Dion's random ramblings

Monday, September 17, 2007

Unemployed in Cape Town - preparation for the General Annual Conference of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa

This post comes from the promised land - Cape Town! I am very fortunate to fly into this place of blessing and grace every few weeks. It is one of the great blessings of my vocation. If you are short of time could I ask you simply to skip the next few paragraphs and read the quote below? It is moving, wortwhile, and a poignant reminder of the task that lies before us as a Church that seeks to match our personal piety with acts of Kingdom Building social holiness? Of course if you have more time you are welcome to read my other personal reflections below!

As many would know I spent 6 very happy years as a circuit minister in Somerset West, and in fact our first child, Courtney, was born there. Sadly, she is the only one in the family who has defected and become a 'Bluebull' supporter since our move to Pretoria 4 years ago - there you go Joch Seeliger!

Each time that I return to Cape Town I feel a ache deep down in my heart. My time here truly was one of the most blessed and wonderful times in my life! The Church we served was vibrant, growing, and alive with possibility. I had a wonderful colleagueship and ministry with my good friend Philip Buckland, our lay leaders were a 'dream team' - I remember many blessed days with Richard Steele, Beulah Durheim, Nicolene van Vuuren, Hester Pike, Wendy Coles, and Debbie Lown! We are very fortunate still to own a little piece of heaven - a two bedroom apartment on the side of the Helderberg Mountain. The ache that I feel is a result of my longing for the friends, fellowship, and great blessing that we experienced during those happy years.

However, as I returned to the Cape last night I felt an ache of a very different kind. The occasion was a joyous one - we had gathered in Somerset West with the student ministers who are about to be Ordained this coming Sunday. From our meeting we made our way to the Elgin Country club for dinner with the Ordinands and the Bishops - a start to the Ordinands retreat. The dinner itself was wonderful! I sat at the table with my friends Juan Smith and Bonginkosi Mathenjwa (both of whom were students at John Wesley College in my first year there in 2004), as well as Bishops Paul Verryn, Brian Jennings, Andrew Hefkie, and Professor Richardson. As part of the dinner our Presiding Bishop reminded us all that we have a great responsibility before us in the week that lies ahead. Many of us (the EMMU staff and Bishops) are permanent members of the General Conference that meets annually. It is our task to direct and guide the Church in its policy, mission and decision making.

Among the items on the Agenda are the all important resolutions on the same-sex matter. However, Bishop Ivan Abrahams reminded us that there are many other very important issues, that often seem to get silenced by the more glamorous issues. Bishop Ivan read a real life account of a woman who is a Methodist, in fact a member of the Church in which he had served as a younger pastor. The story served to remind us of our responsibility and the importance of the work that lies before us.

As he read the story my longing turned to sorrow - my only prayer is that the energy of this emotion would be transferred into action, loving action that would in some way change the plight of so many in our poverty ravaged land. This story is called "Unemployed in Cape Town" and comes from the book "Uprooting Poverty: The South African Challenge. Report for the second Carnegie inquiry into poverty and development in Southern Africa" by Wilson, F and Mamphela, R (Cape Town: David Philip Publishers).

My husband lost his job about give months ago. It was big shock but we though we could cope. I was earning a reasonably good wage. We had to cut a few corners thought. We had to eat less meat. We had to save on all kinds of things. I had to now catch the train to work, 'cause it was cheaper than the bus even though it took a lot longer even though it took longer. I also took in other people's washing. There are a few people here who pay you a little bit to wash their clothes. I used to wash clothes every Sunday.

Then two months ago I lost my job. We were desperate. There was no money coming in now.

We had to spend everything we had in the time my husband was without a job. Now they've cut off the electricity and we're two months in arrears with rent. They're going to evict us I'm sure, we just can't pay though. My husband decided to go to Jo'burg. he went a month ago. He said he would get a job there. He sent some money the first week. But I haven't had any more money since. I don't know where he is. I haven't been able to get hold of him. I would like to go to Jo'burg to look for him but what can I do with the children?

