Thursday, July 27, 2017

Social Pressures And Ministry

News headlines yesterday revealed that mental health spending in South Africa had nearly doubled in the past five years, mostly driven by depression. At least, that was the experience of one major health insurance company. This has everything to do with ministry, and urban ministry in particular. As pressures mount in society, so pressures increase for ministry. OBSERVATION: My own most striking experience was just before the first xenophobic attacks in South Africa, nine years ago. We had many working class people in our congregation, and I had been in extraordinary demand for counselling and crisis intervention as pressures mounted. One week before riots broke out across the city, a doctor briefly booked me off for "burnout".

Electronic Jewellery

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In 2003, I designed this piece of "electronic jewellery" called the Jazzy Heart (click on Play). The Australian publishers Silicon Chip commented: "The Jazzy Heart really is jazzy. It needs to be seen to be appreciated -- preferably accompanied with a fast disco beat." OBSERVATION: In 2004, the Jazzy Heart became the Jazzy Necklace, which publishers Wimborne, in an editorial, predicted would go into production. It did, as the strobe necklace, now ubiquitous in discos. The attraction of the design was its simplicity, using off-the-shelf components.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Two Clans

Last week I had the privilege of meeting the clan on my wife's father's side -- many of whom I had not met before. The photo shows members of the younger generation in particular. OBSERVATION: There seems to be a large difference between this my wife's father's clan, and my wife's mother's clan, who I have known for some years now. Her mother's clan is more patriarchal, more clan-conscious, more traditional, with a simpler way of life. It is closer to Xhosa roots -- in fact, it is Xhosa roots. Her father's clan is one or more generations removed from Xhosa forebears. It is this clan which is descended from the great King Mpondo.

Church Protest

It is the first time I have spoken about this. In 2012, there was a protest in my Church, while I was away. When I heard the news, I was so upset -- that anyone could protest in a holy place -- that I needed a doctor. But after the close of my ministry, I am told, such behaviour only got worse. OBSERVATION: It emerged that a young woman said during that protest: “The minister is asking for more than we can give.” I asked an independent Church consultant therefore to investigate and report back to the congregation. He reported that I was a “sacrificial” minister, and incapable of stating my needs.

House Numbers

One of the most popular posts on this blog is a house number in a township. Every house begins with a standard issue number: a stencilled black number on a white background. Then people become creative. There is such variety and colour, one could create a coffee-table book on township house numbers.  Sometimes, too, there is a special story behind them.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Family Mechanic

I was set for a long journey last week, so I asked a well known garage / workshop in central Cape Town to check my CV joints before I left. They declared that everything was in perfect order. The photo is taken 1 000km into my journey. A CV joint failed. It seems a quintessentially South African story. OBSERVATION: He's a brother-in-law. They say it's useful to have a doctor and an attorney among one's relatives. We have a mechanic -- he's also an ordained evangelist -- and he's saved the day for many of us.

Attuned To Words (Not)

Western couples are very much attuned to words. But as I began to know wife E, I needed to re-learn fast. Her African culture was not attuned to words, but to feelings, dispositions, realities, seasons. One often communicated without words. OBSERVATION: For some time, this was distressing for me, who was used to words -- but now I find that it has "expanded my world". I have become aware of a lot that I wasn't aware of before, not only in E, but in her broader culture -- even beyond.

Church Disaster

My Karoo Church suffered a great disaster. First, a rare storm hit the Church, and ripped the roof apart. I took the photo yesterday. But for that, everything would have continued evenly. However, given the massive damage, someone outside the situation blundered in, perhaps meaning to do it all better, but they did it in such a way as to
• lose the Church Council,
• lose the Church’s insurance, and
• lose a thriving congregation.
OBSERVATION: I do not (yet) have a clear picture. Important to me is this: I like to be secure in “how I am situated” in a Church. In this Church, in terms of my call, I have not had any control of the Church. I am called to spiritual ministry. It is not my place to walk in and take charge, not even in disaster. I am, as ever, on good terms with the Church Council, on good terms with the congregation, and I am always available to help. Notice incidentally how the storm revealed weak and cheap construction. The building was raised “single-handedly”, so to speak, by a predecessor, a cousin of former State President F.W. de Klerk. My feeling about all this: “You know ... really!” People. It is very sad. And wife E, in response, sang hymns.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Mobile Office

D (pictured) is an uncle of wife E's. He is an ordained pastor, and a successful entrepreneur with an interesting story. He told me, when I took this photo today, that he was in his mobile office.

