Monday, December 29, 2008

12/26/2008 – Christmas, Day 2

Mom came to my house for Dinner and she walked up the steps, slowly. Though still tied to her wheel chair, she had her second dinner at our house, since her move to Philadelphia. Dawn has come to the conclusion that the issue and concept of time travel started with someone living with dementia. We are never sure what decade is being reflected in her conversation, but eventually a name or and event will point to a date that is in the distant past.

My mother may be finding her own way of dealing with the fact that she is the elder in her family. She continually asks about the whereabouts of those who have left this life and in some ways have left her alone. She is the oldest of the two siblings who remain.

With the issue of travel a bit easier, Cousin Lisa continues to try to organize her father Melvin, in DC, to get up to Philadelphia to visit his sister.

12/22/2008 - Christmas Eve’s Eve’s Eve’s

I had difficulty finishing this entry in the blogosphere. On one side of my family I am officially an elder. A week ago Friday, we received notice from my cousin David that his mother Eleanor had passed away. The Stewart’s, this branch, is now down to the three male cousins. Though I’m the one in the middle age-wise, I am the only one with Children. How is it that I look in the mirror and I still see an older version of the newspaper boy, not an elder?

This is the fourth death in our family this year, though this may be the one that was expected. Eleanor had been in a nursing home for several years with Parkinson’s. When I visited her communication was difficult, but her eye spoke volumes. David, her younger son has also been diagnosed with the same ailment.

I did not expect my sabbatical to highlight my own growing older in such stark fashion.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

12/16/2008 – Tuesday

CHOICES - Last Wednesday, I had unique choices, both related to South Africa. With season tickets to Temple Men’s Basketball, I also have the schedule for Temple Women’s Basketball. That evening the Women played the Women’s team from the University of Toledo. Now I’m not a hometown fan of the Rockets, but I met a former player Kristen Konkol, who is serving as an ELCA Mission Coordinator for the South African Young Adults in Global Mission Program, along with her husband Brian. She surprises many folks when she walks into a pickup game as the last picked.

I did though have another South African option. The Soweto Gospel Choir was in concert at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia. It was my first trip to the new home of the Philadelphia Orchestra. [It was an obvious choice.] As Dawn and I waited for the concert to start, I noted how the choir was received at home after receiving their first Grammy, because earlier this week they had been nominated again. Dawn wondered out loud whether I could pronounce all the names of the Choir members. I started and stumbled on the ‘clicks’ in Xhosa, but I got through the list. The young man sitting next to me started chuckling. It seems he is Xhosa and a graduate of Penn and a former resident of Cape Town. He is ready to go home, but he has to convince his American ‘white’ wife that Cape Town is beautiful and cosmopolitan. We had an interesting conversation at the intermission.

The news today is about South African Choices. I may have typed about the schism that was beginning to appear in the African National Congress, but today it was reported that the Congress of the People, was organized today. The report here is that this new multi-ethnic party may have the political clout to be a major challenge to the ANC. I will view from afar.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

12/2/2008 - Tuesday

Shedding and Shredding – Spending time at home has been a bit unusual for Bella Madonna. She’s the family member I have not mentioned yet in the blog. She is the quietest member of the family but she makes sure that she is noticed, most especially when either Dawn or I want to be busy at the keyboard. Her four paws seem never to work in harmony with one another. But for the one on sabbatical, I now command her attention. But shedding is not just about her fur, it is also the accumulated detritus that accumulates when one is working on a degree, a book, or is out of the country for six months.

The deadly combination of my completing a degree and then six months later heading to South Africa has given my home office the look of a stuffed storage closet. Since returning, I’ve been filling a recycling bin with old magazines and mailings and a waste basket of shredded paper each week. Most of my friends know that I’m a collector, that is, I am not a pack rat, I’m just an untrained archivist. So going through old papers and is like pushing the delete key on personal data on a computer. It is done reluctantly.

In going through the material I found mail from an old friend, “the original poor humble parish priest”, Rev. Dr. James Gunther. Dr. Gunther has a PhD from Harvard in Sociology, and his most recent mailings also note that he is a futurist.

What he does for me is send a package at unscheduled intervals with tidbits of his lived history as an African American Lutheran clergyman. Sometimes the materials are repetitive, but there is usually one nugget that opens up a line of history about which I may have heard, but did not live. Near the end of my sabbatical proposal, I said that I would work on my research in the history of African American Lutherans.

Along with two large packets of materials sent while on sabbatical there was one lone envelope. In it was a tribute to one of his colleagues, one of my colleagues, one of my elders. Just a month ago, some one asked me about Vernon Carter. I had not heard about Vernon for at least four years, but I assumed that he was still living. I was wrong, he had died in 2007. Rev. Vernon Carter was the long time pastor of All Saints Lutheran Church in Boston, MA. He was a pivotal figure in addressing racial inequality in the Boston Schools in the 60’s. []

Vernon at five foot was a giant in persuasion. He could easily make this seminarian feel insignificant by his grasp of the way that social ministry was to be done in a society that did not readily embrace change. He was giant enough to make the Boston Globes annual review of notables who had passed away in the previous year. Granted it was on the seventh page, but he was recognized and remembered. []

Like his idol, Martin Luther King, Jr. he practiced non violence, but no matter where found inequality needed to be addressed. His advocacy in later years included assisting Ethiopian refugees and those, who like him shared black and Native American ancestry.

