Friday, August 18, 2017

What Is Conscience?

Conscience has various definitions. Usually it would be something like an inner voice which, every now and then, speaks. Christians famously claim that one's conscience is corrupted. For me personally, I have understood conscience as including depression, anxiety, stress, and so on. Supposing, then, that I should feel anxious. That is my conscience speaking to me and urging me to act, or to correct course. OBSERVATION: Conscience, then, for me personally, is something far broader than is normally understood by conscience. In fact I find this a very helpful perspective.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Missing Pension

The last thing that the Rev. Horwood said to me – he died this week – was: “Have you given up on your pension, Tom?” I said: “No.” He said with panache: “Good!” Then he got up and said: “This breakfast is on me.” He was referring to my city Church, which failed to pay me the larger part of my pension of nearly 20 years – a very large sum. I asked the Church’s tax adviser what had happened to my pension. He wrote back: “The Scriptures teach us that in adversity, we are still conquerors, and Jesus is with the oppressed.” Again and again, the Church sent me lawyer’s letters, demanding that I forfeit (quote) “all and any claims of whatsoever nature and howsoever arising from the contract of employment that existed”. A consultant reported that he found no such contract. Well, yes, said city attorneys, it looked as though I was right about the missing pension. Then they quoted me R300 000 to claim it in the High Court.

Capetonian Caterpillar

Isn't it cute? It's a Capetonian Caterpillar -- a very big one at that -- that I photographed in the city centre. It was aware of my presence -- which perhaps it should be, looking so fat and juicy. You may click on the photo to enlarge.

Where Was Daniel?

It's funny how people pick up what they "ought not to" in Bible study. I led a Bible study last night on Nebuchadnezzar's golden image -- Daniel Chapter 3. Nebuchadnezzar summoned the governors (among others) to worship the image he had made. Daniel was a governor. So why was Daniel not thrown into the furnace for refusing to worship the image? His three friends were. Of course, the answer is a mystery. Someone had an original suggestion: Daniel was the fourth man in the furnace. OBSERVATION: Maybe Daniel was on a diplomatic mission. Maybe he was ill. I said it teaches us to beware of "arguments from silence": arguments based on the absence of statements, rather than their presence.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Court Appearance

Today I attended the court appearance of a prominent student leader. The court was crowded, mostly by students -- surely beyond capacity. More interesting than the court proceedings, however, was the fact that I was seated between two academics, who discussed the dynamics of the university while, for one hour, the court was delayed. This was the best of educations, but really quite frightening. Now to the evidence advanced in court. My overall impression, among many, was that the quality of evidence was poor.

POSTSCRIPT: I left during an adjournment. After that, the matter was postponed. I said that's an expensive postponement, because it needn't have happened -- about ten officers of the court are postponed. Someone said, that's what's supposed to happen.

† Roger Horwood

A friend, the Rev. Roger Horwood, died this week (pictured). He was for many years a colleague in the Atlantic Area, a Congregationalist like me, ministering in a Church which had historical ties with mine. Until his death, we met regularly for breakfast. He said: "I enjoy having breakfast with you Tom!" As evangelical city ministers, as is often the case, we seemed to be of one heart and mind. Also, ministers are so familiar with sickness and death that they don't pay much attention to it -- which Roger could do with, I think, being terminally ill. The last time we met, he said that heaven was God's re-creation of the world. "It'll be just like this," he said, only in all its glory. He said he disagreed with the theologians who said he wouldn't be sailing any boats there. OBSERVATION: Roger was always mildly irascible, which was one of his endearing traits.

POSTSCRIPT: Rev. Horwood's funeral is on Monday the 21st at 10:00 am, at Common Ground Church, Rondebosch.

Praise And Worship

It is a question which is much bigger than it seems. Many times, in ministry, people have asked me what the difference is between praise and worship. I have made the distinction like this: praise is about what God does, and worship is about who God is. In systematic theology, that is the two big areas of God's Person and Work. OBSERVATION: In keeping with this, I have always sought to have both praise and worship hymns in a service. Worship hymns are more popular now, perhaps in some measure because more recent theologies neglect the interventionist God (His work). At the same time, worship hymns remind us that we serve Him for Himself (His person), not only because of his works, or anticipated works: health, wealth, comfort, advancement ...