Before he left we used to take turns to look for work because the children can't go to creche because there's no money.

Sometimes they lie awake at night crying. I know they are crying because they are hungry. I feel like feedin them Rattex [a rat poison]. When your children cry hunger-crying, your heart wants to break. It will be better if they were dead. When I think things like that I feel worse. It's terrible when a mother wants to kill her own children. But what can I do, I'm not a mother worth having.

I worry about my husband. I think he might have run away with someone else. Maybe he's got a job and just doesn't want to come home. But why isn't he sending any money? I'm sick I'm sick because of the cold. I can't take my children to the doctor when they're sick because there's no money. My mother and father said they would try to help. But they've got very little money and my brother and sister to support. It's a hard time for all of us. We're just not cared to find jobs. What can one do? You must start looking.

You can also pray to God that he will keep you from killing your children.

Last night I lay awake and I prayed. I prayed that God would make me courageous enough to make a difference. Perhaps we can do something to help people like this. I know that's what Jesus would do. I thank God for reminding me why we are meeting this week - not to make new policy and amend unnecessary laws, but to find ways to feed the hungry and bring hope to the hopeless. To find a way of helping a desperate mother so that she doesn't have to kill her children.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Don't forget the poor! I thank God that I can feel, although it is seldom easy...

I have a life of great blessing and privilege. Many of you who know me well know how often I struggle with a feelings of unworthiness. Why on earth should my life be so great, when there are others in the world who are so much more holy, devout, committed, pure, intelligent, caring (and the list goes on), who should suffer and struggle? Why should I have so much, when others have so little? How can I possibly sleep at night, and work through the day, knowing that nearby there are children who starve, wives who are beaten, men who have lost their self respect because they have been unable to work for months, whole communities dying of HIV... how can I do it?

I feel. In fact to be honest, I feel it deeply, often to the point of great sadness.

However, I thank God that I can experience life, that I can feel, and that I can think. In particular I am grateful that God employs all of my faculties in engaging with me, as unworthy as I am!

Let the truth be known, God truly does speak to me (not so much in an audible voice... Although that does happen from time to time when I forget to take my meds ;-)!

God speaks to me by engaging my intellect; I have been re-reading Dawkin's attack on faith The God delusion. Through it God has spoken to me and is reminding me that faith is not incongruent with reason, in fact it belief is the most reasonable response in a suffering world! Someone once asked Viktor Frankl, the Jewish psychologist and writer, how he could still believe in a loving God after witnessing and surviving the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps. He is believed to have answered "how could one possible go through such horror without believing in God?" If I did not believe, I simply could not cope. For I would either have to stop feeling, or I would be driven to complete despair. My belief gives me hope.

God speaks to me through my emotions, I have had a number of very emotive encounters with God of late (I guess that some of it has to do with the fact that I am feeling somewhat run down and tired because of the demands and business of these past few months, such feelings always leave me quite emotional. Coupled with this is the emotional roller coaster of Liam's growth and recovery since November last year). I feel, and I thank God for it! I can think of nothing worse than being as hard as a rock, impassible, and without the capacity for either great joy or great pain. It is not possible to experience the one, without the possibility of also experiencing the other.

And, God speaks to me through my experience of reality (particularly as it is mediated through the scriptures, and through significant relationships). I would like to dwell on this point a little if I may.

This weekend I experienced, once again, the dichotomy of privilege and poverty. The privilge is that I had the honour to preside at the wedding of very special family friends in Cape Town. Imagine if you can, the incredible honour of being able to facilitate a moment of such loving intensity that it will carry two persons forward in commitment, hope, faith, and deepening love for the rest of their lives. I cannot imagine any servant of the gospel who is worthy of such a great honour. And so, as I spoke with Sean and Kim, and addressed the gathered family and friends, I was overwhelmed with gratitude at being asked to play some small part in the sacredness of this moment. That they should find me worthy to do it, that God should find me worthy to call me such ministry, blows my mind! Of course, together with this privilege came the practical expressions of their regard for me, a situation that I still struggle to understand. I was flown to Cape Town, given a car, accommodated in a magnificent hotel, lavished with gifts.

