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Archive for the tag “liturgy”

The official Mandela memorial: how embarrassing

I didn’t go to the official Mandela memorial service yesterday. I watched it on TV. I thought about going, but it was raining, and I had neither umbrella nor raincoat.

Many people said (on Twitter) that they were embarrassed by the booing of Jacob Zuma, but for me that was one of the few redeeming features of the event.

We organised a rugby world cup in 1995, and Nelson Mandela attended the final at the FNB stadium, and we won. The following year we organised the the soccer African Cup of Nations at the FNB stadium, with twice as many teams, and we won. We organised the cricket world cup, and we organised the soccer world cup in 2010, and the organisers did us proud.

But the memorial service for South Africa’s greatest president was chaotic, amateurish and embarrassing.  I watched it on eNCA news, and the broadcast was incompetent and disrespectful, with speakers being interrupted to show the presenters (Nikiwe Bikitsha and Jeremy Maggs) chatting to each other or to other random people. Sometimes they were telling us what was happening instead of showing us.

It didn’t start off too badly, though it did start an hour late. I didn’t notice that at the time, but I did notice that even though it started an hour late, US President Barack Obama arrived later still. That seems to be an American habit, because the start of Nelson Mandela’s inauguration was delayed by ten minutes because US Vice-President Al Gore was late. We make jokes about “African time”, but African-American time seems to be something else.

It was noticable that some people in the crowd booed and made the soccer substitution sign when President Jacob Zuma appeared, but former president Thabo Mbeki got much louder cheers. I’ve seen the booing and the substitution sign (rolling hands) at soccer matches when there is an unpopular player, or someone makes a stupid mistake, and probably quite a large part of the crowd were soccer fans, and were used to doing that kind of thing at that venue.

Was it an appropriate occasion?

Well after the Soweto massacre in 1976 funerals of political activists were also political demonstrations, and that became part of the culture of funerals in many parts of South Africa, In his first speech after his release from prison Nelson Mandela paid tribute to the efforts of the people, which had gone him released, and the political demonstrations at funerals were part of those efforts, so I think those who are complaining that it was “inappropriate” are forgetting our own recent history.

Another point is that the recent debacle over toll roads has shown, especially to the people of Gauteng, that the ANC leadership is not prepared to listen to the people, and forced e-tolls on Gauteng in the very week that Nelson Mandela died. The ANC provincial and national leadership was gathered as a captive audience, and such an opportunity might never arise again. It was simply too good to be missed.

Some conspiracy theorists have suggested that it was organised and orchestrated in advance. Perhaps it was a flashmob, gathered by tweets and SMS messages. If so, it would appear to have been better organised than the memorial service itself. But I think there is a simpler explanation. It was a soccer stadium, and people were used to going to it to watch football matches. Soccer fans knew what to do without having to be told.

The memorial service opened with prayers and tributes by Jewish, Hindu and Muslim clergy. So far so good.

Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma spoke, and could hardly be heard, even on TV, because the crowd were walking in and out, singing and dancing, or talking or tweeting on cell phones. The editor of City Press tweeted that it was a long walk to a woman president, if that was how much attention was being paid. Someone tweeted that a sound engineer would be fired. The eNCA cameras showed the speaker, but not the deaf interpreter, which was another piece of incompetence. But it seems that the incompetence was worse than I thought, because even though the deaf interpreter was there, he was so incompetent that no deaf people could understand him. The one redeeming feature was that the broadcasters managed to get the lip sync right, which DStv hardly ever manages to do.

By the time US president Barack Obama got up to speak (after he eventually arrived) many in the crowd were already leaving, and the singing and dancing continued for a while until people realised that he actually had something to say. That was perhaps where watching on TV was better. I knew from his first election campaign that he was a good orator, but a year into his second term I was also aware that many of the things he promised so earnestly have not come to pass. He spoke of the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela on Robben Island, and I was acutely aware of his unfulfilled promise to close Guantanamo Bay.

As he continued speaking, the crowd began to quieten down, and fewer people moved to the exits. Whatever the gap between words and reality, the spoken words themselves wove a spell. He was followed by the Vice President of China, the President of Brazil, and of India. All of the BRICS were there. No, not quite. There was no sign of anyone from Russia, no one at all.

