Saturday, July 2, 2022
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Brett Fish

Who is the least to you?

What does ‘the least of these’ mean to you?

In your day-to-day life, you will no doubt come into contact with people who are seen as ‘less than’ by those around you.

Maybe you drive past them on a street corner or maybe they knock at your house door at night asking for some bread or clothes.

Perhaps it is simply someone at the office who no-one has made an effort to get to know, or else the student in your class who everyone ignores.

As I’m mentioning these categories, are you picturing someone who has been marginalised, cast to the side, forgotten or seen as less worthy in some way?

What have you done to reach out to them?

Some sheep and some goats

One of my favourite stories that Jesus told, albeit one that continues to challenge me and hold me accountable in life, is about a King who calls his subjects to stand before him. We can read the whole story in Matthew 25, but here is a short passage:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

When the subjects hear the king say that, they respond in a confused manner saying, “We never saw you or did any of those things for you. When were you hungry or thirsty or naked or in prison? We don’t remember that.”

The king’s response is significant:

‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

The same conversation happens with those who the king accuses of not helping when he (the least of these) was in need.

In the story, those who showed compassion to the ones in need are described as sheep and the others as goats. The sheep enter into an eternal inheritance with the king and the goats are cast out.

What does it mean for me today?

So the Bible is suggesting that these actions (or lack thereof) have eternal consequences. But I want to scale it down a little and look even just at the present significance of these acts.

If you and I ignore those who are pushed to the side, then nothing changes. We are not acting any differently than so many people around us.

But the moment we interrupt the regular flow of actions and step towards the person seen as ‘the other’ and feed or clothe or visit or even just sit and listen to and spend time with… something changes. And it is hugely meaningful.

Relationship is offered. Dignity is restored. Hope is held out. Crisis is interrupted. Yes, there are eternal consequences alluded to, but in the here and now, a nation begins to be built up.

So this story has meaning on many different levels. A larger question is being asked about the state of your soul and it is looked at through the lens of your actions when it comes to people who are not as able to help themselves.

But at the same time, an opportunity is presented for a change to take place in a broken down part of society and all the positive consequences that might flow from that if it is genuinely followed up.

Those who have eyes

Be concerned about your soul and what happens to you after you die.

But also be involved with the state of the nation around you, especially in the lives of the people who you have direct access to and to whom reaching out in some way might be a life transforming thing. Both for you and for them.

Realise that perhaps in doing the one, you set yourself up well for the other.

Book Review: What if there were no Whites in South Africa?


I just started reading ‘What if there were no Whites in South Africa?’ by Ferial Haffajee.

While I would normally wait ’til I had finished a book before recommending it, this one feels really important even after finishing just two of the six chapters. And I don’t think only for white people in South Africa alone, which is why I wanted to write about it here.

For those who don’t know, Ferial Haffajee is the editor-in-chief of the City Press newspaper and sits on the boards of the World Editors Forum as well as the International Press Institute. She has won a number of awards  both locally and internationally and so hers is a voice worth listening to.

Taken by surprise

I must admit that the book surprised me from the intro. The title seems to suggest that Ferial is calling for a procession of white people to be marched to the sea and then told to start swimming (or something a little more acceptable) yet it took a particularly different tack.

From the start Haffajee seems to be questioning the notion that whiteness is still very much in power. I can imagine one township friend in particular who would be shaking rage at even the thought of that. But one point that she makes which I found very interesting, and quite possibly true, is that a lot of the time when black people speak it seems, from their spoken experience, as if white people constitute 50% of the country’s population ( the true percentage of white South Africans is closer to just 8 or 9%).

I think my lived experience backs that up to some extent. And that is from a place of intentionally seeking to avoid spending time in predominantly white spaces. But my day-to-day doesn’t give me the impression that I am in the minority at all. What helps back that up is that so many of the people who occupy spaces of service (car guards, grocery packers, petrol attendants) tend to be black and so that informs the narrative in my mind that people of colour tend to be the ones serving.

So whether she is right or not, that certainly gave me something to think about, especially considering the activist circles that I tend to find myself, the narrative tends to be quite aggressively different. Haffajee cites proof based on her lived experience to say that in her work, and life spaces, and in the leadership of the country, the dominant powers are black.

