Dion's random ramblings

Monday, December 31, 2007

A tribute to my father, Donald Ian Forster, who passed away this morning at 6am

Megan, Courtney, Liam and I give thanks to God for the life of my father, Donald Ian Forster, who passed away today at 6am. He struggled to recover from a number of severe strokes over the last two years.

He was 64 years old. We will miss him. He was a brave man, a wonderful father, and a loving husband.

Please spare a prayer for my mom, Margie, my brother Robin, my sister Sueann, my eldest brother Gary, and myself.

The photograph above was taken on the occasion of my mom's 60th Birthday in July this year.

My dad's memorial service will take place at the Trinity Community Church - a Methodist Church in Cresta road, Sunward Park, Gauteng, on Friday the 4th of January at 11am.

"Blessed are those who die in the Lord, for they find rest from their labour... Though they die, yet shall they live"

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Launch of my new eBook "An uncommon spiritual path - finding Jesus beyond conventional Christianity"

This is an advert for my new book, so please feel free to skip it!

Getting a book published takes a little while (depending on who your publisher is, it could take quite a while!). Just ask my friend Wessel, he and I are doing an INCREDIBLE book on mission together (it is complete except for a few little touches). Pete has an incredible chapter in the book!!! So, keep an eye on this site. This one is being published by 'The Upper Room' and will be published locally and in the US (the US copies will take a little while!)

In the case of my books, and my fantastic publisher (AcadSA Publishers), it takes about 2-5 months to get a book from its final draft format, once you have written it, into print. Once you've written the text there is editorial work, cover design, the layout, format, indexing, registration with the copyright authorities, and then of course the actual printing and copying. So, you can see why it takes a while to get things done.

When I completed my last book 'Christ at the centre' some months ago, I started on the next book in that series. I completed the text for the book about two months ago. So, now we are on the home stretch! I hope to have the 'paper copies' available by the end of February!

However, with the advent of ebooks, I am able to get the book published in electronic format as soon as the text is complete and edited.

The book is entitled: An uncommon spiritual path - finding Jesus beyond conventional Christianity.

Here's the blurb from the book:

Are you tired of 'consumer' driven religion? Are you finding that the 'popular' steps to faith no longer satisfy your desire for true spiritual living? Then the novel and courageous approach of this book could be just what you have been longing for.

The truth is that people cannot be whole unless they have an active and deep spiritual life. One of the great shortcomings of many contemporary western cultures is that they lull us into believing that we can find peace, joy, and fulfillment in what we own, or in what we do. Sadly, many people have come to discover that the pursuit of wealth, power, and recognition by one?s peers, are shallow and meaningless against the backdrop of what it means to be truly alive. When one considers that a human person has physical, psychological, and spiritual needs, the pursuit of true and ultimate meaning becomes all the more important in a world that seems so increasingly devoid of depth.

This book charts a different course to the norm. It examines a way of life that may seem quite austere and strange to most of us. However, it will be shown that it is not the spiritual methodology, or even the content of this particular spiritual path, that brings blessing and peace. Rather, it is passing beyond methods, ideas, and even doctrines, that brings us into the presence of the God who gives and sustains true life; the kind of life Jesus speaks of in John?s Gospel (John 10:10)

This uncommon spiritual path examines the 'non-dual' spirituality of Henri le Saux (Swami Abhishiktananda - meaning 'the bliss of Christ'), a French Benedictine monk in India. His approach is challenging, courageous, and even unsettling in some instances. However, his deep commitment to finding Christ is an inspiration.

So, if you're interested in reading a copy, fire up your PC (or Palm handheld, PocketPC, Symbian phone etc.) and head over the Mobipocket, download the reader software and download a copy. Sorry Wes, no luck with the Mac users among us - unless you run Windows emulation...

You can find electronic copies of three of my four books by clicking on this link to Mobipocket. Or, you can order paper copies (of those that are already in print) from this site.

Exciting times!

Labels: , ,

openlp.org - a great FREE lyrics, powepoint, and Church projection utility!

Thanks so much to Stephen (see 'daylight' on the right).

He posted a facebook update about a launch he is attending. I checked
it out, and this is what I've found.

http://openlp.org/

This is a free, opensource, Church projection utility to manage your
worship song / hymn words and powerpoint presentations! This kind if
software often costs hundreds if dollars. However, this opensource
alternative is superb, and free!

Check it out.

Thanks again Stephen!

Character and will

I like this little quote:

"A character is a completely fashioned will" - Novalis

PS. I am reading Andrew Feinstein's remarkable book 'After the
Party: A personal and political journey inside the ANC'. My friend
Aiden Choles suggested it (see http://www.aidencholes.com). Thanks
Aiden, it is fascinating, disturbing, insightful, and a riveting read!

My other eye is on the cricket... Not looking to good at the moment!

A few days on holiday in Waterfall (KwaZulu Natal, just outside Durban) - a scene from 'The Simpsons'

Megie, Courtney, Liam, and I, arrived at Megan's parents yesterday
(the drive from Knysna is 14 hours long. But with Wessel's trailer
behind the car, it was a breeze!). Megie's parents live in a lovely
part of our country! It has great scenery, it is not over developed,
and it is quite close to the beach!

Don't you just love those clouds? They look like the ones in the
opening credits of 'The Simpsons'! This us another picture taken with
my iPhone. It was taken from the 'stoep' (the front porch).

We are truly blessed with a wonderful country!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Romans 15v13 - A prayer for you. May the wonder of the Bible come alive in your life.

This morning my new friend Nour shared a verse from Paul's letter to the Romans with me.

I am a scholar of the Bible. It is part of my job to understand the composition of the text, its grammatical structure, the meanings of the original Greek words that were used by the original author or authors, the socio-cultural and historical issues that were being addressed, and of course to relate verses or sections of a book to the broader theological themes of that genre of texts, or that author's other writings...

Sometimes this rigor can be so distracting that one forgets to listen... Sure, there are many times where I approach Scripture just to 'hear'. For example, when I am preparing a sermon, or seeking guidance and encouragement for my own life or someone else's. But, even then, I tend to weigh up what I read against all of these 'exegetical' principles.

Every now and then I need reminding of a few points:

  • God's revelatory power does not require scholarship! Sure, the person who is called to preach or direct the lives of others using scripture has a responsibility to approach the text with meticulous care - but, for most people allow the text to 'read them' is enough. By that I mean, when I hear someone 'giving a verse' that has touched them, it is quite often an indication of what is going on inside of their heart and mind. It is almost as if the text has come alive for them because of who they are and what they are facing.
  • The Bible is a powerful instrument for spiritual guidance, direction, and formation. All of the literary typing, syntactical-grammatical intricacy, and source language translation cannot compensate for the reality that the 'sacred text' carries a great deal of 'sacred weight' because it is infused with centuries of spiritual tradition, countless instances of grace, and numerous testimonies of power and transformation. I know that some theologians (like Milbank and company) find the 'sociological' constructs of theology problematic. I do too. However, there is no doubt that those constructs shape meaning, and so give great power to the text! For example during South Africa's apartheid past the texts I heard preached more than any other in our black congregations were the stories of the Exodus from Egypt into the promised land - the text itself had developed a parallel story in the lives of its preachers and hearers. The Exodus narrative was often overshadowed by the community narrative of the need for liberation and hope. So, the Bible is immeasurable powerful, not only because of what it is, but because of what it has become for us.
  • Receiving guidance, inspiration, comfort, and counsel, from scripture requires a measure of naivety. There is a great danger to thinking that you have all of the angles worked out! I have probably read the Bible from cover to cover 4 times (maybe a bit more in some sections and less in others). I have worked very closely with certain genre's (particularly as I have taught New Testament. For example this year I taught Pauline theology, Luke / Acts, and the Catholic (often called the 'general Epistles') for the 5th year. I translated a book from Afrikaans to English that discusses the a thematic thread that runs throughout the whole of the Bible. It is masterfully written by Professor Jan van der Watt and is called 40 days through the Bible. I have edited a number of books and articles for the same scholar and for Professor A B du Toit... etc., etc., (you get the picture!) So, I have come to understand the complexity and intricacy of many of these texts. The danger is that one thinks you have it all buttoned up - you've understood the plot lines, or the issues being addressed in a narrative, you can tell which redactor added which parts, you can do a grammatical or linguistic typing, you have a fair insight into the context and meaning of words in the life of the original author and hearer, and so you stop listening! That is very dangerous! It is almost like being married for a long time and thinking that you completely understand your partner! The expectation of 'surprise' and 'novelty' should always accompany a reading of the sacred text. One should never open one's Bible without saying "God can, and will, encounter me in new and creative ways!"
  • Be willing to approach the text creatively! A final element that I have rediscovered in recent years is the necessity for creativity in reading the text. Just like a romantic relationship requires novelty and creativity, so our approach to the Bible needs a bit of difference and 'spice' from time to time. What do I mean by this? Well, here are a few things that I have found helpful, as a Christian who desires to hear God's voice and my community's message through scripture.
  1. First, be prepared to 'hear' the text in new and unconventional 'voices'. What do I mean? Well, why not get yourself a different version of the Bible. If your own Bible is an NRSV, (which is a 'word accurate' translation - i.e., the translators took a lot of time to accurately translate the individual Greek and Hebrew words), then why not take a few days to read the New Living Translation (which is a 'sentence' or 'concept' accurate translation - i.e., the translators first sought to translate the whole sentence, concept or message of a paragraph and then went back to make sure that it is in keeping with the intention of the original text). This simple step could allow you to hear the message of scripture in an entirely new voice.
  2. When you read the text approach it from a different contextual vantage point. How do you do this? Well, if you are male, why not read the text from a female perspective (i.e., as you read ask yourself a few questions, "how would this passage sound different to a woman?", "what elements may be more significant to a young woman? Would an old woman hear different things?") In particular this technique has been very helpful as I have tried to understand what God is saying to different people and groups (e.g., poorer persons, people who are outside of the Church, people who are younger, people older, gay persons, educated persons, uneducated persons). I'm sure you get the idea.
  3. Read the text in different places and at different times. Whilst I do encourage persons to form good patterns and habits for reading the scripture. It is good to have a daily time and place in which you read the text. But, reading the Bible in different places and at different times can add a whole new perspective. I have found wonderful new insights through reading scripture on a day walk in nature, or in the center or a busy city, on a train, in a hospital, among refugees, in an office building etc. You seen context adds to our understanding of the text. The human brain is a very complex 'meaning creating' organism. When one reads the text you are not only taking in the words that are on the page, you are also taking in many other stimuli from your surroundings. So, this can add new value and meaning.
  4. Find out how other Christians have interpreted and read the same text. If you are a protestant, then find some Catholic, or Pentecostal, commentary on the same text. There is nothing quite as sad as thinking your tradition is the only correct one!
So, these are a few tips on allowing scripture to come alive. My friend Nour, (the serving Egyptian) shared a text with me this morning. It means a great deal to him, and so it means a great deal to me because I am with him. He read the text to me in Arabic, from his Egyptian perspective... It was new and fresh! This is what he shared.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. [Romans 15v13]
So, may you find new hope and joy and peace in believing that God, through the Holy Spirit, can speak to you anew this year.

[PS. the picture above was taken at sunset a few days ago. It was taken from the Knysna lagoon on my Canon camera. I thought it was quite nice!]

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The serving Egyptian - I am learning firsthand what servanthood means

Nour Sahid is a Christian from Northern Egypt. I met him some months
ago while I was doing some ministry in Cape Town. He has been with us
in Knynsa for the past few days. This is the first time in my life
that I have experienced a servant for whom no act of service is too
small! Nour rejoices to carry things, to make people tea, to move
stuff around, and to do anything that will show you that you are
precious and valuable to God.

This man came all the way from Egypt (this is his second trip at his
own expense) just to serve! He has Bern staying with the students at
Eagle's Rising (a Christian youth training centre in Gordon's bay) for
about two months now.

Nour embodies the message if Phil 2v5. He is an accomplished and
gifted man who has given his life to serve others.

I have realized that for a long time now I have only paid lip service
to servanthood. I tend to be impatient when asked to do things that
break into my schedule, tasks tend to take priority over people...
Some of you may know the drill.

However, here is a man, who like Jesus would not hessitate to wash the
feet of others... He requires no recognition of who he is, or what he
does. His greatest joy is to serve.

Thank you Nour! You inspire me!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Quenching our thirst, buying food with money we don't have. Wine, and Milk and Honey! A year of God's gracious favour...

Tomorrow I shall be preaching in the company of some of the most affluent citizens of Africa, perhaps even the world... They are fortunate people in an unfortunate world. However, they work hard to earn their fortunes! Most nights they are still working long after I am home with my family. They face pressures and demands, responsibility, and live with a constant sense of expecatation. Many of them also live with the real guilt that comes from having 'made it'; from 'having it all', when there are so many who do not have enough...

I also live with that guilt - although for a slightly different reason. Strangely, though, guilt may be the wrong word. Perhaps I just confused. You see, I too have far more than I need, and have received absolutely lavish and undeserved favour this year! My bank account may not look like theirs, but my life is the same. I am rich in more ways than I can number, but what is different about my wealth is that unlike their deserved fortunes, I have not earned mine. They were given as a gift.

I follow many blogs. I have often mentioned that there are many blogs better than mine (in particular I love Sivin and Stephen's blogs).

But, this year I have often pondered this post by a fellow blogger, and friend, Pete. Strangely, I have thought about this post more than any other. It is an honest post, and it is true. It speaks of the fact that God does not have favourites. I like the theology of his post... In fact, it is also my theology (in the sense that I share Pete's perspective). However, I remember when I read it (February this year), little Liam had just come out of almost 3 months in the Pretoria East Hospital's ICU. He was small, weak, and should have been dead (because of his brain injuries) - yet somehow this God who shows no favour had heard my prayers, and the prayers of many others, and he lived. Perhaps it was the truth of the post, coupled with the grace of Liam's life, that caused this one post to remain in my mind. It dawned upon me throughout the year, again and again....

I was spending money that I didn't have! [Don't worry the image will become clearer in a little while]

This is also the year in which I celebrated my 13th wedding Anniversary. Megan has been a faithful and patient companion - she is loving beyond measure, and I am constantly humbled that someone so pure, gentle, gifted, and committed to Christ, would stick around with me. I am eccentric, I am difficulty, my life is irregular (when I am home I seldom sleep, I always work, I never stop dreaming about new ways to do ministry, about gadgets... And that's when I am home! I am so often away from home that I am always blessed when I return to find her lovingly accepting me back! I go to places she would love to go (like Oxford, Cambridge, Chicago, Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, Durham (US), Spain, Israel, Turkey, Morocco....), and places that neither of us would like to go (I won't mention those, because I have to return to some of them again next year). Yet, somehow even when she cannot be there with me she rejoices at my achievements and celebrates my success). If the truth be told Megan is much more gifted, and should have far more recognition than I do. I don't know why she loves me? But, I am glad that she does!

And so, I am fed by food that I cannot buy, and it sustains my living! [Yes, I'll explain in a moment!]

This is the year where my daughter, Courtney, learned to ride her bicycle, asked us to buy her high-heel shoes, stopped thinking that it was 'cool' for me to take her to school on the motorbike... Yet, even though she is growing up, she still likes to sit on my lap and watch TV. She still tells me about her friends, her joys, her struggles, and her wishes - and she does so enthusiastically! She still likes to fall asleep on our bed. She has also prayed for me, and often prays with me. This year, for the first time, she offered Megan and I the kind of comfort we have only ever experienced from other adults. When Liam was very ill and in hospital a few weeks ago, as Megie and I cried, she hugged us, told us he would be fine, and then said a little prayer. She is amazing! I cannot fathom why God would entrust me with someone so precious!

And so, my life is filled with the sweetness of honey! [Yup, stick around... I'll tell you why in a few moments]

This year was also another gracious year in the ministry of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. Many of my friends would know that I resigned from the MCSA in April 2006 - the political wrangling in our denomination had become too much! Like any institution that involves people, this Church can be a difficult place. I couldn't take certain struggles anymore, and so for the sake of my love for Christ, and my love for the Church, I resigned. But, sanity prevailed, the Church's were gracious and courageous to see where change was needed, and I was persuaded to stay - thankfully! It has been a year of wonderful growth and maturing. Not very many things have changed. There are still difficult leaders, unrealistic expectations, little thanks, arduous demands, and troublesome cases... But, my perspective has been changed by grace. I do not serve in the Church for the church, I serve in the Church for the God who endured hardship, suffering, and even death, to achieve what was needed for my salvation. So, this year has been another gracious year of service! I am more fortunate than just about every other minister in our denomination! There have been a few tempting options this year, but I praise God for giving me the courage to stay where I am. It is right.

And so, God has given me milk - milk that deals with the heartburn of an imperfect meal... But, it works! And I am still able to eat!

I have experienced the grace of many friends this year! When I first prepared this post I wrote a whole list of names, and what they mean to me, and all they have meant to me this year... There are so many! However, I am afraid of not mentioning someone... So, just do a search for the word 'friend' on my blog and you will see who these people are. They shape me, encourage me, they challenge me, they forgive me, they help me, they put up with me, they pray with me, and they let me work out who I am. My life is full friends! They are a gift from God.

And so, I eat what is good, and my soul delights in such fare!

This has been a year of birth, and rebirth, for me. Sometimes I have rejoiced, and at other times I have grieved.

I am a parent, I am a husband, I am a servant, I am a leader, I am a preacher, I am a member of a local Church, I am a Christ-follower..

This year I have come to know, in new ways, what it means to live under God's grace! I live in a constant state of undeserved favour. Even though I am a theologian, I simply do not understand why I should be so richly blessed... That is a mystery - perhaps part of God's mystery?

So, tomorrow as I speak about a God who was born to die, as I speak to wealthy and fortunate people, I shall be speaking to myself... I shall speak about this grace, the God of grace, who graciously pours our that grace upon us... The God who came at Christmas time to call us to grace.


"Come all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David. See I have made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander of peoples. Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations that do not know will hasten to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with spleandour" [Isaiah 55:1-5]

A blessed Christmas to you all. Thank you for being part of God's gift to Megan, Courtney, Liam and I this year. We give thanks to God for you!

