31 October 2007

a father so cold (day 3)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Homelessness is the condition and societal category of people who lack fixed housing, usually because they cannot afford a regular, safe, and adequate shelter. The term "homelessness" may also include people whose primary nighttime residence is in a homeless shelter, in an institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized, or in a public or private place not designed for use as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings. [1][2] A small number of people choose to be homeless. An estimated 100 million people worldwide are homeless.

a father so cold (a man on a sidewalk outside a shelter with his family in the richest country in the world)

the car rolls
down a trash-hewn street

we slowly drift by
empty storefronts
the remnants of prosperity

the air is brisk
heavy wih the cold
heavy with the past

the curb reaches out
draws the car close
the tires begin to express their weight
on cups and cans
and needles and bags

before the passenger door can be opened
the horde appears
the wretched approach
flashing tired eyes
outstretched hands

fighting through the maze
to the back of the line
we find a mother and her children
and her husband

we find her husband
and he will not make eye contact
as he accepts the food i bring

he is shame
he is anger
under blankets
so cold
outside a shelter
he is failure
no home
so cold
he is hurt
you can tell
he is pain
so cold
deep inside
his daughter
so young
so cold
on streets
his seed
his son
so cold
his own
no home
his pain
so cold
still fresh
still raw
his wife
so cold
his children
they shiver
and cry
so cold

under the bridge
in the shadows
he lays
huddles with his family
they cry
he prays

where is this love
this savior
this life
who knows the prayer
to feed his children
his wife

this is all
no less
no more
this is his home
the sidewalk
so cold

(happy birthday dad - i love you.)

30 October 2007

patriotism (day 2)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Patriotism denotes positive and supportive attitudes to a 'fatherland' (Latin patria < Greek patris, πατρίς), by individuals and groups. The 'fatherland' (or 'motherland') can be a region or a city, but patriotism usually applies to a nation and/or a nation-state. Patriotism covers such attitudes as: pride in its achievements and culture, the desire to preserve its character and the basis of the culture, and identification with other members of the nation. Patriotism is closely associated with nationalism, and is often used as a synonym for it. Strictly speaking, nationalism is an ideology - but it often promotes patriotic attitudes as desirable and appropriate. (Both nationalist political movements, and patriotic expression, may, yet need not, be negative towards other people's 'fatherland').
Patriotism has ethical connotations: it implies that the 'fatherland' (however defined) is a moral standard or moral value in itself. The expression my country right or wrong - perhaps a misquotation of the American naval officer Stephen Decatur, but also attributed to Carl Schurz - is the extreme form of this belief. Patriotism also implies that the individual should place the interests of the nation above their personal and group interests. In wartime, the sacrifice may extend to their own life. Death in battle for the fatherland is the archetype of extreme patriotism.


liberty, it seems,
is overrated

freedom, i feel,
is a bit contrived

this space we inhabit

and the universe
holds more than our lives

you see
my livery does not define me
and your colors
i’m afraid they do run

their armor is the same
as the armor that was made
for my brother
his sister and your son

and now
pain is not limited to family
and evil
does not follow a creed

the idea that we know
how we’ll reap what we sow
is an issue
not settled by greed

so please
let your eyes roll back softly
and let your ties to security
go loose

and look
ever so closely
at the steps
that we take toward the noose

follow the lead

the path

must die
the cause
the night

29 October 2007

bread and circuses (day 1)

Bread and circuses
From Wikipedia

"Bread and circuses" has come to be a derogatory phrase that can criticize either government policies to pacify the citizenry, or the shallow, decadent desires of that same citizenry. In both cases, it refers to low-cost, low-quality, high-availability food and entertainment that have become the sole concern of the People, to the exclusion of matters that some consider more important: e.g. the Arts, public works projects, human rights, or democracy itself. The phrase is commonly used to refer to short-term government palliatives offered in place of a solution for significant, long-term problems.

circus and bread

what’s it all worth
what’s it all about
what can be done to wake us up
to inspire some rage
some angst
some doubt

restrain yourself and wait around
for the baker’s bread and circus clowns

distracted, destroyed
by our own free will
the empirical imperial
we come
they cry
they beg
we steal

this is us
this is us
it is real

this is america

where everyone
is blue or red
where progress
requires the dead
where words of life
are left unsaid
where a child could eat
but it’s diamonds instead
where eyes are so distracted
they fall out of our head
where dreaming is sadly
restricted to bed
where lies are eaten
by whomever is fed
where all we want
is our circus and bread

28 October 2007

week-long series begins monday - i believe in change

Monday I will begin week-long, six-day series of posts that have groaned forth from the depths within me. I am hopeful that you will share them and that you will comment on them. I hope for honesty and self-reflection. I hope for a discussion to emerge.

You see, there are days that I believe in change. There are days that I feel like a revolutionary. There are days when I feel like the drop in the bucket that I contribute to the world might just be the drop that causes the water to breach the top rim of the bucket, spilling revolutionary love and grace into the world at large, into the places beyond the reach of my too-short arms.

There will be poems I have written and explanations as to what it might all mean.

Again, please share. And please contribute - positive, negative, whatever.

darkness into light

27 October 2007

have you got a minute? of angry fog and steve mcqueen

- The South African Rugby team just won the World Cup. This is basically like Canada or Finland winning the Ice Hockey World Championship. There are like 5 nations in the world that take it seriously and even in those countries it is a 2nd tier sport. Don’t want to rain on the South African parade, but hey...

- Maybe we’re just bitter because the weather hates us. It’s been 48 degrees for the last 48 hours. It is almost summer. To make it even more pleasant, there is this driving, mega-drop fog rolling around. We’ve all seen fog roll in, but this is a new animal altogether. This is like huge, painful pellets of rain just punching people (while cleverly disguised in cloud form).