As part of the trip I also had the joyous privilege of visiting some of my closest friends, Gus, Heather, Andre (AKA Norm) and Michelle. They are so kind to me, so affirming, so loving... How could I ever deserve such love? It was great to experience it though.

Last night I once again had the privilege of standing in front of a full Church, over 300 people I would guess, eager to hear the Gospel and worship God. It is a Church filled with some of the most brilliant hearts and minds of our nation! Among them are doctors, lawyers, economists, parents, children, scholars, teachers, servants and of course friends. What could I have done to deserve such an honour? That they would trust me to listen for God's voice and share my insights with them still blows my mind. They are far more intelligent, and many far more committed and creative in their expressions of Christ's love! However, I gratefully accept the privilege of ministering to them.

Last week Megan and I received a third donation towards Liam's medical expenses. We are so undeserving of the grace showered upon us by people who don't even know us! Our friend Wessel Bentley's Church has given us a total of R32 5oo towards the R100 000 or so that we have had to find to cover unpaid medical bills (please also see my blog entry below about the incredible gift from an unknown saint)! How could we ever be worthy of such generosity? Yet, we are blessed and thankful to receive it. Perhaps more thankful than they will ever know. I am so undeserving of such generosity and grace.

On Friday I heard from a colleague, who has become a dear friend, the Revd Zdzislaw Hendzel, that his son Christopher who was also born at 27 weeks in February this year had passed away after an almost 2 month struggle in the neonatal ICU. I was crushed. I don't know how to respond. Why do I have the privilege of the life of my son, yet he does not have the privilege of his? It is an undeserved and not understood. All I could do was weep and pray. It came on the day of my fast. I will continue to make that sacrifice of thanksgiving. I have no other response.

And so God speaks to me... And I hear.

What I hear is that even though I am so privileged, I am totally impoverished. There is not a single achievement, accolade, honour or blessing in my life that belongs to me. Everything is a gracious gift from God. And, my desire to find a way to become worthy of these honours is in itself a selfish desire, a desire to remove the grace and somehow pretend that I have earned these great gifts, that perhaps I could show that I deserve them. But, I do not. They are simply gifts, gracious, undeserved, unmerited gifts. I have no moral, spiritual, or intellectual prosperity. I simply live in humble dependence on the God of all grace.

My friend Peter Grassow sent me the following quotes this morning:

Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. - Deuteronomy 15:10-10


It is not scientific doubt, not atheism, not pantheism, not agnosticism, that in our day and in this land is likely to quench the light of the gospel. It is a proud, sensuous, selfish, luxurious, church-going, hollow-hearted prosperity. -Frederic D. Huntington

Poverty and privilege. These are the two contrasting realities of my life.

There is in my congregation at Bryanston a young man who is so remarkable, so gifted, so worthy of every privilege that life could shower on brilliance, yet he has chosen to give his best (and he is the best) to serve God. His service is not just empty words. This young man has devoted his brilliant mind, his youthful energy, and his compassionate heart, to alleviate poverty, poverty of the worst kind. I am inspired by him, it is a privilege to know him, to know people like Sean, Kim, Gus, Heather, Andre, Michelle, Zdzislaw, Wessel, Peter, it is a privilege to know Jason (AKA Jay). They remind me that my life is intended to spent, and spent generously. I can find no better response to my privilege and poverty than to have my life spent in the service of others, others who are far greater than me. If I can change just one life like this, my life will have been well spent!

Please could you take some time to read Jason's reflection and challenge (in MS Word format below)?

1Q 2007.doc

Let's allow our privilege and our poverty to speak to us, and as Jason challenges us at the end of his reflection, let us "Remember the poor". I seem to remember Jesus saying,

'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these..., you did for me.' (Matthew 25:40 NIV)

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