Grace and peace to you and through you
Sadly, we know how it goes: We have a grievance. Let’s say with a person. A person close to us. So we raise the issue we have with the person. And it is not well received.
There are any number of reasons for the issue not being well received. Sometimes it’s because of the way in which we raised the issue: which can simply be the accusatory tone of our voice, or that the time and place in which we raised the issue is deemed insensitive and inappropriate. Sometimes the issue is not well received because of the recipient’s position that could be anything from ignorance, defensiveness, distraction, hurt or stress.
As a result the recipient responds in one of two ways: fight or flight. Fight could simply be to accuse and counter attack and flight could come in the form of silence, avoidance and passive aggression. Both responses are unhelpful to finding a resolution to the issue and restoration of the relationship.
Then often the conversation shifts away from the issue to the way the recipient has responded which in turn provokes another response and it is not long before voices are raised, ugly words spoken, doors slammed or a cold walkout or lights out and going to bed. This deepens the hurt and enlivens the anger. Now we not only have the original issue to address, but we also need to address the hurt caused by the way the original issue was (mis)dealt with. So the agenda gets longer. Each time this happens the list of grievances grows and the sense of hope in ever resolving the issues and restoring the relationship diminishes. Hurt and anger lead to mistrust and where there is no trust it is very, very difficult to hear what the other person is actually saying. Mistrust leads to miscommunication which leads to further conflict.
When the conflict has reached this far it is almost impossible to break the deadlock without the assistance of a mediator who is able to help each party to hear each other. Mediators help people to “speak in such a way that they are heard and to listen in such a way as to enable others to speak”.
Most of us need to learn this skill – in our homes, marriages, relationships with our children or parents or colleagues. It seems to me that this is equally true regarding what is playing out on campuses around our country.
*Illustration: The Hierarchy of Disagreement by Paul Graham.
Grace and peace to you and through you
A number of years ago I used to regularly participate in what we called: Pilgrimages of Pain and Hope. These pilgrimages included entering into different social spaces over a few consecutive days. For example we would meet with the homeless on the streets for conversation. We would visit the paediatrics ward in a public hospital and a Catholic-run home for people with severe physical and mental handicaps. We would spend time with Aids Hospice Volunteers and spend a weekend living in an informal settlement. Sometimes we would also include having a meal at a fancy restaurant – creating a sharp sense of social whip-lash. Our task was to feel – not to fix. With the ultimate aim of becoming a more compassionate people awake to the truth of our context of which we are often ignorant and numb.
The name was crucial. They were called Pilgrimages of Pain and Hope. To fulfill our feeling task we were invited to be attentive to both the pain and the hope. This was challenging. It was easier to focus on one or the other than to hold and honour both. Being in a diverse group helped. When some of us were drowning in despair others helped us to find hope and when we were tempted to get high on hope some others quickly sobered us up by conveying a splash of ice-cold pain. To focus only on the pain is pointless – leading to defeatism and despair with cynicism sprinkled on top. To focus only on the hope is truthless – leading to dangerous ignorance and naiveté soaked in apathy.
All followers of Jesus are by definition pilgrims of pain and hope. Pilgrims of the Cross and Resurrection is another way of saying it. To focus only on the Cross is to deny the power of Jesus. To focus only on the Resurrection is to deny the suffering of Jesus as well as to deny the need for resurrection in the first place – namely death.
With everything that is happening in the world and in our country at this time, we may be tempted to divorce pain from hope or hope from pain. I encourage you to hold them tightly together because the truth comes from their union.
I find the following words helpful in this endeavour: “Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” (Václav Havel, in Disturbing the Peace).
“I remember Mr. Bartlett…
In biology class he discusses the transformation of caterpillar into butterfly.
‘What’s the process that goes on inside a cocoon?’ he asks. ‘Has anyone ever seen a picture of the insect at the halfway point between caterpillar and butterfly? Does anyone know what it looks like?’ No one has or does.