It’s pretty incredible, actually. We live a few hundred yards from a 600 ft observation tower It is like the Space Needle in Seattle or Tower of Americas or that one with the roller coaster in Vegas or Reunion Tower in Dallas. It’s called the Sentech Tower or Brixton Tower - Google it. Anyway, we really live in the shadow of the thing, only we haven’t seen it in 3 days. Clever fog...

- Stef looks pretty small (smaller than normal) against the backdrop of an ancient volcano that has become a game reserve. Lucky me.

- Did I mention that I may have given away my North Face jacket a little prematurely? Beauty has it in the squatter camp, so I have no regrets. It is her new best jacket and it is another blanket for her kids at night. Still funny that I believed that the summer was upon us (a month ago).

- Can you believe that it is almost November?

- I have been thinking about using an entire post (and an entire chapter of the book that I am trying to piece together) on somewhat obscure movie lines that absolutely make me smile.

For instance, in the Steve McQueen thriller “Bullitt”, McQueen looks at a woman whose heart he has recently trampled on. She is doubting him, doubting them, and generally inconsolable. He pulls her close and says, “Time starts now baby.” What?!? Classic line. Makes no sense. Insults the girl. Somehow it all works out.

Or in Jurassic Park, Samuel L Jackson (I think) says “Hold onto your butts” right before he’s about to turn off the electric fences and allow the chaos to begin or something. Hold onto your butts? What?!? That sounds like something Jim Carrey would do in one of his early, irritating movies (Pet Detective, anyone?).

There are certainly more. And I’m not quite sure how any of them fit into any larger picture, but certainly there is something there. My big question concerns the screenwriting abilities of people writing major Hollywood films.

- Stef’s Deal or No Deal Interview went so well. More about that soon.

- A few more Canadians (mounties and eskimos mainly) rolled through here recently. They wanted to have some “South African food”. After several days of intense meetings on the subject, we came to a conclusion that there is no such thing.

- On the subject of cuisine, we ate dinner at the home of a Pakistani/Indian family from the church on Friday night. We had biryani (Google it) which was very good. We also avoided nuclear war, which was good. Seriously, an Indian and a Pakistani? Pretty interesting.

- All for now... Enjoy some coffee for me.

26 October 2007

what we're reading (the wisdom of crowds)

I am finishing up a book called The Wisdom of Crowds – Why the Many are Smarter than the Few.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

This book has been a fascinating look at collective intelligence, the idea that we make better decisions as a group than we do as individuals. The book begins with simple illustrations, such as these:

Consider one of those festival games where you must guess how many jelly beans are in a jar. Alone, you will likely be far off. But, when averaging together hundreds of guesses, the result was likely closer to accurate than any single guess.

A scientist kept track of a competition at a county fair in 1906. The challenge was to guess the weight of an ox. Many farmers and ranchers (people with extensive knowledge of oxen) were in attendance and gave their best guesses. The scientist simply averaged all of the guesses (the collective guess, you could say) and was off by less than a pound.

More complex stories are offered, such as the American military idea of Commander’s Intent. That is the policy that subordinates are generally free to do what they please (i.e. avoid micro-management) as long as they fulfill the main objective, the Commander’s Intent. The underlying idea is that while the Commander may be the most knowledgeable and the most qualified to offer orders on how things must be done, it is the field generals that have the most intimate knowledge base (and therefore the most comprehensive knowledge base) and should be trusted to carry out the mission in the way they see fit.

As always, I fail to do proper justice to the book. But, maybe you get the idea.
Wisdom of Crowds on Wikipedia

25 October 2007

a coffee shop day

Today is grey in Joburg. Another cold front has blown through. It is windy and chilly. The rains will begin to fall again soon. It is a perfect morning to spend at a coffee shop.

I love the coffee shop. I love sitting and staring, thinking and reading, writing and sitting and staring some more. I love the anonymity of sitting in my corner and the subtle recognition that it is the corner where I always sit. I love the coffee shop.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Today, since I cannot go to a coffee shop, I will simply reminisce.

I love the Candlelight Coffee House on St Mary’s Street in San Antonio. I love the crowd, dressed up with nowhere to go. I love the old funky furniture and the smell of wine and coffee blending together. I love the patio, quiet and unassuming. I love that I could sit by myself for hours and never be bothered.

I love Starbucks in Abilene, TX. Sinful to say, maybe… But it is a bastion of familiarity in a place that is still unfamiliar to me. Stef is from Abilene and my lovely mother and sister (in-law) live there. So, sometimes, when I begin to twitch for no good reason, it is a good thing to get a small cup of something strong, to smell something familiar, and to enjoy the senses God gave me.

I love Metro Bar in Austin. I love that I am as likely to hear Italian being spoken as English. I love the darkness and stillness within, while busy students and business-people buzz on Guadalupe Street just outside. I love the Italian sodas they make, since Austin seems to be blistering hot and walking that town can be brutal in the summer.

I love Spider House in Austin. I love wondering what went on in the rooms of that old house before me and my laptop took up residence. I love trying to guess how old the creaky wood floor is and trying to figure out what the tattoos of the person sitting across the room actually mean. I love getting a bottle of water and a trip into some alternate universe. I love seeing students run in, clamoring for something trendy, something that might help them find acceptance. It is to people with blue hair and multiple piercings what Starbucks is to people with SUVs and carseats. I love that it is different and yet, to the people it serves, so much the same.

I love Ruta Maya in downtown San Antonio. Comfortable couches and huge windows looking onto Martin Street make it the greatest place to spend a rainy day that I can think of. The inside is cold and unfriendly…lacking pretension. The coffee is the best that I have tasted and the espresso is as close to perfect as I know. The ceiling stands tall over the concrete floors. Grey abounds. Unlike every other coffee shop which is splashed in bold reds and yellows and browns, Ruta Maya embraces the city, the concrete and the asphalt. It is gritty and somehow softly welcoming. Watching people interact with the 325 ft tall hotel across the street and watching workers slowly renovate the interior of a nearby office building…simple joy for me. Watching the busses carry the masses off to somewhere I’ve probably never been is an ongoing source of curiosity and fascination.

