April Fools’ Day

For many it would have been completely appropriate that Easter fell on April Fools’ Day this year. I think that if you are struggling with how the Resurrection fits in with History and with the Christian Faith, and how it shapes both, here are two good videos you can watch to help you make sense of it:

Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection? – Tom Wright

Why does Jesus’ Resurrection Matter? – Tom Wright

For me, the Resurrection makes me think about the importance of embodiment and how in the West we have ignored the importance of our bodies in life. As Ken Robinson has said in one of his rather humerous TED Talks, people often envision their bodies as that which takes their brains to meetings. Straddling an Honours at UCT and St John’s Leadership Academy highlights these challenges in our society (not least in the Church too) of what to do with our bodies. My thoughts on Education are being significantly challenged, and at the same time I am revisiting the implications for discipleship.

Another reason Easter stands out for me, this year at least, is that Marion flew to the USA for three weeks on Easter Sunday. So for the first time in many years I was alone for a significant period of time. Obviously I had guests in the AirBnb and was around others many times, but the very significant other was away. I had mentioned to a few people that I was interested to see how I would cope as generally I don’t like being alone. I knew I had a lot of academic work to do, and that did keep me largely busy. I also managed to get a fair routine developed, but I did succumb to eating cake regularly at a coffee shop in the last week. Not good for the budget or the waistline. Nonetheless, Marion arrived back to a healthy and happy husband.

I remember how when Marion and I first moved to Cape Town we both battled to live balanced lives. We recognised that we couldn’t both work, study and expect to be great spouses. As Marion’s studies were attached to a specialist post, her giving up work to study was not an option. And obviously a lot had taken place at the time I went to study Theology at Cornerstone (in my father’s passing and me giving up my work), but it gave us space to nurture our relationship while growing. My mistake then was that I got too involved in various ministries inside and outside of Church. I have taken a more measured approach this time around. But, my conviction is that education cannot take place without ministry, if the education is about ministry. So I have to extract myself from activities which keep my mind too cluttered to engage fully in my faith and educational journey. And I have to remember that this journey is about moving towards ordination in the Anglican Church. It is easy to change direction a degree or two (no pun intended), and after three years be in quite a different place from where one first intended. So constantly one has to crab (as it is called in flying). One heads in a direction, but there are constantly winds blowing one off course. So one re-adjusts.

At the same time, I need to remind myself that I am only five months into this three year journey, and that in a large sense I am still readjusting to the change from the end of last year. But I also need to recognise factors pushing and pulling at me that I had not anticipated and that have arisen as the journey continues.

So, you may have noticed that the blogs are roughly a month behind. I’ll aim to get the May blog out on time. Thanks for sticking with me.

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March Meanderings

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Now we are in the full swing of Lent and the SJLA journey continues. I gave up alcohol for Lent, but in January (to correspond with the new academic journey). For the 40 days, I specifically gave up caffeinated drinks, and the withdrawal from those is significantly worse than the withdrawal from alcohol. A small price to pay, but the cravings (for caffeine) are a constant reminder of how we grow to depend on that which we don’t need.

This March we started our Mondays off with site visits. Dean and I were partnered and we started off from St Paul’s in Rondebosch for a walk to upper campus and a quick tour of the Leslie Social Sciences building. Then we headed back and had a meeting with Rev. Reeva and Rev Isaiahs at St Paul’s to talk about Ansoc, Contextual Bible Studies at UCT and other student engagements. Rev Reeva and Rev Isaiahs have both been recently installed as Rector at St Pauls and as UCT Chaplain respectively, so we are all in new phases in relation to UCT.

We then headed over to St Johns Wynberg for a tour of the grounds and a much needed hot drink. Dean had a flat white, and I had a Redspresso from Ground Up. Ground Up is a great initiative started by Learn to Earn, training baristas and getting them started with some capital. They’ve established an outlet on the premises at St Johns and I can recommend stopping off there if you are in the area. They’re open during normal working hours. We then headed off through the streets of Wynberg.

Wynberg is something of a microcosm of the city in that you have the grand old houses on the hill (with schools), the working class business district (with schools and parks), and then the transport hubs with the street vendors. I’m not sure if there are schools there, but it certainly was bustling with activity. Something which struck us was the names of the shops which we did not recognise. Something is going on there which we are not familiar with, which is refreshing. The chain stores that so often suck money out of communities, rather than circulate it within the communities, were present, but it didn’t look like they had a hegemonic presence there.

Since then, we’ve planned a contextual Bible Study for out Men’s Breakfast Group at St Peter’s and more recently engaged in power dynamics exercise. Pretty humbling and illuminating. I have no reason to complain. This month we’re moving into our new term and the journey continues.

