In her recent tribute to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in the National Assembly, Naledi Pandor, Minister of Higher Education suggested that fellow politicians should stop insulting each other. She said: “An insult doesn’t build a road, an insult doesn’t build houses, an insult doesn’t educate the nation. Frankly, the level of insults that we hurl at each other, is the reason for the violence that we see in society, because we are not an example to the nation.”
Our country (and the world) is poor. Many people are physically poor, but there are many others who are poor in our capacity to talk together, to build together, to trust each other.
Parents don’t trust teachers, we don’t trust public servants, heck; many church members don’t even trust each other!
There aren’t many platforms where people from different backgrounds, cultures or political persuasions can learn to trust each other. Or learn to connect with each other. So, if we can’t seem to find these platforms, we will simply have to start creating them.
Whether it’s my small business, the people I work with, the body corporate in my complex, a group of parents at school, a youth group where you volunteer; we need these safe spaces. Don’t wait for someone else to start doing something.
The smallest nucleus where all of us can start creating safe, trusting spaces, is our own homes. If we have spent our lives investing in our (and other) kids’ capacity to trust, respect and love, surely those kids won’t be the ones insulting and breaking down?
Our year started very much unexpectedly. While I was camping with a bunch of teenagers, I got the dreaded phone call in the middle of the night.
Danél lost her father (my father-in-law) and stepmom in an instant. While on their way to holiday, a truck made an illegal turn. Dad and Stepmom were gone. Just like that.
So in this post I am simply trying to make some sense of what we experienced the past few weeks. If you are encouraged by it, then I’m grateful.
So let’s start with the Holy Spirit. Funerals and bereavement counseling is not really my thing (I’m a pastor), but it’s one of those things that a pastor can’t always choose not to do. Sometimes it chooses you. So I’ve had quite a few funerals, standing next to deathbeds, trying to offer some comfort and support to families.
I’ve always known and believed that the Holy Spirit plays a special role when we are confronted with death, grief and sorrow. Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit is (among many other things) the great Comforter. I never really paid special attention to the ‘how’ of this comforting that takes place, because it wasn’t my shock, my sorrow or my grief.
I’m sure that the Spirit comforts in a variety of ways, and that the comfort that we receive differs. All of us are unique creations, with different personalities, temperaments and spirituality types. But my experience was, to say the least, very different from what I expected. You might even say that it was refreshing.
I had the idea that the peace and comfort that we receive when we are grieving, hurting or overcome with sadness would be something like an emotional or spiritual state of calmness or even a ‘fuzzyness’; almost like taking a pill that some old well-meaning lady offers you at a funeral, which puts you in a bit of a trance.
My experience was a bit different. Two things happened: in the midst of the chaos and the hurt, I was never left wondering where God was. I instinctively knew that He was in the midst of the chaos. That He really was there. And that was what caused the calm inside of me. There was no fuzzy feeling. There was intense sorrow and confusion, but all of that happened, knowing that God was right there with us.
The other thing that I experienced, was that the Holy Spirit was connecting certain dots. Some things just made sense, in the midst of the chaos. I could mention a host of things, but I would like to mention two…
Danel and I had the privilege of seeing our father and stepmom this past December. We live about 900 kilometers apart, so time spent together really was special everytime. It was a great visit, and we spent our last night with my father-in-law on his farm. It was the first, and the last time that we would spend the night with him on the farm. Sleeping under the stars, and waking up to the sun rising on Klipkuil was magic. That morning was especially difficult for Danel to leave. She and her father bade each other an emotional farewell; more emotional than other times we had to greet. As we were driving away, ‘Pa Flippie’ waving his arms around like crazy in the distance, Danel mentioned: “I don’t know what is wrong with me today”. That was their final farewell, and the Holy Spirit reminded us that it was no coincidence that it was such an emotional one.