I think if I could be anywhere today, I’d be in Ruta Maya. I would order a triple espresso con panna. I’d sip it slowly, since 4 ounces doesn’t last too long in gulps. After an hour or so, I’d finish the last, grainy drops. I would then get myself a glass of water (self-serve, like any good coffee shop) and look at the pastries. I’d probably order one of those crumbly pastries with the dollop of blueberry jam in the middle and a cup of mild coffee. I’d take both and sit back in my corner, content to sit and stare, think and read, write and sit and stare some more. After a while, I would notice half a cup of cold coffee staring at me. I would drink it down quickly, still wonderful in its chilly state.

I would get up, almost regretting the morning in solitude and relishing it at the same time. I would leave the coffee shop, very simply, contented.

Someday soon made a promise I will follow…

24 October 2007

"the only candy with the cookie crunch"

For our 101st post (crazy, huh?), I thought I'd offer up something a little different.

Last night, I ate a TWIX. You know, "the only candy with the cookie crunch." <-- That is a line from a Seinfeld episode. I quote it every time I eat a TWIX. I can't help it. After using it last night (Stef never laughs at it by the way - she sort of takes note that I spoke and goes back to what she's doing), I realized that I missed Seinfeld in a very simple way. That show makes the ordinary nonsense of life funny. And some days, like today, we need a little more funny.

For your enjoyment, George Costanza's TWIX moment.

23 October 2007

wrapping up the summit (with photos!)

We’ve been promising photos from the Leadership Summit, so you could see the young people that we’re trying to invest in (especially for those of you who sacrificed so that they might have a chance – thank you again).

We’ve been so pleased with the results of the 2-day conference. The guys (and girls) are still talking about the concepts they learned from Collin Powell, Carly Fiorina, Marcus Buckingham, Richard Curtis, John Ortberg, and Bill Hybels. Google all of those folks. It would be worth your time.

Anyway, let me share some more good news with you. A small Canadian team of ministers has come through and one, in particular, was impressed with my leadership guys. He sat in on our Wednesday night class and offered to buy each guy in the class the book of the speaker of their choice from the conference. Praise the Lord!!

The African children sing a song: “If you believe then I believe, Africa will be saved.”

With your help, there are still days when I can believe that to be true.

the group (minus one who was looking for a toilet)
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

preparing to learn with free coffee and materials (big deal, i promise)
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

stef and tondy enjoying lunch
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

michael, kyle, and and mareka
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

close up of the badge
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

inside the summit
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

22 October 2007

ayi yani se langa ("no deal"...yet)

The following photos are from one of the most interesting, most frustrating evenings we can remember.

Stef received word recently that the TV game show Deal or No Deal was looking for her. She answered a casting call of theirs in May. Well, they waited until we arrived here to call her about it and then asked if we could set up a phone interview and video audition for the producers.

Obviously, this could be a tremendous opportunity, so we got right on it. We needed a video camera, lighting equipment, 5 “supporters” who understood the game, and a speaker phone. Check. Check. Check. Che…Uh-oh.

We scrounged around and found what we were looking for. The final piece of the puzzle was finding a 30m phone cord to take the office speaker phone into the church (aka studio). We set up and were ready to go when, gasp, we realized that while we did have a speaker phone, we lacked a phone with a microphone.

Who makes a speakerphone that you can’t talk into? Apparently, South Africans do. The biggest problem with this revelation was that we only found out an hour before the 11am conference call (11am in Los Angeles, 8pm for us).

We then scrambled around for a phone and enlisted the help of everyone we could think of. We ended up with 7 speakerphones from a variety of sources….none of which would work. Every problem that you could imagine popped up: phones were dead, phones began smoking when plugged in, phones couldn’t find a dial-tone, and phones just plain didn’t work.

Eventually, exhausted, we let our crew go home. Stef called the casting agent in LA and broke the news. For all of our efforts, we just couldn’t make it work.

The good news in all of this? He said we could do it all again this Thursday.

Enjoy the photos.

the professional lighting
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

the contestant
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

the frustrated husband and his cords
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

the supporters
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

restless africans
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

canadian videographer
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

antique phone #1 of 7(aka "the problem")
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

19 October 2007

a huge thank you

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

We just want to take a second to say a HUGE thank you to those of you who were so generous to help with the Leadership donations.

The guys (and girls) enjoyed the Leadership Summit so much. They left with a new confidence and audacity about their ability to make the world a better place.

The money over our goal is going to be put to use to make sure that the journey for these folks continues. Each had a favorite speaker and each speaker had books that our young leaders were interested in (but couldn't afford). Now, our young leaders will be able to follow up their experience with immersion in the ideas that so intruiged them.

Humbly...thank you. (photos of everyone at the conference coming monday or tuesday)

18 October 2007

story to follow...

Let's just say that we have a story to tell you. Today is going to be a very interesting, very fun day. So, the only clue you have as to what is going on is this giant logo.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

17 October 2007

what we're reading (the economic naturalist)

Hello. We just finished a book called “The Economic Naturalist”. A Cornell professor found that very few of his students (and very few economic professionals) properly understood basic economic principles. For instance, only 21% of economic professionals correctly answered a multiple choice question related to Opportunity Cost. That is worse than if the answers were simply chosen randomly (4 answers would mean that the correct answer would be given 25% of the time in the case of blind guesses). What he found is that these principles are often so muddled in academic language as to completely useless to the common man and somewhat complicated even to professionals.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

This book fixes that. Ever wondered why soda comes in round cans and milk in square cartons? Ever wonder why tickets to Broadway shows are cheaper at the last minute but airplane tickets are more expensive? Are you curious as to why rural people marry earlier than urban people or why no one wants a date who is "too into them"? It’s these sort of simple questions that the professor uses to unlock the beauty of economics and seal them into your brain. Trust me – I don’t see a milk carton without thinking about the reason why it is the shape it is.


