God has no favourites

God has no favourites

October 21, 2018  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on God has no favourites

Grace to you

Over the past two weeks we have reflected on the radical resistance story found in the book of Esther. We tasted early on that it is marinated in masculine entitlement and further sauced with religious, cultural, ethical and nationalistic supremacy. If we are honest, much of Scripture is marinated and sauced with both – and many since have sought to justify both as the will of God because of their prominence in scripture. Yet if we take our cue from Jesus, we will notice how he constantly subverted the marinade and sauce of the dominant class – choosing rather to salt it with a flavouring of those considered the least and lowly and left out to specifically remind us that God has no favourites.

The Psalms – as beautiful as they sound are very often extremely violent and patriarchal – perpetuating a false understanding of God that Jesus came to correct. According to Jesus God is not violent, but vulnerable. God’s purpose is to gently restore rather than vengefully destroy.

One of my favourite authors who is able to re-salt the scriptures in this Jesus-like-way is Nan Merrill. In her translation of the Psalms she replaces the militaristic patriarchy with profoundly beautiful images that remind us that our real enemy is fear within rather than foes without. This enemy within is only ever defeated through acceptance and love for only “love can cast out fear”. Here is her translation of Psalm 91 (in part):

Psalm 91

Those who dwell in the shelter of
                Infinite Light,
Who abide in the wings of
                Infinite Love,
Will raise their voices in praise:
                “My refuge and my strength;
                In You alone will I trust.”
For You deliver me from the webs
                of fear,
                from all that separates and divides;
You protect me as an eagle shields
                its young,
                Your faithfulness is sure, like
                an arrow set upon the mark.
I will not fear the shadows of the night,
                nor the confusion that comes
                by day,
Nor the dreams that awaken me from
                sleep,
                nor the daily changes that
                life brings.

Though a thousand may deride this
                radical trust,
                ten thousand laugh as I seek
                to do your Will,
Yet will I surrender myself to You,
                abandoning myself into your Hands
                without reserve.

~ Nan C. Merrill, Psalms for Praying

Remember the journey

Remember the journey

October 14, 2018  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Remember the journey

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report
www.ipcc.ch

 

Grace to you

Walking up Kloof Corner to the front contour path of Table Mountain is quite something. There are a few sharp switchbacks to begin with – each switch surprising one with sweeping new views of the city and surrounding ocean. This past Monday afternoon as I rounded the first switchback that usually offers sight of an endless blue ocean creeping into Camps Bay I was shocked to see the sea was no more. The sea had sunk beneath a carpet of cotton wool. As if the sky and ocean had struck a deal to change places. It was an incredible sight.

It was warm on the path. Made warmer still by the ascent of 990m to the contour path and the cloudless sky provided no shade. On the next switchback that sharply turns one to face the harbour and beyond to the Northern suburbs I watched with horror as massive container ships were swallowed up in seconds – like someone moved a giant cursor over them and pushed delete. The fluffy cotton wool was now seen for what it was, a dangerous fog monster with a massive appetite.

On my way home I decided to drive down into Camps Bay. It was another world compared to the mountainside where the sun still shone. It was smoky, dark and drizzly. Macbeth-like. The glow of streetlights and headlights strained to make their presence felt. People on the beach looked like ghosts floating with some body parts having already succumbed to the monster’s bite. The ocean was still nowhere to be seen. It was easy to forget the mountain moments of warmth, sunlight and clear vision just minutes before and yet as I began to drive up the hill again the previous reality of clear sky and crisp sight slowly returned.

From this parable-like-experience I want to remember that life on the same day at the same time not far from each other can be worlds apart. I want to remember that my experience of life is not the only true and real experience. I want to remember that when the sky has fallen in on me that it is not true for the whole world. I want to remember that I must receive and relish the days of seeing far and feeling warmth because they will offer much needed guidance and sustenance for the journey into places of darkness and struggle.

Grace,
Alan

Residents expelled from Blikkiesdorp

October 13, 2018  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Residents expelled from Blikkiesdorp

CMM – a place of safety – Residents expelled from Blikkiesdorp amidst racial tensions | GroundUp

 

Resurrection Moments

Resurrection Moments

October 7, 2018  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Resurrection Moments

Grace to you

For those with ears to hear, do you hear the stone being rolled away? For those with eyes to see, do you see the light stretch into the tomb? With those with noses to smell, do you smell the stench of corruption being aired? We are witnessing another resurrection moment in our land. The stone is not completely rolled away by any means – but it has shifted to let a little light to squeeze in while allowing some stale air from bloated and corrupt power to leak out.

