I came across this beautiful quote:
God travels wonderful paths with human beings; God does not arrange matters to suit our opinions and views, does not follow the path that humans would like to prescribe for God. God’s path is free and original beyond all our ability to understand or to prove.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Indeed, my experience is that I am truly free when I travel along the path of the source of all life. When I divert my course and go my own way I often find myself lost, alone, and unsure.
It is a great blessing and gift to be loved by God in Christ, and to receive the gift of life by living in that love.
In a week and a bit I will be riding my 12th Argus Cycle tour. If you add the 12 rides together it equals almost 1500km of riding just along that one scenic route of Cape Town. I have had a few good rides (under 3h30) and at least one horrendous ride (6h+some! That is a year I would rather forget. Simple advice, don't ever try a new supplement on race day!)
Last year's race was the most fun of all - I rode with my darling wife Megie, and I did the ride on my 3 speed folding bike. A Brompton! It causes quite a stir - so much so that I ended up in this year's official race magazine (p.39 of the 2014 Cycle magazine - see the attached picture).
I will be riding on Darth the Brompton again this year, and will be joined by at least two other Brompton Brothers from the UK! Three of us among the 40 thousand - not a bad ratio! At this rate we will take over the race by.... Well a very long time!
Last year I had a fall on my mountainbike a broke my right hand, and three weeks ago I fell off my Vespa and got a grade two dislocation of my shoulder (AC joint) and a cracked shoulder blade. I did some training with my arm in the sling. It is almost 4 weeks later and I'd say it is 90% healed.
This Sunday I'll ride the Argus Mountainbike race on my 'bigger' bike (a Cannondale Scalpel 3, 29er).
Next Sunday Megie and I will once again hit the road for the Argus road ride. I'll be riding in a jacket and tie with my Brompton. If you see us along the way wave and say hi!
PS., if you click on the 'Argus' tag on this post you will see some previous posts with Argus tips, a picture with Francois Pienaar and Matt Damon and a few other things.
May you know that absence is full of tender presence and that nothing is ever lost or forgotten. May the absences in your life be full of eternal echo. May you sense around you the secret Elsewhere which holds the presences that have left your life. May you be generous in your embrace of loss. May the sore of your grief turn into a well of seamless presence. May your compassion reach out to the ones we never hear from and may you have the courage to speak out for the excluded ones. May you become the gracious and passionate subject of your own life. May you not disrespect your mystery through brittle words or false belonging. May you be embraced by God in whom dawn and twilight are one and may your longing inhabit its deepest dreams within the shelter of the Great Belonging. (Eternal Echoes 275)>- A blessing for Absences John O'Donohue.
I am reading Stanley Hauerwas' Approaching the end: Eschatological reflections on Church, Politics and Life. It comes highly recommend. I found the following quote so helpful in thinking about the 'shape' of my own faith.
For I take it to be crucial that Christians must live in such a manner that their lives are unintelligible if the God we worship in Jesus Christ does not exist.
- Stanley Hauerwas, Approaching the end (p.67).
Indeed, the character of our lives, not our confessions, but our very lives, must seem strange to a world that is so obsessed with power, wealth, class and fame. The way of the Christ follower must seem nonsensical to those who do not understand the God whom we love and know. Of course it makes sense to us only because we know God and have experienced God's grace and power that transforms life, brings wholeness and motivates our reason for being who and how we are in the world.
If our lives, and the expression of our lives (our homes, our bank accounts, our Churches) resemble too closely to conventions of our time we need to take stock and ask whether we have not given in to one of the many false God's of the age. We should be different, since God's nature and ways are different. But our difference should not be a reason for division, but rather a call to real life, a call to full life, a call to move closer to the life giver.
I received the following wonderful reflection on the life and ministry of Archbishop Dennis Hurley from the Jesuit Institute today (please see the link below). It was written by a great friend, Anthony Egan. It is deeply inspiring and challenging to be reminded of his courage and faithful witness to God's just and loving will for the world.
DENIS HURLEY IN 2014 by Anthony Egan SJ
Ten years ago this week, on 13 February 2004 to be precise, Denis Hurley OMI the retired Catholic archbishop of Durban died. As a priest and bishop, as a theologian and religious leader in the struggle against apartheid, he made perhaps the greatest contribution to putting Catholicism firmly in the South African public square.