16 October 2007

beauty in the brokenness

Can I paint a picture for you?

Just the other day I caught a glimpse of a sight that is simply perfect to describe life here.

Stefani had just finished a voice lesson with a quadriplegic girl named Jadie. She proceeded to roll Jadie and her wheelchair (which features two flat tires, by the way) down the pothole-laden ramp to the front of the church.

Waiting there was young Aria, who you met in a previous post.
”meet aria”
If you’ll remember, Aria is a child from the squatter camp. She is fatherless and waiting on time and disease to render her motherless as well. She is endlessly lovable and endlessly naughty. She is funny and dirty and altogether wonderful. As such, she latches on to one side of the wheelchair and helps (read: hinders) pushing it away from the church.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThen comes Peter, the church drunk. He fits every stereotype that you might assign to the church drunk and we love every bit of him. He is middle-aged, with a mighty mustache. He tries so hard to quit and then tells the whole world how worthless he is when he fails. He is a perfect picture of grace, even if he walks slightly askew and smells of cheap liquor. In our picture, he asks Stef for a bit of money and she smartly counters that he should take a walk with her.

Jadie just lives down the street.

So, down the street they go. And here is the perfect picture…

Aria, 4 years-old and shoeless next to Peter, stumbling, mumbling and generally enjoying the sunshine… Next in line is Stef and Jadie, a 26 year-old American pushing a 15 year-old South African in a 30 year-old wheelchair that’s riding only on the rims.

We are surrounded by brokenness. Young and old, black and white… It is the hallmark of Mayfair Baptist Church. Really, it is the hallmark of all of us, broken and incomplete, needing a little help and a few friends to make the journey – even if it’s just down the street. Of the many things we learn from the vulnerable here: there is beauty in the brokenness of life.

15 October 2007

all the roots grow deeper when it's dry

It occurs to me that maybe the reason that God drags us through the desert is not so He can break us down or grind away all the mess that’s built up over the years – maybe He just wants to encounter us in a place where we have nothing to distract us from His presence. Maybe the desert forces us to dig deep, find our source, find Him in a new way.

I’ve long thought of the desert of a place of growth, thanks to David Wilcox (tasty photo below). He wrote a song called “All the Roots Grow Deeper When It’s Dry”. Full lyrics to song

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

It is a beautiful picture, really. Even when the dryness comes, there is growth going on under the surface. The roots (in the depths of our soul) begin to dig deeper into the soil, searching for a source of replenishing moisture, seeking the coolness found far below the punishing conditions on the surface.

So, why are we surprised when our greatest times of growth are the times when the greatest adversity comes against us? Down in the depths of our selves, there is nothing but Him. No distractions, no preoccupations. Just Him.

All the roots grow deeper when it’s dry.

12 October 2007

explaining darkness into light

The question has only been asked of us a couple of times: “What is this ‘darkness into light’ stuff?”

One astute reader found a connection between Hasidic-Reggae artist Matisyahu and the blog title. Others, we can only assume, created their own realities (or more likely never gave it much thought).

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

The truth is that the blog title was dually influenced by the bible and a certain Matisyahu song.

The bible-writer John, in particular, talks a lot about darkness and light. Never is it more profound than when Jesus drops “I am the light of the world” on everyone in John 8:12. He goes on to say that, “whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

So, I think, in a very simple way, that is the essence of the blog title. Jesus is light of the world. And we can feed hungry kids, but it won’t satisfy them. We can bring water to the parched lips of the desperate here, but that will never quench their thirst. The only thing that will last is Jesus, the light. And so, we seek darkness (injustice, oppression, poverty – spiritual, physical, or otherwise) and we seek to bring the light to it.

A second, much more subtle idea that sits behind the blog title does indeed come from Matisyahu and his song “Warrior”. As a Hasidic Jew (read: orthodox – Google it), Matisyahu raps about some very deep, profound subjects. He also shares our history through the Torah.

During a performance of this song, he took a minute to explain where the idea came from:

“Hasidis explains that everything in this world, everything in this life has an inner essence and an inner soul. And when it started out, before the soul was reincarnated into this life, into this body and time and place that we find ourselves…it was basking above in the rays of Godliness. And it comes into this world for one reason, you know: that it should transform the darkness into light. It should take the darkness of this world and make it light…”

Now, the word “reincarnated” scares a lot of people. But this isn’t the idea that I will die and come back as a gerbil or a carburetor or something in my next life. This is the idea that our soul was known to God before our physical bodies existed on this earth. This is the idea that somehow, we existed with Him in paradise and that He has hidden that beauty and that “light” deep within us. It is this idea that leads many Christians today to believe that when we encounter “Truth” (i.e. God’s glory in Jesus), we know it to be true not because of some evidence or emotional experience, but because we “remember” it.

So, Matisyahu quotes an idea that says that we are known to God and He sends us into the world in order to bring the darkness into the light, in order to bring glory back to His name.

There are Bible passages that correspond. Check Ecclesiastes 3:11… “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

“He has set eternity in the hearts of men…” That is a really rich idea: That, somehow, we know what eternity is like. That maybe the reason that no amount of money or sex or power or status can please us is because we know of something (somewhere in the depths of our soul) that surpasses all of those things. Somewhere, God has set eternity and its beauty within us. Mysteriously beautiful…

2 Corinthians 4:6 says this: “For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness,"made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

God made His light to shine in our hearts. Is that incredible to you? It freaks me out. God did this to give us the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ? I cannot even fathom the glory of God, much less that somewhere within me I possess the knowledge of it. Like I said, mysteriously beautiful…

Embracing all of that, darkness into light.

