Musings of the Jazzgoat Blog

Finding, nurturing and releasing calling
April 23, 2017, 12:43 pm
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Jeremiah 1:4-10, Mark 1:14-20

Encounters with certain people can change our lives. When I was 19 I went to work as an assistant youth worker for a little Anglican church. My boss for those few months was a man named Kyle. Kyle was passionate about God, about mission. He’d spent a few years in Ethiopia and eventually spent time in Tanzania.
One day in a conversation as we were preparing for an Alpha weekend Kyle said, “You know Ben – the holy spirit is a missionary spirit. What is he calling you into?” No one had ever said that to me before. It came as a complete revelation. And so I began to pray. Lord where are you calling me. What are you calling me to be and do to. As I began to pray some strange things happened.

One day I was in a dentists waiting room it was Jan 1995 I picked up a national geographic that happened to lying on the table and opened it up. There was an article on the 2nd Indochina war. As I read it I felt God saying I want you to help the church there. It was the beginning of a journey or praying, learning, thinking, reflecting, researching, reading and discerning.

Perhaps we need to break down some myths about being called. Perhaps you are sitting there and your now going to shut down or switch off ease your brain for the next 20 mins because this clearly doesn’t relate to you. You are in the building business and nobody talks that way…

Understanding and sensing calling is important because it forces us out of church as an attending member to church as a place of gathered disciples eager to know to follow Jesus wherever he may lead. If we have a sense of being called by God we are more likely to understand we are disciples not members of some Sunday morning club. I feel like I’m repeat button over this but we have to shift from the going to church attitude to the we are the church attitude. That second posture is the only hope for the future church.

So 5 thoughts on being called this morning.

Nobody is not called. Or to express it another way. Everyone who follows Jesus is called
First things first. Everyone is called. The future of the church is the actualization of the priesthood of all believers. If you are called you are a priest. You can bless people. You can do anything I can do. In our reading from Mark 1:17. It says Jesus called Simon and Andrew. The only place he calls them to come is after him. The literal Greek way of rendering that sentence is actually “I will make you to become”. Calling starts with God. It’s an invitation to allow God to lead you. To live through you. And I think the original rendering in the Greek helps remind us it’s his work. If you have made a conscious decision to respond to the love of God you are responding to an invitation to follow and in order to follow you need to be called. Imagine there is someone literally knocking at your front door. If you open it up and the person says. the trouble is to many of us have opened the door but actually we haven’t walked out of it and begun to follow. He have assented to the idea of following but actually we aren’t doing anything about it. We are carrying on as normal.

There is no sacred/secular divide in our calling
Perhaps one of the greatest myths we need to shatter or breakdown this morning is that somehow there are sacred callings and there are secular callings. The argument goes something like this. “Bishops, priests, deacons, ministers, youth workers, children’s workers all those who spend their time working for the church are those who have a special and higher calling.” That’s sacred special higher calling. I get why people think that. But it’s deeply unhelpful. The elevation of Priests in some churches. Father this, your grace…does not release and empower people to discover their gifts or to take risks. It keeps people as babies in need of the Priest. He will tell me the answer…

Part of that is because of the professionalisation of ministry. Professionals will do ministry for us. It’s a big challenge. It undermines the truth that we are all called. I think actually we are moving into a new era which will in fact see the deprofessionalisation of ministry (if such a word exists). Because as ordinary men and women rise up and start leading…We all have something that God is inviting us into. We may be called as doctors, or nurses, or teachers, or car mechanics, or welders, or IT consultants, or engineers, or Lawyers, or postmen, or administrators, or accountants. Those callings…those roles, that work is a calling. A few weeks ago Ron spoke brilliantly on work as worship. Actually our work as our calling or in the best possible world it should be. Now that might be incredibly difficult sometimes.

Sometimes the work that we are doing is not the thing we are primarily called to.

We may feel that to live out our calling in that context is seemingly impossible but that does stop it being the primary place God has set us to be his hands and feet. Through out the biblical narrative the prophets who God called very clearly and at times in vivid and spectacular ways felt overwhelmed by their calling, or the gravity or their calling. In our passage from Jeremiah 1 it’s pretty clear he felt too young, afraid and unable to speak. If you read through Jeremiah he was consistently rejected. Hardly anyone listened to him. But he was profoundly called. Each of you if you know Jesus as Lord and saviour have something that he has called you to and is inviting you into. If you have never thought of it that way…today is the day to start.

Our primary calling to be something rather than to go somewhere, but in order to fulfill God’s call we will often have to leave our comfort zones – its costly
Christopher Wright in his writings reminds his readers that the children of Israel were not primarily called to go somewhere but to be something. God’s covenant with them set them apart as called out, to embody a different way of living than the surrounding nations and peoples. Although they embark on a confusing journey, the journey is not the point. It’s the growing into a community that had a new identity not as slaves but as chosen, loved, known people with an ethic of love.

As we develop our sense of calling and what God is leading us into there is a cost. A few months ago a good friend from one of the churches in Wynberg sent me some words of encouragement. They were actually prophetic words. We don’t talk much about the prophetic at St John’s but it’s important. Being open to words of knowledge and prophecy can be live giving if we weigh them correctly.

Clarity, call and cost. The clearer your vision or call means that often there is a greater cost. As God called the prophets to particular actions and embodiments of His voice it came at great personal cost. So down right strange and perturbing acts. As we grow in being able to hear his voice the clarification of his call may lead into costly pursuits. Giving up security. Maybe giving up a salary. Maybe giving up a home. If that sounds extreme perhaps it’s giving up certain rights and opportunities because we know what God is actually inviting us into. That will mean saying “no” to some things and “yes” to other things.