It’s not just shedding and shredding, but the rereading that moves one into sharing and much to my wife’s dismay, saving.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

11/18/2008 – Tuesday

It’s been two weeks since we’ve elected a new president. The forty-fourth President is working hard on a transition of power and busy selecting staff to support his work in governing the country. Early on there were a significant number of instances of words of encouragement and “bi-partisanship” from those who supported John McCain. In the past few days, McCain and Obama have met for conversation. On the surface there is an aura of the highlights of the American political process. We peacefully move from one administration to another. The 2000 election was not a speedy transition, but it was peaceful.

One of my colleagues in South Africa Brian Konkol has written about his experience in South Africa and the comments and questions he has received post election. [SEE Konkol’s in Blogs I view] There is much to affirm about what Brian is experiencing, but I have two different views of the world. The first is the most current. I see that there is an unsatisfied populace who sense that the election was not only the loss of political control, but they have a sense of personal and social control that is also lost. Why is it that the sale of guns has sky rocketed in the US? The verbal comments have focused on a belief that Obama will take away the right to bear arms. If the news reports are correct, the number of assault rifles that have been purchased “for hunting” puts every deer in North America in deep jeopardy.

The rush to blame Obama for our current economic recession and economic crisis is headlined by Rush Limbaugh, who didn’t wait 24 hours to continue the critique of the president-elect [see:,0,4216330.story] Even a Director of a nonpolitical, nonpartisan foundation found that even the casual mention of a “sense of new beginnings” regardless of one’s personal politics received negative responses from many of his donors. [see:] In addition there have been reports that there are more specifically documented threats to the president-elect than have ever been reported by those agencies charged with his security. One wonders why the perceived loss of political power brings out some of the worse in humanity.

If you read Brian’s last posting, it notes that there seems to be an openness toward political discussion in his experience in South Africa. My second comment is a cumulative reflection of my six trips to Southern Africa. I must admit that my five months early in 2008 was much different than any previous visit to South Africa. I distinctly remember being told in 1992 not to wear any ANC paraphernalia when we traveled from Johannesburg to Durban. We had physically relocated from African National Congress [ANC] territory to Inkatha Freedom Party [IFP]. In 1996, while on the Umphumulu Seminary Campus, which was located in Natal Province, the political discussions for guarded since the majority population in the area was related to IFP. This year the open discussions of politics was unexpected by welcome. In fourteen years South Africa seems to have captured some essence of freedom of discussion that we have yet to capture here in the US.

Progress is interesting, but so is fear. Some fear the loss of power; I fear for the safety of our president-elect. Perhaps we can all learn from this challenging time.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

11/4/2008 – Tuesday – ELECTION DAY

Almost every day I was in South Africa, someone asked me about the Presidential politics of the US. Tonight there is a party in Grant Park in Chicago. Two days ago I watched the park personnel put up the tent and fences for a celebration. Tonight in Philadelphia, I watch the citizens of the United States elect a 44th President of African Descent. My sons, my wife, my mother have voted and witnessed an election that we did not think would happen in our lifetime.

As we watch Senator John McCain concede, we reflect on the fact that 40 years ago Grant Park was the scene of another youth movement in the political process that did not end in celebration. How times have changed. Tonight we not only dream of hope, but we see the foundation laid in HOPE. Upon this foundation, we will build change for country that is truly in need of change. Yes we can. YES, WE CAN.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

10/28/2008 - Tuesday

The Deed is done; the Vote is cast. Mom wondered on Sunday night why she should vote. My only retort was that she spends a lot of time in front of the television, and she has probably heard more about the elections than I have. [Never could get her on the internet.] She said she would look at it later. So first thing on Monday I showed up with her absentee ballot again. We talked again about her move to Philadelphia, and she noted that she didn’t know most of the people on the ballot. I suggested that she vote for the one at the top. With her vote on the ballot and her signature in place I drove to City Hall to cast my absentee ballot.

I didn’t think that I would have to spend money this time, but I forgot about parking in downtown Philadelphia. It took an hour and $11.50 but I’ve cast my ballot, that's only a fourth the cost of my primary ballot which didn't get counted. Now I can hang up the telephone every time I get a robocall.

Surrounded by two neighbors who had Barak Obama signs in their yards when we got back from South Africa, we haven’t put in a yard sign. But I’ve got the first I voted sign.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

10/23/2008 - Thursday

Voting –

For those of you who have read the blog from its Africa experiences, know that there was a time when I didn’t think my vote [in the primaries] would count. As I listened to US news, I finally sent the application form my absentee ballot on March 11th. On April15th it arrived and within an hour the ballot and $45 of postage was on its way back to Philadelphia, hopefully to arrive before the 18th. IT DIDN’T MAKE IT. When Dawn voted on the 22nd there was no record of my vote arriving on time. [By the way a second ballot arrived on the 18th of April.]

If you’ve heard of irregularities in the voting process in the US, they are real. Hopefully they are not numerous, but I’ve now become one of those irregularities.

As many of you know my mother has been moved from Ohio to Pennsylvania. Upon her entrance the interview with the Philadelphia Council on Aging asked whether I had registered to vote in PA. I said not yet. When asked if she wanted to vote, my mother [a long time Democrat] asked why that was important. Dementia does play tricks with what used to be a sharp mind. But before the deadline we did get mom registered to vote and then about two weeks ago we requested absentee ballots. One for her to keep from having to move great distances and one for me as I would be driving back from the American Academy of Religion in Chicago. I didn’t want to risk not voting again.

Well this morning I called to ask how soon the ballots might arrive. I was told that my mother’s ballot had been placed in the mail on the 22nd, but there was a problem with mine? It seems that my request for a ballot in Africa was still sitting on their system. The application for a ballot to be sent to my home was not readily available, though both of our applications were sent in simultaneously. For those at the LTI in KwaZulu Natal, you might see a piece of mail from the Philadelphia Board of Elections. Do not send it back. The vote will be cast and this time my vote will be counted.

