Dion's random ramblings

Thursday, January 29, 2009

15 years of blessing in marriage! I'm SO glad she 'follows my tweets'!

Today (29 January 2009) is the 15 anniversary of our marriage. I give thanks to God for the incredible gift of Megie! Wow, I can hardly believe that a person would choose to share their life with me - Megie is such a great gift!

Here's a little video on marriage and the gift of marriage. Have you ever worried about texts such as Genesis 2:18 (which many have used to say that women are intended to 'serve' and 'help' men)? Well, this video will give you some insight into that text and how we can make contemporary marriage relationships work in a modern social context, but with the deep values of love and blessing that under-gird our very being and identity in relationship... The doctrine of the Trinity is central to such loving relationships - so I speak a little bit about the mystery of that doctrine in relation to love and marriage. So, watch the video and let me know what your thoughts are on this subject!

I thank God for Megie!

Here's another interesting little video... Boy, am I glad that Megie 'follows my tweets'! ;-)

PS. Follow me on twitter! You'll always know what I'm doing and how I'm feeling... Living my life in public is a good spiritual discipline - it helps me to keep my inner and 'outer' life in sync.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Helen Zille - a remarkable woman!

The interview with Helen Zille was truly an imspiration. She is articulate, well informed, and a formidable political leader. Whilst I have not been a supporter of the Democratic Alliance, Mrs Zille made very clear, convincing arguments, answering our questions with ease.

In this photo you'll see Graham Power (sharing some facts from the http://www.unashamedlyethical.com website), Mrs Helen Zille, and our sound guy Chris.

I still lean a little further left in my political opinions, BUT I left the meeting with a sense of humility at having met one of the great people of our age! I shall be praying for Helen! I'm truly grateful that she has signed a commitment the being unashamedly ethical! Keep your eyes on our website for more details.
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An interview with DA leader and Cape Town Mayor, Helen Zille

Today we're doing an interview with the Mayor of Cape (and the leader of the Democratic Alliance), Helen Zille. She has been a lontime supporter of the figth against corruption and the fight for ethics in business and politics.

We're currently in the process of filming all of our inserts for the new promotional video - we have a number of business, political, religious and sports leaders.

We're trusting that as more and more people make the pledge for ethics, values and clean living, that we will see South Africa transformed.

Please see http://www.unashamedlyethical.com for more details and to sign up.
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Monday, January 26, 2009

Prayer, fasting and giving - the loss of spiritual discipline in contemporary Christianity.

William Bramwell, an early Wesleyan preacher from Liverpool wrote to a friend in 1809:

The reason why Methodists in general do not live in this salvation is, there is too much sleep, too much meat and drink, too little fasting and self-denial, too much conversation with the world, too much preaching and hearing, and too little self-examination and prayer.

You know, this description of Methodism in England from 200 years ago is so similar to contemporary Methodism (and I fear contemporary Christianity in many other mainline Christian denominations in South Africa).

I am frequently classified as a 'liberal', sometimes more accurately as a 'liberal evangelical'. I am evangelical - that's for sure! I believe that we have a responsibility to be passionate about the WHOLE 'evangelion' (the WHOLE Gospel). I believe that we need to encounter individuals with the life transforming power of Christ, but that we also need to encounter systems and structures with that same power and love! The whole Gospel for the whole world!

Yet, I find that I am seldom up to that task. I am weak, soft, ill preparted - I lack the necessary urgency and determination to truly and courageously encounter the world with this marvelous Person (Jesus) and His saving message!

I do find, however, that the spiritual disciplines help me to come a little closer to what it means to be a 'better' disciple (if there is such a thing).

In this short video I discuss the notion of salvation by faith (and not by works, or ascetic discipline), yet keeping the need to maintain and develop spiritual disciplines in order to be an effective disciple of Jesus Christ.

What do you think? Do any of you practice regular spiritual disciplines? If so, what do you do and how does it help you?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A church with mission, or missions without the Church? A few thoughts on the emerging 'coversation' / 'churches'

Updated 26 March 2009.

Dear friends, please find the expanded text of a lecture on the emerging Church conversation here. To find out more about the occasion of this lecture I delivered in March 2009 (the Hugh Price Hughes lecture in London) please follow this link.

What is clear (quite apart from all of the statistics) is that while the Church may be dying (as we know it), the Christian faith is growing!

I would encourage you to read the lecture, absorb the statistics, watch the little video below, pray about your response and feel free to engage me!

Original post below.

Here are a few thoughts on the emerging conversation in relation to the Church. It is entitled 'Revolution or Evolution'... The gist of my research has shown that the content of the Gospel is not what the world has a problem with, rather it is the manner in which we frame our narrative and engage the world....

In the attached powerpoint slides you will see some alarming statistics on the decline in Church attendance and membership in Southern Africa (and the world!) But, that decline in interest in the Church is certainly not an accurate reflection on the Christian faith! Christianity is still going strong!!!

For example while church membership and attendance is decreasing at an alarming rate (in most 'Christian' societies') there is a steep growth in adherence to 'non' traditional Church models (e.g., African Initiated Churches, Cell Groups, Home Churches, Marketplace ministry groups, Mission organizations etc. etc.).

Here's a little video with my thoughts:

And, here are the Powerpoint slides that may add some 'meat' to my thoughts. emerging_conversation_church.ppt. (PS. the last slide has some incomplete references on it... I did not have two of the books with me when I finished the slides... And, now the books are at the office. Email me if you can't find the references).

I would love to hear your thoughts. Do you agree that the Church will die out in the next 40 years if we don't change our 'delivery mechanism'? I would love to hear your thoughts - there are some like Roger Saner and Stephen Murray who are experts in this area... Perhaps you would like to chime in?

By the way Steve Hayes - in my research I have discovered that the only 'mainline' denomination that is growing exceptional well are the Orthodox Churches! Any ideas?

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Times and seasons, the sigmoid curve, appreciating the past and loving the present.

The last two days have been special to say the least!  I find that frequently the most significant personal experiences are not the extraordinary places that I get to visit through my work, or even the important people I have had the privelage to encounter... Most frequently the 'life changing' moments in my life's narrative are those events in which I come to a moment of 'enlightenment' - a recognition of a truth that helps me to move form one stage of being to another.

These last two days have been just that.  Yesterday I flew out to Pietermartizburg at the invitation of Rev Dr Ross Olivier to come and participate in the Orientation of the founding class of Sethi Mokitimi Methodist Seminary.  Ross has been a friend for some years now.  I first got to know him when he was the connexional coordinator for the 'Journey to the new land program' back in the early 1990's.  Later our friendship was deepened when I had the wonderful opportunity to stay with him and his wife Shayne in Jackson Mississippi in the USA.  We ate clams, drove down the Naches Trace to Louisiana and spent many hours chatting and watching TV!  It is a fond memory... We also went to Walmart (where I bought my daughter a Barbie doll on a shelf that was situated right next to the live ammunition for various hand guns, rifles and shot guns...) 

Ross is the new President of our Church's seminary, Seth Moktimi Methodist Seminary, in Pietermartzburg.  He is a courageous and gifted leader who has already done a great deal to set things in place to ensure the success of this new institution...

At the airport  in Durban I hired a car and picked up Rev Norman Raphahlela (the new director of the Education for Ministry and Mission Unit), and the Registrar, Anne Burmeister and the financial manager Melani Kasselman.

Ross and Ivan Abrahams, the Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa met us in Pietermaritzburg as we drove through the dark (and quiet) streets of that city - the University only starts in a week's time so all is calm!  Ivan and I shared a flat at the new seminary campus and had a few hours to sit and chat.  It reminded me very much of the deep and honest conversation we shared at Oxford in 2007 - which became the inspiration for mine and Wessel Bentley's most recent book, 'What are we thinking:  Reflections on Church and Society by Southern African Methodists'.  Ivan shared his aspirations and struggles with great honest and vulnerability.  I have always understood that the burden of leadership is have and lonely, and I felt that again last night.

Today, I got to spend some time with a veratible host of the 'Heroes' of Southern African Methodism!  In the meetings, meals, and sessions where Rev Prof Neville Richardson (one of my very close friends and a real father in the faith), Rev Prof Peter Storey, Rev Dr Simon Gqubule, Rev Dr Ross Olivier, Bishop Zipho Siwa and Rev Norman Raphahela.  I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to share this time with my Methodist fathers.  Their collective wisdom, history of courage and sacrifice, and continued commitment to the mission of Christ as expressed in Southern African Methodism was a considerable challenge and inspiration!  There was enough time to connect with each of them and pick up on all that had happened since we last met one another.

However, there was another element to this encounter that was more encouraging... It was the recognition that I was absolutely free - I was free from needing to make an impression or leave one.  These persons no longer held my future and destiny in their hands.  I have been graciously moved by God in a different direction.  I remain a committed servant of this denomination, but I did not want or need anything from these powerful men - other than being able to sit, listen, and learn.  I do not need a station, I need no endorsement, no support from a caucus they represent, no political or ecclesiastical backing, I simply received the blessing of being a young man in the company of giants.