Undeserving, but grateful to be alive in Christ,

Dion (Knysna, 24 December 2007)

God and the Nintendo Wii - a good Christmas sermon or children's message analogy.

In keeping with my last post on the great Nintendo Wii, I thought I would share this great link. I wish I had found it earlier, it would make a great Children's address or sermon for Christmas. All that you need is a Wiimote, an 'old style' Nintendo controller, and a bit of chutzpa!


http://skeetfaith.blogspot.com/2007/01/godnintendo-analogy-my-christmas-sermon.html

I would develop four simple points:

1. Like the Wii, Christ was given as a gift of joy, to be encountered and enjoyed, at Christmas.

2. Like the Wii, enjoying the gift of Christ does not require you to know all the rules (or all of the complicated stuff like an old Nintendo controller) - simply enjoy who Jesus is, live with him, and the rest seems to fall into place...

3. Like the Wii, you only get the best out of the experience the encounter when you approach it with commitment, passion, and a lack of restraint! Heck, have you ever seen anyone playing Wii boxing? It looks more like a bad 60's dance show! But boy, it sure is worth the fun!

4. Finally, the more time you give it, the better it gets to play the game. You learn how to react without having to think about every move!

Just a few thoughts!

Thanks for the great idea John!

Blessings at Christmas!

Dion from a wet, Wii playing, Knysna!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Wii! The most fun you can have indoors! Well, almost...

The weather in Knysna is not too good today. So, after we got back
from Church this morning (Graham and I went to an incredible worship
service at the Knysna Methodist Church where John and Debbie van de
Laar - see http://www.sacredise.com led the service. Their worship
team is incredible, and John preached a challenging message from Luke
2 entitled 'great expectations') we came home to Graham'e place to
play some Wii sports!

Just take a look at Graham's incredible TV! Now that is the kind of
TV on which to play games!

I need to start saving my sheckles to buy one of these! It is so much
fun, plus you get a bit of exercise while playing.

Here's a picture of Courts playing 10 pin bowling.

Thanks for an incredible service John! I could attend your services
every Sunday... Now, if only I could figure out how to live in Knysna!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Ripping up the waves in the Knysna lagoon!

Courtney and I got a whole lot closer this afternoon! We went out behind Graham's boat on his inflatable 'tube' called 'Super-Mable' - it has a sticker on it that reads "Fun and satisfaction guaranteed!" They sticker is absolutely true!

We had an awesome time! We got scorched by the African sun, but heck, it is worth it!




The best Rugby Captain, of the Best Rugby team (and me) [Pic]

As I mentioned briefly yesterday, I was invited to attend the Stormers
Rugby team practice in George in the Western Cape yesterday with my
friend Graham Power. He is on the board of the team and had a meeting
to attend.

Here's a photo Jean de Villiers, the new captain of the team. I met
him at the end of the practice. He is an incredibly quiet spoken and
humble guy. He kindly spoke to me for almost half an hour while I
waited for Graham's meeting to finish. He is recovering from a bicep
injury that he sustained earlier this year (which prevented him from
playing in most of the World Cup Rugby games).

I have attached a second photo of Luke Watson (the previous stormers
captain). I am not sure if I can post two photos to blogger. If I
cannot I will try to upload it at a later stage.

Lazy Tuesday (Neo-Orthodoxy) - snoop dogg meets Karl Barth!

Check out this video on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rREO5kXyz9Y

My friend, Herr gott dokter Bentley, posted the YouTube video mentioned above on his blog (http://wesselsplace.blogspot.com)

It is a GREAT contemporary insight into the life and theology of Karl Barth!

I am still on leave (posting from my iPhone) which accounts for why I cannot post 'active links', and have strange formatting issues in my posts.

Enjoy the Video (simply copy the whole link above into your browser's address field and it should load)!

Update - here's the video.


Exhausting fun!

Holidays are fantastic! Often you try to fit in all the things you
haven't had time for during the rest of the year. Ours has been a bit
like that!

Sometimes fun can be exhausting, as this picture of Courtney asleep in
the back of Graham's car shows.

I wouldn't trade thus tiredness for anything! It feels great to be
tired from FUN!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Science and Gender Bias article... Science is linguistic as well as mathematical

This is a fascinating, and insightful, article that shows that science is both mathematical as well as linguistic!

It comes from boingboing:

O'Reilly's Nat Torkington has some good commentary on a Scientific American article on gender bias in science and math, in which he makes a great suggestion for getting more girls involved in science in school:
And we do select "the best at math"--the article talks about kids choosing disciplines based on what they're best at. In general, boys and girls look at their abilities and if they're better at numbers go into sciences and if they're better at words go into arts. So there are girls going into the arts that have better math skills than the boys going into sciences (the girls just happened to have even better verbal skills). This will always be true in individual cases, but the studies show this is an overall tendency rather than anecdotal evidence from specific cases.
Link

'Store front Churches' - they're springing up in cities all over the world. Here are some marvelous pictures!

The 'Store front Church' is a growing phenomenon across the world. We have plenty of them in cities across the cities of South Africa. Many of them promise spectacular feats (like curing insolvency, healing every disease (including AIDS), restoring love relationships, canceling bad debt, and even helping to make one better in bed!)

However, there are some more credible ones too... What I like about this model is that it locates the Church where the people are! These are Churches that are open for people to pop in during the week for a 10 minutes services.... Rather than the kind of churches where we expect people to 'come to us' at a very inconvenient time, on their only free morning of the week. I think that these 'micro churches' have a real part to play in helping persons to discover Christ.

Here's a marvelous pictorial overview of such Churches in Brooklyn, New York (I notice that this one is the Praise tabernacle (of deliverance...) AND that it has both a Bishop and an Elder! nice!):


Here's a handsome gallery of amateur photos of 100 Brooklyn storefront churches, a study in grand awnings and signage surmounting humble brick buildings. Link (via MeFi)

(Image: praisetabernacle2-vi.jpg, by rudayday)

Thought provoking 'Confession' by an American Pastor

My friend Barry Marshall sent this lovely, and thought provoking, piece to me this morning. I thought it was well worth reading... It is a little long, but I do believe that it expresses a reality in all of our Churches -

I'd like to introduce you to a whole bunch of us who are members of the Church of Christ who live secret lives of discipleship totally separate and apart from our church practices.
We span the ranks of our churches...we are ministers and elders, deacons and "lay members", students and college professors, teenagers and senior citizens.
We live and move and act within Churches of Christ, and hold dear the idea of becoming more like Christ together, to become a church that is, in actuality, 'of Christ'.
We are not interested in change. We are interested in Christ, and whatever we must change in order love Him more truly, we are glad and anxious to do so.
We are immovably committed to the Bible. But only inasmuch as it teaches us about and moves us closer to Christ...and we believe it to be the perfect tool for doing so, a gift from God, the written Word that was preserved to lead us to the Living Word. We suffer from a growing intolerance for people who use the Bible merely to defend and maintain strict adherence to certain sets of worship practices, beliefs, or political positions. And most of us are long past satisfying our spiritual zeal by fighting with other attempting Bible-followers about who is right.
We are trying to find out how to pray, and our longing for prayer is intensifying. We are not motivated by duty, nor merely to "lay our requests before God". We pray because we long for actual God-contact. And in this area, in most of our churches, we feel impossibly alone and mentorless, and oftentimes even looked at as crazy or overly-emotional. We are looking to ancient monastics and mystics and their practices, and also to other denominations, to satisfy our need to be taught...we are not creative, we are desperate.
We are bright and honest and dedicated, but only some of us are educated. And those of us who are rarely point it out, and more often hide from talking about it. That's because we put very little stock in the educated merely because they are educated. We have met people who are much more devoted to the Divine Master than some who have a Masters of Divinity, and have found them more useful in our own becoming more like Christ. We are not anti-intellectual, mind you. We love smart people. But we have the innate ability to spot unspiritual smart people, and we would define them as those who run after smarts rather than Christ, and mistakenly confuse the two. We want and need smart, educated people. But educated people who expose a lack of self-awareness and humility by expecting deference from others because they know so much, we just leave them to their ivory kingdoms and sorrowfully attempt to pursue Christ's without them.
We are indignant sometimes, and defensive and rude on occasion, and every now and then, we are angry. For the younger among us, it's because we feel like we're being bargained with...asked to 'please stay in a movement that doesn't work' in exchange for job security, or hero status, or at the very least, tons and tons of gratitude and affirmation...and we sense that the strings attached are too costly. For those of us who are old enough, it stems from feeling duped in our younger years, agreeing with things that sapped us, our friends, our parents, our children, and those we tried to evangelize of the very life we said submission to our system offered. Some of us are the ones that faithfully did everything our churches asked of us, and if it asked for more we would've done that, but we ended up not looking like Jesus. Maybe it is too much to ask, but we must: Forgive us our inappropriate, un-Christlike reactions to our wounds...we don't mean to claim perfection of any sort, we only abhor those who seem to claim it themselves. And we are scared to death of becoming like that...and are angry at ourselves for ever being like that.
If you watch us closely, you'll see that we have stopped complaining about the Church of Christ that we see (for the most part), and have turned our energies to becoming the Church of Christ that we dream of. When we are at our best, we are ushering in a new world, not just yelling at the old one. We are envisioning a new society in the wake of the old, not one that puts a period on the end of the sentence and starts a brand new unrelated one, but puts a "dot, dot, dot", pausing long enough to look around at all of us, and wake up that it is already new, if we would just engage each other and the world we live in with true spiritual friendship.
That term, 'true spiritual friendship' really means something to us. It involves confession, transparency, and vulnerability. It involves mutual introspection for the purpose of personal and each others transformation. The word 'and' really means something to us, too. We distrust those who only want to transform us or others who lack the capacity to show that they too are in need of continued transformation. And mere intellectual agreement with the idea that "we all sin and fall short of the glory of God" doesn't show us anymore. We need to hear confession.
We give extravagantly to and through the Churches of Christ we attend, hoping desperately to play a role in redeeming them and ourselves. We figure that if the mission of Christ is to people, then bringing Christ to the Church of Christ people is as good a target as any. We constantly flirt with taking a few like-minded people and planting new churches, but keep faithful to our Churches of Christ either out of fear of new things, family love and loyalty, or a deep sense of calling, or all three.
We give much of our money to our Churches and to others in our life in attempts to not be bound by it, but by Christ alone. But when we get to give sacrificially, it acts almost as a drug, giving us a temporary high, proving to ourselves that are motives go beyond our own comfort. We hear Christ telling us that we can't be his disciples unless we give up all that we have, and we believe him, and want to do it, and respect anyone who does. We are tired of being richer than everyone else in the world, but are scared to do anything about it, because we think our churches will look at us as unrealistic, unwise, and bad stewards.
We give much of our time and energy, too. But we don't always give it to the church programs, because we see that as tending to the aquarium, which we agree needs to take place, but we long for our efforts to make a God-honest, actual, life-giving impact on those outside the church walls with no strings attached. We are honestly clueless as to how to do this, but we have our ideas and are trying and wish our churches would give us a legitimate seat at the table as we learn as a whole group...and even if our churches are clueless too, we wish we were all being clueless together out in the open, determined to keep trying stuff until it works.
We're taking full and total responsibility for our children, completely done with expecting from or blaming the church institution for their spiritual outcomes. We welcome anything it does to help, but we are picking and choosing and investing in relationships with the people that we want influencing our kids, and outright asking them to do so, thinking of anything positive that comes out of our churches children's and youth programs as only being supplemental, and hopefully useful. We are watching closely, however, for any residual teaching that resembles anything legalistic whatsoever and are preparing to help our kids unlearn it, explaining our love for the church that taught it, showing openly where that teaching comes from, but correcting them as to what discipleship really looks like. If a Church of Christ wants to run us off quickly, which it may want to do because our convictions can be hard to deal with, or hard to argue against, then all it must do is start teaching our kids to be legalistic rule followers instead of passionate Christ followers. We'll leave. We are already worried enough about what we are doing to them by trying to teach them discipleship at home while their church is trying to teach them why we don't have instruments in worship.
Our commitment to Churches of Christ remains as long as we can be totally honest (as opposed to being totally right) among them.
Indeed, we have much in common with the Churches we exist within, and yet co-exist with dramatic differences. We are both committed to the Bible, but our approaches to finding its riches stand at odds. We are both committed to the truth, but our definition of truth stands at odds. We are both in love with the church, but our view of who make it up and what it exists for are at odds. We both want to live in the Kingdom of Heaven, but our views of what that means and when that is to take place are at odds. We both want to see ourselves as primarily spiritual, but our comfort with embracing mystery are at odds. We both want to worship God, but our convictions on what the non-negotiables are, are at odds. We wonder if we can really co-exist. We wonder if we are going to have to wait for some funerals to expose ourselves and our thoughts openly in the Church of Christ. We wonder, sometimes, if we can really co-exist at all, feeling sometimes like we are tolerated by our churches only because we walk on eggshells concerning how we talk about what is going on inside of us.
But we sense there is one means of hope that exalts what we have in common, and minimizes where we are different. A focus that allows us both, different as we are, to continue becoming Christians in a way that does not condemn our historical Church of Christ roots, nor restrain or condemn those of us who want to grow beyond it's limiting beliefs. The means of hope is for all of us to focus seriously on following Jesus.
The Bible's overarching call is to follow God. Jesus' overarching call is to discipleship. Our hope is in our mutual agreement to pursue the Restoration of Discipleship. Once again, and all over again, and in a brand new way...following Jesus can be our salvation.
What is our secret life made up of? The pursuit of becoming more and more like Christ in our hearts. We are striving to be prayerfully dependent, like him. We are striving to live lives of uncompromising integrity, like him. We are striving to define our lives by loving relationships, like him. We are trying to live daily lives of true and spiritual worship, like him. We are trying to become sacrificial stewards of everything we have and are, like him. We are trying to become what Scripture says we are, like him. And we are wanting to share this life-giving pursuit with every human being on the planet who doesn't know about Jesus, like him.
We will baptize our children with water, fully immersing them in it as one of the many Biblical steps of coming into the life of Christ, but we will not have an obsessive, myopic focus on it ever again. We will no longer claim to believe in the "priesthood of all believers" when we actually mean the "priesthood of all male believers". We will not ever again treat other Bible believing, Jesus following fellowships as lost people...and not because we don't disagree with them on certain significant points...but because we have been humbled by our own disagreement with our past selves, and we hope people who died thinking like we used to were saved by grace, too. We will not write whole books explaining away the Greek word "psallos" to convince everyone instrumental music in unscriptural, we will not write articles and preach sermons focused on the churches down the street and what they are doing wrong, we will not draw lines of fellowship based on whether we should have Bible classes, kitchens, basketball goals, or multiple communion cups. The mere mention of such feuds embarrasses the fool out of us, and we swallow hard and remember our love when we have to be associated with those related to us who have or are.
We wonder if we'll get to stay in the Church of Christ. Our intolerance for our own personal past and our churches intolerance of us may foil what we feel inclined and called to do, but day by day we pursue Christ sincerely, with all of our hearts. The good news is that it doesn't take much to encourage us. Any step towards Jesus by any person at all fuels us to take our next one and we are anxious to use both as evidence that we are in the right place.
We want the Church of Christ to be a church that is actually "of Christ".


This is the link to the original post.

The Crippled Mac Powerbook Choir sings (electronically) 'Twas the nigh before Christmas'... You've got to hear this!


I thought this was just magnificent - a choir made up of old, half dead, Mac Powerbooks. They are all singing 'Twas the night before Christmas.

Click here to download the file in MP3 Format (6MB).

My morning at the Stormers Rugby team training camp in George

My friend Graham is on the board of the Stormers Rugby team. This
morning I got to spend a few hours with God's 'chosen team' in
George. They are here for a training camp. These guys work HARD!

It was incredible to see their passion and dedication. I wondered
what the ministry of the Church would be like if we had just 10
ministers in our denomination with this kind of discipline and passion!?

Sadly there are few...

Anyway, in honour of God's own team I shout 'STORMERS!!!!!'

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

What does the future hold for South Africa?

So Jacob Zuma won the ANC Presidential elections. I wonder what the
future holds for South Africa? Sure I have heard all the commentary
about how disconnected Mbeki is from the ordinary South African, and
her or his real concerns.... But one worries about a leader who has
shown nothing but contempt for the law (an act that is equally
concerning!)

I shall pray, and read, and perhaps this next election will be the
first in which I shall not vote for the ANC's candidate, even if it is
not Mr Zuma... You see, I think the party that I have supported for
some years (even before the end of Apartheid), has grown away from
me. We no longer seem to share the same values of integrity, justice,
and unity...

At the end of the day this was not just a race between Jacob Zuma abd
Thabo Mbeki, the party could have chosen any number of other more
worthy and suitable candidates... But, they did not... Perhaps that
is where we have grown apart?

Is there a 'real world'? It's all about a right perspective!

I love the Biblical account of the Mount of Transfiguration. In it we
encounter honest and sincere human emotion. Peter is taken up in the
bliss of the 'opening of heaven' and so, like most persons, he tries
to find a way of staying there so that he never has to leave the
mountain and return to the 'real world' struggles of the valley.

I often find myself doing that. I also try to 'build shelters' in the
blissful spaces, places in my mind where I can keep justice safe from
perversion (like Peter wanted to build a shelter for Moses on the
mountain). Places where I want to keep God's prophetic voice from
being too widely heard, and so abused and missunderstood (like Peter
wanting to build a shelter to keep tge Prophet Elijah on the
mountain)...

But if course, the whole reason for the Transfiguration experience was
not to remove Peter and the other disciples from the real world, but
yo give them a 'new perspective'. It was intended to show them where
the righteousness of the law us intended to help, shape, protect, and
honour God. It was to show them the 'big picture' of the world as God
sees it, and help them to hear God's will and voice for the real world
in the valley.

A new perspective on life in the valley, that, surely, is one reason
for the transfiguration. Yet, like many others I also feel the
temptation to want to stay on the mountain and avoid returning to the
'real life' below. But, if you are called to discipleship, you are
called to take the perspective if the mountain back into the valley.
To share the freedom abd justice if the law, abd the hope, love, and,
life of God's prophetic will where it truly matters...

The perspective is about the valley, not the mountain top...

This picture was taken st the top if the Outeniqua pass. A lovely
mountain top, and a spectacular valley.