‘I cannot say with honesty that the people who run my life in any sphere are white. At work, it’s a mixed bag (though I like to think each of us is our own boss). My city is run by a black mayor. My province by a black premier. My country by a black president. With their hands on the levers of various public fiscus, it cannot possibly be that blacks are in office, but not in power.’ 

So worth digging a bit more into.

The  ‘Better Black’

The second reason why I would highly recommend this book for white people in particular (and I guess for black people to know that it is being said) comes from this comment:

‘Danielle says: ‘When you enter white spaces, (there is) pressure to leave your blackness at the door. Everything that has to do with whiteness has value, (You must) put your blackness in a box to go about your work. ‘

I have heard this spoken about by some of my black friends and it is something I am looking to explore more on social media and have asked a few of them to write a post for me on it. The idea of whiteness being a standard that must be pursued at the cost of one’s identity.

Things like language and accent come to mind. So much has been said about hair and schools in South Africa are finally giving some serious thought to it. How we dress and the type of music we listen to and what we eat. The list continues.

But I think the majority of white people are ignorant of the idea that this is even a thing which is why this book is so helpful. Even if just to get the conversations going. These are important conversations.

Working towards a conclusion

I have not finished the book yet, so I don’t know what final point Haffajee is leading up to. But she does give us a bit of a clue in the preface:

I guess there are some who might answer my question this way: ‘If there were no whites, this bloody country would go down the drain.’ It’s not that book either. Thankfully. And still others might answer: ‘And it wouldn’t be a moment too soon.’ It’s not that book, either.’ I prefer to think of this as a love song to an Mzansi I love dearly and as an attempt to see the possible.

I love the hope in that statement. As well as the understanding that this whiteness thing is something that is a worldwide phenomenon and so relevant to all of us. We need to learn to understand it more so that we can start speaking truth into a lie that has forced too many people around the world to be less than they can be.


Parentings hard? You’re not alone!

I’m not a parent, which automatically disqualifies me from giving parenting advice.

Well, according to some people, anyways. But I do know a lot of parents, and my wife and I lived with two couples with young children for close to two years. We definitely observed a lot of things and had conversations around raising children and even got to be involved a little bit in co-parenting alongside them.

Possibly the biggest and most important things I learned about parenting is that it doesn’t always go as planned. Sometimes it’s not easy. And it can even be downright horrible at time.

But the secret is to not tell anyone. Ever.


At least that’s what Social Media would have you believe. Pictures of cute children breaking academic and sporting records and looking amazing and obedient and if you peer really carefully at some of the pictures, you may even see the tiny little halos above the kids heads.

But back in real life, it turns out that it is not always that easy or fun.


Secrecy doesn’t help anyone. It convinces you that you are the only ones having difficulty with raising your children. Which also makes you feel bad because you also get the impression that everyone else is coping with their children so WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? 

The truth is that all children are different, all situations are different and therefore all experiences are different. Which must be one of the toughest things about parenting – there can be no one-size-fits-all manual to tell you how to do it, because it is different every time.

One thing that will make things easier is if parents start being a little more open and honest with each other.

Which is why I have been sharing the stories on my blog and inviting readers to share them with their friends. The encouragement that comes just from knowing someone else has walked or is walking a road similar to yours is immense. You can start to share ideas and coping mechanisms, solutions to bad habits that you’ve found and plans you have tried that have worked.

The old African saying that ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ could not be more true.

And yet people continue to try to raise them in isolation. Take it to another level if you have a single parent family or if one or more of your children have a learning or physical disability or challenge.

You cannot and should not do this alone. It’s okay (and really really good) to ask for help!


If you are a parent and you have found it extremely difficult, I encourage you to take the risk and share your story with someone else. A safe person for you might be a family member you trust or a good friend; it might be someone at a church or even in some cases professional help from a counsellor might be just what you need.

But the big lie in all this is that you have to do this by yourself. Or you have to naturally be good at it. Or there won’t be times when you actually break down and cry or grab a tub of ice-cream from the freezer and finish off the whole thing.

