Dion's random ramblings

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Catholic Bishops - 'And the word became digital'

Ah fantastic! Some bishops of the Catholic Church have made a great move forward for the Christian faith! When I read this story I wondered how many of the Bishops of my denomination knew what an iPod was?

Let's get with the new technology!

ROME (Hollywood Reporter) - An assembly of Catholic bishops on Monday called for the use of mass communications -- including television, cinema, DVDs and even iPods -- to be used to spread the Bible in as many languages as possible.

The nod toward technology is not unusual: The Vatican had one of Europe's first Web sites, for example, and has always been quick to adopt new technologies. The bishops' conference said that the stakes are higher than ever, arguing that the written word was insufficient for the modern world.

"The voice of the Divine Word must resonate over the radio, on Internet channels with virtual distribution (and by) CDs, DVDs and iPods, and on television and cinema screens," an official statement said.

Nice one brothers (or should that be Fathers!)

Microsoft adverts are SOOOO bad, they're even crashing TVs!

I'm not sure if you've seen the strange, and absolutely silly, Microsoft adverts with Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld? They have nothing to do with any Microsoft product, in fact as far as I can recall they don't even mention Windows (in any form!), they speak about leather shoes, underpants, and of course hot dogs on a stick... Sound crazy!? Well, it is!

Surely this must be one of the clearest examples of just how badly Microsoft has lost the plot!

Here's the Microsoft advert:

And here's the GREAT Apple retort!

This Hilarious posting comes from 'The Onion' - I laughed so hard I almost bust a gut!

e Microsoft Ad

Users have reported a number of failures resulting from the defective commercials, ranging from inability to change channels to "couldn't finish Heroes."

The Microsoft ads, which began airing earlier this week, are being blamed for generating critical system errors in more than 70 million televisions. In addition, thousands of frustrated Americans said that the ads have caused their TVs to become unresponsive, their screens to turn blue, and a small box with the message "terminal application error" to suddenly appear.

"I was in the middle of watching Monday Night Football when, all of a sudden, that stupid ad comes on and my TV freezes up," said Scottsdale, AZ resident Michael Chaplin, adding that he never wanted to see the commercial in the first place. "The next thing I know, all these numbers and symbols show up and I get an error message saying 'invalid file format' or something. Now my TV is ruined."

Enlarge Image Warning Signs

The new ad campaign, which features footage of everyday Americans using PCs, was launched as an upgrade to the poorly performing Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates commercials, which suffered unspecified failures in two-thirds of U.S. households. Microsoft pulled the defective ads in mid-September, but the move came too late, as countless televisions had already been infected with viruses and spyware.

So far over a half million television users have complained about the new ads. Some, such as Louisville, KY native Andrew Ryland, said they were instructed by tech support to press and hold the power, mute, and number seven buttons on their remotes in an attempt to shut down their television sets.

When that failed, many television owners said they were left with no other option but to manually restart their devices.

"I tried to push the power button, but nothing happened," said Andover, CT resident David Lax, who claimed that his television has never had any compatibility issues with commercials in the past. "Luckily I called my buddy Todd, who's pretty good with televisions, and he told me that you just have to unplug it and plug it back in."

Although the commercials crashed nearly every available brand of plasma and LCD television, as well as afflicting older cathode-ray models, Microsoft spokesperson Sarah Machen insisted that the problem was not her company's fault, and that it likely resulted from low memory, a fragmented disk, or perhaps an outdated video card. A press release issued by the software giant also advised televisions users to avoid quickly switching back and forth between programs to prevent any future crashes.

"Our engineers have repeatedly tested this commercial to work out all the bugs, and we proudly stand behind this advertisement," Machen said. "We've heard numerous complaints about a virus, so we urge all users to remember that there are untrustworthy cable channels out there that they should never visit."

Chicago resident Rick Yoder, 33, said he brought the 36-inch Sony Trinitron he purchased in 1999 into a licensed Microsoft dealer and paid well over $1,000 to add a graphic accelerator card and new motherboard that his television lacked.

"I took my TV into the store and they added a bunch of cards and stuff so I can watch it again," Yoder said. "But the shows run really slow. Now it takes me an hour and a half to get through an episode of Scrubs. And sometimes this hourglass thing comes on the screen right at a good part and, by the time it finally goes away, the show is over."

In some cases, the frequent crashes have caused more than just temporary hassles, with some Americans losing months of important shows they had saved on their TiVos.

"I was watching Cold Case and it said 'show not found,'" Tim Honnermann of Oakland said. "But I was watching the show. How is that even possible?"

Recent frustrations with Microsoft have not been limited to its television ads, however. Earlier this week, a billboard promoting the company's latest Windows platform angered hundreds in Detroit when it fell onto three cars, instantly killing all passengers.

Friendfeed, twitter, facebook, blogspot, myspace, SMS, voicemail... and love!

The internet has made many things so much easier. Today I had three friends from school, whom I had not had any contact from in over 20 years, contact me via facebook! I keep up to date on the (almost) hourly activities of friends all over the world via twitter. Each night I can get a peek into the thoughts, joys, and struggles of some of my blogging friends by checking out their blog updates. When I need to reach someone and they're in a meeting I can leave a voicemail, and they'll phone back when they can. Then, of course, there is the ubiquitous text message to just send a quick note, a reminder, or tell your wife you love her!

I use all of these technologies (and more!) and still some people say that I am hard to get hold of! My word, what is it going to take? Will I actually have to meet some people in 'the real world' just to satisfy their need for relationship!? ha ha! Articifical intelligence, artificial relationships, artificial living.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The mystery of the brain - erasing specific memories.

I thought this was quite an interesting post - as researches come to discover more and more about the human mind we face the possibility of using such knowledge to help humanity in significant ways. Could you imagine being able to help a victim of abuse to find freedom from the nightmares and memories of the abusive event? Or, how about a crime victim being freed from the fear of recurring attacks?

Of course the converse questions also need consideration - is it not useful to have a healthy sense of concern about certain areas and situations, based upon one's memory of previous bad experience? I, for one, drive a lot more carefully since having my motorcycle accident! Whilst the accident was unpleasant it has at least left me with a much healthier respect for the dangers of riding my bike!

Anyway, here's the post:

As researchers learn more about how memory works, the possibility of targeted amnesia becomes more feasible. Scientists recently succeeded in wiping out a nasty memory from the mind of a genetically-engineered mouse. By altering the activity of a specific enzyme, they affected a mouse's ability to recall the experience of being shocked. The team from the Medical College of Georgia and the East China Normal University reported their findings in the science journal Neuron. From Science news:
Insight from such experiments may one day lead to therapies that can erase traumatic memories for people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or wipe clean drug-associated cues that lead addicts to relapse.

?We should never think of memories as being fixed,? says Howard Eichenbaum, a neuroscientist at Boston University. ?They are constantly being renovated and restructured.?

