Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Monday 3/24/2008 - Easter at Magodonga Lutheran Parish

The Easter Sunday service was wonderful, with two baptisms, communion, and a long sermon by the American pastor, which had to be translated. Actually they had a copy and are having it translated to Venda to be shared with the other congregations in the parish. I’m told that the men’s league will have a meeting before I leave the area. They want to talk about stewardship and the Bible.
I find that Elewani Farisani is not all that different from hundreds of others who grew up in the rural areas and have gone to the city to earn a living, but have made a concerted effort to reinvest in their home areas. Many are building second homes in their ‘homeland’ with subsistence and sustainable farming a central prerequisite. Every one of these old family villages has lots of homes under construction, with the bread winners coming home when they can to work on the homesteads, while the wife and children live in Limpopo.
Saturday is a family holiday for the Moila family. Dorothy’s father, Dr. MP Moila, was a professor at the University of Venda and later retired as Emeritus Professor at Pietermaritzburg in the School of Religion. Upon his retirement he was elected Bishop of the Northern Diocese, where he served for three years. The celebration that all of his children had gone beyond high school education was a fact to be celebrated. So friends and his family gathered around him Saturday afternoon to celebrate his life and give him some of the roses due to a person, while they are alive to enjoy them.
It seems strange that if I was teaching here, I would have been retired for three years. As a pastor, I would be expected to retire in two more years. I guess that I really have reached the stage of being an elder. Why don’t I feel like an elder? And some might say, ‘why don’t you act like an elder?’ I’ve got more thinking and living to do, I just have to find the right venue.
Brother-in-law has finally been closed up, and is beginning to recover from his second liver transplant. The worrying isn’t over, but the progress may be a bit more visible. Today we go for pig feed for the Farisani farm, tomorrow we see the tailor. Everybody has a friend with skills.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Easter Sunday Sermon - 3/23/2008

The ELCSA Daily Lectionary uses the Moravian texts, but they also designate a passage for the sermon. As you will read, it is not always the Gospel. HE IS RISEN, HE IS RISEN INDEED.

First Corinthians 15:19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. {Gk [fallen asleep] }
21 For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being;
22 for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.
23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
24 Then comes the end, {Or [Then come the rest] } when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power.
25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
27 For "God {Gk [he] } has put all things in subjection under his feet." But when it says, "All things are put in subjection," it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him.
28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.

