I was walking up Kloof Street some time ago after presiding at a communion service for Good hope MCC’s evening service. I had my clergy collar on and was stopped several times by people on the street. Some of them were people who I saw every day as I walked to and from work, but they didn’t know I was a Pastor until they saw me in the collar. They asked questions that made me laugh. The common one was had I stocked up on Doom. Yet, many shared the same thing, that they had lost interest in Church. I was fascinated by how many were drawn to ask me questions though they were naming a disinterest in Church. It is the mystery of the collar.
I sat for some time with a woman who when she saw me asked if she could ask me some questions. As she shared her questions, her story of deep pain and struggle unfolded. I shared a coffee with her, listened and sadly had no real answers for her other than the truth that God was with her, she was not alone, that there was no darkness in the world that God’s love was not able to break through. I still see this woman on the streets almost every day. Her life is still challenging, but I see it in her eyes that the connection we made no matter how brief and the daily seeing of one another on the streets has helped her to feel less alone.
There is a real hunger and thirst for God that I recognize in the world around us, though the lack of trust in the Church is real. That might be why different models of what it looks like to be church are arising in the world around us. Trust is something that is earned and it builds over time by the investments we make. There are people in the world that feel that the Church is not investing in them and they are the ordinary people out in the world around us. I am not a fan of clergy attire in general, but that evening reminded me of the power of the Church being present in unexpected places in the world.
I have a t-shirt that says, “Church can happen anywhere.” Sometimes I wear it to marches in the city and I get the same response as I did when I wore my clergy collar. People want to know where I got the shirt. They want to know what Church I belong to. They want to know my thoughts about God and the things that are real. It is amazing to me how God can use us in the most amazing of ways and in the most interesting of places. My walk to and from home every day is one of the times when I am constantly surprised. Car guards will stop me to ask questions, taxi drivers will shout out “hey lady Pastor”, and people bless me constantly.
Trust in God is not something people out in the world are readily willing to do. Yet, they are intrigued by the people who do. So, my question for us all is how can we be a people who those around us witness as people of faith. It is a great question to live with as we continue in the living of this New Year. As you live in the question, remember the words of Proverbs 3:5&6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge God and your paths will become straight.”
With you on the journey,
Grace and peace to you and through you
Today we remember our Baptism as we reflect on the Baptism of Jesus. Baptism is to be washed – more like soaked – in the ways of Jesus. One aspect of Jesus’ character that the world desperately needs to soak itself in – is compassion. Compassion is the willingness to suffer with. The root of the word is connected to womb – wombishness. This reminds us that the suffer-ing we are willing to share is what enables new birth – new life. It may come as a surprise to you, that apathy is in actual fact the opposite of compassion. We under-stand apathy to mean – uncaring, which it is – but apathy’s root-meaning actually means the fear or refusal to suffer … with others.
A number of years ago Karen Armstrong co-ordinated the writing of the Charter for Compassion which is especially directed towards the religious. As we renew our baptism vows today let us renew our commitment to the Charter of Compassion again:
Charter for Compassion
“The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all reli-gious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.
It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.
We therefore call upon all men and women to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.
We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.”
On the Mississippi Gulf Coast, there is an old tree that is called the Friendship tree. It is a Live Oak tree that is believed to be five centuries old. It has weathered the test of time and many a windy storm. The first time I came upon this tree, I felt as if it was drawing me in preparing to tell me a story. Any living part of creation that survives five centuries certainly must have a story to tell. There are trees that line the Gulf Coast that are younger, but they survived the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina and I call them the Grandfathers, for they carry the damage of the storm in their bark and in the shaping of their limbs. You can feel their weathering standing next to them, but you can also feel their strength.
