Saturday, September 20, 2014

Culture Club

What would distinguish your Church from a culture club? In my experience, culture may frequently be the dominant determining factor in a Church. And through that culture, the Church may lose what is truly precious to the Church. Yet if people value something other than that which is truly precious, then a culture club may indeed be that which fulfils their desires. It will be no better, though, than an imitation of the real thing -- stagnant waters compared with the living waters of Jesus. OBSERVATION: In fact, some theologians may say (to put it too simply) that a Church is just that: a culture. George Lindbeck, for example, and Hans Frei.

Affectionate Greeting

A young woman this morning called me 'Papa'. I said, as a matter of interest: "To think that when I was a young man, the children called me kleinbaas." She said: "I'm so sorry! In our culture, 'Papa' is a mark of affection! It is a mark of respect!" I said: "I know." She said: "I do not mean that you are an old man! You are not old. Not yet!" OBSERVATION: In her (Xhosa) culture, people routinely greet each other with affectionate terms, as one might speak to one's closer family members in mine. As soon as they greet someone in my culture, it is typically with more formal terms.


Here's a photo, for the fun of it, of the nearly-completed lounge and kitchen of our little house. It is less than three metres wide, but a quality production with a high ceiling and beautiful surrounds. The ladder on the left is my own design, with access to the attic taking up a mere 0.3 square metres / yards of floor space. A wall as back-rest makes it easy to climb. As will be seen, there are two holes in the far wall. A "Dover Stove" (actually a Desert Fire) will be installed on the left, and a large sink on the right, with water warmed by the sun. The house's front door is off the photo to the right, and exits onto a small balcony.

Friday, September 19, 2014

First Day In The Mission

I remember my first day in the mission, as a young boy. We weighed anchor off Ocean Island. It was hot and humid.  The sky was clear, and the ocean heaving.  We needed to jump from a rope ladder into a launch.  Timing was critical.  With every swell of the ocean, the launch drifted from the ship, then slammed back into its side. I was already in the launch when my father jumped -- but his timing was wrong.  He fell into the breach between the launch and the ship.  The launch slammed into him.  His sunglasses -- his only pair -- went to the bottom of the ocean.  An islander pulled him from the ocean with a badly grazed leg.  I could see that he was suffering. “Look!” someone said. “Sharks!”  I saw their fins in the water all around us. I was in quarantine when we arrived on Ocean Island -- for measles -- and was hurriedly taken to a room with high ceilings and shuttered windows ...

Underground Vein

Paying a weekly visit to our little house in Tesselaarsdal today (under construction), here is a problem that we need to solve: a vein. That is, a little stream running underground. A temporary fix is a trench (pictured) while we think of what to do. OBSERVATION: It's good that we did our building in the winter. In the summer we might not have picked this up.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A.E. Wilder-Smith

I commented recently on an article on the origins of life, claiming that I was a "novice". Then it occurred to me: not entirely. One of my professors was A.E. Wilder-Smith, a Dr. of Physical Organic Chemistry, and a Dr. (twice) of Pharmacological Sciences. Under him, I needed to study the origins of life. He was unique in a way, in that he took both evolutionists and creationists to task. He was a three-star general, too, and a pacifist. He was a big, kindly, approachable professor who had dinner with us and spoke with us by the fireside. An Englishman, he spoke fluent German (and I only spoke German with him). He left a deep impression on me.

"The Devil's Church"

Many times, I have heard people refer to their old Church as "the devil's Church" -- and a few times I have heard ministers speak that way. But here, the old theological concepts of Visible and Invisible Church come to mind (although these are contested afresh today). Personally, I would see the Visible Church much as I would see the Biblical Israel: even under the worst of circumstances, it was not the devil's possession, but very much in God's power. However, it may or may not have been under the judgement of God. Then, to cast it in the same terms, I would see the Invisible Church as the Biblical Remnant: always blessed and protected by God. OBSERVATION: Many famous hymns refer to the devil's aspirations or operations in the Church, for example the "foul fiend" of John Bunyan and the "alt’ böse Feind" of Martin Luther. But that is not to say that it is ever "the devil's Church".