Holy week has always been difficult for me as a pastor. I feel as if I have been on wild elephant ride, or I have somehow been able to ride on the back of a running rhino. The ride has been a thrill, but at the same time the fear has been tremendous. This Saturday on the seventh day I celebrated on the telephone with my mother as she was celebrating her 85th birthday. In coming to South Africa for 5 months she has been the one I have worried about the most. Her health is not the best, her memory has sometimes forgotten that I have traveled to South Africa, but when I called this past Saturday before Palm Sunday, she was joyful, she was bright and cheerful, she even remembered that I had traveled to South Africa and was hoping that I was having a good time and that I would learn a lot.
My time with her on the telephone was not unlike the joy that many of us had in breaking out the palms and celebrating the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The songs of the morning were joyful, the children handing out the palms for the members of the congregation were a delight to see, it was as if the celebration of Jesus entry into Jerusalem was timed to be with my mothers birthday. For it has been over 200 years since we have celebrated Easter and thus Palm Sunday this early in the calendar year. Often my mother’s birthday is closer to Ash Wednesday than it is to Easter. So the celebration was quite fitting, and it was blessed with my mothers health and her happiness.
It is now one week later, and I find myself in an entirely different mood. Today I feel like a minister who has experienced his third death in a week. There may be good reason for my feeling this way. For in many ways I have experienced three deaths during the past week. Last week Nkosi, one of our students was quite worried about her mother Octavia. Her mother was in the hospital, but she had heard that she was getting better and would be released, so she made plans to be at home with her mother to help her readjust to life at home after her release from the hospital. She left the campus and was at the bus terminal when she received word that her mother was not released but had been readmitted to the hospital and had later died, before she could return to Durban. On Monday evening we prayed for Octavia who had returned home to her creator.
On Tuesday morning I received word that the last and the youngest of the three brothers in my father’s family had had a heart attack. This was the uncle whom I had called before coming to South Africa to tell him that I would be in coming to see him in July after I returned to the United States. He was looking forward to the time together. He and I had shared in the suffering of the same type of cancer at different times. He had asked my advice about how to receive treatment and had asked how I had managed to live with the chemotherapy. It was one of the first times that one of my elders had asked me for advice. I appreciated his trust and enjoyed his confidence in me. This Thursday morning I received word that he had died peacefully on Wednesday about the same time we experienced load shedding here in Limpopo.
Our text for the sermon comes from Paul’s First letter to the Corinthians and in reading it I had to look again at me, and ask a serious question of what is it that I hope for. Do I hope for my mother’s continued life? Of course I do, but I am realistic to know that there may come that day when she leaves this life before I do. So Paul’s phrase “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied,” begins to make some sense and be clear. We sometimes think that we and the ones we love are invincible. We think that we will go on in life forever. We even pray to Jesus to bless and keep those who are dear to us. But Jesus tells us like he told the disciples, I WILL NOT BE WITH YOU FOREVER. When we hear that phrase we want to close our ears. It is at that point where we are to be as Paul describes pitied. We know the plan, we know the inevitable, yet we pray against it. We do not want to let God’s will be done. For Paul continues his lesson to the Corinthians, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.” We know that the lessons tell us that Christ is Risen, He is Risen indeed. We have been told that he had fallen asleep, and now arose from the dead. Christ had beaten death. But his victory is only to show us that there is more to our life in Christ than what we experience here on earth.
When Nkosi told me of her mother’s illness, I asked this young woman who is in her early twenties, about her siblings, one sister, and how old her mother was, 74. I asked how old was her sister, she is 46. I said, “I guess that explains the other name your mother gave you, “Carol”. You are the song in her life. We both laughed, but that did not decrease the depression of a young woman who wanted desperately for her mother to be alive. That did not change the wish of a young woman to want to have her mother at her college and seminary graduation. I can almost hear the plans that would be in place for the family celebration at the time of her ordination. So in this Easter season Nkosi is home planning her mother’s funeral.
Paul continues his lesson to the church at Corinth, “For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being.” I’m sure that if I asked Nkosi on a test what was the central point of Easter, she would say the Resurrection of the Dead, but this Easter, I am sure that she is having difficulty putting the resurrection first. For her mourning will be first, because death has come to a human being that was extremely close to her. It may take awhile for Nkosi to hear the words of Paul, that the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being. Her mother Octavia has gone home in the same resurrection of the dead for those who live in Christ. In the midst of a week of mixed emotions, it may be difficult to let go of a mother, who is now gone home to be with Jesus, but that is what Paul is telling the people of Corinth, must be done as we remember the significance of Easter
My uncle, to the best of my knowledge was not a religious man. He was not apt to get dressed up and go to meeting on Sunday. Yet if there were a task around to which he could add his expertise, he gave it freely. I remember him helping my dad and me to put a new roof on the kitchen and bathroom of our home. I especially remember him pulling me back up after I slipped on the beams and put a new hole in the bathroom ceiling with my feet. I experienced this for the first time at the end of high school career, when the Lutheran Youth assembled San Francisco, his hometown. I had found a set of friends and we wanted to “see California”. So this contractor cleaned his vehicle and removed his work tools, so that he could take my nine new found friends on a day of exploring Northern California. I experienced it for the last time when he said he had some questions about my cancer and how it had been treated.
I do know that all of the Stewart boys were baptized in the Baptist Church, Grandpa Stewart and Aunt Princess, his sister who was married to the minister, made sure of that. So I’m sure that My uncle like all the baptized here saw the Old Adam die when they were cleansed with the waters of baptism. I’m sure that my uncle was made new in Christ, just like all of us. I just don’t remember him practicing his faith inside a community. I never knew the community that was gathered around him at his address of over 45 years in Oakland, California. I may yet get to meet the community that found him when he did not answer the door, but that too was a caring community who looked out for him, as I am sure he looked out for them. Again Paul reminds us, as he reminded the Corinthians, “22 for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”
My sisters and brothers in Christ, It is Easter. We know the end of the story. Jesus is not dead, Jesus is alive. Paul recounts that mystery in his letter to the Corinthians, “24 Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” In multiple ways other members of the family of God will sing with extreme joy in their hearts “I know that my redeemer lives.” He has conquered death, he has put all enemies under his feet, and as he walks free of the tomb, he lives so that death is not the victor.
Paul finishes this section of the passage from this first letter to the Corinthians by saying, 27 For "God has put all things in subjection under his feet." But when it says, "All things are put in subjection," it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all. This is Easter, we see not only the strength and power of Jesus in overcoming death, but we continue to be in awe of the power of God, who has the ability to live with us in human form, submit himself to judgement by those who are not his equal, and demonstrate to them and to us, that the fear we have of death can be overcome, but those who willingly commit themselves to be members of God’s family by adoption through faith. May all the faithful rise, and say with me HE IS RISEN, HE is Risen INDEED. AMEN.