Identifying and developing calling is not an instantaneous thing: there is often a time delay that can be significant I’m struck by how often there was in the Old Testament a delay between God initially speaking to someone or calling them out and then the time it takes for that call or that promise to come to fruition. Our instantaneous culture really doesn’t help us with such waiting for God to carry out his purposes. In our world of email, whatsapp, Facebook, credit cards, we expect instant results. We are a culture of impatience. Does anyone know how to wait? It’s seems often that is just what God is into…forcing us to pause, rest, wait. Abram is called and it’s a long and painful journey whereby he tries to force God’s hand and make things happen outside God’s intended plan. Joseph has a dream or vision when he is 17. It takes a great deal of time, including a prison sentence on trump up charges of rape before he finally sees that call or vision come to being. It was 9 years between feeling first called to Cambodia in that dentist waiting room and eventually flying into Phnom Penh to begin language training. A few years ago I was preaching in a church in the UK on mission and a young man came up to me after the service during coffee time. “I was really touched by what you said I feel God might be calling me to help the church in Morocco.” That’s great I said, “I’m going to book a ticket for 3 weeks time!” Well hang on a minute. In order to identify and nurture what God has for us it often takes time. We live in world that is success and consumer orientated. Such a fake sense of what success is and what is valuable. It’s damaging the lives of young people in our churches and in our communities. God often allows fallow times. Times of waiting and growing in the patience. In just doing to day to day of being a faithful person in small and simple things. Sometimes He leads us on seemingly circuitous routes. We might think. Why am I here? How did I get into what looks like a cul de sac when it’s all part of the process of shaping us for the something else. I have often reflected and thought was my 5 years in Cambodia a waste of time. I learnt an obscure language, I saw little fruit, sometimes it felt there was no transformation in people…but the things God has called me to here and opened up here would have been impossible without following Jesus by his Spirit into Cambodia and out again. Perhaps you feel this morning that God has called you to something but all the doors keep shutting or you are in a cul de sac and you are disheartened. That’s understandable but hold on.

Neither can we look across the way and compare what God has called me into to what he has called Peter to, or Jean, or Brad, or Keegan. What God has called me to is unique. It’s not supposed to replicate what someone else has done or is doing.

Path of Life Sculpture GardenThe church will truly function as the body of Christ when we grow into what we have each been called to do and attend to
I wanted to speak abut calling this morning because I think it’s really important for us a the church to recognise that we are all called. First and foremost into a living relationship with Jesus. We are called to do an apprenticeship. A followership. In the post resurrection stories we have in the gospels there is one that has struck me as I read it a few times this week. In John 21 the last story in the gospel Jesus appears to seven of his disciples and asks Peter 3 times if he really loves him and Peter responds 3 times that he does. In each of Jesus’ responses he commissions Peter to take care of his sheep. It’s a passage that Pastors know well. It’s where the idea of Peter as the apostolic head of the church comes from. But I was struck by the end of verse 19. In all that Jesus said, that great commission to care for the church he simple says follow me. In the same simple way he did in Mark 1.

The church is not a purveyor of spiritual commodities. We are not a spiritual supermarket, where you come to get your religious fix. Too many of us are holding on to that idea of the church…in the back of our minds. The Anglican church has not for the most part in Southern Africa been good are making disciples. It has focused too much on attendance and not enough on the idea that we are disciples called to follow the crucified and resurrected one wherever he may lead. I long some days for someone to say to me at the door, “You know what Ben I think God might be calling me to leave what I’m doing and what I know and serve the poor in Bangladesh.” or “Can you help me think through where I might be going in life?”

If you know what God has called you to how are you nurturing that call? How are you developing it? How are you working out what it might look like? Where is might be best acted out? Just a reminder Moses was 80 when led the people of Israel out of Egypt. Josiah was 8 when he became King, 16 when he discovered the book of the law. Age doesn’t matter. Discerned what God has called you to and doing it does.

Jesus, a donkey and a protest movement?

IMG_0308Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Matthew 21:1-11

Matthew 21:1-11 NLT
[1] … they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. [2] “Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me. [3] If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.” [4] This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said, [5] “Tell the people of Israel, ‘Look, your King is coming to you. He is humble, riding on a donkey- riding on a donkey’s colt.'” [6] The two disciples did as Jesus commanded. [7] They brought the donkey and the colt to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it. [8] Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. [9] Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting, “Praise God for the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Praise God in highest heaven!” [10] The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered. “Who is this?” they asked. [11] And the crowds replied, “It’s Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Palm Sunday

Prearranged destiny (:1-3)
Prophetic defiance (:4,5 & 9)
Peaceful declaration (:6-8)
Protesting developments (:10)

Reminiscent of David’s few Sunday’s ago I’ve got 4 pd’s to share from this passage in Matthew. I was wondering where these pd’s came from and as I’ve been reading the news and praying and reading and praying…I guess it could fall under potential disasters…pretty distressing however you feel about what is happening in our nation right now.


As a child one of my favourite things to do was look at my grandparents photograph albums when we went to their house for Sunday lunch. I can’t remember if it was because television was banned. Probably. What I loved was the way pictures transported you to a different time. My grandparents were born in the second decade of the 20th century. The great black and white grainy shots. The ones of my Mum as a teenager with a freckly nose. Then there was a picture of that held pride of place in my grandfather’s heart. My grandfather (‘papa’) meeting Diana the Princess of Wales. He was the governor of a small rural school near the farm he ran and she not long after her marriage to Charles came to open something or other. She arrived, of course, in style. In a green Jaguar XJS with some body guards. And the whole school was ready with little union jack flags to wave as she drove up the lane to the school.

As a rule important people arrive in style and the bigger their entourage the more important they are, or like to think they are. Its a display of power. When the president of Cambodia speed through our little town with his blue light brigade. The local population were awe struck. You wouldn’t expect Donald Trump to turn up in a citi golf for example. The way someone arrives says something important about them and their status and stature. This morning we have news of a king arriving in town to tumultuous applause. Jesus arrival shakes things up in Jerusalem. We can’t fail to see how there are some over laps with our current situation in South Africa.