The next week, Mr. Bartlett finds a cocoon in the woods and brings it to the classroom. We crowd around as he takes a razor blade and neatly slices it in two. The cocoon looks empty.
‘There’s nothing in there,’ says one of the kids.
‘Oh, it’s in there,’ says Mr. Bartlett. ‘It just doesn’t have a shape right now. The living, organic material is spun right into the cocoon. Caterpillar is gone; butterfly is yet to come.’ We stare in wonder.
‘Real transformation,’ says Mr. Bartlett, ‘means giving up one form before you have another.
It requires the willingness to be nothing for a little while…”
~ From Too Much Is Not Enough, by Orson Bean, page 33
Truth is not something that will stay hidden for long. Truth needs air and light. Truth needs to be free. We can try and cover truth, but it will always battle to get what it needs. Truth will battle within us fighting to be heard and seen, to live and breathe. We will feel this battle in the cave of our hearts and if we choose to release truth, there becomes for us the possibility to experience living in the real and breathing air that is deep enough for peace.
In 1976, Simon Wiesenthal released a book called, The Sunflower. In it he tells of the story of his experience in the Lemberg Concentration camp. He was called to the bedside of a dying Nazi soldier who was dealing with a battle within. The soldier told him stories of the horrors he had participated in. He told him about the death of a family and how their faces haunted him. Then he asked Simon if he would forgive him on behalf of the Jewish people. Simon did not know this man. Though he was a Jewish man, he did not know what to say to him, so he said nothing, turned and left him alone in his hospital room.
Simon later questioned his decision. Within his book, The Sunflower: On the Limits and Possibilities of Forgiveness, he asks the question, “What would you have done?” to 52 incredible minds from around the world. The answers shared by these great thinkers provide for us insight on forgiveness. Yet, Simon’s project in and of itself is a recognition that within the cave of his heart there was truth that he needed to get out just as much as the soldier needed his story to be let out and his question of forgiveness to breathe.
There is a reality we live with as human beings. It is true that we will harm one another, disappoint one another, and often times pretend we have not. So often, we lock up our truth and live as if all of our wrongs will simply evaporate and never see the light of day. This sense of denial will leave us to deal with a quiet growing battle within—one we have no hope of winning unless we see our truth for what it is, face it, and give it air to breathe.
Confession has become a lost art today. Many people struggle to say, “I am sorry” for in doing so they admit what they know to be true and what the person they wronged often knows to be true, and that is that they were wrong. “I am sorry” are words so many people need to hear. This is what the dying Nazi soldier was expressing from the cave of his heart, “I am sorry, for all the wrongs I have done. I am sorry.” Whether it was for Simon to forgive him in that moment or not, the soldier’s words were breaking free. In letting them loose, he was moving closer to understanding his own humanity and opening up the potential for him to experience real peace. Confessing reminds us God is God and we are not.
It is good for us to reflect over the living of our days searching out the ways we have brought about harm in the life of another. As we tell our stories that lie hidden in the cave of our hearts we witness waves of peace and a greater understanding of who we are as human beings. As we confess to one another and to God, we can know that though others might struggle on the journey of forgiveness, God’s arms are always open to receive.
With you on the journey,
5 October 2016 is World Teachers Day – herewith press release from the MCSA’s Presiding Bishop, Bishop Ziphozihle Siwa honouring and recognising the formation role teachers play in society. World Teachers Day, October 5 2016 either click on this link or read the following full statement:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
4 October 2016
As 5 October is World Teachers Day, the Methodist Church of Southern Africa (MCSA) joins the rest of the world to honour and recognise the formation role played by teachers both in the classroom and in society. Teachers are crucial facilitators in the realisation of every child’s God given potential.
“We celebrate the role teacher’s play in providing quality education from early childhood, primary, secondary and tertiary levels and the long lasting positive impact they have on society,” said Bishop Zipho Siwa, Presiding Bishop of the MCSA.
“In the backdrop of the ongoing university of protests, we are all cognisant of the precarious condition of the education system in South Africa at this time. This however, should not prevent us from making an effort to raise awareness, understanding and appreciation for the vital contribution committed teachers make to education and economic development, a lot of the time against many odds.