Have a blessed day.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The view from my window in Knysna - how could we possibly deny the creative power of God?

This is a picture take (on my iPhone) from the window of our room in
Knynsa. It is a perfect African summer's evening!

As I sit here the cares of my regular life seem a thousand miles
away! I now remember why sabbath is so necessary. Without it we can
become so focussed on what we do that we forget about the beauty of
God all around us.

I am grateful for the opportunity to take a holiday with my family - I
know that there are many who cannot afford it, and many who do not
have gracious friends like we do.

However, even if you cannot get away it is necessary to break into
your regular routine from time to time. The regular rhythm of life
must contain some rest, just as it must contain work and discipline.

This has been a good day. I am starting to feel Gid's re-creative
power at work in my mind and body.

The bustling metropolis of Uniondale!

This town is amazing! It is quiet and hospitable. Sometimes I forget
that not everone lives in a city, faces the harrows of traffic jammed
highways, and shopping malls!

Has anyone out there ever been to Uniondale? If you live there, what
do you do for a living?

Here's a picture of Uniondale in Rush Hour on Tuesday.... Nice!

Monday, December 17, 2007

An overturned truck at Bloemfontein (and a Salvador Dali effect from my iPhone's camera!)



This truck had rolled just outside of Bloemfonteim this morning.... Guess what? The traffic was NOT backed up for hours... I guess that's the Freestate for you!

If this had been Midrand or Centurion it would have been a few hours of traffic.

I moved my camera as I took the picture and ended up with this cool Dali warp effect! Cool isn't it?

Ah the holiday life!

On the way to Knysna!

A quick post from the road! We're almost in Colesberg (where we will
stay for the night), on our way to Knysna for a 10 day holiday with
our good friends Graham and Lauren Power on Thiesen's Island. We were
supposed to be with them last year, but with Liam's early arrival we
spent our December in the ICU.

This is the first time that we have been able to get away as a family
in 4 years. So, we're looking forward to some quality time together
and a bit if God's precious re-creative power!

I'll post a few pictures and thoughts from my iPhone as I have time.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

American republican Presidential candidate makes a false claim about a theology degree... So what? Well, it says something about theology!

Heck, I remember the times when people claimed to have fake Law degrees, or the Southern African academics who claimed (falsely) to have Doctorates in science and the fraudulent CV of Professor Makgoba from WITS University (back in 1995)... If I recall he also claimed to have some qualifications in science, or was it education? Then of course there is my third doctorate (the Jedi Doctorate in Science from MIT!)

So, what does this have to do with the American Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee who claimed to have a Theology degree?!

Well, for one thing, it just goes to show what qualifications have 'currency' in the USA! In South Africa the only thing you can do with a Theology degree is become a minister of a Church (or Imam if your degree is in Islamic studies), or of course use your Theology degree to gain access to doing another degree (like one in economics, law, or psychology - these seem to be the most popular degrees for 're-training' amongst South African theology students)...

It would seem in America that if you want to lie your way into a high powered position in government you need to claim to have a fake degree in Theology! [switch on the sarcasm now] How cool is that for Theology [switch off the sarcasm now]. In South Africa, I would suggest, we too should raise our standards... Why don't we expect our officials to lie about degrees that could be considered as 'worthy in adding to their 'moral stature' or knowledge of God'?! Surely we should also put a fake degree in Theology as a requisite for high powered position in government here in South Africa!? I mean, what use is a fake degree in science anyway? I'm sure a fake degree in Theology is worth a lot more (in God's eyes ;-) I do know of one or two members of the clergy in South Africa who, sadly, have used their position as ministers in the Church to gain positions in our new government... In fact I know of one ministers who got ordained and the next day... Wait, let me say no more...

Anyway here's the story about our friend Huckabee! At least he claimed to have a good FAKE degree!



WorldNetDaily:

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee told the Christian Broadcasting Network he had a theology degree, he told voters in Iowa he had a theology degree, he repeated the claim in last month?s CNN YouTube debate ? but, his campaign now says, it was not true. Huckabee's claim began unraveling following his offhanded comment about Mormonism in a New York Times interview last weekend. Reporter Zev Chafets wrote: "I asked Huckabee, who describes himself as the only Republican candidate with a degree in theology, if he considered Mormonism a cult or a religion. 'I think it?s a religion,' he said. 'I really don?t know much about it.'

"I was about to jot down this piece of boilerplate when Huckabee surprised me with a question of his own: 'Don?t Mormons,' he asked in an innocent voice, 'believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?'"

"I'm going to call horsepuckey on Huckabee's claim that a New York Times reporter knew more about comparative religions than [a] guy with a theology degree," Geraghty wrote.

That prompted Joe Carter, Huckabee's research director, to respond to Geraghty by e-mail.

Jim,

Governor Huckabee doesn't have a theology degree. He only spent a year in seminary.

Also, it's not surprising that he doesn?t know much about the specific beliefs of the LDS church. There aren?t a lot of LDS members in Arkansas; they comprise just .007 percent [sic] of the population (about 20,000 out of 2,810,872 people). Most Southern evangelicals don't have much exposure to that particular religion. Even in seminary you're not likely to study the LDS faith unless you take a class on apologetics.

Joe

Here's hoping that one of my degrees becomes desirable enough to be faked in South Africa.... Ha ha!

7 thinking errors we all tend to make at some point... The power of bias

The brain is a powerful organ. Among its strengths are the ability to focus on certain aspects of the world around us, whilst choosing to block others out.

At times this is a matter of survival or success that activates this function (i.e., we choose to ignore something that could be immediately harmful so that we can choose to achieve some greater goal further along in life) - like the person who rides the remaining 70km's of the Cape Argus cycle tour with cramping legs so that they can say they've done another one... I know someone who has done a few of those ;-) You know what I mean.

Of course, whilst this ability can be very useful, it can also be harmful and destructive. How many of us have made up our minds about a person or place only to discover that our bias was unfounded?

Now the two examples that I mention here are quite easy to identify - however, there are some far more subtle manifestations of this capacity in the human brain.

So, for those who are interested, here is a great post from lifehack.org that gives a great overview of how this function in the brain works, and how one can manage it where necessary.

The brain isn't a flawless piece of machinery. Although it is powerful and comes in an easy to carry container, it has it's weaknesses. A field in psychology which studies these errors, known as biases. Although you can't upgrade your mental hardware, noticing these biases can clue you into possible mistakes.


How Bias Hurts You

If you were in a canoe, you?d probably want to know about any holes in the boat before you start paddling. Biases can be holes in your reasoning abilities and they can impair your decision making.

Simply noticing these holes isn't enough; a canoe will fill with water whether you are aware of a hole or not. But by being aware of the holes you can devise methods to patch them up. The entire domain of the scientific method has largely been an effort to overcome the natural inclination towards bias in reasoning.

Biases hurt you in a number of areas:

  • Decision making. A number of biases can distort decision making. The confirmation bias can lead you to discount information that opposes existing theories. Anchoring can throw off negotiations by forcing you to sit around an arbitrary value.
  • Problem solving. Biases can impede your creativity when solving problems. A framing bias can cause you to look at a problem too narrowly. And the illusion of control can cause you to overestimate the amount your actions influence results.
  • Learning. Thinking errors also impact how you learn. The Von Restorff effect can cause you to overemphasize some information compared to the whole. Clustering illusions can also trick you into thinking you?ve learned more than you actually have.

Here are some common thinking errors:

1) Confirmation Bias

The confirmation bias is a tendency to seek information to prove, rather than disprove our theories. The problem arises because often, one piece of false evidence can completely invalidate the otherwise supporting factors.

Consider a study conducted by Peter Cathcart Wason. In the study, Wason showed participants a triplet of numbers (2, 4, 6) and asked them to guess the rule for which the pattern followed. From that, participants could offer test triplets to see if their rule held.

From this starting point, most participants picked specific rules such as "goes up by 2" or "1x, 2x, 3x." By only guessing triplets that fit their rule, they didn?t realize the actual rule was "any three ascending numbers." A simple test triplet of "3, 15, 317" would have invalidated their theories.

2) Hindsight Bias

Known more commonly under "hindsight is 20/20" this bias causes people to see past results as appearing more probable than they did initially. This was demonstrated in a study by Paul Lazarsfeld in which he gave participants statements that seemed like common sense. In reality, the opposite of the statements was true.

3) Clustering Illusion

This is the tendency to see patterns where none actually exist. A study conducted by Thomas Gilovich, showed people were easily misled to think patterns existed in random sequences. Although this may be a necessary by product of our ability to detect patterns, it can create problems.

The clustering illusion can result in superstitions and falling for pseudoscience when patterns seem to emerge from entirely random events.

4) Recency Effect

The recency effect is the tendency to give more weight to recent data. Studies have shown participants can more easily remember information at the end of a list than from the middle. The existence of this bias makes it important to gather enough long-term data, so daily up's and down?s don?t lead to bad decisions.

5) Anchoring Bias

Anchoring is a well-known problem with negotiations. The first person to state a number will usually force the other person to give a new number based on the first. Anchoring happens even when the number is completely random. In one study, participants spun a wheel that either pointed to 15 or 65. They were then asked the number of countries in Africa that belonged to the UN. Even though the number was arbitrary, answers tended to cluster around either 15 or 65.

6) Overconfidence Effect

And you were worried about having too little confidence? Studies have shown that people tend to grossly overestimate their abilities and characteristics from where they should. More than 80% of drivers place themselves in the top 30%.

One study asked participants to answer a difficult question with a range of values to which they were 95% certain the actual answer lay. Despite the fact there was no penalty for extreme uncertainty, less than half of the answers lay within the original margin.

7) Fundamental Attribution Error

Mistaking personality and character traits for differences caused by situations. A classic study demonstrating this had participants rate speakers who were speaking for or against Fidel Castro. Even if the participants were told the position of the speaker was determined by a coin toss, they rated the attitudes of the speaker as being closer to the side they were forced to speak on.

Studies have shown that it is difficult to out-think these cognitive biases. Even when participants in different studies were warned about bias beforehand, this had little impact on their ability to see past them.

What an understanding of biases can do is allow you to design decision making methods and procedures so that biases can be circumvented. Researchers use double-blind studies to prevent bias from contaminating results. Making adjustments to your decision making, problem solving and learning patterns you can try to reduce their effects.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Scary (and sad) a woman in England (possibly Australia) has stolen my Son's identity and is posting pictures of him online!

Update 26 March 2008: Thank you for stopping in to check out this post. The woman in these pictures, who stole pictures of our son and many others from what the police have told us, is clearly not well. Please do offer a prayer for her. But also please do be very careful of her (particularly if you encounter her in real life). Her real name is Sammie Banks. See her myspace profile here. You can also see her teenscene profile here.

I would suggest that you keep your children as far as possible from her, and immediately alert your local police if you see her! She lives in the United Kingdom. We have naturally alerted the UK police (Cybercrimes and identity theft) who have an ongoing investigation into the matter, as well as interpol who have also opened an investigation. Naturally I cannot comment on the content of these investigations. It is, however, just a matter of time before she is apprehended. The link to the baby announcement below is no longer operative. The kind administrator removed all photos of Liam. However, if you wish to find more details on this woman (Samie Banks) you can follow link removed upon the request of the form since there is an investigation pending. Thanks!.

To see a collection of photos that she has 'stolen' from us and other parents you can follow this link (the password to log in is bailey).

The woman in question has tried to make contact with us using various aliases and different email addresses. In each case we simply forward all correspondence to the relevant authorities who assure us that she is being closely monitored.

Original post of December 2007 below:
This is truly bizarre! An unwell woman is using pictures of my son (and the details of my son and daughter) on various parenting websites! See the picture of her on the right, and compare that to two of the original pictures I posted back in November 2006 when I announced Liam's birth

This morning I received an email from the moderator of a website in Australia - the website has a forum for mothers to discuss birthing and parenting issues, and support one another. The moderator informed me that a woman from (who I believe is from England) had signed up to the forums announcing that she had given birth to a premature baby at 29 weeks...

She had posted numerous photos, various descriptions of her experience in giving birth to a premature son named 'Kabe', and had received a great deal of support and encouragement from members of the forum. However, the moderator of the forum noticed a few strange things in the posts and photographs and so decided to check it out...

When she investigated she discovered that this woman (see the picture above) was claiming to have had mine and Megan's children (Liam and Courtney), and one other child! She photoshopped her face over Megan's picture in the birth announcement!

Then, you'll see in the picture below (click on it to enlarge it) that she simply lifted, and reposted, two pictures of Liam, renaming him 'Kabe' (you can see our original pictures of Liam here and here).


I am not posting the link to the forums on which she posted the information about Liam etc. - she has been banned from there and various other forums. However, if you want to see the site that she set up with the birth announcement you can click here DON'T type in your email address (just to be safe)! Simply use the password kabe to gain access.

What does one do? I am at a bit of a loss... It is scary to think that someone has targeted one's children in this manner! Is there anyone out there who has any idea how we can trace who this is and put a stop to it? Off site email will be the best means to contact me (see the link on the right of this page).

Thanks for any help or advice!

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A 90 second lesson in the history of world religions.

I have frequently found that my congregants (and even my students) are oblivious to the history of the development of world religion.

There is an assumption in Christian countries, as there is an assumption in Islamic countries, that our faith has always existed and that it is the world's dominant faith perspective.

History is important for Christians - in my recently released book (see the panel on the right for Christ at the centre...) I devote almost a whole chapter to discussing why history is important for Christians and Jews. In short, our belief is that God has revealed God's self throughout all of history, but that the incarnation of Jesus at a particular point in history is very significant. It represents a 'watershed' in time, what the New Testament writers call a kairos moment (roughly summarised kairos time is 'the right time', whereas the other Greek word used for 'historical' or 'chronological' time is chronos). So, at a particular point in history God chooses to fully enter human history in the form of a baby who is born, the baby then grows to be a man, this man, Jesus, then dies the human death that is common to us all, and finally overcomes death for all of us.

This is very unlike the Hindu notion of time that is cyclical. As I discuss in my book, the Hindu incarnations (called avatara transliterated into English as 'avatars') do not enter into history in the same way as all other humans do (i.e., through the vulnerability of birth with no political status or supernatural 'edge' on the rest of us). Rather, the avatars enter reality as fully grown human persons, most often as Kings, Princes, or some form of supernatural being. Their task is to engage history, set it back on its course, and then return again in the next cycle of events when things are off track once more.

Jesus however, entered history, and both constituted God's salvific plan, and illustrated God's loving and saving will (something that we forget! I see this particularly so in Church debates where certain sectors of the Church emphasise the constitution of salvation at the exclusion of the illustrative purpose of the grace that caused Jesus to die on the cross. For example some would say "gay persons cannot be saved" forgetting that salvation is not just an act of constitution, it is also fully illustrated in God's act of grace on the cross. Jesus not only saves us through his death on the cross, he also shows how much he loves us (the 'others') by choosing to go to the cross to die for us).

SO, history is important for us!

Another, important fact about history (that deal with in a book I am just completing - due for release early in 2008) is that even though we recognise that God's most complete revelation comes to us through Jesus Christ, we must NEVER assume that we cannot learn about God from other sources! If that was the case (i.e., we could only learn from God directly through Jesus and the post incarnational scriptures) we would have to disregard the Hebrew Bible (what Christians call the Old Testament) completely. Now, if we accept that God could reveal God's self through the Old Testament, then we also need to realise that the writers of those texts learned about God from others sources that predate them (e.g., nature, culture, mystical experience, supernatural intervention, and even other faiths - for example the the names of God, which many literalist Christians are so pleased to quote, like ELohim, ELshadai etc., are derivatives of the Baal name for God - EL. The Hebrews took these concepts and adapted them for use in their faith. This was also done by the Christian missionaries to Southern Africa in the 19th century when they adapted the Sotho / Tswana names for God (Modimo) to refer to the God of Christianity (Yehova)). Of course one needs to be extremely careful of simplistic and misguided syncretism! However, Christianity is filled with examples of us adopting a word, concept, or philosophical system and adapting it to draw out of it what we have learned and discovered about God (the debates about the nature of Jesus Christ in the Constantinople / Nicea creeds are based squarely on neo-sophist philosophical concepts and language)

Here is an excerpt from my next book (which, as I mention above, should be out early in 2008) in it I discuss this notion (this book will be called The courage to find God, by the way. Please keep your an eye on this site for its release!):

A reaction among more conservative Christians to this shift in spiritual interest, particularly as it relates to the religions of the East, has been to demonise and undermine the revelatory and spiritual value that Christians can gain from the practises, and devotion, of these other faiths. Let us never assume that God was not active, both in revelation and salvation, before there was a Church, or doctrines, or even the Christian scriptures themselves. God is alive, and has always infused all life with God?s presence. I often hear people speaking about the ?threat? of this religion or that one. There seems to be a very unhealthy disregard for the fact that God loves all people, and that God reveals God?s self equally and graciously to all who seek. The sad assumption for many is that God is Christian, and particularly that God is a European or American Christian. This is ludicrous. God is God! Christianity is our attempt at discovering and articulating aspects of the mysterious God is who ultimately beyond simple explanations, short and concise creeds, and a single doctrine or faith.

What is required is thus a recapturing of the depth and wisdom of mystical spirituality from wherever God reveals it. This should be a spirituality that will meet the deep longing and need for people to discover and live within the truth of an almighty God who is living and active in all spheres of life. There is a need to discover that God is greater than the mere doctrines, symbols, or expressions, of any one faith. Whilst these elements of religion are not to be discarded, since they have value, they must be transcended in order to move into the mystery of the True God who cannot be contained in words and concepts.

Now, don't get me wrong. I DO believe that Jesus Christ, the Christian scriptures, and the Christian faith are normative in revelation. And, that Jesus is normative for salvation! However, I DO not think that Christ's power, love, and person, are only limited to persons who dress like me, talk like me, think like me, and go to Church like me! This is God's Universe, and I am certain that God expresses (and illustrates) God's loving will in places where Christianity has not yet reached. I do believe that the love of God is strong enough to encounter the heart of any person (even a person who has never heard of Jesus, or had a chance to read the Christian scriptures). I don't believe in a 'Christian God', no, rather I believe in GOD, the God who is Christ. And, I am a Christian, but God is bigger and more wonderful than my pithy attempts at understanding or expressing who God is...

