Category Archives: Theology

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?”

Make us into People of the Ascension

For you, O Lord, see the tears of the widowed, the sobs that overtake them when the rest of us are not looking.

You see the disorientation in which so many people live every day—confusion borne of war, poverty, abuse, or chronic illness.

You see the people in dead-end jobs who trudge to work every day filled with so much despair that they can hardly breathe.

You see those who search a loved one’s eyes for traces of love but find only an empty stare. As Lord of the earth, you spy every instance of one person cutting another to the quick, every place where a child lives in fear, every bar where someone tries to drown their sorrows.

Yet you are our world’s every hope. You are tender enough to weep with those who weep and yet strong enough to lend comfort and not be consumed with the sorrows that overwhelm us.

You are discerning enough to see where our lives run off the rails and yet gracious enough to forgive our foolishness and open again the better path that leads into your kingdom.

You are the bright centre to all of life, O God! Your lordship helps us glimpse our future with you in your kingdom, even as it points the way home.

Make us into people of the ascension, Christ Jesus!

Make us your hands of mercy, your voice of grace, your presence of love.

Whatever we do, whether in word or deed; whatever we see, whether sinful or salacious; whatever we hear, whether uplifting or depressing; whatever we face in this world, help us to face it in your power and with the knowledge of your grace and goodness.

Help us to be gentle with prodigal children. Help us to be stalwart in the truth with people in love with lies. Help us to be radiant with hope with people who fear death.

Help us to be your people, Lord God.

For today, as always, this world needs your shalom-filled presence. Bring peace to war-torn places and help people everywhere to see in one another your image.

May those who delight in the paths of suicide and destruction be turned instead to delight in life and in mutual flourishing. End the terror in which so many live, and thwart the dreams of those who plot still more terror on the unsuspecting.

Where there is hunger, bring bread; where there is drought and thirst, send refreshing rains; where there is hatred, bring your peace; where there is greed, bring your own fullness and so turn appetites run amok away from short-term pleasures toward things that last and that foster richness and plenty for all.

We are the people of your ascension and reign, Holy Christ of God. Whatever we do, help us never to forget who we are, whose we are, and where true joy may be found.

In the power and blessing of your name we pray. Amen.

(I found this prayer somewhere on the internet.  Used it to close out our Story telling nights last year but as usual forgot to note where I found it.  But it is pasted to our fridge if that helps at all)

Why your Bible teaching is not enough

This past weekend I went to a conference that in all honesty I would never have gone to a few years back.  And if by some miracle of teleportation I had found myself there, I am sure I would have been incapable of learning from those whose stories are so different to my own.  At times I suspect radically different.  (I say suspect because that really was not the point of the conference and neither I nor they presumably felt the need to get into our differences)  Perhaps even different to the extent of the basic tenets of the gospel different.  But yet I must confess there was something vibrant, something alive about their faith and their spirituality, something deeply attractive.  Something I wanted…

For all my good Bible teaching and wrestling with exegesis I suspect my life, my spirituality, my faith is often as dull, as rational, as safe and as attractive as a three-day old sandwich. You could eat it but given the choice you would probably choose not to. How can it be that having given years of my life to studying the biblical text, fine tuning my doctrine and training other to go and do likewise I can now find myself deeply attracted to the spirituality of those who I have regarded as having a “lesser theology”?

The obvious first point of examination must be the possibility that my theological convictions are wrong? I have tossed that idea around a bit lately and while I can conclude that I have moved on a few issues, it is more the moving of nuance than of relocating to a different theological neighbourhood altogether.  Perhaps, I am being naive but I am not sure it is my theological convictions that need moving.  It is my heart!

Please don’t misunderstand me.  Doctrine matters!  Right doctrine leads to right living – breaking down the walls of exclusion, eating together, loving one another, joy, hope, freedom and life.  Bad doctrine leads to division, strife, confusion, bitterness and hatred, just read Galatians if you are not convinced.

If this is true, and I would stake my life on it being true, then how can it be that those whose of us who have spent most of our lives studying, teaching and contending for what I would regard as good doctrine have lives that are so profoundly mundane and unattractive?

I suspect that what we need is not more information but rather some deep contemplation, sustained meditation and some profound experiences of the Spirit as we seek to live the information that we already know.  We have become drunk with our quest for more knowledge.  Like giddy schoolgirls we flock to hear, download and read yet more and more information on our latest theological crush.  And somehow as we “just teach the Bible” we expect that transformation will just magically happen.

What makes these “lesser theological lights” (by my tribe’s standards anyway) so effective and vibrant and attractive?  Faith.  They actually believe in a God who wants to redeem and restore all of creation.  So much so that they actually act on it.  They base their lives around it. Make intentional choices to be downwardly mobile, committed to prayer, reaching the lost in the toughest neighbourhoods, speaking out against injustice, racism and exploitation. When God says that money enslaves and that he who seeks to save his life will lose it, they listen, they obey and they build lives on the words of Jesus.  Faith.

It is after all not Bible teaching that matters but Bible living.  It matters not how well you exegete the text but how deeply the text exegetes you!  Will you follow where the text leads you? Will you meditate deeply on the implications of the text for your life, your aspirations, your lifestyle, the lost and the broken or will it merely become another interesting sermon to be tucked away until next we meet?  Will you follow the text to where it leads to the end of you and your resources?  Will you follow the text where it leads to a deep dependence upon the Spirit to lead you, guide you and sustain you for mission and in fact for life?

Strangely, I remain committed to my tribe theologically. Some days I wish I was not so convinced. But yet I long for my tribe to do so much more than contend for, teach, exegete and understand the truth.  I long for the days when evangelicals will be known for their spiritual vitality, their love for the poor, their stand for justice, their care for the planet, their love for homosexuals, their lives of simplicity and sustainability, their radical generosity, their fight against consumerism and wastefulness.

Not at the expense of the gospel proclaimed. But precisely because we have believed the gospel proclaimed we are no longer conformed to the standards (comforts, securities, importances) of this world but rather our minds are being renewed by that gospel.  Precisely because we have believed the gospel we will give our lives away in service of the last, the least and the lost just as Jesus gave his life away for us.  We intentionally join our small story with God’s Great Big Beautiful story of redemption, resurrection, restoration, hope and beauty.

Eternity Changes Everythings

As I was furiously researching things of great importance on the internet.  For that read getting distracted and reading blogs and clicking links instead of doing what I supposed to be doing.  Anyhow I came across this brilliant little clip.  I know it is a promotion for a book (which I have not read) but I loved the idea that most of us live our lives between either settling for this world, we are not restless enough (and in so doing we shrink the future that God intends for us) or not being patient enough (we functionally want the new creation to be now.  We don’t want to wait for it).

And now back to what I am supposed to be doing. What was that again?  Oh look here is a clip about a guy who can juggle with razor blades…

(HT to Jonathan Dodson)

Jesus was not crucified between two candles

“I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the centre of the market place as well as on the steeples of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap; at a crossroad so cosmopolitan that they had to write his title in Latin, Hebrew and Greek; at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, thieves curse and soldiers gamble; because that’s where He died; and that is what He died about. And that is where church men and women should be; and what church men and women should be about.”

Geoge McLeod from the latest City Mission newsletter.

I have been hanging out a bit lately with the guys from City Mission.  I really love their heart for discipleship and their commitment for going to the hard places.  And it does not hurt that they are based some ten minutes walk from my house.  Check out some more about them here or sign up for their newsletter here.