Eichenbaum is not convinced that Tsien and his colleagues have erased the mice?s memories. Altering a memory so that it can?t be recalled under certain circumstances might produce similar results, he says. ?We never know for sure that it?s really gone,? he says.

But if chemicals can help someone specifically forget painful or traumatic memories, it may be irrelevant whether the memories are entirely erased or are just altered beyond recognition, Eichenbaum says.
"Selective memory"

Saturday, October 25, 2008

'Gee gas!' [go for it!] Liam the great, today and the Rugby!

Thanks so much for all the prayers for little Liam! He is doing so much better. As you may recall, Liam was born very early (premature at just over 6 months of gestation). That has left him with a few little health challenges, one of which is his lungs. Megan and Liam were to fly to Argentina with me, but sasly he fell ill and so they could not come along. When I got back he was much better for about a week, but then his lungs started giving some trouble again - earlier this week the doctors wanted to admit him to hospital, but thankfully we were able to care for him at home with a few doses of antibiotics, some other meds, and 'the mask'! He's such a good little guy.

In this picture he is playing the piano while Megie 'gee hom gas' (an Afrikaans saying that can be roughly translated as 'go for it!') He's such a good little guy. He sits so still until it's done, then he runs off again to play with the dog!

Today I'm leading a leaders 'advance' (i.e., not a retreat!) We'll be looking at how this particular Church can become more fully inclusive (since they are already an inclusive Church, which my friends Steve Lottering and Phil Buckland Pastor), and also how they can work for the total transformation of their community by addressing systemic poverty and establishing Goid's Kingdom in all spheres of society.

Later on I shall watch the rugby. My team, Western Province, are not in the final. However, I have enough conviction to support any team that IS NOT the Bulls! So I'll be screaming for the Sharks!

Have a blessed weekend!
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Thursday, October 23, 2008

What matters most, but that's a matter of time

The last three days at the Methodist Church of Southern Africa's conference on same relationships and the blessing of same sex civil unions has been most enlightening.

The reality is that we have discovered, what is in fact the only possible position of integrity that we can hold (in my opinion), that we have a variety of perspectives and positions on this matter. While there are two broad perspectives, those in favour of blessing such unions and accepting persons with a same sex orientation within all spheres of the Church, and those who do not - there were just as many subtle variations within these two broad perspectives as there were members (33 persons in attendance).

Some lamented the fact that we did not adopt one position over the other (i.e., an inclusive or an exclusive position). My own understanding is that I am grateful that we have not done so! If my position was taken at the exclusion of other positions we may well have found that the Church would split, since any difinitive position would include some and exclude others.

Here's what I've discovered:

1. That the persons who hold the various positions generally do so not with malice, but with deep conviction, faith and sincerity.
2. That one cannot even hold with certainty that there are two clear positions on this matter. The truth is that there are many positions, each one held with the same sincerity, love, and faith. So, to adopt one position would ALWAYS be a compromise for the majority of persons.
3. The third thing that I have realised is that even the firmest held positions tend to change through encounter and relationship. One of the ministers at the gathering shared the testimony of his gay daughter, this has clearly softened the hearts of many here. This is the thing that has struck me most! Here's a picture of me with my son. I love him desperately, as I love my daughter. As a father, and a Christian, I know that God would honour my love for my son, and that God would want me not only to be a good father to him, but also to do everything in my power to find a place for him within the community of the Church! Let's just say that my son ever came to me and said that his sexual preference is different from mine, i.e., he came to realise that he has a same sex orientation. Yet, the Church that I serve cannot offer him either blessing of space. That would present me with a HUGE problem! I should have to seriously consider whether I could belong to a Church that does not accept and love my Christian son, simply because of a sexual preference.

Do you see what I am getting at?

So here's the final thing I would like to add at this point.

4. The only possible position that the Church can hold with integrity is a position that recognises the truth that we have varying AND evolving positions on this matter - as such the only true position is not one on human sexuality, but rather one that makes a clear statement on the nature of the Christian Church. If the Church is loving, if it is the Church of Christ who loves and created the whole universe, then this Church needs to be careful to create space for everyone who Jesus loves! So, the only responsible way forward is a statement on the mininstry and mission of the Church. The Church is the Church of Jesus who loves all people and that we shall bear the pain and struggle of living together in love with those with whom we may not agree. Furthermore, my prayer is that we shall allow the grace of Jesus to so penetrate our hearts that we will not only feel love towards all persons, but that we shall find practical ways of allowing that love to find expression in diverse and varied manners within the Church.

Currently there is not an equal balance of power between those who reject persons of a same sex orientation and those who accept and affirm them - for this balance to become a reality the Church will need to make some space (carefully regulated, and carefully scrutinized and managed) where some clergy and Churches can be allowed to bless persons of a same sex orientation who love Jesus completely and have same sex relationships that meet the standards of Christian sexual ethics.

This may seem controversial, but I hold this position because of the Lord that I know, the Church that I love, and the knowledge that I have of the Lord who loves both the world and the Church in all of its forms!

As for the meetings, Gus and I shall need to edit the audio recordings and make them available. The meetings have prepared a statement that will be made public once it has been sent to the Presiding Bishop. It is not the same as my statement above, but I can also say with certainty that the statement does not openly favour either an inclusive or an exclusive point of view.

Let me know what your thoughts are!

All for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom!
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The Concord outside of my Hotel Window!

I was looking through the photos on my phone in the meetings today and found this picture I took from the Jury's Inn hotel near Heathrow terminal 4 about a month ago. Just outside my windows was a Concord commercial jet plane! I could hardly believe it!

I spoke to some of the staff at the Hotel who indicated that it was being decomissioned to be put on display somewhere. The jet is quite small. I was surprised!
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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Another thought on mystery, faith, and certainty...

My friend Neville Richardson, in speaking on the 'post foundationalist' perspective on Christian ethics (ala. Stanley Grenz) made the following incredible statement...  Our foundation is not reason, nor is it, knowledge or even a secure system.  Rather, it is faith in a transcendent God who carefully shapes us, and courageously trusts us to get some things right, and other things wrong - but in the end the faithful and loving person is close to God than the 'informed' knowledgeable, and certain!

The opposite of faith is not doubt... It is certainty!

At the end of the day we can point towards truth, work towards it, and strive to make it real and tangible, but there will always be a sense of mystery in which we meet an all powerful and ever loving God.  In the end, however, we can look back and we have 'fruit' to show, lives that have been changed, systems that have been restored and changed for good.

For anyone who's interested in reading something thought provoking and challenging in this regard you can go here Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context (by Stanley Grenz)t:  http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Foundationalism-Shaping-Theology-Postmodern/dp/0664257690

God and mystery... There is comfort in NOT knowing everything!

From time to time I feel a little uneasy when I can't quite 'get my head' around the nature, person and will, of God!  God is sometimes mysterious, always powerful and loving.  At times I struggle to understand why bad things happen to good people, and why bad things go unpunished!