Psalm 1:3 shares that “They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not whither. In all that they do, they prosper.” The they in the psalm is meant to be the Israelites. They were likened to trees—trees that would find life giving water and strength. I remember sharing one day with a friend how much I loved the trees in the Company Gardens here in Cape Town. I was astonished to learn from him that the trees in the gardens grow so beautifully because underneath their ground flows a river of water from the mountains. Some of that mountain water is carried away and wasted, but the trees are situated strategically to receive and they witness to the truth of what it means to be catchers of that resource and in their lives be refreshed by it.
Live Oak trees have lateral roots that can grow ninety feet from the trunk line and from the lateral roots extend what are known as sinker roots, which create the anchoring that gives the trees such strength. Where are our anchors? Are our anchors in busy-ness? Are our anchors in the electronic maze? Are our anchors in the climb to the top of we don’t even know what or where? A tree searches for nutrients, that will bring it sustenance and strength. For the people of God, we find sustenance in God’s word. It is the best place for us to anchor ourselves, for in the Word of God is where we come alive.
There is a type of Fig tree called the Banyan Tree that bears multiple fruit. They are a tree that has a system of roots underneath, while they also drop roots from their limbs. The network of the roots pushes the tree to grow further in its life. There is a Banyan tree in Fort Meyers, Florida that was planted at four feet tall and now covers the span of an acre of land. To bear fruit in our lives that creates such growth not just in ourselves, but in the world around us, this is what it means to truly live! Revelation 22:2 speaks of a tree of life that stands in the middle of the city with a river of water flowing on both sides and the leaves of the tree, we are told, are for “the healing of the nations.” In this New Year, I invite you to find a tree. Examine its bark, wonder at its height, and work to emulate its network. Trees don’t simply reach up; they also reach out. Receive the gift of their majestic truth.
With you on the journey,
News24.com article on the Christmas Complications #RememberKwezi: Kwezi Sermon was outside the brief
There were complications at birth.
Mary nearly lost the baby.
Jesus nearly didn’t see the light of day.
I am not talking about any complications during her pregnancy or during labour or the moment of delivery.
I am talking about life-threatening complications of a different type. These complications were the consequence of at least three things that, when mixed together and stirred almost always result in death. This remains as true today as it was 2000 years ago.
Life is threatened:
- When discrimination is written into law or at least saturates the dominant culture.
- When those called to hold the powerful accountable, don’t.
- When the powerful use their power for their own promotion and protection.
Once we have explored these three complications – witnessing how they conspire to threaten life – we will turn our attention to what it was that enabled Mary and the baby to survive – and thereby receive a few hints at how we need to live today in order to engage the same life-threatening complications of our time.
1] The first life-threatening complication – according to the text for today – occurs when the powerful use their power exclusively for their own benefit.
King Herod was such like. He employed his power for his own privilege and protection. In other words: The No.1 priority of No.1 was to look after No.1 . This determined every one of Herod’s policy decisions that he signed into law. It also informed every cabinet re-shuffle. For Herod, self-preservation was the only real item on every meeting’s agenda that he attended.
This meant that Herod violated the constitution of God who implored all leaders – especially No.1 – to shepherd God’s people – all people. In other words to lead with pastoral care which meant to take special care of the poor, the weak, the foreigner and the vulnerable. This meant it was the king’s responsibility to provide green pastures of food and still waters to drink especially in times of drought. It meant that No.1 . was to safeguard and guide the people through the shadowed valleys of death and to successfully negotiate with enemies around a table and provide housing for all … all the days of their life. King Herod was however more focused on building his holiday home and housing the homeless poor who surrounded him.
Though the Roman State-owned media gave him a free ride, the people on the ground grew in resentment. On a few public occasions king Herod was booed – so he soon stuck to his popular ghettos of support. King Herod was hyper vigilant ever adding to his army of personal bodyguards. He was more than a little paranoid with his speeches sounding like strange riddles. The police were on permanent standby and he relied heavily on spooks for the latest info.
One day Herod was informed that there were three so-called “clever people” looking for the king. But they weren’t looking for him … they were looking for another king! As this news were told in the ancient text that “Herod was frightened … and all the people with him”. Yes, because when the elephants fight the grass suffers.
