Monday, 1 February 2016


Writing this blog has been a wake-up call.

I have always fallen short in the retentive memory department and I really battle to recognise people until I have had a lot of interaction with them.

The former translates into cramming for school exams, struggling to remember names in my congregations, forgetting birthdays and the dates of life’s milestones. The latter is a mild form of ‘face blindness’ which is why it didn’t help when the Lesotho police once put me in the same room as a man who had held a gun to my head the night before.

I’d helped them capture him and his accomplices but he’d changed his distinctive tee shirt and red shoes which I would have recognised like a shot. He was also too far from me in the large room to pick out his distinctive body odour which I still recall 40 years later.

Of course the cops had to let him go.

Reams have been written about face-blindness, which in its extreme form is called prosopagnosia and is a neurological disorder. Who knows, my mother may have dropped me on my head as a baby but I’m pretty certain that both deficiencies are the outcome of being an adored only child primarily focussed on future achievement and self.

It hurts

Problem is, I hurt people, as in when I confused two women in my parish. The one had visited me in my home with her husband but I mistook another for her the following Sunday.

It’s why when I shop in our local mall I smile and greet all shop assistants – many of my parish work there. I also do a lot of nodding and eye contact as I wander for shop to shop. If anyone half smiles at me I do a proper greeting. (Father Christmas and I should open a charm school together.)

A fuzzy past

As I blogged my journey towards Anglicanism and my rather unusual priesthood, I was forced to work out dates and remember details that were part of the blur of my past. Looking back, I am amazed that my lifelong friends have stuck with me. (Spare a thought too for the rectors I have worked under and my bishops.)

The now

The blog was also a whole lot more. It forced me to take measure of the present. One in which I, a ‘retired priest’, pick and choose my involvement with Church. I commiserate with friends who still have to attend Council meetings and synods as well as deal with pew politics. I pontificate on Facebook. Twitter, Google+ and in the blogosphere.

By the 20th post it was becoming increasingly more difficult to write. Besides being thoroughly bored with myself, the blog was a convenient distraction from the relevance of my present relationship with God and my chosen Church.

I’d forgotten the key lesson I’d learned so many years ago from the Mother’s Union at St James in Diepkloof, Soweto: There is no retirement from God or ministry. Vocational seasons may end but you can’t spend the Winter of your life in bed with a duvet over your head.

The blog posts proved a soul-jolting alert that I had allowed myself to drop into a quagmire of complacency. I’d forgotten the long hard journey I’d undergone to reach an understanding that my prime vocation lies in my talent for communication, not parish ministry.

I’d forgotten, and hadn’t even blogged about, the long battle to accept that editing the Southern Anglican magazine, serving as the archbishop’s international media person and using my writing skills was my vocation.

In recent years I’ve effectively relegated my vocation to ‘the good old days’.

As I reached blog post 32 it was like pushing a wheelbarrow full of rocks. December offered the excuse to take a break. Blog 33 wasn’t any easier, particularly within my personal anger of yet another Anglican delay regarding homosexuality. When I re-read that rant I knew it was less about my relationship with Anglicanism and a whole lot to do with spending the winter of my vocation under a duvet.

For what it’s worth, herewith the result of my reflections. If anything they prove, yet again, that there are no coincidences. They are God-incidences. And, yes, God does have a sense of humour.

The first step was to acknowledge that my vocation is not to swan in and out of my parish on high days and when the rector is on leave. I may have to use Google a whole lot more these days but I can still write.

So, if writing and editing is my ministry where do I stand?

Ever stood on a rake and had the handle swat your nose? That’s what happened to me as I reviewed 2015, which I’d come to regard as annus horribilis. I’d lost my main source of income as the publisher I worked for had his own problems. There was a mad scramble to survive financially.

True to form, I tackled the problem myself with only the occasional desperate arrow prayer. (I’m superstitious about praying for money.) Eventually things got so bad, I conceded that I could do with some Godly assistance. (A smidgeon off a grovel.)

Call it luck or a God-incidence, shortly afterwards I was commissioned by the Church of Sweden to edit a remarkable book. Called 'Behold I make all things new'. Its contributors present a compelling case for reinterpreting the Jewish, Christian and Muslim sacred texts with regard to homosexuality.

I’d lived through the reinterpretation of the Bible to prove that apartheid was not God’s will. I’d watched Anglican theologians reinterpret Scripture to allow women to be ordained into priesthood. I had seen the pain Christians inflict on God-loving homosexuals. In short, I jumped at the chance to edit that book.

Besides providing a welcome editing fee, it has proved a personal blessing and I can’t wait for it to be published. (I will keep you posted).

In January this year I finished my mystery novel. Far from holy, it is also in the publishing pipeline and is set in the Anglican Church. Its main character is Archbishop Sibonelo Shakespeare Khumalo (his mother was an English teacher) and some of you may have met him on his Facebook account.

Shakes has a lesbian daughter who expects him to live up to his promise to preside over her marriage service and a wife that reads the bible far more literally than he does. But his immediate challenge is that he needs to solve a couple of murders to stop a campaign to defrock him.

It’s meant to be a fun read. The God-incidence is that the writing of it has forced me to walk in the shoes of an Anglican archbishop who is torn between his personal life, current theology and the need to avoid schism.

Needless to say, I was so busy with both books that the ‘vocation thing’ lost priority. Besides, there are two other books in the pipeline, I manage three Facebooks accounts, two Twitter accounts, this blog, a LinkedIn account and I potter in Google+.

I’ve hit the pause button. Please pray for me as I try to discern if God has deftly recalled me into a vocation of communication or if I am just interpreting that ‘call in the night’ to suit myself.

Meanwhile, I am encouraged by Rabbi Meir Baal Hanes who says: ‘Any interpretation of scripture which leads to hatred or disdain of other people is illegitimate.’

In the same vein, Karen Armstrong, the moving spirit behind the worldwide launching of a Charter of Compassion in November 2009, has stated: ‘If your understanding of the divine made you kinder, more empathetic, and impelled you to express sympathy in concrete acts of loving-kindness, this was good theology. But if your notion of God made you unkind, belligerent, cruel, self-righteous, or if it led you to kill in God's name, it was bad theology.’

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