Reversed Priorities

Many of the posts on this blog are the direct result of an instruction of my late wife Mirjam, that I should marry E. I took E as my wife two years and a day after Mirjam died. It was an arranged marriage, basically. Some thought I had gone mad. Others were deeply happy for me. Some condemned it, or whispered strange rumours. It was a reversal of priorities, as one finds a reversal of priorities in the Bible. Mirjam reversed worldly priorities in her life, and so did I. OBSERVATION: While I don’t know what God has in mind in the totality of things, I do know that E and I have been content, and that E has greatly promoted my calling from God.

Women's Groups

Throughout my ministr(ies), we have had strong women’s groups. One Women’s Association found itself in the curious position of being the only remaining Women’s Association in the United Women’s Association. I have called women’s groups the “backbone” of a Church. Often they are elderly – yet generally speaking, a strong component of elderly people – on condition that this is balanced with other age groups – has been shown to promote growth in the Church. OBSERVATION: Since this is, in a sense, an “educational” blog, a potential problem with older women is that they may become downhearted – one might say negative – but with spiritual encouragement, this is always overcome. The photo was taken at the end of 2012.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Return To No Water

I just spent two nights in a small township in the Eastern Cape. As is common in South African townships, there was just one household tap. And it worked. Now back in a major township in the Western Cape, there is again no water at all. None. For a household of (at the moment) ten. Nor does anybody else have any water here. One woman, in desperate need, walked to the fire station half a township away. In the Eastern Cape, people jokingly say: "A better life for all!" (the ANC’s election slogan). Here, in the Western Cape, the government is the opposition DA: "One nation, one future!" OBSERVATION: Perhaps I have seen the future. This wears on one. On me, anyway. Our hosts, however, have been ever cheerful and generous.

POSTSCRIPT: I since found a brief municipal announcement of 1 June 2017: "George Municipality has implemented water restrictions to ensure the water safety of George." This includes the area in which I stayed. Does this account for the water cuts? I don't know, and neither does anyone else I know.

Giving The Bride Away

I took the photo yesterday at a wedding. It is the father giving away the bride. Notice the colour of the father’s shirt. Bridal parties are often colour co-ordinated, while guests are invited to wear the same. The mother of the bride said to her daughter: “We longed for you to come and tell us that you would marry. And you did.” OBSERVATION: It was a modest township Church, as one might discern from the photo. An Anglican Church. You may click on the photo to enlarge.

Lost In Africa

I was lost at sea in the Pacific once with a few men on an open boat, between Maiana and Tarawa atolls. One says there, in such a situation: “Look at the sky!” We stood still in the boat, and looked at the sky. One may see the sun, or the moon, or the stars. One may see birds. One may see clouds. Or in this case, we saw the faint reflection of Tarawa against the sky. Last night, wife E and I were “lost in Africa”. All was black. There was no traffic on the road. It was not the right road. I got out of the car / automobile, and looked at the sky. I saw the stars. We were headed almost in the right direction. I saw a faint glow against the sky – a village about fifteen miles away. That's where we wanted to be. OBSERVATION: What works in the Pacific works in Africa, in its own way. Incidentally, in the Pacific, one says next: “Look at the ocean!” Maybe in another post.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Financial Ethos

Being “born a Congregationalist”, I have long absorbed the Congregational ethos with regard to Church finance. A Congregational Church is governed by the congregation, which is the members. The authority of the congregation is above all spiritual. Therefore all financial decision-making is subserviant to that. In fact, sometimes, Congregational decisions may seem completely counter-intuitive to a (general) treasurer. Elders and deacons then, as a body, typically do “forward work”, a term which in itself rules out much autonomy for them, if any autonomy at all. They are obliged to carry out only decisions of the members. In some cases, however, the elders and deacons (again, as a body) may be given some modest autonomy, usually less than 1% of the annual budget without authorisation of the members. I remember one Congregational minister chastising me for saying it was as much as 1%. Traditionally, a Congregational Church treasurer is said to be the “least among equals”. He or she voluntarily relinquishes all influence in financial decision-making when taking on the treasurership, yet has a single vote if desired. Often, the constitution specially limits his or her term of office, more so than is the case with anyone else. A possible exception is an Honorary Secretary. OBSERVATION: Old school Congregationalists react with shock if it happens any other way, chiefly on the basis of the spiritual principles involved.