I hope that makes a bit more sense, and makes my position clearer? I know many people become uneasy when they hear about Christianity and other religions in the same breath! Salvation comes in and through Jesus. However, Jesus is NOT restricted only to one understanding or expression of faith (e.g., a Methodist Jesus, or a Catholic Jesus, or even a mainline denomination Jesus... You get my point, I'm sure). However, please do feel free to state a different opinion, or help me to see my error where I am wrong!

My desire is not to be 'right' for the sake of 'rightness', but to faithfully and courageously serve and love the living Christ.

So, here's the history lesson (this shockwave app is reposted from my friend Sivin Kit's blog - ps. You can click on the app and go to their website to download a copy if you wish to use it in a class or sermon. Or you can download this, and other interesting shockwave maps from www.mapsofwar.com)!



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Friday, December 14, 2007

A picture taken in Wessel's favourite place... The quiet campus

Courtney and I went to the University of Pretoria yesterday to register some honours students who will be at seminary next year. She took this photo of me with my iPhone.



I realized two things. The first is that I prefer the campus when it is busy! There were only a few students on Campus (mostly grad students). I quite like the buzz of all the undergrads during term times. The second realization is that I am starting to get OLD! It used to be that I was one of the younger doctoral students... Now however many if them are my age and younger. At least I can still say that I am one if the youngest doctors on campus... Although not as young as my friend Dr Bentley. Ha ha!

;-)

Spiritual discipline (and procrastination)... Mere existence...

On of the negative side effects of the 'Puritan' work ethic (it actually comes from a neo-Calvinistic emphasis on sin and guilt... I researched it when I was supposed to be doing something far more important) is that we believe that our lives should be regulated by tasks and time.

I was once told my one of my students (who arrive late for a lecture because he was speaking to someone) "You may have a watch, but I have time". He was quite right of course, people are more important than watches.

I am a list person - I keep lists. Sometimes, when things get really busy, I keep lists of which lists to refer to in which order. I find that I am most productive when I simply switch off and become a bit like a mindless drone.. Sad that! I simply plow ahead with whatever needs doing next, trying my best to remove all emotion (whether positive or negative) from the task. That is ALSO not God honouring. God does desire that we fill all tasks (no matter how mundane, or important, with love and grace). But you see the problem, I have discovered, is that when I allow emotion in, I tend to avoid doing the unpleasant things, and hanker only after those things which please me, or those which fool me into placating my guilt (i.e., at least I am doing something, it may not be the thing that needs doing, but it is something)!

So, instead of exerting the energy to break the inertia of nothingness and break into a spate of creativity (like writing an article, or editing a book, or preparing fresh course notes) I tend to 'fool' myself into doing lesser things so that my mind is taken off the guilt of not doing the more important, and more difficult, things....

Jen Tyler, a friend from Chicago, posted this video clip on her blog a few weeks ago:



Life can be a bit like that.

I guess that there is a fine balance that needs to be kept here.

Life should not be regulated by either tasks or time! These things don't truly matter. Life should be regulated by faithful obedience to God! Now, that demands courage - it demands the courage to take on those tasks and activities that are necessary and important for discipleship and the establishment of God's Kingdom here on earth. It ALSO takes courage and discipline to know which things NOT to take on, and which things must not be done (even if they are urgent.... They may not be as important as something else). It also takes courage to overcome the guilt, some of which is merely a product of a false 'ethic' imposed on us by a society full of people who don't actually have an idea about what is important.

The converse is of course that Godly labour is just that, Godly! So, if you've been putting off doing something important by filling your life with all sorts of urgent things (like squeeky chairs, clean desks, and doing your shopping), then maybe, like me, you should pray for the discipline and courage to live your life for what truly mattes.

STOP PROCRASTINATING! Just a bit of friendly advice ;-)

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Right brain test... See how creative you are...


Many people that I know who have done a Masters or Doctoral research degree have told me that after completing their research project they went 'off' the topic for a little while.

This is true for me! My doctorate, and the years that lead up to its completion, were often taken upon by hours and hours of pouring through medical journals, books on the human brain, consciousness, and neuroscience. It was not exactly entertaining (the only entertaining bit about it is when people would ask me, as a minister, "so what is your doctorate about!?" They would usually expect some fairly regular response like, "Oh, I am studying .... in the New Testament...". Ha ha, when I said "I am studying the brain to see how we process identity, consciousness, and religious experience" they would get a sort of blank stare!)

Anyway, it has been over a year since completing that project - and I am pleased to say that I am already starting to develop a slight distaste for the subject of my next doctorate (I have been working on that for about a year now...)

However, I am starting to find the brain interesting again. So, when I saw this little test on the internet I thought I should post the link here! This is the little blurb before the test:

Being creative or artistic doesn?t mean you know how to draw or play an instrument. Being creative is a way of thinking, a way of viewing the world. Creative people use the RIGHT side of their brains more than the LEFT.

Click here to take the test. I would love to hear what you discovered! So, if you have the time please do come back and leave a comment.

PS. I just LOVE the domain name of this site 'wherecreativitygoestoschool.com'.

Some crazy wheelbarrow race skills! Watch this incredible Video [Vid]

One of the big problems that I think so many of us face as we get older is that we forget that we were designed to play a little! Somehow the demands and pressures of adult life tend to push out all the fun and joy of living!

Here's a FUN video of some grown up guys doing a wheelbarrow race... BUT, this is a race with a difference - these guys have some serious acrobatic skills!!! Watch the video...


Sweet Move In Wheelbarrow Race - Watch more free videos

If you could do that you may just win your next wheelbarrow race!

Swopping things around... No INN at the ROOM, another great Christmas sermon

I came across another wonderful Christmas sermon this evening. This one is by Ben Witherington himself (i.e., not one prepared by someone else that he posted on his site). It is another wonderfully creative approach to the message of Christmas!

As I read it, it was a bit of a 'cliff hanger', you move towards the edge expecting something to happen, and then right at the end there it is, the remarkable message of the Gospel of Christ!

Thanks Ben!

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that census should be taken of the entire Roman world (This was the census that was taken before Quirinius was governor of Syria). And all went to their own towns to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem, because he belonged to the line of David. He went there to register with Mary who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room in the guest room.

A very long time ago I made my first trip to Rome. They say all roads lead there. Among other things I went to see the great art in the Vatican, particularly the Sistine Chapel--- Michelangelo?s masterpiece. It was certainly impressive but the colors of the paintings were subdued even sepia tones in places in the Last Judgment, and some of the prophets on the ceiling. Imagine my surprise when six years ago I went back, having heard reports of the massive cleaning job they had carefully done over many months in the Sistine Chapel, only to discover that now the Sistine Chapel was a riot of color?as if someone had used the whole Crayola Crayon box and colored over the old paintings.

Only as it turns out, Michelangelo had intended the paintings to have these bright vivid colors all along, even though it was a shock to the system and the art critics freaked out when this was first made known after the chapel reopened. The sense of shock, or even outrage was palpable and the ever rabid Italian press endlessly debated the merits of the new Sistine Chapel vs. the Old with great heat and passion. This is what happens when you tamper with a masterpiece.

At the risk of producing a similar response, I am here this morning to tamper with a masterpiece, or better said, to share with you a rather different reading of Lk. 2.1-7, one solidly grounded in the facts, but nowhere represented in the Christmas carols and pageants. I must tell you that I have heard endless sermons on how there was ?no room in the end? and wasn?t it typical of a cold fallen world to cast the holy family and Jesus out into the cold, and so on, often preached with great fervor, but producing no ferment at all. We?ve heard it countless times before. We've all been innoculated with a slight case of Christmas, preventing us from getting the real thing, or in this case from reading these texts in a more historical way. The problem with the Christmas pageant version is, this is not at all likely to be what Luke intends to tell us in this much beloved and belabored Christmas tale.

Let?s start with the first oddity of this tale. Jesus was born while Herod the Great was king of the Holy Land. That is to say, Jesus was born before 1-2 B.C. when Herod died in Judea. That is, Jesus was born B.C.?before Christ. How did this anomaly happen? Well its all the fault of Denny the Dwarf a.ka. Dionysius the medieval monk who was vertically challenged and while drawing up our modern calendar miscalculated the date of Jesus? birth. As Maxwell Smart used to say??He missed it by that much?, which is to say about 3-4 years.

Then there is the second anomaly. Notice that Mary and Joseph are not married, they are only engaged. Why in the world would they both travel all the way to Bethlehem to register for the census when Mary was very pregnant indeed? It seems illogical at first, until we reflect again on that bit about her being very pregnant out of wedlock. The tongues were likely wagging back in Nazareth, a small town where one could not hide something like this. Mk.6 suggests that in fact the hometown thought Jesus was--- well... how shall we put it delicately? I once had a bright little six year old girl in a British Sunday school class come up to me during the Christmas season and ask??If God is Jesus? Father, and Mary is Jesus? mother, are God and Mary married? If not, is Jesus illegitimate?? Out of the mouths of babes?.

Yes, in Jesus? culture getting pregnant and having a baby out of wedlock, was consider a major scandal?a huge deal, a big shame and black mark on the family?s name. Our culture does not react this way to such things most of the time, but just the other day I heard the story of a teenage girl in Saudi Arabia who was riding in a car with her boyfriend, and was dragged out of the car and raped by two men. The men did get sent to jail, but the girl herself was to be beaten for having sex outside marriage?even though she was raped! Middle Eastern Law today in that honor and shame culture is not all that different than the practice in the society where Mary grew up. When a betrothed woman got pregnant before marriage and not by her fiance, it was usually deemed to be her fault. One can understand then why even though Mary was very pregnant, Joseph and Mary got out of town to have that baby.

But there is a further factor in the story seldom noticed. Joseph and Mary are registering for a census in Bethlehem, but if we ask what the function of such a census was, it was to count heads so that they could be taxed. Every able-bodied male and female between 13 and 62 had to be registered so they could be taxed. It was a head tax, and they were expected to pay a silver denarius each?yes ?the render unto Caesar coin? which Jesus was later to say Jews should ?return to sender?. These coins had the image of Augustus Caesar on them in those days, a ruler soon to be dubbed a deity. But the real deity was Jesus himself the spitting image of his heavenly Father, unlike the poor likeness of the Emperor on those tribute money coins.

In other words, this was all about going to see the I.R.S. boys in Bethlehem. Mary likely was just old enough to be registered, as Jewish girls usually got engaged between 12-14, immediately upon their getting their menstrual cycles. Remember as well that Joseph required some coaxing from an angel before he agreed to go ahead with this marriage, once he discovered Mary had a bun in the oven, and it wasn?t his. Joseph must have truly wondered what he was getting himself into with Mary.

Now I have to tell you, this story is too improbably NOT TO BE TRUE. I mean, no one would make up a story like this which suggested to the skeptical in the home town and to latter day skeptics ever since that Jesus the Son of God was illegitimate. The story of the virginal conception must surely be true, for an evangelistic religion in that honor and shame culture would never make up a story like this about the birth of their Savior if they wanted to convince a patriarchal world of its truth. It?s too improbable not to be true!

But there is one more surprise at the end of the tale. When it came time for Mary to deliver the baby, the Greek of Luke?s text says--- ?she wrapped him in cloth and laid him in a corn crib, as there was no room in the guest room?. Yes, you heard me right. Luke does not say there was no room in the inn. Luke has a different Greek word for inn (pandeion) which he trots out in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The word he uses here (kataluma) is the very word he uses to describe the room in which Jesus shared the last supper with his disciples?the guest room of a house.

Archeology of the area shows that houses in Bethlehem and its vicinity often had caves as the back of the house where they would keep their prized ox, or beast of burden, lest it be stolen. The guest room was in the front of the house, the animal shelter in the back, and Joseph and Mary had come too late to get the guest room, so the relatives did the best they could by putting them in the back of the house. Bethlehem was indeed a one stoplight town off the beaten track, and we have not a shred of archaeological evidence there ever was a wayfarer's inn in that little village in Jesus' day.

In other words, all this silliness about ?no room at the Holiday Inn? for the Holy family, is not at all what Luke is talking about. This is not a story about ?no room in the inn? or about the world?s giving Jesus the cold shoulder. It's a story about no inn in the room! It?s a story about a family making do when more relatives than expected suddenly show up on the doorstep. It?s a story most of us can relate to in one way or another. Jesus was born in his relative?s home, in the place where they kept the most precious of their animals. One can well imagine the smell in that room, and probably the shock of the Magi when they saw where the King was born.

But this story is not meant to meet our expectations or desires about what a Christmas story must be like. Jesus did not come to meet our expectations or desires?he came to meet our needs. George MacDonald puts it this way??We were all looking for a king to slay our foes and lift us high, but thou camst a little baby thing, that made a mother cry.? Jesus came as he did to make clear that no one and no place however humble was beneath his dignity, and every age and stage of life he would hallow, and save and sanctify.

John Donne, the great English cleric summed it up well when he said--- ?Twas much that we were made like God, long before, but that God should be made like us?much more.? And the Word, took on flesh and dwelt for a while in our midst, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the only begotten Son of God. It was a strange glory, a glory in humility, a glory without royal robes, a glory without a proper bed.

The question for us this day is?do we still have the capacity to be surprised, enthralled, by this remarkable Christmas story? Do we still have the capacity to see all things new, once more? Can we approach the story like a child?eyes wide open, mouth agape? Can we make him room in our homes, even if the calendar is full, and the head count high on the homefront. I certainly hope so. Jesus traveled a long way to dwell with you Immanuel, especially at this season. Will you not kindly make him room in your abode, however humble?

The old medieval Christmas poem said 'though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born, if he's not born in you, your heart is still forlorn.' Let me just tell you however, if you let that Guest into your inner sanctum, even if you put him in the very back, he will surely take over and become the center of attention in due course.

Free resources for Christmas services - hymn backing tracks and a basic song sheet...

As I suggested in yesterday's post, Christmas services come with a great deal of pressure! There is such an expectation to do things well, the message, the music, and the fellowship of believers must be just perfect.

Well, yesterday I posted some tips that may be of use to some in preparing their Christmas sermon or message. Today, however, I want to post a few resources that may help you with your music.

This year I will be leading a Christmas service in a community chapel. That means two things.

  • First, it means that the people who attend this service will NOT have the privilege of sharing in a common repertoire of contemporary (or even traditional) worship songs and hymns. So, I shall need to keep my hymn and song choices fairly familiar in order to allow everyone to participate fully and joyfully in the worship.
  • Second, since the service is not in my regular congregation (where the service that I preach at most Sunday's has 3 gifted and skilled worship teams) I do not have access to my regular musicians and equipment.
So, what is one to do if you are leading a service, or a small group gathering of friends and family who are away together over Christmas? Well, here are some resources that my be of use to you.

All that you will need is to download and print the attached document. I shall be printing and copying it back to back so that I can fold the A4 page in half to make a little B5 booklet.

Download the Hymn sheet

Next, simply download the MIDI files below onto your computer and laptop and viola you have wonderful backing music, skillfully played, to aid you in your singing! I shall be hooking my laptop up to a sound system since I am anticipating about 250 - 300 people at the service I shall be leading. However, if you are simply leading a small family service in a family home, or in a camp site, you could simply plug your computer of laptop into slightly more powerful speakers and play the attached files in the Apple Quicktime media player for Windows or Mac (the reason they are in Quicktime is that I had to edit the files to add introductions and the correct number of verses - you can of course convert them to MP3).


Download 'O come all ye faithful'


Download 'Hark the herald angels sing'

Download 'Joy to the world'

I will probably also lead one or two contemporary songs with my guitar. But, the great news is that one could lead quite a good service without even the slighted musical ability with these little backing tracks.

I hope this will be of some help as you prepare to celebrate Christmas this year. Of course I would also encourage you to check out the free Christmas and Advent resources on John van de Laar's superb website www.sacredise.com.

LASTLY, I am not a great 'pamphlet' creator, neither do I have much skill (or time) to sharpen the backing tracks for the service. If there is anyone out there who downloads the tracks, or the service booklet, and you improve upon them would you mind sending me an email to let me know? Just drop me an email (see the link under my links on the right of this page). Let's share our gifts with one another to make our Christmas services special and significant!

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Instead of 'simple little stories' and a 'half hearted Gospel' why not preach a REAL sermon this Christmas - here are a few pointers from others.

I have been in the ministry for almost 16 years. In those 16 years I have wasted hours of very kind people's time lulling them into a sense of false security - sadly, I have to confess that very often my aim at Christmas is to preach a 'good' message. I aim to preach a message that will entertain my congregation. Because so many of them don't come to Church very often the last thing in the world I want to do is say or do anything that may cause anyone to feel uncomfortable (or God forbid, challenged to change!)

So, I tell little stories, I entertain the kids, and I make sure that we sing a healthy diet of well known Christmas hymns.

Sadly, the one who is most betrayed by my lack of courage is the One who came at Christmas - the Christ, the Messiah, the Lord.

So, this year I shall try to be a little more courageous. I will still do my best to be welcoming, hospitable, gracious in communicating, helping each and ever person to feel as welcome and accepted in Christ's Church as I can... But, this year I am to do my best to represent Christ in my Christmas message, not my own fears, and not the sensitivity of the Church...

In reality our members LONG for truth, and our visitors NEED it as much as we do! So, for me it will be 'the truth in love'....

Paul Duke, from First Baptist Church (Ann Arbor, Michigan),
is one of the very best preachers I have ever heard! He crafts engaging and challenging thoughts together with skill and accuracy. His choice of images, words, and phrases touch my heart with the Gospel of Christ. I download every sermon that he preaches (in MP3) and listen to them while I drive.

Here's his message entitled : Into our world (reading Luke 2:1-20)

Here's an example of a gracious, yet honest and courageous, Christmas message...

If you come to the service tonight, you?ll hear and sing gorgeous music. Interspersed with this music you?ll hear some of the loveliest texts in Scripture, poetry and prose declaring the birth of the Christ Child. You?ll hear those texts in the old King James Version, not only because of its beautiful cadences, but because that?s the language we?re used to at Christmas, and as I learned some time ago, you just don?t mess with Christmas tradition.

