The Blessing of Anger

The Blessing of Anger

May 6, 2018  |  Easter, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on The Blessing of Anger

Grace and peace to you

We end each Sunday service with what we call the “Benediction of Disturbance”:

May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers,
half-truths and superficial relationships, so that we
may live from deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression
and exploitation of people, so that we may work for
justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless us with tears to shed for those who
suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war,
so that we may reach out our hand to comfort them
and turn their pain to joy.

And may God bless us with enough foolishness to
believe that we can make a difference in this world,
so that we can do what others claim cannot be done.
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and
the poor.

In God’s grace we say – Amen – so be it.

This benediction does not beat about the bush. There is nothing superficial about it. It cuts deep. The words hauntingly echo long after they have been spoken. The blessings jar any spiritual serenity we may seek.

Take for example the second blessing: “May God bless us with anger…” I mean who prays to be blessed with anger? We are more likely to confess our anger and pray for God to remove it. Anger is not something we associate with a blessing – let alone a blessing from God. Many of us believe that anger is somehow un-Christian or un-holy, but anger is a feeling and feelings need to be felt to be honoured. If we do not honour our feelings they will demand our attention by other means – often by increasingly destructive means. One thing that is clear is that they will not go “quietly into the night”.

We remember the verse in Scripture that says: “Even if you are angry, do not sin because of it. Never let the sun set on your anger or you will give the devil a foothold.” [Eph. 4:26] We may hear this verse saying that we should not be angry, yet it doesn’t say that. It says we must be careful what we do with our anger and wisely warns us about how long we hold onto it because if we hold onto our anger too long it eventually holds us prisoner.

Yet there is a time and place for anger. I am not talking here about hurtful and destructive expressions of anger. For this we need anger management therapy to get to the root – which is often hurt, fear and shame. I am referring to anger that aims at preventing hurt and destruction. This was the root of Jesus’ anger. He got angry because people were being excluded from the temple and exploited while there. Jesus tossed over some tables to make his point clear.

I think some of us need anger management of a different sort. We need therapy to give ourselves permission to actually be angry. We need help to get over the fear of being angry.

As Richard Rohr writes: Anger is good and very necessary to protect the appropriate boundaries of self and othersI would much sooner live with a person who is free to get fully angry, and also free to move beyond that same anger, than with a negative person who is hard-wired with resentments and preexisting judgements. Their anger is so well hidden and denied—even from themselves—that it never comes up for the fresh air of love, conversation, and needed forgiveness.” 

Grace,
Alan

 

 

The Bible is a Library

The Bible is a Library

April 29, 2018  |  Easter, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on The Bible is a Library

Grace and peace to you

The Bible is not a book. The Bible is a library.

Precisely because it is a library and not a book means that one is not expected to start at the beginning (Genesis) and systematically read through to the end (Revelation). Besides being a mountainous task, this way of reading the Bible is probably more confusing than enlightening. It assumes that the books of the Bible were written in the order that they appear when they weren’t and it assumes that each follows neatly on from each other, which they don’t.

Some who are fascinated by “end times” like to start by reading the book of Revelation but this is equally unwise because the book of Revelation is basically a tapestry of scriptural threads gathered from all over the Bible (library) and sewn together. Not knowing anything about the individual threads will make it impossible to understand the full tapestry.

Another unhelpful way to read scripture is to flip the pages and randomly stop wherever one does to read the first verse that comes into focus. This is like playing biblical roulette. It is treating the Bible as a giant deck of tarot cards that are miraculously meant to direct us to the answer of our life. It is no more helpful than doing the same with a comic book or a Shakespearean play.

So if not at the beginning and if not at the end then where does one begin when it comes to the Bible?

I suggest to start in the middle. Well at least close to the middle. This means that we start with the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And out of the four it is perhaps easiest to start with Mark. Mark is short and to the point. Matthew and Luke use Mark as a guide but add their own solo pieces while John adds an entire orchestra.

Together with Mark I suggest a tiny slither of a book from the biblical library. It stands near the end and is called First John. This thin book contains the most beautiful summary of the Good News. The words are so simple that they reach a level of profoundness that is beyond comparison:

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
[1 John 4: 7-12]

These words are worthy of our pause…
Alan

April 22, 2018  |  Easter, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on

Grace to you

Imagine an artist. Let’s say, an amazing painter. This artist paints with oils in textures and colours that are simply breathtaking. To watch the artist at work is to watch a prayer being prayed visually. Only a poet could describe their painting with any sense of accuracy. Now imagine this artist had a child.