Herod was afraid. A fearful leader is a very dangerous leader because fear casts out love. Therefore a fearful leader is a loveless leader. And a loveless leader is a ruthless ruler. Herod did not care how many casualties as long as he stayed No.1 . Some called for him to resign, but he lived by the motto: “If I go down all will go down”.
So we read that Herod called the priests and scribes to enquire of them where the Messiah is to be born. They correctly state – “it will be in Bethlehem”. King Herod then arranges a secret meeting with the three so-called clever people requesting they search diligently and if they are successful, to return to him with the address so he too can go and worship.
But it was a trap. Herod had never worshipped anyone besides himself and he wasn’t going to start now.
2] The second life-threatening complication according to our ancient story is when those who are called to hold the powerful accountable, simply don’t.
Here we see the priests and the scribes (the public protectors of their day) forsake their sacred duty. Their primary role was to hold the powerful, especially the king, accountable for his pastoral responsibilities and by doing so to uphold God’s constitution of care for the poor. Yet in our text we find them living in comfort and ease close to the king. Some investigative journalists named this “priestly capture”. It still happens to this day.
Instead of fearlessly speaking truth to power – they turn out to be praise-singers for the king. They tell the king what he wants to hear rather than what God wants him to hear. In this way, religion is used to validate and condone what it should challenge and correct.
Note, according to the story we see that these priests and scribes knew the constitution. They knew where the true king was to be born – in Bethlehem, yet they were happy to remain in Jerusalem. Go figure? To forsake the single most important task of one’s vocation can only mean that Herod’s system of patronage must have been extremely lucrative.
3] The third life-threatening complication according to our ancient story is when discrimination is written into law or at least saturates the dominant culture.
The system of discrimination – that was legal at the time – was the system of patriarchy. Patriarchy is simply understood as the belief and practice that men are superior to women. That women are inferior to men. That women are not their own person, but gain their human worth by either belonging to their father or husband.
In other words – it’s a man’s world and women exist in it to please and serve men while men get to decide about the role of women in society and this includes men having control over women’s bodies. This system of patriarchy was underpinned by the Scriptures – with numerous verses being quoted by men to support the view that it was in fact God’s design that women submit their worth to men.
One example, pertinent to this Christmas reflection is that some ancient texts state that if a woman is pregnant yet unmarried or worse still pregnant from one man while engaged to another man – she could be flogged or stoned to death for this “sexual deviance” that brought shame on her or her in-laws’ family. And don’t think for a moment that back then anyone was buying into the virgin birth – which would have been deemed “fake news”.
Mary’s life was in deadly danger resulting from the patriarchal laws and culture of her time. Not dissimilar to the terrifying vulnerability of gay and lesbian people in our land today as we were gruesomely reminded a few weeks ago with the murder of Noluvo Swelindawo – a lesbian woman almost certainly targeted specifically for being lesbian – by men. By insecure men. By men who locate their masculinity in their sexual domination of women and who are therefore offended by lesbians who by denying them sex deny their manhood. Despite our liberating and protecting constitution the dominant culture remains anti-gay and this is in no small measure a result of how the Scriptures have been used to validate such discrimination – enabling people to do evil while believing they are doing good.
For the combination of these three reasons stated above, Mary nearly lost the baby.
To see how she and the baby survived we must take note of the following three things:
1] First, we see the Magi – the three so-called clever people. They were not fooled by the charm of No.1 . They defy his order to return to him with the information he requested. This is a risky act of civil disobedience. Here we see the power of principle trump the abuse of power. It would prove to be costly returning home another way – certainly no royal tenders coming their way in the future.
Note that the three so-called clever people were from the East. In other words they were outsiders. In other words not necessarily religious but they were truth seekers. They carry a longing to know – for the R2K where true power lies. In their truth seeking they shame the religious insiders who had long since exchanged the search for the truth for personal comfort.