Colin Powell was to be the inspiration for this reflection on the voting process after Sunday’s announcement, but things change. I’m going to be in downtown Philadelphia on Monday morning to cast my ballot before I go to Chicago. Irregularities be damned.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

10/1/2008 - Wednesday

In this year Dawn was able to claim “family” with our visit to Sweden and the discovery of lineage and grave sites.  Dawn is oldest of six, her sister Laurel is they youngest, with four boys in between.  This year, has brought the loss of immediate family with the death of her oldest brother Robb in April.  Today we received notice that her second brother Ray died overnight after having life support removed on Tuesday.  Youthful decisions involving drugs left them both with Hepatitus C.  Both had received liver transplants which eventually failed.  Dawn and I are on the way to Ohio for a Memorial Service on Saturday.  Please remember the Cartee Family in your prayers.

 Richard Stewart

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

7/1-9/29/2008 - Monday

In reflection, returning to the US seemed like an adventure into every element of the medical enterprise, as formed in the United States. After being gone for six months, I had prescheduled my own medical checkups, but as soon as they were done, I was on my way to Ohio to check on my mother, who had been moved into a rehabilitation facility adjacent to her independent living apartment.

Needless to say she was glad to see me. She had shared with her friends that the longer I stayed in Africa, she didn’t think she would see me again. The competent and caring staff didn’t offer a glowing picture of Charlesetta’s progress toward returning to her independent living. They suggested early in July that I might have until early September to find a place for her in a skilled nursing facility.

Knowing before I left for South Africa that mom’s financial resources were nearly diminished, the issue was to find a facility to take her that accepted Medicaid. It was an easy decision to look only in the Philadelphia area. Looking at facilities within walking distance of our home, Germantown Home is 3-4 blocks away and halfway to the seminary where I work. Our health care system determined that I did not have until September, but had to move her by late July. So on August 6th, my mom and I drove to Detroit and we flew to Philadelphia, where she now lives. The only difficulty is that her memory of any move is lost, so every time I enter her room she wonders when I arrived.

There are days of sad feelings of her being lost, but there are moments of high laughter of experiencing her explore her new environment. One morning she got her wheel chair to the elevator and was bound and determined that she was going to work. When I asked her how old she was she said 55 and that she had to get to the ‘hospital kitchen’ and she couldn’t understand why we wouldn’t let her. She was sure that she had gotten to the hospital ‘where she worked.’ Smiles appeared when I told those surrounding her that she had been a food service supervisor in a hospital for 27 years.

Someone noted that there might be a change in my schedule. I responded that there was a change in lifestyle. I use to see her every 4 months, now I can see her daily. But after two months her spirits seem to be much better.


Notice the Change in Font. I'm playing catch up. It's been a long and emotional three months.

Leaving South Africa was like leaving a piece of me behind. It was not a permanent placement, but one of my snapshots in life. It was a snapshot that took a while to develop, but like any strong snapshot, it lingers enough to encourage one to look again. I’m sure that there will be another opportunity to be once again in the southern tip of the African continent. Jennifer Moenga had returned home to Botswana from LTSP and was a part of the contingent of pastors at the educational event in Botswana, and she was the one who arranged for the visit to the game park. In receiving, I have learned that I need significant lessons in hospitality.

Then, it is was off the to land of the midnight sun. Dawn had been doing a good bit of family lineage research, so we knew that her grandmother had come from Karlskoga, Sweden at age 17. Her grandfather had come from the same area at age 4. So from midwinter in South Africa to the midsummer nights in Sweden we flew. Nearly 3 hours from Stockholm a bed and breakfast, “Krey Hotell” provided a base of operations. In Karlskoga, the library had an office for a volunteer who was tracing the history of those who had left Karlskoga to emigrate to America. Via email, Dawn had shared her research and had questions about her grandparents. Kjell Nordqvist who had to be in his 80’s had done the family research for Dawn tracing her roots back to 1530. With some clues from Kjell we went to Dragerfors, the bottom of the lake at Karlskoga and went to the church yard. Dawn went down to the south 40 and wandered for nearly and hour. Lazy me stayed near the old church and new church. I had about three more rows to go when Dawn reappeared and wondered if we were done. She joined me and about 3-4 head stones later we found the family plot for the parents of her maternal grandmother. What a find.

Her grandfather’s father had been recruited to come to Worchester, MA to work in the wire factory that was making barbed wire for the settlement of the west. At a later date, they moved to Cleveland to be a part of the steel and iron ore processing there. But we were able to see a preserved home of what the workers at the Balfors Foundry were offered as a part of their employment. Two rooms for your family, of sometimes up to 8 or more. A profound sense of belonging slowly emerged from my wife of nearly 40 years.

The last 3 plus days we “toured” Stockholm. Churches, museums, and the mid-summer night celebration took our time and attention. It is truly weird to have the sun go down at 11 pm and rise at 1:30 am. I got a little confused one night.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

6/13/2008 – Friday

Dawn got a second chance to do Godly Play with the pastors. The first time was at the end of the first day, when my voice was on the way out, but the Creation Story fit well with the Biblical themes in Biblical Stewardship. This second time was just to tell the core story of the Good Shepherd. With lively interchange the first time, this time the group was extremely reflective, but very attentive. She receive good conversations over several evenings.

Then it was off to a game preserve across the main road. Dawn got to see her first giraffe’s in the wild. There were the usual assortment of venison, with and without horns, including a heartebeast. Wildebeast, warthog, elephant and some serious birds filled most of the remainder of the morning, but then we went in search of …”The Cheetah”…. The question was who was stalking whom. Petted and licked Dawn walked away with her hand still in tact. See pictures. I may be able to put the movie of the purring kitty on as well.