Before him, the Catholic Church in South Africa was cautious and quite inward-looking. Prohibited during Dutch rule, coolly tolerated by the British, and treated with intense suspicion after the Union of South Africa in 1910, the Church was (unsurprisingly) cautious in challenging apartheid. With the majority of its clergy foreign-born and thus vulnerable to deportation it was encouraged even by the Vatican to ‘play it safe’ after the 1948 National Party election victory. But Hurley, a white South African by birth, Oblate priest and bishop since 1946, thought differently. He believed that it was a matter of faith to oppose apartheid.
During the 1930s Denis Hurley completed licentiates [advanced master’s degrees] in philosophy and theology in Rome. He had studied in particular Aquinas and Catholic Social Thought, both of which convinced him that segregation was morally unjustifiable. His episcopal motto “Ubi Spiritus, ibi libertas” (“Where the Spirit is, there is liberty”) summed up his thinking and would point to the course his life would take: a rigorous, theologically informed search for freedom.
Together with a small group of fellow bishops, priests, religious and laity he pushed the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference to an increasingly uncompromising stand against apartheid – so much so that in 1957 the Catholic Church was first church in South Africa to theologically condemn apartheid. The Church never looked back from that, and in the decades that followed Hurley was in the forefront of what Protestant scholar John De Gruchy has called ‘the church struggle in South Africa’.
As archbishop, Hurley was an active participant in the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) initiated by Pope John XXIII to renew the Catholic Church. Hurley’s thinking, informed by his reading of Aquinas, led him to enthusiastically initiate, implement and support the Council’s reforms. He was particularly pleased to see the Council’s emphasis on justice and the implementation of the vernacular liturgy.
This same thinking made him controversial in later years: he supported the idea of married clergy, and saw no sound theological reason against the ordination of women. He also criticised the 1968 papal encyclical Humanae Vitae that reaffirmed the Church’s rejection of artificial birth control. For these views many suspect he was never made a cardinal. The latter point has led some of his supporters to call him “the greatest cardinal Africa never had”.
Were he alive today (he would be 99), I suspect he would be thoroughly disgusted with much that we see in South Africa: corruption, the arrogance of many political leaders, the greed and conspicuous consumption of many of the old and new elites. He would also, I think, be enthusiastically supportive of Pope Francis’ vision of a simpler, pastorally oriented Church committed to the poor and to the full implementation of Vatican II.
We the living, who remember Denis with love, can best honour his memory by carrying on what he started.
If you want a weekly article like this for your parish bulletin click here and we will send it to you earlier in the week in time for publication. For more Jesuit Institute perspective go to www.jesuitinstitute.org.za.
Today is Dietrich Bonhoeffer's birthday (4 February 1906). His deep commitment to faith and justice is a source of constant inspiration and challenge. I give thanks for his life and witness.
…when evil meets no opposition and encounters no obstacle but only patient endurance, its sting is drawn, and at last it meets an opponent which is more than its match. Of course this can only happen when the last ounce of resistance is abandoned, and the renunciation of revenge is complete. Then evil cannot find its mark, it can breed no further evil, and is left barren.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer (via a-pilgrims-diary)
Today a new era dawned in my ministry and working life - on the 2nd of January 2014 I arrived at Stellenbosch University at around 7.50am to move into my new office in the Faculty of Theology.
Yesterday my appointment as Senior Lecturer in Systematic Theology and Ethics (with a focus on Public Theology) came into effect! I am truly grateful for this magnificent opportunity to serve the Church and society in the academy!
I am so excited about what the future holds in this new post! For some years I have been attached to the faculty as a staff member in Ekklesia (the Center for Leadership and Congregational) - however, this new post is as a full time academic with both undergraduate and post graduate teaching and research responsibilities.
I will be teaching Ethics and Systematic Theology and will have a particular focus on the Church's role in the various 'public' spaces of society (politics, economics, health care, education, the arts and many others). This is where most of my attention and energy has been focussed in the last decades. The Unashamedly Ethical and EXPOSED 'Shining a light on corruption' campaigns have aimed at precisely this, to support and empower the Church for making a positive contribution to the transformation of the nation and the world.