Here are the exact lyrics to the Matisyahu song I spoke of:


You're a warrior fighting for your soul
Taken from the world above and brought down the world below

You're the son of his majesty
Remember how it used to be
In the light of day it's easy to see
Now it's nighttime
You had to leave

Separated from the king
Now the water's rushing and you keep trying to swim against the stream
And it seems, like your not moving the many water's gushing you gasp for air
Almost drowning ears ringing, once upon a time we were singing
One day the trees will stand and clap hands
Stream of thought getting caught in the klipa, this place is just a shell, external
Egos swell, that one'll burn ya, we fell a long way down, that eternal frown'll get you
You look vexed it's the dregs, the yetzer hara's lurking
Trying to make you forget we got a job to do
You're a priest and a prince and you can't be moved

You're a warrior, Fighting for your soul
Taken from a world above, and brought down to a world below
Re-united, re-united return the princess to the king,
Re-united, re-united, she's been taken for so long
Re-united, re-united and then she'll be filled with joy
Re-united, re-united like the days of her youth

Descended to the pit
What's this feeling can't get rid of it
Soul sick
Can't seem to shake it
When one retires at night weeping, joy will come in the morning
You made my mountain stand strong


Like and ancient memory
Remember how it used to be
Close your eyes and breath in
That's the scent of freedom
Ringing across the sea
Land of milk and honey
One day will wake up from this dream and we'll stop sleeping,
Oh, yo, then we'll see clearly


11 October 2007

have you got a minute? (of father time and aggressive curbs)

(Channeling the ghost of Kevin O'Keefe...)

Have you got a minute?

We’re running into more and more people here that seem to lack the ability to take conversational shortcuts. You know these people? Well, Sister Sledge moved out some time ago and last week her room was occupied for one night by Father Time, a guy who showed up to the Leadership Summit without accommodation for the night.

So, we took him in. No big deal. Except that the dude could talk for hours. And about nothing. Without even listening to the response. He spent thirty minutes constructing a very complex, very example-laden question about church constitutions even though I spent the first 5 minutes of the conversation drilling into his brain that I knew nothing about such things.

Another chick who will go unnamed will show up at our door and just start gushing – and she’ll ask the same question (and get the same answer) 10 times and in 10 different ways.

We endure it. But it feels good to release the frustration sometimes. So, do with all of that what you will. Thanks.

Thinking of the above…maybe it’s just the efficiency-junkie in me coming out. I am realizing that the older I get, the more I value efficiency (maybe I am growing more impatient and I am trying to spin it with some Protestant-work-ethic lies, who knows). As an example, I spent a good part of a day trying to calculate what the average passenger on the church bus cost to bring in in order to see if there was a more cost-effective way to transport the locals to church. Is this bordering on madness?

Stef is the new transport manager of Mayfair Baptist Church. Ya, she drives the church van all over the city, running errands and picking up the faithful. She gets long looks at almost every stoplight from pedestrians who are shocked to see a woman (and a white woman at that) driving a van. She’s pretty much amazing at it, too. Zipping around corners and climbing uphill in a manual transmission whale of a vehicle…no problem for Stef. And all of this doesn’t mention that people here drive on the left side of the road and on the right side of the car (very weird) all while the pedals (clutch, gas, brake) are in the same position as the US. I’m confused even trying to write it.

If you were wondering, I had my chance to take the job. Unfortunately, I met a curb a little too intimately and ended up buying the church a new back-left tire. Not really the most glorious moment of my life. So, you know. Now let us never speak of this again.

By the way, it has been in the 40s and 50s and raining pretty consistently over the last few days. Borderline misery for the impoverished people of the country...the wind and the rain hurts and the temperatures mean that 1.5 million residents of Johannesburg (ya, 1.5 million live in squatter camps) are having a rough couple of days. We're just regretting the fact that we gave away all but one of our blankets. Alas, with proper perspective, we're in really good shape.

Soccer has something to teach American sports, particularly basketball. You know how the basketball season seems so long? And, as a Spurs fan, you basically just wait for the playoffs? Well, soccer has “Cups” sprinkled in throughout the regular season. For instance, right now the “Telkom Knockout” is going on. It is a single-elimination tournament that takes place over a few weekends in October. What is fun about it is that is offers a chance for teams that may not have the chance to win the league title a chance to bring home other hardware. And the fans of AmaZulu (basically the Milwaukee Bucks of the PSL) are excited by their team’s surprising performance and the chance to win something. 1 – Keeps fans interested during the dog days of the regular season. 2 – Keeps general interest in the league high during long season.

Google the "UEFA Champions League" or the "Telkom Knockout" and see how they pick their teams and what a big deal it is. Possibilities, that’s all I’m saying.

I wrote a new song with Stef. It is called “Home (So Far Away)”. I suppose it’s about some of the feelings of isolation here – but it could definitely be referring to the eternity hidden in our hearts and the longings to know them better than the reality we are currently swimming in. We’ll post it soon.

Had a dream about Paesano’s last night. That’s our favorite restaurant in San Antonio. They had redecorated the whole restaurant in some garish Easter colors. Food was the same though. I woke up from that dream with, errr, my mouth watering heavily. Gross. (Stef says, “Don’t write that!! That’s nasty!!” Too late.)

