Tuesday, November 27, 2012

It Just Takes a Bit of Time...

A friend dug up a hydrangea from his property in the Drakensburg and gave it to me. I planted it here in Pretoria, not knowing how it would do in the iron-rich soil. One year later, it bloomed for the first time.


Monday, November 19, 2012

...And Here He Is!

Here's the beautiful weaver bird that shares the tree in our back garden, and the nest he just built (notice how the entrance to the nest is on the bottom):


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thoughts on Weaver Birds and Perseverance

This spring, a weaver bird moved into my back garden and built a nest in my tree. A few days later he tore it down and built a completely new nest. A few days later, he tore that one down and built a completely new nest. This has gone on for over a month now, and I think he's on his seventh or eighth nest. Here's his latest piece of art:
Why does the weaver bird do this? Apparently, the male builds a nest and tries to attract a female bird. The female comes along, and if she approves of the nest, she'll move in and start a family with him. If she doesn't approve, the male will tear it down and build a new nest. Sometimes a weaver bird will make a dozen nests before he finds an approving female!

What I love most about the weaver bird in my back garden is his perseverance. He hasn't given up yet, though I haven't seen a female move into any of his nests. He also has one other obstacle stacked against him - he is building his nests in a tree that isn't normally inhabited by weaver birds. Pioneering and tenacious... you have to admire that!

When a human is pioneering and tenacious, he is sometimes labelled as stubborn, a fool, or even stupid. If he succeeds, he is lauded as a courageous hero. Maybe I'm wrong, but I kind of think he was even more of a hero when the world was against him yet he refused to give up.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

At Last, An Accurate Street Sign!

On the way to Swaziland, we saw this sign:

Sure enough, just a few kilometres up the road we encountered:

They may have changed half of the street and city names in South Africa, but the animal signs, thankfully, are still accurate.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Thoughts on Being a Leader

"A leader is a dealer in hope". - Napoleon Bonaparte

I find this quote interesting, given that so many leaders govern from a position of power and/or fear. Yet if you stop and think, the truly inspiring people - the ones that motivate you to "go out there and make a difference" - are the ones doling out hope as though there's an endless supply, the ones cheering you on and boosting your confidence, the ones who see your potential before you do and nurture it into being, and the ones who see the positive side of change and fan the flames of your imagination into seeing it as well.

I never really wanted to be a leader, but sharing hope and encouraging people to reach their potential... that I can do!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Hard Part of Parenting

As a parent, I want to teach my children, raise them well, and protect them from failing or making bad choices. But I can't. If I could, I would be controlling them completely and they would be mere puppets in my hand.

At some point, my children will make bad choices. Fail. Do really dumb things (and let's be honest, haven't we all?). What we in modern days have sometimes forgotten is that many of life's teachable moments come from our failures. In shielding kids from all that's bad and distasteful in life, we do them a great disservice - we are preventing them from learning how to handle suffering, consequences, how to rise from the ashes and recover from mistakes.

This past week, two of my kids made some huge mistakes. I was angry. I was disappointed. I wanted to lecture, admonish, and mete out punishment like a Supreme Court Judge. But then it dawned on me... maybe the best thing I can do is to love them at their "worst" and teach them how to learn from failure and move on. If they have to be perfect - if they live in fear of failure - then I will have missed my opportunity as a parent to teach my kids that some of the best life lessons come from our darkest hours.

Friday, November 9, 2012

How Do You Bring People Together?

My two back neighbours are polar opposites in nearly every way - race, religion, worldview, culture, histories - and do not interact with each other at all. It is like this in many suburbs across the new South Africa as cultures are thrown together and forced to live side by side. Sometimes the easiest way to do this is to maintain your fences, keep you head down, and stick to your own little world. This avoids flared tempers, heated arguments, and even wars. It also avoids dialogue, mutuality and true community.

I can't blame my neighbours. When I look at them, my first thought is that there is no way those two will ever see eye to eye. They both mourn losses, but completely different ones. They both feel marginalised, but in opposite ways. They could easily point fingers at one another, blaming the other for their problems. They could not discuss politics, values, music, food, or work in an effort to find common ground; they are that different.

But they are both human. They both have families, hopes, dreams, heartaches, gifts, skills and life experiences in which they could learn from one another. And for better or for worse, they're neighbours. I keep wondering what it would take for them to begin a respectful dialogue, to suspend judgement for one brief moment and really listen to each other...

Sometimes tragedy has a unifying effect. When people truly love and serve others in humility like Jesus did, that also has a unifying effect. Put the two together and you have an inspirational story. I keep trying to think of other ways besides extreme challenges and Jesus that can unify seemingly polar opposites, but I can't. If you have any ideas, let me know.

A Moment of Acknowledgement

"It is very easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements in comparison with what we owe others". - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

If I have achieved, it is because others have nurtured the potential in me. If I have succeeded, it is because others created space for me to succeed. If I have reached goals, it is not a tribute to merely my own tenacity, but a tribute to the guidance and teaching of others. I am not a product of my own creation, but a product of thousands of conversations, encounters, and holy moments with others which have touched my life and changed me forever.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Poverty of the West

I recently read a portion of Mother Teresa's Nobel prize speech (given on 11 December 1979 upon receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize). She said something that has haunted me for weeks now:

"Around the world, not only in the poor countries, I found the poverty of the West so much more difficult to remove. When I pick up a person from the street, hungry, I give him a plate of rice, a piece of bread, I have satisfied. I have removed that hunger. But a person that is shut out, that feels unwanted, unloved, terrified, the person that has been thrown out from society—that poverty is so hurtable [sic] and so much, and I find that very difficult."

It is relatively easy to donate food to feed orphans. What is much harder to do, however, is to love those people who have been marginalised by society and especially by the Church - the so-called "sinners" who don't meet with society's normalising gaze of approval: those who struggle with addictions, the LGBT community, that colleague who's just... angry and mean (ever ask yourself what's behind that?), or the "scary-looking" neighbour with whom you can't relate no matter how hard you try.

I am tired of shutting them out, judging them, and maintaining a stance of superiority over them. Whatever I think about their lifestyles or choices matters very little because there is something undeniable about them: they are beautiful people made in the Image of God and therefore precious and loved, deserving of our compassion and respect. Jesus treated people with dignity (in fact, the only people he got really angry with were the religious leaders!), met them where they were in life, and engaged in authentic dialogue with them. He didn't debate, spew out hate speech or disdain them. He loved them. He treated every person equally.

It sickens me to think that the Church is the last place some people would feel welcomed because they are judged so harshly. That is not the message Jesus preached. At the risk of sounding offensive (which is not my intent), I don't want to be like the church; I want to be like Jesus. It's time to address the "poverty of the West".