Access to quality education remains a fundamental human right essential for the realisation of other human rights. Well trained, motivated teachers through education, empower young people by enabling them to acquire skills and knowledge and mould their values and attitudes, all character facets critical for their future abilities to secure their basic socio-economic needs and aid in the sustainable development of their communities and societies.
Teachers need the support of not just government or familial units, but all of society has to play a part in providing them with continuous development opportunities and giving them the required institutional support to maximise their potential. They need to be encouraged to strengthen their educational research capacity that can inform local educational reform initiatives.
As International Teachers Day gives us an opportunity to pause and focus on the issues affecting our education system, let us galvanise our efforts to improving the sector and do away with the destructive elements that have marred well-intentioned protests. The education of our children, especially the poor, at various levels of the spectrum should remain our main priority.
The recently held multi-stakeholder consultation on education only served to expose the inability of the stakeholders to listen to each other. We long for an education system that is affordable and accessible by all, that will produce confident, innovative, questioning, thoughtful, tolerant and open minded young people who then can contribute meaningfully to their society and the global community.
At the core of developments towards a more sustainable funding structure for education in SA, is the ability to take all stakeholder interests, expectations and challenges to heart and openly share viable solutions to the current impasse.
We salute those who have availed themselves in service through this most noble of professions for the formation of nations.
Statement released by the office of
Bishop Ziphozihle Siwa
Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa
For More Information:
Contact : Bongie
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People say so often that, “the world is a small place.” It is not really small, but our ability to connect in this present age across geographical lines of division has become much easier than in the days before social media and mass communication. When I was in the US visiting, I hoped to purchase some Florida oranges. You can imagine my amazement when I picked up an orange in the store with a sticker that read, “South Africa.” The impact of the ever increasing globalization of our world will be measured in positives and negatives for years to come, but one of the gifts it brings with it, is the ability for us to grow for being exposed to the stories of other places and people.
In 1986, Peter Storey preached at the World Methodist Conference. In the crowd, was a man named Jim Harnish. Jim later invited Peter to Florida to help him with a church he was starting, St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando, Florida. The building was ready, but Jim wanted to make sure that the people were as ready as they could be for the journey they would be embarking upon. Peter went to St. Luke’s and invested time, energy, and relationship with a group of people he did not know on the other end of the world.
The Bishop of the Cape of Good Hope District, Bishop Michele Hansrod, was able to spend a day with some of the people at St. Luke’s in Orlando, Florida while he was in the United States for the World Methodist Conference just a couple of weeks ago. Many of the people remember the days of Peter Storey’s teaching and they remember how it opened up for them a witness they needed during their beginning years as a congregation. Today, St. Luke’s is a strong congregation leading the Church at large in new directions at every turn.
Jim Harnish was later sent to a community called, Hyde Park UMC in Tampa, Florida. Hyde Park UMC is the church I still call home. Peter visited Hyde Park UMC as well and so did Alan. Alan was the retreat leader at my Disciple I Bible Study retreat in 2000. I remember him showing pictures of his country and engaging the young adult class I was a part of about learning as much as we could about the world. His message in the end was for us to understand the importance of living as disciples in the place where we were.
I did not know until recently how long the relationship between Peter Storey and my Pastor, Jim Harnish, goes back. I am thankful for their friendship because the people of South Africa have been a part of my story, from the very beginning of my journey of faith. When Alan shared stories about his country, I had to “come and see.” I am not the only one though, just last week, there was a group from Hyde Park UMC that had to “come and see.” Doug and Cheri Roland are two members of Hyde Park who volunteered with Seth Mokitimi Seminary to help develop a field education program for the students. My hope is that the connection back and forth will continue to give birth to growth on both sides.