This small resurrection moment (like all resurrection) is birthed out of crucifixion when crucifixion is the consequence of a life lived truthfully in the service of love and justice. A crucifixion, like that of Jesus, is the result of living life in life-giving ways that challenge the powers-that-be who are dependent on death for their survival. Resurrection follows the willingness of a courageous few who give themselves so fully to truth that they are willing to be nailed for it.

The brave I am referring to are the whistle blowers – some of whom are still in hiding. They are the remnant of journalists and newspaper editors who tirelessly investigated, fearlessly wrote and boldly printed the truth. They include others in key positions who refused to budge from principle and bend for profit. Some of them were fired as a result. Their commitment to truth and justice is what made the Nugent Commission of Inquiry into tax administration and governance at SARS as well as the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture possible. These inquiries are what I see as a resurrection moment for our land. Through them we see death lose its sting as lies begin to bow to truth.

Many countries never come back to life from the deadliness of corruption that we have been buried in over the past couple of years. If the Gospel writers were doing the reporting they would begin with the words: “The Kingdom of God is like…” You think I am over exaggerating? Last week a Judge appeared before the SARS inquiry and confessed that his very own judgement declaring a certain investigative unit as rogue was incorrect. That is repentance with a capital ‘R’ and must be almost unprecedented. We also heard of the daring story of how a certain hard-drive carrying over 300 000 emails known for the #Guptaleaks was secretly cared for and stealthily released. Those who were intimidating the truth tellers with legal threats have been forced to drop the charges. This is of water into wine magnitude.

Moments like this are both rare and hard won. They are also not guaranteed to succeed or last. And they will provoke opposition. We can be sure that those deployed to guard the tomb will make up all sorts of stories about the body being stolen rather than embrace the new life on offer. This resurrection moment needs to be followed up by a Pentecost-like moment if it is to be sustained and spread. For we need the Spirit of truth and love to blow over us while igniting resurrection conviction and courage within us. Then perhaps we too will join the remnant of the brave who dare to seek truth and love even if it means we lose our lives (or jobs). Trusting afresh that if we want to save our lives we must give them away.

Grace,
Alan

 

Each breath a precious gift

Each breath a precious gift

September 30, 2018  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Each breath a precious gift

Grace and Peace

We’ve been reflecting on the Letter of James over the past few weeks. We noted that James is rather blunt. James dares to say what we are afraid to even think. The letter is short and to the point (around 2000 words) and touches a large number of very varied issues. It should be on our annual reading list.

In one section (which the Sunday lectionary readings do not cover) James says:

Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.’ Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. [James 4:13-16]

It is from this scripture that some people decide to end their sentences with the phrase: “God willing”. As in, “See you next week … God willing.” The sentiment behind the phrase is to live every moment within God’s will as well as recognising that the future is not ours to possess but a gift to receive. This is beautiful and well meaning.

Yet this phrase is not without problems. To punctuate our sentences with these words can sometimes come across as if our future is all mapped out and predetermined by God. If this were the case we would be puppets on divine strings. Furthermore, if I don’t make it to see you next week for whatever reason, are we really saying that God changed my diary or worse, intervened through some disaster or other? And if we are even tempted to answer yes to this question – we best check it against the life and teachings of Jesus. The Jesus of the Gospels did not meddle with people’s calendars. The danger of repeating the phrase is that we may begin to believe that whatever happens actually is the will of God because otherwise (we falsely reason) it wouldn’t have happened. This is extremely dangerous especially in the area of suffering. A healthy principle is to check all our beliefs in the light of suffering on a massive scale like with the Holocaust or Apartheid. If we do we can see clearly how horrific the reasoning “it happened, so it must have been God’s will” is.

James wants to temper our arrogance and idolatrous sense of certainty with humility, openness, curiosity and gratitude for every gifted second of life. He reminds us so beautifully: “For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes”. With equal beauty Annie Dillard reminds us: “Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery”. Or again in Mitch Albom’s delightful little book, Tuesdays with Morrie, as Morrie nears the end of his life he states: “Everyone knows they’re going to die, but nobody believes it. If we did, we would do things differently … [you would] be more involved in your life while you’re living.” When we live within the realisation that we are mist or that we are a faint tracing or simply that we are going to die it is then that every breath is preciously appreciated.