Formation and Education

This year I started a significantly new journey. Not in that I haven’t traveled it before, but rather in that the change has been significant. From spending five years working in Higher Education, I’ve gone back to being a full-time student and focusing on a vocational guidance process at the St John’s Leadership Academy (SJLA). We’ve also opened our home as an Airbnb home, but that’s a story for another time.

I think the verse that has reverberated most strongly with me during this transition period has been Isaiah 30:15:

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:
In returning and rest you shall be saved;
    in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.
But you refused.”

My life before my return to full-time studies and that of many around me has been of an unprecedented busy kind. Even now, out of habit, I find myself getting sucked too easily into busyness, and that is the one thing I aim to avoid this year. It’s not so much a life that has lots of time to lie around that I seek, but at least one which allows you to get a good day in and not feel like you are constantly behind.

But joining a group of people that are focused on growing in their calling has been a shot in the arm. There is an anchor in these relationships. Never mind not being in a vocational guidance group, I haven’t been part of a consistent small group fellowship in a long time. It feels like coming home. This is undoubtedly the most important part of joining this group for me at the moment. We’ve been meeting for a month now (regular Monday mornings) and we’re also edified intellectually and emotionally and trained practically.

I think this is going to be a good year.

The Future of the Anglican Church

From a relatively healthy position, making up twenty percent of the Christian population in 1911, the Anglican Church has now become the smallest mainline denomination in South Africa, comprising only five percent. The only mainline church not to have suffered a similar fate is the Catholic Church, which has tripled its representation in terms of percentage of Christians in South Africa (Symington 2005: 78) (see Figure 1).

Mainline Denominations

Figure 1: Church representation in South Africa in the last century

While there are many reasons why this may be the case, it is not because Christianity is declining. Rather, Africa as a whole, South Africa included, has seen a rise in the number of Christians over the same period in terms of percentage of population as well as in absolute figures. The growth in the church in South Africa has come mainly from the African Independent, Pentecostal, Charismatic and other churches (Hendriks 2010: 1). Why is this?

Emeritus Professor Jurgens Hendriks of Stellenbosch University suggests the decline is as a result of two opposite dangers. The first is that mainline churches hold to certain patterns, whether in worship or in doctrine, that are wholly unnecessary to the life of the church or to Christians, going as far as suggesting that this is a heresy. The second danger is the tendency of churches in the current post-modern culture to suggest that any version, of doctrine or worship, is valid, and leave every church to its own expression of Christianity (Hendriks 2010: 22).

I think we are far from hearing the death rattles of the Anglican Church, my spiritual home, especially in light of the number of churches being planted countrywide, and the Archbishop’s charge to his own Diocese this last Thursday evening.  My aim in this series of blogs is to analyse the situation facing the church and to highlight some of the solutions proposed by key players in the Diocese of Cape Town, as well as the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Please join me on this journey, whether you are Anglican or from another mainline denomination that has struggled similarly this past century. We are in this together, and an improvement in the state of any denomination is a cause for celebration in all others.

References:

Hendriks, J.H. 2010. Highlights from the Alpha Cape Town 2010 Invitation Conference. Retrieved April 30, 2010, from Alpha Western Cape: The Alpha Course: http://www.alphacapetown.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=36&Itemid=30

Hendriks, J.H. 2010. Theological Education In Africa: Reliable leadership, sustainable seminaries. The NetACT story 2000-2010. Retrieved September 05, 2012, from Teologie Stellenbosch: http://academic.sun.ac.za/tsv/netact/PAPER-TEA-LIMURU%20AUG2010.pdf

Symington, J. 2005. South African Christian Handbook 2005-2006. Wellington: Tydskriftemaatskappy.

 

Repeating our mistakes

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It is perhaps indicative of us as a society, that we misattribute a very telling quote. “Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results”, or something in that vein, is often attributed to Einstein (for more on that, see http://www.news.hypercrit.net/2012/11/13/einstein-on-misattribution-i-probably-didnt-say-that/). Perhaps it is our desire to lend weight to the saying that leads us to attribute it to Time’s person of the century (20th, that is), because let’s face it, don’t we want to get people to stop and think carefully about their actions?

There are other sayings that capture this thought, albeit in other trajectories, such as this poem by Steven Turner:

History repeats itself.
Has to.
No-one listens.

But one of the earlier sources (in terms of actual written literature, not a misattribution) is more haunting, because it lays bare our vulnerability as humans. In a pamphlet from the Hazelden Foundation, a narcotic addicts’ treatment centre, we find the quotation in one of their pamphlets:

“The price may seem higher for the addict who prostitutes for a fix than it is for the addict who merely lies to a doctor, but ultimately both pay with their lives. Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.”