While doing any of those things might not be the most helpful or appropriate thing to do in the moment, being able to voice it to someone who gets you and cares about you and is safe, definitely is.

And let those of us who don’t have children step in to babysit and guard the fort and give you some space every now and then when you need it. That’s what friends are for.

Parenting is one of the hardest things to do well and I cheer you on as you do your best to be a good mom or dad. My prayer is that you will find spaces where you can speak honestly and have a community of people backing you up to help you find the strength you need to continue, and continue well. You got this!

Jesus and Politics: The great divide

We were taught it almost as a mantra growing up: Christianity and Politics don’t mix.

In fact, in my house, politics didn’t really have a place at all. Although to be fair, not many other ‘grown up conversations’ did either, my parents having come from a largely “Children should be seen and not heard” era. So we never really discussed anything. We were told what was what (“Because I said so” was another refrain we grew used to) and one day when I was, I think 18 years old (either that or 21) I returned home to find a “What every boy should know” book on my bed. So basically I learnt everything about sex from friends at school and the movies. #AndSomeOfThoseWereReallyBadLessons

But back to politics, while my parents lived lives that were contrary to the apartheid system of the time in South Africa, we never spoke about it as a family. So it was no surprise that I was pretty clueless when it came to what was going on in our country besides the obvious.

Again, when it came to politics, we don’t mix that with church because we are good christians. Or something like that.


This past Sunday, after a week of political turmoil in South Africa which included #BlackMonday (people wearing black to protest against the government), a memorial service for a struggle veteran being turned into a political road show (as we remembered Ahmed Kathrada but also spoke about the need for his spirit, integrity and example to be brought back to current leadership) and finally a march on Friday, I learned that my pastor, Ben the Priest as I call him, had not gotten the memo.

Ben preached on a passage from Luke 19 where Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey while people waved palm branches. Doesn’t seem to be much political about that and when we were children, this was one of the sought after colouring in pictures of the year with palm branches and donkeys and crowds throwing their cloaks on the street. Party central.

But then Ben the Priest reminded us that the symbols of power in Rome were a chariot and war horse. When Caesar entered a city, there would be much performance and honour heaped upon him.

“Jesus entering the city on a donkey is a prophetic defiance where He is parodying the powers of the day. “

Ben took the act of Jesus and linked it to the political protests many of the congregation had been at in the past week and linked them, by saying this:

“If we are calling into account others, we have to start by looking at ourselves. “


So we watched Ben ‘get it wrong’ on Sunday by breaking the age old mantra rule.

But then if Christianity and Jesus were not supposed to mix, no one ever got around to letting Jesus know that. His teaching was fueled with the language of kingdom and at a time and place where Caesar was in charge, that was nothing short of treason, or with Jesus not being a Roman, revolution at best.

The thing about the time when Jesus lived is that politics and religion were inseparable. Caesar wasn’t seen only as a king, but in his own eyes he was a god. The people didn’t respect him, they worshipped him. Or in many cases they met their deaths.


Many of the people who followed Jesus secretly thought that He was planning a political coup. His talk of the kingdom that was coming made them think He was going to try and overthrow the present oppressive regime and set up something new that was more favourable to them.

In fact, when they realised that was not going to be the case, many of them became disillusioned and left Him.

The plot twist in this story, in a sense, was that Jesus was talking about a different kingdom. Not one that ruled over people as much as one that ruled inside of people.

We see this expressed in the writing of Paul to the church in Rome where he says:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will. – Romans 12.2

And also to the church in Colossia where he says to them:

And whatever you do,whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3.17

The kingdom that Jesus was talking about was something that was meant to take hold of you to such an extent that in some ways you would be unrecognisable to the world. It was also meant to work its way into every single aspect of your life. So in whatever you do” make sure that you have invited God to be a part of that. Or taken the time to recognise that God is already a part of that.


If this is true, then it means that if we engage in any kind of politics, that God is going to be in that. And because we live in a political world, we cannot separate the two. The kingdom that God calls us to is, amoung other things:

to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? – Isaiah 58.6-7

When we start talking about systems and structures that keep people poor and oppressed, we see that God cares deeply about those things. We start to realise that there should not be a whole aspect of life where God is absent.