In recent months I have met many people who present such a certain and authoritative perspective on the person and will of God.  At times I have found such certainty comforting - it is great to know that there are people who feel so sure about the God whom we love, and whom we know loves us...  But more frequently it unsettles me since I am not always that sure and certain about this incredible God!

As a thinking with that strange mix of the empirical (science) and the phenomenological (faith) I frequently find that one has to critique and enrich the other.  So, when I found this quote below it encouraged me to realise that sometimes it is OK not to have everything 'buttoned up'... God is ultimately God, and I am only human!  

We are talking about God. What wonder is it that you do not understand? If you do understand, then it is not God. 

- St. Augustine

Indeed, if one is able to fully understand God, then God would be contained within one's mind - then God would be limited by the size and capacity of one's intellect.  So, there is comfort in knowing that God is bigger than my limited mind and understanding!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

DEWCOM same sex and civil union conference.

It has been some time since I have had the opportunity to devote more than a few hours to researching, debating, and praying about the important issue of the Christian faith and persons with a same sex orientation.

I still serve on the Methodist Church of Southern Africa's (MCSA) Doctrine Ethics and Worship Commission (DEWCOM), and so I was invited, together with a host of colleauges, to participate in a two day conference on civil unions and the Church's response to the same sex debate. The Conference of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa asked that the DEWCOM reconsider our stance of 'radical' unity on this matter.

The MCSA adopted a courageous stance in 2005 when we affirmed that we would remain one and unidivided as a Church, even if members of the Church did not fully agree with one another on all matters. Wessel Bentley and I wrote that statement, together with Rev. Prof. Neville Richardson - you can follow some of the documents here.

It was wonderful to pray together, to study the scriptures, and to seek to find a position that is both Christ honouring, just, and that can be held with integrity by persons from various sides of this debate.

Tomorrow we'll continue with our work. By Thursday we hope to have something constructive to forward to our Bishops for consideration. Please pray for us as we engage in this critical work.

Angus Kelly and I have been recording the Audio, we will make it available for download in MP3 format for anyone who is interested in listening to the Bible studies, debates, and discussions.

By the way, I have also just submitted a chapter I was asked to write for a UNISA ethics textbook on the subject of the the Bible, ethics and the same sex debate. As soon as it is published I'll let you know!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Beating London's congestion charge!

I was going through the photos on my Nokia E90 this morning and saw this one that I took on SOHO common (or is it called SOHO square!? You know, just off Oxford street).

Here's a great way to beat London's congestion charge! Get a car that looks like kids toy! These two little cars were parked in a single parking bay! Amazing! Does anybody know what make this is? It wouldn't stand a chance on the wide open motorways of South Africa!
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Saturday, October 18, 2008

It's such a perefect day!

It is my first Saturday home in more than a month, in fact it is my first Saturday home since we've moved into our new home! And, it's a PERFECT day for a swim!

Here's Liam at our lovely blue (ish) pool!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Morality and justice - tolerance, courage and wisdom

The following quote moved me:

Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. 

Martin Luther King Jr.

There is some necessity within our 'moral universe' to apply both restraint and generosity when it comes to persons, institutions, and systems with which we differ.  However, two important friends, Kevin Light and Pete Grassow, have taught me that this tolerance must come to an end when it impinges upon justice.

I frequently pray that I would have the grace to give enough space for others to 'be', and the courage to act when the choices of others need to be engaged and challenged because they are the cause of abuse and injustice.  And, of course, I also pray that I shall have the wisdom to know the difference between these two...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Meeting with the Lausanne central committee on world evangelization

Today we're meeting with the Lausanne central committee on world evangelization at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. We're preparing for the 2010 conference in Cape Town in 2010. It was wonderful to meet up with friends such as Bishop Hwa Yung (whom I met in Malaysia two years ago) and Blair Carlson who I got to know earlier this year. There were many new faces as well.

I have the joy of serving on the hosting committee, and also serve on the world Theological committee. It is such a joy to see things fitting together for this wonderful event. My particular inputs relate to the logistics and arrangements (of course). However, on the theological committe I have input on the African and two-thirds world perspective, African theologies, liberation theologies and also the 'emerging' movement conversation.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

New Apple Macbooks have landed! They're a strange mix!

So, the new Macbooks have landed indeed! They're something of a strange mix between the stylings of the new iMac (metal finish with black plastic) and the Macbook Air (thin screen, LED backlit, same black keyboard... Just a thicker base that can accomodate an internal optical drive and all the ports and hard drive space your heart desires!)

All in all I like the new look! I won't be giving up my Macbook Air anytime soon - it is thinner, lighter, has better battery life (and I still owe money on it!) - but for those who've been holding out for a new Mac (or a new notebook for that matter) these are sure to be a hit!

Just a word of caution, I would suggest that you hold of buying the firt generations, Apple has not been all that good with 1st generation products of late... Also, some advice, you may be able to pick up a superb Macbook Pro or Macbook (both 'old style of course') for next to nothing in the weeks to come as the shops try to dump their stock! So, keep your eyes and ears open!

Follow this link for a great, succint, review of the new Macbooks.

It's unbelieveable! I've been nominated as the US President, and I may just win!

How incredible is this!? A friend told me that I had been nominated as the US President, and that I may just win the race!!

Click HERE to watch the video...

Heck, I don't stand a chance ;-)

Encouragement and prayers for all students who are doing exams!

It's that time of the year again! I have been getting quite a lot of prayer requests and notes from persons who are writing exams, so I thought I would post a few words of encouragement for all students who are doing exams and assessments, and point you to the link where you are welcome to download a free copy of my little prayer book for examinations. It is an 'open source' publication, so feel free to copy it, print it, change it, or use it in whatever way you feel comfortable. Could I simply ask that you share some feedback or improvements if you have any?

Preparing for, and writing, your examinations can be a cause for some concern and stress! I want to remind you that you are not alone as you prepare and write your exams.

Of course you need to remember that God, who has a great plan for your life, is with you as you prepare, and as you write. Then there are your family and friends who are praying for you. It is also worth remembering that you have sisters and brothers who are experiencing similar anxieties and concerns as you do, so remember to pray for one another. Lastly, I would like to assure you that I remember you, and all students, in my prayers. If you would like a special or specific prayer please drop me a line on email. I would love to be able to pray for you.

Another point to remember is that these examinations are a marker on your journey towards achieving the plan that God has for your life. Each of us has a responsibility to offer God, and God's world, our very best! So, it is important that you take your studies very seriously (not just to get good marks, but also to be the best disciple of Jesus that you can be)! As with everything that you choose to do for God's honour and glory, there will be temptations and obstacles. So, guard against wasting your time. Make sure to plan your study and revision time carefully. Sleep well before your exams, and do some light exercise to keep your mind sharp and active.