3/21/2008 Wednesday - Friday

Life has a way of intervening with life. Sixteen students are arrested after police say that orders to clear the area are not followed. Stun grenades and rubber bullets are used to keep the students off the street where they are not permitted. Three seminarians had been observing the march, but with the use of the grenades they ran toward campus and were stopped and arrested. None of the three were the athletes who play soccer and imitated the toi-toi of the marchers. One was over 30 and the other two I would not consider dangerous to butterflies. They are released and calls go to a wife and familes that they are all right.

Word about my uncle is that he had had a stroke. The Hodgkins Lymphoma that we had shared at different times in our lives had not gone into remission, but had lingered in his bone marrow and had taken a strong foothold. I don’t know if he had quit smoking, but it couldn’t have helped. His left side affected, he could not communicate, so questions from hospital staff were related to how aggressively to treat him. So Dawn is left with trying to communicate with my two cousins and let them know what is happening and to try to see if he had a lawyer in Oakland who had advised him about final arrangements. He had asked for our SSI numbers a few years back as he said to get ready for the inevitable. I had called him before leaving to let him know we were coming out in July.
After a ten hour drive to Limpopo, there are no messages, before we can eat dinner, load sharing takes place, the power goes off. The power company is unable to meet all the requirements of the country’s energy needs. So the sermon for Sunday remains unfinished. Sleep calls.

On Thursday at 4:30 I awake and decide to call home. Dawn is in the midst of writing an email to inform me that Melvin Stewart has died peacefully while in the care of the doctors and nurses. My cousins have not yet connected and she awaits the return of a call from his landlord. Having been through the details with my great aunt, my aunt, and planning with my mother, the list of questions comes quickly about next steps, including a Plan A that he might have formulated. Not knowing my uncle to be a demonstratively religious man, we formulate a plan B, which is wrapped around my return and a cremation now, but we await word from others before we act. Traveling back from South Africa is not now a part of the plan. It is amazing the way life can change how we think and how we operated on the spur of the moment. A Blessed Friday, that we call good.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

14 March 2008 – Friday – Tuesday “The Witness”

There is a feeling when I read about school violence in Philadelphia, that whatever happens is a Philly problem, but there is a rude slap in the face in the headlines of The Witness. Violence to, with, and among youth is a universal problem.

You also might want to view a picture of two peacemakers also on the front page of the Witness. Having an open office on a Saturday, was like a magnet. Over seven people came to my door asking if we had housing available on the campus. They were all asked to return on Monday, as I had no idea.

Sunday worship was processional and prayerful, with one of my students preaching, Zazi Hadebe. Palms from the front yard, laid down of the walk and processed upon by the gathered congregation. The worship on campus attracts both students and community residents, but they have to know about the experience, as there is no advertising, or even a sign that Sunday worship is held on the seminary campus, just the bell.

Monday morning devotions were an easy walk over the debris of the parade the previous day, but there was word during the announcements that there would be a student demonstration about the continued lack of housing for about 400 students. The students called not only for the housing, but the resignations of senior staff for whom housing was a responsibility. The students pledged that until there was housing there would be no classes on campus. In the process lectures and examinations were disrupted at UKZN. Lectures at LTI continued. Ministerial students gazed across the road that was patrolled by a police presence which diminished by noon.

Our jail birds are back. Tuesday started rainy and cold, but as the sun came out the voices of students could be heard from across the street. The demonstrations had continued. The police were back and the demonstrators were keeping their promise of no lectures or examinations until the housing issues had been addressed. This time the police were clear that they wanted this demonstration to end, so the use of rubber bullets and tear gas scattered the students, but it did not end their resolve. In the midst of the running three seminary students were arrested and taken to jail. The administrator spent some time trying to get them extricated. Along with the other students they returned in time for dinner, but there were reports of several students hit by the rubber bullets.