It is important to understand the reasons behind people trying to separate church and state – where abuses have happened, where churches have become political rather than doing what they do best, being representatives of Christ on earth.

So maybe Ben the Priest got it right this week. I’m pretty sure Jesus knew exactly what He was doing. It is comforting for me to know that the God I follow is interested in every aspect of life. Therefore, why would He not be involved in politics in some way.

Perhaps the best way we can move forwards on this, is by listening to what Ben said and acting on it.

“If we are calling into account others, we have to start by looking at ourselves. “


Rest: sometimes you need to stop to carry on


How are you at finding rest in your life?

We live in a world of fast-paced frenetic action.

We want what we want and we want it now. And we are driven to succeed, which means get things done, accumulate, accomplish and collect.

And it can all get a bit much and if we are not careful our body is likely to step in and slow things down for us.

Is it okay to take a break?

Perhaps one of the strangest stories in the Bible that we tend to skip past is the seventh day of Creation. Whether we are talking actual days, or metaphorical days, or whether you even believe the story or not, it is super interesting to see the choices made with regards to what happened on day 7.

Genesis chapter 2 right at the start of the Bible, begins with these words:

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work.  Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done.

So in this story we have the idea of a God who creates the earth and everything in it and then after six days of non stop action, He takes a break.

Does a God who can speak a Universe into being in a sentence even require a break? Or is it possible that this was God simply demonstrating a good example for us to follow?

Rhythms of stop and go

It may seem like a bit of an oxymoron, but the older I get the more I realise that you have to slow down to speed up. No-one can run on full power all the time without it suddenly taking you down at some stage.

If you do not put checks and balances in place to take care of a frenetic lifestyle then eventually your body will step in to slow you down and that might be catastrophic and can happen in a number of ways, most of them unpleasant.

The flu and colds are often a way of your body holding up a red flag, but in extreme cases it can arrive in the form of burnout, depression, panic attacks or even a heart attack.

What I have found most helpful is to work in some rhythms of rest as regular patterns within your normal week. Make spaces to slow down – get outside if you can, maybe go for a walk with a friend or spouse, take time to enjoy the slow creation of a meal, grab a book and a drink and find a comfortable spot and so on. If you are someone who journals then taking some time to stop and write things down can be an amazing life-giver.

How about you? What are some of the things you have found that help you personally to relax and regroup and just find more balance in your life? Share some ideas in the comments below. 

Embrace how old you feel


How old do you feel?

One of my favourite scenes from a movie has to be the interaction between King Arthur and this man Dennis he meets working in a field from the movie ‘Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail’ – here is just a snatch:

Arthur: “Old woman!”

Dennis: “Man.”

A: “Sorry. Old man! Whose castle is that?”

D: “I’m 37!”

A: “What?”

D: “I’m 37, I’m not old!”

A: “Well, I can’t just call you ‘man’.”

D: “Well, you could say ‘Dennis’.”

A: “I didn’t know you were called Dennis.”

D: “You never bothered to find out, did you?”

The scene is probably more fondly known for the political discourse that follows as they discuss how Arthur became king with such classic lines as: You can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just ’cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!

But for me I always loved the misdirection of the age response to the castle question: I’m 37, I’m not old.

The meaning of life

In fact I was so stoked when I finally turned 37 because for an entire year I could quote that line and mean it. After my next birthday I had to wait another four years ’til I was 42 before I could get excited about a number again as according to Douglas Adams, 42 was the answer to the question, ‘What is the meaning of life?‘ from his famous ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ novel – another classic.

When you’re young, the prospect of getting older is an exciting one. You’re not four, you are four and a half. Or almost five. Double figures seem exciting and then the teenage years.

17 is exciting because you can get your learner’s licence and 18 speaks of driving for real and being able to drink. 21 is that golden age of adulthood (in some cultures, others hit it way back at 14 even) and the twenties feel like you have finally arrived.