As a rule I’m not into quoting Lenin in sermons but this quote of his grabbed my attention this week. “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” There have been weeks or days in our history when we look back and say this was a turning point. Whether its 21st March 1960 at Sharpeville, or 16th June 1976 Soweto uprising, or the Rubicon speech PW 15th August 1985, or 11th February 1990 when Mandela was released the election 27th April 1994 and on and on. Perhaps 31st March 2017 will be such a date we refer back to in the future? A former American ambassador called it a “midnight ministerial massacre.” A little more distance is needed. But there are events that shape history negatively and others positively.

Some of us this week have been watching with bemusement as varying organizations made a call for shut down on Friday in protest of Zuma’s decision to reshuffle his cabinet. Other organizations had threatened to counter those protests with violence. Some of us were present at the Kathrada memorial at the Cathedral others of us stood along the main road on Friday. An estimated 200,000 people took to the streets. I kept asking the question what are we supposed to do? Why is it that some of us are responding because we see our possible financial future security threatened but the ongoing injustices around sanitation, or eduction, or job creation, or violence against women we scarcely pay notice. Whilst I agree that President Zuma has lost the right to lead do we really believe that in his absence all will be well? What is our responsibility? Are we willing not just to march a few times but actually get our hands dirty. Not to merely stand for 10 minutes with our skinny lattes and then go back to our comforts and ease but to make sacrifices, personally, as a church? We may be bold to call out the corruption we see but are we willing to turn the search light back on ourselves and be honest about our tax returns or the privilege most of us live in? I’m not sure we are. The future of South Africa will be shaped by young black men and women and we need to listen to them and support and encourage them.

As I read Matthew 21 I was struck by what was going on in the text. The uproar that was caused in the streets of Jerusalem. Like the uproar in our own. When Jesus arrives in Jerusalem he is coming as a rival to the power of the Jewish establishment, even to the power of the Roman empire. A show down Jesus knew was necessary even inevitable. When we read in verse 10 the entire city was in uproar – that sometimes gets translated as stirred or more accurately shaken. That’s where we get the word we use to when we measure earthquakes; Seismic. Jesus entering into Jerusalem was an event of earth shaking proportions. Jesus entrance is an earthquake. Not because of crowd size but because Jesus presence as not only King of the Jewish people but because of his role of universal king comes against all the other forces that sit in opposition to his Lordship. It’s the beginning of a week of show downs that turns on its head what most show downs look like.

Prearranged destiny

This is a set up from the beginning. Firstly we need to ask if Jesus had walked all the way from Galilee region to Jerusalem (about 70 miles away) if he really needed to ride a donkey for the last few miles? This is a prearranged event. This entrance to Jerusalem pre-planned. Since Matthew 16:21 Jesus has been telling his disciples that there was a need to go to Jerusalem. He spells it out quite clearly that he would be handed over to the leading Jewish authorities and he killed. It was the beginning of a show down. But you might remember Peter wasn’t so keen on that idea and Jesus rebuke. This isn’t an accident. Jesus is entering Jerusalem as rightful king. Passover season meant that there were probably 1000’s of others on the same route from the region in Galilee to Jerusalem. R T France says, “Jesus’ arrival is a deliberately staged ‘demonstration’, a sequence of symbolic actions designed to have an unmistakable impact on the already suspicious Jewish authorities.”

We don’t know if Jesus had made an agreement with the owner of the two donkeys or whether he was simply tapping into that ability to see things supernaturally. But whatever the case Jesus knew what he was doing. This is the beginning of a week that will change history. Jesus is entering Jerusalem as King but he will be betrayed, rejected, beaten, tortured, killed. The death of a criminal…of a scum bag. In those events are revealed to us part of what the kingdom of God looks like. The kingdom comes in the cracks out of laying down his life. Jesus knows that the final act of obedience is the greatest challenge. To enter as king…the most bizarre act for a king to allow himself to be treated in exactly the opposite way.

Prophetic defiance (:4,5 & 9)

In entering Jerusalem Jesus is enacting prophecy. He knew that too. He knew scripture.
Verse 5 is actually made up of two Old Testament prophecies from Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9. Isaiah 62 is a vision of a coming king as is Zechariah 9. Some scholars speculate that as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the donkey Pilate may have been entering the city through another gate on a horse. The symbol of peace verses the symbol of war and military power. Before the days of machine guns, war plans and tanks the symbol of power and military might was the horse and a chariot.

Jesus enters in prophetic defiance on a donkey…or Matthew’s recall a baby donkey. That’s probably why there are two donkeys in this version of the story because in order for Jesus to ride the colt the donkeys mother was needed to reassure it. It’s prophetic because it fulfills the Old Testament but it is prophetic in that Jesus entrance acts as a parody of power. If Pilate is entering Jerusalem through another gate in the city in all his pomp and ceremony there is Jesus on a colt perhaps even with his feet touching the ground. Jesus as king again turns everything on its head with regards to power and being spectacular.

Peaceful declaration (:6-8)

Thirdly this is a peaceful declaration. Jesus does not need to whip the crowd up or get his PR manager to handle his tweets for the day. This is an over spill of Jesus’ ministry in the surrounding towns. He has a reputation as a prophet, as someone who speaks with authority, as a healer, as a Rabbi and teacher, as someone who brings life wherever they go. Some in the crowd may not have actually met him before but his reputation proceeds him…
This crowd don’t need to call for anyone’s resignation. Their words are simply “Hosannah to the son of David.” Hosannah literally means save us now. And in those words is a cry of alternative lordship. It’s a cry of people oppressed and trapped and unable to help themselves. It’s a cry the Father longs to hear from our lips. Because that is the business of the Father.