Whether we prostitute ourselves or lie to a respectable member of society, repeating our mistakes while hoping for a better life will not lead us out of our malaise.

Your company and good intentions


Seldom has a truer word been spoken than “Hell is full of good intentions or desires”. I’m with Aldous Huxley on this one:

aldous-huxley-novelist-hell-isnt-merely-paved-with-good-intentions

For those with academic tendencies, Huxley’s quote reflects Saint Bernard of Clairvaux’s (1091-1153) usage, but even earlier versions exist (I believe in research, so for this one, I leave it to you).

There is a lot that can be said about this in a variety of spheres of life, and people will be able to cite a number of instances where they were at the short end of the stick in relation to public policy, family member’s or even their faith community’s good intentions. But I want to focus this post on professional (or unprofessional, if you want) conduct in the workplace. This is an arena filled with some of the best examples of well meaning, yet worst results in terms of destroyed morale and the inefficacy that manifests. It is not surprising that worldwide, only 13% of employees are actively engaged in their work (you can read the original Gallup Report here). 63% of employees are not engaged, and 24% are actively disengaged i.e. they are unhappy, unproductive and likely to be a drain on the energy in the workplace.

South Africa fares far worse. Only 9% of employees are engaged, 46% are not engaged and 45% are actively disengaged. There are only two countries where a higher percentage of employees are actively disengaged than in South Africa: Tunisia and Algeria. We come in at joint third place with Syria. I’m not particularly sure this is a bronze medal we want to win. A cursory glance through the figures indicates that there is no correlation between employee engagement figures and economic growth data, nor between engagement and income inequality.

This is not surprising because Employee Engagement is measured by seeing how employees answer various questions, twelve in particular. These questions were settled upon after the Gallup organisation had conducted over one million interviews. Subsequent to that, they have conducted over ten million interviews. i.e. The questions were not arrived at based on some people’s perceptions or intentions (however good they may have been). Rather, a large amount of relevant data was collected, sifted and tested. After that, more research was done to test the initial findings (not unlike the scientific method). (You can read more about the questions and how they were arrived at here.) This is important, and is linked to why I started this postDear-Jeremy-Have-your-say-006 the way I did. Perhaps another quote may illustrate the point:

(The person in the picture isn’t Albert Camus, by the way, but I think he would approve of the photo.) You see, too often, good intentions lack understanding or learning related to the issues people face. I mentioned that people face a litany of assaults based on good intentions in a number of spheres of their lives. There is a lot of information available on various organisations and governments doing more damage to communities than good (here is a glimpse from one source.) This is more often than not, because people value intentions over data or outcomes.

The idea that intentions are more important than outcomes is based on thinking that values one’s own feelings and thoughts over the thoughts, feelings and even measurable experiences of others. This is where research and data come in, and hopefully people adjust their thinking when presented with credible data (if the cries of the hurt people are not enough). And I know, as the celebrated Stanford psychologist says:Head in Sand

All I can say is that someone said it a long time ago:

The heart is devious above all else;
    it is perverse—
    who can understand it?”

Jeremiah 17:9

If you’re in a workplace where the good intentions of your managers are constantly creating frustration and pain, and no matter how much you show them that what they are doing is not helping you, them or the company, you yourself will have to come up with some pretty creative solutions. The one hope I can give you, is that this is a characteristic of people, rather than companies. You don’t necessarily have to leave your company to get managed better.

The flip side though is that managers who are aiming to improve and are willing to “see” facts and figures can make some pretty simple changes to radically improve the engagement of employees. Back to the 12 questions, or actually, just the first two. If employees strongly agree with the following questions, they are far more likely to be engaged than employees that only partially agree or strongly disagree.

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?

I mention these two because managers need a place to start, and this is a good place that can have markedly good results in the engagement of those who report directly to those managers. Obviously there is a lot more to managing well, and if you, as a manager, don’t know what is expected of you, it may be difficult to enunciate the outcomes those under your supervision need to achieve. You need to have a chat to your manager then. But give clear guidelines based on outcomes and then make sure your direct reports have the tools they need to achieve those outcomes. In fact, if employees answer positively to all the other ten questions, but they answer negatively to these two, they will not be engaged. Define the outcomes, supply the tools.