The crowd seemed to listen more attentively to the President of Brazil, even though she spoke Portuguese and it was interpreted. Perhaps it might not be such a long walk to a woman president after all. Perhaps we just need the right woman. I thought of Mamphela Ramphele, but we’ll be lucky just to get her into parliament, where she can perhaps be heard.

The move to the exits resumed. It looked as though the home team was losing, and so it was, as things went steadily downhill.

President Zuma spoke. The content of his speech was not bad, but his delivery, especially after Barack Obama, was atrocious. He barely looked at his audience, and read his speech painfully slowly. And even when he did look up there was no eye-contact, as there had been with Barack Obama, because he wore dark glasses which made him look like a Mafia gangster.

As usual, Zapiro gets it right

As usual, Zapiro gets it right

Then came a Bible reading, about Elijah going to heaven and leaving his mantle to Elisha, but Jacob Zuma made an unconvincing Elisha, and the delivery was as bad as Zuma’s, so the reading flopped too.

And then a bloke started to sing a Xhosa hymn, Lisalis’ idinga lakho. I recall it from my Anglican days as the only singable hymn in the Xhosa hymn book. All the others were translated from English, and in every single one the rhythm of the words classhed with the rhythm of the music, syncopation on steroids. Lisalis’ idinga lakho was written by a Xhosa speaker, and so the words and music fitted. Perhaps for that reason it was Nelson Mandela’s favourite hymn. But why, O why, could the organisers of the event not muster up a decent choir to lead the singing of it? It is a well-known hymn, and most of the people in the stadium would have joined in and it could have sounded magnificent, like a Welsh rugby match, perhaps, and not like a faded away old soldier’s funeral in a funeral parlour chapel with five old soldiers, and one of them playing the last post on a cell phone.

And then followed the sermon by Nikwe Bikisha and Jeremy Maggs Ivan Abrahams, which I didn’t hear, though those who did tell me I didn’t miss much.

Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu gave the final blessing, which was at least a little better. It really needed someone who knew a little about liturgy.

Some have said that the booing of Zuma spoiled the event, but nothing spoiled it as much as the bad organisation and dull speeches. As for the booing, I think the best comment is here It’s our party and we’ll boo if we want to | Daily Maverick

I’m glad I’m Orthodox, and I hope my funeral will be a little bit better than that. It really was embarrassingly badly organised, especially after we had successfully organised world cup matches in cricket, rugby and soccer.

We did have a memorial service for Nelson Mandela in church on Sunday, and that was much better too

A man without a fish is like a guitar without a bicycle

I somehow frittered the day away. Computers and the Internet are a huge time waster. ArtsyHonker (Kathryn) on Twitter asks how you carry a guitar on a bicycle, and I feel sure I have somewhere seen a picture of David Kramer on a bicycle with a guitar on his back. So I go to Google in search of images, but to get there, I go via Google mail, and there are all sorts of things clamouring for my attention.

My weekly Plaxo address updates are waiting for me. Ususally I just delete them, but this time I open it, and it says that 42 people are following my Plaxo address updates, so I must make sure my profile is up to date, but none of the people I have on my address list have changed anything. Delete. Then someone wants to be in my network on Linked-In. There are about 10, 15, more of those requests. I go to them and they ask me how I know that person, and to be honest I don’t, I’ve never heard of them. Perhaps I should just delete them, but I don’t. Perhaps they’ll comment on my blog, or do something so that I’ll know that I know them, but I never do.

guitar2And then there’s someone recommending of book for me on Good Reads. The custard pie appreciation affiliates or something. I forget now. And then…. wait a bit, why am I reading this stuff? Oh yes, I was looking for a picture of a guitar without a bicicle, no, that’s a fish, I mean a bicycle with a guitar. So I click on images and type in “David Kramer bicycle guitar” And there are a lot of images of bicycles without guitars and guitars without bicycles and David Kramer without either. Eventually I find an image with someone riding a bicycle and carrying a guitar, and find the actual URL without all the nonsense Google adds to them, and copy it and make my may back to Twitter, and try to find  ArtsyHonker’s tweet about a guitar and a bicycle, but there are so many new tweets that it takes me a while to find it, but at last I do and I’m just about to click on reply when zzzzzzp, it shoots up the screen and I have to scroll back and find it all over again. And eventually I find it again and post the link to the picture.