Family issues take up the bulk of my time today with my brother-in-law Robb still needing additional surgery after receiving his second liver transplant. The Tuesday am email from Dawn also carried news that my uncle in California, had been found after a heart attack, so as I type this I await an afternoon phone call from Dawn, as he has stated to others that we are the next of kin.

Ngicela umthandazo [Please, can I have prayer.]

Thursday, March 13, 2008

13 March 2008 – Thursday

It suddenly feels like I’ve slowed down. A report is turned in, a manual is in draft form, and finally I’m working on two chapters, that have awaited me and time. I recognized this phenomenon when I was thinking about what I would be doing in two weeks, rather than two days. Maybe it was laughing at a fine performance of Taming of the Shrew, or it was taking the afternoon to walk slowly to the 50 meter pool and seeing how few laps I could do, but committing to doubling my output in three weeks. Maybe it was sending in a letter with a request for an absentee ballot, now that the PA primary has taken on some importance. I’ll let you know if the mails cooperate.

After all my talk about the sun, we’ve had rain, but this afternoon there is a true Thunder shower with lightening putting white lines in a grey sky. I’ll be fine as long as the lights stay on. They’ve flickered, but that haven’t gone out like my first week when the country was experiencing ‘load shedding’, planned outages which have seriously affected the mining industry. Sixty percent decline in output has the effect of reducing over 50 percent of labor needed for the mining. The President of France made an appearance or two making deals to build more ‘coal’ generators to produce more power. Don’t worry soccer fans, they have promised that the lights will stay on for the World Cup.

Tuesday night a television arrived. Un-requested, it now sits on a corner of my table in my little room wondering why I don’t turn to it for entertainment and news. I think its looking for the remote control for the radio to turn it off, so it might be the center of attention. Wednesday brought a request to preach on Easter Sunday. Suddenly the pressure is on to be clear in one language so that the translator doesn’t have to clean up my theology in another language. I pray that I can handle “Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed.”

Thursday is a heavy worship day. Besides the normal 7:20 am and 7pm, today is the SORAT worship at 12:30, but with a significant number of Zimbabweans on campus and in the graduate program, 5 pm brought a prayer service for the coming election on March 29. The prayers were for ‘Free and Fair elections’; a Peaceful pre-election, election, and post-election process; and restoration of economy and Human dignity. Ten dollars US will make you a Zimbabwean millionaire. Steve DeGruchy spoke eloquently from Psalm 9, that “the Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” He asked that we pray not for party, but to pray for rulers and rulees, for whether we recognize it or not we are all children of God, even when we make misguided decisions. It was a powerfully reflective moment.

Prayers are lifted for all those people and countries who are struggling with elective processes that will govern God’s children.

Friday, March 7, 2008

7 March 2008 – Friday

On the left, a view of Pietermaritzburg from the 'Old Road.' Even the railroad climbed out of this valley to get to Johannesburg.

At the bottom of the picture on the right, is the traffic backup due to the truck accident earlier in the day that stopped traffic on N3.

A set of CD lessons for Zulu have arrived, so that some evenings are spent self teaching and practicing the lessons that some of my students have been giving me at the dinner table. Theater seems to be an easy outlet to get me “off campus.” I can literally see the theater from my front door. Last Friday I laughed a bit at “Hero” with Capt Bliksem & the Fris Four to the Rescue, a one man show that elicited a few laughs but also offered dinner before the show. The Hexagon Theater at UKZN has multiple venues, so that last night in a studio in the round I saw “The Taming of the Shrew.” [‘Witness’ Review] Tonight I plan on seeing a dinner mystery “The Strange Case of the Midlands Heiress”. [Witness Review]. I need to have other outlets to move away from just concentrating on the news.

Traffic news in the morning and evening is nationwide, so there was considerable concern when there were 32 deaths on N3, the national road [read Interstate] that goes through Pietermaritzburg, in the space of 2 hours, just on Monday. On the way back from shooting pictures of the valley that Pmb sits in, the road was closed again, as a semi-truck lost its brakes and the driver bailed out before the truck ran into a ravine. Defensive driving does not seem to be a part of the vocabulary. Yet as you can see from the photos, the townships are considerable distance from the center of town and everybody seems to move in and out. Private schools have parents dropping children off and picking them up, after school sports require parental car pools. In one of my classes, I had a question about the law and the tythe. In trying to show that most of us violate the law, I asked how many had licenses, thinking that I could get some to admit that they violated speed limits. I was stunned when no one raised their hands, at having a license. Then I asked if there was anyone who had never driven. Again no hands were raised. They got the message about breaking the law, but I got a lesson in South African traffic.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

3/4/2008 Tuesday

It seems that faculty meetings are the same no matter where the school, especially the first faculty meeting after a semester ends. Tough decisions, academic readiness, student services, financial aid [bursury here], relationship with ordination panels are made in every environment. For students, final classes needed before placement in a congregation, passing all courses, turning papers in on time are the pressure points that seem to have no geographical limit. This time I can listen and know that I do not have to participate in difficult conversations.