Protesting developments (:10)

When was the last time that Jesus presence in Jerusalem caused this type of disturbance? ask? we’ve got to go back to Matthew chapter 2. Jesus is still in nappies when we read in verse 3 King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard the news of new king of the Jews being born in Jerusalem. And Jesus is shaking things up again with his mere presence.

It’s left off out in our lectionary reading this morning but the next section of the story is actually the culmination this whole scene. That Jesus enters the temple and takes his rightful place for a moment as the centre of activities. Healing people and even being praised by the children…and still the Jewish authorities are indignant.

You might think today “Well Ben I think you have over politicized the text this morning. I mean really Jesus and protest movements!”

As we well know in Jesus time the spiritual and political spheres overlapped they were one in the same in the Jewish world. Spiritual leaders were political leaders. There was no division. There was no separating out.

I’ve said this before but one of the early creeds of the church was simply, “Jesus is Lord”. Which sounds fairly innocuous but was a political statement. My allegiance is not towards Roman and Caesar as Lord. It was a protest cry. And it still is brothers and sisters. Jesus is Lord is not just some nice words to a chorus we sing on a Sunday it’s a counter narrative to Zuma is King or the ANC is King or the DA or anyone else for that matter who make the ultimately false claim of salvation. And to cry Jesus is Lord is to come under his Lordship in which every part of our lives. Our possessions, our bank balances, our networks of opportunity, our skills, our children, our spouses, our sexuality, our attitudes, our bodies – everything, all of us comes under his Lordship. And where does Jesus Lordship lead…to the cross. Where he bids me come and follow me and die. Die to self so he can live his life through me more radically. Dying to self is always painful.

If we really want a king are we willing to not only acknowledge him but serve him…serve him with everything? What we as the church are called to do is remind the world that there is another king, that there is an alternative kingdom sometimes it’s hidden, or obscured. We are not defined as God’s people by junk status, nor do we look for salvation from ratings agencies. We are people of a different kingdom…passport? permanent residence?

St John’s Leadership Academy
April 1, 2017, 8:16 am
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It’s thrilling to be involved in the Leadership Academy this year. Our Parish of St John’s is unique in many ways in our diocese and indeed in the province. One of the challenges we are facing is how to train the next generation of young leaders without having to send them to the last remaining provincial theological college which is tragically not shaping theological education for the 21st century and has no focus on missional leadership.
As a result we have started a small academy (currently 13 full time students) with the aim of helping shape the next generation of leaders. All of the students are employed as church workers, chaplains and assistant pastors in the Parish or surrounding churches. They are a wonderful bunch mostly aged 25-35. All of whom have first degrees in Theology. I work alongside the Parish Rector Duncan McLea and do a lot of the afternoon teaching. It’s the highlight of my week. I have also been putting together the curriculum which involves much teaching around the theology of mission and how that theology gets worked out in the world in its myriad contexts. We had a visit from the Archbishop (See picture below) which was significant.


Tracks on the burn in March
March 12, 2017, 2:07 pm
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Every few months I discover some new music to bring a bit of joy. Here are 5 albums/pieces that are on the burn in March. That is of course when I can get the iPad off my kids who are constantly making their own play lists.

  1. Cory Henry’s First Steps. The first album released as a solo project. Cory Henry is a wonderful keyboard player. I really like the fact that his gospel roots are always on display. Harmonically it’s very neo soul/gospel inflected and although he is obviously technically excellent it’s the live nature, the simplicity and rawness (in a gentle way) that I appreciate. There are points where he sound like Herbie Hancock in 1980. But then he’s be ripping up the Hammond B3 in the next song. Check out this track to get an idea Gotcha now
  2. Jacob Collier. Once in a generation a musician of this frightening ability comes along and everyone’s jaw is left hanging. Jacob is the son of two brilliant violinists from London. He passed his grade 8 voice exams with the highest marks every recorded and is effortless in his musical execution. I think it’s fair to say that his first album is in a way just a taster. He is still young and there will be a maturing of sound but he already has great craftsmanship in his songs, a brilliance for unusual timbres and combining instruments. It’s his harmony and vocal skills that shine though on every track. Imagine Take 6, Stevie Wonder going through some insane electronic modulator with a dash of hip hop. Sample this P.Y.T
  3. Sofia Gudaidulina Viola concerto. Ever since writing a viola concerto as my final project for my MA degree in Bristol I’ve been searching out viola concertos. There aren’t a lot around. It’s a difficult instrument to write for as it doesn’t have the same projection as a violin and pitted again a big orchestra can get overshadowed. This piece for 1996/97 is 20 years old now but I’ve just discovered it and Sofia is a fascinating composer. There are some great documentaries on youtube worth watching which describe her genesis as a composer. Listen to the whole viola concerto here.
  4. The music of the wonderful Ivory  Coast musician Fatoumata Diawara. Part of enjoying a more diverse and eclectic choice of listening I discovered Fatomata after a free download from iTunes. She is a brilliant guitarist with a haunting and beautiful voice. Check out this track entitled Bissa
  5. Finally I love the sound world of 1980’s japanese jazz funk. Something about it makes me smile. This track from Takako Mamiya just makes me incredibly happy. It’s the great bass playing. Have a listen here Takako.

So tracks, albums pieces from USA, UK, Russia, Ivory Coast and Japan…

Identity, Word and Life (A sermon for the 1st Sunday in Lent)
March 5, 2017, 12:34 pm
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Matthew 4:1-11 First Sunday in Lent
5th March 2017

Identity, Word, Life

In Chinese Mandarin (related to Japanese) there are two characters that make up the word crisis “danger” and “opportunity.” We largely use the word crisis in our world in a negative way. We might say someone had a crisis of confidence or a crisis of faith. When a man in at a certain age buys a Lamborghini we might say he’s having a mid life crisis. We look at the world and ask the question here and abroad…perhaps there is a crisis in leadership. The Middle East crisis. Our financial crisis. The term is nearly always portrayed negatively. But what if through these two characters we can opened up a way of thinking about Lent and our own fragility and propensity for sin in a new way. What if we could see afresh that by examining our own hearts in their waywardness we actually can turn crisis into choosing life?