Over the next couple of weeks in our sanctuary, there will be stories arriving. We will have the opportunity to hear about life and ministry in other places on the continent of Africa that are within the boundaries of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa and we will receive stories from those beyond the boundaries of the connection. My hope is that the stories and prayer requests coming in will create for us a thread of connection to a work we are engaged in with our lives that is bigger than the place we live and bigger than ourselves. May we stand stronger where we are for knowing the ways we are bound in ministry around the world.
With you on the journey,
We are living in times when every day is another story of violence and political unrest, not just in South Africa, but all over the world. People are sharing that it is hard to read the morning paper and live with hope. The leaders who used to be–the Nelson Mandela’s, the Martin Luther King Jr’s, the Gandhi’s are sorely missed in the world today. Yet, if we want a better tomorrow, we can’t complain it into being. We must join in the work of building it. In the building of a better tomorrow, relationships matter.
Relationships across boundaries of division can be like the bell in Central Methodist Mission that rang years ago. It no longer rings today, because if it did it would shake the foundation underneath the buildings all around Greenmarket Square. Relationships across lines of division shake the foundations of the constructs in our minds. They allow for the texture of difference to be realized in ways that have potential to grow us in our ability to recognize our need of one another. An unnamed author penned these words “the best feeling in the world is that you actually mean something to someone.” “Yes!” We need to be engaging in relationships where we are saying with our commitment to be with, to work with, that “Yes!” you mean something to me and to the world and I am with you! I am with you in ear, in heart, in voice, and feet!
There is a story of a beautiful working relationship that was born in Durham, North Carolina, the city Alan Storey just happens to be teaching in right now, between a PhD level theologian the Rev. Canon Dr. Samuel Wells and a community activist Marcia Owens. Marcia represents an organization called the Religious Coalition for a non-violent Durham. She organizes vigils for homicide victims that die by gunshot wounds. Together they worked with one another to write a book called, living without enemies—Being present in the midst of violence. Their work is a beautiful gift to the world in that it illustrates commitment even beyond the penned word. They have stood together in the midst of the violence of the world—a symbol of light and hope to those who feel alone in their struggle for justice and forgotten in their pain and loss.
In their book, Sam Wells shares different ways of engaging with people across lines of division and in particular with those we perceive to be in need. One way is working for. This would be doing something on behalf of another like taking them to an appointment or serving them a meal. Another way would be to work with them. An example might be planning and implementing a community event alongside members of the community, this would be working with. The third way he mentions is simply being with members of your community you might not normally come across. The purpose would not be to serve, but to simply build relationships, to be with fellow pilgrims in the journey of life. The fourth way Sam lifts up is being for. We can learn through organizations like Marcia’s or Gun Free South Africa how to advocate for victims of violence. In our advocacy we use our voice in solidarity with movements that bring change.
Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., and Gandhi all were individuals who gave themselves to a particular way of living that they believed would bring change towards a good they might not ever see realized in their lifetime. Their vision of what they were living for must have been so real in their minds eye that the taste of it was the sustenance that sustained them on their journey. They gave their lives to the understanding that relationships matter. The nostalgia of longing for leadership does not give rise to leadership and so it is upon us all to live with greater discipline each day in the ways in which we follow Jesus and the way He marks out for us that leads to life. Jesus was a multiplier of leadership. Jesus invested in twos and threes and then twelve. Jesus teaches us what it means to be with—to work with. Jesus named for those who followed him that the greatest calling upon them was to live with love for God and love for others. Jesus lived, died, and breathes new every day the truth that relationships matter.
With you on the journey,
Lao Tzu is quoted as saying, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” One step forward is a commitment in direction. We might know something about what lies ahead in that direction, but more often than not, faithfulness in our steps will lead to twists and turns, change, surprise, and often great risk. We are moved on the inside by steps we take on the outside. Life becomes for us a pilgrimage of one step at a time with the light of God we trust to guide our way. The hope is that our steps remind us that there is a love that we don’t just find, but a love that we learn to live. Lived love is the goal, but it grows from a journey in life, that at every turn begins with a single new step.