I was humbled by their kindness and interest in my current ministry and how things are going with my family.  I was blessed that a few of them had already bought the new book and had some positive and critical insights to share....

It was a joy to go into class again - I cannot tell you how much I miss share in the shaping of the hearts and minds of our seminarians!  We had a few hours together in which we interrogated the doctrine of the Church, the mission of the Church, and some very creative and innovative means of 'rephrasing the narrative of the Gospel of love' so that it is truly the WHOLE Gospel (not just a narrow personal soteriology!  But rather a radically transformative mission of bringing about individual and social transformation towards the establishment of God's Kingdom of grace!)

But, as I drove back to the airport I knew that I was free.... In terms of the Sigmoid curve, I realised that I had begun to stagnate in my previous role as the Dean of John Wesley College.  I was thankful that the politics of the factions in the Church were no longer my concern...  As I listened to the conversation around the table, I thanked the Lord for those whom He has called to serve the Church in those positions, but I felt free from them.  

I arrive home at 10pm tonight.  I can't wait to see Megie, Courts and Liam!  But, tomorrow morning I'll be addressing a Christian business gathering in Blouberg (at the Blue Peter).  I'll be up early to get there by 6am - but I am excited about the opportunity to exercise my minister, the ministry of a Methodist minister, in that context.  I am grateful for all those who have gone before and showed me the way.  I am thankful for the work that is being done to train people for our ministry.  And I am thankful to have opportunities to engage in new and diverse forms of bringing Christ's Kingdom to bear on the world!

I am thankful.

Monday, January 19, 2009

How many AAA's in KHAAAN!? An exercise in mathematical stupidity and the intelligence of the internet!

How many AAAAAA's in KHAAAN!? Yes, there are many.

This graph shows how people have typed Khaan (with how many A's) on the whole wide intranets and internets and extranets etc. etc. The vertical axis plots how many hits there are per spelling form (e.g., 1 million for Khan, as opposed to 1 hit for Khan with 96 A's... You've got to admire the person who types 97 A's!) It is quite clever (it can count), but it's not that clever... It comes from here - now that's clever!

As can be seen in this chart, "Google search results for "KH(Ax)N" for x=1 to 100," there's a real spike of "AAAAA"s around 40 and 50. That's a lot of repetitious typing! Also, you have to admire the bloody-minded perserverence of the folks over there at 97-100 "AAAAA"s. Also, RIP, Ricardo Montalban.

Google search results for "KH(Ax)N" for x=1 to 100 (via Negatendo)

Above average expectation, above average opportunity - are you aiming to become a 'hero of the faith'?

I've come to understand that we all need role-models, hero's, the kind of persons that we can look towards for inspiration, encouragement, and upon whom we can model ourselves. It has been an incredible privilege in recent months to meet with many of those persons that I have admired as I have traveled to various destinations across the globe.

One thing has become clear to me - that is that my 'heros' are just ordinary people who have done a few extra-ordinary things. When you couple that with the reality that God has created each one of us to be special and extra-ordinary you can reach some wonderfully encouraging and blessed conclusions!

Here's a sneak preview of my Radio Pulpit show for this week (listen in on your radio 657 Khz on AM in Gauteng, or via the web at 9.00-9.30 (GMT+2hours) every Wednesday). Click here to download the show 'more than average' (6.6MB MP3).

Blessings for this week!

Coping with adversity... The great fire of London

In 1666 London was decimated by a fire that burnt almost the entire city to the ground. It was an incredible tragedy with many lives being lost, and of course many livelihoods and homes being destroyed.

However, have you ever considered that this tragedy could have had some positive outcomes? First among them was that the fire rid London of the 'plague' (black death) - the first city to be free from this deadly scourge! Second, the complete destruction allowed the architects of London to rebuild the city entirely. London became the first European city to cater for commercial trade on a large scale and to have significant forward planning for commercial and industrial growth. This, in large part, was what made London the 'premier' city in Europe (and in no small part contributed towards the building of the British empire).

I was wondering how we cope with adversity and challenge? The reality is that not all suffering has obvious positive benefits (certainly not in the short term!) However, we can learn some lessons from history.

Here's a short little video on dealing with suffering, adversity and challenge.

Rich blessing for this day!

Friday, January 16, 2009

'Folk theories' in Guru based spirituality...

I found the content of this post quite interesting, however, what fascinated me even more was the underlying assumption of how 'popular theologies' come into existence. You see what this poster illustrates in his post is that there is a belief that certain truths (such as scientific truths) have a different basis of validity from those that come to be accepted as truths through 'popular consensus'.

Of course this is complete nonsense! Empirical truths are also based on popular consensus! The easiest way to illustrate that is to ask how much 1 Kilogram weighs... Of course it weighs 1 Kilogram, but why does it weigh 1 Kilogram? Well, it weighs one Kilogram because a group of individuals agreed to set a 'standard' in place by taking a substance, measuring it's weight and then saying that from that time forward all other weighted items would be benchmarked by measuring them against the 'popular consensus' standard they had just invented.

The same goes for subtler (less physical) truths. Have you ever considered how the concept of law and justice works? The laws and regulations of any group are set by consensus and upheld by popular consensus (a person is deemed guilty or not guilty when there is consensus that he or she has transgressed, or not transgressed, the agreed upon standard set by the community)...

I could go on and on with such examples from religion, philosophy, science, mathematics, politics, sociology and a host of other disciplines...

So, truth is truth (not in spite of popular of folk consesus, but most frequently because of it!). Anyway, here's the post:

Folk theories are assumptions or "common sense" things that people generally believe to be true. Over at Guruphiliac, my pal Jody Radzik presents a list of folk theories that he's identified in guru-based spirituality and invites readers to contribute their own. It's fun to see how folk theories can be used to get people to "buy in" (often literally) to almost any bullshit. Here are a few tools Jody says are in any "flimflamming, big-time guru's" box:
? The folk theory of everything being connected
? The folk theory of ancient wisdom
? The folk theory of holiness
? The folk theory of sex being a loss to the spirit
? The folk theory of harmful technology
? The folk theory that only the heart knows what is true
Folk Theories Of Guru-Based Spirituality

Get well soon Steve Jobs.

It cannot be easy to face the pressures of keeping a company going that is so hugely dependent upon your presence (particularly to keep the stock price afloat) and know that you are seriously ill...

I hope Steve Jobs gets well soon.

Steve Jobs sent an email around to let his employees know he was taking a leave of absence. He wrote, "my health-related issues are more complex than I originally thought."

I am sure all of you saw my letter last week sharing something very personal with the Apple community. Unfortunately, the curiosity over my personal health continues to be a distraction not only for me and my family, but everyone else at Apple as well. In addition, during the past week I have learned that my health-related issues are more complex than I originally thought.

In order to take myself out of the limelight and focus on my health, and to allow everyone at Apple to focus on delivering extraordinary products, I have decided to take a medical leave of absence until the end of June. I have asked Tim Cook to be responsible for Apple?s day to day operations, and I know he and the rest of the executive management team will do a great job. As CEO, I plan to remain involved in major strategic decisions while I am out. Our board of directors fully supports this plan.

I look forward to seeing all of you this summer.


From here.

Secret tweet - an online confessional. Somehow sad, yet cathartic

Bishop Alan (who's blog has instantly become one of my favourite sites for a daily visit) posted an excellent blog post on atheism in relation to a site called secrettweet. I would encourage you to make a turn past his site and read the post.

I checked out secrettweet and found a number of very sad posts there. Something in my felt quite helpless. I guess there is something 'hardwired' into my person that longs to help people who are struggling and suffering. In some instances I wished that I could make contact with the persons who were posting in order to offer some encouragement, offer a listening ear, or simply offer the encouragement of knowing that they do not struggle on their own.

I suppose there is a healthy element to the site in that for some persons it is a catharsis - allowing them to name things that would otherwise eat them like a cancer. For others I fear that it may in fact be something quite negative, in that they share their secret and feel relieved to have done so, yet there is no real honesty about remaining anonymous. The secret still remains a secret where it most matters, i.e., in their daily life.

I prayed about some of the posts, and those who posted them. May each of us find places that are safe enough for us to be truly free, completely authentic, and not fear the backlash that our honesty may bring from others.

Why are you 'in the world'?

This is of course a very complex question! But, here are two wonderful general inputs towards discovering that purpose:

I am in the world to change the world. - Muriel Rukeyser, American poet and political activist (1913-1980).

And, here's another lovely quote from Scripture - perhaps we can all be part of God's 'new thing'?