6/12/2008 – Thursday

Practicing the liturgy and addressing the questions took the morning, when we weren’t watching the monkeys entertain us. After lunch we met another missionary couple. Rob and Eshinee Viegt from Washington State are in Botswana as Lutheran Bible Translators. Rob was addressing the pastors on Music in the Bible. His specialty is the use of media to preserve and contain the Biblical translations in oral form as many languages with a small group of speakers may never increase in the size of the readers of the language, but they may continue to speak a language without its being written.

My presentation followed the Bishop’s deputy who faced many of the serious questions about the survival and thriving of pastors in difficult settings. The discussion was animated and had input from a wide variety of the participants. ELCB is a small church which is struggling to find its mission as well as seek opportunities for growth.

6/11/2008 – Wednesday

Twelve hours of Biblical Stewardship is the assignment. As of this afternoon I have completed ten of the hours. The challenge is how to address three pages of questions that have come form the gathered pastors and church workers. The practical realities of the how this all functions in parish life is the challenge. The Biblical challenges are much more easily met. The Bible study seemed to be eye opening, but the questions are how to make it work in an environment that has seen a change in funding patterns without the associated learing and education to the parishes that life will be different and more is being expected of them.

The second part of their Church Worker’s Retreat is on Liturgy. With the assistance of a Finnish born musician, the church has been working on an order of worship that reflects past patterns, but also attempts to prepare the church for some changes. While much of the work is based on LCMS materials, the sung liturgy is in Tswana and is using a young local composer to direct the writing and learning by the church workers. Once again we experience the power of a cappella singing the African context. All week long the counter-point to my presentation was a rehearsal of a liturgy in Tswana. IT was sung at the final service prior to departure for most of the participants. It is in the audio section. Enjoy.

6/9/2008 – Monday

Sunday found us alone at breakfast again, but that was the start of a day literally spent at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. We took a long time wandering through the exhibits and the special collections on Stephen Biko and the celebrations of same sex marriages and same sex led households allowed under South African law. Soccer on TV finished off Sunday night.

On Monday we began the day with a dual breakfast and moving our luggage to a storage closet, before heading off to see Ambrose Moyo. He was already in meeting with Bishop Manas Buthelezi. It was good to see old friends again. We got a promise to make sure that the projector [still in our possession] would make it back to LTI.

The drive to Botswana took longer than the estimated three hours that had been suggested. It took nearly an hour to clear customs in SA and then immigration into Botswana. The drive through Gabarone in rush hour made the day complete. Finding Woodpecker, the Lutheran Seminary in Botswana was relatively easy with the directions from the General Secretary. The flat we have been assigned comes complete with a sauna. The languages of communication are Tswana and English, [as long as I don’t mumble.] More later.

6/7/2008 – Saturday

Friday there were tears. In the past three days we have had dinner at the Konkol’s, dinner with the Calder’s [the Presbyterian pastor around the corner and a meeting with cell group at his home], lunch with the students [where I was the subject of a semi-roast], dinner with the Farisani’s, and an early morning flight to Jo-burg. Being the only resident’s at the Bonaero Park Bed and Breakfast, we were hosted with extreme hospitality, before heading off to the Hector Pieterson Memorial in Soweto. A dinner for two was awaiting at the Bed and Breakfast upon our return, and slowly the reality of my departure form Pietermarizburg sunk in. Soccer on TV finished off the night.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

6/4/2008 – Wednesday

A week goes by quickly, especially when you are nearing the end of program. My travel to Pietermaritzburg ends this Saturday, when Dawn and I head to Johannesburg for a couple of days, then we travel to Botswana for 4-5 days with Pastors from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Botswana. Cosmos Moenga, a doctoral student at LTSP is the Bishop. Biblical Stewardship and a bit of administrative planning are on tap for the 12 hours of presentation I’ve been asked to lead.

The phone has had a lot of use in the last week. With My Mother’s surgery and now recovery, and planning for her stay in a rehabilitation facility, I’ve done a bit of calling to the US. Old family friends have provided hands on care and physical presence for mom, and have kept me informed of their perceptions of the nature of her care. Obviously she is anxious to see us.

This final week is a week of Good-byes. Until we meet again is a common experience as we have visited with a faculty family and their children, the Tonsings. Coffee was the liquid refreshment with Rob and Pam Calder, the pastor of the nearby Presbyterian church. He offered good conversation at a couple of points in my time here in PMB.

The students, starting with the six who accompanied me to the airport, are saying good-bye to in palpable ways that tug at heart strings and tear ducts. Lunch on Friday is to be a seminary event. Other faculty have stopped in the office to share a moment or two. One had me teach him how to set up a blog [I didn’t know that Internet Explorer doesn’t automatically give a tool bar in Blogspot]. He also had me do a demo for his class in powerpoint.

Dawn and I are doing day trips Museums, scenic places, Natal Lion Park [more pictures], rain today, so time was spent at the International Student Exchange Office to see what we might do with students in the future. Tomorrow is Durban and a foot or two in the Indian Ocean. Yet to come are good-bye with the Konkol’s and the Farisani’s. I am sad, but it is time to head toward home.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

5/27/2008 - Tuesday

Just when I thought we could relax… Dawn arrived on Sunday and by Tuesday she had begun to recover from jet lag and two nights on planes. We’ve done a couple of walks on the campus to the east and to the west of the seminary campus. Tomorrow we planned to go to the Natal museum downtown… at six pm my time or noon in Toledo, we received a call that Mom [Charlesetta] is in St. Luke’s Hospital and is in need of surgery for an infected gall bladder. She’s 85 and frightened, but this does not seem to be an elective procedure. This is a necessity. So I await the doctor to call after the surgery has been completed. I’ve contacted her pastor and he said he would go to the hospital to be with her. Prayers are welcome.