I’ve been preaching every week. Still strange to type that… I imagine my friends from high school reading this and thinking back to the days when I was running around neighborhoods in the middle of the night doing cannonballs into random swimming pools while possibly being in an impaired state. While quite entertaining, they were not my finest hours and certainly not anything that would foreshadow these moments. Nonetheless…

Preaching strikes me as an art form, although it is a particularly difficult art form to judge success in. If you write a book, you can judge success by copies sold. If you record a record, check the charts. If you cook, you can look around the table see how much of what you cooked was eaten and how much is hiding under someone’s napkin. If you preach, well, everyone sits quietly and stares at you, then gets up when you’re done and leaves. An occasional “amen” is obligatory. An elderly woman telling you how moved she was is also a given. Outside of that, there is no gauge. And it’s OK.

darkness into light…

10 October 2007

what's going on (from stef)

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Hello friends!! It’s me, Stefani!! I know, it’s a miracle, I’m writing. :)

I hope this finds all of you well. Kyle and I are doing wonderful here! I’m learning so much everyday and doing my best to apply it to my life. I feel very blessed to be called to live this life. God is good!

There are hard days here, but what I get to take from them are priceless. There are also very joyful days here which I don’t take for granted. I’m learning not to take things for granted: food, water, shelter, electricity, (common things), but even a warm room, a smile from across a room, a pillow to lay your head on at night, the shoes I walk in everyday, the warm water to bathe in, the ability to walk down the street on a beautiful day, having a family who loves me unconditionally and for who I am. Everything I’ve mentioned here is something I truly learned to not take for granted because of something I’ve seen here and I can honestly say I never will again. The people who experience life without these blessings have impacted my life too much to ever forget.

I’m reading the book “The Heart of the Artist” by Rory Noland. If you even slightly consider yourself an artist, this is a must read. Rory simply lays out what we as artists should be pursuing and what God expects and wants our hearts to look like. It has really taught me so much! I am teaching a music discipleship class on Wednesday nights and the class is divided between going through this book and music theory. The Africans are loving it!! It has been a lot of fun for me too. The only problem we had was a shortage of books. They are very expensive and especially to get shipped here. So, I decided to shoot Mr. Noland himself an email telling him the situation and see what he had to offer. After a few emails back and forth he was able to get 15 books donated for our class!!! How cool is that? Praise the Lord. I’m very thankful for Rory.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
I’m leading worship 3 times a week. Kyle has been leading with me which I’m so thankful for. He literally picked up the guitar right before we came and got serious about learning it so he could help me and he has become quite the guitarist!! We have two Sunday services and a Wednesday evening service. I have really enjoyed working with the worship team and getting to know them. We rehearse on Thursday evenings and are working on learning several new songs…I teach them some and they teach me too!! I’m starting piano lessons on Thursday and Friday mornings and I have been doing voice lessons with my friend Jadie which I’m really enjoying! During the rest of the week I’m playing for funerals, weddings, or just whatever!! I think I’ve played for 10 funerals and 2 weddings since we’ve been here. I haven’t attended half as many funerals in my life…thank goodness.

This is just a little bit of what is going on here. God is just really stretching me in every direction and molding me into who He wants me to be. I have a long way to go in the process, but I’m thankful to be in it!

the state of africa (what we're reading)

Africa, as almost everyone on the planet knows, is not the greatest continent in the world. Politically, it is filled with corruption. Economically, there is no place that is poorer. In terms of health, the problem cannot be understated – AIDS, TB, malnutrition, and Malaria conspire to kill well over 10,000 people every single day.

But why? Why Africa?

I have been reading a book called The State of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence by Martin Meredith.

Activist Bob Geldof said that this book was necessary for anyone hoping to understand why Africa is where it is. And he was right.

Imagine. Most African countries have only been independent for a few decades. And many of the boundaries between these countries were poorly thought out. For instance, Nigeria was formed (by colonial powers) up of over 100 different tribes, each with its own unique language and culture.

But as colonial powers fled Africa in the mid-20th century, they left a myriad of political and cultural (not to mention educational) time-bombs behind. Is it any wonder that despots reign? Is it any wonder that civil wars rage? Is it any wonder that money that could be used to fight AIDS is instead used to buy weapons that will only kill more Africans? And should we really be surprised? The US Civil War occurred almost a full 100 years after American independence. One would expect similar proceedings here as infant countries begin to sort themselves out. It doesn’t make it right. And it certainly doesn’t make it palatable.

But, as this book has shown me, the problems are infinitely more complex than they look at first glance. And the future must always be framed in light of the past. This future looks bleak. With a better understanding, maybe it can begin to look a little better.

09 October 2007

survivor: mission house and other televised goodies

We do have a TV here. And, although it is not the best picture and sometimes the antenna must be balanced at just the right angle, we do enjoy it. And even though all of the American shows are at least a season or two behind, we still enjoy the home-cookin’.

There are really three shows that we look forward to the most, for wonderfully different reasons.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

On Monday nights, we get to watch “The Biggest Loser”. You know this show, where unhealthy, overweight folks compete to see who can lose the most weight. It is really cheesy at times, but is completely inspiring at others. It comes down to the fact that we are just suckers for life-transformation. I mean, to see a dude go from 400 to 300 pounds in a couple months is amazing. Better yet, you get to ride the emotions with him, watching him cry when he thinks of living to see his grandchildren.

(If you are rolling your eyes at us now, remember that we have 4 channels, 3 of which are in another language at any given time – cut us a little slack. If you are nodding your head because you get hooked by these types of things too, then you are a good person and are bound for great things.)

Tuesday night is our big night. We get a half-day off every Tuesday just to enjoy each other’s company. We go out to lunch and then do laundry at home, enjoying being the only one’s at home in a domicile that usually pushes a dozen occupants.

