Thursday, July 2, 2009


I was at church on Sunday preparing for the Sunday School lesson. I was giving a joint talk (we call it tag-team talking where two people take turns speaking, going back and forth) in which I was engaging all the learning modalities and all senses in telling the story of the crucifixion of Jesus. For instance, they could feel the type of rope or chains that held him; the children could see the whip that whipped him and read the sign put above Jesus head being amazed at Greek, Latin, and Hebrew letters and words. They could taste the kinds of grapes that Pilates servants would have fed him (one kid said “This is the best grape I’ve ever eaten in my life!” made me laugh). They could hear the sound of the Chief Priests saying “Death, Death” when Jesus admitted (both explicitly and implicitly) who he was (and believed himself to be) and the sound of the crowds screaming Barabbas. They could smell what it must have smelled at the foot of the cross—blood, urine, feces, sweat. It was an interesting lesson and it captured the attention of those Grade 1-3 scholars (normally 15 minutes is too long to speak to a group of kids but with all that stimuli it was great!).

In the midst of preparing for that, I bumped into the graphics designer of the church (young guy in his 20’s) and the head church administrator who were talking about the “emergent” church and explaining the problem with it from an authority perspective. They said when you meet in a coffee shop and you need to tell one of the “church members” that he shouldn’t be living with this girlfriend there is no proper authority structure set-up to allow for this. The church member can just say to the other person (the person leading the discussions analogous to preaching in a church building) “Hey, you have your church and you do it your way, and I have my church and do it my way.” My church administrator and graphics designer were right (they’re both friends of mine): if you don’t invest authority in a leader than a “leader” cannot tell you what to do or give a directive. But the problem also might exist in a church. It’s still up to the church member to decide whether or not to follow it and continue investing the authority in the leader.

More importantly they were using the wrong label. They are describing emerging churches which are not theologically different than traditional churches; they just use different methods. They are practically different, like meeting in a coffee shop or night club. Emergent churches are the ones, regardless of how they might meet or look, think differently theologically (in their study of God they think differently than traditional churches).

I don’t know what I am. I just live life and enjoy it. Label me how you wish.

But it does remind me of lots of friends who send me e-mailed testimonies or tell me their testimony of how God came, just in the nick of time, and provided them with money. Many times, these people decided to hold out and not rely on family structures or friends for funds because they didn’t want to keep doing that. So in the end, God did something miraculous and money was produced, someone gave them money from their heart, they received a gift, etc.

In my understanding of God, I agree that God can provide money “supernaturally” or someone can give you a timely gift, but I don’t think I would ever neglect my family and friends and how “supernatural” they are. In other words, I think friends and family can be gifts from God. I’m not sure I would ever get to a point where I wouldn’t allow myself to ask and borrow from them. To me, that is “supernatural” provision because God works through people, through others who know him. And having resources available like that is actually a blessing. I counseled a woman recently who had only a few family members left and none would help her. So if you do have family members that would give you money, that’s a blessing. I’ve also seen people on the street here in Cape Town that don’t have ANY family or friends. So when I see this, it’s really difficult for me to discount the blessing of having people that I can go to or turn for money and loans to help me out in my time of need. Far from it going against the hand of God, I think God’s hand is providing for me through them.

There was a church group recorded by a 1st century historian-doctor named Luke. This group (after the death of Chris) practiced redistribution (this concept is also in the Torah; look up the year of Jubilee and what happens every 7th year as well as the 7th 7th year (the 49th year)). So they laid their tithes and offerings at the apostles feet and instead of this money going to buy a bigger building or fancier screens it was redistributed to help all those in need. It’s a beautiful story of how Jesus lived. And we often neglect such things in our reaching and striving for the “seeming supernatural” not recognizing that there are ordinarily supernatural things amongst us all the time.

I went through such a time for over a month. Long story short, the university overpaid me last year, so we made a plan for me to pay back the overage in monthly installments (the bank limits the amount you can electronically transfer to another recipient at another bank or the same bank). What the university or National Research Foundation failed to realize is that the university itself would have a problem registering me this year when this debt hadn’t cleared (the academic year starts in February but my 10 month repayment would be completed much later in May 2009). So when this year started, I was de-registered (this also happened to me last year) and my card would not give me access into buildings anymore. While they were trying to fix this mess, I was not paid. And the UCT administrators took their time because they were not thinking of the fact that I didn’t have money and was waiting on them.

First they had to realize there was a problem, then they said they had to sort out all payments since 2007 and figure out what happened (this didn’t make sense because we did this in Aug/Sept 2007 when we made the 10 month plan). Then they had to send this to another department. Then I had to re-register and refill out all these forms. Then there was a problem with my visa because it had the word “studying” and it is not supposed to say that for postdoctoral researchers because the government charges tax if it does, etc., etc. , etc.

During this time, they never offered me an advance, and my own research lab is not very good at this either. I’m always paid for my lecturing after the fact instead of being paid while lecturing like I was when I was TA’ing (tutoring) for the math department (my supervisor made me stop this).

So during this time I had no money. I had no problem asking people around me for money. I did just that and they gave. And I know it’s a blessing just to have people that I can ask. Not everyone has that. On top of that, I was amazed that people who owed me money paid me back (people I didn’t even remember). Reimbursements due to me were paid back to me (some reimbursements I had forgotten). One friend (from whom I asked to borrow money) gave me 66% more than I asked. One friend (from whom I asked to borrow money) gave it as a gift and not a loan (this is a friend who I try to take care of). Both friends were really sweet. I almost never get taken out for meals. I am usually paying for people. I was unknowingly taken out for meals (they didn’t know my situation) 5 times. It was quite amazing. It’s a nice circle. When you take care of people, people really take care of you, I’ve found. It was an amazing month of redistribution and love. I enjoyed it.

Oh, the university finally paid me last Saturday (3rd of April), but they took out a chunk for late fees. They realize it’s their fault my registration was late, so they will recompense me for those fees, but it will take a week. So fun times. Remember, I was also not paid for over 4 months from Sept 2007 to Jan 2008. When I was paid, I received two semesterly payments within a week. I thought nothing of it, thinking the first was for the end of 2007 and the second was for the first half of 2008. I didn’t know they actually pay me for exactly 6 months, not for semesters. So the first payment was for Sept 07-Feb 08and the second was March – Aug 2008. So they actually were not supposed to pay me the second payment in January (I didn’t know this). So I misappropriated the extra money due to false information. This makes me two months of pay off, thinking the first payment was all for 2007 when my rent was 40% of my monthly salary. So having to pay off 2007, pay my own ticket back to the US with South African money twice [my mom required me to go home for Christmas], purchasing a car, spending more than the price of the car on maintenance and taking care of people, I am living on less than before. In registering me, the university decided to just settle it all and take out the remainder of the repayment from my current 6th month payment. So I have a little more than half (minus the late charges which they will return to me) of what I usually have. Still, I am doing quite well and live comfortably.

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