2] Second, we see that the discriminatory law and culture of his day did not determine Joseph’s behaviour. Joseph’s character was one of compassion and mercy – his humaneness revealed in how he honoured the humanity of Mary. He respected her. Whenever someone refuses to discriminate against another – especially when law or culture encourage one to discriminate – life is saved.
3] Third, we see Mary’s own courageous imagination. Mary dared to imagine another world. A world true to the ancient constitution of God. A world where the powerful exist to serve the least. A world where the public is properly protected from the abuse of power. A world where women and men are respected and treated as equal and of sacred worth – each bearing the priceless image of the Creator.
Mary’s courageous imagination released the first Christmas Carol – which is very unlike the soppy and sentimental carols we sing today. Hers was a carol about knowing of her own favoured worth despite the demeaning laws of her land. Hers was a song about God who rules above the kings of the earth. A song about mercy and not judgment for the vulnerable. A song about the powerful falling from their thrones. (Mary was the first “fallist”.) A song about the hungry being filled and the rich sent away empty handed.
In other words Mary pre-dated Jean Jacques Rousseau who said: “One day the poor will have nothing left to eat … but the rich”.
Mary pre-dated Frantz Fanon: “What counts today – the question which is looking on the horizon – is the need for a redistribution of wealth. Humanity must reply to this question or be shaken to pieces by it”.
Mary pre-dated Martin Espade in his poem “Imagine the Angels of Bread” when he imagined: “Squatters evict landlords”.
She pre-dated the four women who in silence loudly called the nation to #RememberKhwezi. Fezeka Khuzwayo – publically known as Kwezi wrote a poem. Her poem is no less courageously imaginative than Mary’s song of a different world. And she like Mary also had to flee for her life. The poem is called: “I am Khanga”.
I am Khanga
I wrap myself around the curvaceous bodies of women all over Africa
I am the perfect nightdress on those hot African nights
The ideal attire for household chores
I secure babies happily on their mother’s backs
Am the perfect gift for new bride and new mother alike
Armed with proverbs, I am vehicle for communication between women
I exist for the comfort and convenience of a woman
But no no no make no mistake …
I am not here to please a man
And I certainly am not a seductress
Please don’t use me as an excuse to rape
Don’t hide behind me when you choose to abuse
That’s what he said my Malume
The man who called himself my daddy’s best friend
Shared a cell with him on [Robben] Island for ten whole years
He said I wanted it
That my khanga said it
That with it I lured him to my bed
That with it I want you is what I said
But what about the NO I uttered with my mouth
Not once but twice
And the please no I said with my body
What about the tear that ran down my face as I lay stiff with shock
In what sick world is that sex
In what sick world is that consent
The same world where the rapist becomes the victim
The same world where I become the bitch that must burn
The same world where I am forced into exile because I spoke out?
This is NOT my world
I reject that world
My world is a world where fathers protect and don’t rape
My world is a world where a woman can speak out
Without fear for her safety
My world is a world where no one, but no one is above the law
My world is a world where sex is pleasurable not painful
‘This is also my home’
The Magi’s power of principle together with Joseph’s humaneness together with Mary’s courageous imagination are what saved Mary and her baby.
And to the extent that we imitate them will be to the extent many others will be spared from the life-threatening complications of the abuse of power and the failure to hold the powerful to account as well as the presence of deadly discrimination.
Central Methodist Mission – Cape Town
Christmas Day broadcast service for SAFM – click on link to listen to the full recording of the sermon as recorded 0n 2016 12 11.
Text in red and italicised was edited out of the broadcast.
Grace and peace to you and through you
Christmas can be one of the most difficult times of the year for people. The expectation to be “happy” as in “Happy Christmas” is sometimes at complete odds with our lived experience and this can provoke an even greater despair than usual. So this is for all of you in despair at this time. David Whyte writes in Consolations on Heartbreak:
“Despair takes us in when we have nowhere else to go; when we feel the heart cannot break anymore, when our world or our loved ones disappear, when we feel we cannot be loved or do not deserve to be loved, when our God disappoints, or when our body is carrying profound pain in a way that does not seem to go away.