The last month that my father-in-law and his wife spent together on earth was probably their best. Their marriage had their ups and downs, like many marriages do. After their accident, one of my father-in-law’s best friends told us about something that he shared with him on the day of the accident, just before they left on holiday. ‘Pa Flippie’ was a little late (classic Flippie Becker), and went to his friend to borrow a trailer for the trip to Reebok (a small town close to Hartenbos). His friend mentioned: ‘Dot will probably have something to say about the fact that you are running late.’ ‘No she won’t’ he replied, ‘things are going really well between the two of us.’ For us staying behind, knowing that gives so much solace. And that is another dot that, I feel, the Spirit connected for us.
When I speak to people about their grief and loss, I am particularly economic with the language that I use, because I know that some things really aren’t that easy to explain. Many things in life don’t have quick-fix answers.
But this is my experience. This is my story. The Holy Spirit comforted. The Spirit comforts.
2017 is almost something of the past. I wish I could fathom how our minds and psyches worked, but for some reason, the moment that the calendar moves on to 2018, we are refreshed, ready for the new year and we have new vision for what we want to achieve. Crazy, isn’t it?
If, in your case, that is not how you function, then that is also fine!
I read a few books in 2017, but the one that takes the cake has to be Deep Work by Cal Newport.
I am not going to spoil your fun by giving a summary of the book (I probably won’t remember enough to summarize probably in any case!), but what I took away from the book is the following: if you want to produce high-quality work, or work that requires a lot of your cognitive, creative or emotional energy, you need to learn to work with as little distraction as possible.
He gives some great insights into what distracts us, and ideas about how to minimalize or eradicate distraction. If you’re looking for a book to take your productivity for 2018 to the next level, then this will be a good buy.
I also want to share with you the worst lecture that I attended in 2017. The lecture was about real estate, and even though I am sure that the people who presented the lecture know much more about real estate than I do, the amount of plastic and manipulation that went with the information was just too much for me.
But the speaker did mention something that I could relate to.
“You all know that knowledge is power, right?” he asked. Everyone agreed. “Well, you are wrong. Knowledge isn’t power; applied knowledge is. I can have all the knowledge in the world, but if it isn’t applied in everyday life, it is meaningless.”
You are so right, sir.
You see, the book Deep Work was really insightful for me, but some of the insights that Cal Newport shared, haven’t been effectively applied in my own life and context. That is why I will revisit his work, and try to make some more changes where needed.
May 2018 be the year where you will be eager to learn. After you have learned, you might have to unlearn some stuff. Thereafter, apply as much as you can!
So yesterday morning my day started with a bit of inspiration from the Book of Common Prayer. These words really struck a chord with me:
‘Everything in our society teaches us to move away from suffering, to move out of neighborhoods where there is high crime, to move away from people who don’t look like us. But the gospel calls us to something altogether different. We are to laugh at fear, to lean into suffering, to open ourselves to the stranger. Advent is the season when we remember how Jesus put on flesh and moved into the neighborhood. God getting born in a barn reminds us that God shows up in the most forsaken corners of the earth.’
And then, later, it got real. At about 11:30 AM, while I was sitting on the couch typing away on my laptop, the corner of my eye caught him staring at me through the window.
I don’t really know who got the biggest fright! He obviously didn’t expect me to be home, and he also didn’t have the faintest idea that my bullterrier was lying right next to me. So, like any Christian guy who had read inspiring words about Christ earlier the same morning would do, I started shouting and politely asked my bullterrier if she wouldn’t mind chasing the intruder around a bit. Luckily for him, the fence was close enough for him to evade a pair of jaws on the ass!
You’ve got to love living in South Africa! You don’t even have to go looking for trouble, trouble has a way of finding us! We should actually thank God for it, because it makes our jobs as followers of Christ that much easier.
On a slightly more serious note; isn’t that what we end up doing? When we feel threatened or uncomfortable, we structure things in such a way that we feel safer, more comfortable. Make the wall a bit higher, put up another beam, install a CCTV camera.
Obviously there is nothing wrong with trying to keep our loved ones safe. The challenge is to keep our hearts from building walls, installing beams and CCTV cameras.