May God bless you richly as you prepare, and write, your examinations!

Rev Dr Dion Forster

Please feel free to download a little copy of my prayer booklet here:

It has Bible verses and prayers that will offer you hope, encouragement, and comfort. Please feel free to share it with anyone who would like a copy!

Praying for revival but planning for failure...

A friend of mine made a comment the other day that has stuck in my mind.  He pointed out that so frequently we pray for revival and for persons in our communities, cities, and nation, to come to know the saving and healing love of Christ.  We encourage our pastors and our church members to take the work of evangelization seriously, we run outreaches to the young people in our schools, we prepare and plan Alpha courses for the adults, yet somehow we don't truly believe that these would be of any effect...

That may sound shocking to you - certainly shocked me when I first thought about it!  We plan for failure!

Do we really plan our Churches for failure?

Well, let me ask you a few questions that may help you to clarify this shocking thought...

1.  Let's start small - how often do you encourage ALL of the members of your Church to get involved in service activities in your Church?  If you don't do it often, that could already be a problem!

2.  However, let's say you do it fairly frequently, let me ask you what would you do if EVERY member in your Church turned up to serve in some ministry or another one Monday morning!?  Would you have enough work for them to do?  Honestly, would your Church's 'volunteer' systems cope with every person turning up to serve?  Would you have adequate systems to match people's gifts to the needs of your community?  In fact, do you even know what your members' gifts are, and do most of our Churches really know what the felt needs, and real needs, of our communities (cities, towns, schools, businesses, local governments etc.) are!?

...  I would have to be honest and say 'no' to both of the questions above, I never TRULY mean that I want EVERY member in service, after all if I did I would challenge EVERY member, at EVERY opportunity, and I would have systems in place for them to be able to serve IN THEIR AREA of gifting and expertise...

But, let's say that some of you out there were able to answer 'YES' to both questions above...  let me ask a few more questions.

3.  What would you do if EVERY PERSON in you city did come to know Christ!?  Would you even be able to have all of them in worship services in the churches in your city / town (let alone have enough human and physical resources to disciple them!)

Our research in South Africa (with the many towns that our Global Day of Prayer coordinators visit) has shown the following:

-  Even in a country that indicates that 78.9% of all persons in each town are Christian, the seating capacity of Churches in each town is only about 5% of the population (on average).  This is something simple to work out, simply check how many people live in your city or town.  Then check how many Churches there are and either check their exact seating capacity (which we have done in quite a few towns and cities), or work out an average (it would seem that in South Africa the average seating capacity of our Churches ranges between 200 - 350 seats).  You'll be shocked to discover that the average seating capacity of the churches in your town or city is only about 5% of the population!

Now of course seating in the Church is not everything!  But it certainly does count for something - my point is simply this, we speak and preach, and think about the total transformation and renewal of communities, towns, cities, provinces, and nations - yet we don't plan for them!  It's as if we don't believe that it is possible!

So, here's what I'm thinking, and let me say I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter as well, but I'm thinking:

1.  We need to become much more strategic, co-operative, and united in our ministry endeavors in our communities and towns.  Working in the corporate world is teaching me quite a few things about strategic planning, goal setting, and resource management.  We contracted the Stellenbosch University department of theology to do some GPS mapping for our organization some time ago - they got students and volunteers to ride through hundreds of towns, cities (and even some rural areas) plotting and mapping the various facilities, and problem areas, in each region.  So, we were able to supply accurate data to pastors, elected officials, business people, on their region.  For example, how many Churches are there in a region, what is seating capacity, how many of them run child care programs, how many of them have feeding schemes, how many of them have free clinics etc.  In this was the regional pastors gatherings and local government could work together to pinpoint where development and investment could take place in order to have the maximum impact on that area.  The maps also showed where there were 'hotspot' activities, such as illegal pubs (shabeens), brothels, drug houses, prostitution rings etc.  These areas could then be prayed for, churches and social services in the area could then be targeted towards helping to turn around the pain, struggle and brokenness that is either the cause of the problem, or the outcome and effect of it.  In short, knowledge is power, and when this knowledge is used strategically one can actually begin to bring about God intended change in a community, BUT it takes cooperation!

2.  This leads me to my second point - namely that there needs to be a far greater strategic alliance between pulpit ministers (those who serve Christ primarily within the pastoral function of the Church) and marketplace ministers (those who serve Christ in places such as banks, schools, companies, government, health care etc.)  This alliance is necessary for two reasons, first, if you're planning to transform your WHOLE community you had better start thinking of BETTER models of Church than the models we currently have!  We simply cannot (and should not) build enough Church buildings and pews to fit everyone into 'conventional' church settings in our communities!  Rather, we need find ways to create fellowship, worship, discipleship, ministry and service opportunities, communities of care and grace WITHIN the marketplace!  That way, when a person comes to know Christ, they can be care for and discipled within their workplace!  The second reason why this strategic alliance is necessary is because we need a variety of approaches, skills, and resources if we are truly serious about working towards significant and real Christ directed renewal and transformation in our communities!

We need Christian bankers to reform the economic system of our nation, we need Christian teachers to facilitate the development of Christian character in our children, we need Christian doctors and nurses to offer more than physical wellness as a solution, we need every person to live every part of their lives for the Kingdom of God to be realised and established in society... This is not something that can only be achieved by Pastors, Priests and ministers....

So, what's your thought?  Do we plan for failure?

Next year I shall be delivering the Hugh Price Hughes lectures at Hinde Street in London (March 9-11, 2009) - I shall be speaking about notions such as this.  The theme of the conference (at which Walter Brueggemann shall also be speaking http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Brueggemann )is Refreshing Church.  I shall be talking about the emerging Church and finding fresh and creative expressions of being Church in our current context.  Any insights, suggestions, and ideas would be very much appreciated!


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

On the steps of the Uruguayan centre of government

This was a memorable day. We took time to pray on the steps of the
Uruguayan central government buildings (something akin to the
Whitehouse in Washington, or the Union Buildings in Pretoria).

I was traveling light that day!

Why do we serve? A call to pray for people in ministry.

I frequently encounter people who struggle to understand why persons would give their lives in service of others...  I know, among my colleagues, some of the most gifted, hard working, and creative persons I have ever met.  Just about each one of them could make a great deal of money and be successful in just about any field - yet they have chosen a life of service and sacrifice.  Why would one do it?

Well, the one certain answer is that they feel called by God to share whatever gifts they have for the good of all of God's children.  What I think we often fail to remember is that God sees all of creation as a part of God's economy (oikos household nomos regulation or provision).  God can never be pleased when one child is fat and another is starving, neither could God our parent be pleased when one child abuses another, oppresses another, or where there is amenity and strife between God's children.  