Despair is a haven with its own temporary form of beauty and of self-compassion, it is the invitation we accept when we want to remove ourselves from hurt. Despair, is a last protection…
Despair is a necessary and seasonal state of repair, a temporary healing absence, an internal physiological and psychological winter when our previous forms of participation in the world take a rest; it is a loss of horizon, it is the place we go when we do not want to be found in the same way anymore. We give up hope when certain particular wishes are no longer able to come true and despair is the time in which we both endure and heal, even when we have not yet found the new form of hope.
Despair is strangely, the last bastion of hope; the wish being, that if we cannot be found in the old way we cannot ever be touched or hurt in that way again. …Despair is the place we go when we no longer want to make a home in the world and where we feel, with a beautifully cruel form of satisfaction, that we may never have deserved that home in the first place…
Despair turns to depression and abstraction when we try to make it stay beyond its appointed season and start to shape our identity around its frozen disappointments. …Despair needs a certain tending, a reinforcing, and isolation, but the body left to itself will breathe, the ears will hear the first birdsong of morning or catch the leaves being touched by the wind in the trees, and the wind will blow away even the grayest cloud; will move even the most immovable season; the heart will continue to beat and the world, we realize, will never stop or go away.
The antidote to despair is not to be found in the brave attempt to cheer ourselves up with happy abstracts, but in paying a profound and courageous attention to the body and the breath, independent of our imprisoning thoughts and stories, even strangely, in paying attention to despair itself, and the way we hold it, and which we realize, was never ours to own and to hold in the first place. To see and experience despair fully in our body is to begin to see it as a necessary, seasonal visitation, and the first step in letting it have its own life, neither holding it nor moving it on before its time…
Despair is a difficult, beautiful necessary, a binding understanding between human beings caught in a fierce and difficult world where half of our experience is mediated by loss, but it is a season, a wave form passing through the body, not a prison surrounding us. A season left to itself will always move, however slowly, under its own patience, power and volition.”
May we discover the grace of despair,
Grace and peace to you and through you
One of the means of grace that holds our lives together is friendship. Friends who know us and love us for knowing us. To be known is one of our greatest needs. To be loved is another one of our greatest needs – if not the greatest. Yet these two great needs often clash as we wonder to ourselves: “if they really knew me would they still love me?” This is the haunting question that true friends answer for us. Friends by definition both know us and love us and herein lies the grace that holds us.
The poet and philosopher David Whyte explores friendship in his book Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.
FRIENDSHIP is a mirror to presence and a testament to forgiveness. Friendship not only helps us see ourselves through another’s eyes, but can be sustained over the years only with someone who has repeatedly forgiven us for our trespasses as we must find it in ourselves to forgive them in turn. A friend knows our difficulties and shadows and remains in sight, a companion to our vulnerabilities more than our triumphs, when we are under the strange illusion we do not need them. An undercurrent of real friendship is a blessing exactly because its elemental form is rediscovered again and again through understanding and mercy. All friendships of any length are based on a continued, mutual forgiveness. Without tolerance and mercy all friendships die.
In the course of the years a close friendship will always reveal the shadow in the other as much as ourselves, to remain friends we must know the other and their difficulties and even their sins and encourage the best in them, not through critique but through addressing the better part of them, the leading creative edge of their incarnation, thus subtly discouraging what makes them smaller, less generous, less of themselves.
The dynamic of friendship is almost always underestimated as a constant force in human life: a diminishing circle of friends is the first terrible diagnostic of a life in deep trouble: of overwork, of too much emphasis on a professional identity, of forgetting who will be there when our armoured personalities run into the inevitable natural disasters and vulnerabilities found in even the most average existence.
Over this holiday time – gift your friendships with your time.