Many have described a labyrinth to emulate the pilgrimage of life. To take the first step into a labyrinth is a commitment to walking it through to the end. Sure, you can turn around and come back, but once inside, most want to see their walk through. Labyrinths are used today as a tool for personal transformation and in the Christian tradition, those who walk labyrinths hope for a deep spiritual transformation. There is a labyrinth at the Urban Park in Cape Town. As one steps into what looks like a maze, there can be peace for knowing that there is only one way in and one way out. The very path that guides you into the center of the labyrinth, is the very same path that will take you out.
A couple weeks ago, I visited the labyrinth in the urban park. I walked around it looking at it first before I entered in. Once inside, I found myself walking the way my grandfather taught me when I was a little girl. My grandfather was a Cree Indian. He used to tell me to walk softly, letting my feet slowly roll onto the ground, so that I would avoid striking my heels at Mother Earth damaging her spirit. I walked very slowly and intentionally and once I found the center I sat “Indian style” in the middle very quietly for a long, long time. The experience was holy for me for so many reasons. I felt like I was in the center of everything that is good in the world, for I found a deep resting peace in that place.
I walked the labyrinth several times, each time slower and slower, pausing at each marked turn. The last time through I realized that without my knowing it, a young boy had found his way there and was following me through. When I saw him I smiled, for he must have been watching me walk the way my grandfather taught me, for his feet were gently touching the ground and rolling down, rather than harshly hitting the earth. Maybe his grandfather taught him that, but something in me thinks he was watching me walk before he decided to enter in. As I reached the center the last time, I tried to think of something that would be an act I could do to help the boy receive the gift of peace as deeply as possible, so I wrapped my arms around myself in a hug, stood still, and bowed my head acknowledging God.
On the outside of the labyrinth at the Urban Park, there are finger labyrinths with wheel chair access. I sat down to look at one while the boy was completing his turns. As he drew to the center, he wrapped his arms around himself in a hug, stood still, and bowed. It is quite something to realize that the steps we take are on a pathway that others will follow behind on. Go lightly, thoughtfully, and intentionally this week thinking periodically about your steps and where they lead. Consider visiting a labyrinth, but most importantly … breathe.
With you on the journey,
Online resources from labyrinth society:
Finger labyrinth: https://zdi1.zd-cms.com/cms/res/files/382/ChartresLabyrinth.pdf
Children’s activities: https://labyrinthsociety.org/activities-for-kids
Grace and peace to you and through you
Over the last couple of Wednesdays a group of us have met for prayer practice. Sounds a bit odd I know, but if there is one thing we need to practice it is prayer, especially contemplative prayer. To practice contemplative prayer is to sit in silent trust that our lives are saturated with and surrounded by Divine Love. This cannot be “achieved” it can only be accepted or rejected. The realisation that Divine Love is the unifying essence of all that is, is the gift of contemplative prayer. To awaken to this truth is to be liberated and healed. Liberated from fear and healed to love.
Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, beautifully describes this awakening as he recalls what happened to him on a street corner in Louisville on 18th March 1958:
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud… I have the immense joy of being man (sic), a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
Contemplation is a word that Thomas Merton used again and again in his writings. It is a theme that he spent much of his life exploring. In “New Seeds of Contemplation”, he writes this: “Contemplation is the highest expression of man’s (sic) intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent, and infinitely abundant Source. Contemplation is above all, awareness of the reality of that Source. It knows the Source, obscurely, inexplicably, but with a certitude that goes beyond reason and beyond simple faith… It is a more profound depth of faith, a knowledge too deep to be grasped in images, in words, or even in clear concepts…”
Elsewhere in the book, he makes an even stronger statement about the need to go beyond simple answers: “Contemplation is no pain-killer… it is a terrible breaking and burning of idols, a purification of the sanctuary, so that no graven thing may occupy the place that God has commanded to be left empty: the center, the existential altar which simply ‘is.’”
In his first book, “The Seven Storey Mountain”, Merton writes that he entered the monastery so that he could become closer to God. As he matured, however, he came to realise that the quest for God can happen anywhere. All of us have access to this rich interior life, this unfolding of what is truly real. All of us can be contemplatives.