I really do believe that Jesus is inviting us into the uncertainty, suffering and even danger of this broken world. It is an invitation into intentionality, into uneasy conversations, awkward silences and difficult situations. It might not be comfortable, but if we are open for it, we will inevitably find beauty there.
I have so many walls to break down, I’m not even sure where to begin. How about you?
When was the last time you were captivated by something beautiful?
In a world where many things are exposed or revealed by the click of a button, we are constantly confronted with the ugliness of people. Yet another celebrity who exploited someone sexually, another political scandal, once again someone is senselessly hurt or murdered. Yep, that is the world that we live in, folks.
Our reactions to the ugliness of the world often exposes our own ugliness. When our security, the lives of the ones we love and our honour gets threatened, our first reaction is to show our teeth, stand our ground. Not really a pretty sight. There must be a better way.
Sometimes, life is the awkward, out-of-sync dance between nonsensical chaos and the mystery of God.
Like a moth drawn to a flame, we are drawn to beauty. That is why an inspirational story draws us to tears, why we are fascinated by a beautiful piece of art, why music has the knack of exposing our innermost emotions. You see, beauty awakens in us the longing to know the Someone behind the beauty. To experience first-hand the mystery of the Creator behind the created.
And here is another mystery behind the mystery: when we are confronted with, or we are affected by the chaos and ugliness of a broken world, we are invited to answer with beauty. This beauty is not something we can produce; it is given to us by God.
When we are wronged by someone and we answer with undeserved grace, something new is birthed. To restore the dignity of someone that society has labelled a monster, thief or a barbaric being, not because they necessarily deserve dignity, but because it is given to them as a gracious gift.
I guess that is why Jesus invited us to love our enemies, and to be peacemakers. As image-bearers of God, He knows that we are capable of creating beauty in the midst of chaos.
Of all the things we underappreciate, trees are probably right up there. Trees are all around us, but most of us don’t really take much notice of them.
Still, to lie under a tree, or to marvel at the beauty of one of the earth’s giants, is something that most of us like to do every now and then.
We know that one of the biggest threats trees face, is deforestation. Luckily, there are a few legends who have made it their mission to plant as many trees as they can. I read about a NGO called Greenpop, who have planted 80 000 trees in South Africa, Zambia and Tanzania since 2010! How cool is that!
Here’s the thing about planting a tree: we plant trees so that future generations might enjoy them. Whenever you come across a fascinating, gigantic or beautiful tree, remember to ponder about who the planter might have been. And be thankful.
So, when I see a tree, I think legacy.
Some people are buried, or their ashes are strewn under trees. The legendary explorer and missionary, David Livingstone’s heart is buried under a mpundu tree in Zambia. Families, communities and tribes over many generations have sat under the same trees.
Just like planting a tree equals making an investment into the far future, the way we grow, cultivate and share our character echoes into future generations. Many people might enjoy the shade, the protection and the feeling of security that we provide with our presence, our being and our work.
Our legacy starts at home. Trying to be everything for everyone when my own family rarely experiences the fruit that I bear, is like a farmer who plants apple trees, but refuses to share the apples with his own people first.
But our legacy could have a far wider reach as well. A part of our purpose as human beings and followers of Jesus is to give of ourselves. When my life, my experience, my money and my presence is a blessing for others, that is where the magic happens! In one of his podcasts, Andy Stanley mentions that we are never the end-product of our purpose; we are the means to an end. The end is never us, or our own fulfillment or happiness. The fulfillment happens when we are a means to an end, when our legacy is not about us.
Our legacy also has a systemic dimension. Our lives and involvement with people can have a great impact on our immediate community. In the world that we live in today, our reach could even be far wider. If hundreds of animals could find refuge in my “tree”, then why would I be happy with a few? So this could be a practical question to explore: how could we leverage the systemic impact that we could have? Our answers might be entirely different: you could avail yourself to share some of your expertise with an NGO, you could volunteer to work with youth at a local school or church. The opportunities are as wide as your inspiration and creativity can reach.
Go plant a tree. Future generations will be thankful.