Grace and peace to you and through you
The service today is being recorded by the SABC in order to be broadcast throughout
SA on Christmas Day. So in other words we get to celebrate Christmas early. Happy Christmas today!! At first I thought that this is a little odd, but then I realised that the followers of Jesus are to live life in the constant celebration of his birth among us.
“Joy to the world – the Lord is come…” should be on our lips everyday! Everyday
we should be on the look-out for the Divine among us.
If Jesus is consistent (which he certainly is) his presence among us will be undercover, just as his first coming among us. I mean what could be more “undercover” than a baby
of an unmarried peasant girl cradled in the feed trough of a cattle shed? Even the wisest
of sages went to the wrong address to look for him. We are always told to “follow the money!!!” Well that is exactly what the so-called wise men did and all they found was an ignorant and paranoid head of state. Following the money doesn’t lead to Jesus … it leads to the powers of death.
Many of the homeless people of our city have similar stories to tell. Very often treated like trash. Sometimes they are mistreated by security guards … who themselves are not treated much better. Homeless people are told to “move on” all the time – convincing them that they do not belong.
Thank you to everyone who each Sunday provide lunch for around 300 people at the Service Dining Rooms. Today we all get to join in this act of service as we occupy Church Street to host a Christmas Banquet for the people who are marginalised within this city. There will be over 500 people for the seated meal and around 200 takeaways – so please we need all the help we can get.
Be on the lookout for Jesus – for the Divine is come to be our guest today.
This morning marks the second Sunday of Advent. The word before us is Peace. Peace has become a political word, where when spoken of, one is hoping for the end to wars and the great conflicts of our day. Yet, peace is also a gift we can receive within. Jesus names for the waters in a stormy sea to, “Peace be still” naming the link to stillness and peace. To be centered enough in our life of faith to experience stillness within, no matter what is going on around is a true gift. It is not a quality that we can will within it is one that arises as one lives in their center trusting in God’s great truth.
There have been Peace and Justice witnesses serving on the University campuses during the exam writing. Reports came in that a petrol bomb was set off in one of the buildings at CPUT (Cape Peninsula University of Technology) where students were writing. The debris was cleared, security heightened, and the exams continued. One has to wonder how the students were able to manage to stay focused while the outbreaks were occurring. Many of them shared their thanks for the presence of the witnesses who were there to observe and work to bring a de-escalating peaceful presence on campus.
There are over 200 witnesses who have been trained to serve on campuses. A couple of weeks ago, I served myself at the CPUT Belleville campus. It was the night of the super moon. The mediators who have been negotiating during the education crisis were able to reach an agreement at Belleville that day for the private security to be removed and the old CPUT security to come back. The students were so excited they worked to man the security gate until the CPUT security made their way back.
The witnesses who were serving at Belleville that evening were all ones who had been serving quite consistently. I worried about our ability to sustain the effort. You can imagine the gift when a taxi full of clergy from Khayelitsha showed up to serve as the night shift. It was amazing to see them prepare for their time of service. One of the witnesses took out her guitar and began singing songs. It was one of my favorite memories. The beginning of our time on that campus was to be present in the midst of communication between parties that was disintegrating. On this night, it was as if peace was witnessing to us.
As I have served with the Peace and Justice Witnesses, I have grown more fully in my realization that we must be a people who work to stand in the midst of great divides witnessing to another way. The inner peace that is gift in this work is the fruit born to those who learn how to wait in the center of their being, trusting in the ways of God.
In Advent, we strengthen ourselves in the wait for the promise of something more that is held in the life and teachings of Jesus. Advent is meant to be a journey in the darkness of our unknowing. As we acknowledge that we don’t know the way forward becomes known to us, and we commit simply to walk in it.
With you on the journey,
This Sunday marks the beginning of the Advent season in the life of the Christian faith. The word Advent essentially means “to come.” If you were to do a bible search, you would not find the word Advent for it is not contained within the scriptures. It is a practice that began in the 4th and 5th centuries as those being presented for baptism prepared for that marked time in their journey of faith. It was a penitent time of prayer and fasting, very similar to Lent. Pilgrims preparing for baptism would fast Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays leading up to the day of their baptism which happened on the 6th of January, the day of Epiphany.
