where I was heading. Unease can progress into considerable frustration. So too, can a lack of confidence or continuity unsettle amidst the sea of change and transition. I know I started pushing the boundaries. I sought to extend my ministry to meet unused capability. The Internet opened the door. I went on online in 1998 on St. Cecilia Day. The decision (thanks to the promptings of Lin Crowe in Philadelphia USA) created a constantly moving picture. I had entered the world stage.  Moving back and forth, I delighted in the connectivity. My parish became the world.

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My travels overseas (ignited by a deep desire to find the Best Practice for the Church today) opened doors. I documented my discoveries in words and pictures. Meeting with specialists and securing resources for the work, whilst still trying to balance the new technologies to local conditions stretched me in my ministry.

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Happily I weathered the subsequent difficulties created by these alternative pathways and patterns. Our business was job creation, leadership and transformation. I often return to the Salty Print mantras of commitment and determination: “Always Press On”; “Where there is no vision the people perish” and “Transforming Paper, People and Places”. Sometimes I reminded the staff that “the project is not over until the money is in the bank and the customer has come back with another order!”.

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Perhaps my work at MOSSOP is evidence of continuing growth. The essence of STRATEGIC DEVELOPMENT is to provide a link between the present and the future. Uncertainty can be a vital ingredient for sustainability. We have gathered “noise” about what is happening, what is not happening but what could and should be happening and what might happen in the life of struggling churches.

 

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Judgement is made on the links between the old and the new and the uncertainty one faces as a church in transition. I like the way we can terminate projects/events that are no longer appropriate to STRATEGIC intent. It’s all about a blend of BEING with what is GOING ON to create knowledge-in-action. Then we take a step back to create knowledge-in-reflection.

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When we bring out the best in people, I think we are very close to the Kingdom of God.

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DAY 485: ASH WEDNESDAY 2017

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Many years ago Cliff Richard sang a song called Forty Days. On ASH WEDNESDAY we begin our descent into the depths of self examination, penitence and personal assessment. FORTY DAYS symbolises the time given for us to make the journey through the SEASON OF LENT. LENT, of course, means Spring Time and for our friends in the Northern Hemisphere the anticipation is exciting. They can’t wait for sunshine and new life!

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Here in Cape Town the picture is completely different. We count the days and desperately wait for winter – scanning the horison for rain-bringing cold fronts to ease the grip of severe drought which tightens every day. The lack of water has forced everyone to re-examine their use of this precious resource.

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If we examine the scriptures carefully, there are signposts to help us along the way. The Church, for example, gives us days of rest and recovery to encourage those committed to the journey. Growing up in a Methodist home, ASH WEDNESDAY and the 40 Days of LENT were not part of my church upbringing experience. EASTER became the Message! Or was it the chocolates?

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My stirrings initially came through the ministry of Rev.Paul Bester (Goldfields Circuit) who introduced me to the importance of HOLY WEEK and the 3 hour service on GOOD FRIDAY. The pattern was developed in Salt River and has never left me. Now it is hard to take the traditional festival days out of my head. The First Four Sundays (temptation, conflict,suffering and transfiguration) are followed by PASSION and then PALM Sunday leading into Holy Week with the MAUNDY THURSDAY  (Tenebrae) Service always leaving an indelible imprint.

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I think there is place for ritual and discipline in our lives. ASH WEDNESDAY gives us direction. We read from Matthew 6: 1 – 18 and pick up on the importance of ALMS GIVING (acts of charity), PRAYER and FASTING as key ingredients. Jesus refused to dazzle people into faith. He also tells the story of two people. The one man shouts “There’s nothing wrong with me” and mutters “Thank God I’m not like those over there!”. The other exclaims “There’s everything wrong with me!”.

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Ashamed of his sin, he beats his breast and cries “God have mercy on me a sinner”. The man could not even look up to heaven. He was so ashamed of his sin. The ASHES (a product of the previous year’s burned Palm Sunday leaves) are BLACK – a sign of remorse and repentance. When a person dies some people wear a black armband to show respect and acknowledge the loss. The ASH is dirty and symbolically exposes the dirt in ourselves. We want to wash it away and be made clean again.

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Cliff Richard’s song does help us in LENT. We want to “Get Back” or better still “Get Into” a right relationship with God. Bearing the weight of the Cross, learning to follow, we quietly learn that mistakes mould us and regrets teach us. This is the secret of the journey. God wants us to be marked as one of His. His word is quite clear: “return to me with all your heart … with fasting, with weeping, with mourning”. Turn ASHES into ALMS.