But then that all changes at some point. Suddenly 30 is a number that looms and once you successfully manage to make it past that number alive, the next big one to start planning celebrations for is 40 and it just doesn’t seem all that exciting any more.

Embrace where you are

We all get older. It is one of those thing we cannot avoid. We can look after ourselves better in terms of how we eat and how conscious we are of health issues and so on. But getting old happens. And it can terrify us, or we can learn to accept it and embrace it.

I have been playing hockey for probably close to 15 years after a long gap after school. And I love it. But I’ve known for the last year or two that I am coming to the end of my time on the field. At least at the semi-competitive level at which I was playing with my club. The spirit is willing but the flesh is getting ever so weaker. And while it’s not something I particularly want to face, for the sake of the rest of the players on the team I had to.

So this last Saturday I played my first game with the Masters team. (You have to be 35 to play for Masters and I’m 43 so you can tell I’ve been putting it off). I was quite nervous about playing with a bunch of old guys (we have a 70-year-old on our team!) but I absolutely enjoyed it. It was also the first time I’ve been shouted at for being off the field and some poor old guy was kicked off so I could be brought back on to the field.

I moved from struggling to be fit enough to keep up or match my opponents to being someone the team will look to, to score goals. It was a change that needed to be made and I made it and I’m embracing it and it is good. There will be a day when I can no longer play for the Masters team either, but for now I’m learning to embrace where I am.

The advice I would give to you no matter how old you are as you read this, is to really make the most of where you are. Be aware of age as it happens but don’t let it hold you captive in fear, but also don’t ignore it when your body starts telling you something has to change. Do not try to hold too tightly onto the past of what was but look ahead to new and different opportunities that will be great in their own way.

You are only as old as you let yourself become. Your attitude about your present circumstances will help shape the enjoyment you are able to have in the season you find yourself in.

I see live people

Do you see people? I mean really see them?

I asked this question on my Facebook page the other day: Name one time this week when you dehumanised someone else.

Naturally people didn’t come running to answer, but I’m hoping that just by asking the question I made people think about it.

Even starting to write about this prompted me to head back to Facebook to write this summary post:

I wrote a status the other day inviting people to share a story about when they have dehumanised someone this past week – surprisingly people didn’t come storming in to comment (I mean it’s not like I was touching you on your holiday house this time) and to be honest I wasn’t expecting you to.

But I did hope it would at least get people thinking. We might be too embarrassed to say or write out loud when we dehumanise people but I imagine for a lot of people it happens every day.

When someone comes up to your car window at a traffic light to beg for money or ask you to buy something. Not giving them money or not buying something is not dehumanising them. Refusing to look them in the eye, or flash them a smile, or an apology, or engaging them with a simple hello, is.

When you refer (directly or indirectly) to someone who is thirty plus who maybe works in your garden, or looks after your children, or cleans your house, as ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ that is quite dehumanising and an easy test is to question whether the things you call other people would feel as comfortable if someone was doing that to your mom or dad, or sister or friend.

When there is no human interaction at a till as someone runs your groceries or clothes through and you simply see that person as a means to an end rather than a person doing a job you probably wouldn’t choose to do (I’ve done till duty – probably my worst job ever) that is probably dehumanising. As opposed to greeting them – perhaps in their own tongue – finding out their name, wishing them a good day.

In fact I think it is possible to throw money at someone and dehumanise them at the same time. I’m pretty sure I’ve done it.

Not taking the time to learn someone’s name that may be a little trickier for you definitely falls into that category.

Let them know you see them

The title of this article is a play on the words “I see dead people” from the movie The Sixth Sense  that Haley Joel Osment’s character utters to Bruce Willis’ psychologist. In the movie his character Cole is the only one who can see the spirits of the dead which is where dehumanisation comes in. We dehumanise people when we refuse to see them.

Look at the above examples again – typically there are people who are in some kind of service to someone else. And it can be so easy to use the service but not see the person.

On the flip side this is something very easy to get right. Looking someone in the eyes, greeting them, asking their name, asking how their day has been. You don’t have to give someone money to see them or let them know that they have been seen and are important. That they count.

