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I go through a tattoo phase every now and then. So far I’ve been lucky enough not to have allowed a temporary feeling to become a permanent regret because these phases never last long enough. This is probably a good thing, as I am the kind of guy who once adamently informed his girlfriend (and thankfully now, lovely wife) that I would name our firstborn girl ‘East’ and our firstborn boy ‘North’. Agonizing.

So anyway… my current urge is to have a sort of Mt. Rushmore done on my shoulder and back with the faces of four thinkers who have influenced me the most. I might work a quote or two into the art as well… It has probably been done before, but I’ve never seen it.

My question for you is this:

If you had to have the words and faces of four great thinkers permanently engraved on your body, who and what would you choose, and why?

Years ago, a friend and I were discussing classic theology at the Tattered Cover in downtown Denver when I happened to mention that I really appreciate Yancy. He replied, “Oh, I don’t read any of the newer stuff – it’s all crap”. It is as easy now as it was then to dismiss this dismissal as irrational snobbery, but I have to admit that, deep down, I have a tendency to approach anything modern and popular with some weariness because there is always the risk that it is a product of something commercially tainted.

This is not entirely irrational either, since any amount of time spent perusing the best-seller lists of cd stores or bookshops with your brain fully functional will teach you that what’s great and what sells are seldom the same thing. On the subject of the insidious dangers of trusting commercial Christian products, check out this link – it’s worth the read! In terms of what we read and listen to, the Church’s devotional and/or theological diet often consists of a four-course meal at Burger King – more and more of the same thing, and not much of it any good for you.

And yet…

This knee-jerk reaction must be kept in check if we are not to miss some fantastic truth. Recently, the ‘Nooma’ teaching series from Rob Bell has been the victim of my own snobbery. A few days ago I found myself staring at the shiny CUM-books display shelf dedicated to the series, and arranged in eye-catching colour-coded rows, with a mixture of guilt and disgust. I felt guilty for judging the man. But I felt disgusted that theology could be packaged and displayed like sugary breakfast cereals. I abandoned the shelf before hypocritically succumbing to a disconcertingly glossy-looking book by Mr Bell and Mr Golden (great commercial names!), with the worryingly sexy title: “Jesus wants to save Christians – a manifesto for the Church in exile”. With an air of skepticism I settled down to begin working through the 200-odd pages yesterday morning. I finished it this morning.

It was absolutely brilliant.

Basically, it’s really accessible New Exodus Theology ala Tom Holland (to whom the authors give a shout-out in the introduction). It spells out the message of the Gospel more clearly than anything I have read in recent memory. So… let down your anti-commercial guard for a couple of hours and read this fantastic book if you get the chance.

It’s Good Friday, and I have been thinking about heroes.

We pick strange heroes.

How many films about the 2nd World War have you seen? I’ve seen a bunch. I loved Saving Private Ryan with Tom Hanks and that other sniper-guy who quotes from the imprecatory psalms while he’s lining up a target. Almost universally, the ‘heroes’ are British or American privates, and yet all the stats show that it was the Soviets who contributed the dead. More than half of all the Allied dead and more than twice all the Axis deaths. But they are not our heroes… because they were Soviets.

Ulysses S. Grant, celebrated general of the industrial north in their war against the pro-slavery south and later American president, once said that “within two hundred years, when America [sic] has gotten out of protectionism all that it can offer, we too will adopt free trade”. That should be the year 2075. We’ll have to wait and see whether or not the US will follow this schedule, but either way, it must be acknowledged that my hero, Mr Grant was not so much anti-slavery as he was pro-outsourcing.

I live in a little town called Piet Retief, in the Gert Sibande District of Mpumalanga. Up until yesterday I had no idea who Gert Sibande was. I think that very few white people my age do. He was known as the ‘Lion of the East’ and was instrumental in mobilizing awareness and action against the exploitation of farm workers (working essentially as slaves) living around Bethal in the 1950s. He was tried for treason in 1956 and testified passionately on behalf of the workers. Eventually he had to flee to Swaziland. I live in a district named in his honour and I didn’t even know who he was.

But I knew about President Grant – the outsourcing emancipator. We pick strange heroes.

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This past week I spent some time with a group of teenagers on outreach in Hawane in Swaziland.

We always used to spend a week during the December holidays at camp. We had lectures. We cried in worship. We went home. We forgot. But then last year, Sheldon (our youth pastor) asked the leaders to think about a change. Instead of camp, we’d go on outreach. I loved the idea and we went ahead last year with our first outreach. This year, we went from friendship evangelism to community service.

Hawane is a community of homes for orphans. It also functions as a base for life-skills training for graduates from Emafeni (a program for people with life-controlling problems). It’s also in a community with one of the highest HIV infection rates in a country with the highest HIV infection rate in the world. So we had no lack of service opportunities. In the mornings, we prayed with the life-skills students and visited the hospital. In the afternoons we worked in the gardens (we made a prayer garden in a quiet corner of the community for the staff, and we made a vegetable garden for a very sick single mom in the neighboring community), and we ran a soccer clinic for the older boys. In the evenings we spent time in the homes of the orphans, playing games with them and praying with their foster parents.

We debriefed and had short devotions and worship three times in total. Sheldon, Paige and I said very little to the youth the whole week other than to encourage their efforts. The teenagers had a fantastic time and although few tears were shed, no grandiose promises of lasting faithfulness were made, and nobody said ‘amen brother!’ even once, we all learned more in this week than we could have in a year of youth camps.

So cancel your youth camp and take your youth into the community to make a difference.

Less is more:
Less words. Less costs. More fruit.

About Me

Ecstatically married to Leane. Studying Theology and Teaching. Working as a worship leader, teacher, coach, guitar teacher. Living in the Mighty City of Mkondo in the sunny province of Mpumalanga, in the blessed country of South Africa.

Favourite Thoughts – Outbox

Religion is to be defended - not by putting to death - but by dying. Not by cruelty, but by patient endurance. - Lactantius (c.304-313).
What is essential Christianity? From first to last it is scandal, the divine scandal. Every time someone risks scandal of high order there is joy in heaven. - Soren Keirkegaard.
Where there are two Christians, there are three opinions... [Actually a Jewish saying, but at least as true for Christians]

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