The season of Advent invokes a posture of waiting. Waiting is not something we like to do, so one can understand how over the years, the practices began to morph until today the practice of Advent has become something quite different and can in some communities barely be distinguished from the Christmas season and all it has come to be. What might it mean for us to revisit the Advent of yesterday and engage in a period of fasting and reflection around our baptismal commitment?
Though waiting is not the favorite sport of the human family, it is necessary for us if we want to be formed and shaped into people who can receive the newness of life and to engage in the work of practicing the message of Christ in ways that give life in the world around us. The image on the front of this cover was painted by a woman I met in Cape Town a little over ten years ago. I didn’t have a lot of money on me and so I decided I would simply sit and talk with some of the artists and learn about their work. I sat with this woman long enough to learn she had HIV/AIDS and her concerns about the health of her unborn child.
This woman asked me to pray with her. I did. The next day I came back to visit with her again. I shared with her I had borrowed some money from a friend to purchase one of her paintings, for I felt like it spoke to me in a way that left me changed. The artist sold me the painting on the cover and gave me a second. She shared that I would know who to give it to when the time came. I did. When my friend Enuma Okoro was struggling to write her first book, I gave her the second painting for her birthday. She names it in that book–Reluctant Pilgrim: A moody somewhat self-indulgent introverts search for Spiritual Community.
My copy of this painting has hung on the wall in every place I have lived. It continues to speak to me quite powerfully providing for me two messages at the same time. The first is simply the awareness that God is always busy preparing to give birth to the promises of something more in the world. The second is this, that there are people desperately waiting for “something more” to be realized in their lives. The woman so long ago with HIV/AIDS, those involved with the education crisis in this country, people who have been impacted by Gun Violence around the world, those who live with too little to eat, those who do not have clean water to drink, those who live under attack for the color of their skin, their gender, or sexuality. The list is very long.
During this Advent season, my hope is that you will engage in a time of fasting from a place where you experience abundance in your life. Maybe it will be fasting from food, but it might not. It might be something else. Allow time in the Spirit to let that answer rise in you. As you engage in limiting in the area where you live with abundance, you will be creating space within yourself for a deeper awareness of your need and when we live with need, God can give birth to something new in us. I hope you experience a meaningful Advent journey, where your faith is deepened for the struggle and wrestle in it.
With you on the journey,
Grace and Peace to you and through you
Today is Christ the King Sunday. It is also the last Sunday of the Christian Calendar. Yes, the Christian year ends with Christ on the Throne. It serves to remind us that all of creation is hemmed in behind and before by Christ who is the Alpha and the Omega. Christ is the enfleshment of love, truth, justice, gentleness, forgiveness, generosity, compassion and joy. Therefore to say Christ is on the throne is another way of saying love, truth, justice, gentleness, forgiveness, generosity, compassion and joy reign above all else (despite headlines to the contrary) and warrant our worship through our own enfleshment. To do so is to imitate Christ. And to imitate Christ is to worship Christ. This alone is our task. Not only is Christ the start and the finish, but Christ is also the bond that holds everything together. As we read in Colossians: “Jesus is the firstborn of all creation… Jesus is before all things and in him all things hold together…”
Col. 1:15. Enfleshed love, truth, justice, gentleness, forgiveness, generosity, compassion and joy are the authentic center that holds…
This reminds me of William Butler Yeats’ (1865-1939) poem: The Second Coming that he penned in 1919 in the aftermath of the First World War:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Next Sunday is the first week of Advent and it is always dedicated to the second coming of Christ… surely some revelation is at hand!? A revelation that exposes our false centers that cannot hold and calls us to recommit to the true center that always holds – Christ.
Open and vigilant to grace,