Monday, May 26, 2008

5/26/2008 – Monday

Dawn has arrived. That is not to say that life is normal. The news reports are world wide on the issue of South African Xenophobia. If you are interested in the local items on this internal tragedy please do searches in the following publications [The Natal Witness], [The Mail and Guardian]. There are other South African Publications, but these are the ones I read with regularity. Opinions are offered on both the radio and televised broadcasts of SABC. This is all written on the Day after Africa Day where almost all the commentary was subdued due to the last two weeks of violence against other residents of the continent.

5/22/2008 – Thursday

I just receive a notice that a thought piece that I shared with the faculty at LTSP was just shared with them via email. The piece was originally written on Easter Monday. It reflects conversations at LTSP on Worship and life here at LTI on just eating. It is focused on the food for the soul and how one partakes in that food. Please comment if so moved.

From: "Richard Stewart"
Date: March 26, 2008 10:01:14 AM EDT
To: "Robert Robinson"
Subject: Re: Some reflections from afar that may be shared on Friday.

Bob, Sorry the attachment didn't make it. While my reflections may not directly go in the direction of the faculty conversation, I am sending them to you as a thought piece based upon a geographically removed view of the emails and conversation that I have had since my departure. I would suspect that these reflections may also be influenced by my perspective of religious life at LTSP over a longer period of time. Some know that I have been a gentle critic. Now if that helps with the vision, feel free to share this document.
Friends, I'm at a school where the students can worship together in 4-5 languages, but they do not eat together, because of [as they describe it] cultural differences. At LTSP we enjoy the table fellowship of the Refectory, but we have difficulty experiencing ourselves as a unified worshipping community. At the LTI, I really struggled with this for the first month. For regular worship [7:20 am and 7:00 pm] students tend to lead the service from the Suffrages. They add hymns to the mix of morning and evening prayers and they are assigned to preach, at least that is what they make of their time to reflect on the assigned scriptures for the day. Remember that we use the Moravian texts for daily worship that is prescribed by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa. They produce this worship manual each year in the eleven official languages of South Africa. Each book is also a directory of the pastors in each diocese and in the White – Settler’s Church.
The primary hymnal is the Lutheran Book of Worship, copies donated by congregations who had moved on. There are copied sheets of songs in Zulu, Tswana, Xhosa, and Afrikaans. But these do not limit the students or the worship leaders, as there are songs that come out of memory banks that seem to have resonance with all of the students, whether they are from South Africa or they are graduate students from Namibia, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Zambia, Botswana, or elsewhere. The singing is spirited though not always in direct correlation with the printed music on the page. Somehow everyone gets along and in the process God gets praised.
I must admit, that the ‘sermons’ get a little tedious. You can almost tell which year the student is in by the way they go about interpreting scripture. They don’t want to disappoint their professors, who may or may not be in attendance by what they say or their reflected knowledge of the history and the lineage of the book of the Bible to which they have been assigned. I have heard an enormous amount of direct quotes from Commentaries, but there is a piece of enlightenment when the older students gently comment to their colleagues, that they may be interested in what a professor will teach them in the next year.
The worship is sensitive to the traditions that we all carry, but they may be overly sensitive to the order. As one of the visiting colleagues noted when we went to a township church and a service led by students, that the service was very conservative. Cheryl Anderson, a United Methodist, on the faculty of Garrett Evangelical and a Fulbright Scholar had never been to a Lutheran worship before. She seriously wondered whether Black American worship would be as conservative and high church. My response was that there was greater freedom expressed in many American Lutheran churches of African descent, but that the ordo was to be respected along with the cultural traditions. What I had found in Southern Africa was that the traditions had been set by the missionaries and they continue to be replicated by the indigenous leaders who are now in charge of the worship life of the congregations
without much critical thought to what comes from the cultural context other than hymns. The musical setting of the liturgy is unaffected by the cultural context.
This is in contrast to the eating practices exercised on this same campus. The food service cooks food that is common in many of the tribal contexts of southern Africa. BhapI a corn meal wet bread is served at almost all meals, along with rice. Chicken is a staple, but it can be served fried, roasted or in a gravy where the meat begins to fall off the bone. We also have beef, sometimes as small steaks, or as a stew with gravy and potatoes. Pork is usually a chop that is well cooked. Fish is generally fried. Vegetables can be sweet potatoes, beets, carrots or cabbage, generally in cold slaw. There are a few students who do not eat red meat, but I haven’t yet met a campus vegan.
Now it does not matter what tribe or country you are from. All line up to be served the same meals from the same servers, but they do not carry their meals to the same tables. The Pedi speakers go in one direction, the Zimbabweans go to a table near their living quarters, the Venda speakers go to their room areas, the Afrikaans speakers go to their quarters, and the Zulus eat at table in the cafeteria.
When they are asked about the anomaly, they usually respond that they are eating separately because of their cultural differences. There is something about being able to eat and talk in the same language and to make jokes and to kid one another in the context of eating a meal.
The meal is a time for light hearted banter and when one is challenged to make cultural adjustments in the midst of eating, they are no longer at ease. The meal becomes work. Thus it is easier to eat separately as this is a part of relaxation. It is a part of our re-creation. We nourish our bodies and our souls. In this context we are free.