A faint tracing,
Alan

#MeToo Confession

#MeToo Confession

September 23, 2018  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on #MeToo Confession

This grace to you

This past week was Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – a time of fasting and repentance within the Jewish faith. During this time two traditional prayers of confession are repeated many times — Al Chet and Ashamnu. Below is an alternate version of Al Chet and Ashamnu for the #MeToo era. The authors invite us to take responsibility for our actions — or inactions — and promise to do better.

 

An Al Chet for the #MeToo Era

For the sin we committed through inappropriate use of power.
For the sin we committed by inappropriate sexual advances.
For the sin we committed by putting people in power without oversight.
For the sin we committed by not taking seriously the complaints of a colleague.
For the sin we committed by not believing victims when they spoke up.
For the sin we committed by not being aware of our own power or privilege when making an advance.
For the sin we committed by pushing forward when we should have waited and listened.
For the sin we committed by believing that sexual victimisation does not happen in the Jewish world.

For the sin we committed in choosing to think a person who is appropriate with us is appropriate with everyone.
For the sin we committed by choosing my own comfort over the safety of others.
For the sin we committed by focusing on my intent rather than my impact.
For the sin we committed by prioritising reputations and money over safety.
For the sin we committed by ignoring sexual victimisation as a problem until #MeToo.
For the sin we committed by performative wokeness.
For the sin we committed by failing to acknowledge my ignorance about sexual victimisation.
For the sin we committed by waiting to stand against a perpetrator until we saw others doing so.
For the sin we committed by making light of victims’ suffering.
For the sin we committed by contributing to rape culture.

For the sin we committed by causing survivors to doubt their truth.
For the sin we committed by misusing Jewish texts to promote silence.
For the sin we committed by not supporting survivors.
For the sin we committed by gaslighting victims and victim advocates.
For the sin we committed by cutting corners in best practice protocols.
For the sin we committed by talking more than listening.
For the sin we committed by prioritising convenience over moral clarity.
For the sin we committed by urging those who have been victimised to forgive, especially before their perpetrator did the hard work of repentance.
For the sin we committed by prioritising some victims’ voices over others. For the sin we committed by requiring vulnerable people to depend on me, rather than investing in the development of healthy, decentralised systems that empower the entire community, and hold us accountable.

For all of these sins, God, help us rectify the evil we have brought about, help us to restore justice through the hard work of repentance. Only then, God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement.

~ By Danya Ruttenberg, Shira Berkovits, S. Bear Bergman, Guila Benchimol

 

An Ashamnu for #MeToo

We Abused our power, we didn’t Believe survivors, we were Complicit, we Demeaned. We Echoed the majority, we Focused on our own self-interest over safety, we Gave abusers opportunities to further harm, we Humiliated survivors, we Ignored our impact, we Justified inappropriate behaviour. We Kept abusers in power, we Laughed at jokes that supported rape culture, we Marginalised narratives that weren’t easy to digest, we Normalised problematic behaviour, we Ostracised victims, we Participated in the erasure of survivors’ voices. We Questioned survivors’ motivations, we Reinforced harmful myths, we Silenced voices trying to come forward, We Trivialised. We didn’t Use safe protocols, we Violated boundaries, we Waited too long to take action, we eXonerated perpetrators who didn’t repent, we Yielded to our basest impulses, we Zealously defended perpetrators of harm.

~ By Danya Ruttenberg, S. Bear Bergman, Leah Greenblum, Emily Becker, Abby Citrin

Read more: https://forward.com/life/faith/409841/the-atonement-prayers-we-should-all-say-in-the-metoo-era/

The colour blue

The colour blue

September 16, 2018  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on The colour blue

Grace and peace to you

This past week while winding along Philip Kgosana Drive around the mountain I suddenly saw a bright patch of blue sky. It was as if a cat had brushed open the grey curtains of rain cloud with its tail while walking on the window ledge. Blue light split through. Bright blue made brighter by being boarded by grey. It was beautiful.

It reminded me of the words of Rebecca Solnit in her book, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, in which she describes where sky ‘blue’ comes from:

The world is blue at its edges and in its depths.

This blue is the light that got lost.