So, today I moved my stuff from my 'old office' in the Ekklesia side of the faculty building into the 'faculty' side of the building (which is pictured above - I took this photo about three years ago. Isn't it a beautiful building?) Each of the departments are clustered together, and I am in the section for Systematic Theology, Church History, Ethics and Ecclesiology. It is a beautiful sunny office with rows and rows of book shelves and lots of wood - befitting the historical look of the Kweekskool buildings.
My prayer for this new sesion in my ministry is that I will have an opportunity to serve both the Church and the nation in developing critical though and ideas, useful tools, and well trained people who can bring about transformation and the renewal of society for the sake of justice and grace.
I am inspired by the following quote from a speech that former President Nelson Mandela gave at the Methodist Conference in Umtata on 18 September 1994:
One cannot over-emphasise the contribution that the religious community made particularly in ensuring that our transition achieves the desired result. The spirit of reconciliation and the goodwill within the nation can, to a great measure, be attributed to the moral and spiritual interventions of the religious community.
Now that a major part of the journey towards democracy has been traversed, new and more difficult tasks lie ahead of us. For, political democracy will be empty and meaningless, if the misery of the majority of the people is not addressed.
The Church, like all other institutions of civil society, must help all South Africans to rise to the challenge of freedom. As South Africa moves from resistance to reconstruction and from confrontation to reconciliation, the energy that was once dedicated to breaking apartheid must be harnessed to the task of building the nation.
I would appreciate your prayers for me, and of course also for Megie, Courtney and Liam, as this new phase in our lives takes shape.
I will remain the Chairman of the Board of 'EXPOSED - Shining a light on corruption' as our team works towards the G20 meetings in Australia in November 2014. In addition to that I will also serve on one or two other boards (Unashamedly Ethical, the Power Group Charitable Trust, Half Time and Alpha).
As I write this I am standing in front of the Huygensgebouw in Nijmegen waiting for the Number 14 bus that will take me to Nijmegen Station, from where I catch a train to Schipol and then fly to Dubai, and arrive in Cape Town a day and a half later. The weather at home is different - that I can believe! It is cold and wet here in Holland this morning!
This last week has been very fruitful and productive. I spent a great deal if time developing to Practice Oriented Research strategy I will be using with my focus groups. I also did a lot of reading and discussing on affective neuroscience and the disruptive mind. But my joy was spending days buried deep in the Greek text of Matthew 28.1-35 (in fact Matthew, the Synoptics and the ancient sources of the time). I learned a great deal about 'fictive kin', mimesis, ancient near eastern community structure, ancient Roman Law, and of course concepts of forgiveness and reconciliation in the Bible.
I also had to joy of speaking at a Public Lecture on Nelson Mandela (Soetebeeck reeks I think it was called). A real highlight for me.
Then I did two longer rides on Doris my Brompton - one along the Ooij Dijk and another out to Germany (Kleve) - just beautiful! Cold, but lovely. Having a bike here was invaluable for bit commuting and fitness and sight seeing. I'm glad I brought Doris to England and Holland!
Now, I turn my head towards home! My beautiful family! I can't wait to be with them tomorrow!
I arrived in Holland last week on Sunday 1 December - I flew with Doris my Brompton all packed up from Heathrow Terminal 5 (British Airways) to Schipol in Amsterdam. I was a little worried since when Doris is packed in the B Bag with all of my clothes and toiletries she weighs in at around 27kg's and the BA baggage allowance is only 20kg's (a maximum of 23kg). Normally the extra weight is no problem because I am a Voyager (Star alliance) member with a 'few' airmiles - so I get to travel with 30kg. But BA is not part of Star Alliance.
I said a little prayer, packed as well as I could, and headed to the airport at 5am (thanks Craig and Kath! You guys are AWESOME!) Thankfully my prayers were answered - the check in staff didn't even bat an eyelid. I put Doris on the conveyer belt and off she went! Sadly because it was so early in the morning the bag wrapping service was not yet operating - so for the first time my Bromtpon B Bag went into the hold without any plastic wrapping. However, it was a short flight (and very empty as well). When I collected Doris at Schipol she was perfect! No damage, no problems. So, I put the B Bag onto my luggage trolley (I take this with since it is easier to wheel than the wheels on the B Bag) and went to Schipol station for the 2 hour train ride through to beautiful Nijmegen.
The train ride was relaxing - with only one changeover at Utrecht where I literally walked from one side of the platform to the other. On the first part of the trip I sat with an elderly Dutch couple who had just returned from a few weeks of holiday in Southern Africa - Cape Town, Kruger National Park and Victoria falls (and they did it all by train!) amazing. They spoke very enthusiastically about the beauty of South Africa.
