Category Archives: Life

The Geography of Power and Privilege

First pile of books plundered from library

First pile of books plundered from library

This is the year I have finally started my Masters in Missiology (the study of missions or the study of “what the heck are we meant to be doing and how should we do it” as I prefer) through the University of Stellenbosch. I have harboured a deep desire to study further for many years but due to time, finances and circumstances this has never been an option. Until now… so due to a happy confluence of circumstances (Sovereignty if you will) I am able to dedicate a significant portion of my time to academic study of the next two years.

Although these things are notoriously fickle at the hands of supervisors and further reading here is my first attempt at articulating the area I hope to look at in my research.

“The effects of the apartheid system continue to affect the mission and the life of the church in Cape Town. In particular the long-term structures around which our city was re-engineered through the group areas act continues to entrench the division of races and economics in our city. The flow of power and of privilege very much follows the geographical contours of inequality in our city. The church has had a chequered history with these divisions at times supporting it, at times opposing it but mostly a quiet acquiescence through the development of a parallel structure of power and geography that mirrored, upheld or even enhanced the division of race and power. The post 1994 changes have mostly not brought about any significant changes in the geography of privilege and power. The evangelical church, by nature conservative lags behind entrenching often unwittingly the now traditional structures of power that so divide our city. What can the church do? Or perhaps more significantly what will the church do? Will we meekly wait for the city and the world to slowly and grudgingly change (if indeed we can even truly see our city redeemed) or will we act in spite of what we see, will we become a people of hope, willing ourselves to run counter cultural to the well established lines of privilege and prestige in our city. How can the church be a movement of hope in overcoming the geography of power that shapes and moulds our city still today?”

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What’s in a blog anyway?

763255266_612a967d6e_oIt has been 113 days since my last post.

And you know when you don’t blog for so long you get thinking. What is it all really about anyway? What is the point of carrying of on? Perhaps enough is enough. Time to shuffle off this digital coil and whisper sweet goodbyes to this cruel yet beautiful world of words and wordpresses we so lovingly refer to as blogging?

You see blogging has changed for me. Once blogs were a slightly subversive space on the edge of the internet. A place to scratch some words on a web log, a place to think out loud, a place to find through the words of others expression for those things that I felt deep inside but did not yet have a language for. Blogging shaped me, it changed me and I fell in love. Not with blogs per se but with the art of writing. I have always loved reading words and, when I have needed to be, I have been quite proficient at expressing myself in writing.  But suddenly I found a love for the actual construction of a thought, the turn of phrase, the searching for just that right word. The exhilaration of that perfect phrase. And the agony of the finger poised above the delete button knowing that favoured phrase has to go.

But now it feels like everything has changed not only does every corporate and institution have their own perfect, shiny, soulless, tin-man blog. The Big Brother blog if you will. But as strangely complementary allies in the quest to destroy the soul of blogging, every mommy, pastor and pulse-having creature who can turn on a computer now fancies themselves as a writer. Yes, the Brave New Worlders are here too flooding the internet with noise and banality.

So is that it. Blogging… “real blogging” has had its day? Do we concede the ground to the upswell of the legit and the deluded? We abandon writing and instead become bitter cynics criticising all the commerciality and sloppy sentences. I’m tempted. It’s hard work writing. Writing well. Or trying to write well at any rate. It would be easier to do what I used to do just slop words on the screen. And let the vowels fall wherever they may. And often they did.

But no; somewhat cynical, somewhat deluded, I choose to once again lay my inarticulate fingers upon the keyboard and press into being new footprints on the old and worn paths of human searching and articulation. I will write because it brings me joy. It is my sincere hope that somehow in my faltering words you too will find joy.

Photocredit: N00 via Photopin

Sacrificing your kids on the altar of missions?

origin_6989065271What’s the best thing about having kids?

No, not the cute antics or the learning to speak or walk or the hugs or total undying obedience to your every whim (ok I made that part up)…

Body shields!

Kids make the most incredible body shields.

When you don’t want to seriously consider or God forbid, actually do something that makes you feel scared or uncomfortable just hide behind your kids!

Imagine this highly improbable, never happened to me before situation… You are enjoying a nice robust discussion over a drink of your choice with a sincere and thoughtful Christian friend. The discussion turns to the issue of say… I don’t know… public schooling, urban mission, downward mobility… Good, healthy discussion ensues.  But then the debate starts to spiral dangerously out of control… out of the theology books…off the blogs…into our city…into our lives… But don’t fear good citizens our intrepid Christian has packed with him his trusty “Get out of Jail Free” card. With a merry glint in his dilated pupil he pulls out of his back pocket the trump card, the discussion-ender, the obedience crusher and with great relief places on the grand table of ideas “Yes I see the importance of these things but really I am not about to sacrifice my kids on the altar of missions!”

*crickets*

*awkward*

End of discussion

I mean who can possibly be in favour of child sacrifice right?

If the alternative is say dead kids or public schools then lets rather keep our kids alive right?

