What happens when our Rules in Life starts weighing heavier than our Rule of Life?

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The world is mourning the loss of a legend. Most of us can recall a few movie scenes where Robin Williams captured our imagination.

But you don’t have to search very far to find some blogger or organization who felt the need to use his death as a reminder that Robin Williams is going straight to hell because of his suicide. It’s so unfortunate.

I have a rule of thumb for the way I view difficult issues: if I can’t speak out of my experience with real people, I’ll rather keep my beliefs to myself.

Many people who believe that people who commit suicide are going to hell, have never shared life with someone who is suffering from depression. Often, Christians who fight the hardest against homosexuality are people who have no relationship with a person who has been struggling with her/his sexuality for so many years.

We often do really well at figuring out the rights and wrongs of this world. And once we have determined the rules that we live by, come hell or high water, we will not seek to understand other people’s views or experiences.

I don’t think that we can really have a meaningful influence in the lives of people if we don’t make an intentional effort to try and climb into their skins. We will never be able to understand fully, but we can at least try.

It’s so easy to call the beggar on the street corner a lazy person. You see, once I’ve distinguished the flaw in his character, I have no responsibility to do anything other than calling him lazy.

A few weeks ago, many people in South Africa were talking about the students from Pretoria who dressed up as domestic workers for a 21st birthday. Some people were enraged, and called it outright racism. Others were laughing it off and saying that people will do anything to call everything racism these days.

Jonathan Jansen, rector at the University of the Free State, had the following to say on Facebook about the #Blackface issue: “I applaud the UP Management for taking a strong stand on blackface episode. The sad thing is that these kids probably wonder what all the fuss is about.”

I cannot agree more with Prof. Jansen. I am just a bit disillusioned after the whole incident. I don’t think many people’s minds have been changed. I hoped that people would have been given the opportunity to really listen to the views of people whose opinions differ from their own. That is the beauty of dialogue. Without true dialogue, we will never really help each other to climb into the skins of people whose ideas and ideologies differ so much from our own.

When our rules of life weigh heavier than the rule of life that we choose (the way we do life), we lose the ability make a connection with the lives of people.

A story about a lesson learnt from a security guard

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The other evening, I went to a place in the inner city of Pretoria with some of my friends, called Crossroads Coffee House. They have been involved with the homeless in the inner city for many years. I had a conversation with a man who was so grateful for a volunteer at Crossroads, who helped him to sort out his identification documents. But there was one particular conversation that really made me think about the attitude we sometimes have when it comes to our mission as God’s people.

I met a man who does security work. It just so happened that he was doing security work at a shopping mall in the community where I am staying. The first thing that bothered me, was the fact that this guy had a job, but he was still so poor that he came for a meal at a shelter. The other thing that I couldn’t stop thinking about, was the fact that I have probably walked past this guy many times before, but we had our first conversation in a liminal space.

Our visit to Crossroads exposed my own blind spot when it comes to God’s mission. I realized that I often function in outreach mode. When I was in outreach mode, only then was I willing to have a conversation with a security guard. When I’m functioning in the “real world”, not so much.

When we go on short-term mission trips, I am willing to go anywhere (mainly because I’m not driving around in my own car, I don’t have my wallet with me and I have a cheap phone with me). When I’m in the “real world”, I reason that responsible people should hang out in spaces where we are relatively safe.

A friend of mine was talking about intentionality the other evening. I was confronted with my own life, and the fact that I don’t always think about the world that I live in and the things I do in this world. I might have a desire to be a friend of outcasts, the poor and unimportant people in society, but if I pray that God will miraculously send these people to my doorstep, I might be praying for a very long time.

Jesus had a thing for moving in spaces where his contemporaries were not comfortable going. He didn’t do this because he wanted to be called the rebel of society; he moved where the need was.

I have once again been confronted with how God’s mission finds embodiment in my life. Are we going where the Spirit is working, or are we moving where we have become used to moving?

Mandela Day and the Ten to One Principle

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Infatuation is a funny thing. I can still vividly remember the girl I had a crush on when I was about 10 years old. In my 10 year old head, she was the most amazing person roaming the earth! I soaked in every word that she said, and I believed that she was the smartest person on earth. I could stare at her for days without end. But there was a catch: she enjoyed the attention, but I knew that she didn’t feel the same about me. That didn’t keep me from pursuing her, though.

That’s the thing with love, and life in general. You have to expose your heart to enjoy the fruits of being able to give love, generosity, mercy. And we will never have the security that what we give, will be received and accepted in honesty and gratitude.

Maybe some of these stories ring a bell: Man knocks on your door, says he is hungry. You give him something to eat, he throws the food away. Woman says her husband is gravely ill (and for some reason they are always from Limpopo!). She needs to go back ASAP. You give her R 150 for transport. Tomorrow you find her still asking for the same R 150. Man tells you about his 6-month old baby that is starving. Two years later, his baby is still 6 months old!

When it comes to giving and trying to make a difference in the lives of people who seem to be in desperate need of support, I like to remind people of the ten to one principle. I have spoken to far too many people who exposed their heart by trying to help, but felt that they were cheated in the process.

