Time is money

Time is money

Dec 9, 2018  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Time is money

Grace to you

The unquestioned mantra of our times is: TIME IS MONEY. The dominant economic order turns everything into a commodity. In our time everything is capitalised. Time is something we “spend”, rather than share.

The Christian calendar – we were reminded last week – invites us to do time differently. To tell the time not according to hours, minutes and seconds and certainly not according to money, but rather according to the inevitable events that shape a life of faithfulness. Faithfulness defined as living life as it was originally intended to be lived: justly, gently, generously, truthfully, mercifully…

Advent-time is when we prepare for the arrival of a Higher Power – higher than any other power. At Christmas time this Higher Power – God – is grounded among us. When we zoom in using facial recognition software we notice this God’s appearance is one of dispossessed disfigurement. God has taken the form of the godforsaken among us. Thus Advent-time is preparing the world to prioritise rather than persecute the godforsaken among us. As Jesus would say when he is an adult: “What you do to the least of these you do to me.” Advent-time is when we reorientate our lives to prioritise the marginalised and dispossessed, the vulnerable and exploited, the frail and the abused.

Advent-time does not deny the ugly truth of the world’s pain but nor is it determined by it. Advent-time navigates the narrow gap between denial and despair by daring to do something different that neither denial can deter nor despair can determine.

Advent-time lasts 4 weeks on the secular calendar – but in actual fact it takes a lifetime for most of us to reorientate our lives to be good news for the poor, if at all. Each week takes a different theme. The first week of Advent-time aims to stretch our imaginations to include the possibility of a different world where the poor do actually hear good news. Without our imaginations stretched in this way we are unlikely to give our lives to realise such a world.

A recent book that goes a long way to help us to honour Advent-time is, Tomatoes and Taxis Ranks by the Consuming Urban Poverty research group based at UCT that astutely notes “we are surrounded by food, awash with hunger”. They do not deny the harrowing hunger that stalks so many but at the same time they dare to dream of African cities where there is enough for all, and of cities run in such a way that “fill the food gap”.

Today we occupy Church Street. Our occupation is in the form of a beautiful banquet prepared for those who are often hungry in this city that is saturated with food. With our many partners we boldly declare this to be, in the closing words of the Eucharist: “a foretaste of the heavenly banquet prepared for all the world”. May it be on earth as it is in heaven.

Grace,
Alan

SACC finds the utterances by the EFF leader regrettable

SACC finds the utterances by the EFF leader regrettable

Dec 2, 2018  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on SACC finds the utterances by the EFF leader regrettable

Media Release | Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana | 22 November 2018

The South African Council of Churches (SACC) finds regret-table the unfortunate utterances by the EFF leader, Mr Julius Malema, where he referred to Minister Pravin Gordhan as “a dog”. We take nothing away from Mr Malema or any other person’s freedom of speech. But we find it unacceptable that an elected public official can call a person, whether government minister or not, a dog; especially given the connotation of such an expression in African culture. Moreover, such name-calling by a popular political leader could easily incite followers to violent acts. It engenders an attitude in society that says other people do not matter. That is not Ubuntu. This kind of talk, accompanied by sabre-rattling and talk of war and possible bloodshed, on the eve of electioneering, is deeply concerning.

We also take issue with Mr Malema’s trashing of the Zondo Commission of Inquiry as a Mickey Mouse show. This is a Commission that was the recommendation of the Public Protector in the 2016 ground-breaking State of Capture report; and the whole country welcomed it and eagerly awaited its creation. We do not understand how it now becomes a Mickey Mouse show and a waste of money. We urge all South Africans to support the Zondo Commission and not have witnesses attacked and intimidated, as that will have the effect of burying the serious wrongdoings that might have been revealed in order to have recommendations for solutions that help cleanse our governmental environment.

We have seen Mr Malema and his party standing steadfastly against corruption, and demanding appropriate action. We cannot believe that he and his party no longer want to see corrupt practices exposed in a judicial inquiry such as the Zondo Commission. We believe that it is in the interests of the country and all citizens that all is exposed in order to begin the healing of our State institutions; and the Ubuntu ethos and values cultivated.

Archbishop Tutu said of Ubuntu: “It speaks of the very essence of being human… It is to say, my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours… A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are.”

This is what we seek to cultivate as a South African character of life, inside politics, the State (Batho Pele) and in society as a whole. This is the nature of the South Africa we pray for as the South African churches. — End —

Issued by the office of the General Secretary of the SA Council of Churches,
Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana.

Generosity & Gratitude

Generosity & Gratitude

Nov 25, 2018  |  Christ the King Sunday, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Generosity & Gratitude

Grace and Peace

At the end of the 10 day Vipassana Meditation the teacher spoke: “You will know that you are progressing on this path of meditation when you notice the following two signs …”

The teacher pauses…

In this moment of pause I begin to ponder what the teacher is going to say. What are the telltale signs of meditative progress I wonder? Are we to measure meditation progress according to how still we can sit – or how long we can sit – or how many times per day we can sit? Or will he speak of how our nomadic minds will finally stop wandering? Or about how ‘in-touch’ we will begin to feel with our breath and our body? Will he tell of one day attaining a blissful meditative state of good vibrations void of any backache? I wonder?