bikesBut why am I doing this anyway, because I don’t know ArtsyHonker (Kathryn) either, and if I wanted to link to her on Twitter, I mean Linked-In, it wouldn’t let me, because I woulodn’t know how I knew her, O wait a bit, I do. It goes back to the protests last year, or the year before, Occupy Wall Street, and there was an Occupy Threadneedle Street or something near St Paul’s Cathedral in London with people camped out around it, and the dean and chapter, or provost and chapter or whatever they call themselves decided to close St Paul’s in a fit of pique, instead of inviting the occupiers to Evensong.

And back then ArtsyHonker was organising flashmobs for Evensong and Compline, and they had a Flashmob Evensong on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral and I thought that was really cool, and so started following @FlashEvensong on Twitter, but then it died out after a while, but @FlashCompline lasted a bit longer, but now that seems to have died too so I don’t know why I’m still following ArtsyHonker on Twitter, but I still think FlashCompline is a cool idea, and I’d love to do a flash-mob Orthodox Vespers in a shopping mall some time.

But that kind of grasshopper activity is how computers get you, so you never settle to do one thing but you keep jumping from one to another, and eventually, several hours later I went to read “Mrs Dalloway”, which I bought the other day, and you can tell, can’t you, because it’s a stream of consciousness novel like Ulysses, but not quite so long and that kind of thing tends to be catching, like flashmobs.

Kramer2So who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?

And guess what, when I was about to finish writing this post (copied from my diary), I thought I should add some pictures to brighten its little life, so off I went to search all over again, and what should I find  but an image of David Kramer, and a bicycle, and a guitar. @ArtsyHonker, you’d better read this! And may the Lord grant you a quiet night and a perfect end.

A Baptist minister visits an Orthodox Church

Not for Lightweights | Real Live Preacher:

Last Sunday was the 4th of 13 in my sabbatical time. Each of them is precious to me. Each week I am choosing a place and a way to worship. I’m not a church tourist, hoping to see new things. I’m seeking spiritual experiences. I want to worship. Saturday night Jeanene and I still hadn’t decided where to go. I experienced something common to our culture but new to me. The “Where do you want to go to church – I don’t know where do YOU want to go to church” conversation. I found the Saint Anthony the Great website. It’s an Orthodox church that has beautiful Byzantine art in the sanctuary. We decided to go there.

I’ve been reading blogs where people discuss “attractional” versus “missional” churches, and have struggled to make sense of these terms. They just don’t seem to fit my understand or experience of church. And, perhaps this real live preacher ‘s experiwnce can give a clue about why “attractional” versus “missional” seems such a false dichotomy.

This one has been doing the rounds on Facebook.

Psychedelic Christian Worship

Psychedelic Christian Worship — thecages: “But it blows my mind that this state, an explosion of the mind, is what these albums emphasise of the worship experience. What’s important here is not the presence of God, but the worshiper’s own glowing mind.”

This post interested me for two reasons.

One was the title, “psychedelic Christian worship”. That interested me because nearly 40 years ago I was fired by the then Anglican Bishop of Natal, Vernon Inman, for my part in organising what was described as a “psychedelic service” in St Columba’s Anglican Church in Greenwood Park, Durban.

The second reason was that it highlighted the widely divergent meanings of the word “worship” among Christians of different backgrounds and traditions.

I suppose I first became aware of the divergence when I visited one of those new hypermarket consumer churches that have now become so common, Christian City at Elandsfontein near Germiston. After a period of rather loud singing the cheerleader said, “Now THAT’S worship!” And I wondered , “What’s worship”? It didn’t strike me as particularly worshipful. It was just loud singing with an even louder accompaniment.

And the post quoted above in thecages puts a finger on this changed meaning: What’s important here is not the presence of God, but the worshiper’s own glowing mind.