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. - Isaiah 43:19

Both come from the wonderful daily reflection from Sojourners called 'Verse and Voice'.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Leaving on a jet plane

We're on our way to Plettenberg Bay from Cape Town to spend two days on team building and retreat with the Global Day of Prayer team. Please spare a prayer for us. We have a lot of critical planning for this important year!

In this picture, Graham Power and myself.


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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

For peace in the world...

Today I fasted and took time to pray for the people of Zimbabwe, for the suffering inflicted upon those who live in North Korea, for those whose lives are destroyed by war in the Democratic republic of the Congo, and for those who are being murdered in Gaza...

I find this simple discipline to be immensely helpful.

It was my birthday, but I thought that it would be a very small sacrifice to give up food and be reminded that not everyone lives in peace, experiences the blessing of love, and has freedom and joy. This reminder spurred me to pray for an end to war, hatred, abuse and the pain caused by bad religion and worse politics. I broke my fast this evening in a family meal (having fasted from before dinner last night) - it was special to be with my family and to experience their love.

Let us never forget that Christ is called the 'Prince of Peace', and that he pronounced blessing upon those who are peacemakers, saying that they shall bear the likeness of God.

And I heard a loud voice form the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more."

- Revelation 21:3-4

Thanks for the many wishes and kind words. I'm another day older, and thankfully not deeper in debt!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Join Desmond Tutu for a once a week fast for Zimbabwe

As many of you would know, Megan and started to fast once a week (two years ago when our son Liam was born).  It has been a significant spiritual discipline.  I am quite 'strict' about it (even if I'm invited to a function, a client event, or out for lunch etc., I still adhere to my fast).  It has reminded me of a number of things.

1.  I discovered that I was much more hungry for food than I was for God... I would plan my days around meals, but I would often skip my prayer time because I was too busy.  It's sad, but it's a reality for many Christians!  So, fasting helps me to prioritize my spiritual life and my devotion to Christ.  Whenever I feel hungry on my fast day it remind me to pray and engage in acts of mercy.

2.  It reminds me that there are many people in the world who do not have the luxury to choose when to eat and when not to eat.  In my own country, South Africa, 17% of our population subsist on less than US$1 a day, and 38% on less than US$2 a day - in fact more than half are regarded as poor and impoverished.  This one day of fasting gives me a great deal of compassion (helping me to understand in just a very, very insignificant and small way what others experience daily...).  Compassion is different from pity... Pity separates people, compassion joins them.

3.  For Megan and I, in particular, it reminds us to pray earnestly for sick Children, suffering children, and families who struggle with loss, illness, and other challenges.

Here, however, is a challenge to join Bishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu in fasting in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe.  My encouragement is to link your fasting to prayer and acts of mercy.  On your fast day set aside your meal times to pray and also set aside the money (or food) you would have consumed to bless someone else.

Here's the story:

JOHANNESBURG, Jan 11 (Reuters) - South African Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu has called on all South Africans to join his weekly fasting in protest at the humanitarian crisis in neighbouring Zimbabwe, the 702 radio station reported on Sunday.

The 78-year-old Anglican archbishop said he had been fasting once a week in solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans facing food shortages and a cholera outbreak.

"If we would have more people saying 'I will fast' maybe one day a week, just to identify myself with my sisters and brothers in Zimbabwe," the radio station quoted him as saying.

Zimbabweans are suffering from hyper-inflation and severe food, fuel and foreign currency shortages. Cholera has killed more than 1,800 people. (Reporting by Agnieszka Flak; Editing by Charles Dick)  from http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSLB640138

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Back with a bang - peace from Africa

These wonderful paintings were my Christmas present from my loving wife, Megan. I absolutely love how they evoke elements of the peace, sense of belonging, and beauty of Southern African living. Thanks Megie!

Well, tomorrow it is back to work! It was Voltaire who said 'Work banishes those three great evils, boredom, vice, and poverty'. I am truly thankful for my work and ministry.

I'm starting with a bang. This week I'll be in Knysna for some strategic planning, then a Directors' stay over at Bergkroon just outside of Paarl, then off to Johannesburg for meetings with Heartlines, the 'For Good' campaign, Religious leaders forum and government around ethics, then off to speak at the Seth Mokitimi orientation at the University of Kwa Zulu Natal in Pietermartizburg. In the days between I shall savor every minute I have with my family. They are such a precious gift. My holiday seems over far too quickly, and it will certainly pull at my heart to leave them (even to go my office down the road, let alone elsewhere in the country!)

I have a few overseas trips on the cards for 2009, some new places (mainland China, Thailand) and some returning visits (England, Latin America, Hong Kong, Korea and possibly the US).

One thing I am sure of is that our Lord offers me courage and comfort to work for unity in the Church, influence change in society, mediate renewal in business perspectives, and push boundaries between persons who have entrenched themsleves in their corners of conviction (whether conservative, or liberal (like me)...) I understand the weaknesses of others because I am so prone to them myself. As Paul says in Phil 3:13, it's not that I have already attained these things, or been made perfect; but I forget what it behind and strain forward to take hold of the prize for which Christ Jesus has called me.

Thankfully, whenever I return to Africa I find blessing and peace with Megie, Courts and Liam. I am perhaps the most fortunate person alive! I have an incredible family, a remarkable and stimulating vocation, the a knowledge and love for the One who gives me all these things as a gift of grace.

2009 looks to be a good year! Please pray for. We have much to do, many demands to face, and a lot to learn.
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E.T the alien on the way to Kleinmond

Just before the exit to Pringle Bay (after you've passed Betties Bay) if you look left you'll see E.T. in the field! He's been defined a bit over the years. When I first saw this E.T. Shaped rock a few years ago it only had eyes. Now the rock has eyes, a mouth and a body!

E.T. phone home!
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Friday, January 09, 2009

Cory Doctorow: Writing in the Age of Distraction

This is an exceptional article from one of my favourite bloggers, Cory Doctorow. He has written some of my favourite novels (see the links at the end of this post for more information). I have written about Cory's position on Creative Commons licensing a few times in the past, and the fact that he is the person who convinced me of the 'rightness' and value of giving away my work. As, I've mentioned on numerous occasions - I am in the fortunate position that my writing does not have to put food in my children's tummies! I realise this is not the case for every author, but in my case it applies. I write because I think about things and I find that there are not always others who think about the same things, or who think about them in the same way, or even if they do, there are few who process them like I do and even fewer who have the privilege of the years of education and training that I've benefited from. I am humbled to be able to give my books away. As always, you're welcome to download copies of 3 of my 6 books here - just follow the link and scroll about ahalf way down the page to find them (I own the rights for these three, the others are either joint ventures, or I wrote/edited them for the benefit of other individuals or organisations and so cannot give them away with as much freedom).

Right, that being said, Cory is one of the most remarkable writers and thinkers of our age! He represents a new generation of author, not the reclusive artist, but the engaged thinker. Like me he enjoys contact with people and systems - these stimulate his creative thinking, and when the stimuli can be managed so that they don't hinder to process of recording and crafting his thoughts, it leads to some of the most engaging, well researched, and cutting edge works on the internet....

That, however, is the key! If you're a busy person, and have a fairly short attention span and are prone to distraction (or procrastination!) then you need to garner some tools and cultivate some personal discipline to help you write. Thoughts are fleeting! However, when you can create enough time and space to process them and record them, they become enlightening and useful to yourself and others.

So, here's Cory's wonderful article from Locus Online about writing in an age of distraction.

Cory Doctorow: Writing in the Age of Distraction

from Locus Magazine, January 2009

We know that our readers are distracted and sometimes even overwhelmed by the myriad distractions that lie one click away on the Internet, but of course writers face the same glorious problem: the delirious world of information and communication and community that lurks behind your screen, one alt-tab away from your word-processor.

The single worst piece of writing advice I ever got was to stay away from the Internet because it would only waste my time and wouldn't help my writing. This advice was wrong creatively, professionally, artistically, and personally, but I know where the writer who doled it out was coming from. Every now and again, when I see a new website, game, or service, I sense the tug of an attention black hole: a time-sink that is just waiting to fill my every discretionary moment with distraction. As a co-parenting new father who writes at least a book per year, half-a-dozen columns a month, ten or more blog posts a day, plus assorted novellas and stories and speeches, I know just how short time can be and how dangerous distraction is.

But the Internet has been very good to me. It's informed my creativity and aesthetics, it's benefited me professionally and personally, and for every moment it steals, it gives back a hundred delights. I'd no sooner give it up than I'd give up fiction or any other pleasurable vice.

