Thursday, June 29, 2017

Privy On Stilts

The photo is an unusual one, of something that no longer exists: in the background, a privy on stilts, in the Gilbert Islands. These were perched high above lagoons, and were accessed by balancing on logs. I needed to learn as a young boy how to use these houses. I remember it well. OBSERVATION: One of my playmates slipped on the logs and was killed. In the foreground, islanders are processing copra -- used to make margarine, coconut oil, and fodder, among other things. It is  curiously classed as "dangerous goods" because of its spontaneous combustion.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Bible Study Stand-In

A bishop asked me to stand in for him tonight, to conduct a Bible study. Being the time of year when things break up for holidays / vacation, it was a modest group (pictured). We did a grand tour of the gospel, as found in Titus 3. It begins with sin, and ends with glory. Paul writes to Titus: "I want you to insist on these things ... These things are excellent and profitable." OBSERVATION: I added a few of my own trademarks: a hymn of praise at the beginning, and an encouraging handout.

Why Social Engagement

I have written one or two papers on how the Church may reconcile the personal and the social gospel. Those papers served to provide a conceptual foundation for how it may be done. But in simple terms, I was saying this. In Titus 3, we read that rebirth (which is first) brings about "renewal of the Holy Spirit". As a result, we "devote ourselves to good works". Yet Christians further "need to learn" how to do this. In summary, our social interest is a result of our renewal. It simply happens and has to happen, because we have changed. But we may need some help to learn what it means. OBSERVATION: In my city ministry especially, we had a strong social ministry, and this was plain to see. I said a few times that it seemed strange, in that we did not do it deliberately.

Church Intern

It's another pretty picture -- of a Church intern in central Cape Town. This one has a trademark gold tooth. She said recently -- as many interns do -- that she hadn't imagined there was that much involved, behind the scenes, in the running of a Church.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

What Can (And Did) Happen

This post shows what can and did happen in a Church, my Church. A banker, two months ago, showed me the financial "system within a system" that individuals in my old Church had created. This is (some of) what it means. The Church's accounts clerk e-mailed me, the minister, the following list of deposits to the Church (on the left), from friends of the Church. I have blanked out their names.

During this same period, I myself made a deposit to the Church of R21 405 (on the right). I did this anonymously, on someone's behalf. I have blanked out my own account balance here. But my own deposit, as one sees, was missing from the deposits list. OBSERVATION: It is now clear that, if this had not been my own deposit, it would have been impossible for me to pick up directly that it was missing from the list. Others were in the same position, including the auditor and trustees.

Missing Me

Every time I visit my old city Church (as I did last week), somebody calls me up afterwards: "I have heard that you were there!" As if this were news that I never heard. "I miss you!" says my caller. "You were there and I was not! I miss you!" OBSERVATION: It was the funeral of a member who died in high old age. I have said that, even before a word is spoken, a funeral speaks volumes about the deceased. Although she was in her nineties, the funeral was surprisingly well attended, by a surprisingly diverse crowd. And the spirit was good. Such things alone speak very well of someone. In high old age, it may be the exception.

Salaries vs. Missions

I took a photo of this pie graph on the noticeboard of a city Church on Sunday. It is a graph of Church expenditure, and it would seem to be quite typical. The light blue represents salaries. The orange represents Church ministries and missions. I shall leave the rest aside here. Sometimes, people respond to such graphs: "So little money for missions? So much poured into salaries?" OBSERVATION: I take the view that a Church's best missionaries may be the people who are covered by the salaries. Yes, one needs to go out into all the world, but in a thriving Church, salaries are not just about internal maintenance. They may have an enormous impact for God's kingdom. Often, too, people who are redeemed through the work of those salaries relocate into all the world.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Young Leader

I took this photo on Sunday of a recent economics graduate leading the morning service. He did well. OBSERVATION: Many young people, such as him, are at the moment keenly interested in political developments, seeking to come to terms with profound ideological conflicts, and seeking to approach it all from a faith perspective. Just yesterday the Fragile States Index judged that South Africa was "no longer stable", and was "dangerously fragmenting, and rapidly so". Our society makes me think of dictionaries of philosophy: everything you read on one page is disputed on another.