But honestly what does this quasi-spiritual, pious sounding phrase actually mean? Oh I know we have all met the kind of pastors who are so busy running around with their underpants over their trousers trying to save the world as some kind of subordinate Holy Spirit that they give off the impression that kicking a football with their kids is somehow beneath their high spiritual calling.

So perhaps if at this point we can all just start off by agreeing that kids are important. And looking after your kids in a healthy environment is important too… right… yes… we all heard that. I am firmly in favour of loving and protecting your family! I love my family and am truly humbled and shocked that God would entrust such an incredible responsibility to a knucklehead like me. I get it… I’m terrified I’m going to get it horribly wrong and screw them all up… badly…

But where does this fear come from? For that is surely what underlies this non-offspring sacrificing purported spirituality? Fear of obedience. Fear of public schools. Fear of messing up our kids. Fear of our kids getting hurt. Fear that we won’t be able to protect them. Or give them all the stuff we never had. Fear that they won’t follow Christ. Fear that they will get confused. Fear that we may have to sacrifice our own comfort or respectability. Fear of… trusting God with our lives, our family, our future…

I am by no means suggesting that all of the issues raised above are not real, complicated and nuanced. Nor am I suggesting that there cannot be legitimate reasons to answer questions of schooling, housing or area to live in either way. But please let’s stop hiding behind our kids as some kind of get out of conviction free card.

It is arrogance to think that you can protect our kids through home schooling. It is foolishness to think that you cannot equally sacrifice your kids on the altar of suburbia or comfort or status or achievement.

We, as a family, have made our choices about where live and where to school our kids. We want to be self-aware when it comes to the choices we have made. I want to deal with my idols and my fears when making decisions for my kids. It is difficult some days to send my kids to public schools in our area. I envy my friends whose choices have allowed them to send their kinds to private Christian schools. But I am not sacrificing my kids. We are intentionally choosing as a family to engage on mission in this community and that means going to the schools the kids in our area go to.

When we decided to follow Jesus we did decide to “sacrifice our lives” on the altar of mission. Our lives are now caught up in God’s greater, bigger and more beautiful story. This is what it means for us to no longer be king of our own lives. This is what it means for us to no longer idolize family. We have intentionally chosen to sacrifice some of our preferences and comforts in order to serve others. So no we don’t get to sacrifice our kids but we are as a family called to model and practice sacrificial living.

Honestly I am not sure how else I raise kids to be live sacrificially, generously or intentionally except by living, sacrificially, generously and intentionally myself. How else do I show them the character of the King who gave up all the glory of Heaven to serve and redeem us? How else do I teach my kids that Jesus came to rescue us and liberate us from our own selfish desires except by daily choosing to put to death my own desires for comfort, security and playing it safe? How else do I teach my kids that we find life when we give it away in service to the weak, the poor, the lost and the broken except by doing just this? How else do they fall in love with the beauty, grace and passion of God’s mission except by tasting it and living it?

We spend our whole lives protecting our kids, serving them, providing for their needs and their desires. Keeping them safe, comfortable and happy. And then we wonder why they grow up to be exactly what we trained them to be.

And they walk away from a Jesus who does not serve them…

Or they apathetically warm a church building designed to serve them…

And their children…

And the world dies a little bit more each day.

Photo Credit: rejik via Photopin

Princes and Thieves

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“Paupers and kings, princes and thieves

Singers of songs, righters of wrongs, be what you believe

So saddle your horse and shoulder your load

Burst at the seams, be what you dream, and then take to the road.”

Journey of the Magi – Frank Turner

Why I don’t get a free pass on white priviledge

origin_14918918396Ok, so no one really, actually gets a free pass on white privilege but many of us lighter skinned individuals have the privilege of having a tremendous social media fueled debate on the reality and validity of white privilege or the lack thereof. Pick a side. Get all heated up over which ever side you pick and then go back to engaging in our actual life either more or less socially aware than before.

But Ferguson changed all that for me. I don’t know why that event in particular was different from all the other similar events in the US. Or why it was different to every other racist event or attitude so prevalent in my home city of Cape Town.  But something about a young black man gunned down while walking home with his friends hit home for me.

That could be my son…

I would never want to have a free pass on fighting white privilege but until recently it has always been a choice for me. Yes one fuelled by core beliefs, by my faith and my friendships. A choice that I have willingly and intentionally made, but one, I could recant  and stick my head in the sand of denialism again if I chose to do so.

But I no longer have a choice. Mike Brown could be my son.

I have two sons… and as most of us know two black men are just one short of a gang.

Two black men are going to mug you

Two black men are likely thugs or rapists

Two black men are casing the joint

No one cares what colour your parents are

No one cares if you are adopted or not

No one cares what your home language is

No one cares if you are educated or not

No one cares what your father does

Two black men plus one are a gang

White privilege means ladies will hold their handbags tighter when my sons walk down the street. They will probably smile and greet me.

White privilege means law enforcement vehicles will do the slow drive past them on their way to visit their grandparents. They may quite possibly be questioned as what they are doing in the area.

White privilege means my sons could be imprisoned because like every other 18-year-old they have a smart mouth and a big attitude.