Many years ago, I told a children's story in Church, using a gold coin. I put down the coin at the altar, was briefly distracted after the service, and it was gone. I thought I knew who took it, but I didn't want to accuse anyone without being sure of my facts. Our office secretary said: "I know who it is!" But she didn't. She couldn't. She walked up to a woman in Church and said: "You took the coin! Hand it over! Now!" The woman handed it over. I still have it today. (Our secretary and I made the same guess).

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


For want of much to say today, this is on the menu in Dassiesfontein, about 100km/60mi east of Cape Town. It is called beeskerriepastei -- served here on an enamel coated plate. All dishes in Dassiesfontein are prepared on a wood-fired stove. You may click on the photo to enlarge to 200k.

Putting In A Word

In my experience, a minister, in his or her role as an "advocate", may break through complete impasses without any reference to the impasse -- in situations where the minister might not have had success in any other way. Here's a real example. A teenager was barred from his final school exams because his mother couldn’t pay the fees. It was a well known school. I called the vice-principal, introduced myself, and said I was the young man's minister -- no more. The vice-principal said: “This is an internal matter. I don’t feel the need to justify our actions. The decision cannot be reversed. Under the circumstances, we’ve been good to the boy.” I thanked him for his kindness, and his time. The mother then decided to approach the school one more time -- and the school announced an about-turn. The vice-principal said to her: “Check in here every day, and pay what you can for that day.” And she did. OBSERVATION: In fact in some cases, a minister may be asked for advocacy in dangerous situations -- then this approach may be all the more appropriate. We had prayed for a solution here, too -- and prayed-for solutions tend to surprise one.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Church On The Edge

I was heard to say, earlier this year, that if a Church has a deficit, or if it is on the edge, that's the way it's supposed to be. Not surprisingly, one or two people looked puzzled if not perplexed. Alternatively, one may think that a Church should be in a sound financial position (whichever way one might define that), or that a Church should deliberately be over-spending (one minister asked me where one's faith is if one doesn't -- another said that one should always be over-spending by one-third). OBSERVATION: It is for a number of spiritual reasons that I say a Church should be on the edge, not least that the Lord Himself would have it so. However, I do think that every Church should be striving for the best.

Judith Durham

I was surprised to receive "love and best wishes" from Judith Durham this morning. She reached stardom in the 1960's, singing, among other songs, Georgy Girl, The Carnival is Over, and A World of Our Own. My own favourite is I'll Never Find Another You. I told her a story which I briefly mention on this blog at Networked World. She and her group, The Seekers, have just had sold out tours in Australia and the UK, including concerts at the Royal Albert Hall.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Signs Of The Times

An interesting thing happened at the centre of the Little Karoo in July. They stopped selling English newspapers. A month later, the last English Church in the area (my own) turned bilingual. The photo shows St. Luke's Anglican Church, which dropped English a few years earlier -- at the time, one of only two English Churches. OBSERVATION: Someone told me on Saturday that Afrikaans is fast going the same way. At one time, English was a major language in the area.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Beyond The Fact-Value Dichotomy

The fact-value distinction is an unsolved problem of vast proportions in philosophy. Hilary Putnam made a well known effort to address it, in Beyond the Fact-Value Dichotomy. With my own attempt being read about as much as Putnam's at the moment, here is a summary of my "stab" at a solution: Solving the Fact-Value Dichotomy:
There are no facts in this world, as is supposed, only relations. Therefore there has been what is called a category mistake. Look at the things around you: they are all related to each other in a certain way, in space and in time. And then there are relations within relations, within relations. Sometimes things are related with one another as they ought to be -- that's when we say that it's a fact. And sometimes things are related with one another as they ought not to be -- that's when we talk about value. Now this insight may be applied both to the natural and the human sciences, and it serves to reconcile them. At the same time, the so-called postmodern condition, at least in theory, is solved.


Yesterday I substantially updated my (click here) Linkedin profile. It probably is the most complete formal information about me that is "out there". Apart from the boring stuff, I have held three consulent ministries, three chairmanships, and I obtained two degrees cum laude. My "core" ministries were particularly long in duration. OBSERVATION: A few things are still missing from my profile. For instance, some early editorships, and a lot of writing -- and voluntary work, the most interesting of which was ended through a petrol-bombing.