Monday, July 27, 2015

Anomalous Humans

There's a philosophical article out today, on which I did major editing. The thoughts are interesting (they are not mine, but the author's). A core observation is that animals are basically pro-social. Humans, by comparison, are aggressive and devious. This differs from the old view that we are separated from the beasts by our moral superiority. Therefore, writes the author, it makes better sense to study humans, not as animals like all the rest, but for their anomalous behaviour. The article is We Need Animal Cognition, Not Neuroscience.

Theoretical And Practical

A churchgoer asked me: "What's wrong with fornication?" -- as if to say that she couldn't see (all of) the point. I said: "I'll give you some examples from my counselling experience" -- and I portrayed some features of real-life situations. She said: "I didn't realise there's a whole big picture! You should make the congregation aware of that!" OBSERVATION: In fact, issues in general are so often dealt with from the perspective of theoretical rather than practical theology, and the two seem like different worlds.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Completing A Trilogy

I have struggled greatly with Part III of a trilogy of essays. Parts I and II have been unusually popular. They were published back in March. But Part III was put on ice at the time, because I couldn't quite make it work. Now Part III is open for comment, even if it is not yet final. It is here: Reason and Contradiction. OBSERVATION: The essay is supposed to look easy. What lies behind it was not.

Pressure To Give

A minister may come under intense personal pressure to help people financially -- seen apart from his or her Church’s charitable funds. Here is the solution that I found, after struggling with this for years. I set my personal charitable giving at 10% of my nett income per month, dividing this into daily amounts in order to keep track, and sometimes giving accumulated amounts. This seemed to work for me. And always, I have sought to give more than money: encouragement, counsel, help, and so on. OBSERVATION: Such pressure may be felt especially in missions, where missionaries from affluent backgrounds are sent into the midst of poor populations. I have often informed people (those asking for help) of my personal policy, sometimes with the promise of help another day.

Saturday, July 25, 2015


I met recently with a prominent minister. He said (strong words): "The biggest problem in the Church is people seeking control. It is evil. It is satanic. Where God is in control, you have the very opposite. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." OBSERVATION: He felt that control happens always through committees.


This is a photo of the Cerebos salt-works about 160km / 100mi north of Cape Town. It borders on a farm where I have frequently taken a break from ministry. One can walk along the narrow dykes between salt evaporation ponds -- also called salterns. OBSERVATION: The pinkish colour is due to algal concentrations called halophiles, and indicates high salinity. This is why some coarse natural salt in the shops has a pinkish tinge. You may click on the photo to enlarge.

The Pope's Encyclical

This week I read the pope's encyclical letter Laudato Si’, "on care for our common home" -- the first papal encyclical on the environment. I was interested above all to see whether he offered a "line". This is because, so often, the beginning and the end of reasons to respond to the problems of the environment is alarm, with little systematic thought. The pope does in fact have some deeper things to say, even if he does not develop them far: for instance, the inter-dependence of the creation, the goal of all living things, and the character of creation as a "gift", rather than something to be controlled. OBSERVATION: Whatever one says about the encyclical, it shows that the pope is "switched on". (Part of my own interest: I wrote a chapter on the Environment, published by the Society).

Friday, July 24, 2015

Bible Knowledge Exam

While studying for an MA at Fuller Theological Seminary, I wrote a three-hundred page Bible knowledge exam. How did I do? I flunked eleven of the sixty-six books of the Bible. However, I passed fifty-five, and obtained perfect scores for eleven. Some surprises: I flunked the Psalms, while I obtained a perfect score for the Song of Solomon. An adjunct professor told me that I was the only student who had ever scored highest for the historical books. OBSERVATION: At another Bible seminary, I scored zero for a Bible knowledge exam. It was a public exam, and in my youthful zeal I spoiled my submission, as I felt that it was an exercise in human pride.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Gum Trees

In some parts of South Africa, the Australian gum tree is about the only tree that will grow. However, we have just a few species here, unlike the fabulous variety one finds in Australia. Some locals hate gum trees with a passion, considering them aliens to be eradicated. The photo shows an avenue of gum trees which I photographed in front of an abandoned farmstead. Presumably this once was a road. You may click on the photo to enlarge to VGA.

Was It A Con?

Some of my most popular posts have been about con artists. The very best of cons, of course, might never be recognised as such. Here's one that I suspect to have been a con. A young man came to see me. He said: "Do you have an interest in Church history? I love Church history!" He dropped several Church history books on my desk, and ran off a few names: Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Spurgeon. I said: "You don't have the Pentecostal movement here." He looked confused. "Pentecostal? I'm not familiar with that term." But anyway, he couldn't afford his monthly fare to Bible college he said. Could I help him out? I helped him out -- but afterwards, I couldn't decide if I had been conned. I think I was.

Attributing People's Appreciation

This is a re-post five years old. The title of the post reflects the thought: To what would I attribute appreciation in ministry? Here is the original post: "I feel greatly loved and appreciated in my congregation -- and I think that I am -- in spite of my various flaws, which people seem to graciously overlook -- or forget. I attribute this to two things, and this is of course my own personal view, or speculation. Firstly, I seek to lead the congregation to the God who gives life and joy -- that is what they find through my ministry, yet not from me. Secondly, I seek to promote ministry by the members, and I know that this, too, is the source of life and joy -- yet again not from me."

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Heaped Abuse

It was a long road that led to this post. Following my resignation from urban ministry in my twentieth year, an attorney, who in turns represented the Church or the Church leadership, heaped abuse on me. In point form, the insults would fill a whole A4 / foolscap page. I don't wish to repeat them here (at least, not today). I said to someone, two or three would have seemed quite adequate. OBSERVATION: It is nothing new, nor is it an uncommon tale in ministry. One finds it already in the Old Testament. But this was very hard for me, and for this reason it was all the more heart-warming to receive the welcome which I did on my recent visit to my old Church.

Robber Fly

I photographed this beautiful critter on my car windscreen. It might look scary, however I think it is a harmless robber fly. While spiders catch flies, robber flies snatch spiders from their webs. OBSERVATION: As a robber fly, it would be way outside its normal range. I think it is true to say that, a decade ago, one did not find these flies as far south as Cape Town. You may click on the photo to enlarge to 210k.

Last Meeting

I do not know why my late wife poured all of her remaining energies into the local Church before she died, jettisoning her international responsibilities. She made her last public appearance three weeks before she died, at our thriving Women's Association. As she left the meeting, she said to me through her teeth (there were people all around us): “Hold me! Walk! Don't let me fall!” As we walked out of the Church through the Church foyer, she said decisively: “So! That was my last meeting!” And it was. OBSERVATION: She had survived critical illness for one year.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Greek Yoghurt

I do try my hand at ... culinary pursuits sometimes. Wife E. was struggling to find Greek yoghurt in the shops -- so I made some last night (pictured). Here's how: Bring a litre of milk to a simmer. For Greek yoghurt, mix in five tablespoons of powdered milk. Allow this to cool to about 45°C (113°F). Mix in half a cup of plain yoghurt, then keep it all at 45°C for twelve hours. Add sugar to taste. OBSERVATION: There are yoghurt makers which keep the yoghurt at the required temperature.