Survivor: Cook Islands is on at 7:30pm. Why is this show so compelling? I think it’s because of the challenges. I mean, who designs the zip-line, rope-climbing, scuba-diving, puzzle-solving challenges? Gates? Hawking? And then how much fun is it to watch these emaciated people pour out every calorie they have trying to win….a blanket? Or some peanut butter? Those rewards make us feel like royalty in our leaky, drafty, collapsing mission house. We laugh at them longing for peanut butter and then we stare at each other and cry for…a proper mattress. Irony.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Now that I think about it, we should have Survivor: Mission House. We could compete in challenges for proper mattresses or roof repairs. We could have a competition with the winners getting a heater or a can of roach spray or something. I could solve underwater puzzles for the right to some chicken fingers or a Frappuccino. I think we may be onto something. I’ll get to work on this. Someone call CBS.

Anyway, Survivor is fun. It is life-change and problem-solving and triumph-over-adversity all rolled into one.

Finally, on Tuesday nights we finish with Law & Order: SVU. I don’t really know how we started watching it. It’s one of these crime-solving dramas, like CSI but without the cheesy blue-lit offices and supreme close-ups of bodily fluids at the crime scene. Translation: It is better.

Basically, it is a show about justice, which, as with life-transformation and underwater-puzzle-solving, we are suckers for. Killers and rapists get caught and, somewhat realistically, sometimes they take a plea bargain. Even better, sometimes, they lack the evidence to convict. But we love justice. God is just. Well, he is terribly unjust, which is how we get grace when we deserve much worse. But the justice aspect is still what draws us.

That’s about all. Besides, the Young and the Restless is about to come on and Phyllis is about to have Nick’s baby!! Gotta run!! (Oh, the humanity…)

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

08 October 2007

"so god made me blind and unable to walk; big deal."

We were blessed to be able to attend the Global Leadership Summit here in Johannesburg over the weekend. Thanks to the generosity of a couple of the most wonderful people we know, we were able to take 6 young Africans along with us. We will likely share much (MUCH) more about it soon.

For now, take 6 minutes out of your day and be inspired. We saw this father and son’s story at the Summit and had to find a way to share it.

How great is a father’s love…

04 October 2007

of leaky roofs and ruthless mercy

Last post about the rain for awhile, ok?

Occasionally, I have the ability to see further than my own nose. Sometimes, I manage to see the world beyond my own circumstances.

There is this set of eyes that I love to wear. I live with them for weeks at a time, excitedly looking at the world and waiting for what’s around the corner. Everything is important and everything is simply a thinly veiled metaphor of something entirely more massive. Life is so good in those eyes. Life is big and deep and appreciative.

Of course, I then go weeks wearing my own eyes (-5.50 if my optometrist is reading this). They are very temporal, very-much centered on how everything looks to me. The only metaphors they see are ones that relate directly to a need of mine that I’ve convinced myself must be met imminently. In these eyes, I don’t see the street-kids begging on the corner, I see the McDonalds and the Big Mac and McFlurry that would make me feel good for about 43 seconds/

Whatever the case may be, I love that first set of eyes.

Last weekend, it really stormed nicely for about 24 hours. Lightning and thunder and the whole production… Andre had just died and I’d just learned of Beauty’s unfortunate issues with the puddles in her house.

So, the rain fell and I thought of Beauty and of Andre. And as we climbed the stairs of the Mission House after a long day, we noticed a puddle of our own. At the top of the stairs was a sizeable amount of standing water. Naturally, we looked at the ceiling above the new indoor pond and found that it was dripping from several places.

The rain had invaded our home, which isn’t the least bit surprising. Stef and I joke that we’re going to be awoken one night by our bed plummeting down from the second story to the first as the creaky old floor we walk on (ever-so-gently) finally gives way. We find vines growing in the walls and little critters everywhere, so the rain dripping through the ceiling was simply another facet of our very old, very dilapidated accommodation.

Then came the metaphor…

I don’t know exactly when the rain had become associated with mercy. And I don’t know if that’s something I made up or something Oswald Chambers snuck into my brain or what. I do know that I always equate the falling rain with the mercies of God falling upon his earth. Every time. Undeserved, life-sustaining mercy.

So, as I hydro-planed into our room, I remembered His mercy. And after a very (VERY) trying week of death and relational strain and loss and sadness, our roof leaked. What a beautiful picture.

I could not outrun His mercy. There was no place that could hide me from His love or His embrace. No man-made structure, physical or otherwise, could combat His overwhelming force.

He alone, the author of all that is good, gives rest to the weary. He finds the destitute in their most desperate places – and He pours His love out upon them. He found me there. He continues to find me. And remind me. I cannot outrun Him. I cannot hide from His goodness, His holiness, or His all-consuming nature.

Today, I am again thankful for the rains. And the leaky roof.

03 October 2007

de-romanticizing the rain

Tired of stories about the rain yet? Too bad…

So, as has been mentioned, I love the rain. Love the sound, the smell, the taste, the coolness it brings with it…

And, surely, about half of you reading this are nodding as well. A lot of people love the rain. I mean, they sell candles and detergent and body wash and carpet cleaners and hand soaps and a million other things that smell like “fresh rain” - only the never smell anything like fresh rain. I hate that.

There is a certain romance about the rain, though, isn’t there? Here, we happen to live in the tin-roofed Mission House. The rain on a tin roof is unlike anything else in the world. Maybe I’m just desperate for that God-embrace, but as I lay in bed last week, listening to the rain beat the weathered, red roof of the house, I felt as if the Lord Himself was holding me in his massive palm.

Maybe I’m just over-romanticizing the rain, huh?

A lot of things are romanticized, though. War movies are always popular, although war might be the most destructive thing ever invented. Long-distance love stories always look fun. Then you have a friend with a long-distance love and you figure out that the whole thing is a lot of work and usually leads to a lot of sleepless nights. Ever seen a beer commercial? Those guys are always having so much fun, cracking jokes while they hang out with their perfect dogs and girlfriends while watching football. Umm, there is another side to that story to be sure.

But the rain is really perfect, right? I mean, a little rain has never been more than an inconvenience to a traveler or a surprise shower to a passer-by. Right?

