Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Rage, rage against the dying of the light

As I was driving home the other day, I passed near to the home of a friend, James Thomas, who was killed in the Nairobi Westgate Mall shooting on 21 Sep 2013. I began to contemplate the events and its consequences, and was surprised how quickly my anger at both the fact of James' death and the manner of his death rose to the surface again. Grief is a strange animal, walking in circles and spirals, never fully resting.

(Some great articles were written about it at the time. Here are a selection: iol news, Mail & Guardian, Daily Maverick.)

In allowing my rage a voice, I found myself quoting from Dylan Thomas' epic poem to God, so I wanted to share this poem with the world again. James was one of those individuals who simply did not consider getting old. Every moment was one to grabbed by both hands and exploited to the fullest. He had a deep and abiding joy, and a zest for life, that is rare. He was a 'wild [man] who caught and sang the sun in flight'. I know that it came from his deep faith in God. I miss him terribly. I know the world is poorer because he is no longer in it.

Do not go gentle into that good night

Dylan Thomas1914 - 1953
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Is there any hope for the SA education system?

One of the sessions at the Global Leadership Summit was a talk by Allen Catherine Kagina. She heads up Uganda's Revenue Authority, i.e. the tax collection system. Over the past 10 years she has taken this corrupt and inefficient system and turned it around completely. 

Granted, she did take some pretty dramatic steps, like firing absolutely every single person in this government department and making hem reapply for their position. She did this so that only this most honest and competent people would end up working for her. 

If we tried that here, with our education department, to get rid of both incompetence and corruption, there is no doubt that SADTU would throw a frothy. (I doubt that Naptosa would, because they aren't politically motivated the way that SADTU is.) Never the less, that remains a tempting action.

Yet, all that she has accomplished, she did in a relatively short space of time. The URAhas gone from vying for first place as the most corrupt organisation in Uganda to having her staff head hunted by UN, WHO, etc. because of their high level of integrity.

Is it possible that this could happen in SA's education system? Is it possible that this failing institution, rife with incompetency, could be turned around?

I was sure that it couldn't. I had washed my hands of this system, given up, content to just influence the small number of children I teach and colleagues I interact with. I had become completely disillusioned with the DBE and the provincial governments. 

But now? 

Having heard Allen speak about what God can do, having heard about how the URA has changed completely, I believe the same is potentially true for us. 

YES, I believe there is hope for education in SA. Why? Because The God we serve is a big God, for whom nothing is impossible. NOTHING.

What will it take to make this happen? Prayer, and lots of it, and leadership - strong, ethical, visionary leadership. 

I hear God call - 'Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?' And my heart responds - 'Here am I. Send me.'

Sunday, October 19, 2014

What will you do with your dash?

Having been on a leadership conference the past two days, I wanted to share some of the moments that really touched me.

While many of us may choose to be cremated when we die, the principle illustrated in this photo is true for all of us. Our lives can be summed up by that little dash between our birth date and death date. It's such a little thing, and, cosmically speaking, our lives are actually that insignificant - unless we choose to make them significant.

What are you doing with your dash?

You only get one life. It will probably only last about 80 years (excluding the possibility of a dread disease or accident killing you before then). 

One of the most recent Nobel Peace Prizes was given to the youngest ever person - a 17 year old girl who, at age 15, had already been campaigning for the rights of girls to receive education. At age 15 she had already angered a group of people to such an extent that they shot her. Her name is Malala Yousafzai. I tell you about her because I know that when I think of 80 years as a life span, I am tempted to think that 'my life only really began when I started working'. Doing so allows me to excuse myself from having made a difference until I was age 20-odd. Yet, here's a girl who, by age 15 was already making a SIGNIFICANT difference.

So I challenge you again - what will you do with your one and only dash?

And before you start thinking that only young people can make a difference - remember that Mother Theresa was 87 when she died, still active in her calling of helping lepers and that Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is currently 83.

And if you start thinking that your socio-economic status is a hindrance to making a difference, or your gender, then, again, you're wrong. Over the years I have seen plenty of news stories about women in the townships who have taken in scores of AIDS orphans on next to nothing, out of which the GoGo's Trust has been established.

So I ask you again, what will you do with your dash?

I have been challenged by this. I believe I am already making a difference - by trying to raise my kids in the best way I can, by being the best teacher I can, by getting involved in leadership in my local church, by volunteering with Cape Town Expo to help train and teach teachers and pupils about the scientific method, and by having started Born Sleeping. Yet, I still feel the challenge. I still feel there is more I could be doing. I am so conscious of the incredible need around me. At times, I am overwhelmed by it, to the point of emotional exhaustion when I feel I have to tune out the entire world - from the beggar at the traffic lights to my own kids just to survive.

But when I die, the legacy I want to leave is a trail of lives that I have affected for good. I want there to be a long line of people who have come to faith through my actions (and I'm rubbish at even friendship evangelism!), whose faith has been deepened and encouraged by me, by people who got an excellent education, who were inspired to DO something (not just to feel good), and who felt the comfort of God through my words and hands. I want my kids to say that I have left them more than just money, but a legacy of faith and trust in our Lord.

What legacy do you want to leave behind? What are you doing to make that legacy a reality?

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Iconic moments of the 21st century (so far)

I came across this collection of iconic moments from the 21st century.

I was struck by how Americo-centric they are. I know that in each nation, there would be a different set of images. I wonder what a truly global set of images would look like. There's no doubt that many American images would appear, but I wonder how many would not.

I was also struck by the common humanity displayed - the compassion, the suffering, the hope, as well as the cruelty and violence inherent in our species. We are made in the image of God, with his capacity for love and forgiveness and kindness, yet we are marred by our own sin, which twists the good within us towards hatred, fear and narcissism.

As I reflect back on the last 14 years, I am struck by how much I have changed as a person. I like who I am now more than who I was. I am happier now than I was. My personal iconic moments are (in no particular order, although broadly chronological) graduating from varsity, getting married, falling pregnant with my firstborn, each of my children's births or deaths, my father's cancer, my husband's great-aunt's death, my non-selection for ordination... For each of these there is a photo in my head. Some of them I wish I could share with you, some are just too private. Some are pictures of the scene at the time (from my perspective, looking 'out' of my head*), some of them are images of my emotions - patterns of colour that represent my emotions at the time, some are images of something relating to the event.

I am amazed at the picture story book in my head. With our content creation capabilities today, I am stunned by how much I am still unable to share with others (and more than a little grateful). If I were an artist, I think I would try to paint some of the more abstract pictures in my head, but I'm not. So I have to rely on the pictures that others have taken, to represent some of the shared moments in history, to share our common emotions and reactions to events.

Which brings me back to this photo collection. This is one person's attempt at capturing the moments in time that he thinks sum up the highlights and low lights of the last 14 years. I wouldn't call it a failure - in fact, there is so much in there that I had forgotten about! (Time flies when you're wiping bottoms and cleaning up puke!) This is definitely a good start.

I challenge you though - if you have time this holiday - to put your own photo compilation together and share it with me. (I would love to do this, but as I'm on conference, my holiday is already otherwise booked up....) Maybe I will do just that during my next holiday break.
*because we don't see out of our eyes, we see into them, of course - as any biologist could tell you.