And so... people give their lives in service of God's love, and their love, for others.  I pray for myself and my colleagues frequently - this is not an easy path, it takes great discipline and requires a lot of sacrifice.  Many of ministers and missionaries are willing to take the sacrifice of poverty and lack of provision upon themselves, yet when your children suffer because of your ideals and choices, it becomes quite a different story altogether!  I remember an adult student crying in my office one day because his daughter was to go to her Matric farewell, yet he could not even afford to pay the fee for the dance, let alone buy her a new dress and the shoes she longed for.  My heart was broken.  I went home to Megan and asked her if we could take the money out of our bond to give to them as a gift.

I thought of that event when I read the quote below...

The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

Matthew 23:11-12

The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.

Jane Addams

Members of Christian congregations, may I please encourage you to love, support and care for your ministerial families?  Please pray for them, for their needs, and for their hearts and intentions to remain pure and servant-like in this great calling.

Wohoo! Apple announces the new super-slim Macbook 'brick'

The Apple rumour sites are buzzing with news of the new Macbook 'brick', apparently it will be announced today. Some are saying that it will have all of the same ports as the Macbook pro, but that it will be as slim as my trusty Macbook air!

As for me, I'm sticking with my Macbook Air! It was fantastic on my recent world travels, it was light, fast, has a long battery life and worked first time, every time!

Well, as soon as it's announced I'll post some pictures here.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A jet-lagged reflection on our Latin American trip... A simple strategy for national transformation.

We arrived back in Cape Town about three hours ago. I've unpacked my bags, got the first load of washing in the machine, Megie is back to work and I'm taking an hour or so to catch my breath and fetch Courtney from school. I'll go into the office later this afternoon.

If you look back over my blog you'll see that I have been out of South Africa for almost a month in total (starting with a trip to London for the Global Prayer Leaders' Network and Unashamedly Ethical meetings). It has been a busy time - yet it has been extremely rewarding and worthwhile. In these weeks I have been encouraged and blessed by the many wonderfully faithful and diverse expressions of courageous, Christ-centered, obedience I have experienced.

The last two weeks have been a time of challenge and growth. Ed Silvoso's perspective on the role of one's everyday 'working life' in relation to God's purposes for transformation and healing of the world have made a significant impact upon me. I guess that in some ways he has a unique foundation in that he comes from South America (Argentina) and so understands issues of poverty, struggle, and of course the ideals and principles that inform and drive theologies of liberation (i.e., God's love and option for the poor, the evil of greed and wealth, the suffering and abuse that stems from oppressive economic and political systems etc.). Yet, he has also spent a great deal of his life living in America and working among evangelical Christians (his brother in law is Lius Palloa the 'Billy Graham' of Latin America). So, he understands the energy and passion that comes from the evangelical perspective on the faith. I found his emphasis on God's sovereign power to work with and in the world to be a healthy and refreshing addition to the frequently dry, secular hummanist, purely social Gospel teaching (which is so frequently my point of departure). In him I found a healthy balance between God's power and capacity to bring about healing and change, and the human person's responsibility to seek God's guidance, will, power, and grace to be a partner in bringing about transformation.

I have written about Ed Silvoso's 5 paradigms before (you can listen to a broadcast I prepared for Radio Pulpit on this subject on this link '5 paradigms that can change your work into worship' (6MB, MP3). He seems to be able to keep the balance between reliance upon God and individual and corporate responsibility for national (and even global) transformation.

This week we had many opportunities to share our vision for eradicating systemic poverty by addressing systemic corruption. This is not only a matter of moral choice and complaince with the laws and systems of a particular nation state, rather it is about deal with the corrupted human soul, finding freedom and sufficiency in Christ and operating from that base of Christ-centered renewal and healing to discover person transformation and renewal, to work towards the renewal and transformation of one's family, one's social group, one's workplace, one's neighbourhood, one's children's schools, the local economy, and even broader afield to transform that laws and values of one's nation, continent, and the world.

William Wilberforce, Charles Wesley, Ghandi, Nelson Mandela - these are all examples of people who allowed their faith to impact more than just their personal lives! Rather, they sought to discover what was right for them and all other persons, and even the rest of creation, and work towards making that a reality.

Our time in Montevideo, Uruguay, was truly encouraging. On the Friday evening we had about 250 business leaders, politicians, and pastors together. On the Saturday we held a workshop for about 400 persons including pastors, business leaders and politicians. We shared something of Christ's dream for our world, and of course their city and nation, and then offered some tools, insights, and encouragement that could help them further along that road.

Our task is quite simple, we share a vission of what the world could be like, we activate the imagination, do our best to inspire hope, give a few glimpses of possible strategies (mostly gleaned from research about the particular area and context, coupled with success stories and prototypes from other similar contexts in the world), and then do some basic teaching, create a network of locally driven, locally 'owned' relationships, and then follow up from time to time to see how we can bless and support that work.

We place a fairly strong emphasis on the fact that the strongest testimony that the Church can give concerning the love of Christ is not full services, but rather it relates to addressing the concrete and felt needs of a community (e.g., hospitals for the sick, jobs for the poor, social restoration for divided communities etc.) In order for this to take place there needs to be a strategic partnership and relationship between Pastors and Christians who are leaders in various spheres of society that we call 'the marketplace' (i.e., politicians and elected officials, educators, health workers, business people, youth and social workers etc.) Unity and strategic co-operation are the key to achieving maximum success in any community or area. As such we will often go into a city or region and set up meetings where we bring together top politicians, business leaders, the heads of denominations and Church organisations, and simply spend time helping them to get to know each other, find forgiveness and healing from past hurts and struggles, and dreaming of the way forward for their region.

Well, I'm back home and so excited to be with my family!!!! Thank you to everyone who has prayed for us.

Friday, October 10, 2008

About to leave Buenos Aires for Colonia and Montevideo in Uruguay

The harbour (Buquebus) in Beunos Aires looks just like an airport! We shall be boarding a fast boat to Colonia in Uruguay, and from there we'll take a bus to the coastal town of Montevideo. Tonight we shall be speaking at a Church in that town, tomorrow morning we're meeting with the local government and business leaders, and then on Sunday morning we head back to Argentina to catch our flight home!!!!

My trip to Kenya next week has been delayed until November - I am so grateful to have a few weeks in South Africa with my family!

This picture is of me (on the right) with Graham Vermooten, the director of Media Village (a video production company from Cape Town). Graham and his crew are filming as we travel. He and Dianne are good friends - they started a Youth With A Mission (YWAM) base in Cape Town. They are Anglicans, we have a lot in common in our theology and our perspectives on life.

PS. this photo was taken with photobooth on my Macbook air (so many places in Argentina have free wifi!)

Thursday, October 09, 2008

So here's what I'm thinking...

Life can be messy, and I'm glad that it is this way. The sorrow of one moment becomes the joy of the next. Being separated from a loved one for a short while creates an intensity of love and appreciation that breaks the regular ebb and flow of life that can so easily lead one into a position of taking your most precious relationships for granted.