We don’t give dignity, we recognise it

The same as with a voice, I don’t think we can give dignity to someone. But we can take time to notice it in them and affirm their humanness. And if it’s not something you have done before and doesn’t come naturally to you, it may require a bit of practice.

So how about for the rest of this week you give it a practice. Especially when it comes to the people who fill your car, pack your groceries, stand at the side of the road, let’s aim to make eye contact and smile and ask a question and let them know they are seen. You may totally transform someone’s day.

Love: what happens when feelings act out


How do we define love?

Do you remember the first time you had a crush on someone? Can you remember what their name was? Something about that person – maybe not even something you or I can name – for some reason set them apart from everyone else and you thought those immortal words, “I like this one!”

Feelings can get us into trouble. I don’t know about you, but that is something I could tell a few stories about. The feelings you had for someone else that were not returned. The ones that got you doing strange and weird things like carrying cases and walking out of your way and doing laps around that part of the school field and so on.

Sometimes it ended up embarrassing you but a lot of the time it just led to frustration. And then a week, a month, a year later, you see that same person and the feeling has completely disappeared. Maybe they got a boyfriend or you started crushing on someone else. Maybe nothing actually happened but for some reason, over time, the feelings just were not there any more. Sometimes you look back and think, “What was I thinking?”

The switch to love

When you do manage to finally find someone who shares the same kind of feelings, and a relationship happens as a result, there is this slow steady trek towards the moment of, “I love you!”

It is different for every person, but tends to be something you don’t say on the first date and for many people, that transition from “I like you” to “I love you” is a super big deal. It is the sign that something significant has happened and it is time to move this thing on to some other kind of level. Again, different things to different people.

The movies tend to make it seem a whole lot easier than it is – catching her eye in a crowd, listening to him make that speech, seeing the way she stepped in to care for that old homeless man who was being bullied by the cop. It tends to be quite heavily feeling dependent and lead quite dramatically to sex, or love, or a confused and complicated mixture of the two.

The elusive nature

An interesting description can be found in the Bible, in the letter Paul writes to the Corinthian church we see this in Chapter 13:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails

It is one of the most well-known and much-used passages in the world, especially in weddings. But what’s interesting if you look a little closer, is that the Love mentioned here is not about feeling.

Have you ever felt patient? Do you ever feel like not boasting? Like just letting it go when someone does something wrong to you? Not at all. The Love that is being described here is one of decision over feeling – it’s about choosing right, despite the circumstances you might find yourselves in. Take a bit of time and read through the list and see if you agree.

The last phrase says it all, and it is this kind of Love that I believe you will find in long and happy marriages.Love never fails‘. It doesn’t say that Love doesn’t make mistakes because we know that it will. But it suggests that what lasts and is significant is the Love that chooses relationship over feeling every step of the way (and is not afraid to apologise when it gets it wrong as it likely will). Or perhaps what feelings would look like if they acted out?

When we read that passage, it probably doesn’t sound like too many humans we know, but the example we are given of real and life-transforming Love is Jesus and so we can look to Him to get an idea of what it means to truly Love.

Base your faith on Jesus, not on me


What do you think about Jesus?

Mahatma Gandhi once famously said, ‘I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.’

I have heard of so many stories of people turning their backs on Christianity because of what some Christian or some church did to them. And every time it hurts me, because that really should not be the case.

But I also have to wonder how many times I might have been that person, with someone’s eyes on me, expecting me to show them what it means to be a Christian and then leaving disappointed or hurt because I have gotten it wrong.

Who should we follow?

In the Bible we see Jesus’ offering a similar warning to the crowds, not to take their example from those who were known to be the religious people of His day:

“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat.  So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for people to see.” – Matthew 23:2-5

In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul writes a little bit later, ‘Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ‘ which I think is a little bit better.

What Jesus was saying about the religious leaders of His time was that they were not following God but rather trying to get attention for themselves. Paul changes it up a bit by suggesting that people follow him as he follows Christ.

I would interpret Paul’s statement like this: when you see me following Jesus Christ – in His teachings and His actions – that is a good time to follow me. If what you’re looking at does not represent Christ, then stay far away.