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Three Streams

E and I live about five minutes' walk away from a World Heritage Site. Taking a footpath for the first time on Sunday, we found three small streams -- with one spring -- within about ten minutes' walk of our home. One of the three rivulets is shown here. OBSERVATION: One home-owner had tapped into the spring with a PVC pipe. South Africans are ever enterprising -- in this case tapping World Heritage Site water for private use. In fact it was two home-owners, except that the second one had a broken pipe. That may be the result of other enterprising South Africans making off with part of the pipe.

Rough Draft

Yesterday I completed, at last, a rough draft of a complete, book-length metaphysic (a total philosophy), and entrusted copies to a few people. My sister commented: "I almost printed it out but saw just in time that it's rather long ..." Now comes the task of turning a rough draft into a draft (but rough is not actually that rough). OBSERVATION: For any metaphysic to work, one has to come up with a new principle which breaks through the interminable habit of philosophers to put down other philosophers, and to contradict them. This is the opening theme of the book. The philosopher Jacques Derrida called that a "return to origins". I note: "It is vital that a new metaphysic should begin with a good grasp of the causes of our past confusion, or it seems unlikely that we shall escape them."

Winter Flowers

These are bunches of miniscule flowers -- winter flowers -- in Cape Town's Urban Park. Unfortunately there is no size comparison. Nor do I know their name. You may click on the photo to enlarge.

‘This Crazy’

Recently a memo turned up, which I had written to elders and deacons in my city Church. In terms of the Constitution, I wrote, all payments should be authorised as per §20.d. and all cheques should be made out as per §24.c. I noted that members had recently reaffirmed these regulations. The treasurer shot off a reply: “This crazy! You cannot operate by everything going thru a ‘committee’ ...” and so on. Well, what is the alternative to a committee? OBSERVATION: It wasn’t mere frustration. It was actually happening, that regulations were being ignored. Much of this only really became apparent during the last year. The moral of the story is: words are not mere words.

Monday, August 14, 2017

A Constitution Is Not A Guideline

A few years ago, the Church in the Pacific had a problem. Office-bearers of the Church acted on the premiss that the Church Constitution "is not a binding document as it is only a guideline". Some -- in fact many -- challenged it. Now, in a "strong" judgement, the national Court of Appeal judged unanimously that a Church Constitution was not a guideline, but the "supreme authority" in the Church. Now that that decision is in place, it looks as though the officers who acted as if it had been a mere guideline have nowhere to run. OBSERVATION: In the Congregational Church, it is literally sacrilege to treat a constitution as a mere guideline. My city Church had this issue at the close of my ministry and thereafter, making crucial decisions, not least about ministry, on the basis that the Constitution was a mere guideline. Today there are a number of police investigations, and depending how one looks at it, it may come down to that.

Picture From The Pacific

This kid has attitood! Today, for the first time, I saw a photo of the grandchild of my boyhood guardian, Temeeti. My father was an itinerant missionary in the Pacific, travelling from island to island, village to village. Temeeti provided for our family in primitive circumstances, where Europeans would not survive. I followed him everywhere like a lamb. We caught octopus, slaughtered chickens, husked coconuts ... He cut my hair, picked me up asleep in village meeting houses, helped me safely off boats. He had a very big influence on my life. I believe he deeply changed my outlook on the world, perhaps more than anyone apart from my parents.

‘Him Or Me’

This isn’t a gentle post. It’s about the realities of urban ministry. Around the year 2000, in city ministry, the stresses in our suburb became intense. I suffered much abuse. Once I suffered concussion when a man wearing a kufi assaulted me. Every time I turned the corner to the Church, I prayed: “Lord have mercy.” I found that thoughts of resignation were going through my head. I shared my feelings with the Church. They said they couldn’t afford to lose me, and they stood behind me as one man. I wasn’t the only one with such feelings -- it was local business people, too. We held a combined meeting with police at the Church. However, the police chief was indecisive. Ultimately I decided: “It’s him or me.” I took him on as if that were true. OBSERVATION: This did bring significant relief – however real salvation came through FIFA World Cup regulations. And it wasn't long before the chief was replaced by a “tough guy” from the Serious and Violent Crimes Unit.

The Modern Stoic

Last week I edited an article submission by my (perhaps / hopefully) future daughter-in-law, on the subject of (click here) The Modern Stoic. It was published this morning. I would think it goes against the trend of modern thinking. The Stoics were ... well, stoical. They consoled themselves by accepting the inevitable.OBSERVATION: Personally, I think this essay might have some lasting appeal: it is both thoughtful and pleasant. It will be interesting to see public comment, since it is "not the usual". I edited this one mostly for flow, otherwise it is quite close to the original submission.