Finding A Good Church

Churchgoers have often asked me: "How do I know that I am in a good Church?" This is what I say in reply: "Listen what the minister is saying, and listen what he is not saying." He (or she) may be saying that the Lord rose from the dead, there is eternal life for all who believe in Him, we should love one another, and so on. But this doesn't yet tell you that you are in a good Church. When one listens carefully, such preaching may miss critical points of the gospel -- such that it really cannot be considered the gospel at all. OBSERVATION: There are some useful summaries of the gospel at (click here) (bearing in mind that salvation from sin is just the beginning). Is any of it missing in your Church, or fairly much absent?

Keeping Warm

How does one keep warm on a short-term missions trip, when the temperature drops below zero? Here's how. I took the video on a mission to the Orange Free State in 2014, which brought together eleven Churches. OBSERVATION: Hundreds of children had the gospel explained to them, apparently for the first time.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Debating Privilege

A minister told me yesterday of outrage in a multiracial Church over a colleague who said that Whites had been privileged through inherited wealth. It could be any Church, today -- it is a common theme. The outraged members were Whites who said they had grown up in poverty. They left. OBSERVATION: My own family (which includes me) was poor, and for a few years very poor. I can see some differences, though. My family (potentially) had an escape hatch, while others did not, and we had preferential treatment in various ways. At the same time, I think one needs to consider what "privilege" is. The word tends to be used narrowly. Whether one is born Black or White, one has great privileges, only they may well be of different kinds. And some privileges we call curses.

POSTSCRIPT: The South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko wrote about "privilege at the expense of others". To define that would be important.

Another Niece

This is again a photo of one of my (almost) innumerable nieces. The daughter of my wife's sister, she is a favourite photo subject. OBSERVATION: Partly because she just doesn't mind. You may click on the photo to enlarge.

Cruel Narrative

Many times, I have said a major problem I have with narrative or postliberal theology is its cruelty. It tends to treat life-impairing suffering as an unfortunate necessity. God Himself (merely) “understands” or is “present”, yet this world “is going to claim more and more victims”. Of course, (they say) it is going to get better. In the interim, however, “necessarium est ut scandala eveniant.” The scandal is necessary. So wrote Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who foreshadowed narrative theology. Such thinking may be bearable in North America or Europe, but in Africa it is cruel. OBSERVATION: Contrast this with the interventionist God of Africa. My first quotes are from J├╝rgen Moltmann and Letty Russell.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

On The Road Again

Every cloud has a silver lining. My four-wheeler's electrics blew out (again) tonight, so I hastily took my three-wheeler (pictured) out of mothballs. It started first time, after standing for more than half a year outside. This man helped me get it on the road again. OBSERVATION: My three-wheeler has the "crooked legs" one sees here due to its suspension, which is similar to the old VW Beetle. That also had "crooked legs", depending how it was loaded. I am told that my three-wheeler (a Mahindra Alfa) borrowed a lot from the VW Beetle.

Editorial Feathers Fly

I co-edit a philosophy weekly, as one of three co-editors (one of whom is inactive at the moment). Recently, one of my own articles was published, on the two biggest mistakes of lingusitics (click here): Language: Two Himalayan Mistakes. My co-editor called it "narrow", "specialised", "obscure". Yesterday he commented in public (with some humour I think): "J'accuse!" which one dictionary defines as "bitter denunciation". However, I am pleased to report that the article is doing quite well, and our readership has seen an obvious boost since its publication. It is safely at the top of our Top of the Pops. OBSERVATION: In the article, I suggest a re-definition of what definitions are. My co-editor wonders whether I would define "empty" as "full". Well, yes, maybe. The article (and the comments) explain it.