This passage which those of us who have grown up in the church know well needs to be carefully examined again. Often Lent can be seen as a time to give things up. The things that we think tempt us. Often they are physical. I’m giving up beer, or I’m giving up chocolate. Those decisions are not in and of themselves bad but it can mean that Lent becomes something akin to slim fast or the latest dietary fade…which it is not. But is that what we are called to? This week I was struck as I got ready to give ashes to about 200 boys, parents and staff at WPPS of the words in the prayer book just before the ashes are given. “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” One of the biggest problems we have in society today is an inability to to see sin, to be contrite, to acknowledge wrong. So obsessed with image and power and our seemingly indestructible nature. We seem to have lost the notion of falling on your sword. Of being honest about our messes and brokenness. Think about a recent incident with Brian Molefe former CEO of Eskom who resigned in November after serious allegations of state capture. Mess up and move on to become an MP? What does that say about our ability to face sin and consequences. Very little. The church again as the alternative kingdom offers a different take on things.

The Lent season calls us back into a place where we are reminded that we are not actually invincible….but dust. Ash. Frail. Time bound. Weak. In need. Actually to be human is to acknowledge our insufficiency. The French Philosopher Pascal says we all have a God shaped hole within us.

We are called into a season of crisis where we take seriously the need to examine ourselves, our choices, our values, our actions. Not to live in the state of being a miserable worm overcome by our waywardness but to be invited into choosing another way to live.

Many of us live in a inward crisis, an existential crisis. Because if we are honest we see the disconnect between how we are called to live in the way of Jesus and the way we actually do live. What we vocalize as our priorities and what our priorities actually are. In Crisis we are forced to come to terms with the inward dissonance, our lack of integrity, our own fears and anxieties. Our own inner violence and barbarity. Our own darkness. David wrote of this in Psalm 51:3 (NLT) “For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me night and day.”

What’s happening in this passage? Is it really about Jesus being tempted to do wrong? That’s certainly a surface reading. But actually perhaps these words are not a temptation to do something wrong but a test of Jesus identity, ultimately his messiahship in the light of the Father’s words in the previous chapter. I don’t think we can overstate quite how important this is. A number of things to note. Satan is not equal in power to God. It is not a face off. Satan’s power is limited in the created order. Think of the fascinating conversation between God and Satan in the beginning of Job.

Firstly (Matt 4:1) Jesus didn’t take an accidental detour into the wilderness. He wasn’t lost, derailed. Matthew reminds us that it was the Holy Spirit’s leading. He was baptized, affirmed and then lead into the desert for 40 days. Jesus was doubtless tired and hungry when he was tempted yet I am certain it was Jesus understanding that he was Loved and known by the Father that gave him great resilience to temptation. That text reminds us that our capacity to repent and to resist temptation comes from our relationship with God and the grace of his deliverance rather than from our own strength and initiative.

Some scholars like R T France say the translation of the word temptation is actually misleading. It might be better to think of this as testing. Thats how Eugene Peterson translates it. Matthew’s largely Jewish audience would have read this account (which Jesus must have shared with his disciples – he is the only one there) would have automatically thought of Moses. God leads his people (the rag tag bunch of Israelites) into the dessert after their escape from Pharaoh and his army. And they’re tested. Tested to see if they really trust God. Which if you read the account they largely fail. To those Jewish readers here is Jesus who, because he knows he belongs to the Father, can navigate these temptation by doing two things. Recalling his affirmation by the Father and by wielding scripture. Identity and word.

David Lose says, “Individually, each temptation invites Jesus to turn away from trust in God in a different way. In the first, the devil invites Jesus to prove his sonship through a display of power; that is, by establishing his validity and worth through his own abilities. In the second, the temptation is to test God’s fidelity. In the third — more an out-and-out bribe than temptation — Jesus is promised all the power and glory the earth can offer if he will give his allegiance and devotion to the Tempter. In each case, Jesus rejects the temptation and lodges his identity, future, and fortunes on God’s character and trustworthiness.”

Did you notice these words of Satan to challenge Jesus are an identity attack. “if you are the son of God.” Satan does the same old thing. He’s not very original. It’s the same devious trick we find in Genesis 3:1 “Did God really say?” and it’s been working ever since. We are not impervious to it. Many of us easily slide. Satan as the Father of lies wants to pull us into death thinking. He wants to mess with us, or minds and our hearts. “How can God love you if you do that!” “Did God really say you are his child and that he loves you?” “I wouldn’t be so sure.” it’s one of corrosive acts of Satan that we have to be on our guard over. To live in the truth of what God the Father says about us. That’s not to be self delusional. “I am wonderful, brilliant.” but “I am loved” are too different things. I am loved and known but I am aware of my own frailty, weakness and sin!

Firstly Jesus was hungry. His desire to eat was legitimate. Jesus could have readily made fresh croissant from those miserable dusty stones. But he chooses not to. He chooses restraint. The temptation is not to break a fast primarily but to satisfy himself. To choose to meet his needs whenever he felt like it. When we are in the space of crisis with regards to our identity the temptation to satisfy ourselves comes in many forms. The consumer world promises us that this product will satisfy our needs. Make us more beautiful, attractive, liked, acceptable. Or we fill the gap with sex, food, fantasies of being loved, opportunities to show others up. Whatever will fulfill for a short time, interim.