The young child had no interest in drawing or colouring-in or painting, yet the child loved to play with plaster-seen. As the child grew in years so the child grew in skill as a sculpture – in clay, wood and stone.

Now what do you think is more likely: the artist being angry their child did not become a painter or the artist celebrating that there is another artist in the family, be it in a different genre?

Surely the parent would celebrate rather than be angry! Surely we would be shocked were this not the case, especially if the parent were to curse their child’s eternal future because they became an artist in a different field to themselves. If the parent were to resent their child’s chosen discipline we would probably question whether the parent possesses the spirit of an artist at all, regardless of how beautifully they paint.

Now let us transfer this brief route of reasoning to faith.

Imagine a believer. Let’s say a Christian believer whose child grows up and does not believe as they believe – perhaps the child’s belief finds form in a different denomination or religion or in a practice outside of defined religion.

Will the parent celebrate or be angry? If we are not as sure about this as we are about the artist mentioned earlier – then we would do well to pause and ponder why this is so. This will reveal a great deal about what we believe about faith and God and our parental responsibilities.

A parent is never to enforce an art or faith form on their child. No more than a parent should ever force their child to fall in love with a particular person. A parent’s deepest responsibility is to live out their own art or faith form as passionately and faithfully as their integrity demands. To witness a parent’s passion, faithfulness and integrity is an awesome gift. A gift that gives the child courage to be the artist – the believer and the lover as their own integrity demands. This is always beautiful to behold.

Grace
Alan

Spirit of Resurrection

Spirit of Resurrection

April 15, 2018  |  Easter, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Spirit of Resurrection

Grace to you

The philosopher Susan Griffin tells a beautiful story that encapsulates the spirit of resurrection:

“A story from a survivor of the holocaust: Along with many others who crowd the bed of a large truck, the surrealist poet Robert Desnos is being taken away from the barracks of the concentration camp where he has been held prisoner. Leaving the barracks, the mood is somber; everyone knows the truck is headed for the gas chambers. And when the truck arrives no one can speak at all; even the guards fall silent. But this silence is soon interrupted by an energetic man, who jumps into the line and grabs one of the condemned. Improbable as it is, Desnos reads the man’s palm.

Oh, he says, I see you have a very long lifeline. And you are going to have three children. He is exuberant. And his excitement is contagious. First one man, then another, offers up his hand, and the prediction is for longevity, more children, abundant joy.

As Desnos reads more palms, not only does the mood of the prisoners change but that of the guards too. How can one explain it? Perhaps the element of surprise has planted a shadow of doubt in their minds. If they told themselves these deaths were inevitable, this no longer seems inarguable. They are in any case so disoriented by this sudden change of mood among those they are about to kill that they are unable to go through with the executions. So all the men, along with Desnos, are packed back onto the truck and taken back to the barracks. Desnos has saved his own life and the lives of others by using his imagination.

Because I am seized by the same despair as my contemporaries, for several days this story poses a question in my mind. Can the imagination save us? Robert Desnos was famous for his belief in the imagination. He believed it could transform society. And what a wild leap this was, at the mouth of the gas chambers, to imagine a long life! In his mind he simply stepped outside the world as it was created by the SS.

In the interest of realism, this story must be accompanied by another. Desnos did not survive the camps. He died of typhus a few days after the liberation. His death was one among millions, men, women, and children who died despite countless creative acts of survival and the deepest longings to live.

In considering what is possible for the future one must be careful not to slide into denial. Imagination can so easily be trapped by the wish to escape painful facts and unbearable conclusions. The New Age idea that one can wish oneself out of any circumstance, disease, or bad fortune is not only sadly disrespectful toward suffering, it is also, in the end, dangerous if escape replaces awareness.”

~ Susan Griffin

Resurrection is the ultimate liberation of the imagination. Yet, like imagination, resurrection is not at odds with realism but rather it adds depth to realism and it never disrespectfully denies the Cross in the world … and therein saves us.

Practice resurrection,
Alan

Who are we?

Who are we?

April 8, 2018  |  Easter, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Who are we?

Grace and Peace

“Who are we?” “What does it mean to be human?” This is the ever-present question that every person and generation is called to wrestle with.

Depending on where and when we ask this question will in some ways determine what we discover or uncover. Quite often we are forced to ask this question in moments of death and tragedy and great vulnerability. I guess it is because in these moments our humanity feels most exposed and most in need of being held in renewed understanding.

Calvary is one such place that begs for our humanity to be understood.

In the shadow of the Cross we are convicted to ask: “Who are we?”

The Cross answers in haunting and hopeful tones about our humanness.