My son could be shot because he is eighteen and arrogant

No matter how smart, talented or hard-working he is, he will always be thought to be a token or a quota just because he has more melanin than me.

For those who would wrongly claim the cultural high ground with ill-informed statements like “but black men are more likely to commit crimes” or “black men are more likely to carry guns.”

Lets be straight, no one will ask my sons about their upbringing or their cultural environment. No one will look the other way because my sons have white parents or speak good English. They will judged and convicted by the colour of their skin!

I don’t get a free pass on white privilege. I no longer get a choice whether to engage or not with the intellectual discussions of power and privilege.

My son could be Mike Brown!

Disclaimer: This is not all that can or should be said on white privilege, Ferguson or racial reconciliation, it is just one personal reflection among many. You may also want to read “What I would love my white friends to hear”

Photo Credit: Mike Licht via Photo Pin

Why I once, sort-of, kinda liked Mark Driscoll

origin_5666901492These days finding someone who was a fan of Mark Driscoll can be harder than finding a white person who supported apartheid. So perhaps I should come clean…

I once, sort-of, kinda liked Mark Driscoll.

What was I thinking, you wonder?

But it turns out there was something to love about, in particular, early Driscoll. Something that made me look the other way on a whole bunch of other things that should have mattered a whole lot more to me than they did at the time.

What could I have possibly loved about Mark Driscoll?

In short, here was a guy who was in my broadly speaking theologically conservative camp saying the things that I felt in my gut; and wished I had the moral fibre to say out loud.

Early Driscoll challenged the status quo of a church preoccupied with itself. He told us to get out into your city, listen, learn, serve, get to know people by name. Go onto their turf, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Get out of your Christian culture bubble! Build friendships with those who don’t know Christ… and not just the ones who are like you. Engage the culture of your city. Enjoy your city. Care for the poor. Make good music. Brew good beer. Driscoll called us to structure our lives and our churches around the lost not the found. People matter more than programmes, he said; and your doctrine does not imprison you but rather it sets you free to be good news in the world. And he did all this without chucking in his evangelical theology. He was passionate. He was unashamedly missional. He told us to take risks and to not play it safe. He encouraged us to be both innovative and evangelical.

I never met Driscoll but God used him to breathe life and breath to my soul.  To be ok with risk and innovation and new things. To be ok with being misunderstood or excluded for the sake of mission. I am not sure Driscoll even intended all the consequences of his teaching in my life but God did.

Strangely what Driscoll also taught me is to be ok with my “gut.” When something is “not right” don’t keep quiet. Don’t just be sure you are wrong or have misunderstood. Verbalise it. Be the one in the room asking the uncomfortable question. Say the thing that others are feeling and not saying. That thing that needs to be said. Even if you are not invited to the table of acquiescence again.

A lot has been said about Driscoll’s “demise” and what a good thing that could be for the church. And with most of it I agree.

But the thing that saddens me most about Driscoll’s demise is that the naysayers win the day.  The play-it-safers appear to be proved right. The middle-of-the-roaders and the keep-doing-what-we’ve-always-done-rs are given the high ground. The don’t-rock-the-boaters and the-status-quoers are given more ammunition for their already impotent justifications. The too-scared-to-tryers or the-afraid-to-be-wrongers happily cheer from their isolated corner. The keep-it-respectables and the play-by-the-rulers are further entrenched in their unsullied convictions. Do what we’ve always done they say and you will not go the way of Driscoll. We’ve seen it all before and it never works they say. Do it our way, it’s the way we’ve always done it.

I wish Driscoll was not wrong.

But he is

But still don’t listen to them.

Your life is not your own. You have been blessed in order to be a blessing to the world. Give your life away in service to our Saviour. Dream big Kingdom sized dreams. Risk everything for mission. Share the gospel passionately. Share your bread with the hungry, your home with the hurting, your table with unlovely. Love deeply. Share generously. Embrace innovation for the sake of mission. Get out into your city. Into the dark, lost and forgotten places. Let the light shine in the darkest places of your community. Let your lives be a bold and beautiful declaration in word and deed that it is good to live under the reign of King Jesus.

Don’t listen when they rebuke you, when they roll their eyes, when they shake their heads and say one day you’ll see.

Block your ears to the world of good advice and run. Run to embrace God’s bigger, better and altogether more glorious call on your life.

I think Driscoll got lost, I hope he finds his way here again.

Photo Credit:  mhcseattle via Photopin

It’s Crazy Uncle Time

I am convinced that in every family there is that crazy uncle… ok it may not be an uncle but when I say family and crazy you picture someone…

That person you have in your head right now… yep that’s them. The one you hope you never run into in public with your new girlfriend or out for lunch with your boss.

And if you don’t have anyone in mind then… well… like I said every family has at least one… just saying, you do the maths.

Anyway I digress… Every family has one or more crazy uncles. And the church has in my opinion more than our fair share…

I actually had to google this to check that it was not parody and sadly enough all seems legit.

These guys have seriously been having at the communion wine behind the family reunion picnic table!

(HT: Jamie)