Did you notice that Jesus response to Satan is decisive. “No”

In the next two testings Satan uses scripture to try and convince Jesus. But what is Satan doing? He is twisting and manipulating scripture to make it say or fit his particular aim. Jesus as a good Jewish boy – knew the scriptures. He got into mild trouble with his Mum and Dad for staying behind in Jerusalem speaking with Jewish scholars whilst still a young man. He knew what Satan was doing so we could defend himself. Its one of our challenges. If the only time we actually open up a bible is when we find one lying at the end of the pew then we are are vulnerable.

If we only ever read our 5 favorite verses then we have a truncated pretty narrow understanding of what God says about human beings, about human nature about his dealing with us, about his redemptive plan. If you have a bible bring it to church. Get a bible you can actually read. If the only one in the house is a King James that sits high on the shelf and has a layer of dust – go and invest in a good clear translation like the NLT, the new 2011 NIV, the message, an NASV. Down load an app. Follow the lectionary, or scripture union, read a book through over Lent. Disciples know God’s word… membership discipleship shift.

Nor does Jesus enter into a debate with Satan. He doesn’t say well the current thinking in Rabbi circles is…we aren’t going to repel Satan with our in depth knowledge of John Maxwell’s 7 habits of a highly effective person.

“The other two temptations for Jesus to preserve and establish himself, are appeasement temptations. “Get God to prove his approval of you. Force his hand.” This temptation masquerades as a ‘trust’ in God which is entirely inappropriate, because it is not trust. It is a seeking of certainty in life, when one of the essentials of healthy humanity is learning to live in and with uncertainty.” (Andrew Prior 2017

The truth of our trust is most clearly seen in crisis. Where do we turn. The last few weeks I’ve been waking at night an praying for a family whose youngest daughter is very sick. More seriously than any of us really expected. They’re having to make very difficult decisions to leave her in Singapore to undergo tests and recover whilst they head back to the UK. Leaving their child whose only 10 on the other side of the planet. I can only imagine the trauma and pain they are carrying yet I’m seeing a deep rooted trust. Not by having a sort of naive and plastic response of everything will be fine. No by crying out and clinging to God.

God’s promise in scripture is not, “everything will be wonderful for you.” but it is I will be with you. People want certainty but God doesn’t offer it. He offers his presence.

Certainty damages us: witness the brittleness and violence of fundamentalist gatherings, and people, of all religions. We cannot own certainty, for certainty will own us. If Jesus tests God, he has already bowed down to Satan (the third temptation) because he has not trusted God, but trusted the word of Satan.

This is a text for our time. Everywhere we see people grasping for certainty, We also see violence; I see unrestrained fear. Giving into the temptation to certainty seems to place us under a particularly potent fear of dispossession of ourselves. The whole currency of fundamentalism is fear.”

What happens in each of these tests is that Jesus chooses life. Jesus chooses the most life giving option. Notice that most most life giving option is not necessarily the easiest option. The most life giving option might not be easy. It might be very difficult. It might mean denying ourselves, the things that we want but don’t need. It may mean looking beyond the horizon of what immediately affects us.

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 The Israelites are urged to Choose life. Jesus chooses life. Satan’s aim is for us to choose death. To make death decisions.

In closing two things strike me. Jesus ability to say no. To be tested and to be victorious Jesus victory becomes our victory. Our hope. By the Spirit we can choose life. Not because we are better, or stronger or more self disciplined but because we acknowledge and admit our frailty. That’s where we become strong.

Secondly testing is not a once off. We are continually facing the choice of life and death in our lives. Choose life. It’s explicit in this part of the gospel but Jesus is of course tested through out the gospels. Ultimately in his willingness to be obedient to his Father in the journey to the cross.

“Encouraging Gamaliel” Building a more expansive vision for Fresh Expressions of Church in ACSA
January 6, 2017, 7:06 am
Filed under: Fresh Expressions | Tags: , ,

I’m in the fortunate position to have been given a month away from the demands of Parish ministry to be here in McGregor in the Western Cape and write some provisional parts of my PhD. I have a very rough draft of chapter 1 and 2 and it’s my intention to write a first draft of chapter 3 which is essentially my literature review on Fresh Expressions of Church and something of how Fresh Expressions has come to be in South Africa and the way it has grown and developed. Generally Fresh Expressions in South Africa has been dominated by low church evangelicals, has been taken up with great enthusiasm by the DRC and the Presbyterians but been only mildly embrace by Anglicans. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly the majority of Anglicans in our province are Anglo Catholic sacramentally and ecclesially. I will always remember Bishop Rubin’s response to my description of St Martins (low church evangelical and charismatic) as not being very Anglican. “Yes”, he said, “you barely have any ecclesiology.” Or his comment that Fresh Expressions sounded like a bakery product! I would have a much sharper response today but on those particular occasions I was lost for words. That was probably fortuitous. The last thing that Fresh Expressions of church needs is an apologetic which might be cagily defensive but as a movement it does need advocates who can gently persuade whilst listening to genuine fears and concerns.

Too often the language and examples of Fresh Expressions of church really do not resonate with many Bishops, Priests and Deacons from an Anglo Catholic persuasion (although they may be more appealing to lay people). Many of the examples of Fresh Expressions that are shared at MSM courses and vision days look too informal, too evangelical and frankly too white and middle class – a grouping of malcontents and disenfranchised moaners. Very especially in our context these things lead to calcification of any initial interest because we have neglected to use more appropriate examples of contemplative, sacramental and liturgically shaped FXoC.

The language we use is important. If we are going to build bridges and help people see that Fresh Expressions of Church are just one of the tools in the missio Dei rather than the latest Alpha then we will need to step back and examine the way we speak and stop being so evangelical for a moment. There is rich and important stream of Anglo Catholic missiology that if we can tap into and re-appropriate and re-imagine we may have better opportunities of helping our brothers and sisters from other theological traditions to see Fresh Expressions as less of a neo-colonial threat and more as an opening up and way of seeing their tradition in a new light.