In Merton’s words: “Contemplation is also the response to a call: a call from Him Who has no voice, and yet Who speaks in everything that is, and Who, most of all, speaks in the depths of our own being: for we ourselves are words of His. But we are words that are meant to respond to Him, to answer to Him, to echo Him, and even in some way to contain Him and signify Him. Contemplation is this echo.”
Through contemplation we are reminded that all places are holy, including a busy street corner in the middle of a city.
Grace and peace to you and through you
Thursday the 1st September was the 20th anniversary of my ordination. Some would say ordained as Reverend or Minister or Priest. I prefer ordained as Gospel Story Teller.
On that day back in 1996, together with all other ordinands I was given a bible. Over the years my bible has needed replacing but what has remained is the prayer that my parents wrote to mark the day – I have cut it out and stuck it in the front of each replacement ever since.
I share the prayer with you today – praying that you make it your own…
To [your name] Beloved of God.
May the God who loves you,
Always do new things when you read,
Stirring in you again God’s dream
Of a new humanity and a mended universe.
May Jesus who called you
Hold you always with tender hands,
And even as you share his tears for the world,
May you find laughter and celebration in his company.
May the Spirit who lives in you always give you life,
Birthing in you words of healing, truth and power,
Deeds of mercy, hospitality and courage,
And the peace that none can take away.
May our great God, Creator, Son and Spirit,
Always do more for you than we can ask,
Heal more in you than we can pray,
And work more through you than any can dream.
With much love.
Thank you people of CMM for the privilege of engaging the gospel story with you,
We are not ordaining you to ministry; that happened at your baptism.
We are not ordaining you to be a caring person; you are already called to that.
We are not ordaining you to serve the Church in committees, activities, organisation;
that is already implied in your membership.
We are not ordaining you to become involved in social issues, ecology, race, politics, revolution, for that is laid upon every Christian.
We are ordaining you to something smaller and less spectacular: to read and interpret those sacred stories of our community, so that they speak a word to people today; to remember and practice those rituals and rites of meaning that in their poetry address human beings at the level where change operates; to foster in community through word and sacrament that encounter with truth which will set men and women free to minister as the body of Christ.
We are ordaining you to the ministry of the word and sacraments and pastoral care. God grant you grace not to betray but uphold it, not to deny but affirm it, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Ordination vows from Church in Singapore
Peace and grace to you and through you
Those of us who have access to the Internet have access to almost every contour of every country of every culture on the planet. Without moving out of our home and office we can visit the homes and offices of others regardless of where they are located on this Google globe. We can even explore outer space and witness close-ups of stars exploding. Never before has the rich diversity of the world and cosmos been within the reach of our fingertips to explore as it is today.
And yet research tells us that instead of using the Internet to expand our worldview we use it to shrink it. We do this by searching for and following and befriending people or projects that affirm our existing worldview. This is how birds of a feather flock together in today’s world. The Internet becomes little more than an echo chamber of our own viewpoints. This emboldens us to falsely believe that our way of seeing the world is the only right way – after all everyone agrees with us. The Internet becomes a self-affirming loop akin to what philosopher’s call “a circular argument” in that we assume in the beginning what we are trying to prove in the end. Oh! and woe to anyone who breaks into this circle of agreement with a different view … they will soon be shot down by the birds-of-a-feather-flock-together’s deadly sharp tweets.
In the Gospels we see Jesus crossing social boundaries all the time – moving from the margins to the center and back again. Hanging out with outcasts one minute and leaders the next. Eating with law-breakers today and policy makers tomorrow. The employed and the unemployed are known by Jesus, as are the hungry and the well fed. To be a follower of Jesus is to be a person who seeks out diversity. Jesus followers are people who use every means at our disposal to cross over to the other side to repeatedly learn that the other side is less “other” than we originally thought. May we be filled with the Holy Spirit of exploration.
When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.
Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.
The dark will be your womb
The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.
You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
~ David Whyte