I think I've managed to balance things out through a few simple techniques that I've been refining for years. I still sometimes feel frazzled and info-whelmed, but that's rare. Most of the time, I'm on top of my workload and my muse. Here's how I do it:

  • Short, regular work schedule

    When I'm working on a story or novel, I set a modest daily goal ? usually a page or two ? and then I meet it every day, doing nothing else while I'm working on it. It's not plausible or desirable to try to get the world to go away for hours at a time, but it's entirely possible to make it all shut up for 20 minutes. Writing a page every day gets me more than a novel per year ? do the math ? and there's always 20 minutes to be found in a day, no matter what else is going on. Twenty minutes is a short enough interval that it can be claimed from a sleep or meal-break (though this shouldn't become a habit). The secret is to do it every day, weekends included, to keep the momentum going, and to allow your thoughts to wander to your next day's page between sessions. Try to find one or two vivid sensory details to work into the next page, or a bon mot, so that you've already got some material when you sit down at the keyboard.

  • Leave yourself a rough edge

    When you hit your daily word-goal, stop. Stop even if you're in the middle of a sentence. Especially if you're in the middle of a sentence. That way, when you sit down at the keyboard the next day, your first five or ten words are already ordained, so that you get a little push before you begin your work. Knitters leave a bit of yarn sticking out of the day's knitting so they know where to pick up the next day ? they call it the "hint." Potters leave a rough edge on the wet clay before they wrap it in plastic for the night ? it's hard to build on a smooth edge.

  • Don't research

    Researching isn't writing and vice-versa. When you come to a factual matter that you could google in a matter of seconds, don't. Don't give in and look up the length of the Brooklyn Bridge, the population of Rhode Island, or the distance to the Sun. That way lies distraction ? an endless click-trance that will turn your 20 minutes of composing into a half-day's idyll through the web. Instead, do what journalists do: type "TK" where your fact should go, as in "The Brooklyn bridge, all TK feet of it, sailed into the air like a kite." "TK" appears in very few English words (the one I get tripped up on is "Atkins") so a quick search through your document for "TK" will tell you whether you have any fact-checking to do afterwards. And your editor and copyeditor will recognize it if you miss it and bring it to your attention.

  • Don't be ceremonious

    Forget advice about finding the right atmosphere to coax your muse into the room. Forget candles, music, silence, a good chair, a cigarette, or putting the kids to sleep. It's nice to have all your physical needs met before you write, but if you convince yourself that you can only write in a perfect world, you compound the problem of finding 20 free minutes with the problem of finding the right environment at the same time. When the time is available, just put fingers to keyboard and write. You can put up with noise/silence/kids/discomfort/hunger for 20 minutes.

  • Kill your word-processor

    Word, Google Office and OpenOffice all come with a bewildering array of typesetting and automation settings that you can play with forever. Forget it. All that stuff is distraction, and the last thing you want is your tool second-guessing you, "correcting" your spelling, criticizing your sentence structure, and so on. The programmers who wrote your word processor type all day long, every day, and they have the power to buy or acquire any tool they can imagine for entering text into a computer. They don't write their software with Word. They use a text-editor, like vi, Emacs, TextPad, BBEdit, Gedit, or any of a host of editors. These are some of the most venerable, reliable, powerful tools in the history of software (since they're at the core of all other software) and they have almost no distracting features ? but they do have powerful search-and-replace functions. Best of all, the humble .txt file can be read by practically every application on your computer, can be pasted directly into an email, and can't transmit a virus.

  • Realtime communications tools are deadly

    The biggest impediment to concentration is your computer's ecosystem of interruption technologies: IM, email alerts, RSS alerts, Skype rings, etc. Anything that requires you to wait for a response, even subconsciously, occupies your attention. Anything that leaps up on your screen to announce something new, occupies your attention. The more you can train your friends and family to use email, message boards, and similar technologies that allow you to save up your conversation for planned sessions instead of demanding your attention right now helps you carve out your 20 minutes. By all means, schedule a chat ? voice, text, or video ? when it's needed, but leaving your IM running is like sitting down to work after hanging a giant "DISTRACT ME" sign over your desk, one that shines brightly enough to be seen by the entire world.

I don't claim to have invented these techniques, but they're the ones that have made the 21st century a good one for me.

Cory Doctorow's website is Craphound.com, and he is co-editor of Boing Boing: A Directory of Wonderful Things.
Previous Cory Doctorow columns posted on Locus Online:

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Not sure what scares me more... Stunning Pink, or their Video

This has to be one of the scariest advertisements I've EVER seen! Yikes, Stunning Pink...

What's worse, the product or their marketing department!? Both scare me a WHOLE LOT! Thanks to @prieurdp for the twitter...

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Eating where the whales hang out... good theology (not mine) and other blessings!

We went to Hermanus for lunch today. It was a perfect day. The last day or two of leave are quickly passing! But, I'll confess that I'm ready to get back to work! Here's a little video of the family (except Courts who was eating ice cream).

By the way, Liam was saying 'Kitty in the water' because there were some rock rabbits (Dassies) on the rocks near the water's edge. There wasn't a REAL kitty in the water! The whales would have eaten it ;-)

Be blessed!

Oh, and I've been re-reading Wes' and my new book - entitled What are we thinking. With all humility - it's brilliant ;-) Well, in truth it IS brilliant, but that's because of all the great authors (11 of them in total) that contributed incredibly thought provoking, challenging and insightful chapters! It is a must read for anyone who is grappling with some of the most contextual issues of our day (same sex relationships, care for gay persons in the Church, the environment, economics and poverty, gender issues and women's rights (in Africa and elsewhere in the world), postmodernism and fresh expressions of Church, reaching young people for Christ without compromising the Gospel, how people misuse texts in the Old Testament to justify Rape in Africa... It's an incredible collection of theologies from a wide variety of scholars! You can order the book here.)


The numbers don't lie... how the Bush administration has impoverished the US (and world) economy.

This very interesting post shows how the Bush administration has systematically impoverished the United States and world economies... I have a feeling that their own bank balances look better, even though the rest of the world's bank balances look worse!

Salon's got a good, meaty, heavily linked and referenced roundup of the damage done to the US economy and body politic during the Bush administrations:
How much poorer are we going to get before we start getting richer again? Here are some (scary, morbid, gruesome) clues.

Expected shortfall of gross domestic product below normal growth path in 2009: $900 billion

Decline in the Dow Jones Industrial Average from its decade high to its value at the close of business, Jan. 7, 2009: 5,394.83, or 38.1 percent

Number of manufacturing jobs lost since 2000: 3.78 million

Increase in number of unemployed workers from 2001 to 2008: 4 million, a jump of 2.7 percent in the unemployment rate

Real median household income according to the 2000 census, adjusted for inflation: $51,804

Real median household income as of August 2007: $50,233

Of course, the government didn't sit idly by while our financial future was disappearing down the drain. Instead, the feds have pumped in hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars, hoping to juice lending and public spending.

Cost of finance industry bailout: $350 billion, with another $350 pending congressional approval

Cost of auto industry bailout: $17.4 billion, so far

And even though there's widespread agreement among economists that the government needs to be spending a large sum of money on an economic stimulus package, it still won't look pretty on the public balance sheet.

National debt: $10.6 trillion

Amount of that debt owned by China: At least $800 billion

W. and the damage done

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Launch of my new book 'What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Socieity from Southern African Methodists'

This is an advert for my new book (co-edited with my good friend Dr Wessel Bentley), so please feel free to skip this post.

The book can be purchased from Connexion Resource centres in most of South Africa's major cities (formerly Methodist Bookshops, such as those in Cape Town, Pretoria, Bryanston, Benoni, Durban... You can get the phone numbers and addresses from the order form). Or you can use this order form to purchase a copy. You're also welcome to contact me directly if you'd like to order a copy through me. I hope that it will soon be added to Amazon

Endorsements for What are we thinking?

'My enthusiasm for this book is fired by a number of factors. First, there is the variety of authors and topics. Second, the variety of topics reflects key points in our social, cultural, economic and political context. Third, there is a crying need to up-to-date books that relate the whole gospel to the whole world. Fourth, the book does not aim to indoctrinate us, but rather to challenge us to become thinking Christians in our own contexts. And while Christian readers of all denominations will be challenged and enriched by this book, a fifth reason for my enthusiasm is that it gives contemporary expression to the spirit of John Wesley. Not only were his interests wide ranging, as are the topics in this book, but he managed to develop that rate and precious mix of a theology that is simultaneously passionate and reasonable, both deeply spiritual and socially engaged. That is the excellent mix that this book also offers' - Rev Prof Dr Neville Richardson

'This timely release introduces the reader to fresh, diverse, provocative and urgent voices within the Wesleyan tradition. They share insights on a number of contemporary issues that will push theological boundaries, spiritually enrich, motivate and challenge to action. Each contribution draws from the deep wells of their own life and pastoral experience and beckons the reader to drink from this veritable calabash of collective wisdom which adds to the current theological and public discourse. What are we thinking? is a source for growth. I recommend it to all thoughtful readers' - Rev Ivan Abrahams, Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.

About the book:

What are our emerging theologians thinking and saying about some of the pressing issues confronting the church and society today? Most of us need to have our thinking stimulated and challenged from time to time. Here is just such an opportunity. You may not necessarily agree with everything you read, but the issues are critical and need to be debated!