Generally we might say that the Anglican church in South Africa in its best incarnation is Anglo Catholic, prophetic and contextual. I can work with all of those areas and I think help others onto a journey of seeing the value in retrieving the best in the tradition. Many of our Anglo Catholic brothers and sisters are not blind to the changes in culture or the decline of attendance in their Sunday morning congregations or the hemorrhaging of young people from the pews.

In this blog I’m drawing on a number of articles by Croft (2009), Cotterell (2009) and Tilby (2008) who all advocate for a richer catholic approach to mission shaped ministry. There are others too. Hull’s (2006) little theological response is helpful.

The history of the Anglican church in South Africa doesn’t need to be rehearsed again in any detail here other than to remind us that in 1821 USPG came to the Cape whilst CMS ventured into Zululand. That evangelical inheritance remains to a large extent in Zululand with little outposts of evangelicalism flying their flags across parts of the country. Of course the Oxford movement sought to redefine its relationship with Roman calling for an understanding that the Anglican church was a ‘branch’ of the Roman church. It was also an important attempt to disentangle the Anglican church’s compromised relationship with the state (the conservative party at prayer) and to reaffirm its independent spiritual authority. Besides the focus of worship being on the Eucharist with Vestments and a whole host of other Roman paraphernalia there was an important incarnational principle at work in its missiology.

Mattis (2016) reminds us that, “the immediate practical workings-out of the theology and liturgy of the [Oxford] movement beyond the dreaming spires happened in the slums. High-church liturgy and a commitment to serve the (often Roman Catholic) poor went inextricably together: this at a time when anti-Catholic prejudice in the establishment was dying but by no means dead in England. This was not a vague aspiration toward “justice” broadly defined or vaguely synonymous with a progressive political agenda, but the combating of the very present ills of industrialization: the lack of workers’ rights, outbreaks of cholera, lack of education, alongside the pastoral work of marrying, baptizing, burying the poor, and being present. It is the labor and sacrifice of the slum priests that gave real moral heft to the Oxford Movement and saved it from the insularity of which it has stood accused ever since.”

There are numerous stories of slum priests in the 20th century who sacrificed comfort in order to ‘pitch their tents’ in the most deprived parts of cities across the UK. That continued in the story of Anglicanism of South African in Township churches across the country and continues to happen today. There is no denial of some of the sacrificial incarnational postures of clergy from the Anglo Catholic tradition. Indeed in helping to combat the notion that Fresh Expressions of Church is a kind of evangelical take over Croft (2009:42) affirms 3 areas of Catholic mission that resonate with FXoC.

The first is the holistic nature of mission. The Catholic rendering of mission, or a reading of the missio Dei is ‘God in his very nature is a God of mission who is constantly active in the whole of creation.’ (:42) This is also affirmed by critics of FXoC like Hull. FXoC can often be short sighted or have a diminished vision for God’s work in the world. There have been consistent criticisms that the movement is more church shaped than mission shaped. We need to commend this more rounded and holist vision of the missio Dei from a Catholic perspective without segueing into a toothless universalism. Discernment of the Spirit is vital in assessing just what really is marked as God at work.

Secondly Croft (2009:43), as has been pointed out previously, notes the focus of the incarnation as the pattern and type of Christian mission. “The incarnational pattern, whereby missionaries go first and bless and serve a particular section of society, is emerging as the most authentic and helpful model for the development of FXoC.”

Thirdly Croft (:43) speaks of the “vital and deeply catholic principle of formation of disciples in community.” Evangelicals Croft says often focus on calling out where as the catholic tendency is making of disciples in existing community. This seems a little unclear to me.

Cottrell (2009) uses the phrase “enabling Catholic Christians to think their way into the challenge of becoming a ‘mixed economy’ and see how Fresh Expressions might make sense within the tradition.” He makes a number of suggestions which we should be using in the South African context…helping our Gamaliel be less suspicious. For example he says If you have two services in your church on a Sunday morning (we have a 7.45 and 9.30 which are catering to two quite different congregations with different needs, cultures and expectations) why not 3 or 4? Cottrell (2009:69) suggests that even though a catholic notion might be to draw all people to one table eucharistically pragmatically there is need and justification for other ways of being church. Stretch this a little and it’s not impossible to envision something that draws on rich streams of liturgy but is re-imagined. A great example of a FXoC in the Anglo catholic tradition exists in Moot. I visited the church in 2013 and met Aaron Kennedy then going forward for ordination but there are other excellent examples that draw on monastic and contemplative traditions that actually we evangelicals could do well to muse on in our listening and service to communities.

Cotterell also notes the cynicism that overt evangelism and church planting can foster in Anglo Catholics. Yet all churches have a inception, a birth, a start date. There was a great flurry of church planting in South Africa amongst Anglicans in the mid 19th century. Why are we not planting again. My suspicion is that most clergy and desperately trying to not let the wheels fall of their current Parish setting and therefore cannot fathom how planting is possible. This is in a sense the pastoral/maintenance posture which is the default setting for many Anglican clergy…mission shaped ministry acts as a corrective and enables apostolic giftings to come to the fore.

Perhaps as we see the FXoC movement growing ecumenically across ZAR we can be a bit more imaginative in approaching our Anglo Catholic brothers and sisters?

For some great stories of radical Anglo catholic out the box thinking see this excellent church army report


Decolonisation: Some thoughts
October 24, 2016, 9:27 am
Filed under: decolonisation

Over the past few weeks I’ve been watching with interest, bemusement and not a little despair the current decolonisation debate. Calling it a debate is a bit rich as it seems that parties on both ends of the scale cannot hear the other. Which is the problem in South Africa. We just can’t seem to “see” each other or hear another perspective with out jumping to defend ourselves. Yes I have watched the science must fall youtube clip and for whatever one may make of it there is a deeper cry to be heard.