When I arrived in Nijmegen I fired up my 9292 app on my iPhone and saw which bus would take me to Platolaan near the Erasmusgebou of the University. The guesthouse (gastehuis) is right across the road. While it is called a guesthouse it is actually just a large block of flats. I have stayed here before. It is very comfortable and such beautiful views. Last year I overlooked the Brakenstein woods, this year my view was of the Astro turf hockey fields and the main University building.
By the way, it snowed here on Friday! I couldn't believe it! It wasn't very heavy snow, but it left a beautiful white covering on the ground for a few hours. It was absolutely FREEZING!
I was very pleased to be in my flat in Nijmegen - I unpacked my clothes and Doris, pumped up her wheels and then headed to the Coop shop in the town center which is open later on a Sunday for some supplies. It was wonderful to be on the beautiful cycle paths, quite a change from London where every ride is like taking your life in your hands! Here cyclists seem to have more rights than motorists - special cycle lanes, special traffic signals, and of course thousands of fellow cyclists! It makes a real difference!
When I got back home I set up my laptop and connected to the VERY fast broadband connection (wired via ethernet - thankful there was an ethernet cable in the room since I forgot mine at home!) And then set up internet sharing on my Mac so that I could use my iPhone and iPad for Facetime. I immediately called Megie, Courts and Liam - by this time it was already dark. I miss them so much, I can't tell you. There is an emptiness in my heart, a dull ache all day. I can't wait to get home next week! We had a great chat. It is such a blessing to be able to 'call home' for free and just chat to them for as long as we want with crisp, clear, video.
On Sunday evening I had a wonderful dinner with Professor Jan van der Watt and his wife Shireen and a fellow PhD student Alexander from St Petersburg in Russia (Alexander's wife and son were also with us - it was great to have a little guy around the place. It made me thing of Liam).
On Monday my work began big time! Sadly this year has been so busy with EXPOSED - Shining a light on corruption and Unashamedly Ethical work and travel that I have done very little on my second PhD. I have done some reading, but had not had much time to convert my thoughts and ideas into text. So, with my first deadline looming on Monday afternoon I worked from late Sunday evening, early Monday morning until I met with Prof Chris Hermans - my co-supervisor who is helping me with Practice Oriented Research methodology (since I am doing some qualitative empirical work in my current study). I managed to send him something worthwhile, and then I started working towards my deadline for Professor van der Watt - I am working on the text of forgiveness with him.
I had BibleWorks 9 fired up on my Mac (in Parallels of course) and was digging deeply into the Greek text to do a thorough Exegesis.
On Tuesday I had to spend the afternoon on a conference call with the other directors of TEE College, for which I am a director. We did our final business for the year, of which a part was to receive the final results for the 2013 examinations. So the students should be getting their results very soon!
Then, I had two further deadlines, a Wednesday and Thursday meeting with Prof Chris, and a Friday meeting with Prof Jan. So, every moment was spent behind my keyboard, reading and writing.
I also had a wonderful opportunity to meet with a friend Johan who lives in Holland - he connected with me via the internet. He follows my blog and saw that I was in Holland. It was great to spend some time with him talking about his work, ministry and research. He used to be a community health worker here in Nijmegen (actually he taught health care at the University - he has a PhD in epidemiology). Now he is studying theology and serving an international Church in his city. I was so inspired by his commitment and service!
On Saturday I took a few hours for exercise - other than walking to the main University building and cycling a few km a day for supplies, I have not been as active as I am back home. So, I set out in WET and COLD weather for a 30km ride along the Waaldijk. It ended up being 43km because I got a little lost on the way back (road works meant that I couldnt' get back along the road that I knew). It was awesome to be out! The scenery is beautiful, and it felt great to stretch my legs, open my lungs and just be quiet and reflective.
There were lots of other cyclists out - the group which seemed to be part of a cycling team were excited to see a guy on a Brompton! ha ha! I say if you can't fold it you shouldn't ride it!
By the time I took this photo I was rather soaked and a little hungry. Ha ha. Still, lots of fun.