Let it stand or fall on Jesus

When someone is considering a decision to become a Christian, I always encourage them to let the decision rest on the person of Jesus. After all, it really all is, and should be, about Him. He points us to God, He demonstrated that it was possible to live a life of no sin or compromise and He taught us how we could live a kingdom lifestyle.

It seems like a lot of leaders in the church today can fall prone to what the Pharisees suffered from and make it all about themselves. So I would echo Jesus’ words to not follow them, because they do not do what they say. But I would also encourage you with Paul’s words – to keep an eye on them and when how they live looks like what Jesus would do, then definitely feel free to follow them in that way.

But if you are someone thinking about faith in God today, I want to encourage you to go back to Jesus. Read one of the four gospel books in the Bible – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – to get some idea of the ways and words of Jesus and then make a decision based on Him. I did that thirty plus years ago and it has not always been easy by any means, but I have never had reason to look back.


Fences: a dvd review


Last night my wife and I finally got to watch the new Denzel Washington and Viola Davis movie ‘Fences’. And what a watch it was.

Denzel  plays Troy Maxson, husband and father of two growing men, making his living as a garbage collector in the 50’s in Pittsburgh, USA. Troy missed out on playing major baseball as he was too old when the league finally started allowing black players to play for them. The bitterness and resentment are something he clearly wears heavily and particularly affects his relationship with his youngest son, Cory, who is being scouted to play American football.

Viola plays his faithful wife, Rose, with a deep mixture of love and devotion. There is much for her to both laugh and cry about as she watches her husband’s engagements with his best friend Bono, his older son Lyons and his mentally affected brother Gabe (brilliantly played by Mykelti Williamson) as well as the growing friction between Troy and Cory.

Family Tensions

The movie is based on the 1985 play of the same name by August Wilson. It explores the African-American experience with race relations, family and responsibility as key themes.

The fence of the movie’s title refers to the fence that Troy is busy building in his back garden for most of the movie. At one point his best friend exclaims:

“Some people build fences to keep people out, and other people build fences to keep people in.” (Bono, played by Stephen McKinley Henderson)

The movie is filled with fences, mostly constructed by Troy pushing people away or trying to hold them close for different reasons. There is much back and forth in that regard – the guilt he feels at his brother’s mental state, while the money his brother got as a result was the only way that Troy was able to have the house he now has.

There is the tension that exists between Troy and Cory where he both wants his son to grow up well but at the same time expresses that he doesn’t want him grow up to be anything like him. The idea that he has toiled for fifty plus years and does not have a whole lot to show for it.

Eventually there is a showdown of sorts as Troy faces up to the character of Death who seems to be a constant presence at the boundary of Troy’s life. After a particular character dies, Troy has it out with Death in this impressive monologue:

All right, Mr. Death. I tell you what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna take and build me a fence around this yard, see? I’m gonna build me a fence around what belongs to me. And then I want you to stay on the other side. You stay over there till you’re ready for me, then you come on. Bring your army, bring your sickle, bring your wrestling clothes. I ain’t gonna fall down on my vigilance this time. You ain’t gonna sneak up on me no more. When you ready for me, when the top of your list say Troy Maxson, then you come on up and knock on the front door. Ain’t nobody else got nothing to do with this. This between you and me. Man to man! You stay on the other side of that fence till you ready for me!

How is my house doing?

This is not an old-school Disney ‘happily ever after’ type of movie. Rather it deals very intimately with broken people living flawed lives and making some bad decisions along the way. With people desperately trying to figure out what family means and where loyalty begins and ends. Of people trying to win the loyalty and respect of others.

With such a powerful cast and the feeling of this being the movie of a play, Fences manages to pull you in and make you care deeply about characters while giving you a peek into why some of them are making the decisions they made based on how their life journey has been.

I highly recommend this both as something to watch, but also as a way of taking a moment to reflect on your own life. Using Bono’s statement of fences keeping people in or out, what does my life look like in that regard. I believe that ‘Fences’ is going to go down as a classic and am not surprised  at all to see that it was nominated for four Academy Awards and saw Viola Davis take Best Supporting Actress.

Do yourself a favour if you haven’t seen it yet. But be ready to feel.

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