Contents include:
Whose truth will set us free?
Searching for an African Methodist Liturgical theology
How we can read the same Bible and reach different ethical conclusions
Pastoral care with Christian gay women
A response to global warming and the environment
The economic implications of Biblical principles
Biblical metaphors of healing and transformation
Reading the Scriptures through women?s eyes
A perspective on youth development in South Africa
The use of rape in the Bible as a military metaphor
A call for ?affirmative action? for theological application

Rev Dr Wessel Bentley | Rev Mogomotsi Diutlwileng | Rev Dr Dion Forster | Rev Kevin Light | Rev Mantso Matsepe | Rev Madika Sibeko | Rev Alan Storey | Rev Debbie van de Laar | Rev John van de Laar | Rev Vusi Vilikati

The full reference for the book is:

Bentley, W & Forster, DA (eds.) 2008 What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists. Cape Town. Methodist Publishing house. (ISBN 978-91988352-6).

Here's a bit more information from a section that I wrote in the Editors' introduction:

The idea for this book grew out of a conversation with Bishop Ivan Abrahams, the Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. One afternoon he and I sat in Christ Church College, Oxford, speaking about the richness of our Southern African Methodist heritage. As we talked we celebrated the blessing and diversity of our Methodist Connexion. The Methodist Church of Southern Africa covers a geographical area that spans 6 nations (Botswana, Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho, Namibia, and South Africa). Within the denomination there is a veritable rainbow of cultures, and age groups - not to mention the divergent theological perspectives and styles of worship. When you mix the Wesleyan passion for Christian perfection with such diversity and a rich social history, the outcome is quite remarkable to say the least!

In the weeks that followed that conversation I thought how sad it was that we did not have a resource, such as a book or a journal, that could capture and reflect the blessing of our theological diversity. So, early one morning, I emailed a number of 'emerging' scholars with the following idea: Each one was to write a chapter for the book. The only requirement was that their chapter should reflect a clear position on some theological or social issue about which they felt passionate. Many responded enthusiastically to the challenge, and so this book began to take shape!

In the pages of this book a variety of topics have been considered. Some chapters deal with theological issues (such as the notion of theological truth, approaches to theology, and the use of metaphor in theology and scripture), others consider more practical matters (such as economics and the Christian faith, the training of laity, youth development, and crafting an authentically African liturgical tradition), still others have considered some of the topical issues of time and context (such as the Church and persons of a same sex orientation, gender issues, and issues of the environment).

This book has two simple aims:

1. To present a compilation of 'position papers' by Methodist scholars that reflect some of the issues that Southern African Methodists are praying about, talking about, and thinking about. In this sense the book aims to be 'zeitgeist' (a 'spirit of the times'), reflecting some of our current theological thinking on contemporary issues. You may not necessarily agree with all of the points made here. However, you are encouraged to consider the points that the author makes, to understand why he or she holds the position that is presented, and then to go on to form your own opinions and understanding of what you believe in relation to the issue at hand.
2. This leads to the second aim, namely that we wanted to open the way for our members to begin to think critically about some contemporary challenges and opportunities that Southern Africa, and the Church in Southern Africa, faces. In this regard the book aims to stimulate prayer, thought, further conversation and ultimately courageous action.

I pray that you will be challenged to grow in your own faith as you read the chapters of this book. Ultimately our common aim is to find the most effective, Christ-like, God honouring ways of establishing God?s Kingdom here on earth.

for wading your way through this advert! I am so pleased with how this book has turned out, each of the contributors has made a very, very significant contribution towards scholarship and theology in contemporary Christianity! Here's the order form to purchase a copy.

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It's been leaked! The BRAND NEW Apple Macbook without a keyboard!

Yup, the buzz is all over the internet! This was leaked before the Apple Keynote address at Macworld.

Apple Introduces Revolutionary New Laptop With No Keyboard

You know, when I look closely, this looks a lot like my Macbook Air with a clickwheel photoshopped where the keyboard should be... No, they would never do that ;-)

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Monday, January 05, 2009

Some advice and encouragement for Candidates for the Methodist ministry (Presbyters and Ordinands)

It is that time of the year again! I know that the screening of Candidates for the Methodist Ministry is coming closer because I start getting lots of phone calls from Methodist colleagues, and their candidates, asking for advice and insight to help them prepare for their screening.

I thought that I would compile a few thoughts here that may be of some encouragement, and perhaps even offer some insight, for those who are preparing to be screened as Candidates for the Ordained Ministries of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa (that is both Deacons and Presbyters). Let me say, however, that I no longer represent the Education for Ministry and Mission Unit in ANY official capacity. I no longer serve within EMMU. My advice will always be, first and foremost, to contact our dedicated staff in the Unit - they can be reached via telephone on (012) 804 3022 for official advice and information about screening.

That being said, I served as a District Supervisor of Studies for some years, and then during my years in EMMU I wrote (and rewrote, and rewrote, and REWROTE) most of the procedures and examinations and questions for Candidates for the Ordained Methodist Ministries.

Some general advice for Candidates for the Ministry.

  1. First and most importantly you need to prepare yourself and your spouse for the day of your candidates screening. This process is intended to be a time of discernment on behalf of the Church. Remember that ministry is extremely taxing, and frequently a sacrificial and costly choice on behalf of both the Church (who will spend many thousands of Rands offering you an exceptional world class training), and on the part of you and your family who will face many challenges and difficulties during your training and the ministry that follows that. So, please do approach the the screening process great respect, very deep and committed prayer, and with absolute honesty and openness. I would encourage you to prepare yourself and your spouse in a few ways:
    • Pray together as a couple, and spend time praying on your own. Be absolutely certain of the fact that Almighty God has called you to the ordained ministry! I shall say more about the emphasis on 'ordination' a little later.
    • Encourage some members of your family and congregation to pray for you and your family on the day of your candidates screening.
    • Be certain to prepare a clear and reasonable account of your conversion to Christianity that you will need to share with the committee. I shall say a little more about this very important part below. However, I would suggest that you take some time to share your account of your conversion with a few trusted friends and colleagues (such as members of the Church in which you worship, your minister, some family members etc.)
    • Please take some time to carefully and clearly write out your understanding of why you believe God has called you to train towards ordination as a Deacon or a Presbyter (the word for an Ordained 'minister') in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. Remember that the committee is likely to hear 15 or more such accounts during the screening process - so keep your testimony and call as clear and structured as you can (I'll say more about that below) and KEEP IT AS SHORT as possible! My suggestion is that you try to fit each of these (the testimony and account of call) to no longer than 3 minutes each.
    • Discuss as many of the implications, challenges, opportunities, an possible scenarios with your spouse and children. The screening committee is going to ask about such things as your financial situation, any unsettled debt, your health and the health of your family, how you will cope with conflict, what things scare you as a family, how you will support yourselves etc.
  2. On the day of screening please be sure to know exactly where the screening will take place, and on what day you will be screened. You can confirm these details with your District Supervisor of Studies (if you don't know who that is please ask your minister to check at the start of the list of names in the Yearbook). Make sure that you arrive on time and that you have set aside the whole day for the screening. At times things runs a little longer than expected.
  3. My advice is that you dress fairly smartly for the screening - by this I would mean that men should wear a tie and jacket (where appropriate) and woman a smart suit or dress. Remember, that in some senses this screening is a little like a job interview. Your clothes and body language make an impression upon the community.
  4. Be patient and kind. You may have to wait for a while between the two examinations (theology and 'readiness' or screening). Remember that the committee is under a great deal of pressure and frequently spends days screening candidates. It is a taxing and very emotional process. It will be good for you to remain calm and friendly when you encounter the committee. The same goes for your spouse who will have to sit in on the 'screening' or 'readiness' committee. A humble, yet confident demeanor makes a wonderful impression. In the 15 years that I was part of screening candidates I cannot tell you how many people harmed their chances by being too nervous, tired, or irritated when they came to be screened.

The general format of the screening of Candidates for the Ministry.

The screening process is actually comprised of two committees. The intention, as stated above, is for these committees to discern two very important things. First, they shall need to discern whether you are called to be trained for the Ordained ministry in the MCSA. In order to do this they shall need to be convinced that you have an active, real, and significant relationship with Jesus (that is normally heard in your testimony of your conversion), and that you have a clear and confirmed call to the Ordained ministry in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa (that is normally understood from your account of your call to ministry). As part of this process the committee will also need to be sure that you have no encumbrances that could hinder your ministry (e.g., moral, doctrinal, or social problems - I shall say some more about this under the heading of the 'Readiness' committee below). Secondly, the committee has the responsibility of ascertaining that you hold basic views on Methodist and Wesleyan theology and that you are trainable. In short, they shall ask some questions and engage in some discussion to see whether you hold any views that are contrary to those of our denominational tradition (this means that you shall need to be sure to understand what Methodists in Southern Africa believe!), and whether you are flexible and open enough to engage with different positions and theological viewpoints from your own without simply rejecting, or uncritically accepting, them. So, you will need to have some basic theological insights, and you will need to be able to engage with other points of view while maintaining your own views or being willing to consider that other points of view may be equally valid.