I am well aware that there is a whole body of literature on decolonisation and I’m not drawing on it in this opinion piece. I am however drawing on some of the postcolonial writers I am currently engaging with for part of my chapter two of my PhD. They mostly come from the practical theological sphere for which I make no apology.

I hear the call from the born free generation to decolonise the topography of Higher Education. It’s certainly true that epistemically South African Universities by and large continue to operate in a western framework and that needs to be reappraised and re-imagined but there are some important parameters that need to be set up if decolonisation is going to be a meaningful exercise. I offer three thoughts around the call for decolonisation. They are preliminary and embryonic but I offer them in the spirit of learning and dialoging together. I offer them in the spirit of Proverbs 10:19

Decolonisation is a process
The calls for decolonisation by students is important I don’t deny that. How instantaneous that can really be is anyones guess. The complete dismantling of the Western colonial project is probably impossible. That doesn’t mean that it should not be attempted. But the reality is that an attempt to knock down the colonial edifice of knowledge and untangle its administration simply is not achieved overnight. When I hear phrase like “you’ve got to decolonise your mind” I hear the intentions behind the sentiment but it can sound a bit like a call for re-education. Those of you who have read any accounts of the cultural revolution in China from 1966-1976 or lived in the post genocide landscape of Cambodia in 1975-1979 will know the that the process of re-education for the so called bourgeois became an exercise that eventually destroyed not only valuable cultural artefacts but people in the most barbaric way. I’m NOT drawing a parallel. But I am genuinely asking what decolonisation of the mind will mean? If it means being humbled and open to accepting that there are other ways to generate and curate knowledge then I am all for it. But it is process and needs to be done in the spirit of Ubuntu.

If decolonisation is a process and a subversive strategy to break western and white hegemony then I am genuinely interested in being a participant. As part of my academic work I’ve been reading theologian Sugirtharajah (2003). Although decolonisation and post colonialism are different there is some overlap. I see postcolonialism as a strategy for decolonisation. In speaking of postcolonial strategies he says there should be, ‘an active confrontation with the dominant system of thought, its lopsidedness and its inadequacies, and underlies its unsuitability for us. Hence it is a process of cultural and discursive emancipation from all dominant structures whether they be political, linguistic or ideological.’ (2003:15)

Decolonisation is not a return to a pre-colonial state or era. That doesn’t exist but it is a recovery of identity.
In a recent article by Oliver he offers an important insight. ‘The truth about decolonisation: it is NOT to return to some mythical state that supposedly existed before the arrival of the colonising settlers; it is to reclaim your own independence, to refuse the domination of the colonising power. The question therefore arises: What is the colonising power that one should refuse today?’ (Oliver 2016) This quote for me opens up the complex question of whose colonialism are we resisting and deconstructing? South Africa has suffered from a complex wonky internal colonialism from the Dutch, the British, the Afrikaner. Certainly Biko’s analysis of South Africa some 40 years ago still resonates as being largely true. White power and racism continues to exist in every sphere of life both institutionally and anecdotally. But it’s not simply white power (although this is deeply problematic) that needs to be deconstructed and decolonised. Any form of coercive power needs rejecting and replacing that might well be political power or our current worrying issue around state capture. Is there an colonialist attitude and posture in the governing party the ANC?

At the same time a wish to recover some utopian pre-colonial state is probably impossible. The undoing of history is not possible. Again that doesn’t mean it can’t be critiqued and parts of it rejected. The totalising influence of western epistemic hegemony clearly needs challenging but there is perhaps a third way? Where indigenous and precolonial forms of knowledge exist in tandem or in complimentary ways to western forms of knowledge and other times where those totalising forms western forms of knowledge need to be set aside.

In my own research there is important overlap or convergence around epistemic issues in postcolonialism and practical theology. As I attempt to show in my writing in an authentic practical theology human experiences and practice are a valid source for the construction of knowledge. Theory can arise from the ‘lived’. In postcolonialism there is push toward building alternative constructs of knowledge from the experience of the colonised. As Young (2003:20) reminds us, ‘postcolonialism is a name for these insurgent knowledges that come from the subaltern, the dispossessed, and seek to change the terms and values under which they live.’ My research seeks to uncover the voices that during the apartheid era were marginalised, constricted, brutalised and often annihilated. It is sensitive to those who identify themselves as the colonised and disenfranchised; in short those who live with a subalternality about them.

Decolonisation is a strategy for singing out against hegemony
The decolonisation project is not just a benefit for previously excluded people. Postcolonial readings subvert the dominant narrative and attempt to give ‘voice’ to those subjugated by hegemony. The problem is that in the past colonisers have constructed the identity of the “other”, of the subaltern (in the words of Spivak). A recent article from Mgqwashu in the Mail and Guardian reminds us of that this strategy of, ‘decolonisation is not a project over which one racial group can claim sole custodianship. South Africans, as a people, must agree that colonialism and apartheid robbed the country of ideas, skills, creativity, originality, talent and knowledge. These attributes got lost through legislated discrimination of black people, most of whom could have enriched the country even further. But some people who have benefited directly from the ills of colonialism and apartheid still struggle to accept this fact. They have developed a false need to defend a system that maimed, dehumanised, oppressed and stripped generation after generation of the South African majority. These groups should be the first to be genuinely repentant and to openly acknowledge what’s become a common lie.’ (Mgqwashu 2016)

There has been something profoundly powerful when students have protested through song, through presence, where they have spoken eloquently for free education. Where they have ‘sung up’ and ‘out – against’ oppression. Where their voices have broken preconceived ideas about protestors, where voices throw off the shackles of colonial objectification, where students are narrating and improvising into a new future we must rejoice. The challenge will be as with improvise (as with all good jazz) we listen, respond with subtlety, learning to play better and more beautifully.