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If we take the mark of the Cross to heart, our end point is to get HOME: to keep these days carefully, to take to heart the call to repentance, to receive the assurance of forgiveness proclaimed in the Gospel and so to grow in the faith and devotion to our Lord. Better still “turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ”.!  How can we forget the chorus presented on ASH WEDNESDAY throughout the world?  “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return”.

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DAY 484: THREE SCORE AND TEN

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My brother-in-law Lyn van Rensburg reached the Biblical allotment of THREE SCORE AND TEN on Wednesday 22nd February 2017. We celebrated his birthday at the Durbanville Hills Wine Estate overlooking Table Mountain, Cape Town , Table Bay and Robben Island.

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Lyn has always been open and receptive to new facts and impressions. He likes to think deeply and explore things in detail. All those who paid tribute to him remarked on his life time of kindness. I recognise a gentleness and politeness that suggests an inner world that likes to operate undisturbed. When we grow up in an environment where we receive a limited amount of tenderness and intimacy, we spend much time trying to fill up that inner vacuum.

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Home has become Lyn’s castle. Lyn has an amazing ability to find out interesting facts and happenings in the world round about him. He’s a good listener. Much of his energy is concentrated on hearing and seeing everything. As a keen observer, its important for him to stay calm and stand alongside an event with seeming objectivity. I remarked that Lyn has always been a good friend – a true companion, patient, silent listener. Lyn does not call attention to himself and appears happy to remain hidden. He has mastered the art of turning discussion away from himself.

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When nobody wants anything from him, he doesn’t have to give anything. The arrival of Torden (his grandson) has certainly transformed Lyn into a “grand pa” of remarkable devotion and tenderness. He spends hours informing the young man about everything in as much detail as possible. There’s a fascination with knowledge and understanding in the life of Lyn van Rensburg. He likes to travel because he knows that travel educates.

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In his home, little souvenirs and keepsakes serve as props for memory and pictures (photographs) re-awaken the event within his imagination. This is not just limited to birthdays. They cover all the important phases and events of Van Rensburg life. Lyn also has an amazing ability to categorise and compartmentalise information. He can design computer programs to help understand connections and how things fit together.

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With Lyn, you can talk and talk. His ability to withdraw from problems emotionally to sum up the situation and give those seeking advice and help is legend. Lyn is my “go to guy”, a good friend and great brother-in-law. He is my helper in time of need.

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By the time you reach 70 years you have developed wisdom from real life experience. Torden (pictured above) will tell you that Lyn knows how to think before he acts and always appears to be one step ahead with his profound gift of authentic wisdom. In my book it turns into kindness, love and friendship. On this special occasion we all had a chance to step back and celebrate the moment of recognising what an important role he has played in our lives.

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Stephen (Lyn and Jeannie’s first born/pictured right) beamed on the day when he beat his Dad in a game of chess. He thought he had “come of age”. Paul (their youngest son/pictured left) honoured his father’s patience and generous support in time of need. Torden (the grandson) admitted that his “Pa” was always there for him – just being present at cricket, rugby, tennis – or to play, assured him of a life long companion.

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Next year Lyn and Jeannie celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. The two of them still love each other dearly and have set a bench mark for those of us serious about relationships. I was there when they started out on their new adventure of married life together. As they enter into the sunset years of a life time of shared experience, the sun continues to shine.

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Theirs is neither an adversary spirit; nor is it an independent spirit; it is not a possessive spirit seeking its own way regardless of the consequences to others.

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Their house is a home where we can listen to the troubles and concerns that come our way; enter into dialogue and consciously answer that God’s world holds many secrets yet, which we have not found. I wonder what we will feel about life when we turn 70?

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DAY 483: TOWARDS A JUST ECONOMY

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Years ago the Christian Citizenship Department (CCD) of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa published a series of documents that addressed the issues and concerns of the day. Poverty relief was always high on the agenda. Reverends Austin Massey and Demitri Palos kept the church on its toes. Recently a footballer from South America signed a contract for 600,000 dollars US per week to play in China. When we read of the scandalous amounts of money being stolen in this country with repeated regularity,  I ask myself “When will the money run out?”. On Wednesday our Minister of Finance is sure to raise taxes. The country owes trillions of Rands and someone has to pay back the money.

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We’ve designed a world where the rich become richer with no consideration given to economic inequity.