Each of the two committees are appointed by the District Bishop and have at least one Connexional representative from EMMU present (to ensure that there is a similar standard across all of the districts in the Connexion). The 'readiness' committee (see Laws and Discipline 11th Edition 4.14 forward) is comprised of both laity and clergy. These persons will normally include a minister, a district supervisor of studies, someone with psychological skills, a person with some personnel or Human resources experience, and then the spouse of a minister and some leaders from lay ministries in the Church. The Theological committee is normally comprised of ministers and lay persons who have some theological training and can engage you in a significant level of theological dialogue in order to assess your theology.

It is important to note that if you fail either the 'readiness' committee or the theological committee you will not be able to continue with your candidature for the Ordained ministries of the MCSA. Officially the screening process is a process of your District (appointed by your Bishop and moderated by EMMU). So the report from the screening will go both to your district SYNOD and to EMMU.

Let's move on to consider each of the committees in a little more detail.

The 'readiness' committee.

The purpose of this committee is to discern your call to ministry and your readiness to begin training for the ordained ministry of the MCSA. Let me make two brief points right at the start:

  • The committee needs to be CONVINCED that you are called to the ORDAINED ministry of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. Many candidates have come to the screening committee convinced that they should be in some form of ministry - but do remember that you are appearing before the committee to convince them that you should be trained towards ordination as either a Deacon of a Presbyter in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa! Ordination is a very specific thing (it has to do with being set aside and commission either to the ministry of 'word and service' (if you're called to be a Deacon) or 'word and sacraments (Baptism and Holy Communion)' (if you're called as a Presbyter (Reverend) in the MCSA). So please, be sure to convince the committee that you are called to be Ordained! If you want to understand a little more about ordination and the different forms of ministry please read the following paper that I wrote for the Doctrine, Ethics and Worship Commission (DEWCOM). You can download the paper here: http://tinyurl.com/a8sb8f - so please remember that you must convince the committee that you're called to be Ordained! That is different from the common expression 'full time ministry'! All Christians are in full time ministry! Some of us are doing full time ministry in our regular work, others do it expressly through the life of the Church (the latter are called and set aside to the Ordained ministry, and the sacraments and preaching are an important part of that ministry).
  • Second, and equally important, you need to convince the committee that you should be trained towards ordination in the Methodist Church of Southern Africa! It is important to show the committee that God has called you to serve within the MCSA - the Church will entrust you with precious members (and properties!), and they will invest a large sum of money to train you, so they need to be sure that you're called to serve in this denomination. Remember this committee has a responsibility to serve as the Church's steward in this regard.

Another vitally important part of this committee's task is to make sure that even if you are called to the ministry, you are READY to be trained towards ordination. Sometimes even when a person is called to enter the ordained ministry the timing may not be quite right. There are many things to consider. Some of them relate to you personally - perhaps you need to grow in some area, or need help to overcome some struggle or encumbrance. At other times it may be something in your surroundings or community that may not be ready for you to enter the ministry - for example you may have a child that requires schooling in a particular area, or a wife that is not supportive of your entry into ministry. Timing is very important!

The committee will ask you questions under the following headings:

  1. Personal spirituality (conversion and call, current relationship with Jesus, current devotional life and participation in the life of the Church).
  2. Methodist Ministry (the challenges of being in ministry, call to Ordained ministry, gifts and strengths you bring to the MCSA, why the MCSA?)
  3. Personal history (any history of abuse, family relationships, your personality, your fears etc.) / Employment history / Personal relationships in general (how do you deal with conflict etc.) / personal relationships at home / personal relationships at work and Church / Academic history / Practicalities (e.g., how you will cope financially while you're at College, ages of your children, schooling, medical needs etc.) In this section the committee will ask your spouse some questions about him or herself, their support of your entry into ministry etc.
  4. Non Itinerant and Part Time candidates. This is a VERY, VERY important section of the screening! Being part time or non itinerant must NOT just be a matter of convenience (e.g., 'I have a job that pays well and I don't want to loose the income', or 'I like the area in which I live and so am not willing to move out of my town') You will need to convince the committee that you're CALLED to do ministry while you have another vocation, or that you're CALLED to serve in a particular Church or Circuit! Please note this as it is very important! Please also note the new regulations (since 2007) that require you to have a letter from your employer acknowledging their 'awareness' of your intention to candidate for the Methodist Ministry (they don't need to give permission, but they do need to know that you will be spending some of your time).

I want to set your mind at ease by saying that none of us has it 'all together' - we all have some areas with which we struggle and some fears. So be prepared to be honest and pray that God will guide the committee in their deliberations.

The theological committee.

The purpose of this committee is to engage you in theological conversation in order to get some idea of your theology, your understanding of Methodist theology, and your ability to engage with the ideas and thoughts of others.

I would suggest that you read a couple of books to prepare yourself for this important committee:

  • Hulley, LD. 1987 Wesley - A plain man for plain people. Westville. Methodist Church of Southern Africa. (available directly from EMMU)
  • Malinga, P & Richardson, N (eds). 2005 Rediscovering Wesley for Africa. Pretoria. Education for Ministry and Mission Unit (pp. 1-28, 51-72, 97-104, 115-146, 153-172). (available directly from EMMU and Connexion bookshops)
  • Storey, P 2004 And are we yet alive? Re-visioning our Wesleyan heritage in the new South Africa. Cape Town. Methodist Publishing House (see chs. 3, 4, 5 which is very important, 6, and 7). (available from Upper Room Africa and Connexion bookshops).

Then there are two newer books that can give you some good insights into our Southern African Methodist heritage:

  • Bentley, W & Forster, DA. 2008 Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission. Kempton Park. AcadSA Publishers. (this book contains some superb chapters with historical and theological reflections on how Methodism came to South Africa, and how it developed and what challenges the Church currently faces). (available from Upper Room Africa and Connexion bookshops).
  • Bentley, W & Forster, DA. 2009 What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society by Southern African Methodists. Cape Town. Methodist Publishing House. (this book has some wonderful chapters and essays discussing some of the most contentious ethical and theological issues in Southern African society (these include same sex relationships, postmodernism, Africanization of Christianity, liturgy and worship, ecology and the environment, gender issues etc.) (available from Connexion bookshops).

I have included some of the notes that we prepared for the examining committee in years past - these will give you some insight into the nature and process of the theological examination committee.

General notes to the examining committee:

A. The purpose of the examination is to assesses the candidate's ability to grapple with theological, practical, and ethical issues related to the ordained ministry.

B. Please remember that it is unlikely that the Candidate will already have a strongly articulated theology, however, some basic theological skill should be evident. Furthermore, the candidate should display an ability to interact with the views of others (e.g., those of members of the examining committee). The candidate be considered trainable towards achieving the exit outcomes required for an ordained minister of the MCSA, and should not hold views that are radically different from those of our denomination.

C. Remember it is essential that you make the information about the examination available to the members of the examining committee some weeks in advance of the examination (including copied pages from the books). It is essential that all of the committee members have read the prescribed and suggested books (or the above-mentioned sections thereof).

The required outcomes of the examination:

A. It is essential that the committee establishes the following outcomes in order to recommend the candidate to train for the Methodist ministry:

1. The candidate is able to articulate his or her theology clearly.

2. The candidate does not hold a theological stance that is contrary to Methodist doctrine and policy on pertinent issues (e.g., the doctrine of salvation, the structure of the Church and issues of discipline and polity such as the ordination of women, the submission to authority), practical issues such as the mission mandate of the Church, and the sacraments (for example the MCSA's stance on rebaptism and infant baptism).

3. The candidate shows a willingness to listen to, and interact with, the views of others.

4. The candidate has an understanding of the vision and mission of the MCSA and can offer some practical suggestions on how he or she will participate in and further these objectives.

5. The candidate would be teachable and trainable towards achieving the exit outcomes required for an ordained minister of the MCSA.

Some final comments:

Please do rely on the insights and expertise of others who have gone through this process in previous years (for example your minister). Second, please be sure to familiarize yourself with the expectations for the screening by contacting your District Supervisor of Studies in your district!

Finally, please pray for the screening committee, pray for the other candidates across the connexion who will be screened (particularly for those who will have to return again next year because they are not yet ready to enter the training process). Know that I, and many others, are praying for you as you offer yourself for ministry. This is truly a 'high calling'! We rejoice to have more gifted women and men entering this vocation of service of Christ and those whom Christ loves.

I hope this helps!

Rich blessing,


Darth Vader joins the Lutheran Church of Iceland! A nice secular perspective on vestments.

