Dion's random ramblings

Friday, October 12, 2007

Celebrating a powerful life! Happy Birthday Pete!

There are some people who change one's life more than they would ever know...

Today I offer thanks to God, and celebrate, my friend Peter Grassow's life - some years ago on this very day (13 October) Peter Grassow was born into the manse of a Methodist ministerial family (Pete can tell you how many years ago it was).

Pete is a follower of Christ, the kind of follower who doesn't compromise on the Gospel (even when it has consequences!) He is just, humane, loving, gracious, fair, prophetic (yup, we've just been talking about that). Oh, and he rides a large BMW motorbike and has done 12 Comrades Marathons (which means he must also be just a little bit crazy!!!)

I have known Pete for over a decade now. He has been a mentor and a guide, offering wise counsel, the ear of a friend, but also challenge and rebuke where necessary. Pete is the friend who will phone me to tell me that I am not spending enough time with my wife and children. He's also the kind of friend who phones me just about every week without fail, simply to ask how my relationship with God is going! What's even better is that he is willing to listen, and not offer advice (unless I ask for it). He's the kind of person I am pleased to follow and learn from. He gave me my first real teaching post - teaching New Testament at the College he runs in Cape Town.

Pete serves as a Pastor of a Church in Cape Town. He is a gifted preacher, a great teacher, a published author (more than a few times over), and he's one of the best leaders I know. He has been jailed for his stance against the Apartheid regime... He has faced the struggle of being the only white minister to serve in a black congregation (during a time when it was both illegal, and just not done, in both South Africa, and the Methodist Church). But more importantly, he loves Christ, loves his wife Jen, and his 3 daughters. I learn a lot from him

Happy Birthday Pete! You're a gift! And no, I don't say that to all the boys!

If you want to wish Pete a Happy Birthday (even if you don't know him), please drop him a note on his blog www.rockinthegrass.blogspot.com.

Much love from Dion, Megan, Courtney and Liam

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Friday, October 05, 2007

A year ago today... The sadness of a bureaucrat... But, tomorrow is another day!

It was the 4th of October 2006. I was dressed in a jacket and tie. Megie was about five and a half months pregnant with Liam, it was just before a week long retreat with my friends Peter Woods, Peter Grassow (above) and Kevin Needham.... A year ago today I graduated with a Doctorate in Theology. You can read more about that week here (look for the past dated 6 October 2006).

So much has changed since then! Most magnificent of all of those changes was the birth of our little miracle, Liam. I can hardly believe that he is almost a year old!

Tonight I celebrate and give thanks for Liam as I end another day of fasting - I have done 48 of these so far, every Friday for children, parents, and those who long to be parents. I do it because God knows the intensity of my gratitude and the sincerity of my intercessory prayer.

But, I am also sad - maybe I'm just hungry and pensive, but I feel sad. I miss Peter Woods - he is preparing for his year long retreat and has long since stopped blogging. I feel like I have lost a good friend. I mourn the fact that next year there will be no Phase 1 center at Plumstead in Cape Town. I wasn't involved in the final move that saw all the students from that District being placed elsewhere, but I feel guilty. Somehow as each year passes my sense of responsibility and culpability grows within the Church. Responsibility, because like most of our Church's leaders I also wish to help to make the Church more faithful so that we can honour God by bringing healing and transformation to the world, but also culpable since I realise how inadequate I am to achieve that, but also because one is seldom untouched by the struggles and mistakes of our Church, my Chuch.

My friend from Malaysia, Sivin, posted the following insightful comment on his blog - it comes from an interview with Brian Mclaren. I wonder if I am being sucked into the bureaucracy, or maybe I am already a bureaucrat, or maybe there is hope that benevolent leadership can help to change the Church and the world, or maybe I am just hopefully naive?

Bureaucracy a gift? The conversation in this post seems to model divergent and convergent thinking ?

?Whether we like it or not, hierarchy and its sibling command & control, are here to stay. That doesn?t mean that networked organisations and self-organisation are not valuable additions, but they are just that. Additions, not the norm.?

?I think the evidence is showing that hierarchy may be here to stay as a way of irrigating and organization with resources, but command and control have long given way to networked action based on relationships and intimacy. It?s how anything actually gets done, especially in large organizations. Don?t believe me? It?s the principle behind ?work to rule? slow downs. Command and control aren?t synonymous with hierarchy - one can organize a resource allocation hierarchically but use distributed leadership to get the work done.?

When the 4th ends the 5th will come... I will go for a run tomorrow and try to figure out who I am, what I should do, and what I should not do...

On Sunday I preach at Alan Storey's Church, Calvary Methodist in Midrand! I always look forward to being there!

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It disturbs me... Another instance of visionary leadership

I subscribe to a number of email list groups (google groups and yahoo groups). Perhaps one of the most active groups is that for gay, and gay friendly (affirming), Methodists in Southern Africa. It is an open group, you can read our discussions and posts here.

Since our conference the list has been abuzz with discussion. The one thing we have in common is our passion for the Gospel of Christ, and a desire to see the values of Christ's Gospel fairly, courageously, and lovingly reflected in our Church's ministry. However, along with that common passion comes many different perspectives on how this should take place.

For those who have been following my posts on this discussion (and the comments that others have made in response to those posts) you will know that there has been some concern that we have placed the unity of the Church before our calling to be a prophetic institution of justice and grace. I have prayed, and thought, and journaled, and read, and engaged with these two positions (unity in the Church vs. prophetic and Christ honoring ministry in spite of disagreement). I am struggling to know which way to go...