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Where have we gone wrong? Is it because we follow a greed which spells out success as material prosperity? There was a time when people believed in the potential of every human being. I certainly do. They argued that if individuals developed boundlessly, then the whole of society would become perfect. I am not so sure! Two World Wars have put an end to that thought.

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We live in a world that is difficult to understand. It has got too big and complicated. The changes we face come too fast. The ideal “Utopian” classless society that Karl Marx dreamed of has not (yet) been achieved. Sociologists open our eyes to the obscene power of the rich and to the abject poverty of the poor. The basic struggle between the “haves” and the “have nots” will not disappear. A just world? If we are serious about working TOWARDS A JUST ECONOMY, we need to ask “Who benefits?” – a question which should always be on our lips.

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Early sociologists saw their socialism as a means of putting their Christianity into practical effect. I think socialism is a product of production and population. Salty Print, for example, taught me all about a factory’s capacity to transform paper. I was conscious of the dehumanising effect that production could bring and made sure that we transformed people and places in our engagement with life as part of our business of transforming paper. It’s hard to harmonize all of our insights.

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Today the statistics surrounding unemployment are scary. Capitalists argue that 1. private ownership of the means of production is critical. 2. that the customer is king and the purchaser decides what to buy. 3. True competition is necessary. 4. a free market is non negotiable. There must be no outside interference. This is easier said than done. There are consequences. Let’s look at the process …

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Firstly, the land is taken. Greed is catalytic. We have to ask “when is enough, enough?”. People (those with resources) sit back and live off the proceeds at the expense of others. Now we have a massive problem, especially in this country. Overpopulation builds a huge body of people who don’t have land – but they also have no money. All they have is themselves – so poverty is born. We find ourselves at war with each other as unresolved conflicts fester and grow.

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Marx has shown that the driving force behind history is economic. We should listen to him. He speaks of a five act drama in history which repeats itself time and time again. First Act: the paradise of innocence  Act Two: the fall – the introduction of private ownership  Third Act: the climax of inequity – Capitalism. Act Four: the revolution (workers rise up). Act Five: the new earth and the new heaven.

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TOWARDS A JUST ECONOMY? How do we ensure that economics embraces ethics? What is the role of the church in the economy of South Africa? Does the rich getting richer make us a happier nation or just a more unequal one? Does giving “band aid” work to change society?

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In our life time we have seen small firms swallowed up by hungry corporates that now dominate the market place. There’s a visible shift of focus from industry to investment. The voice of the church will always bear witness against injustice and speak for a God pleasing society. Deep down in our hearts we want to build a better future together. It surely begins when we strive TOWARDS WORKING FOR A JUST ECONOMY. We must find our way to mature expressions of our faith.

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DAY 482: THE GRAND SLAM

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My wife Arlene is a devoted Roger Federer fan. The build up to the big match in the recent Australian Open was hectic. Tension was running high and the ding dong battle between old foes had reached fever pitch. By the time the finalists got to the fifth set Arlene marched into the study, promptly punched me on the arm and shouted “PRAY!”.

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“PRAY” she said … as I felt the impact of THE GRAND SLAM. I quietly smiled at her and said “I have prayed!”. She insisted “Pray harder!”. Her tenacity told me that she was driven by a deep longing for her court hero to win. I was sucked in to help make the miracle happen. This demanding voice for victory when Roger Federer is playing never falls silent. “Will he, on the day, be good enough?”.

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I started to imagine how exhausting it must be to go through this endless trial of wanting your hero to win. There’s an idealism and perfectionism in most of us. We like order and see immediately when something is out of place. I knew Arlene would relax only if Roger lifted the cup above his shoulders. I was the target to help her overcome the struggle of a possible loss which peaked with a punch. I can still hear her insisting that I had to “Pray harder!”.

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Perhaps the anger within makes us more aggressive. We boil with rage when our hero plays a bad shot. What’s really going on inside? I think the pressure to do “good works” and improve the world is like a repressed shadow desperately trying to live out all the things that we deny in ourselves. It’s a way of coping with the countless strokes needed on the match day in our minds. The answer to the dilemma of THE GRAND SLAM was simple. Outside help was needed.

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I insisted (as I always seem to do) that it would “come to pass”. Even when one doesn’t say a word, the thought of being continually criticised is never far away. I urged my wife to be patient and allow the game to take its course – a word that sounds ludicrous in the heat of the moment. This tactic managed to save me from a further thump on my right arm. So what’s the solution?  When we are able to build up relationships of trust, things begin to turn around.