What is the definition of ten to one? It means that something is very likely to happen, or very likely not to happen. This is a very important principle when it comes to helping people: the ten to one principle says that if a total stranger knocks on your doorstep, it is very likely that whatever story they are telling you is not the truth.

When it comes to infatuation, as you grow older, you realize that it is worthwhile to get to know a person before you spill the beans about your feelings. Or you learn that you don’t trust someone who promises you the sun, moon and the stars before you get to know their character. If we want to help people, for me, the same principle applies: in most cases, we can only really start helping if we get to know who the person is that we are helping.

The most important lesson that I have learnt about the ten to one principle, is not to give up. If a 16-year old says that she will never love again because she got hurt in a relationship, any adult would tell her that she will eventually learn to expose herself to loving again. The same applies for giving. If I keep a clenched fist because of a person who abused my trust, I am going to live a sad life. Once again, the ten to one principle helps me with this: of the ten people that I try to support, only one might turn out positively. But that one good story should be enough for us to keep on living with an open heart and open hands.

Today is Mandela Day. Thousands of South Africans are going to give 67 minutes of their time to make South Africa a better place, in honour of the legacy of Nelson Mandela. The great thing about this day, is the fact that many corporate companies are supporting existing organizations who make a difference in their communities. That is smart giving. The bad thing about today, is the fact that of these thousands of people, many will ten to one only give some of their time and money next year, at the next Mandela Day.

Followers of Jesus don’t have the ‘luxury’ of choosing if we want to give. We are called to a lifestyle of self-giving. We do, however, have the responsibility to choose when and how we need to give. And even though people might sometimes abuse our trust, may we choose to stand up and give again and again. May we also learn to give wisely, and not to soothe our conscience.

Does African Time serve any purpose other than frustration?

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I am always a fan of a good buffet lunch. When I was a young boy, we had a monthly family date where we enjoyed a Sunday buffet lunch at a small hotel in town. We normally counted the days leading up to those meals! After eating way too much, we ended off our day with an afternoon nap. When I woke up from that nap, I always had the feeling that life couldn’t get any better!

When my wife told me that a local NGO was hosting a buffet lunch for a fundraiser, it didn’t take much to convince me to go. The programme was supposed to start at 13:00, but we eventually started at about 13:45. When the master of ceremonies eventually started speaking, he mentioned that starting late was imbedded in the culture of the community.

This cultural phenomenon is widely known as African time.
African time is the opposite of Western time. Western life is very much clock-bound, where life in many African countries seem to be more relaxed and not filled with too rigorous schedules.
In South Africa, we have a pretty solid mix of African- and Western time. This often leads to a lot of frustration. In a working environment, if the majority of people attending a meeting make sure that they are on time, the one or two people who are not too worried about punctuality can really break your speed.
Some people have explained that African time should not be seen as laziness or carelessness. Rather, we should try to understand that some people tend to manage more than one thing at a time, while others focus on working in a more strict sequence.

I think there are some things that all of us can learn from African time. But there might be a myth or two that needs to be debunked.
For those of us (like myself) who often find African time a source of frustration, maybe we should expose our own view of time first. I have turned down many potential conversations, phone calls or meals with people that could have served a significant and meaningful purpose. My excuse has always been that I don’t have time, or that I was on my way to a meeting (let’s be honest, many meetings are not that important or constructive anyway!). If a friend or colleague were a few minutes late for our appointment or even cancelled our appointment, because they were having a meaningful and important conversation, I really wouldn’t mind. In that sense, I think all Africans should embrace African time.

But I have also learnt a valuable lesson from people of different cultures who place a valuable price tag on punctuality: people who make a habit of being late are not late because of their busyness or because they were in the midst of a life-saving commitment.

When I was still studying, I was late for almost every class that I attended; until one lecturer made the remark that being late for a commitment conveys an unspoken message. The latecomer sees her/himself as superior, compared to the rest of the people who went through the trouble to be punctual. That has shaped my view of punctuality tremendously. People who choose to be late for no specific reason, should not be allowed to blame it on African time.

May we not become so busy that we lose track of the important things in life. May we also not waste other people’s time. Somewhere in the middle, is where I think African time serves a good purpose.

Making Friends with Monsters

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There’s a new monster in town.

Newspapers in South Africa have introduced us to this newest specimen from Springs. According to reports, in a house infested with rats and lice, this man had been abusing and torturing his wife and children. And they weren’t allowed to leave their house.

It really is a sad story. No human being (children especially) should be on the receiving end of such terrible abuse.

I find it fascinating how the media hands out labels, and we are too happy to accept them.

When children are brought up in a destructive environment, we have pity on them. But when that child grows up and embodies what they have been exposed to, we are comfortable with labelling them as monsters, whores and thieves.

It’s almost like the dragon in Shrek. At first glance, Shrek and Donkey is up against a monster that has no regard for their lives. And then Donkey realizes that the monster is a she who craves love and attention. She is so desperate for it, that she goes looking for it in an ass!

Can I introduce you to another monster? He roamed the earth about 2000 years ago. Followers of Jesus were terrified of him. His name was Saul.