Our friend Beauty was up at church with us on that Wednesday when the first rains came. I was buzzing from window to window, watching puddles form and waiting for thunderclaps to awaken my soul. She stared out the window longingly.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Eventually, I inquired about her long face (skipping all relevant horse-walking-into-a-bar jokes). She half-smiled. It’s the rain, she told me.

What could be wrong with the rain, I wondered. Nothing. Obviously, nothing.

Beauty then explained to me that whenever it rained, puddles formed in her shack. When it stormed, she almost had her own river. The thunder boomed again. Only this time I recoiled at the sound.

Beauty is my dear friend. Stef and Beauty might as well be sisters. And Beauty lives in a tin and cardboard shack half the size of a one-car garage with her three children in the squatter camp. Beauty does not enjoy the rain.

And so, there on that same Wednesday that we lost Andre and the dry season, I lost something else. I lost a great bit of my romanticized view of the rain.

I still enjoy the smell of a shower on the horizon. I still spring to life when the first drops begin slapping the roof. I still like to sit and stare and just ponder the genius of a Creator who would have chosen such a beautiful medium with which to refresh his earth. I still enjoy the rain. Only, now, I enjoy it with a tinge of sadness. It brings a little more melancholy than before. I now enjoy the smell while I think of my friend and her children hoping that it will stop. And I think of the millions upon millions like her in this country. They probably don’t like those puddles much either.

Perspective - especially unwelcome perspective - can be a bit of a bummer.

nobody wants to die

We buried Andre on Tuesday.

Strange things, funerals…

They cause such consideration about life and mortality. And, really, as draining as they can be, I am starting to believe that we need more of them in our lives.

We, as a society, are so ignorant of our own mortality. We believe in the lie of invincibility. We buy age-defying creams. We spray hair onto our bald spots. We do anything to convince ourselves that we’re not slowly dying, that our weak little bodies are not quietly shutting down. And yet, we all pass on at some point.

All of that to say this: we’ve been blessed by all of the funerals we’ve been at lately. We have another one on Thursday. Again, we’ll consider what our lives stand for. We’ll wonder what people will say over our remains. We’ll think about what changes we have to make to prepare to leave this world better than we found it for the glory of His name. In the end, we’ll be better for the whole exercise.

I’m reading a book right now called “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven – But Nobody Wants to Die” by David Crowder and Mike Hogan. It’s really a prolonged look at death. It is also a walk through the history of the soul (and bluegrass) and a way for the authors themselves to grieve. It was their friend and pastor who was electrocuted while baptizing someone in Waco a few years back. The book is, well, different; but enjoyable. Recommended…

02 October 2007


Ever heard of “labola”?

Labola is the African cultural practice of a young man “buying” his wife from her family.

When a young couple decides they want to be married, the male familial elders of the potential groom go to the potential bride’s family to “negotiate” a price for her hand in marriage.

Once a price has been settled upon, the potential groom goes about trying to raise that money, which can be quite a large sum. One friend of ours has been quoted R60,000 (almost $10,000). This is a ridiculous amount, especially since our friend earns about $1500 a year.

So, he attempts to find a way around the issue and does one of three things…he leaves the girl (least likely). He quietly gives up hope to marry her and attempts consummation anyway, without any of the formal commitment. He promises to raise the funds while attempting (usually feebly) to deny the urge to impregnate her to try and force the potential bride’s family’s hand in lowering the price.

What labola ultimately leads to is an increased number of illegitimate pregnancies (since he can’t afford to marry her but wants the benefits anyway). It leads to an increased prevalence of HIV/AIDS, since young people engage in sexual relations more often outside of the realm of marriage (again hampered by labola) without firm commitments to each other – so when a big fight comes up, there is no marriage to stay in and the couple splits only to reenact the entire scene again with new partners.

Labola was a pastoral idea set up to compensate a family for a daughter, who would leave the family and join her husband, meaning that her birth family does not get any of the benefits of her labor, which means she costs a lot to raise and provides nothing back in long-term benefits. So, the husband would pay the family, both for raising her to that point and to compensate for her future absence.

An outdated idea had migrated into the cities of modern Africa and has only helped to spread the scourge that is killing so many.

01 October 2007

how the dying get drugs and the healthy get dying

The trial of our friend who was recently diagnosed with HIV/AIDS has given us a new insight into how the system here works and why it is so frustrating.

She goes to the hospital every couple of weeks and they do a blood test to find out her level of some cells that are apparently a reliable indicator of health.

The government policy (as agreed to by donor countries like the US) is that only the most critical patients get issued life-prolonging Anti-Retroviral Drugs (ARVs). This is judged by a single number. If your “count” is over 300, you get issued ARVs at no cost. Anything less and you are simply treated for whatever symptoms may arise.

So our friend, a single mother of three young children, goes to the hospital and gets tested. She scores a 270, right on the cusp of being eligible for ARVs. They tell her to come back in two weeks and, irrationally, to hope that her condition has worsened enough to become eligible for drugs.

This week, she returned to the hospital (remember that this is no small task – one must find transportation or make an hour walk and then miss a whole day of work while leaving one’s children unattended all while enduring the small humiliation of admitting to the world again that one is infected) to find that her count had dropped into the low 100s.

She felt no healthier. Her situation had become no less dire. Yet a number says she cannot have ARVs. And in the queue, a man with no family, no dependents, scores a 441 and gets given ARVs.

The problem there is that this man’s health is probably beyond the help of drugs at that point. Yet, he receives them. All the while, relatively healthy people are told to wait until they are deathly ill before they will be given drugs that will come to late to help anyway. All of this on top of the fact that familial situation is not even taken into account.

We’re confronted with AIDS everyday. We are beginning to see all of the little issues that coalesce to make AIDS such an enormous problem.

Tomorrow, we’ll give another.