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Here we were wondering if our hero would become a dragon slayer at the Melbourne Open. His opponent is a street fighter of note, whose mannerisms and grunts are irritating for those engrossed in the duel. Why doesn’t he strive to stop fiddling with his face and underwear? Was that not another time violation on the last serve? Maybe our anger is the source of energy that makes THE GRAND SLAM so exciting.

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At the end of the day, I realised that Arlene was comfortable in passing on her anxiety and concerns onto my arm. Victory is sweet. We are able to laugh at ourselves as we celebrate the success of a remarkable tennis player who has done so much for the world of tennis. The key is to exercise patience, to play, to relax, to celebrate and to enjoy life.

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If Roger Federer had lost, the world would not have ended. The dream is always to witness the perfect game. In life, there will always be winners and losers. We make many mistakes. By accepting our own imperfections we proceed toward that dream of perfection.

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As Christians we believe that forgiveness and atonement are keys to repentance and a new start. Patience with our heroes and ourselves turns us into agents of transformation. THE real GRAND SLAM happens when we hear the promises of Jesus: that when the spirit comes, he will guide you into all the truth. GAME OVER. It’s a love story that is real.

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DAY 481: THERE IS NO MONEY

 

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These words echo a standard complaint in the life of traditional churches today. A week ago, I attended the January Circuit Quarterly Meeting of the DUMISANI Circuit. The Circuit is in big trouble and has to address a massive shortfall. The figures on the Financial Statement were distressing and judging by the cries for help, something needs to be done.

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money16I found myself travelling backwards, seeing history repeating itself. Most of my ministry has been focused on struggling churches. The plight forced us contextually to generate new income streams; recognising that God was still with us, but inviting us to do something new.

This was the background to the birth of Salty Print and the Inner City Mission in Cape Town. All three societies, Salt River, Observatory and Woodstock were like aging grandmothers left behind by congregations who drifted off to leafy suburbs.

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Reading between the lines, many of our churches are securing donations for the use of their property simply to meet the demands of assessments. With declining membership, the pressure is on … big time!  I liked the comment of a first time member to the Circuit Quarterly Meeting who said: “This is like big business. Should we not be asking questions about how those on the top of the organisation are spending money?”.

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He had touched a sensitive nerve, especially in my heart. I think we have got ourselves into deep trouble by instituting heavy bureaucratic machinery. The Methodist Church creates separated posts as if there is an unlimited supply of MONEY. There are expectations that the local church will always have capacity to meet rising expenses. We know that this is not going to happen: “THERE IS NO MONEY!”

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Ministry has become complex. Clergy no longer play a central role in society today. Much of local community has disappeared and people spend more time in their motor cars or in front of television than in church. Churches have become competitors in an open market. Jesus PTY. Ltd has turned into big business in the emerging market.

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When we fight for what we believe is right, finding ourselves faced with decline and decreasing appeal, despondency sets in.  Rejected as spokespersons of society’s beliefs and values, life on the margins demands enormous personal resources of commitment and self confidence. The life of a creative innovator is hard when his/her creativity is scorned. Some press on and try to maintain old patterns, gearing all activity toward spiritual conversion and organisational efficiency.

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I think we’ve lost the plot. People lead busy lives and find themselves disconnected from Church life. And yet, the eternal God astonishes us with his presence. The signs of his kingdom are beyond our invention or imagining. When Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, he set an example, challenging us to become active parables of his love.

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Today is NATIONAL GET UP DAY.  Ice skaters lead the way. They remind us that life is slippery and we stumble. We are challenged to express the potential inside all of us and invited to make a positive impact on the lives of others. The whole subject of income and expenditure needs re-thinking, re-stating and re-formulation. When we become transparent and join the fellowship of those who recognise that this is God’s world, let us ask the Giver of Life to give us to those who need him.

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It makes a difference as to how we look at our resources. John wondered why Jesus said nothing as he washed the feet of the disciples. Perhaps every member in the DUMISANI Circuit can give R100 and demonstrate collectively that giving can make a big impact. THERE IS NO MONEY?  I think not.

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DAY 480: MEETINGS!

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One of my first duties in the return of MOSSOP to the old Rosebank (now DUMISANI) Circuit was to attend a Circuit staff MEETING at the Langa Methodist Church in Washington Street. The MEETING, chaired by the newly appointed Superintendent, Rev Nkosinathi (Nathi) Geja, lasted 3 hours and included light refreshments plus a generous midday lunch. I began to reflect on what happens in our churches as the proposed timetable unfolded for 2017.