Back to the theme then. Good intentions, like a nursery at work for toddlers, or the latest coffee machine, while useful (especially since mothers with toddlers will probably need good quality coffee at work) mean very little when employees don’t know what is expected of them. And when they know, but they aren’t given the resources to do the job, they can be even more frustrated. That scratches at the surface, as the above examples (the nursery and coffee machine) can be good. But other managers try to reshape workplaces in ways which only cause anxiety, like remodelling desk space according to the latest movie, rather than decent research, or telling employees that people want ‘certain things’ and then giving those ‘certain things’ to the employee without even asking the employee their opinion. These things drain employees. This is why appreciation is not expressed. Not because nothing was done, but because what was done was not done in the interests of the employee, but done out of a misplaced vision that was more important to the manager than the lives of the people who were meant to achieve the said vision.

Good managers know, employees are the stars.

On Polycarp and how we spend our time

Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna (modern day Izmir in Turkey) is one of the most celebrated characters of ancient Christendom, yet we know very little about his life. He lived from 69 to 155 AD and as far we can gather from his disciple, Irenaeus, he was a disciple of the Apostle John and consecrated bishop of Smyrna by John himself.

Of his martyrdom, we know more as it is one of the most well documented events of antiquity. The Roman Emperors of the period had unleashed bitter attacks against the Christians of this era and members of the church recorded many of these persecutions and deaths. Polycarp was arrested on the charge of being a Christian — a member of what was then perceived as a politically dangerous cult whose rapid growth needed to be stopped. Amidst an angry mob, the Roman proconsul took pity on such a gentle old man and urged Polycarp to proclaim, “Caesar is Lord”. If only Polycarp would make this declaration and offer a small pinch of incense to Caesar’s statue he would escape torture and death. To this Polycarp responded, “Eighty-six years I have served Christ, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” Polycarp refused to compromise his beliefs, and thus, was burned alive at the stake. Tradition has it that the flames would not approach him and so he was stabbed by a Roman soldier.

But of what relevance is this account to us today? Two things strike one about his resolute faith in Christ. One was that for him to offer up his life for Jesus, he must truly have believed what he professed. Secondly, he would not participate in idolatry of any sort. He would not offer up even a pinch of incense to Caesar.

Are we as resolute in our faith? Death is not something we face as Christians practicing our faith in South Africa. That should never dull our minds to the reality that in the twentieth century, more Christians were martyred for their faith than in all the previous centuries put together since the death and resurrection of Jesus. And today Christians face persecution and martyrdom across the globe.

However, what we are faced with in South Africa is idolatry. And I suspect the idolatry we are most at risk of falling into and perpetuating is the idolatry of busyness. Today, we believe, not in one God, but in busyness. We believe in always being involved in something. We believe it is more important to be a human doing than to be a human being.

I’m not sure how many of you have ever compared the two accounts of the Ten Commandments in The Bible with each other. The longest of The Ten Commandments is to rest on the Sabbath. Not only is it the longest, but we find that in Exodus chapter 20, there are 90 words that make up this commandment. In Deuteronomy, this has been expanded to 129 words. Not one of the other commandments was expanded to this extent.

When Jesus was asked, what is the greatest of commandments, he replied, “To love the Lord your God, with all your heart, soul, mind and body and to love your neighbour as yourself.” The first three commandments can be summed up in Jesus’ first statement to love God, and the last six commandments can be summed up in his second statement to love one’s neighbour. Between these commandments, we find the commandment to rest, to take time out. As the Hebrew’s continued their walk with God, they found that if they did not observe this fourth commandment, they started falling short on all the others, which is why they placed such great emphasis on it.

But it’s not just the bible that tells us that. We know it from our own experience. When we are too busy, we start snapping at each other. We start missing out on quiet times, time to pray, read one’s Bible, or just to be. We also know it from current research. Marcus Buckingham in his book, “The One Thing You Need to Know” says that the one thing that marks out people who consistently outperform others is that they cut out what is not necessary. Jim Collins, in his book “Good to Great” says that one factor that marks great companies out against merely good companies is that they focus on what they are really good at and stop doing what they are merely average at.

This applies to you and what God calls you to be. You are good at certain things and you enjoy certain things. Where God is calling you to, is where what you are good at meets what you enjoy. Further to that, where your pleasure intersects with your skills, there is a need to be met in society. True greatness and pleasure rests in meeting the needs of others with your skills. Rather than have your fingers in ten pies, get your hands into one or two pies and take what you have and offer it to God. Cut out activities that drain you. Focus on being, not doing. You will find resistance. Some people will tell you that ‘Idle hands are the Devil’s hands’ and in some circumstances they are right. But in today’s context, we need to hear the fourth commandment. We need to rest.

Don’t even offer a small pinch of your time to mindless activities. Focus your whole being on God, have faith in Christ and offer your services to meet the needs of society.