On Saturday and Sunday I spent the 'off time' working on some editing I am doing for the Sentinel Group on Transformation materials. It was a nice change of pace and I found it inspiring and also very encouraging to be able to 'tick off' a few projects. Achievement is an important part of the human psyche - to be able to work hard during the week, cycle well on Saturday, and do good work over the weekend left me feeling content and blessed. I am very thankful for all of the opportunities that I have.
It was also wonderful to spend some time on Facetime during the week, and a few hours over the weekend, chatting with Megie, Courtney and Liam. I cannot tell you how much I love them!! I look forward to being home in a week's time! Family, sunshine, and mountainbiking!
Here's a great video from Ben Lovejoy of our Bromtpon Night Ride (we rode 18 of London's bridges). You'll see me on Doris my Yellow Brompton (wearing a sleeveless jacket over my high visibility jacket! It was COLD! Way to cold for an African boy!) What an iconic ride. I actually did about 21 bridges by the time I got home.
For an awesome ride report, written in iconic MI6 style, see Agent Orange (aka, Agent Red, White and Blue) great report - My Orange Brompton.
Thanks Ben, David, John, Andrew, Chris and the crew from the London Brompton Club. That is a night to remember!
Here is my Endomondo GPS track from there ride. The group split up at Richmond station where they caught the train home. I rode the rest of the way to where I was staying. A respectable 62km.
A good friend of mine @JohannGrobler alerted me to a fascinating TED talk given by one of my favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell on the Biblical narrative of David and Goliath. You can watch it on Youtube below.
It is fascinating to watch Malcolm share his perspective on this well known Biblical narrative. He is not only a very creative and astute thinker - able to find a novel angle to well known data, and then develop a point that opens up new possibilities for thought - he is also a very engaging and effective orator. I enjoyed watching the talk a great deal!
What Johann wanted to know was whether what was said about David (that he was probably more agile and skilled than Goliath as a warrior) and Goliath (that he was so large because of a cancer that causes unnatural growth (acromegaly). One of the side effects of this disease is short sightedness and double vision) were true. Well, my answer to Johann's question is quite simply, I am not sure! Unless we have medical evidence on Goliath's condition and corroborating testimony to substantiate the suggestions made about David by Malcolm Gladwell, Gladwell's theory is as plausible (or unplausable) as any other theory. We cannot have absolute certainty on the theory without substantive evidence to support it.
I can say, however, that I found what Gladwell said sensible and very interesting. What he suggests is certainly not outside of the realm of possibility. He does offer some second tier evidence to support his hypothesis. To support his claims about David's skill he cites historical documents and data about the effectiveness and accuracy of sling shot users in the ancient world. To support his claims about Goliath he cites some studies from contemporary (modern) medicine - although I am sure in both cases there is probably equally significant evidence and cause for reaching different conclusions. That is the nature of academic debate. Simply because and article is published, or a point is substantiated, that does mean that it is more true than another point. There are some very bright and intelligent people who believed all sorts of crazy things (with medical evidence to support their claims).
What struck me as most significant about this talk was the manner in which Gladwell has adapted the disciplines of hermeneutics and homiletics so effectively in making his point. What he is doing is very similar to what millions of priests, pastors, rabbi's and imman's do every week. He has taken a narrative (in this case the Biblical narrative of David and Goliath) and interpreted it creatively in order to argue a particular point - the point here is found in his conclusion, i.e., that we must not be too simplistic about our accepted view of dominant narratives, and that giants may not always be what they seem (which implies that underdogs may also not always be what they seem).
Homileticians use this approach frequently, they communicate and idea by using 'foundational knowledge' as a connecting point with the audience. Then they draw on other authoritative sources (in this case history and medicine) to introduce new knowledge that will support the reasonable acceptance of desired truth. In Biblical studies we teach our students to understand that the text always has a historical context, that the 'players' in the narrative have depth to them (they are seldom what the narrator or author of the text has presented). The intention is to use whatever data is available to unpack the deeper and more subtle truths about the elements of the story (the characters in the story, the plot lines, the intention of the author or narrator (what did he or she include or leave out, what was emphasised, what was underplayed - Gladwell does this a number of times in his talk), what was the situation of the recipients of the narrative (what did the author assume about them, their needs, their religious and social framework etc.). The process us called hermeneutics - the science of interpretation.
I am grateful to Johann for pointing me to this great talk, and for raising the question that allowed me to view Malcolm Gladwell's talk with a more enquiring mind than just accepting admiration.