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Meetings. Meetings. MEETINGS!  Today people don’t have time for meetings. They are too busy. Days are crowded and there are distractions galore. Some members of staff immediately keyed in and stored the details on their phones. This was a business meeting seeking to give structure to a large Circuit. All the ministers were asked to identify the primary task of the churches (societies) under their pastoral charge.

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Wherever you are in the world, the work of the church always turns into debate. Other than bringing people into community, those in charge seek to help congregations translate the experience of being the church at work, home and in urban life. Maintaining and managing these activities can overwhelm struggling churches as they examine their lives and measure them against the standard of Christ.

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So why go to Church? I think the pull of emotional validity brings people back. When Christians argue that the primary task of the Church is to lead all people to a knowledge of God – we discover that this is not true. There is no age in history where this has ever happened. Yet churches continue to exist. People tune into the emotional gratification on offer as people gather. Think of the variety of emotions addressed: guilt, penitence, gratitude, joy, admiration, love, trust, dread, sorrow, enthusiasm, determination, peace, resignation. They are all tied up in Church life.

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Many people  choose not to come to church. Is it because their emotional needs are being met elsewhere? Or have they ceased to be aware of what exactly is on offer in the local church? The questions that Churches face when they gather is: “Have we ceased to meet needs?”.

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When Karl Marx said that “religion is the opiate of the people”, Frederich Engels (the other co-founder of COMMUNISM argued that “this was not the whole truth about Christianity”. Aspirations for a “better life for all” present a common denominator for everyone who is serious about change. The range of emotions attached to change run from dread of extinction to joy and gratitude which comes from providence and stories of sustainability.

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I think that much of what we do in Church symbolises patterns of dependence. We follow. Over time we become more dependent. Clergy get elevated to God like status and laity become more infant like. Community satisfies a deep need to express dependence. MEETINGS fuel this dependency. They provide opportunities to shed roles and responsibilities. When this happens, these actions help us cope with the stresses, strains and uncertainties inherent in carrying out duties.

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So we are moving into interesting times as we approach this New Year. Today in 1908 Baden Powell started the Boy Scout Movement. There are lessons to be learned. He was the one who said: “Try to leave the world in a better place than when you found it”. The work at Mossop started three years earlier in 1905 and this life giving community must now reorient  itself under a different set of rules.

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Fortunately Mowbray Methodist Church (MOSSOP HALL) has an identity and a history that could become the cornerstone of a new way of life for the DUMISANI Circuit. I see churches working in concert not competition. If we remain true to who we are – despite the added responsibilities of MEETINGS – we will not lose our essential character. There are positives. For all good, efficient, organised administration leaves local churches autonomous.

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DAY 479: CROCODILE SHOCK!

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Our daughter Julia invited her parents to Le Bonheur, a lovely B&B just outside Paarl for her 37th birthday on Friday 13th January 2017. The getaway was great. We got there on Thursday evening and enjoyed a lovely supper at a local restaurant just off the R45. I was in my element and said to myself “we must do this more often!”. Having unintentionally left my cell phone at home, I quickly realised that for the next 24 hours there would be no interruptions. No one could get hold of me. We remembered her birthday in Walvis Bay with great joy.

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Years ago the owner of Le Bonheur transformed the land and turned part of the estate into a CROCODILE farm. A beautiful lake with stunning views of the mountains greets you as the sun rises. I loved the tranquilty, birdwatching and the sight of horseback trail riders exploring the terrain. All of this, just an hour’s drive away from home. I was in paradise.

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The big attraction at Le Bonheur is the CROCODILE farm. Here you can get up close and personal with these ugly creatures. Inside the huge caged enclosure across open ponds via ramp walkways we stared at these powerful pre-historic predators. Their stillness was frightening. Until a worker with a noisy wheel barrow shook them from their slumber.

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Faster than the speed of light the CROCODILES were wide awake. I was terrified and marvelled at the natural power and speed of these giant lizards in motion. “Don’t mess with these guys” I said to myself. Our walkabout led us into a quaint cinema featuring a  DVD on the life of CROCODILES in the language of your own choice. Chairs removed from an old demolished bioscope added to the ambience. I sat in the front row glued to the presentation.

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Before long a friendly tour guide wandered into the space and we engaged in creative conversation asking all sorts of questions. “They have no tongues” he said “but they talk with their teeth” I jokingly thought. Working with CROCODILES was scary.