The most famous text tonight will be the Christmas story told by Luke. In the stately old language we?ll hear that Mary was ?espoused to Joseph, being great with child.? And the shepherds were ?sore afraid? and said to one another, ?Let us go now even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass.?

We?ve read the same text this morning, but the translation is form our own time. Mary and Joseph are not espoused, but engaged; she isn?t great with child, she?s expecting. The shepherds aren?t sore afraid, they?re terrified. Etcetera. The old language is very dear because it?s so magical; the newer language is essential because it?s more earthy and real.

Speaking of earthy, some earthy details always go unmentioned. This man and woman are poor people. She?s drenched in sweat, she screams in pain. There is blood. The baby squeezed out is smeared with blood. He trembles and cries; he?s traumatized. They put him in a feed-box. And surrounding all this is the smell of manure. Silent night? Of course not. It?s a bloody, writhing, howling, stinking night. We tell the story in heavenly language, but beneath it is the messy real world.

Luke has another way of making this clear. He names the current administration. This happened, he says, when the emperor was Augustus and the governor of Syria was Quirinius. It?s as if he is saying: the story I?m telling may have the flavor of a fairy tale, once upon a time in a misty dreamland; but I?ll give you names from the actual politics of that time ? here are secular coordinates for this birth, which incidentally occurred in a town you can find on a map. It?s exactly like saying: When George W. Bush was president of the United States and Jennifer Granholm was governor of Michigan, Mary and Joe came to Ypsilanti .

Listen, I know, as you know, that to a great many people, for understandable reasons, parts of the Christmas story are mythical or simply nonsense? a virgin giving birth, angels singing in the sky. But do notice that the central proclamation of this account is that Mary?s baby is born into the actual world in a definite place in a particular economy, under a specific government, led by actual men in real positions of power. Into the stark real world, our world, the Christ Child emerges.

It?s what we celebrate at Christmas: God is in this Child, and God in a new way has entered the real world we live in.

It?s a messy world. ?Happily ever after? isn?t true for anyone. Things fall apart. We make dreadful mistakes, and our institutions fail us, and the rulers of nations make disastrous choices. Random calamity threatens us all. Human anguish and suffering are too much to take in. Resources are too short for too many. Relationships are complicated; most grow painful and sad. And death is stalking us all. Sometimes it seems everything is confusion and struggle. It?s messy where we live.

And into that, exactly that, the Christ Child arrives. His hands will not be clean. His mind will reel with turbulence. His relationships will mostly fail. He?ll put himself at the center of sick religion, masses of misguided people, corrupt institutions, politics, cruelty, lethal violence. And God is in him taking hold of that world, our world.

It?s still true, isn?t it? Emmanuel means God is in all these messes with us. He is present in the largest and ugliest of them. He stands among the millions crushed by poverty, among the millions dying of epidemic disease. He stands among the bombs and bullet and the thousands on thousands who are struck down. He is present in all that wreckage, and suffers it, and over it he achingly breathes possibilities for transformation. But Christ is not only in these huge devastations; he is in the smaller places of our messy lives. When we are in conflict with another, he stands there between us. When we are ruined and grieving what we?ve lost, he sits beside us. When we are paralyzed with confusion, he joins us. When we have done wrong, he takes his place with us.

Hear it again. Love came down at Christmas, all the way down. Into our world, the real one where we struggle to live, Christ is born to live among us, to bear what we bear, but more, to haunt us in it, meet us in it, calling us into life.

It should make a great deal of difference. If our world, all of it, is inhabited by Christ, then nothing is finally hopeless here. And this is our warrant to take hold of the world as he did and to join him in transforming it. Like him, with great passion, we must be worldly. To lift people out of poverty, to put an end to warring madness, to establish justice, to feed the hungry and heal the sick and embrace the excluded, to lead the hopeless into hope ? Christ is born into all this pragmatic, earthy work, and meets us in it and strengthens us for it. So nothing is hopeless; anything can change.

We can change how we look at the world, how we look at ourselves and how we look at each other. Love has come so beautifully down, infusing all of our world, transforming everything and everyone, if only we open our eyes to it. There?s a poem I?ve recited here before; I don?t know who wrote it, but it belongs to any Christmas Eve.

Whether you share the poor man?s mite

Or taste the king?s own fare,

He whom you go to seek tonight

Will meet you everywhere.

For he is where the cattle wend

And where the planets shine.

Lo, he is in your eyes, my friend

Stand still and look in mine.

If Christmas is magical at all, this is it: to see the world around us and the people before us, suddenly luminous with the holy, the great Love looking from their eyes, and from yours.

All of us know that the meaning of any sentence will shift, depending on where the accent is placed. Maybe for you this year the accent doesn?t fall where I have placed it today, but I?ve heard it falling on what has come to where we actually are: ?To us a child is born; to us a son is given.? ?Don?t be afraid . . .to you is born a Savior.? ?Peace on earth.? ?Joy to the world? ? your world and mine ? ?the Lord has come.?

Merry Christmas.


I found another amazing sermon called 'The project' (on the famous New Testament scholar, Ben Witherington's blog) - it is also a challenging and creative message (by Craig Hill, another Biblical scholar), it shows such incredible insight into the complexity of our human condition, what drives and motivates people, and encourages the hearer to adapt their 'life's project' without being condemnatory or moralistic.

On a final note, here are some exceptional tips for anyone who wants to approach the message of Christmas with intent and creativity.

Irene Village Mall - where spending meets art nouveau (take a look at the cow in the parking lot)... [Pic]

The 'green concern' has taken on new proportions at the Irene Village Mall in Pretoria. Yesterday I went to meet a new friend Aiden Choles from 'the narrative pulse'.

It was great to meet Aiden! He is a remarkable guy who is doing incredible work in his consultancy. In essence his consultancy helps companies (large, like Anglo American, and smaller companies) to recognise, diagnose, and deal with complex problems (whether these are corporate problems, or problems within that industry. Some even come from wider society and the market place).

We met half way between our places of work (he is from JHB and I'm from Pretoria). So we had coffee at the new (and IMPRESSIVE Irene Village Mall).

As I drove into the parking lot I knew this was going to be a different mall... Just in front of my car was a 2 storey tall Cow (yes, it was certainly a cow - it has udders), sitting in a pond!


In the main square there is another cow (with just its feet and udders) coming out of the ground!

The time spent with Aiden was fantastic - thanks for the thought provoking and inspirational conversation Aiden. I look forward to meeting him again. And, the Irene Country Mall is wonderful! I look forward to going there again!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Another one for Africa! Take a guess. What is the fastest growing city in the world?

I am not sure if you have ever seen the film "Idiocracy"? It has a pretty interesting story line. Without giving too much of the truly shallow plot away, here's what the movie is about:

  • In evolutionary terms the fittest species survive, while the weaker species die out.
  • Perhaps some of the things that we have come to value are not exactly what the 'evolutionary' universe values as 'fit'.... FOR EXAMPLE,
  • In the movie the 'average' middle class American couple (with good jobs, a nice house with a mortgage, two cars etc.) are too busy with their lives, their careers, and their debts to have children - or they are so precise about planing when and how to have their children that they end up with NO kids, or if they are brave enough to throw caution to the wind they may have 1 child (because let's be honest, you can't afford to educate, clothe, and care for more than one child with only TWO salaries these days!)
  • The 'Jerry Springer' crowd (what the Americans would call Trailer Trash, and the Brits, Chavs), however, procreate indiscriminately, or at least that's what the film suggests. Mothers will often have more than one child from more than one father, whilst fathers will often father more than one child with more than one mother... You get the picture. So, the average 'in discriminant breeder' will have say, 8 children in their lifetime.
  • Now, if you do the Math you will see that the 'clever', cautious people, will eventually die out. If they are lucky and had a child, their one child, who is well educated, and has a good career, and wants to make sound financial choices, MAY have 1 child him or herself, but then again this person may choose not to have any children at all. However, the less clever, hell for leather, breeders will each have 8 children who in turn will have 8 children.... You get the picture.
  • What is the long and the short of it? The breeders, not the thinkers, survive. And because the breeders are supposedly less clever (according to the movie) their children share in that same gene pool, which gets weaker with each successive generation.
  • Watch the movie - what you end up with is... let's not say anymore.
So, our choices are, breed OR die... Here's the trailer for the movie:



Anyway, if that is the case then I think we are on a fairly good wicket here in Africa. You see (and here's the amazing jump) we have the world's FASTEST GROWING CITY! It is Lagos in Nigeria.

Now please hear me clearly I am NOT saying that Nigerians, or the citizens of Lagos, are NOT clever! In fact quite the opposite... I think it is great that we have a city in Africa that is growing.... Who knows, if the movie idiocracy is indeed true, we could find ourselves as the ONLY survivors on planet earth!?

Amazing!

Lagos is now considered the 'New York' city of Africa! If you don't believe me follow this link and watch the video report....

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I fear that God may judge me.... For having a Medical Aid scheme

Megan and I have been truly thankful for our medical aid scheme. We are members of one of the larger private medical health administration schemes in Southern Africa. They have offered us good care.

Sure, our benefits could be better... Sometimes we feel the pinch when we have to take one of our kids to a doctor, or if Liam has to see a specialist more than once in a month and we have to find R500 each time to pay up front.

However, we have good hospital care. This last stint that Liam spent in hospital (just under a week) will only cost us about R9 000 - which is the maximum we should ever have to pay for covered care. Sure, when our little guy was in ICU for a few months we ran out of cover and ended up taking a second bond on our home to pay that off. However, for all intents and purposes we probably only paid for about few weeks of ICU care, whereas the medical aid scheme paid for months!

We have nothing to complain about.

Yesterday the nurse who looks after Liam fell ill. She was truly not well! So, Megie and I took her to our local doctor (knowing that there was no way that she would get to see a doctor within a day, let alone on the same night, at a government clinic). She was bent over in pain. Our doctors gave her compassionate and expert care - unlike many other doctors in the country they are not overworked, under inordinate pressure, under equipped, or under staffed.

They are able to offer the care they can because they serve people like us, people who have money to pay.

Our nurse, however, is not one of those people. She has to rely on the overburdened public health system. In a nation where the death rate has exceeded the birth rate (because of HIV / AIDS) that is a SCARY thought! In truth, unless you are dying it is unlikely that you will get swift care... That is not an indictment on the women and men who do their best to offer the best possibel care for the most possible people, under less than ideal circumstances....

NO, it is an indictment upon me...

I am one of those persons who 'props' up the system of abuse that ensures that people who have money (not people who are most in need of treatment and care) receive the best, fasted, and friendliest care...

Something is wrong with this picture! Sadly, I don't have the courage to change it. I cannot bear the thought of giving up my medical aid - I fear for the life of my children. But, by the same token I cannot bear that my medical aid contributes to the widening gap of care that exists.

Lord, help me!

Surely there must be a better system where those who have give so that those who don't can also have?

I know that Megan and I can make a difference in the life of this one woman, but I long to change a nation. I long for us to change the world so that it reflects the Kingdom of God! I long for a world where everyone can have the best, fastest, friendliest, and necessary care - not because they have money, but simply because they are human. I need to pray, and think, and work - but in the meantime I need to repent. I have unwittingly contributed towards the suffering of others.

A system that turns the suffering of others into a commodity MUST be wrong, and if it is wrong, then I have a responsibility to change it.

Today I pray for all those people who did not sleep last night because they, or someone they love, is sick... They're sick and they know they cannot access the treatment they need... Today I pray for all doctors, nurses, care givers, and healers, who wish they could do more for those who 'live their lives in the dark', 'giving all that they can, wishing they could give more'...

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Liam already love's my Mac! Good boy!

A great application for Mobile Blogging! Shozu, post photos directly from your cell phone to your blog.

I guess the title says it all!

Posted by ShoZu

I have been looking for an application that will allow me to post photos to my blog directly from my mobile phone - that is exactly what Shozu does!

I signed up for my Shozu account and can post photos take on my phone directly to Blogger, Facebook, and a host of other social networking services (like Flickr, Typepad etc.) Unfortunately you can't enter text in the body of your post (Shozu only allows you to post the photo together with a title - I may be missing something, so if someone knows how to post text for the body of the post please drop me a line!) However, all that I do is take the photo and then email it to the email address that Shozu gave me, and viola, within second the photo appears with my heading and the little Shozu icon you see above.

I am aware that you can also send photos via MMS (if your phone supports MMS).

I did try the blogger mobile posting service - but like many other similar services it only works in the USA.

So, expect to see a photos posted here in the weeks to come. I will be on holiday with my family in Knysna and Durban for two weeks, so I'll send a few photos through during that period.

Have a blessed day, and a blessed week. Remember to take time during advent to ponder the significance of God born among us!


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My wonderful wife taking care of our little Liam.




Posted by ShoZu



Sunday, December 09, 2007

A video of me taking my Vespa for a little ride in the country ;-) [Vid]

Yup, those lazy Sunday mornings... Nothing better to do than take my Vespa for a gentle spin the country.

Thankfully someone was on hand with a camera to catch the leisurely event!



PS. You'll notice that's not me (sure, my style is the same... But this is small frame Vespa - probably a 50cc, perphaps a 125cc!)

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The Church of Vespa! The Pretoria Vespa fun ride [Pics]

This morning I was not preaching, although I was engaged in a sacred activity. The Monks of the 13th century called it otium sanctum (that's Latin for 'Holy leisure').

This morning I met up with about 20 other Vespa riders at the Pretoria Vespa showroom in Duncan Street Pretoria (that is a place of great temptation for me! They have THE MOST incredible stuff for sale - caps, jackets, mugs, clocks, books, AND OF COURSE, all the latest Vespa models! I think the time may have come to sell my kidneys to buy the NEW GTS250ie!!!)

Anyway, Markus and Freddie were there to meet us, and within about 30 minutes 20 0r so new (and some slightly older) Vespa's had arrived (with their owners, and owners' spouses of course). It could be a scene from an alley way in Italy! The bikes were looking great, and so were their owners.

These folks were in for a morning of fun, relaxation, and enjoyment - they were here to enjoy God's good creation (and of course God's preferred mode of transportation, the Vespa!) I felt tempted to go on my 'beast' so that I could ride with them.... But I thought they may just smurk at a BMW among the stylish Vespas... So, instead I took my Orange Bomber (my 1967 Vespa Sprint 150cc - pictured here). You can see in the photo at the top that my old Girl is parked in the background, but just look at this incredible PX200 collectors item. This bike came standard with white wall tires, a brown leather seat and all the Chrome. It was one of the last 10 two-stroke Vespa's sold in South Africa!

I knew that I wouldn't be able to ride with them out to Cullinan / Bronkorspruit. The older Vespas (like mine) simply don't run at the speeds of these new models. Moreover, the orange bomber has been a little tempramental in the last few weeks... I didn't want to get caught somewhere far from home. Not to mention that I had work to do...

So, I met all the folks, had a chat with many likeminded people. We talked about favourite rides, longest rides, favourite responses to our cool bikes from friends, family and passers by... It was a sacred hour!

When they took off on their ride I started up the Orange bomber and headed home. My heart was glad. I was glad that I had taken the time to meet with these cool people, and share in our common joy!

You know, I think the Church will need to become much more like this... Going to people, not expecting people to come to us. I think that in a consumer driven culture we will need to find people and address their needs and desires directly. I suppose at the end of the day if the purpose of the Church is establish the Kingdom of God here on earth, then what I did this morning is truly the work of ministry!

Now, if only I could have taken a collection (a tithe!) I'm sure I would have been able to buy that brand new Vespa on the spot... Well, we pray!


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Why the Shepherds are central to the story of the birth of Jesus - an emergent perspective

Our God is intentional ? there is not a single detail in all of creation that is not filled with purpose, meaning, and God?s loving intention.

I must admit that I have become so accustomed to the Christmas story, and to the characters of this narrative, that I no longer notice the subtler details. When I think of the characters of Christmas I often tend to wander towards what they have become, rather than the truth of who they were. What they have become for me are those cute kids who play Mary, Joseph, the Angels, the Shepherds, the wise men, and of course the 'Baby born' doll (or light bulb) that plays Baby Jesus in the school nativity play!

Yet, I think that sometimes we forget that the very reason why there is a record of the lives of particular people is because God desires to communicate something particular and important to us. God encounters people with a purpose. These characters are no different. Today we shall encounter some very interesting characters - the shepherds that we read about Luke 2:8-20, and we shall see what lessons we can learn about them, about ourselves, and about the God who deliberately wishes to encounter us this Christmas.

I want to encourage you to put the 'school play nativity' scenes out of your mind for the next few minutes. I want to encourage you to ask God to speak to you about the REAL shepherds that were encountered in that field outside of Bethlehem that night. Ask God to speak to you about your REAL life as God speaks to you about their real lives!

I am weary of all the cliched messages in Advent that try to get people to stop shopping and get them out of the malls and into Church... I have wasted many hours preaching sermons like those... We cannot stop people from doing these things with a 30 minute sermon on a Sunday. Rather, we should be encouraging people to find Christ, and the miracle of the Christ of Christmas, in their everyday lives. The Lord has really been telling me that we need something more substantial than the conflict between the economy of Christmas and the Gospel. Thankfully this week's scripture reading has a wealth of meaty stuff to consider!

This message will look at the principles of God's Kingdom that come to the fore in the encounter with the shepherds at Bethlehem. Some social history of the time tells us that these shepherds would have been poor, possibly among the poorest in their community. They were certainly unskilled, and were often people who had a criminal record or were outcasts in society (hence the choice to work at night). Bethlehem, as we know, was not the centre of the Universe! In fact it was a bit like the 'Piet Retief' of it's day... far from everywhere, no great political, economic and social prestige.... Yet, the Christ goes there to be born, and God sends angels to a field outside of this little town to announce the miracle of his birth! So this encounter is about people who don't really matter, from a place that doesn't truly count. Yet somehow they make it into the most popular book in history, and they get a focus one Sunday a year for the past thousand and some years! There must be something significant here.

In this message we shall see what lessons we can learn from these people and their role in the Christmas narrative.

Here we'll look at 5 lessons we can learn from the shepherds as we prepare ourselves to understand anew the miracle of the birth of God, in Christ, at Christmas [to read the rest click here to download the MS Word file....]

For another truly exception sermon the Shepherds please click here.