This week has been a truly remarkable week of learning and growing for me. I am pleased that there is still so much to learn about life, loving God, and serving Christ. For some years I was treated as 'a font of knowledge' for others - I was approached for counsel, sought out to teach and preach, and asked to participate in various think tanks and meetings. These things flattered my ego, but they also covered a great truth - the truth is that I don't know very much! Titles can be deceptive, they tools of social engineering, employed to create a perception that may or may not be true (or is true in varying degrees). I have two titles, Reverend and Doctor. The one denotes an office within the Church, the other an achievement within the academic arena. For some time these titles were a cause of secret pride (and sometimes not so secret pride!) However, in recent months they have been the cause of great humility and struggle. You see, with a title comes an expectation - the title Reverend seems to carry the social and religious expectation of Godliness, maturity, wisdom, and care. I am not particularly good at any of these, although I do strive to do my best in each. The title Doctor carries with it the expectation of great learning, exceptional insights, and deep thought. Well, with the exception of a few very esoteric and rather eclectic subjects (neuroscience, applied mathematics, artificial intelligence, quantum physics, African philosophy and certain areas of Christian doctrine) I don't know much at all! Well, at least I don't know much about the things that truly count in life!

I am learning.

Before going further, I am aware that some would dispute that 'The Reverend' is in fact not a title, but rather a style of prefix used to address Christian clergy. The point is, I cannot live up to the social expectation of either of the titles that I have, just as little as I can truly be a perfect husband or father. I do my best, but there is tremendous room for growth.

Well, this week I sat in meetings, conference halls, Churches, offices, and around tables with people who were often much more interested in my titles than in my person. What I am learning is that I need to be as patient with them as I hope they are with me! You see, they too are subject to the pressures of socialization. So I guess I could state it more accurately by saying that this week I was learning to learn. I was having to think not only about what I was learning about people, but also about how I was learning what I was learning - for example when I met the head of the Ugandan Revenue service (she jokingly calls herself the 'Chief tax collector' of Uganda) I had to take time to separate the person from the title. The office that she holds is one of immense responsibility, power, and of course respect. But, when she spoke with me (a minister) she was looking for support, affirmation, encouragement, and prayer. I had to make the distinction between the person and the title and ask God to give me the grace to be sensitive to minister to her felt needs as she felt them, not as I perceived them. I am learning to learn!

Well, this was a good week!

I have learned a lot! I have learned a lot about myself, I have learned a lot about others, I have learned a lot about Argentina, and Uganda, and Japan, and Thailand, and Australia, and Iran, and Spain, and Denmark, and a host of other countries and regions...

The meetings were remarkable, my intellect was stimulated, my heart was touched, and my spirit was renewed.

Amazingly though, the highlight of this week came from a town called Paarl, thousands of Kilometers away. The highlight of this week for me was the gift of a child for my friends Angus and Heather, you can read about that gift here: http://gruntleblog.blogspot.com/2008/10/zachari.html

We continue to learn... That's what I'm thinking!

Tomorrow morning I shall be leaving Mar del Plata, driving to Buenos Aires and then catching a boat to Uruguay. There I shall have further opportunities to learn. I do feel that this 'season' of my life is a season of service. I am trying to learn how to serve those that I work with, and serve those that I encounter. It is not easy to serve when almost all of western culture tries to teach one to rule and direct. So, do say a prayer for me. I am learning.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Sarah Palin in 30 seconds

Don't get me wrong, she's intelligent, attractive, and must be something quite special to rise to the top of American politics... But, she doesn't come across well on TV, and she certainly does not convey any gravitas in comparison to her opponent...

Sim says: Here's my latest video remix, this time of America's latest sweetheart/demagogue.

Monday, October 06, 2008

A message from Jesus to Christians - "Go to hell"

I am one of those simple Christians who realises that I cannot live for Christ without setting in place some spiritual disciplines - perhaps that's why I am a Methodist! I like the simple methodical way of finding Jesus through daily prayer and reading the scriptures, I still fast weekly, I worship every week (preferably in my local Church when I am in South Africa), I give generously, I take retreats, I try to find service and extraordinary ministry opportunities, I take relationships seriously... You know what I'm talking about...

Well, this morning when I was doing my quiet time, a daily discipline of praying, reading the scriptures, and waiting upon God's loving presence, I was struck by something that I have read many times, but only saw this morning. I'll get to the message that I received from this passage below, however, let me first say why I think I have missed this message previously.

Perhaps the reason why I have not read this text with earnest attention is because it has been claimed and hijacked by spiritual warfare type Christians - that's not me! So, I have tended to look over it saying to myself these verses are for someone else... I'm not that kind of Christian so let's go on to find something that is for me. You know what that's called? It's called selective listening! When I was young I used to apply selective listening to what my parents and teachers told me! I would hear everything, but I would only listen to those bits that I felt fitted my worldview. Now, as an older man, I wonder how much I have missed out on because I did not listen!!

Well, thankfully because my time clock is messed up and I am a little bit tired at the moment I was open to hearing from this text!

Matthew 16:18-19 - And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

I have always read this passage and thought that the Church (which Jesus said he would build upon the rock) and hades (hell) are two separate 'places'. You know, the old dichotomy between good and evil, the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of evil. However, this morning I realised that the 'operational' spread of the Church i.e., that area in which the Church should have influence and act, contains a great deal of evil and hardship! Certainly when I was a pastor of a local Church there were members within my congregation who felt like they were in hell! Some of them were ill, some of them were in financial struggle, some of them had bad and abusive relationships... You get the idea. BUT, there is more, within the area of my Church there were homeless people, prostitutes, people who did not belong to my Church or any other Church who needed grace, love, forgiveness, healing, and the love of Christ and Christ's body! These people are loved by God, their struggle matters to God and so I should be taking God's grace to encounter and overcome their hell!

So, the message that I heard today from the Lord is this: Christians, go to hell! That's where Christ would wish us to share His grace, his love, his mercy, his healing and of course his love!

I know that within the ministry that I currently have there is struggle and hardship very close to me. I work with people who are lonely, afraid, hungry, angry, broken, unloved, in chaos, without purpose.... You get the idea. I shall be considering how to go to hell to establish the Church there.

I am starting to understand that the ministry that I currently have is just such a ministry - I am taking the Kingdom of Christ to the heart of many people's hell. I am realising that 'The Church' exists radically within the heart of the place where most people spend most of their time... Not a Sunday morning service, but a desk, a booth, behind a counter, in an open plan office, under the hood of a car, in a bank....

The Church of Jesus in the marketplace.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Mar del Plata - an incredible evening in an magnificent setting!

Yesterday morning we had a meeting with the Ministers Union (Council of Churches, or Pastors' fraternal, depending on your context) in Buenos Aires. It was a an incredible meeting time! About a hundred leaders of denominations, Church groupings and ministry organisations gathered for the meeting. We had a chance to share about the Global Day of Prayer, and the Lausanne meetings in Cape Town. We also had a chance to talk about some possibilities in the local context to address systemic poverty and challenge the Church to become a significant, strategically aligned, agent of societal change.