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“We feed them on hot days” mused the tour guide. “When that happens we have to supply 1000 chickens!”. The farmer runs his own chicken farm to meet the demand. Our new friend really knew how to connect with people. He told us about the meat, the skin and the cost of running a CROCODILE farm. In the shop next door, I could have walked away with a pair of CROCODILE skin moccasins for R3,800.00. Classy shoes! I loved the soft touch of the leather. The most I could afford was CROCODILE pie at lunch time.

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Soon another family from Cape Town arrived and the guide asked me if I would like to join the tour. I declined and went back to see Julia open her birthday presents. We spent the rest of the day just chatting, relaxing and talking about plans for the rest of the year. By the time Arlene and I got home, we felt relaxed, rested and refreshed. My New Year’s resolution comes from the Psalmist “Teach me, O Lord, to number my days”.

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Imagine my shock when the news broke that the tour guide Johan Burger had been mauled to death by CROCS on Saturday 14th January 2017 at the Le Bonheur CROCODILE farm. Just the day before I had spend quality time with this wildlife artist and enthusiast. It was the same man! He told me about his paintings of CROCODILES and how he planned to exhibit them on the Cinema wall. CROCODILE SHOCK reveals the importance of our interaction with people. We never know when we are going to meet again.

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I am glad I took time to see the look in his eyes about the things he enjoyed. I am glad I saw the smile on his face as he welcomed new visitors to Le Bonheur. I am glad that I felt the touch of his hand as we said goodbye. CROCODILE SHOCK?  We neither know the time nor the hour.

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DAY 478: COVENANT

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Some words really work for me in the Methodist COVENANT service: “I will be your  God and you shall be my people”.  John Wesley strongly urged the Methodist people to renew their COVENANT with God at the start of each new year.  The story begins in the French Church at Spitalfields in 1755. From then on, Methodists all over the world have annually shared in the unique liturgy of COVENANT.  They remind themselves of  what it means to live in relationship with God and others in the world.

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Whenever I marry couples, I take time to point to the statement in the prologue of the Marriage service that says: “as love grows and deepens with the years”. If we respond to the call of Christ and engage in the challenge to follow, we enter into an ongoing dialogue between faith and life. By God’s grace and love lives are transformed and we become a new creation.

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The Wesleys urged us to grow in holiness and love. We see it in the hymns that we sing and the challenges we face. The COVENANT service invites us to hear God’s offer and deepen our faith and commitment within a framework of pastoral care, preaching and guidance. This time of self examination sets the tone for the year ahead. With awe and reverence we approach the throne of grace. For in the face of Jesus we have seen God’s glory. The song of the angels still resides in our hearts as we sing “Glory to God in the Highest!”. We delight in God.

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Someone once said: “HOLINESS is a strong perfume … a little goes a long way”. We address God as our COVENANT friend and thank him for his loving care. God has been our light in darkness and a rock in adversity and temptation. During the service the miracle of dialogue kicks into gear. We remind ourselves of our baptism, how and where we have travelled over the years. Every pilgrimage tells a story. As generations before us have met, we renew the COVENANT that binds us to God.

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As Christ’s servants, we give ourselves to him, acknowledging that “Christ has many services to be done”. COVENANT  doesn’t beat around the bush. There’s an honesty in the liturgy: “Some are easy and honourable; others are more difficult and disgraceful”. The words suggest that there will be no lasting imprint on society from a Church that has drifted from its moorings or from Christians who do not know what they believe.

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Every generation has to grasp the basic doctrine of COVENANT in its own way. We cannot just close our eyes, with a big gulp, and swallow beliefs that were acceptable to our ancestors. Yet somehow the words: “Lord, make me what you will … let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you … I freely and with a willing heart give it ALL to your pleasure and disposal”. In claiming God’s COVENANT we rely upon God’s promise of giving grace and strength.

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“Let the COVENANT I have made on earth be ratified in heaven”. The COVENANT Service seeks to tap into the great unusual reservoir of human talent and potential. Clearly people matter most of all in today’s world. How we live and order our corporate life is the ongoing challenge. Those serious about transformation will find a way of life in COVENANT that shifts to an acceptance of authoritative  direction and transcends egocentricity.

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What am I saying? I think the church comes to people in unusual ways. God surprises us. COVENANT provokes discussion and in my book proposes projects that meet basic human need. Why? Because the COVENANT-love of God, translated as “loving-kindness” or “steadfast love” persists. Let Jesus, the one “Who went about doing good” (Acts 10:38) be our example and let COVENANT inspire us to be more like him as we head into 2017.

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