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All your questions about the internets answered by LEGENDS 'Gabe and Max', internetxperts! [Vid]

These guys crack me up! Why bother Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs, or even that weird Steve Wozniak!? No, rather ask Max and Gabe all your questions about the interanets!

BoingBoing tv posted the following very cool Video!



Gabe and Max, who have taught so many of us how to achieve the dream lives of our dreams using the internet, answer questions from the Bing Bong audience. Then, aliens discover Mark Frauenfelder's book, "Rule the Web."

Link to video and full post with comments, on Boing Boing TV.

Don't confuse me with this guy - we're identical (it's amazing!) except for a few SMALL differences...

There is a notion, in popular mythology, that each of us has an identical twin somewhere in the world.... Well, in my case it seems to be true... How WEIRD is that!?

My friend Pete Grassow alerted me to this guy from America. We're, like [to coin a popular phrase], identical twins!

Oh, sure there are a few small differences:

- His surname is Foster, mine is FoRster (note the 'R')
- He's an American, and I'm a South African
- He's black, I'm white
- He runs an anti Gay website, and I believe that God loves and accepts gay people

Here's what we have in common (that makes us, like, identical twins):

- His name is Rev DL Foster
- My name is Rev DA Forster

The likeness is uncanny! So, there are a few small (hardly noticeable) differences... other than those we're like exactly the same!

Amazing isn't it!?

Ha ha, I wonder if one of his friends has even contacted him to say "Rev Foster, did you know that there is a Rev Forster in South Africa who could be your twin in every way (except for a few small points)! Do you think people will be able to tell the difference between the two of you!?"

I see that he's an 'Executive director' - sounds important!

Fun times!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Humour for today... What to do if you encounter an atheist...

In the light of the Gareth Cliff 'web storm' (don't worry, I love you Gareth!) I thought this was quite a funny picture... So, kids if you encounter an atheist, here's what you do ;-)

Oooohhh.... At least Mr Grouch haz da coffeez on the intrewebs...

Come on folks, let's laugh at ourselves!

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For all bloggers, researches, and journalists out there - a fool proof way to see if a post is true or not....

I thought this was FUNNY! My students must have been using this method for some years know (without my knowledge), when I consider some of the stuff they put in their papers!

From BoingBoing












The truth, as revealed by Sean Bonner, who is, incidentally, kickin' it in Vienna this month with the freaks from monochrom. Here's a post he did today about a presentation by Scott Blake on Barcode Art.

Finally! A place to RANT about the South African Airline industry...

I am a REGULAR commuter on South Africa's budget airlines... At this stage of race 1Time is the most reliable, friendly, and least likely to be delayed (plus! When you arrive at Johannesburg, 1Time flights park right at the terminal so you don't have to get onto one of those deathtrap buses to get into the airport to find that your luggage is missing!)

The least friendly, most likely to be late (more than an hour or so... All of the airlines are delayed by AT LEAST one hour now days, so I only count it as a delay when the flight leaves more than an hour late), least comfortable airline has to be kulula.com... In the last three months I have not had a single kulula flight that has been on time! My record was a 6 hour delay leaving Cape Town a few Friday's ago....

The worst airport in the 6 nations of Southern Africa? (yes, this list includes places like Umtata and Manzini in Swaziland!).... The prize goes to - Cape Town domestic departures! Overcrowded, not enough seats, a narrow strip of hell with shops to steal your money....

So, if you have a horror story to share about a flight delay here in South Africa, or anywhere in the world, the please feel free to post a comment here.

You can also formalize your complaint by posting it here:

David Pogue is happy about a new website that lets you share your bad flight experiences, called MyBadFlight.com.
PS. The picture above was taken at Cape Town (a.k.a Hell) domestic departures - note all the flights that were delayed, indefinitely delayed, and canceled....

;-)

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A 25th Anniversary worth remembering

This is a 25th Anniversary that is worth remembering. Did anybody else out there have a Commodore 64? With that clunky tape drive... You would spend hours programming a game in on basic, then come to 'save it to tape' and something would go wrong with your tape recorder... In those days if you wanted to 'pirate' a game you needed a tape to tape recorder .... Ahhhh those where the days.

Here's the story from CNN.

Like a first love or a first car, a first computer can hold a special place in people's hearts. For millions of kids who grew up in the 1980s, that first computer was the Commodore 64. Twenty-five years later, that first brush with computer addiction is as strong as ever.
art.c64.jpg

Millions of Commodore 64s were sold in the 1980s.

"There was something magical about the C64," says Andreas Wallstrom of Stockholm, Sweden.

He remembers the day he first laid eyes on his machine back in 1984.

"My father brought it home together with a tape deck, a disk drive, a printer, and a couple of games...I used to sneak home during lunch to play [on it] with my friends." read more here....
PS. I had a Sinclair ZX Spectrum (with the rubber keys) before I had one of these. My dad had a 300baud accoustic coupler modem to dial into his offices belltell network. I used to use it to access the BBS's and 'phreak' the old Telkom (then post office) exchanges to make free phone calls... Yes, we all have a life of crime locked somewhere in a closet.


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Suicide help line woes... There is hope, make the call (JUST use your own cell phone) [Pic]

I guess this is a sign of our times... Utility is more important than compassion.... So, when you're reading to give up, find the strength to use your cell phone and make that last call...

[Just click on the image to see a larger version]

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Monetizing religion - Jesus and Mary for sale on your Cell Phone

This interesting post comes from Dvorak.org... Of course John Dvorak has his own little pithy take on this story (see the end of his post).

However, I suppose there is some truth in this - when there are people who want or need something that you can provide, our culture will monetize almost anything, including our Religion! Heck Joyce Meyer has done it!

If you are a Catholic looking for a saint in heaven to protect you, you no longer have to carry a small ?holy card?. You can get the image sent to your cellphone.

A company in Italy started offering the service?but ran into opposition from some Catholic Church leaders who think the idea is crass and commercial.

?We found a need and filled it,? Barbara Labate, who came up with the idea with her business partner in a cellphone services company based in Milan.

Jesus and the Madonna are also for sale?

And always have been.

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Friday, December 07, 2007

'God is petty' - Gareth Cliff (5FM radio personality). What happened?

Here's the story of Gareth Cliff's remarks about God being 'petty', and the subsequent story that unfolded. I received the petition and was concerned that he was able to say things like this on air. I don't want to infringe on his right not to believe in God, but it does infringe on my beliefs when he expresses views such as this publicly and without sensitivity or restraint...

From News24:

Cape Town - 5fm DJ Gareth Cliff is in trouble again. The controversial radio presenter has caused a furore by calling God "petty" on his breakfast show.

However, according to Cliff's manager, the incident has been blown out of proportion and taken out of context.

"Cliff has been accused of blasphemy for referring to a news report of the Teddy Teacher Gillian Gibbons who had been arrested in the Sudan for naming a teddy bear Mohammed."

"Blasphemy should not be a crime," Cliff said in an e-mail on Thursday.

"If God is great, why would he be so easily offended by what a mortal man says? If God has such an ego, then he must be petty."

Since the show, numerous e-mails have been circulating on the web with petitions "to get Cliff off air".

News24 has also received numerous complaints of users saying that Cliff "has gone too far".

'God is not petty'

June Jousten, a News24 user from Gauteng, said: "What really gets to me, is that this seems to happen on a daily basis and that the South African Broadcasting Association does little to zero about it."

In the midst of the furore is Gerda-Mari Povey, a 5fm listener from Pretoria, who sent an e-mail of complaint to Cliff on Thursday morning after listening to his show.

Povey forwarded her e-mail correspondence with Gareth Cliff to News24.

She wrote to him: "You know what, Gareth, I love your show, but this morning u shocked me!!!! just wanted to say, God is not petty!!!!!

"I pray that something drastic will happen in your life, that will allow you to experience the loving kindness and mercy of God..."

"As a Christian, I really felt offended," she told News24. "He (Gareth) should have more respect for people's religion. He has offended many of his listeners."

"What if my children had heard his comments. It was very irresponsible of him. I'm normally the kind of person who just keeps quiet, but this time it was just too much."

Hate mail

Cliff's short reply to her e-mail was: "Stop sprouting nonsense. There is no god. There is no tooth fairy and there is no Father Christmas."

Povey said: "I was so upset. I was almost in tears. I forwarded his response to a few of my closest friends, but I never intended this e-mail to be circulated through the entire country."

Povey told News24 she had been receiving a lot of hate mail since Thursday.

"Some people have said to me, how can I know for sure that it has indeed been Gareth Cliff who replied to my e-mail. Well, I sent my initial e-mail to 5fm's mailbox and Cliff replied to my e-mail from his personal e-mail. Who else at 5fm could have written that e-mail?"

"I don't have anything against him personally, he can debate politics etc all he wants, but when it's about religion, he should show more sensitivity."

Tribunal

Cliff's manager told News24: "Gareth has always been opinionated and loves debating. He has responded to Povey by e-mail as a courtesy and has treated her in the same way as he would have treated a friend."

In his follow-up e-mail to Povey, Cliff placed into context what he was trying to say on his show.

"I will never agree with you just as you find my lack of belief so distasteful. The difference is that I concern myself with people, and try to be a good and hopefully moral person.

"I don't need blessings or permissions or prayers. I'm a happy guy."

According to his manager, Cliff was not available for comment until Thursday morning.

"The SABC has called a tribunal at the Broadcasting Complaints Commission in Johannesburg on Thursday morning at 09:00 to discuss the issue. It will be open to the public.

"The SABC has come to his defence and believes his comments have been taken out of context."

And, here is Sarah Britten's commentary,

gareth cliff

"If God is great, why would he be so easily offended by what a mortal man says? If God has such an ego, then he must be petty."

Gareth Cliff, commenting on the teddy bear named Mohammed. A listener from Pretoria then wrote to him to complain. Gerda-Mari Povey wrote:

"You know what, Gareth, I love your show, but this morning u shocked me!!!! just wanted to say, God is not petty!!!!! I pray that something drastic will happen in your life, that will allow you to experience the loving kindness and mercy of God?"

He then apparently wrote the following to her:

"Stop sprouting nonsense. There is no god. There is no tooth fairy and there is no Father Christmas."

Povey has subsequently received hate mail, along with questions about whether it was Cliff who actually responded to her. However, Cliff then mailed her again, explaining:

"I will never agree with you just as you find my lack of belief so distasteful. The difference is that I concern myself with people, and try to be a good and hopefully moral person. I don?t need blessings or permissions or prayers. I'm a happy guy."

This means that Gareth Cliff is one of the very few South Africans to emerge from the belief closet and effectively declare himself an atheist. In a country where religious conservatism is more predominant than many of us like to think, that's a brave thing to do.

Brave... Perhaps. Bright, not so sure...

Any person who uses their position of public influence to humiliate others is neither 'moral' nor a 'good person' in my estimation. Quite apart from his 'popular' religious sensibilities, his email shows disdain toward a member of the public....

Not my cup of tea. I am sorry to say that my estimation of Gareth Cliff has been lowered, for what it's worth, not for his views on religion - I am not surprised by uninformed and shallow approaches to a Universe filled with mystery! That happens every day! I am disappointed in the manner in which he dealt with this issue, and the ordinary listener who expressed her opinion in relation to his. Clearly he was dismissive of her, yet he wanted to have the right to have his opinion heard without challenge!

I heard his half hearted explanation (which he assured the listeners was neither an apology, nor an admission of wrongdoing) this morning.... If he was truly brave he could have either stuck to his guns... Or, he could have been brave enough to admit he was not right in the way he treated a member of his audience.

Just my two cents worth!

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The Golden Compass... What's all the fuss about!?

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman seems to be ruffling quite a few feathers in the bloggosphere (and in Churches around the world). I can understand why - here's the official trailer:



Steve Hayes has discussed the Pullman books, and the current controversy surrounding them in anticipation of the premiere of The Golden Compass the movie, with great mastery of both a sound theology, and a superb insight into the literary genre and the entertainment value of the books.

His post is detailed, objective, and extremely helpful for the person who is considering whether they will see the movie or not.

I've read two of the three books in the 'His dark materials' series. Sure, they have some scary and challenging stuff, particularly for the young audience they are directed at. As I posted elsewhere, this is Harry Potter with fangs!

However, I am certain that most of our congregants (here I am speaking to pastors and Church leaders) will go and see the movie - even if many of them are afraid to admit it!

Might I suggest two things for any person who is concerned about their children, family, friends, or Church members being negatively effected by this movie?

1. Please READ the book(s)! I get so upset when people make statements about things without informing themselves. If you don't want to enrich the author by purchasing a copy of the book, drop me an email, I can tell you where you can get free copies... I know about the resource because at least one of my books has also been posted there for download.

2. Please READ Steve Hayes' superb post on the movie - it is a good, objective, insightful, and highly articulate take on this subject.

Thanks Steve! Blessings to all for the day - here I go, facing it without more than an hour's sleep. The joy of having Liam home far outweighs the need for sleep! I think, as an aside, that we humans were meant to be sleep deprived between the ages of 20 and 40 anyway. That's the only way to raise your Children and work hard enough to pay the rent (and buy books and see the occasional movie)....

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

This could have been the last straw for my blogger account...

Blogger has been very good to me on the whole. However, it does have quite a few quirky and annoying elements too, worst of all is how long it takes to repost my blog if I add blogger tags!

But, then when I tried to add a post from Safari in the iphone and discovered that I could only enter titles and not enter any text in the body of my post, I was getting ready to move across to my wordpress blog completely....

That was until I discovered that You CAN POST to blogger using the web interface in Safari on the iPhone, as long as you select the 'edit HTML' tab in blogger!

So blogger gets to live for another day! But only just...

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I have an UNLOCKED Apple iPhone (running on MTN, everything works) [LOTS of pictures]

Well, as you all know, I am an absolute Mac fanatic!

I love my Macs
a great deal....

Well, my Maclust was satisfied this week when I got a 'bricked' iPhone from a friend in Cape Town (bricked means that it WAS unlocked, then some sad soul updated it to the 'new' firmware 1.1.2. and that made it completely unusable - well so we thought!). Because it was bricked and unusable I got it for next to nothing (in fact, as per usual, I picked it up in a trade for a few of my older dispensable gadgets!)

So I stated to do some research on how I can 'unbrick' my new paperweight. I went to this site and followed the instructions to downgrade and unlock my iPhone!

It took two or three attemps (and a move from the Mac to the PC, downgrading iTunes on my wife's PC to be specific), but IT IS UNLOCKED and EVERYTHING works!!!!!! So, I have an Apple iPhone running on the MTN network here in South Africa (by the way, I have tried it with a Vodacom sim card, and Cell C, and it works on all of them).

There are two things that you need to know about this device if you're outside of the UK, US, Germany and France:

1. You need to unlock it (called a jailbreak on the internet) so that you can install third party applications on it (apptapp is the standard package installer that let's you get everything from PDF readers, ebook readers, Instant messaging clients, skins and modifications, voice recorders, drawing programs and every single Gameboy Game ever... Just to mention a few)

2. Once it is unlocked you use a free program called 'anySIM' to allow you to use (as the name suggests) ANY carrier's SIM card in the phone.... anySIM is one of the free downloads that comes on the apptapp application that you use to unlock your iphone.

Before I post a few photos, here are my likes and dislikes (I have had it for about two weeks now as my primary phone, diary, and web device - so I have had a change to test it thoroughly in all sorts of conditions. Over the last week it has been an absolute gift as I've had to be out of the office at the hospital with my son. As many others can understand, life still has to go on, people call, meetings need to be set up, emails returned, reports filed etc. and the phone has been a champion):

LIKES:

  • It's an Apple iPhone... say no more.
  • It sync's with my Mac (contacts, iCal, iTunes etc. etc.) see the screen shots below.
  • The interface is typically Apple, smooth, effective and it JUST WORKS!
  • The keyboard... As Steve Jobs said "learn to trust the keyboard", once I let go and just typed I can probably get about 30 words a minute on the keyboard! Search this blog for a paper I wrote on IQ, EQ and SQ... This phone's keyboard requires EQ to operate it well. It's like a golf swing, you can't quite understand why it works (and when you try to understand it you loose the plot), but it works.
  • SAFARI!!! This has to be the very, very, very best mobile browser ever! I have a Treo 650 (palm) a Treo 750 (windows mobile), and a Nokia E90 (Symbian), and none of them can do REAL WORLD browsing with all the bells and whistles.
  • iCal - it looks, feels, and works like iCal on my Mac... As you can see from the screenshot of my iCal I am a HEAVY calendar user, and this just works!
  • The iPhone interface (scrolling with the roll of a finger, pinching to zoom in and out on the web browser and PDF's)
  • Mac OS (this means that it has a version of UNIX underneath... So it is easy to hack. I have installed SSH and AFP with a terminal on my iPhone so I can FTP and connect to it using various UNIX old skewl hacker tricks...)
  • Email client... Works great (but I also dislike it, because you can't save attachments, or create folders, and it is SLOW in sending SMTP mail).
  • The earbud walk and talk headphones... They are fantastic, look cool, and they have a nifty little square thing that you ust gently touch squeeze to answer a call. If you're listening to a podcast, watching a video, or listening to an MP3 and a phone call comes in it pauses your media, and then starts it up again when you're done talking.
  • The incredible display!!! This has to be the best, brightest, and clearest display I have ever seen. It is incredible to watch video on this thing!
  • It charges via USB... This is great since I always have a laptop nearby and can just plug it in to charge (I also have a USB ligther adaptor for my car... So no need for weird adaptors, just plug it in and it charges! The battery life is great. I am a heavy user! I check my email in meetings, I check facts on the internet, update my blog, have reminders sounding throughout the day, listen to podcasts and audiobooks while driving, send SMS's Oh, and since this IS a phone... I ALSO make and receive quite a few phone calls... With all of this the iPhone can last me at least three days.)
  • Vibrating alert! A must have for a person who is in meetings and classes and needs reminding of when to go to the next appointment or meeting!