The teacher continues: “The first sign of progress on this path of meditation is … generosity. Yes, generosity is the first sign. A growing generosity. When you give without expectation of repayment in return you are progressing. When you can give without any need for recognition then you know you are progressing well.”

“The second sign of progress on this path of meditation is … gratitude. Yes, gratitude is the second sign. A growing gratitude. When you are grateful for all you have been given through your entire life. When you are grateful for the gifts that fill every single moment of your life then you know you are progressing well.”

Progress on the path is not measured by mastering a technique. Progress is measured by what happens to our heart. A generous and grateful heart is progress. Generosity and gratitude are the natural fruit of a tree that has its roots planted in the knowledge that we are all one. Inter-related and inter-dependent. When I awake to the truth that my life is dependent on all other life and all other life is impacted by my living – then generosity and gratitude are bound to blossom.

Paul agrees on how we should measure progress on the Jesus path: “If I speak in the tongues of angels, have prophetic powers or am able to move mountains, but do not love, I am a noisy gong … I gain nothing.” [1 Cor. 13]. Or again: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” [Gal. 5:22].

Grace,
Alan

We praise you, God

We praise you, God

Nov 18, 2018  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on We praise you, God

Invitation to Prayer

God, whose word spoke life and creativity into a formless universe,
and order to a nation of escaped slaves,
whose strong and compassionate voice challenged injustice through frail prophets,
we praise you.

Jesus, whose touch smoothed the broken skin of lepers,
and brought a bleeding woman back to health and belonging,
whose hand raised dead girls, and refused to throw stones at prostitutes,
we praise you.

Spirit, whose breath restores souls and bodies, and whose presence comforts the grieving,
whose fire ignites compassion within us for the healing of the nations,
we praise you.

In the noise of voices calling for revenge, judgement and punishment,
we pray for the courage to speak out for restoration.

When pain, poverty and persecution leave people blind to grace and compassion,
we pray for the courage to carry the light of love and forgiveness.

Where the quest to even the score has left our world angry and wounded,
we pray for the courage to release our grievances and seek wholeness for all.

As you intercede for us, Jesus, we intercede for our world that all may know
the Good News of restoration in Christ.

God of wholeness, we celebrate the healing you bring
to us and our world, and we celebrate the promised
wholeness that awaits all of creation in your eternal reign.

God of restoration, in our blindness and ignorance,
you open our eyes and lead us to truth;

in our arrogance and defiance, you still our souls and teach us humility;
in our weakness and displacement, you protect us and lead us home;
While we deserve only judgement and the heavy burden of paying our debts,
you offer us grace, and the hope of life renewed.

And so we praise you
and thank you,
with all our hearts. Amen.

~ Nicole Terblanche

 

God, love us into loving

God, love us into loving

Nov 11, 2018  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on God, love us into loving

Grace and Peace

Utterly Loving God – lover of the world – lover of all of humanity. Please love us into loving.
Your love is without limit.
Your love is faithfully consistent.
Your love is flexible and firm and supple and strong like water – able to flow through or around the failings of those you love: saturating and surrounding our failure with your forgiveness.

Your love is free but it is not cheap. It costs you rather than us, the recipient. We love only because you have first loved us. In our loving your love is ever expanding and stretching and growing.

Your love has no favourites. Your love is for all – yet with special attention on those who need it most because we falsely believe we least deserve it. Like water, your love follows the gravity of our guilt – pooling itself in the lowest parts of our beings – the most desperate and deprived, depraved and debauched areas of our lives – and there your love slowly swirls and invites us to wash – to bathe – to be baptised – to be refreshed and renewed.

We confess we struggle to love. What we call love is often not very loving. Often it is nothing more than petty ego-centric acts of manipulation – brittle and easily offended – all the while being offensive and brutish.

You invite us to love our enemies – yet we even struggle to love our lovers – the people we share a name with … a home, a table, a bed, a past, present and future. We swing between smothering closeness and isolating distance … between caring and controlling. We betray promises – we lie – we break commitments – we slice each other with cold silence. We punish each other with our perfect recall of each other’s mistakes. We judge and we condemn and we hold to ransom. We speak in demands rather than requests. Gentleness forsakes our tone and sometimes our touch. We get bored with each other – stuck in confined corners void of curiosity for each other. Our imagination for something new becomes dull and dead – and the ability to start over seems beyond impossible so we either run away or we cynically settle into our discomfort.

Utterly loving God open us to be loved by you – that you will grow our trust in your love – so that we may be reminded again that we are indeed lovely and lovable. Unless we awaken to this truth of being born in love, by love and for love, you know that we will struggle to love those around us, as we will forever be casting them in our unlovable image.

Utterly loving God, please love us into loving today.
Amen.

Gift Economy

Gift Economy

Nov 4, 2018  |  All Saints Day, Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Gift Economy

Grace and peace

I have recently, and ever so briefly, been introduced to Robin Wall Kimmerer – author of Braiding Sweetgrass. Elizabeth Gilbert describes the book as: “A hymn of love to the world”. I say Amen to that!