And this meaning has to be taken into account when adherents of hypermarket churches use terms like “worship leader” or “worship service” or “time of worship”. The last one gives the clue, because it exposes the underlying assumption that if there is a “time of worship” there is also a time of non-worship.

The “psychedelic service” at Greenwood Park was a somewhat different thing. It was planned by an ecumenical youth group linked to the Christian Institute, some of whom were members of the parish of Greenwood Park. After firing me the Anglican Bishop of Natal preached in the church the following Sunday, and told the congregation that their church had been “profaned” by what we had done.

What had we done?

As I wrote in my journal for 1 June 1969:

The service started a bit late, because we did not want to start before everyone was in. Martin Goulding and Geoff Moorgas then played “Lead kindly light” as a violin and cello duet, sitting in the vestry, while the church was in darkness. Then I shouted “let there be light” and played “Doctor Do-good” by the Electric Prunes at full volume while Sue Abbott at the back of the church flashed the lights on and off in time to the beat. Then we had lessons and hymns alternating – Genesis 1, the creation and separation of light and darkness, and then sang “Thou whose almighty word”. Then another reading “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light” and we sang “Oh freedom”. Then another lesson, from John’s gospel “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”, and we sang “We shall overcome”. And then from 1 Peter, “… a holy nation, a royal priesthood, led out of darkness into his marvellous light” and then Revelation 21 and 22 – the new Jerusalem, where there is no need for sun or moon, because Christ himself is the light of his people, and sang “Lights above, celestial Salem”. Then we had the offering, and passed round a collection plate filled with half cents and asked people to take some, saying that it was to remind us that we could give nothing to God, because everything we gave to him we first received from him.

Dick Usher read a litany while Martin Goulding projected slides showing light sources. Then Colin Butler, dressed as a night watchman in army greatcoat and Basotho hat, sitting in front of a brazier, about to begin his soliloquy about being all alone in the darkness when the band cut in and all sang “This little light of mine”, while members of the congregation came up and lit tapers or sparklers. Then we began singing “Lord of the dance”, but after three verses Geoff stopped it and said “Come on everybody, don’t just sit there, stand up and sing it with everything you’ve got.” Now they all stood up and sang it, better this time, with Roy Holden and Mervin Josie clapping from the back of the church. We sang it through a couple more times and then stopped. Nobody moved.

I asked “Do you want to sing it again?” “Yes” they all shouted. So we sang it several more times, and this time people moved out of their pews and moved round the church, dancing and singing, until everyone moved out, except for Mitch Lewis, one of the churchwardens, and some aunties at the back. Eventually they all danced out into the street, and it ended there, with people still holding lighted tapers, and all happy and smiling and excited. I have never seen such happy and smiling people coming out of church before.

Howard Trumbull shouted “Alleluia! Praise the Lord! It was great”, and several other people came and said similar things to us. I went back into to the church to try and get things straightened out, and then Mitch Lewis and Tom Abrahams, the churchwardens, asked me to go to the Vestry and said they didn’t want to do another service next week because many people had been offended by this one. I doubted very much that many people had been offended, because most of them looked so happy, but said if that was the case, probably the best thing to do would be to arrange a meeting later in the week and try to sort it out, and we could explain what we had been trying to do. Dick Usher was supposed to have come to the morning service to explain to the congregation what was going to happen in the evening, but he had overslept, and I apologized to them for that. Afterwards we went to have tea in the crypt and discussed it with some of the parishioners who were anti. One of them said he thought church services should be quiet, and this one was too loud – after all, Jesus never raised his voice. Martin Goulding muttered that he just overturned a few tables when he wanted to emphasize a point. Later we went to Geoff’s house, but Dick Usher and Sue Abbott didn’t come. Sue was in tears, having been attacked by a subdeacon called Dennis Pennington, who, I gather, is the big wheel of the parish. We thought that the service was great. Geoff said he had had doubts about it before, but the proof of the pudding was in the eating, and it made very good eating indeed.

It wasn’t really “psychedelic”, though in those days anything with bright colours, loud music and flashing lights was often called “psychedelic”. It was also ironic that within a few years the hymn Lord of the dance, which the Bishop of Natal had described as “blasphemy and profanity” became one of the most popular hymns sung at school assemblies in the UK.