While at the same time the school I've left behind has a different set of issues. I cherish the time we gather together for meals in the Refectory. We can have light hearted banter, we can eat together as faculty, students, and staff. There is no hierarchical forum or form that takes precedence in the Refectory. We speak the same language, and even when we gather at language tables for Spanish, or German it is done in the context that all are welcome. We gather around tables to discuss the issues that have arisen on campus. What are the values of a green campus, what mission activities can we all be partners in addressing. What skills have some of us acquired that we would like to share and communicate with to others in our community, those are the elements for which we gather around the table to eat and have fellowship.
It is in the environment of the refectory that we do not find that our cultural differences emerge, but those which can easily be addressed in open and candid conversation. In one very critical sense the table in the refectory is where we can break bread, give thanks and share the cup of fellowship in our multicultural environment. It may not have been considered, but the fact that the bulk of our worship services precede the walk to the refectory means that we have only changed location for the final act of worship together. Though it may sound sacrilegious, the table of the ordo may exist at the opposite end of the parking lot. That then raises a critical question about our worship practices. If we can continue to eat together, why is it that we have difficulty worshiping together? As I'm beginning to discern it may have some direct relationship to the differences in the taste for spiritual food in a multicultural environment and society.
On this Easter weekend there were several television shows that tried to address some of the issues that have arisen in South African society in the last couple of weeks, about “how does this Rainbow society work, now fourteen years after liberation.” Though the Settler’s church has made specific reference for me in planning some workshops that they are no longer just a white church, their practice of integration is not unlike the integration we have in United States churches. Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in South Africa and America.
My experience in South Africa is limited. Yet the Presbyterian Church around the corner from the LTI and across the street from the UKZN campus has been the most diversified that I have seen in a long time anywhere. With Blacks, Whites, and Asians [limited]; the pastor acknowledges that his congregation is highly unusual in Presbyterian circles. The service is lively, spirited, contemporary musically, and focused on teaching the scriptures and liturgical form. They celebrate communion every Sunday. The pastor has been in the one congregation for 27 years. So he has seen the congregation through the change in the neighborhood around the university and through the change in the apartheid system of governing. This congregation has devised a way to find a spiritual food that nurtures a multi-cultural congregation.
The seminary campus church is a reflection of the Lutheran Church and its mission life. It serves Lutherans, and those who understand themselves as a liturgical church. There is an expected formality and order that is reflected in every geographical church
represented on the campus. This common ordo is the central gathering point for all of these Lutheran Christians no matter what language by which they started their journey in being a disciple who is justified by faith alone.
The LTSP campus finds its rooted-ness in that same ordo, but we have also said that we are to be open to a wider population of sisters and brothers in the faith who come to us with a wider variety of traditions. That openness carries with it an expectation that there will be a wider variety of the spiritual food which nourishes those who gather at the altar of the Lord. This wider variety of spiritual food can be considered a feast that passes any single person’s understanding. To prepare this larger offering of spiritual food may mean that there will be a need for greater flexibility in the manner in which the ordo is accomplished on a campus like that offered at Philadelphia.
While the center of the ordo is the word, the pinnacle of a worship service with the living word present in the table of the Lord may not be the spiritual main course for those who find fulfillment and nourishment in the feast of the proclaimed word at the end of the service. What place does the commissioning, the blessing, of those who are about to return to a work-a-day world have in the context of worship? What importance is there for those who call for a spiritual passage that will be part of a week long memory of what is important in life? How do we fee those who are asking for spiritual food that will carry them through till they are able to gather in community once again to be nourished?
This is not to say that there is not nourishment in the patterns of our past, but with each class that enters the seminary, are we taking them back to where we, that is Lutherans, were nourished, or are we prepared to find different nourishing points to meet the needs of a broadened student body, and thus a broadened populace who is in need of hearing, feeling, and tasting God’s spiritual word in ways that they can lead a truly diverse assemblage of congregations that look to us for trained theological leaders?
Perhaps it is ironic that communities that are called through the gospel to reflect God's compassion in worship and at table have such a difficult time. Is it an issue that we can sometimes become overly immersed in our own cultural issues and that bars us from seeing the problem as anything other than that of the other. Are we faced with a contemporary way of wondering, why were the Pharisees and Sadducees so upset about the company Jesus kept at table? What is the current consensus among ecumenical scholars concerning the eating and drinking Paul speaks about with the Corinthians? How do we understand the eating and drinking that cause scandal to arise because the body of Christ was not being discerned in the Eucharistic elements of the bread and wine but in the person and presence of the community? But you my colleagues know all this. What makes this so difficult to communicate in a place where the leaders of the Christian community are being educated?
May these words be of assistance in your visioning.

Richard Stewart on Easter Monday 2008.

Monday, May 19, 2008

5/18/2008 – Trinity Sunday

Winter in South Africa
Non-Flying Birds.
Buggy blossoms.

The requests for copies of the Trinity Sunday Sermon are being met, by posting the sermon here.

Trinity Sermon::: 2 Corinth 13:11 Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. 13 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

You have heard this lesson in five languages. What does it mean for the children of God? What does it mean for the students who study at LTI? What does it mean for those gathered here for worship on this Trinity Sunday?