Kimmerer describes herself as a “plant scientist, and … I am also a poet and the world speaks to me in metaphor”.

When asked, as a first year student, why she wanted to study botany, she answered: “Because goldenrod and asters are so beautiful together, and I want to know why. I want to know why these stand together. Why do they grow together and look so beautiful when they could grow apart?” Her advisor was dismayed: “That’s not science.” And he said, “You should go to art school if you want to study beauty.” Narrow single lens perspectives can be quite tyrannical! We see what we see according to the lenses through which we see. Today’s modern world privileges the scientific over the poetic, yet something special is bound to happen when the lenses of science and art love each other as neighbours. This is also true when studying the Scriptures.

Looking through the incredibly ancient yet beautifully fresh lens of indigenous wisdom, Kimmerer speaks of a “gift economy”. She writes, “Plants know how to make food from light and water, and then they give it away” and that what “my scientific community sometimes call ‘natural resources’ are what Native people call gifts”.

She continues: “And that language of thinking about them as gifts rather than natural resources is really, I think, very important because they … When we are given a gift, we know what to do about that, right? When we take natural resources, we take them without consequences when we call them natural resources. Well, they’re ours; they’re our property. We can do with them as we wish. But when we think about what the world gives us as gifts, not as stuff that we’re taking, but as gifts that are given, that engenders a whole different relationship to the living world, doesn’t it?

Suddenly, it invites gratitude, not expectation that I’ll get more and more and more, but gratitude for what I have been given. It generates a kind of self-restraint in return for that gift. When you know it’s a gift, it somehow makes you less greedy and more satisfied and appreciative of what you have.

The other way in which we know when we’re given a gift—yes, we want to be thankful; we want to be respectful to that gift. But when we’re given a gift, it also opens the door to reciprocity, to say, “In return for this gift, I want to give something back,” and that’s the gift-giving economy. It’s based not on an exchange of property, but an exchange based on reciprocity, so that in return for what’s given we want to give something back in return, which means we need to engage one another not anonymously, but as individual beings to consider what it is that we have to give to each other.”

The ‘Gift’ lens is another name for the Jesus lens. For those who have eyes to see…

Grace,
Alan

Gardening-grace

Gardening-grace

Oct 28, 2018  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Gardening-grace

Grace and peace to you

Gardening and writing are close relatives.

When I think of gardening, I think of planting. Planting seeds, seedlings and saplings into freshly fingered furrows of moistened soil. Yet I find in practice it is just the opposite. Instead of planting I am forever pulling “stuff” out. It is commonly known as weeding. Or “editing” as a gardening-guru-friend calls it.

My misconception of gardening is similar to the misconception many of us have about writing. As authors have noted: “To write is human, to edit is divine.” ~ Steven King. “Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” ~ Mark Twain. “People think writing is writing. But actually writing is editing otherwise you just are taking notes.” ~ Chris Abani.

Told you gardening and writing are close relatives: Both demand editing, and editing is demanding. For this reason some have advised: “Write without fear. Edit without mercy” which is a slightly more Methodist way of saying, “Write drunk and edit sober” as Ernest Hemingway suggested.

Here are a few things I have noticed about “garden-editing”: It starts by not knowing where to start. And then moves to: “Why start if accomplishment looks impossible? Yet, not starting makes impossibility too much of a certainty – so I start. When I do get going I notice – certain weeds edit easily – while others need a firm tug. As some are pulled out they kick and scream and spray soil into my sweaty face while others break-off at the surface – demanding a jab with a small garden fork or to be frustratingly left to live another day – knowing they “will be back”. I notice that each time I stand to straighten and stretch my back that I catch sight of a “missed-edit” in an area I thought I was done with…so I move over to remove the stubborn lone resister and to my horror I discover it is not alone – it is legion. Could they have sprouted in the last twenty minutes or did I miss them first time round? They must have strategically timed their sprouting. They must be on steroids. Garden-editing can be quite addictive – especially if one has the slightest hint of compulsive obsessiveness. I say to myself, “Just one more then I will sit down and relax” – but as I am leaving my eyes fix sharply on a new patch that is overridden and I feel compelled once again to pull and tug. Finally and sadly, I realise it is possible that I may be so focused on editing the garden that I seldom enjoy it.

As it is with gardening and writing, fruitful living demands endless editing. By editing I do not mean self-loathing and judgement, but rather attentive reflection on the patterns of our living that rob us, others and creation of life in its fullness. Some of these patterns (both in thought and deed) are ripe to be removed while others will fight to stay. Some will require assistance to be extracted and several may break off at the stem – removed from sight but leaving the roots still deeply embedded. And yes, this inner work runs the risk of becoming obsessive – so best we set aside a specific time for this work – (knowing when to start as well as knowing when to take a break) remembering as important as editing is, it is equally important to enjoy the garden of our lives.

Gardening-grace,
Alan

God has no favourites

God has no favourites

Oct 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

Oct 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

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

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