Sunday, September 22, 2013

How do I say goodbye to yesterday (Boyz II Men)

How do I say goodbye to what we had? 
The good times that made us laugh 
Outweigh the bad. 

I thought we'd get to see forever 
But forever's gone away 
It's so hard to say goodbye to yesterday. 

I don't know where this road 
Is going to lead 
All I know is where we've been 
And what we've been through. 

If we get to see tomorrow 
I hope it's worth all the wait 
It's so hard to say goodbye to yesterday. 

And I'll take with me the memories 
To be my sunshine after the rain 
It's so hard to say goodbye to yesterday. 

And I'll take with me the memories 
To be my sunshine after the rain 
It's so hard to say goodbye to yesterday.

Farewell, James Thomas. This is not the end, this is not goodbye forever. This is just goodbye for now. I know we will meet again, in the hereafter. But till then, my heart aches. 

You were a gentle giant, with a giant-sized heart. You loved deeply, and passionately. You pursued your dreams, actively hunted them down, and made them reality. You touched lives all over Cape Town, and abroad. Your hugs are legendary. Your smile was infectious.

Thank you for everything you did, for being who you were. Our lives will never be the same now that you are gone.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

We're all human in the end

With the anniversary of 9/11 occurring yesterday, I think many people's hearts have been, or are, in a reflective state, possibly even a sad state. I know mine is. I've been thinking a lot about 9/11 recently - not just about my reaction to the events, but about those who lost loved ones, about those who died.

I heard an interesting interview on Smile 90.4 FM yesterday, with a man who has put together a collection of interviews with those bereaved by 9/11 - telling their stories of trying to carry on with their lives. He shared one story, of a photographer (or possibly the gallery owner, I can't remember now) who had an exhibition of photographs from 9/11 as a memorial event. One photo was of a person jumping from the tower, one leg still in the window and one out. A woman came to view the exhibition.

When she stood before this particular photo, she started screaming so hysterically that the photographer/ gallery owner closed the gallery and went to her aid. He apologised, saying that he never intended the photo to cause such extreme pain in the viewers. Once she was able to speak, she informed him that the man in the photo was her husband, and that she had never known how he died.

Now, every year, this woman comes to stand outside the gallery when this particular photo is exhibited as part of the memorial events. She won't actually step inside and view the exhibition, but she's always there. When I heard that story, I burst into tears. Can you imagine... never knowing, and then finding out like that? The truth might not have been easier to deal with....

Over the weekend I finished reading a book that was a thought experiment - a (fictional) account of a person killed in 9/11. It's the story of a father who took his two young sons for breakfast in the restaurant at the top of one of the towers. They get trapped, so cannot escape down the tower. The younger child dies from burns, while the father and the older child die by jumping from the tower.

I didn't particularly enjoy the style of the book (and not just because of the horrific nature of the subject material), but it got me thinking, once again, about what it must be like to be faced with such a dilemma - to choose the manner of one's death. I can only imagine how terrible and terrifying it must be to have to choose between burning to death or jumping to your death, especially to have to make that choice for one's children....

I've been thinking about the bombers too, especially in the wake of the US rumblings about a strike on Syria and the way that has raised the issue again of the recent wars by the US. While I do not condone what the bombers did, in any way (and I want to make that blatantly clear), I do have to wonder at the reaction of the western public to them. I did not lose anyone in that tragedy, and I was far removed from it, and maybe that's why I did not feel the tremendous anger that others in the US did. If I had lost a mother, father, sibling, relation, friend, or child to the World Trade Centre collapse, maybe I too would have felt anger.

But anger enough to want to kill another human being?

While I fundamentally disagree with the teachings of Islam on many points, I am amazed by the passion, belief and desperation that was demonstrated by the bombers. How angry? hate-filled? desperate? must those bombers have been to hijack and fly those planes into the towers? What was going through their heads?

Whatever their beliefs, and however atrocious their actions, they were human beings too. Of course, I can afford to show mercy because I lost no-one in that tragedy. How we react to the bombers though should be the same way we react when we talk about the atrocities committed in the name of Christianity during the Crusades, or the Spanish Inquisition, or the Salem witch hunt. Here were people, supposedly good, Christian people, who got swept up in the emotion of something, brain-washed by a few (greedy? misdirected? power-hungry? truly evil?) individuals. Maybe most of them went along with it out of fear for what might happen to them, or those they loved, if they refused, or if they were to speak out against it. In the same way, during WW2 many Germans were not really Nazis: they went along with the tide because it was too dangerous to swim against it.

People are all human. While the actions of some may be heinous, is it not the responsibility of every human to respond with compassion? I'm not saying we let anyone get away with anything - we must suffer the consequences of our actions after all. Yet, is there not a way to show compassion while ensuring that justice is done? Is hatred really the only, or the right, response in such circumstances?

I don't know whether you've been following the news recently, but there was an horrific crash in the Pinetown area. A truck, travelling along a notorious stretch of road, plowed into 4 minibus taxis and a car (killing 22 people), when its brakes failed coming down the hill. The driver is a young man from Swaziland.