Well for the Children of God, we have some work to do. On Monday, Alison challenged those of us on campus to be disciples. But what kind of disciples, we are to be disciples who have read our scriptures and have a clear understanding of who Jesus is not only in our scriptures, but who is Jesus for us, Who is Jesus today. Jesus asked his disciples, who do people say that I am. That question and its answer are just as important today as it was when Jesus first uttered that simple sentence to the Children of God gathered around him. The answer has to come from within. Within us. We are not just reflecting who people say Jesus is, we are affirming who we believe Jesus to be today in the here and now. We are not playing a word game. We are declaring the core of our faith. This Jesus who sent out 12 disciples, somehow got ahold of me and sent me out not once, but to four different places to share his call to me to be his disciple. This last call has lasted nearly 20 years, and in the midst of it I have been sent to two different congregations to be an interim pastor and to one church to be a Sunday School teacher. Most recently I’ve had the opportunity to be in this place teaching, talking, laughing, worshipping, enjoying your sports teams and the ‘a cappella’ singing. In the midst of that I hope that I have been answering that continual question, who do you say that I am.

On Tuesday Hans Peter, reminded us that the Holy Spirit, spoke through the mouth of the Father of Jewish community King David. But he reminded us that the Holy Spirit continues to speak to us today. Not just those of us gathered on this campus, but it speaks to the students who walk the pathways of the campus across the street. The Holy Spirit speaks to all those who are not students at LTI, but are here this morning to be a part of this worshipping community. The Holy Spirit has not left us, but is constantly putting new challenges in front of us. It is the Holy Spirit that leads us to raise questions of what is going on in some of the communities of South Africa. What is it about human beings, who attack economic and political refugees who have sought sanctuary within this country? Many of these same people were from villages and communities that offered similar sanctuary for refugees and freedom fighters from this country prior to the end of the apartheid era. What is going on when hospitality is no longer offered, but becomes hostility? Holy Spirit speak to all of us, those that are budding theologians and those of us who are informed laity.

Caleb on Wednesday was clear in letting those of us gathered for early morning worship that the power of the Holy Spirit was a gift. It could not be purchased, no matter how much money was offered. The Holy Spirit comes freely to the Children of God, and the we are the managers, the Stewards of this Gift of God that has power that exceeds all the images created by our fellow human beings. Remember I’ve been teaching the Ministerial students. Four of you are ready for parish placement. [Assuming all the assignments are in…..], and Four of you are ready for supervised placement. Now it is your turn to see if you can use those spiritual gifts that are given to you by the Holy Spirit in sharing the work of spreading God’s Good News to those have heard it and need to hear it again, and sharing God’s Good News in ways that some might hear it for the first time. Our calling is not just to minister to the saved, but our task; that is everyone in this room, laypersons and those preparing to be clergy and those who already are clergy; our task is to share with all the world what God has done for us and what he can continually do for those who place their trust in Him.

On Thursday we had a hiccup. Chaplain Modisane, was unable to be with us. But that did not mean that the Word was not read and shared. IN that word we found that Peter, the one upon whom the church is to be built, has been criticized because he went into the house of the uncircumcised and ate with them. What that physically means that if Peter had been in Pietermaritzburg and had found his way to our chapel and after chapel had found his way into our cafeteria, where we ate with him. He would have been criticized, BECAUSE HE ATE WITH GENTILES. Children of God, I got news for you. We may not be God’s Chosen People, by way of Abraham, but we are Jesus’ chose people by way of Peter and Paul. I’m a GENTILE and proud of it. I am an adopted Child of God, and Jesus told me that I would be an heir in God’s kingdom. Luther helped me understand that by helping me to know that I didn’t make my self a child of God. Jesus did when he died for all of my and our shortcomings on the cross. We are saved by The Grace of God. We are justified by our Faith in God. Jesus did all the work for us and is present with us today when we celebrate his gift to us in the breaking of the bread and sharing of the cup.

Then came Friday and Dr. Tonsing spoke of the attacks on the Christian community that seemed to disperse it in multiple places around the world. While the aim was to destroy this religious sect, the dispersion had an opposite effect. IT SPREAD GOD’S MESSAGE to multiple places around the world. Did you hear God’s word this morning? It came from Tswana, Zulu, Sepedi, Shona, Afrikaans, German. I’m preaching in English, but when I serve you the Body of Christ, my words will be El Cuerpo de Cristo, The Body of Christ in Spanish.

Earlier in the sermon, I asked the question what does it mean for each of us who gather here for worship. We come for a variety of reasons. Some of us are just looking for a place to hear God’s word and have an opportunity to praise God and hear a message that will inspire our work and our living for the week ahead.

Some of us are students preparing to be ministers. We are trying to take our lessons and find out how they apply to the work that will be ahead of us in congregations. Sometimes our gathering here is sort of like practice. But I’ve got news for you. As a Baptized Christian, THERE IS NO PRACTICE. Once baptized, you are a Child of God. You are an heir of God’s Kingdom. You are a disciple. Some Disciples are called to be the lay leaders of the church and some are called to be the Ordained, the set apart for leadership in the church. So we gather here for our own version of refueling for the week ahead of study and thinking and writing, and visiting and learning how to be a leader among God’s gathered people.

Some of us are ordained. We have been set apart for leadership, and we have been called to new roles of preparation for leadership in the church. There are those who are the graduate students who have been sent by the church to develop additional leadership skills for a church that has to face an increasingly complex society. So will be teachers, some will be church executives, some will lead NGO’s, but while that train and when they lead they will still be Children of God. They will be disciples who have been asked to abandon the familiar fishing boats and become fishers of people in new fields.

Some of us are called to be teachers. We have been asked by our churches to share the knowledge and the experience that we have gathered and to the best of our ability give that knowledge to others so that they can lead the church in new an creative ways. Almost each day as I teach, I am reminded that I am still and will remain a Child of God, a disciple who has been called, and at least for a brief time, called to be here in South Africa.