When I first saw this video I just thought that it was funny... Then, after thinking about it a bit more I realised that it is in fact a significant commentary on Church vestments. Why is Darth Vader any more strange than the Bishops in their elaborate robes? Both are equally mystical and strange in secular Western society!

What do you think (about Darth Vader in the parade... Looks photoshopped to me!) about Vestments and how secular society views them? Are they strange in contemporary society, something to be mocked, or do they retain any of the deep meaning (and intended anonymity) of their original intention?

I have a wonderful paper on Vestments that was written by a friend, Rev Tim Attwell, if I can find it I'll post it here.

A comeback of note! Watch Al Franken put Ann Coulter in her place!

Ann Coulter is a conservative of the worst kind... I once heard someone comment that she is so narrow minded that she can see through a keyhole with both eyes! What makes her so popular is that she is 'all American', she's well spoken, intelligent, and well presented. But, her approach to society, politics and religion are less than admirable.

Senator Al Franken is not exactly my cup of tea, but in this video he puts Ann Coulter in her place in a wonderful way!

This is perhaps the funniest 1.22 video of the year (thus far!)

FREE, LEGAL downloads of EVERY Beatles song!

Could it be true!? Here's the post!

Oyvind sez, "Some weeks ago, NRK - Norwegian Broadcasting - signed a deal with music rights holder organisation TONO in Norway. The new deal gives NRK right to publish podcasts of all previously broadcasted radio- and tv-programs that contains less then 70% music. Podcast containing music may be up for four weeks, while our podcast without music stay up on our server forever. One result of this deal, is that we now can publish 'Vår daglige Beatles' - 'Our Daily Beatles' in English - as a podcast. In this series from 2001, journalists Finn Tokvam og Bård Ose tells the story of every single Beatles tracks ever made, chronologically. Each episode contains a 3 minute story about each track (sadly for our international visitors - in Norwegian) and the actual Beatles tune. This is - as far as we know - the first time you can download the Beatles? music legally. Neither iTunes nor Amazon have The Beatles in their music stores." Last ned alt av ?The Beatles? - og historien om hver enkelt låt (Thanks, Oyvind!)

Count your blessings - a spiritual discipline that empowers you to choose!

I am blessed to still have a few days of leave left before I return to work on the 12th of January (well, actually I start over the weekend on the 10th, but I'll only be in the office from the 12th).

I always experience this 'liminal' time as quite strange - I want to enjoy each and every moment of every day of my leave, yet at the same time I am starting to get a little restless, wanting to get back to my ministry! I am full of energy, I've got some new ideas, and I'm eager to tackle the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead this year. Yet, I still count the hours that I have left. Strange isn't it? It's an 'in between time'...

Counting the hours is quite helpful, it allows me to enjoy each of them, to know that each one is precious and that I must take care not to waste them in unnecessary things. I am making the most of chance to sleep, chances to spend time with my family, time to read, and the freedom to exercise.

There is a sense in which counting the hours empowers me to choose how I shall use them! Does that sound strange? Well, it is quite simple - knowing what I have makes it possible for me to make choices about how to spend the hours.

I have come to realise that the discipline of counting my blessings is a very necessary part of my spiritual discipline. I can easily loose perspective on my life, forgetting that all that I have and all that I am is a gift from God. Sometimes I can allow the pressures and challenges around me rob me of the joy of living... I recently heard that some Methodist colleagues were discussing me and that one of them commented that I had 'sold out' the Church by taking on my current position outside of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.

My first reaction to this was hurt, if only they understood that I could have taken much easier (certainly in terms of my ability, skill, and the challenges that I face in the Church) and more lucrative position (with housing provided, a good stipend, a better medical aid, schooling benefits for my children and a host of other blessings) in a Church in which I was already serving at the time I decided to move... Yet, I chose to take on my current post because I wanted to add value and make a difference in a sphere of society that the Church was not reaching. It was certainly not a financial decision! I felt hurt and upset - misunderstood and unfairly judged. But then, I remembered Hester (watch the video) and decided to take some time to count my blessings and give thanks.

I gave thanks for the friends who cared enough to talk about me even when I was not able to be present. I gave thanks for the many friends who call me, send me messages, pray for me, and speak truths to keep me on the 'straight and narrow'. I thank God for them, and in giving thanks I was given the power to choose how to react.

And so, I chose to thank God for these friends, even those who misunderstand what I do. I thanked God for the opportunity that I have in my current position to influence and change powerful systems and people all over the world. It is an incredible honour, and responsibility, the be able to subtly influence the organizations within which I operate (and that includes the denomination of which I remain a minister, the Methodist Church of Southern Africa). I chose not to be angry. I chose to do my best to understand why who I am and what I do may be misunderstood, and that I could chose to make a difference. I count that a blessing!

Well, if you want to see the Helderberg Mountains, and me with a beard, take a quick look at this video on counting your blessings....

Thanks for stopping by. I count your visit as a blessing!

Ten (11) common mistakes in preaching...

Steven posted a link to this great list of common mistakes that preachers make.

I'll start with a confession - I have perpetrated almost ALL of these at some time or another, and, as a teacher at our denominations seminary, I tried my best to help our students to avoid them.

Now, I am a simply an 'ordinary' member of a congregation - (well I tend to visit many different congregations the world over in the course of my travels). Sadly some of these mistakes are quite common regardless of the continent and context.... Perhaps we could all learn a few lessons from this list?

Here goes: (the list comes from Dr Michael Jensen's blog)

My assumption in this list is a culture that values the preaching of scripture very highly. This of course should not be assumed at all! There are actually worse crimes than these that include doing violence to the text of scripture, or ignoring it altogether, or waffling and calling it 'spirit-led'.

1. Merely 'explaining/teaching the Bible' and not preaching the living Word of God. (I think we should ban the phrase 'we are now going to hear the Bible explained'. I don't need it explained. I need it preached.)

2. Introducing us to the text and not to the issue addressed by the text.

3. Providing overelaborate explanations of the biblical-theological background to no great end.

4. Moralising from the Old Testament.

5. Reading every OT text immediately in terms of Christology without regard to its own particular context and meaning and purpose.

6. Speaking down to the congregation; assuming we are simpletons and do not read or think for ourselves. That our questions just need better information in order to answer them.

7. Getting Penal Substitution (or whatever the hot-button issue is for your church!) from every single text.

8. Illustrations that confuse more than illuminate. That's...most of 'em.

9. Never referring to self and own Christian faith in sermon. (Of course, the opposite is worse: using the pulpit for autobiographical purposes. Yuck.)

10. Making ill-informed generalisations about culture/sociology from a knee-jerk conservative standpoint.

11. (sorry) Pop-psychologising.
Check out the comments on the original post... There are many other points added by the commentators.

An auspicious week for Science (in history)

This week is quite special for the natural sciences... On the 4th of January we commemorate the birth of Sir Isaac Newton, the brains behind 'Newtonian physics'. Without it we would not be able to build bridges, dig tunnels or even drive motorcars.

In two of my books I discuss the significant role that Sir Isaac Newton played in the development of our understanding of the Universe. Some persons have challenged my positive view of Newtonian physics, questioning whether it has any relevance in the light of quantum mechanics and quantum physics.

My answer to them is quite simple - Newtonian physics is as valid and important to physical science as my childhood is to my adult life! Simply because one's knowledge and ability has complexified and increased, it does not mean that one completely rejects where one has come from, what one has gained from those early experiences, and even the manner in which one gained those experiences and insights. Value is a somewhat subjective measurement. For example is the song 'Jesus loves me this I know' less valuable than the magnificent Wesleyan hymn 'O for a thousand tongues to sing' (written by Charles Wesley in 1739)? Or, to state it differently, is the simple and sincere confession of faith by a 9 year old any less valuable than the complex and systematic confession of faith by say, John Calvin or ? No, each has unique and special value within its context, and each enriches the value of the other.

I discuss this notion of integrative, holarchic, interdependent value in my book 'Christ at the centre' - you're welcome to download a copy here, simply read from approximately pages 45 to 53. In short, one could ask whether a letter of the alphabet is more valuable than a page of a book? Well the answer is that neither is more valuable than the other in the context of a story - letters make up words, words make up sentences, sentences make up paragraphs, and paragraphs make up the narrative of a story on a page. Without individual letters of the alphabet one would not have any words, and without words (into which the letters are arranged) the letters themselves are not all that informative. So, one can see that each component is related to the others, both giving and receiving value through that relationship.

So, quantum physics is essential but it does not exclude the value of Newtonian physics. Try to build a bridge using only quantum physics and you may just find that it is not possible!

So, happy birthday Sir Isaac Newton!

Then, this week commemorates the death of the African American scientist George Washington Carver (5 January 1943). He did a great deal to improve our understanding of argriculture and alternative crops. What is particularly significant about his contribtion to science and the academy is that he was a significantly positive role model to counteract the stereotype of African Americans in the late 1800's in America. He did so much to show that any person, regardless of race or background, can make a significant contribution to scientific endeavour.