Light at the blue end of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance from the sun to us.

It disperses among the molecules of the air, it scatters in water.

Water is colourless, shallow water appears to be the colour of whatever lies underneath it, but deep water is full of this scattered light, the purer the water the deeper the blue.

The sky is blue for the same reason, but the blue at the horizon, the blue of land that seems to be dissolving into the sky, is deeper dreamier, melancholy blue, the blue at the farthest reaches of the places where you see for miles, the blue of distance.

The light that does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the colour blue.

I invite you to read that a few times over …

What wonder-filled words: “blue is the light that got lost” … “the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world”. 

Dare we trust that all the loss we carry is not completely lost to us, but present in a different form – a beautiful blue?

Dare we trust …

With light that got lost,
Alan

 

Celebrate don't Regulate

Celebrate don’t Regulate

September 9, 2018  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Celebrate don’t Regulate

Grace to you

Last week we listened to the beautiful, sensual and erotic literature of Song of Songs. We heard the strong voice of a woman passionately sing of her sexual desires. There is no shame or judgement in her voice. She sings with joy and delight. This front-of-stage location of a woman’s voice is unprecedented in the whole of scripture.

A literal reading of Song of Songs affirms human sexuality as God’s life-giving and life-fulfilling gift. By refusing to take the Song of Songs literally, biblical interpreters fail to affirm the flesh as good and perpetuate the false belief that bodily pleasure is wrong or at least less spiritual. Sexuality divorced from spirituality results in our spirituality being less likely to shape our sexuality. When this occurs, sex as gift, gives way to sex as performance, conquest and commodity.

Sadly the church has been more focused on regulating sexuality than celebrating sexuality. Fear and anxiety, denial and repression have determined the bulk of religious discussions on sexuality. This is more hurtful than helpful, and in this area of our lives people already carry too many wounds. As Jo Ind writes in Memories of Bliss: “We are all wounded. We are all vulnerable in matters of the groin.” For some of us it is also the area we have wounded others most acutely.

To regulate more than to celebrate is like an artist focusing more on the frame surrounding a painting than on the painting itself. This is both odd and unnecessary, for if we are moved by a painting’s priceless beauty, we will know it needs a special frame to hold it and with delight rather than duty we will seek one out.

The poet Marge Piercy in her poem, The Seven of Pentacles invites us to: “Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses. Live a life you can endure: Make love that is loving.” If we are going to learn to “make love that is loving” we first need to embrace our sexuality as the magnificent mysterious and glorious gift that it is, as Jo Ind does in telling her lover: “Yes you may bow down before my awesome, mysterious body and my clear, original mind; you may honour my story, be tender with my wounds, cherish my yearnings and unspoken dreams; you may pay homage to my magical juicings and pungent smells, the secret caverns and magnificent connections of my resplendent sexuality.”

Secondly we need to adopt a new sexual ethic. I support the statement from the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing that declares: “Our culture needs a sexual ethic focused on personal relationships and social justice rather than particular sexual acts. All persons have the right and responsibility to lead sexual lives that express love, justice, mutuality, commitment, consent and pleasure. Grounded in respect for the body and for the vulnerability that intimacy brings, this ethic fosters physical, emotional and spiritual health. It accepts no double standards and applies to all persons, without regard to sex, gender, color, age, bodily condition, marital status or sexual orientation.”

By embracing our own sexuality and adopting a new sexual ethic we will “make love that is loving”. In this we will also honour the woman in Song of Songs – too long denied and dismissed. Yet she refused to be silenced over the centuries – singing with firey joy and delicious delight, ever hoping we will hear her unashamed voice and join her in singing the chorus with our own God-given sexuality.

Grace,
Alan

Womb-Justice

Womb-Justice

September 2, 2018  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Womb-Justice

Grace to you

Imagine all of us here today were not quite born yet. Imagine we were still all hanging out in an extra large womb. Imagine we didn’t know who we would be once we were born. We could be any nationality, culture, religion, sexual orientation, gender, colour, age. We could be rich or desperately poor. We could be employed or jobless, with a home or homeless. We could be healthy or sickly. We could be blind or deaf or neither. Now imagine having an opportunity to write the laws for the society that we are about to be born into – but remember – we don’t know who we will be when we take our first breath. What values will you write into law for your future society?