After that meeting we got on a little bus for the 5 hour drive to Mar del Plata, on the coast of Argentina. Mar del Plata reminds me so much of the East London waterfront area near Victoria and the Quigney! It is quite steep, it has a similar climate (top temperature of about 15 degrees today), but it is beautiful!

A short while after our arrival we went to the city square to participate in a intercontinental television broadcast that was intended for Christians from the Southern tip of South America to the most Northern tip of North America! It was a magnificent time! It was freezing cold, but the latin American worship band was so energetic with their latin worship beats! I couldn't believe how electrifying and the latino eat was, within minutes the two thousand or so people on the square were hopping up and down!

The two most significant aspects of the 2 hour broadcast were the incredible testimonies and stories of those who shared how they had applied their faith in Jesus, and their commitment to justice, transformation, and God's renewing will for individuals and societieis, to bring huge changes in their sphere of influence (among them a chief tax collector from Ghana, a Prison administrator from Mexico, a Mayor from a North American City, Graham Power (my 'captain') a business person from Cape Town, a high school principal from Hawaii, a cardiologist from Iran... etc., etc.) For most of these people it was a simple, yet courageous, decision to seek God's will and enact God's will in their sphere of influence!

The second significant influence for me was a moment where a Lutheran and an Anglican leader prayed prayers of blessing and forgiveness for one another, and the Churches that each serve. The false divide between Catholics and Protestants in Latin America (and of course so many other places in the world) has been the cause of much inefiecency, lack of effectiveness, and even strife and hurt! And, what is so sad, is that God looks at all of God's children (all denominations, and yes, even all religions! God loves ALL people) and God longs for them to be loving, caring, a blessing, and to courageously enact God's loving will in society - this is not just the work of one Church, or one denomination, or even of Christians only! God wants to use every person, every institution, ever sphere of society, to bring about God's healing and renewal in all the world!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Buenos Aires, economics and discipleship

In recent months I have come to a realisation that for some years I have lived with a similar dichotomy to that which caused the Church in South Africa to sanction apartheid.  This is a rather shocking confession, I know, but it is true!

Let me explain:  In South Africa the apartheid system was held in place by the Nationalist government because the citizens who had a right to vote did not remove that government.  What is shocking about this is that the largest majority of these voting citizens were adherents of the Christian faith, and in fact many of them were regular attendees in their local Dutch Reformed (and other) Churches.  The Churches frequently told their members that faith and life are separate issues - most particularly that faith and politics do not mix.  So, devout Christians could live a 'Christian' portion of their lives on Sunday, but on Monday they could enter into an unjust political dispensation without feeling that the one compromised the other...

Here's where I've been making a mistake.  I have come to realise that liberal Christians like myself have created the same separation and dichotomy when it comes to economics and faith.  In my instance there are two reasons why I have tried to separate economics from faith:

1)  Because I have seen so much abuse of economics by persons who claim to be Christian (pastors, priests, evangelists etc.,  One need only switch to just about every Christian television station and you'll see preachers manipulating money out of well intentioned believers' pockets!  This shames me, and so I have always tried to separate faith from any form of money.  The sentiment is good, but it has a weakness, which I shall discuss in a moment).

2)  A second reason why I have separated faith from economics is because I have always felt that the dominant economic system of our world is incompatible with the grace, provision, and blessing that I read about in Christian scripture.  In essence, my experience has been that capitalism is driven by greed, personal gain, and it is cut-throat, frequently dishonest, and that it is motivated by a side of human nature that is not truly Christlike (i.e., it frequently is selfish, individualistic, has little care for the desire to see others blessed...  I think you get the point - my perception, which I think is largely true, is that to enrich one's self the pressure has to be shifted elsewhere in the economy, which frequently (most often) means that someone else is impoverished).

So, for these two reasons I have shied away from considering economics in any way other than a critical fashion.  I have written two chapters in books on the problems of the world's dominant economic systems (one in 44 sermons to serve the present age, and one in Methodism in Southern Africa - a celebration of Wesleyan mission).  

Yesterday, however, I came to experience for the first time how destructive perspectives such as mine are for the poor!  As long as I remain on the sidelines hurling insults, and don't address the struggles and deficiencies of this system the poor remain poor and the unjust have claim to more and more wealth!  In the economic forum discussions that we held yesterday were scientists, economists, politicians and educators who have understood that a healthy, Christ driven, engagement with economics, from the perspective of God's Kingdom, can bring about change.

What I realised yesterday is that those persons from the Christian faith who have abused economics are doing so from the same capitalist system that drives persons who do not submit to Christ's Lordship.  There is, however, another approach to economics that can be Christlike.  It is not motivated by greed, personal gain, or self enrichment.  Rather this approach is radically accountable, it seeks to apply one's gifts, abilities, and training to reclaim systems, companies, and economic policies that could be used destructively and redeploy them for the good of the poor.  I met scientists yesterday whose technology could be sold for multiple millions of dollars - yet they have developed them with venture capital funds to deploy 100% of their profits to care for the poor!  I met commodity brokers whose sole purpose in life was to shift the economic weight of nations away from the wealthy few in order to put the gains into social entrepreneurial ventures in their countries, and in so doing to make broad based economic shifts.

The reality is that I am not an astute business person, and that I am still frightened by money, and concerned with my own capacity for greed.  However, the one thing that I can do is write (and of course pray, think, and engage others).  I believe that it is time for me to break the dichotomy which allows the economic systems to continue to oppress the poor.  It is time for me to begin to think about an alternative reality in which the Christian can have a healthy engagement with the economy for the sake of the Kingdom of God and the purposes of that Kingdom.

Of course, this is risky business!  I shall need to think very carefully about what I think, write, and say.  I shall need to remain equally critical, but add to that critique creativity and insight in order to reclaim that which is frequently used to work against the principles of God's Kingdom.

It was great to make this realisation in the two-thirds world!   Argentina has many of the same struggles that we have in Africa - the dominance of American wealth, international debt, a rate of international aid that exceeds 18% (which according to a number of 'secular' economists is the point at which aid becomes a noose to steal the natural and human resources of a nation for generations to come).

I have just recently read two significant books, The Bottom Billion which speaks of why the majority of the world grows poorer, and Confessions of an economic hitman which tells of how America and the World Bank have strategically targeted mineral rich nations to enslave them in debt.  I shall be going on to read Free lunch quite soon which deals with a similar topic.

Have a blessed day!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Some wise words on hate.

A few years ago a very good friend of mine, Piet Greyling, gave me some of the best advice that I have ever received - he encouraged me to 'live on the side of hope' (these are my words, but his sentiment).  He encouraged me to escape cynicism and overcome prejudice and even hate, in order to find the freedom to truly live and honour God with the very best, and first fruit, of my life.