Well, it sure is a scientific week!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Making resolutions that last! Make 2009 your best year yet!

So, Christmas is Over, huh? A new year has begun!

I found a lovely little poem a few weeks ago, it's called "The Week After Christmas."

'Twas the week after Christmas, and all through the house, nothing would fit me, not even a blouse. The cookies I?d nibbled, the fudge I did taste, all the holiday parties had gone to my waist. When I got on the scales there arose such a number! When I walked to the store (less a walk than a lumber). I remembered the marvellous meals I'd prepared, the gravies and sauces and beef nicely rare. The pies and the cakes, the bread and the cheese, and the way I never said, "No thank you please." As I dressed myself in my husband's old shirt, and prepared once again to do battle with dirt--- I said to myself, as I only can "You can't spend the summer disguised as a man!" So away with the last of the sour cream dip, get rid of the fruit cake, every cracker
and chip. Every last bit of food that I like must be banished, 'till all the additional ounces have vanished. I won?t have a cookie, not even a lick, I'll want only to chew on a long celery stick. I won?t have hot biscuits, or corn bread, or pie, I'll munch on a carrot and quietly cry. I?m hungry, I?m lonesome, and life is a bore --- But isn't that what January is for? Unable to giggle, no longer a riot ... Happy New Year to all and to all a good diet!

Well, the good news is you did it, you survived the Christmas and New year festivities! You made it through another year. But, here we are back to reality again, a new year before us. It is a year full of possibility and opportunity. 12 months. 52 weeks. 365 days. 8760 hours. 525, 600 minutes and 31,536,000 seconds. What will you do with all this time?

This is typically the time of year where the resolutions that we made are beginning to fall by the way side. I often say at lent 'For lent this year I am going to give up my new year?s resolutions'. Sadly, they have often already been long forgotten by then! In the dictionary a resolution is defined as 'a course of action decided upon; a fixed purpose.'

We resolve to do things differently. To lose weight, to exercise more. To be a better person. To dispense with old bad habits and begin some new good ones.

Illus.: A newspaper in Boston has been allowing people to post new year's resolutions on their website. Here are a few interesting ones:

- I resolve to stop feeding the office plant leftover coffee. I will use water instead.
- My new year's resolution is to really start collecting Muppet and Peanuts stuff in the coming year!
- As much as I hate government intervention, I resolve to try and get a law passed that requires every person on the face of this earth to have to use their common sense at least once a day!!!!
- As a Theatre Major, I seldom have much time to eat real food...never mind eating with my family. This year, I resolve to try REAL hard to stop eating McDonalds and Wendy?s for 2 out of 3 meals a day. If that isn't possible, I promise to at least clean the remains from my car.
- I wish to become the old crone that my body already says that I am and stop trying to look like Barbie due to our culture.
- I hereby resolve to accept the changes occurring at work. I will try to remember that the decision-makers have a brain and will use it if necessary. Finally, I will cheer for them if it works and I will not laugh if it doesn?t!
- To refuse to take responsibility for my decisions, to never take the blame, not stand by my promises, and to ignore the needs of the poor. In short, my resolution is to become a politician!
- To become as wonderful a person as my dog thinks I am.

If we are interested in keeping any of our resolutions this year, we should adhere to the methods employed by Paul in Philippians 3:13. Let's have a look at these methods.

The good news is that God gives us this year as a gift, filled with opportunity and possibility! What will you do with it? How will you use your talents, your time, your influence, and your WHOLE life for ministry and change?

Here are a few ideas that I shared with the listeners of my radio show 'The Ministry and Me' from Radio Pulpit.

Here's the MP3 if you're interested in listening 'Making resolutions that last' (6MB MP3).

Rich blessing to all!

Friday, January 02, 2009

Free high resolution images of the earth

If you're looking for free high resolution images of the earth (these are not maps, rather they're satellite images of the whole earth that are stitched and free) then check out the post below.


If you desire high-resolution images of the Earth, the good folks at Unearthed Outdoors have made available the 250m True Marble image set for a free download with a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license. It's a map of the Earth made up of 32 tiles, where each tile is a 21,000 pixel square, available in png and tif formats. There's also a series of smaller files that may be more useful -- in case you don't need a map of the Earth that ends up being 84,000 pixels tall and 168,000 pixels across. Printed at 600 dpi, that's about 12 feet by 24 feet!

Happy New Year! (Thanks, Mikael!)

Unearthed Outdoors True Marble Imagery

(Shawn Connally and Bruce Stewart are guest bloggers)

Google Earth Image of today's cycle

This morning I went for another great ride! It is the route that I've been doing for the past two weeks (about 40 km's with some nice gradient). The start is at 4 Reiger road (home!) and then from there out of Somerset West towards Macassar. Just before Macassar I turn right up Winery road (a few nice hills there!) and make my way to the R44 where I turned left to Stellenbosch. The ride into Stellenbosch must be one of the most incredible places in the world to ride - great
mountain views, the vineyards, and a few lovely hills - oh, and the road has a nice wide shoulder. Then I rode into Stellenbosch, did the turn around, and headed back to Somerset West up a few of the steepest hills in the area! Once back at Steynsrust I turned into Somerset West and did the final little climb over Irene Ave and the nice easy ride home.

Here's the Google Earth link.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

A match made in heaven... Polar S625X and Garmin Forerunner 305!

I love riding my bike! This year (2009) I'll be doing my 9th Argus cycle tour. I am yet to ride a GOOD Argus... My best time over the 100km ride is 3h58. However, I am sincerely hoping that I'll be able to ride a better time this year!

So, I've been taking my training a little more seriously than in years gone by. I need to spend as much time as I can in the saddle, particularly since I have to strengthen my left leg that I broke in February last year (see here for the early news of the break, here for a pic from hospital and here for a picture of the pins and screws in my leg).

I've been trying to do about 30-50 km's each time I ride (at this point it is every day, or every second day). It is going great!

I am blessed with some great equipment, for a few years now I've owned a Polar S625X heart rate monitor. It is my standard watch and an exceptional training tool. Three years ago Megie bought me the bike mount and sensor so the watch not only gathers information about my heart rate, it also gathers information about the speed I'm cycling, the distance I'm covering and the altitude that I'm climbing. That information is incredibly useful! Not only does it help me to chart my fitness and how I'm growing stronger, it also offers some great encouragement. Every time I look over the graphs and see my speed and strength growing I get an extra little boost! I'll say a little more about how I get the data off the watch in a moment...

My friend Paul has now given me a Garmin Forerunner 305 to use. It is a fantastic GPS watch that can also function as a bike computer and heartrate monitor. But, I don't have use of either the heartrate strap or the bike sensor. Still, it is a remarkable little machine! It captures the track that you ride and then exports that to your computer so that you can view the track map on Google Maps and also get information about your speed and altitude.

When one combines these two pieces of data from the watches you get a pretty great idea of how you're doing!

However, there is a huge challenge! These two watches don't share a common data standard, each one captures and stores its data in a proprietary format. To complicate matters even more the Polar has NO support for Apple Mac OSX whatsoever! So I have to 'hack' the heart rate and speed data into my Mac to make it useable.

So, what do I do? Well, sadly the only reliable way to get the data off the Polar is to use the Polar Precision software in a Parallels Windows XP Session on my Mac. For those who are wondering, NO you cannot use the Polar Infrared sensor with Parallels - I use a cheap USB IR bridge instead and it works like a charm!

Then to combine the information with the Garmin Forerunner watch I use a piece of software called Ascent - this works directly with the Garmin watch via USB, and it allows me to import the Polar heart rate monitor files (*.hrm) into the program. That way I can track all the data in one program. Of course the REAL solution would simple be to get a heart rate strap and bike sensor for the Garmin Forerunner! But, I don't want to spend the money on that now... So this solution should work!

Anyone have any better solutions to the two watches working together on the Mac?

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Taking Mertyle the Vespa for new year's day ride

It is a lovely day in the Cape! I'm taking Mertyl for a gentle cruise from Gordon's Bay to Kleinmond along the coast! Ah, this is the life!

Here's a short video of Mertyl (back home).

Noise can make you smarter... Another interesting mind hack

Let's start with the interesting part of this post first... This post comes as a result of RESEARCH at a real University... Ha ha! I can just imagine rooms full of college students sitting in front of really soft TV low volume television sets... Get the picture? Yup, and some Doctoral student somewhere with a laptop is spending his scientific grant watching them!

Well, here's the post. It's the NEW YEAR (blessings to all! For something much more meaningful than this post go to my friend Pete's blog), why not give it a try!? Who knows, this mind hack could make you a little smarter?

Lowering the TV volume a little more each day can help you improve focus. UC San Francisco neuroscientist Michael Merzenich told Prevention magazine that the technique trains your brain "to filter out background noise." TV-Brain Workout