Yet the request to speak to some of the pastors from the German church about Stewardship, seems to carry with it the same kind of pressures that instigated the ELCA Blue Committee on Mission Funding. I was not aware that every Lutheran Church in South Africa may still receive funding from the mother church up north. Moving to internally supported generous giving is as much a challenge for the churches in the southern hemisphere as it is for those of us in the north. The difference being that northern churches are expected to have deeper pockets.

It’s been fun looking at the internal resources by former professors at the predecessor institutions that make up the LTI. Muendanyi Mahamba in 1993 wrote a stunningly prophetic piece on church support that needed to be grounded in scripture and based upon the generosity of the People of God. I always knew that I had walked in the footsteps of great persons.

I’m overwhelmed at the opportunities for theological discussion and debate. On Wednesday our competing lectures were a faculty paper on “Surviving the HIV/AIDS Epidemic in South Africa and a Norwegian Bishops “View of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict”. There are just not enough hours in the day. Peace.

Monday, March 3, 2008

3/2/2008 – Sunday Again

Sunday Worship in Imbali is student led. The pastor has multiple congregations to serve and the ordained graduate students or senior seminarians lead worship. On the first Sunday of each month the students go to a township church for the worship service. Caleb a student in the Ministerial courses [read Senior] is preaching today with two or more combis of fellow students added to the congregation. Cynthia Anderson, the Fulbright Scholar, joins us as she hopes that worshipping in a Zulu speaking congregation will help her language study. With a translator in one ear, the worship is relatively familiar.

At the end of the service there are presentations and introduction of visitors. The students receive applause as each is introduced, but when the three professors introduce themselves, there is an appreciable rise in volume. There may be a slight influence of having two theologians of African descent in their midst. Gertrude Tonsing also receives a good deal of applause, but it is after the service that her history emerges. One of the elders noted that she “looks like Monica.” Monica is my mother, but I didn’t think we looked that much alike.” During the last years of apartheid, Gertrude’s mother spent significant time in Imbali as an anti-apartheid worker and protector, sometimes sleeping in homes of persons that were threatened. Gertrude was a college student during the final days of apartheid and remembers the clandestine meetings in the shadow of the police academy.

For everyone you meet there are stories to tell, yet the students on campus are the leading edge of a cohort of young adults who grew up living in the beginning stages of a “Rainbow Nation” that seems to continually struggle with its identity. That is not to say that we Americans have moved great distances beyond behavior modification to attitudinal adjustment. The issues still arise here sometimes in very public forms. The University of the Free State has had a major incident wrapped around the ‘integration of the university and one of its residences. Please not that the reference has a disturbing video content in Afrikaans, and the story speaks for itself. [The Witness]

The week has been busy with a quick trip to Durban, to see the youngest Farisani Brother, who is a student at the Westville campus of UKZN. A late lunch of fish and chips near the ocean and a walk while looking at the Indian Ocean. The interesting thing is that commuting here is like commuting in the US. People do not consider a forty-five minute drive to be inconvenient for the sake of employment. The US consular officer I met earlier works in Durban and lives in Pietermaritzburg. Travel back to see family may involve 12 hour round trips for some of the graduate students on campus, but that is a part of the sacrifice they are willing to make for the sake of their education, not unlike LTSP’s resident commuters.

All of the eight students have now had a one on one conversation with me about their work. I’m interested in how they see themselves in six months, as all of them are headed for the parish. They have finished their Bachelor of Theology degree and are taking church specified courses prior to be assigned to a parish. Some were delayed for a variety of reasons, so their anxiety level is near the same level as the seniors I normally see.

It’s hard to believe that I have been here a month. Time really does fly, but left over work is being sent back and new work is under way and the teaching continues. Type to you all later.