Today I was reminded of that advice.  Piet gave it to me when I was facing some rather harsh pressure and attack that was racially motivated.  I believed, at that stage, that I had every right to be angry with those who were prejudiced towards me because of nothing other than my race.  I believed that I had a right to be angry, and even to judge them, because of what they were doing.  Then I realised, if I should do so I would place myself under their power and control.  You see, I had a choice to overcome my feelings of self-righteousness and operate on a level of gracious transcendence that would give me freedom and choice to live fully and freely, not just in response to the actions and views of others!

I have seen how hatred eats up individuals and communities.  Have you?  Here's some good advice from Martin Luther King Jr.

Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man's sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true. 

Martin Luther King Jr.

The courage to do what we believe in.

Compromise is a difficult state to live in.  I realise that all of life requires some flexibility and compromise in order to make things work, and to allow some space for cooperation and growth (if you only ever get your own way, it's likely that you're either a bully or a brat... Sorry to be so direct, but that has been my experience of my own life!)

But, sadly many of us tend to live in compromise much more frequently than we live and operate within within what brings us joy and blessing!  If I'm wrong here, please set me straight!  But, I feel that people get into debt, they end up working to repay their loans and bills, and eventually they 'sell themselves', their time, their dreams, and many other costly things (like their values) to serve the taskmaster of mammon!

I have, a few times in my life, met some people who spend their lives doing what brings them life and joy.  Their energy is simply infectious!  I have frequently longed to live that way.  I work towards it, I keep it constantly in mind, and I try to do all that I do with this spirit of joy and blessing behind it!

Here's a lovely little quote that may offer you some challenge and comfort in this regard!

There can be no happiness if the things we believe in are different from the things we do. Freya Stark from The Lycian Shore

They all look pretty much the same - some comfort, but some sadness

I love being in different places. However, the more I travel the more I realise that just about every city that I visit looks more or less the same. This is a shot of a city street in Buenos Aires - can you spot the Golden Arches!? I am quite pleased that they are here since this is where I am getting my free wifi to send this message!

There is some comfort in the familiarity of an urban scene. You know that you can always find something familiar, but I was also thinking that it is quite sad in some ways since one comes to different places to experience something different after all! But, as I walked early this morning I enjoyed the cool breeze, the tall buildings, the tiled streets and the wonderful people around me.

At least the language is different here! I love the Spanish twang in people's voices! I have had the privelage to visit Spain twice, and I can see how those Latin roots have been deeply placed in this South American nation.

Last night we began with a dinner for some of the delegates - it started at around 9pm (2am South African time). By the end of it I was absolutely tired! But I slept well and awoke refreshed at 5 am this morning (around 10am South African time). The 5 hours of sleep did me well.

I am sharing a room with an amazing young guy from Thailand (Phuket to be exact) - he is here to learn how he, as a hotel manager, can learn to honour and bless Christ in his everyday work. We had some great conversations.

It's a lovely day in Buenos Aires today, I am jet lagged and about to go to an economic forum meeting to discuss the global economic crisis with business and church leaders. It is a privilege to be invited to this meeting since some of the world's top Christian business leaders will be present. The aim and intention of the meeting is to see how Christians might respond with Christ's love, grace, and care in the current economic crisis that is gripping the globe. Among those in attendance will be senior business anaylists, owners and CEO's of very large enterprises, some pastors, priest, Bishops, theologians (like myself), and some government leaders from nations in Africa, the Americas and Europe.

PS. Please excuse the poor formatting of this post. I have realised that if I add formatting to the email when I send it to blogger the picture doesn't show up, but if I don't add formatting the line breaks are all wrong! Does anybody have a suggestion about how I could fix this!?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Leaving with a heavy heart. But, the sun is out, and I'll be back soon!

I have often written of how thankful I am for the lives of my children.  Our particular little struggle has been the life of our little boy Liam who was born at 27 weeks.  We thank God that he survived those first few weeks of life, and that for the largest part he is perfectly healthy.  However, he does have some special health needs and we are constantly aware of caring for him appropriately and protecting him from situations that could turn out to be quite serious because of his health.

Frequently little Liam has gone from having a cold to being hospitalized within a matter of days.  Megan and I know all the signs, and our pediatrician trusts us enough to allow us to keep a stock of antibiotics and other appropriate drugs to help him when he picks up an infection.  As such when we were given the opportunity to travel to Argentina together we knew that little Liam would have to come with us.  We could not leave him behind with just anyone.  So earlier in the month we got his passport, took him to the doctor for a checkup and ensured that he was ready to travel.  We had our regular stock of medication and we were all set for a great trip.  This week however, Liam picked up a cold and started getting all the signs we're accustomed to, spiking fever, a tight chest, light blue tinges on his fingernails and lips (which means that he is not getting enough oxygen saturation).  So we started to treat him with the nebulizer and antibiotics and took him to the doctor.

After checking him out the doctor indicated that Liam would not able to fly.  His lungs simply would not cope with the oxygen saturation of the aircraft.

So, Megie and Liam have remained behind in Somerset West.

My heart is heavy...  It is not a good thing to know that Liam is ill at the best of times, but it is even more difficult to leave him and Megie.

To change tack a little, many people have spoken to us about how we relate all of this struggle to God.  Some friends who do not believe think that we are naive to believe in a God who heals when our son is so sick.  Others who are more charismatic think that perhaps we don't have enough faith, and for that reason our son is sick.  Some more pensive friends have spoken of the complexity of theodicy (a theological study of the 'justice' of God, from the Greek Theos meaning God and the Latin dice meaning justice).  In short they question how a God who is all powerful, and is also all loving, could allow suffering.  Surely if God is all powerful and can heal any person, and God is infinitely loving, God would simply heal little Liam?  Well simplistically I guess that would be one option.  However, I have come to understand that health is certainly not a measure of wholeness.  I know many healthy people who are more fully whole because they have learned to grow and deepen their perspective on life, love, God's grace, and the wonder of human community, through their understanding of suffering.

What I can tell you with certainty is that we know that God loves us, and God loves Liam and Courtney.  We are certain that God's heart breaks when our hearts are broken, and that God gives us both courage and strength to cope with the vicissitudes of life.  An overseas trip could never cause me to doubt my faith in a God who willingly took suffering upon himself so that I could be free to truly live.  I find comfort in Christ's suffering, and even his death, and yes of course I find great hope in his resurrection to eternal life.

There is a sense in which God is not the owner of 'Disney world' where everything has a shine and veneer of happiness, yet it lacks true depth and joy.  Rather, the God I love and know deals with real life, life that is disappointing and messy, but also filled with the miracles of life and love, and that God brings wholeness in spite of health, and blessing in spite of struggle.

Please do spare a prayer for little Liam, for Megie, for Courts and I.