It's an horrific story, and my heart breaks for those bereaved in this accident. As one family member said - whatever happens to the truck driver, it will not bring his father back. And he's right. The natural route for grief is to find someone, or something, to blame. I did exactly that when Zoe died, and because there was no-one to blame, I got even more angry with God than I was initially. Yet, that anger only served to isolate me further.

The truck driver is only human. He didn't deliberately make the brakes fail. He didn't deliberately set-out to take the lives of 22 others. His life has been destroyed by this event as much as those who lost family members and loved ones.

He probably needs to go to jail, to serve a sentence for killing 22 people, yet I am so pleased so say that if he does, he will be surrounded by compassion as he does. The actions of one woman have resulted in a support group for him on Facebook with about 3000 members at the time of writing this post. Members of the public have donated clothes and food and other items to him while he's awaiting trial. The messages of support on the group (which are being printed out for him to read) have already begun a healing work in his life, as he realises that many people have compassion towards him, rather than hatred and anger.

We are all human. We all make mistakes. We all mess up. More - we are all so broken, in so many ways, that we wind up doing things that cause hurt to others. We sin, and because we sin, we actually all deserve the same punishment - death. It is because of that I dare not stand and point a finger at another. I am in the same boat as that truck driver. I am no better or worse than the 9/11 bombers. There, but for the grace of God, go I.

Everyone needs compassion...

Sunday, September 01, 2013


I often find that when I'm low, physically, I feel low emotionally too. When I'm stressed, or tired, or sick, I wind up saying and doing things I wouldn't otherwise do - things that often hurt others. It's like the filter in my brain gets switched off, and instead of really thinking about what I'm doing, I react immediately to things - and often, my first reaction is the wrong one.

Given how stressed and sick I've been recently, I'm sure you can imagine some of the stuff ups I've made. I'm still fairly sure that with one of the colossal mistakes I've made in recent weeks I've burnt bridges which will never be fully restored.

Which brings me to Paul's reflections in Romans 7:15. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. Every fibre of my being resonates with Paul's sentiments. I hate what I do. I hate that I can't do the good that I want to do. I don't understand why I can't just do what Jesus teaches, why I often do the EXACT opposite. I don't understand why, when I know how to be pure, good, loving, faithful, kind, generous, peaceful, lovely, and all the other holy attributes, the core from which my emotions overflow continues to be selfish, angry, hate-filled, arrogant, mean-spirited, jealous, and all the other evil attributes.

As I reflect on my actions, I find myself turning to self-loathing. In the very core of my being there is rottenness, evil, horrible filth. I wonder afresh at how anyone could really love me, when inside of me lurks this horrid monster that apparently cannot be tamed, that apparently has not been changed by the love of God, that rears its head when I am most vulnerable, hurting those around me (and myself). I wonder afresh at whether the world would not be a better place if I were no longer in it*. I find myself thinking, once again, that I would be better off if I were not in this world - because by dying, I would no longer have to struggle with this resident evil. Hopelessness surrounds me, because I cannot see how things will EVER be different, how this fundamental portion of my being can EVER be fixed, changed, redeemed, set free.

We're doing a series in church at the moment, looking at the different religions that are followed in Cape Town. It's called "Coexist", and if you're interested in that kind of thing, then I'd recommend you check out these talks... very powerful while being respectful. There are several things about Christianity that I believe make it unique. One of those things is grace.

Grace is something VERY hard to grasp, let alone to appropriate. Grace is the unmerited favour of God. It is completely scandalous; it's offensive to the core. If some part of you doesn't find it offensive, then you probably haven't understood it properly. (For an explanation of why it is scandalous and offensive, you might want to read this blog post.) 

Back in 2004 the movie 'The Passion of the Christ' (directed by Mel Gibson) was released. I went to see it with a girlfriend. When I came out, I had gouged my palms with my nails in the (unsuccessful) attempt to control my emotions. I walked out of that movie with one lasting, overarching impression: How could I be worth the price that God was willing to pay? I can't comprehend why God was willing to pay such an extravagant price for me, when I am clearly so unworthy. In comparison to his glory, even the very best parts of me, the person I most strive to be - even THIS part of me is like excrement-covered rags next to him.

I particularly wonder about this incredible love at times like this, when I have messed up YET again. Why does God put up with me, when time and time again, I fail to learn the lessons, when I repeat the mistakes of the past, and let Him, myself and everyone around me down again? I am completely perplexed by his long-suffering patience with me, by his deep, abiding passion for me. What on earth does he see in me? I marvel at how a perfect God could love such an imperfect creation as myself, and not just love me, but love me enough to be willing to suffer ALL THAT. 


In times like this, when I'm feeling incredibly low, and hopeless, it is the grace of God I cling to. I have stuffed up, and done a pretty good job of that too. Yet, as I turn to him and confess how wretched I am, I hear his voice speaking words of comfort to me. "I did this all for YOU because I love YOU and YOU are worth this price to me. Your sin is not the end of the story. You sin is not what defines you. I am what defines you. I am the end of your story."


Thank God for grace.

*I should point out that I was suicidal years before. There is a vast difference between how desperate I felt then and how I feel now. I can assure you that I'm nowhere near that level now, and I'm not about to try to kill myself.