Finally, brothers and sisters, Remember these words from our brother Paul, the one who had his mission changed on the Road with a blinding light. He says to the Corinthians in his second letter “…farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” That is a directive that still fits today. For we have much work to do in our own midst. Some of our sisters and brothers are still trying to get aid to Myanmar, where the number of dead has now climbed into the hundreds of thousands. Some of our brothers in sister who have been dispersed around the world are supplying aid in China, where for many years they tried to ignore or deny that there were Christians and people of faith. It seems that we need to pray for peace in Palestine and Lebanon, which is the region where God chose to send his son, who did not die a peaceful death. We need peace keepers in Alexandra and Diepsloot. For we have lost sight of what it means to be hospitable to the stranger in our midst. We need to find some modern day Samaritans. We need to continue to support our sisters and brothers on this campus who are preparing for ministry in a revitalized Zimbabwe. Their work is still undefined, but they know that there will be work that needs to be done. We have work to do on this campus, to learn how to trust and live together in ways that will surprise our neighbors and maybe even surprise those who sent us here. For you are the beginnings of a future church in Southern Africa. A church that will continually need to bind the wounds of a history in which many of you never played a part. But you are the beginnings of a group of disciples who will have to learn to live together, so that when you are seen by those outside the faith, they will see that you really are the children of God gathered together in a Rainbow Church in a Rainbow nation.


Monday, May 12, 2008

New Football Kits

They all didn't make the pregame, but here is the LTI Team Photo and the New Football Kits. [I don't think I'll ever get use to the difference in terminology.] "Uniforms"

5/12/2008 – Monday

It doesn’t seem that the math works, but in six weeks I’ll be back in Philadelphia. In late January I packed two bags and my backpack and wondered how I would put together the materials to teach Stewardship and assist with an Introduction to Clinical Pastoral Education. Soon after arriving I received the notice that the CPE program at Abingdon Hospital had ceased operations. I was the chair of a board that no longer existed. But the students here began to write case studies in an effort to build the skills to observe and remember the encounters in hospital visitation to be able to write verbatims.

Kantonen’s book seemed like foreign territory to the students who generally were given a chapter from a book to read or assigned to go to the library to read a chapter or two as an assignment for a course. Giving them the books and expecting it to be read in its entirety took some continuous conversation. Yet they gave the Stewardship survey to their colleagues and we all marveled at the similarities to the students from the US in their attitudes toward giving. They too, wanted the quick and easy answers to how to solve the financial problems of a church, but the task of teaching generous giving began to take shape.

Actually the invitation to the speak to the Settler’s church put some shape to all the thinking I had been doing. It helped to be asked to develop a day long [6 hour] presentation. That helped to work with a Men’s League presentation, a conversation with Young Adult League members, a Theological Café presentation and a yet to be held campus conversation on Generous Giving.

This week Phil Knutson will be in town, so I guess I’ll start the process of debriefing. What did I learn, what helped, what hindered, what worked, what didn’t. In a way I’m interested in seeing the final results as well.

If you are interested, there is a tape of the Theological Café presentation in the Splash Cast section of the blog. I also taped the Pentecost Service. I broke the service into 4 sections: A Trio Anthem; the final staff sermon by Georg Scriba on Pentecost; The communion; and the final hymn. In the Splash Cast player there are four speakers in the bottom left, so you can pick and choose what you want to hear.

Georg Scriba has been a faculty member for 16 years and most recently the LTI Administrator. Pentecost was his last sermon as a LTI staff member as the University requires retirement at 60. He retires from the University and moves on to the local congregation in Hayfields. Enjoy the sermon and the hymns as well. Some of the singing is truly stunning.

Friday, May 9, 2008

5/9/2008 - Friday For my grandkids and anyone else who thinks they are children.

It seems that I got a comment from my grandchildren. Boy is that a grandparent term. At 12 and 13, I have the distinct impression that they no longer think of themselves as children, short adults, with no money, maybe. Most of the stuff I’ve been adding to this blog is aimed at adults. Even my Sunday School Class has tempered their viewing.

So I got some stuff for you. ANIMALS. If you are really interested in animals go to the photo album [Animals and Geography in South Africa and Namibia] OK, so it’s not all animals. I thought I’d include some pictures of the Cape area from my last trip, like Table Rock and the cable car to get there, through the clouds. There are baboons from the Cape of Good Hope and penguins as well. The elephants are from Krueger Park this trip. There are Giraffes and Lions from Etosha Game Preserve in Namibia, from the 2004 trip.

From this years travels I’ll share the pictures of flatlands and mountains in Limpopo, the dam east of Thohoyandou, the gorge in KwaZulu where the hot springs were. Have fun sharing.

Monday, May 5, 2008

5/5/2008 – Monday

The weekend was spent at Lilani HotSprings. The water was warm. The high veld shows obvious signs of a major cataclysmic geologic upheaval. The Zulu village of Lilani is 10km from the last paved road. Several streams cross the road as we slowly drove on the one lane road. Houses appeared to be hung on the hillsides, with no obvious way to get to them, except by foot. The resort is run by the villagers and can be found at

The Young Adult Youth League of the Eastern Diocese of ELCSA had their retreat at the resort. With 42+ in attendance, they maxed out the facility. I was asked to speak on US-South Africa bridges for this gap aged group. Starting with age 25, these are folks who no longer see themselves as a part of the Youth League and the issues with which they are dealing are not the same ones that are important to the Women’s League or the Men’s League. There were over 30 items on their laundry list of items that they attempted to prioritize for the coming year.

Frankly it was good to see folks in this age bracket who are interested in being in church and see themselves as leaders, but they are not seeking theological education. These are the young professionals in a new South Africa, and they want to be a part of a Lutheran Church which meets their needs and the needs of their friends in an increasingly complex national society. All praise to God to whom they turn. [Young Adult League Pictures]