DISLIKES:
  • Edge - in this day and age EVERY cell phone should have 3g... I suppose it does have a great WiFi client. So, I can't complain at the office and at home.
  • You can't send MMS! Crazy - apple will HAVE to fix that.
  • You can't take Video (I'm sure someone will do an app to do that in the not too distant future - like the apps to record voice notes, read ebooks, read PDF's, modify the skins and appearance... etc. etc. etc.)
  • No bluetooth keyboard support. I have a great bluetooth keyboard that folds out to touch type in meetings etc. It would be great to use this with the iPhone screen.
  • Can't do easy internet connection sharing (i.e., use the phone as a bluetooth modem).
  • Doesn't show up like an 'external hard drive' (as with the other iPods).
  • You can't scroll the timeline within an MP3 (like you can with the scroll wheel on a regular iPod).
  • There are no 'native' NIV, NRSV, and Greek Bibles (I am signed up for Laridian.com 's online bible's - so I have all these versions, but I need to have the cell phone switched on and use Safari to access them.... That is not ideal for when I am preaching. So, what I have been doing for the past two weeks is copying the texts that I'll use in the service into an email and emailing them to myself to read from email on the iPhone).
  • The Camera is great in good light, but not so good in poor light (my Nokia E90 camera beats this one hands down, but then the iPhone camera is MUCH, MUCH better than either of my Treo camera's).
OK, so are you ready to see a few screen shots of my iPhone? Simply click on the small icons to enlarge each photo. I have scaled them down to make this page load a bit faster for those on dial-up (and of course those who are browsing on the cell phones!)

The iPhone interface


In this photo you can see the main screen. The four icons on the bottom are on a Dock (Phone, eMail, Safari Web Broswer, and iCal). All the other icons 'scroll' up and down as you slide your finger up and down the screen. The more knowledgeable will notice that my main screen looks different from the standard iPhone, that's because I installed 'customize' and 'SMB Prefs' which allow one to change the icons and appearance. To open an application you double tap with your finger. Notice on the top left that it says MTN SA, when you are using the Edge network a little 'E' appears there, now, however, I am using wifi so you can see the wifi symbol with wifi strength indicated. The time is in the centre and the battery on the right.

The Calendar


This is a screen shot of my calendar for today. You can see that it has three views (List, Day (the view seen here) and Month view). Each reminder or appointment appears as a block of time (which one sets either in iCal on the iPhone, or can sync from your Mac's iCal on your computer). If you have overlapping or clashing appointments in day view they stack (much like you see here). One can choose various options in iCal (repeats, all day events, reminders alarms, repeats for repeating events, etc., etc.) Again the interface is great, you simply slide your finger up and down and it slides through the day, or right to left to go to the next day.

Email and SMS.


First, forgive me for blanking out some sections of the emails above... I'm sure you understand! Some people may not wish to have their names of cell phone numbers shared on the internet! So, this is what the basic email list screen looks like. each unread email has a blue dot next to it. As you touch it, it opens and you can scroll it with your finger. So far I've seen that the email client lets you read MS Word, MS Excell, PDF, picture, and a host of other files. It DOESN'T do Powerpoint. And, as I mention above, you cannot create folders (if you're using POP3, of course you can if you're using IMAP - but then who does that with an iPhone!?), and you cannot save attachments.... However, the mail application works like a charm!


This is what SMS messages look like when you open them (they first appear in a list mode, like the email list above, when you click on the email it opens out to this view, which looks a LOT like iChat on the mac). Here you can see an SMS I received from a Pretoria Blockbusters... I replied just to show you what a reply would look like - you can change the colours of the bubbles, it tells you the date and time of your reply, and each SMS received from the same number or contact gets added to the same conversation.... So, it looks like an IM chat. What's missing!? Can you believe that the iPhone doesn't allow you to send a single message to multiple recipients!! CRAZY! But don't fear, there is a third party (FREE) app called weTool that will do that for you. Again you can download that form apptapp.

Once you get used to the keyboard you can REALLY type fast and it can be done with one hand (ask me, I had to reply to quite a few emails and SMS's over the last week while my son was in hospital asleep in my arms, and I was having to deal with work).

Maps (Google Maps).



You can get street level maps for most of the world (for free), and because they were designed specifically for the iPhone they are small and fast (so work great via EDGE). This device DOESN'T have GPS (like my Nokia E90), so it is not going to navigate anywhere, but at least you can check out a map if you are lost.

Notice the 5 icons on the bottom - You can see I have it on map, you can select Satelite view (see the next photo), and list view (if you're in the UK or US you can get directions from one address to another - it will still be a few years before Google implements that feature down South in South Africa!). I haven't got a clue what the car icon is for!? Any ideas???


How COOL is this!? The map above this is a map of the Menlyn area near my house, and this picture above is a Google Maps satelite view of the same area!!! I can see my house from here!! (well, if I scroll up a little and pinch out...)

Ebooks.


OK, so this is what the basic interface for the ebook reader looks like... It will handle any plain text or HTML ebook... Sadly it doesn't do Mobipocket books, so if you've bought any of my books on Mobi, please email me and I will gladly send you the HTML versions for free so you can use them on your iPhone. Again, reading books on this great screen, with the simple 'finger scroll' interface, is GREAT! You can see that I have already added a Bible (although only KJV...) and my two books in HTML format! They all work great.


The view above is of the PDF list. You can see that I have some personal PDF's in there (i.e., Word Documents that I have saved in PDF format) and some other books (I am currently reading ALL of Phililip Pullman's books in anticipation of the brewing storm with the realease of 'The Golden Compass' - I have already had about 40 emails about these. My advice to parents and pastors is BE INFORMED!!! Don't rely on others to tell you about this).


This picture shows what a PDF looks like when it is 'touched' to open it. This is the copyright page of my new book. You can see that it lists how many pages are in the PDF, and don't worry for those who don't have perfect eyesight you can 'pinch' the document to zoom in and out... And, your finger can scroll through the document.

Some other COOL apps (Weather, stocks etc.)


The iPhone, in true Apple style, also has a few 'widget' like apps. The picture above is the weather app. You can put a whole lot of cities in there and it will update the weather via Edge or WiFi (you can see I have 5 dots at the bottom... Each of them represents a City. I have Pretoria, Cape Town, Oxford, Chicago, and Kaula Lumpur in there).... The Clock application is also GREAT and does the same (add cities etc.). The information is downloaded from Yahoo.

Photos.


This is a picture of the 'photo' app. You can sync photos from iPhoto (so you can see I have a Liam album, a family album (in which I see the first photo is actually of two of my OLD macs... HA HA!). You can view the photos as a slideshow on the GREAT iPhone screen, and you can also also show them on a TV or Dataprojector with RCA cables!

By the way, the I haven't included any pictures of the iPod (Music, or Video) interface here... It is exactly the same as the new iPod Touch... It has the new 'Cover Flow' view... Let me know if you want to see screen shots of that and I will upload a few.

And... The best for last - Safari Web Browser.


This is the standard view in Safari. Notice a few things. First, this is my friend Sivin Kit's web page (www.sivinkit.net). Second, you'll notice a few icons: Top, the + adds the current site as a Safari bookmark, the other one on the top reloads the site. The bottom icons are a back and forward navigation icon. The book is to go to you bookmarks (and, it Syncs all your bookmarks from Safari on your Mac!), then, you'll notice a little '4' on the bottom right - that is to show that I have 4 windows open. If you touch the four it shows you a 'Cover Flow' of the four windows so that you can scroll between them, close them, or open a new one.


One of the incredible hardware features on the iPhone is that it has a motion sensor. If you turn the iPod sideways (into landscape mode) it will rotate the screen in certain apps (like Safari, or the Camera). This is great because it let's you view a whole Web page's width. This screenshot shows my friend Emily's website (christchurch.typepad.com).


The moment you touch any box on he web page where you enter text a keyboard pops up. This is the keyboard in Landscape mode.


Here's a picture of my website in Portrait mode. You can see that unlike other mobile web browsers it literally loads the WHOLE page! It is incredible. It will load the graphics etc. But, it does not do YouTube in the web browser (there is a seperate iPhone app to do that). But, it handles Java very well. I can do my secure banking, and browse every single site I can on my Mac. There are a few sites that are specifically recreated for the iPhone (like Facebook and google), they are great and have been well designed to capitalise on both the browser and the hardware and interface of the iphone.

By they way, don't worry, if your eyes are not that good, you can also 'pinch' to zoom in on a web page (see the image below. You can also pinch and rotate - no, that is not some innuendo - to see more of a page). Sadly, the browser doesn't allow downloads by default (but, as with many other shortcomings, there is a free apptapp app that let's you do that!)


In this picture you can see that I have 'pinched' it to scroll to have a very large font. Of course you simply slide your finger over the screen and the page moves around so that you can read it and see it.

Conclusion.

So, what is my conclusion with the iPhone? Well, I wish it that Apple would release the iPhone in South Africa, however, it is very unlikely.... So for those of us who have the guts (and the know how) the only thing we can do is jailbreak and unlock it...

I score the iPhone as 8 / 10 (and the remaining 2 points seem to be capable of being fixed up by clever people who know good code and can develop the apps and features that Apple should have included in the first place).

By the way, did I mention that all of the above features can be added to the new iPod touch (with the exception of the Phone features of course... But you can unlock your phone and install a whole host of applications on your iPhone as well).

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Liam is HOME! And, out of jail [pic]...

Praise God, little Liam is home! The doctor was very happy with his lungs, he hasn't had a fever for two days, and so he was happy for us to bring him home.

He did come home with a 'truck load' of medicine! However, I'm happy to play nurse maid!

So, Liam the great has broken free from the bars of his little jail!

Once again, sorry for quality of this picture, it was taken on my phone (which doesn't handle low light too well!)

Thanks so much to everyone for your prayers and care! We feel truly loved.

Liam looking better each day...

Little Liam is looking better each day. Yesterday the doctor upped his medication and the effects are tangible. Liam is already doing better. He doesn't like the physio at all though.

Last night Liam was much more settled. He went to sleep quite nicely. Here's a picture of the big guy in his little crib. He likes standing in it when the sides are up... It looks like he is in jail!

Well, we are truly hoping and praying that he will be out of hospital by tomorrow or Saturday. However, we would rather have him get better properly than come out too soon and have to go back.

Yesterday I could not spend too much time at the hospital because of work commitments. Today is Megie's turn. Both of us are very blessed that we can take a little extra time off (particularly at this time of the year) to be at the hospital.

With a baby of this size it is necessary to have someone there almost all of the time. The hospital is full of sick little kiddies and babies, and the three sisters who are on duty don't have enough hands to take care of all of them. So, when we can be there it settles Liam, but also helps them out a great deal - of course it also mends our hearts! As you can see in this picture, dad's heart is glad when his little guy is resting!

Of course times like these affect our productivity.... but, we have a whole life to be productive. So, I have missed a few deadlines, and had to shift a few appointments. But, Liam is far more important!

Blessings for the day!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Sacredise - a superb Christian resource site! Check it out for Christmas and Advent resources!

South Africa is blessed with many gifted and talented Christian leaders! This site is maintained by one of those gifted persons - John van de laar.

John is a gifted speaker, worship leader, and a creative and inspirational facilitator of change and renewal in many congregations. I have known John for many years and have been deeply challenged and blessed by his approach to spirituality and worship. I do believe that he is among the finest in the world, and certainly in South Africa.

He has just launched his new website: www.sacredise.com. This is a site you need to bookmark! It will come in handy!

The site is well designed, offering easy access to both resources and inspiration with just a click or two. Among other things you'll find downloadable music, worship resources, liturgies, creative and engaging sermons, and articles on various aspects of Christian life and ministry.

John's site was one of the very first pages that I added to my blogroll (see the right of my main page). I have found his ideas and resources useful and challenging in my own ministry and spiritual life - I've often dipped into his previous blog and site to get a few ideas, or a liturgy or poem to spice up a service!

In fact, we use his book 'Food for the road' as one of the recommended texts with our seminary students when we teach all about creative liturgy, communion, and new and engaging ways to bring people into worship. The link above will let you download the first chapter to get an idea of what you can learn and gain from it.

Below is a snapshot of the resources section of his site. You'll see that you can download prayers, poetry, liturgies, music, images, drama scripts, and a whole host of seasonal resources.

The Advent and Christmas season is already active with prayers and drama scripts to download! So click away and start preparing for Christmas!


If you're looking for creative, home grown, Christian resources to enliven and renew your worship this site is the place to go. Let me know if you have any feedback, comments, or further suggestions.

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A magnificent resource for small group leaders - Scot Mcknight on 'the whole Gospel'

I regularly check by the 'emergent village' website. I also subscribe to their podcast (downloaded onto my ipod as soon as it is updated... like a real emergent 'mac' user!)

I was catching up on some podcasts at the hospital today when I came upon this fantastic podcast of a talk that Professor Scot Mcknight gave entitled 'the whole Gospel'. It was given to a group of small group leaders and it is amazing!

Amongst other things he charts how small groups (that exist quite apart from 'regular' churches) are springing up all over the world! In fact research suggests that there are 125 million people across the world who belong to a small group, but not to a Church! How incredible is that?

So, take a listen to this fantastic talk... I hope it offers some insights and challenge.

the whole Gospel - Scot Mcknight
[MP3, 61 Minutes]
PS. as mentioned yesterday we hope to set something up with Scot when he is here in South Africa next year. So, keep your eyes and ears open (it is likely to be in the Pretoria area).

Oh, and also please keep in mind that Joerg Reiger from Southern Methodist University (a prophet second to none! Search my blog for his two magnificent books! They are a must read for any serious Christ follower) is going to be with us in Pretoria in January (probably in the week of the 21st of January). That is also something to look forward to!

PS. Liam is doing so much better this evening! We thank God for how he is recovering. The doctor upped the dosage of his medication and it is showing real results. He still has physio every day... You can imagine that he doesn't like that one bit! However, he is getting stronger each day.

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Days like these... They're part of 'real' life...

Today has been a 'real' day... What does that mean? Well, when I was a young (er) man I put my hands (and mind) to many things. Among those things was a brief stint of experimentation with acid (LSD to some). I was wild, my friends were wild, and my parents were scared stiff and worried most of the time. You can imagine!

My friends and I would go camping and take 'cuts' of the little squares of blotting paper and then just walk around experiencing the altered reality created by the chemicals in our brains. Colours, sounds, smells, and sensations. They were vivid and engaging...

At the end of our acid trip we talked about our experiences and commonly spoke of them as being 'real' (of course they were the LEAST real experiences we were having, it would have been better to say that these times and experiences we UN-real). Reality is much more engaging...

Since finding Christ, and the love that Christ has for me and all of creation, I have come to discover a whole new reality. Life in Christ is REAL for me. It is the most vivid reality, since Christ helps me to face struggle, and not just to avoid it, or blot it out.

This morning I awoke still feeling tired. We had left the hospital last night in tears! After Liam's lung collapsing, the physio, and just his generally poor condition we were exhausted. I got into bed knowing that I would wake up this morning and go into a meeting in which we would have to make some very tough choices about the lives of people just like me - they are people who have given their lives in service of Christ, they have children, a spouse, and the pressures of ministry. Yet, some of them do 'not have competent abillity to do our work' [that's a phrase that comes from the question asked of Methodist clergy at SYNOD each year, "Has Dion got competent abillity to do our work?" Because of this lack of ability, some of them would be facing the prospect of being released from ministry...

Decisions such as these always break me, they are real decisions, about real people, with real consequinces. There is a significant tension here. One feels empathy for the persons involved, but one also has to protect the integrity of the Church, and the members of Churches. For example if someone has to be released on moral grounds (e.g., the person who has stolen Church money, or has had an affair), one must do so to protect the Church and its members, but that means that a minister will face discipline and loose their ministry and income.

It is never an easy meeting... You can imagine! That's why the meeting has many wiser, and more experienced, members than I.

So, when I woke up I prayed that God would give me grace and wisdom, as well as a measure of courage to do what is right (both for Christ, the Church, and the individuals concerned). This is the reality of responsible Christian living...

In this age of hedonism, where pleasure is king, and the avoidance of pain and struggle is a preoccupation, very few people want to live REAL lives with real choices. But, God expects real living. Just read Micah 6:8... Listen to this:

He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

I think that there are many of us who like to walk humbly with God, but how many of us LOVE mercy (in an age of revenge?), and how many of us ACT justly (in a world of injustice - I mean just think about this simple little fact... I have 16 taps in my house! Between two bathrooms and the kitchen I have more taps in my house than some communities have in their whole area! I need to learn to love mercy and act justly in order to walk humbly with my God!)

So, the meeting went off as well as can be expected... Each decision was taken with great care, deliberation, and of course prayer. Some decisions will not be well received. But that is 'real' life, it is not UN-real life.

I don't want to go through life like those drug dulled weekends! I want to be truly alive! alive to God, alive to the reality of my own life, and the lives of others. I want to have the courage to do what is right, even if it is not popular.

I guess real living takes real faith. I pray for more of it in my life...

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Another incredibly deep, and significant, prayer for the world...

This Sunday past I preached at the Calvary Methodist Church anniversary service (see the post below).

Once again Siphiwe Ndlovu was responsible for leading us through the prayers of intercession. His prayers are so inspiring, they truly make me feel connected with God, and with God's world! After he said Amen, I could have ended the service right there!

Here's a copy of his prayer.

Candle Prayers 2 December 2007

Loving Lord God we come to you this morning as we give you thanks for the year that we as a community have had; and on this day, the first of advent - the time of waiting and great expectations, we pray for your calming and focus on what is important. We confess that we wait not for you but for Santa Claus, we wait not for you but for gifts, we wait not for you but the messy busyness that we have allowed to take the place of real waiting for your son Jesus Christ. Have mercy on us. Oh Lord we confess that in our busyness, we forget about a world that hurts - afflicted by much that weighs it down. So this morning we pray for our healing first and foremost. Loving Lord God heal us from the disease of ignorance in the face of the many ills of the world; heal us from the disease of blindness in the face of poverty and disease; heal us from the disease of silence in the face of injustice; heal us from the disease of too much concern about ourselves in a world where there is so much to care about. Oh Loving and caring God teach us today to care about the things that you care about. This morning we pray for your hand, Gentle Healer, to touch our hands holding too tightly to the gifts you have given us, help us to open them in generous ways; touch our hearts hardened and limited in their caring, give us hearts that beat to your heartbeat, hearts that hurt with those that hurt.