Today I came across this quote (actually part of a poem) by Martin Niemoller (a German theologian who became one of the founders of the Confessing Church, and was imprisoned between 1937 and 1945 in both the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps)

"First they came for Socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me."
Rev Martin Niemoeller (1892-1984)
Here is the post from my friend Peter Grassow, one of the most prophetic and Christ like ministers I know: (this post is taken from an open forum - you can read the original here)

I belong to a divided church.
And some of you who read this will understand how Sundays sees our nation divide - with black people going to black church services, "coloured" people attending "coloured" services, and some white people going to church (most do not go to church at all).

But this is not the division I think of - I am referring to the division between straight and gay people. The Methodist Church of SA has chosen to maintain a distance from gay people. No - this is not overt: as my Bishop' pastoral letter says : " We must, and I do, care for them pastorally and with sensitivity." But this is exactly the divide: "we care for them".....us and them. "They" are not understood as being "us". In fact, after the humiliating treatment dished up by straight Christians, I am surprised that there are any gay people left in church.

And to add insult to injury, the MCSA has affirmed that we must be "one and undivided". But this is not about being in unity with gay people. No, this is about maintaining our unity with those who are anti-gay. Our desire to remain united with the anti-gay lobby outweighs our desire to be one with the gay members of our church. And so we have compromised truth in the name of unity. And we have not
even questioned the ethical correctness of this unity.

Here is my pain: the statement that "we are one and undivided" was a statement of courage in the face of the 1958 Apartheid Government's desire to divide our church on racial lines. We had moral courage - then. We adopted this statement, in the face of a threat by white members to leave our church. We understood that this was a particular kind of unity. It risked division in the name of a greater unity - a
unity with the truth of the Gospel of Jesus.

We have lost this. I am convinced that the mantra "one and undivided" has become our excuse to do nothing. We are so afraid of losing members that we would rather forfeit Gospel truth.
Once again, I am challenged by visionary leadership... Gospel truth must come before ecclesiological unity. If only I had the courage...

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Privilege, responsibility.... and good friends.

This post comes at the end of the first 'proper' day of the 118th Conference of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. For those who are not Methodist (or not particularly Christian), the Conference is the place where the Church sends representative persons to debate, strategise, and work out, how best we can serve the world and honour God. Well, in theory that's what should happen! In reality it is often much less saintly than that! Often there are conflicting and difficult issues over which tough and challenging decisions need to be taken... Naturally, this leads to some rather spirited debate, and significant engagement with people who hold different, and often opposing, points of view. You see, the problem with us religious people is that we ALL think we occupy the centre of God's will (i.e., I am right because God told me so, and let me find a way to show you how wrong you are).

Wessel blogged the most memorable quote of the day, given by our Lay President, "Minds are like parachutes - they only work when they are opened".

Today we heard the reports and addresses from a number of important Church leaders and commissions that have been doing significant work. Among them were the reports by the Presiding Bishop, the Lay President, the Connexional secretary (which was very humorous and well researched), and reports by the John Wesley College relocation Committee (a very important committee in my life, since I am both a member of this task team, but of course also the Dean of the seminary that is touted to move to Pietermartizburg in KwaZulu Natal - a very significant piece of news is that the NEW seminary is to be called Seth Mokitini College (named after the very first Black President (Presiding Bishop) the Methodist Church of Southern Africa elected in 1963. A father in the faith who helped to change Southern African society, and the Church, significantly). However, there were also other important reports such as the report on the Methodist Jubilee economic recapitalisation campaign, and the equalisation of stipends.

Tomorrow we will break into smaller groups to consider resolutions related to our ministry and mission - among these will be the resolution on the same-sex matter that I proposed and Rev Mvuyiselo Stimela seconded.

Here's a copy of our resolution to the Church (Same sex resolution for Conference 2007.doc) - what we seek is hospitality, warmth, and the openness of Jesus Christ for ALL Methodists. It is a misnomer to think that there are no gay Methodists! In fact I know quite a few in our denomination, and even a few in my local Church. The Gospel of Jesus Christ demands that we would minister love and grace to all persons. Moreover, I have come to discover that if we are to be a Church that would seek God's justice and mercy for all in society (for the poor, and the rich, the empowered, and the powerless, the loved and the unloved, the accepted, and the rejected...) then we need to first find justice within the Church! After all the scriptures do ask "how can the world believe that we love God, whom we have not seen, if we hate our brothers and sisters, that we have seen"?

Ascent to a particular second order element of doctrine has never been a condition for acceptance in Christ's Kingdom - no, rather what Christ asks is whether we love and accept him (which also means loving and accepting those whom he loves - very challenging for someone who is as sinful as I am!)

OK, enough of the sermon. Another wonderful reason for coming to Conference is that it is always a great time to catch up with friends! Of course I see the friends here that I often see in the regular course of my work, people like Paul Verryn, Neville Richardson, Madika Sibeko, and my good friend Wessel Bentley. But, I also get opportunities to spend some time catching up with friends that I don't often get to see. This even Wessel, myself, Barry Marshal, Kevin Needham, and Ken Carr went for dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant in Cape Town. It was great! We laughed until our sides hurt, we ate with our hands, and we felt something of what the Kingdom of God feels like - a place of love and acceptance.

I miss all of you back home! Thanks to those of you who are checking in from time to time! Megie, Courts and Liam I can't wait to get to the coast when I get back!! To my students, I still can't tell you anything about your stations for next year. As soon as there is news we will let you know.

Midnight, 20 September 2007, Cape Town.

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