The philosopher, John Rawls answered this question by suggesting that we would always want to secure the best possible situation for those who are in the worst possible position – just in case that person happens to be us. I agree with him. Every time I ask groups of people what they would do – the answer is unanimous: “We want equality. We want justice. We don’t want any super rich and desperately poor. No one must be homeless, etc.” I have yet to meet anyone willing to take the risk of being born into a society of great inequality. No one wants to play “birthing-roulette”. When there is the slightest possibility of us ourselves being at the bottom of society we become very clear on what a just and good society looks like. We become convicted that it is wrong to have a society of rich and poor and we write laws to prevent this.

The challenge is for us to honour the just life we so clearly could see while in the womb. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant by calling us to be “born again” and again and again. Live out of the knowledge of the womb! Jesus also told us that he knows who he will by outside the womb. He tells us he will be the poorest of the poor when he says: “What you do to the least of these you do to me” so another motivating factor for his followers is to write laws that not only protect us if we happen to be at the bottom but to protect Jesus who is already at the bottom.

Scripture is full of laws for society to practice to honour this innate sense of Womb-Justice. Here are a few verses from Leviticus 19: 

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:

9 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest.

10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.

13 You shall not defraud your neighbour; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a labourer until morning.

14 You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling-block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.

15 You shall not render an unjust judgement; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbour.

16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbour: I am the Lord.

33 When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.

34 The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

35 You shall not cheat in measuring length, weight, or quantity.

36 You shall have honest balances, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.

37 You shall keep all my statutes and all my ordinances, and observe them: I am the Lord.

For Womb-Justice,
Alan

Come home

Come home

August 26, 2018  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Come home

Grace and peace

Gloria Anzaldúa describes 7 spaces or stages on the path of awareness and growth. They don’t necessarily follow in a neat order one after each other – but I find them helpful to locate my constantly changing self on this journey we call life. I especially love the paradoxical nature of the 7th stage. Here they are:

1st Space/Stage: “Rupture, fragmentation…an ending. It is a catalyst, a deeply emotional and spiritual moment of dissonance and disconnection from your established worldview and your established self-view.”

2nd Space/Stage: “Torn between ways … split between before and after … you’re two people … the space in between or in the middle … is the space of seeing multiple, frequently contradictory perspectives having been torn from a comfortable, single, stable story.”

3rd Space/Stage: “Overwhelmed by chaos caused by living between stories you break down descending into the third space – the depths of despair – self-loathing and hopelessness – with the temptation to turn away and deny possibilities and new realities.”

4th Space/Stage: “Here you begin to see the possibilities of rebirth. That nothing is fixed. The pulse of existence, the heart of the universe is fluid. Identity, like a river, is always changing. Like a river downstream, you’re not the same person you were upstream. You begin to define yourself in terms of who you are becoming, not who you have been. This space is the call to action which pulls you out of your depression.”

5th Space/Stage: “Intellectual, emotional and spiritual awareness come together as you critically examine and deconstruct all “shoulds” and imposed stories from the dominant culture. Here the development of a new story takes shape and the process of active transformation is discernable.”

6th Space/Stage: “You offer your ‘new’ story to the world, testing it. When you or the world fail to live up to your ideals you are cast into conflict with yourself and others. What takes a bashing is not so much you but the idea/picture of who you think you are, an illusion you’re hell-bent on protect-ng. This feels like a death-threat on your bodily integrity – a body perceived as a container separating the self from other people and other forms of knowledge. New insights threaten your sense of what’s “real” when it’s up against what’s “real” to the other. But it is precisely this threat that triggers transformation.”

7th Space/Stage: Home as bridge. You realise that ‘home’ is that bridge, the in-between place and of constant transition, the most unsafe of all spaces. Bridging is the work of opening the gate to the stranger, within and without. To step across the threshold is to be stripped of the illusion of safety because it moves us into unfamiliar territory and does not grant safe passage. To bridge is to attempt community, and for that we must risk being open to personal, political, and spiritual intimacy, to risk being wounded. Effective bridging comes from knowing when to close ranks to those outside our home, group, community, nation—and when to keep the gates open.”

Here is a link to a fuller article.

It is good to remember that the word for religion in Latin means link or bridge. Religion is meant to assist us in this bridging work – this home-coming work. It is meant to enable us to occupy unfamiliar spaces and to attempt community.
Grace,
Alan