Lord God there are many in the world today who are in dire situations - We remember those in our world with less than sufficient, for those with no homes, food or love. We think of those who have come from across our borders and have no means to go back to have time with families. We remember and pray for those families in this world especially our country who have suffered bereavement, especially as a result of the scourge of HIV and AIDS. Our graveyards have become insatiable gaping holes, waiting in anticipation for the next victim. Wave after wave after wave of mourners come and go everyday to bury those who were once healthy and had a bright future ahead of them - now snatched from them by the disease of AIDS. We pray for those who lie sick in homes and hospitals, their lives ebbing slowly from them, helpless, dependent on others for everything. We pray for those whose tears have dried but continue to weep and bleed inside - you loving and caring God, whose vision is deeper, see those tears and answer those unsaid prayers. Protect the children from the harrowing effects of watching their parents die from AIDS and give those who have to nurse and feed their parents fortitude, courage and patience. Loving God we pray for a compassionate government that they may be resolute in their efforts to deal with this disease. We pray that their word shall match their deed, that they will go beyond ceremony and show, and commit resources to bring our world back to health.

Oh Lord we observe that even though this world needs so much more, there is so much to be thankful for. So for all caregivers, those who volunteer to walk with those who suffer from this disease, Lord we thank you and we pray that you shall continue to touch more hearts to walk with the sick; for all those who take care of orphans as a result of AIDS - neighbours, grandmothers, social workers, and homes where these children are cared for, we give you thanks, for each person who educates around issues of HIV and AIDS, for each person who visits and cares, for each person who gives food or washes a patient. In the face of this disease there are people who continue to stand witness for you kingdom. We thank you.
And Lord today we pray for those who are abused - some are here with us, they have to endure a life of emotional blackmail, some have to listen everyday to those who claim to love them demean them through disrespectful words and acts, some have to bear the actual brunt of physical abuse. Many of the abused have to carry the added burden of carrying the secret of their abuse with them ? they have to maintain a public fašade, pretend everything is alright and smile while they are in physical pain or are emotionally scarred. And loving God, we pray for the abusers - and we confess that we too use demeaning words against others, we ignore those we are supposed to love and care for, and sometimes we disrespect those who deserve our respect. Have mercy on us and heal this world.

Amen
Heck, I would love to have a whole book of these deep prayers! Come on Siphiwe! Let's do it!

A quote that has remained with me for days...

This quote (from Sivin's blog) has remained with me for a while now...

"What if the church is not about attracting people into a building but living as God's people in the public space of their own community and neighborhood?"

What do you think? Is the Church (whether it be a building, or a collection of like minded persons who gather in some way) still necessary? If so, what for?

I have a few suggestions... But, then again, there are also many reasons why it is NOT that helpful... What if the Church was not about the church?

The link between Apple Mac and the Emergent Church conversation / movement has been confirmed!

This is something to cheer me up!

This is cross posted from my second favorite blog (my first favourite is still Sivinkit.net, the blog of my friend Sivin in Kuala Lumpur)... My second favorite blog at the moment is the 'Emergent Village' blog... Just as an aside, Scot Mcknight contacted me about two weeks ago (via Sivin) to say that he will be in South Africa early next year. I will keep you posted - he is going to be in Pretoria and it will be great to set something up in the form of an open forum of some sort...

Anyway, as an emerging emergent, with a Mac, a hoodie, two tattoos, but no goatee, I found this quite amusing... It made me smile after a truly rough day.

One predominant stereotype of "the Emergents" is that we are all white, male, goatee-sporting Mac users. Well, hopefully you're making stuff today (and not shopping), but you might still be interested to know that the Emergent/Mac tie-in has now been confirmed by Science & Spirit magazine.

Writing in the November/December 2007 issue, David Gibson writes, ?Apropos of those funky Apple commercials, Catholicism would seem to be the geeky, un-hip fellow whose stodgy old operating platform is slow to the point of freezing. His Mac counterpart is a cool dude who projects Protestantism?s so-called emerging church movement.?

Heh.

I thought it was GREAT! Here's one of my favourite Mac commercials in this series...



So, what do you think? Mac or PC? Catholic or emergent? Well, believe it or not a Church in the US has actually used this model to do a 'parody' of the Mac vs PC commercial entitled "I'm a Christ follower, I'm a Christian"

Here's part 1 of 4



You can find the rest of the parodies from here.

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Tough times...

Liam has not been well today. These are tough times...

Monday, December 03, 2007

Update on Liam - 3 December 2007

I went straight to the hospital from the airport this evening.

Megie and Courts spent the day with little Liam at the hospital today. I am pleased to say that he is doing much better this evening.

Although, the Doctor was not too happy with his lungs, so he will stay in for another day (we had hoped that he would come out of hospital tomorrow, but it looks like he will only get home on Wednesday). His voice is still a little rough, and his chest is still quite wheezy, but at least the fever has broken. AND, he can still 'projectile vomit' for the A-team (sorry kids, I didn't mean to scare you! But it's a fact of life when you have a baby!)

Here's a picture of Liam with Megie (please excuse the quality of the picture it was taken with my cell phone camera).

You'll notice that they had to put the drip into his little foot. He pulled it out of his hand and his arm (quite a feisty little fellow - just like his dad!) So, now it looks like he has a cast on his left foot.

The sisters in the ward say that he doesn't like it when he wakes up and we're not there... I can imagine... It breaks my heart to leave him at the hospital!!!

Thanks for all the prayers! They are clearly working!

Advice for teenagers - an informative poster [pic]


I'm sure there are one or two parents who may just give this poster to their delinquent teenage kids in the hope that they heed the advice...

It would make a nice Christmas present don't you think?

A hilarious announcement of US Presidential press Conference

John C Dvorak must be one of the most synical reporters out there... He is the host of a tech show called 'Cranky Geeks', and one of my favourite panelists on the TWIT (This Week in Tech podcast - I listen to him every week).

This 'announcement' is an entertaining take on George W Bush's next Presidential press conference.

- In case you want to set your DVR.

President George W. Bush will hold a news conference at 10:10 a.m. EST on Tuesday, the White House said.

The president will lie about the war in Iraq, he?ll try to snow people with Israeli lies about peace in Palestine, he?ll continue to lie about diplomatic relations with Iran, he?ll make-up dreams about the state of the U.S. economy and, finally, he?ll lie about his plans to veto any useful legislation to come from Congress - presuming the Democrats sprouted a backbone over the weekend.

The reporters allowed to attend will not ask any dangerous questions.

Cool T-Shirt design for the 'music snob' [pic]

I think this is such a clever T-Shirt design... Although, you had best be 6.8 and built like a pro wrestler to wear it - otherwise you're going to get a solid beating from all the people you'll offend!

Musicvenndiag Here is a fun Venn diagram t-shirt for hipster music snobs. Also related, a t-shirt that simply states, "Nothing is good if other people like it."
Link (Thanks, Jess Hemerly!)
)

I'm leaving on a jet place - why flying isn't as fun as it used to be


It's just after 4am and I am on my
way to OR Tambo international airport
to catch a flight the Cape Town at
around 6am.

I used to enjoy these little trips to
the 'motherland'. Now however,
there are a few good reasons why I
no longer enjoy them.

1. I have a family... Traveling is not
such fun when you do it on your own,
and it is even less fun when you leave
people that you love behind.

Today I know that I'll be in Cape Town
while my little boy is in hospital in
Pretoria... Not so good.

2. The South African airline industry.
I travel a lot (at least one day a week).
Sadly, I have been able to see the slow
collapse of our airline industry over some
years now. The airports are not coping
with the number of travelers (Cape Town
least of all). It is routine for flights to be
delayed at least and hour - I was once
delayed by 5 hours because a toilet
burst on a kulula.com flight as it was landing.

On that note, I have given up flying on kulula.
They seem to be the worst of the budget
airlines when it comes to customer
service and time. Last week Friday
as I was flying to Cape Town, there
was a flight to George that had been
delayed twice because of ground staff
errors (over filling the plane with fuel!)

A woman on the flight missed her father's
funeral as a result...

They were supposed to leave JHB at
7am. When we took off just before 2pm
(we were supposed to leave at 12noon)
they were still on the ground.

Not so good...

But, let me say, a few hours in the traffic
to and from the airport. A few hours delay
at the airport, and the pithy and snide
comments of budget airline staff still beat
a 13 hour drive to Cape Town....

So, here I go. Lord give me grace, and love.

Oh, and please let my flights be on time
today! Thanks!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Update on Liam the great

Sadly, Liam had to be admitted to hospital again this afternoon.
He'll be fine. He just needs some special care for a few days.

Thanks for all the prayers.

Please keep praying.

Much love,

D, M, C and L

World AIDS day - prayers for healing, reflection and encouragement.

Today is World AIDS day. Today we remember that the Church has AIDS. We do not minister to people who are HIV positive, as if they were people outside of the body of Christ. No, we ask God to heal us, for all of us suffer from this disease.

Whether you are HIV+ or not, this disease reminds us that we shall all face death. It reminds us that we shall all be ill at some stage. It reminds us that we need one another to be strengthened and encouraged to face the reality of struggle. It reminds us that society can be cruel and that people can be judged for something that afflicts them. Most of all, this disease reminds us that we have a God who cares and longs to bring us healing and hope.

Prayer of invocation:

Loving God, you are our parent. You look upon us with mercy and compassion. You understand our weakness. Our suffering breaks your heart. Look upon us with love, grace, and compassion today. Father, you know the pain of losing your only son to death. Jesus, you know the pain of dying and leaving those whom you love behind. Spirit you are the giver and sustainer of life. With confidence we approach your throne of grace that there we may receive mercy.

Renew our spirits and draw our hearts, bodies, and minds close to yours. All of us are subject to the frailties of life. Strengthen us in our weakness, bring us wholeness in spite of disease. For those who live under the impending threat of death, offer them comfort and strength in the knowledge that death does not have the final victory and that in you there is true, eternal, and blissful life that lasts for eternity. For those who feel the pain of seeing a loved one die, fill them with courage through the power of your Spirit of life. Surround them with caring and loving people who will show to them the love that you want to give them in their time of need.

Help each of us to strengthen our resolve to obedience and service. Give us courage so that we would not shy away from facing our own frailty and pain. Move us to go to the places of death, like your beloved disciple John went to your cross, so that we may offer love and healing to those whom you love.

Let us delight in doing those acts of mercy that will bring healing and honour Your name.

Today we declare the faith that neither height, nor depth, neither life, nor death, neither angel, nor demon, nor anything in all creation can separate us from Your love. You are the creator God. You make a way where it seems none can be found, your bring forth living waters in the wilderness. We place our trust in You, through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN



A meditation to guide your prayers and actions today


Nosipho?s story ? no greater gift.

Nosipho is just thirteen years old - tonight she is lying awake next to her 8 year old brother and her 5 year old sister. Her father named her Nosipho when she was born. She remembers that tonight. Her name has a very special meaning. Nosipho was born to her proud parents, Mxolisi and Vuyisile, in a remote part of South Africa called northern Kwazulu Natal. There was no work there for Mxolisi so he went to the city to find work as a labourer working on the roads. Mxolisi wanted to live a good life and take care of his family as best as he could. So, he faithfully brought money back to his Vuyisile and Nosipho at every opportunity. He and Vuyisile were blessed with a son who they named Andile (meaning 'the family is growing'). They loved their children very much and had great dreams for their future.

However, with each year that passed it became more difficult for Mxolisi to be alone in the city. The months that Mxolisi and Vuyisile spent living apart took a toll upon their marriage and they would often disagree and argue. Once, when they argued, he told her that 'he had needs', 'like all men do'. And so, he decided to take a 'city wife', as many of his friends had done. Sadly, his city wife was HIV+, and so when Mxolisi returned home one December, himself HIV+ by this time, he gave Vuyisile another child, Thandi (which means 'nurturing love'), but, he also gave her the killer virus that would take both their lives.

Mxolisi and Vuyisile discovered that they were HIV+ in the year that Nosipho turned 8 years old. Andile was 5, and little Thandi was just 2. Thandi had already been infected with the virus her mother was carrying through the milk she drank from her mother?s breast. Sadly, both Mxolisi and Vuyisile died of AIDS within 3 years of discovering their status, Thandi, however, is still alive and now a little girl of 5.

Nosipho is a clever little girl. However, she hasn't been to school since her father died when she was 11 years old. By that stage her mother was already very ill and confined to bed, but at least then Andile and Thandi could stay with their mother while Nosipho begged for food and money at a traffic intersection on the edge of the township. She watched the other children going to school dressed in their smart school uniforms, with book bags that had pencils, paper, and no doubt some lunch to eat. She wished that she could be like them, but that would not happen - her mother eventually died as well.

Tonight as she lay in bed she was no longer a child, but a parent, overnight she had become a 13 year old head of a household of three. She knew that she had a much greater responsibility than other 13 year old children. Each day she has to get enough money from the cars and commuters that come whizzing by to feed her two siblings and herself. She has a small cardboard sign on which she has written in a child's handwriting 'No parents, no food, no work, 3 people to feed. Please help. God bless you'. She also needs to get a few rand extra every month to help pay for Andile's school fees. She wants him to stay in school and learn so that he doesn't have to suffer like his father did. She doesn't want him to suffer like she is suffering now. Whatever money she has left after she has paid his fees, when there is any, is given to the 'aunty' who looks after her sick sister, Thandi, while Andile is at school and she is begging at the traffic lights. She doesn't trust the aunty, she drinks, and she's sure that she hits Thandi. But, she has no option. It is too dangerous for Thandi to be with her at a busy traffic intersection.

There are other girls like Nosipho. In fact most of the child headed households in South Africa are headed by girls under the age of 15. Nosipho knows this because she meets some of them every Sunday at a little group for children like her that is held in the tin church near her shack. They sing songs, some kind ladies read stories to them from the Bible, and then they say prayers and get some food to eat. The church has also given her clothes and shoes for her and for her brother and sister. There is a lady from the government clinic who comes to visit their group once a month. She always asks Nosipho if she is safe, and asks if she and her brother and sister are getting enough to eat. You see, Thandi needs special medicine to keep her healthy, but she can only take her medicine if she eats properly, or else the medicine will make her sick instead of healthy. So on days when Nosipho does not get enough money, or food, to feed all three of them she lets Thandi eat first, so that she can take her medicine. Andile eats next, because he can't learn when his stomach is empty. Nosipho often lies awake at night hungry, but she knows that she is a 'gift' from her parents to Andile and Thandi ? that?s what her name means. Nosipho means 'a gift'. It?s the name her father gave her. She doesn't play anymore, she simply lives to be a gift to her brother and sister. Tonight she prayed to ask God to help her because a man has said he will give her R20 if she takes her clothes off and sleeps with him. She's praying because she is afraid. She has been told at church, and she has seen the posters, and heard the stories - Nosipho knows that's how little girls get sick and die ? but she needs the money. She wants to be a gift. She doesn't know what to do. Maybe God will do something to help her tomorrow? It is Sunday, she will ask one of the ladies to help her.

Reflection: Stories such as this are common in South Africa. In KwaZulu Natal the death rate is higher than the birth rate because of AIDS. Recent statistics from UNICEF have suggested that up to 50% of children are HIV+ and an increasing number of children are growing up without their parents. Children like Nosipho face a stark and dreary existence. They are robbed of their childhood and dignity in a quest to survive. Very often their only support comes from community organisations such as churches and civic groups. For most children the lack of access to food, or poor nutrition and feeding practises, coupled with infection, leads to their untimely death. Children who are born in rural areas who do not have 'bar-coded' South African Identity documents do not qualify for medical care, schooling, or any form of government grant. Sometimes the most basic of help, like helping children register for an ID Book, or offering children a daily meal, and seeing that they take their medication can mean the difference between life and death. Methodist Churches in Southern Africa train all of their ministers to offer support and care to persons who are infected and affected by HIV. It is a central part of their training for ministry. In the region of the world that has the highest rate of HIV infection it cannot be any different. The Gospel demands that we bring healing and transformation. Perhaps the work of the Church near Nosipho could keep her from turning to prostitution at the age of 13? All that is needed is a courageous group of caring people who will see her plight, understand what she needs, and help her to find it - food, shelter, and loving adult support. This is what Jesus would do.

[I wrote this story as a case study for a book that is in publication in the Cambridge Theological federation, UK. Please do not copy it without contacting me. I shall put you in touch with the publishers to get permission. Thank you.]

Silent reflection and prayer.

  • What do you feel? What do these feelings tell you about yourself?
  • What does this story tell you about the world, and others in the world?
  • What do you think God feels? What would God want you, or your Church, to do?
  • Knowing this, what do you need to pray to have the courage to do?
  • What will you do today? What will you plan to do tomorrow? What will you want to achieve by next year this time?
A benediction for today

Almighty God, by the power of your Holy Spirit open my eyes to see the world as You see it, my ears to hear the cries that You hear, my heart to have the courage to feel what You feel, and my life to be present to You and all those whom You love this day. Give me the courage to worship and serve you in faithfulness, to be a blessed and healing reminder of Your love to all whose lives I will touch. I offer this prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

A personal note. Liam is doing much better today. He had to go back to the doctor yesterday because his fever would not go down. However, today his lungs are starting to clear. Thank you for all the prayers.

Now, I am off to preach at the Calvary Methodist Church's 9th Anniversary celebration! This is the Church where my friend Alan Storey is a minister and resident preacher.

They have a remarkable cross in their Church yard. Here's a picture of the cross. This is truly one of the most remarkable Churches I have ever had the opportunity to worship in. I am always pleased to be blessed by them - I preach there every so often, but their community teaches me so much more than I could ever offer them.

This little excerpt from their website explains the theology of the cross with unequal arms:

This cross at Calvary is shaped to express God's loving embrace of the world in the death of Jesus. The left arm is raised higher and extends further than the right arm because it is the extension of the heart, reminding us that Jesus' heart was given in obedience to the Father in His work of boundless loving. The left arm is also the arm of the outcast, reminding us that Jesus came to raise the lowly and poor. The shortened right arm symbolises the powerful who are humbled and brought low, as prophesied by Mary in Luke 1: 51 ? 53.
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Saturday, December 01, 2007

Please pray for our little Liam


Please say a prayer for our little son Liam. He has developed a lung infection and is quite ill at the moment.

Thanks.

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