Why did we do it?

I can’t speak for the others who took part in the planning and leading of the service, but were several things that had influenced me:

  • An experimental drama festival at Durham University in June 1968
  • Reading the works of Marshall McLuhan
  • A seminar on Orthodox worship for non-Orthodox theological students held at Bossey, Switzerland in April 1968, followed by Holy Week and Easter services at St Sergius in Paris
  • Talking to Walter Hollenweger about liturgy and worship at the World Council of Churches headquarters in Geneva

For me it was an attempt to make worship more “holistic”. Western Protestant worship at that time seemed to me to be too didactic and primarily verbal. Anglican services compiled at the time of the Reformation (and largely still in use) had been designed with the primary purpose of edification.

The drama festival at Durham (where I was then studying) attracted people from all over Britain, and several of them had been influenced by Marshall McLuhan, with his idea of “the medium is the message”. While attending the seminar on Orthodox theology and worship at Bossey, a friend and I had taken the train to Geneva to talk to Walter Hollenweger, then on the staff of the World Council of Churches. He said that if we wanted to learn about liturgy, we should look at journalists.

And Orthodox worship seemed more holistic, and not entirely verbal. The Holy Week and Easter services made a deep impression on my, especially the way that words and actions were integrated, for example in the Easter kiss followed by the reading of the Paschal Homily of St John Chrysostom.

So in this so-called “psychedelic service” we were striving for something that would be more symbolic, and less verbally didactic, something more holistic, involving all the senses.

Looking back on it now, I see that we were still quite a long way off the mark. Whatever it was, it still was not really worship. It was more like theatre, and still didactic. The aim of it ultimately boiled down to giving the congregation a learning experience, even if it was a multimedia experience rather than a purely verbal harangue. In that sense, it was still directed at altering the minds of the congregation rather than worshipping God. We were didactic, in that we were trying to teach the congregation about worship, rather than actually worshipping.

The week after the “psychedelic” service most of the Anglicans in our group, annoyed at the reaction of the Bishop of Natal, went to the Divine Liturgy at the local Orthodox Church. The priest welcomed us publicly. He had read all about the controversy in the newspapers, and was sympathetic.

But it still took me a few more years to realise that real worship was liturgy, the work (or service) of the people. It was not primarily theatre, and nor was it primarily didactic. Worship was not to be directed at the minds of the congregation, but at God.

Orthodox Holy Week

The following Orthodox blog has some very useful material for Holy Week.

I printed it out for our mission congregations and others may find it useful too: Orthodox Holy Week

Here are some pictures of how we began Holy Week in Johannesburg last night.

To all my Orthodox friends: kali anastasi (good resurrection!)

Orthodox Holy Week

The following Orthodox blog has some very useful material for Holy Week.

I printed it out for our mission congregations and others may find it useful too: Orthodox Holy Week

Here are some pictures of how we began Holy Week in Johannesburg last night.

To all my Orthodox friends: kali anastasi (good resurrection!)

Thandanani – ecumenical discussion forum

I’ve started a new discussion forum on YahooGroups called Thandanani.

It is for Christians of different backgrounds and traditions to learn about each other’s faith traditions and discuss their worship, theology, doctrines, beliefs and practices in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

Thandanani is a Zulu word that means “love one another”.

The aim is to have discussion rather than debate, exchange of information rather than proselytising and polemics. For it to work we need to have active participation of Christians from a wide variety of traditions — the fundamental, the sacramental and the sentimental: all are welcome.

The Thandanani forum has its origins in one with similar aims on the FamilyNet BBS network. That forum was called PHILOS, from the Greek word for friendship. Like that one, Thandanani is intended to be a place where Christians can discuss their differences and what they have in common in a friendly atmosphere.

I was moved to revive it by Les Chatwind, one of my fellow synchrobloggers, who wanted to discuss Orthodox theology, and I couldn’t think of another suitable forum.

For the purposes of the forum “Christian” means those who believe in the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It’s not an interfaith forum — there are other forums for that.

You don’t have to be a Christian to join; you just need to have an interest in the topic and want to learn more.

To learn more, and how to join, visit

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