This fanatic Jew would do whatever it took to stop the people of the way (as Jesus’ followers were called then) in their tracks. When Saul was still a young man, he stood by when Stephen, the first martyr of the Christendom, was stoned.

And then Jesus chose to use this monster. His heart was transformed by Jesus. Saul became Paul, and he was one of the most influential instruments that God used in the history of the Kingdom of God.

I think we put labels (like monster) around people’s necks, because then our fears are justified. You see, if there are monsters around, and if they are out to get us, we have every right to isolate ourselves from the rest of the world. We have every right to cover our children in cotton wool and help them to be on the lookout for the monsters lurking.

We live lives that are often driven by our fears. We play out scenes in our head of what could possibly happen, and then we carry those fears around wherever we go; almost like a shadow. I imagine how my boss would criticize me, and I imagine how I would put him in his place. When my wife doesn’t answer her phone when it gets late, I imagine how she is in a back alley with a bunch of ‘monsters’. This kind of thinking hosts false fear, and it is toxic.

Before we start looking for the monsters around us, let us become aware of the shadows that we choose to drag along with us.

When we Remove the Fluffiness from Happiness

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I have never really liked the word happiness.

I can still vividly remember the words that my favourite high school teacher used when she spoke to our class for the last time. Her wish was for us to be happy grownups.

I was so disappointed. Was she serious? Of everything she could have said, she chose to say she hoped that we would be happy. A stuffed toy would have meant more to me.

As I grew older, her words started making a whole lot more sense. My view on happiness has definitely changed. If you remove the fluffiness from the word happiness, there is a whole lot of substance to it.

A while back, I received a message from someone who felt that she had been wronged in a bad way. I didn’t really know what to say to her. I eventually decided to reply by wishing her happiness, and that nothing and no one should try to convince her that she couldn’t be happy.

When we remove all the fluff from the word happiness, we realise that happiness is not linked to circumstance. I could be a very successful and wealthy businessman, but that doesn’t guarantee that I would be happy.

The other day I was asked what my wish would be for my unborn children. Once again, happiness was all that I could think of.

For me, happiness is knowing Christ, and sharing in precious community with other people. And that is why I have chosen that the best gift that I could one day give my children, is not the kind of happiness that you feel when you get a new toy or when you take your children on holiday. The best gift that I could give my children, is loving and following Jesus.

I have also come to the realisation that it doesn’t always come easy for me to sincerely hope that people would be happy. If that were true, I would never secretly hope that people would not succeed. I would also not be as comfortable with being apathetic when I know I am able to help carry someone’s burden.

Once again, if it is my sincere wish for people to be happy, the best gift that I could give them is to follow Jesus. Loving Jesus equals loving others.

Do you find it easy to wish for all people to be happy? It might well be one of the building blocks for authentic community.

My Night with the King (and the scars to prove it!)

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You’ve probably heard the saying: ‘Chicks dig scars’. Well, if that is the case (which I’m not so sure about), I guess it’s because for every scar, there is a story to tell. And if the story is not awesome enough, guys tend to make up a story worthy of the scar.

On our wedding anniversary, I got an extra scar or two; and the (factual) story fits the scars just fine!

It all happened on the 5th of May, the day that the Netherlands celebrate their Freedom Day. We were in Amsterdam, and for this special day, we decided to sleep in a house boat on the Amstel canal.

The guy that owned the boat, told us that there was a Freedom Day celebration with a big concert on the very canal that we will be staying on. And the cherry on top: when the concert is over, the royal family will return to their home by boat, and they will pass by our boat! We couldn’t wait to take a pic of the royal family!

When the concert started, our eyes were glued to the live broadcast on TV. I have to admit, it was way too clinical and perfect for my liking. I prefer a Freedom Day celebration on my motherland, with the imperfect singing of children and robust traditional dancing.

When the concert was over, we saw the royal family boarding their boat. The time had come. I imagined shaking the king’s hand, blowing the queen a kiss and the king saying something to me like: “Welcome to the Netherlands. We love you!”

I jumped up from the bed and grabbed for my phone (it takes better pictures at night). But I couldn’t find my phone! I was like a man possessed, thinking how the royal family would pass us while I was looking for my phone. So I took the camera, my second option, and headed for the small opening at a rate of knots.

And then it happened. I heard glass shattering, and then my ears started ringing. I forgot that I had closed the sliding door! Everything was a blur. I saw blood dripping from my head. All I could think of was: “How on earth are you going to pay a hospital bill in Euro’s?!”

The people on the neighbouring boat (who drank at least two battles of champagne) rushed to our help. The slightly intoxicated lady asked: ‘Have you guys been smoking anything?’

Luckily I didn’t need stitches. And I did get to see the royal family… while people were pulling pieces of glass out of my head. The only photo that I was able to take, is the one of my head afterwards!

When we arrived from our trip at the airport, one of our fellow passengers cried out: “Thank you! We are back in the motherland!”

I have resolved to try and see the beautiful country that I call home in the same way that a tourist would. We tend to forget how beautiful our landscapes and our people are.