Hauntingly the Cross declares: “We are those who all carry the cruel capacity to crucify”. Hopefully the Cross announces: “We are those who all carry the powerful potential to love”. Hauntingly we can cowardly and lovelessly inflict suffering on others and hopefully we can courageously and lovingly respond to suffering.

According to the Cross, we are not one or the other. We are one and the other. We are both with each taking turns to lead and be led although almost certainly not in equal measure; but who is to know for certain.

Yet we are tempted to forget that we are both. This is true in how we think of ourselves as well as how we think of others. For some reason we are drawn to a singular narrative or truth. The “one or the other”.

“Both” seems too much for us to hold onto. In so doing we credit one of the narratives as all-powerful, in that it dismisses and even deletes the other. This over-powering narrative actually says more about us and our own needs, fears and prejudice than anything else.

This “one or the other” approach regularly crystalises in relation to those we most revere as well as those we most fear. We have seen this play itself out in South Africa this past week. We tend to paint our heros as untouchably perfect and our villains as altogether evil. When we do this we deny the rich and disturbing truth of their humanity revealed by the Cross.

We not only deny what the Cross reveals of our humanity but we deny what the biblical narrative reveals as a whole. Think about it, every biblical character of any significance crisscrosses between saint and sinner repeatedly. In these Easter days think of Peter as just one example: Peter is the one who confessed Christ to be the Messiah, but he was also the one who Jesus bluntly told to “get behind me Satan”. Peter denied even knowing Jesus and yet was named by Jesus as the Rock upon which the church would be built.

The honesty of the biblical narrative is what makes us return to it time and again. We return to read it and most importantly to be read by it. Its ability to hold light and dark, weed and wheat, disciple and satan, tax-collector and evangelist all together is what enables us to deepen our understanding of who we are.

Grace,
Alan

Christ is risen!

Christ is risen!

April 1, 2018  |  Easter, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Christ is risen!

Grace to you

Today we will begin worship with the joyful announcement: Christ is risen! And the instant response: Christ is risen indeed!

Yes indeed, Christ is risen and roaming, seeking the lost and searching for the lonely, convicting the stubborn and humbling the proud, liberating the oppressed and embracing the marginalised, touching the outcast and healing the broken, en-couraging the fearful and even giving birth to people again and again … and again.

Yes Jesus is risen indeed and he is still coming out of the tomb to call us by name to new life.

In a sermon two weeks ago I read from St Augustine’s Confessions – here are his words. I invite you to read them in the light of Resurrection. In the light of Jesus seeking Augustine out from the inside and releasing (resurrecting) Augustine to fall in love – better late than never. Augustine’s freshly “fallen-in-love-life” is a beautiful sign of Jesus’ living and loving presence in the world.

Where did I find you in order to make your acquaintance in the first place? You could not have been in my memory before I learned to know you. Where then could I have found you in order to learn of you, if not in yourself, far above me? “Place” has here no meaning: further away from you or toward you we may travel, but place there is none. O Truth, you hold sovereign sway over all who turn to you for counsel, and to all of them you respond at the same time, however diverse their pleas.

Clear is your response, but not all hear it clearly. They all appeal to you about what they want, but do not always hear what they want to hear. Your best servant is the one who is less intent on hearing from you what accords with his own will, and more on embracing with his will what he has heard from you.

Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you! Lo, you were within, but I outside, seeking there for you, and upon the shapely things you have made I rushed headlong – I, misshapen. You were with me, but I was not with you. They held me back far from you, those things which would have no being, were they not in you. You called, shouted, broke through my deafness; you flared, blazed, banished my blindness; you lavished your fragrance, I gasped; and now I pant for you; I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst; you touched me, and I burned for your peace. When at last I cling to you with my whole being there will be no more anguish or labour for me, and my life will be alive indeed, alive because filled with you.

Grace, Alan

Living in the in between times

Living in the in between times

April 30, 2017  |  Easter, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Living in the in between times

Before the invention of artificial light, humans were said to sleep up to fourteen hours in the night. Bodies followed the cycle of light provided by the sun and the moon. Today, it is a miracle for many to achieve the much hoped for eight hours of sleep. Yet, interestingly, what we lack today in comparison to the sleep of ancient of days, is the time in between wakefulness and deep sleep. The fourteen hours of rest experienced before the invention of artificial light, were not consecutive hours of deep sleep. It would be common for a window of a couple of hours of rest before sleep, one would wake up in the night and lay in a restful state, and wake again in the morning early with a window for rest before the sun would rise. 1

During this time, in between wakefulness and deep sleep, the meanings of dreams were said to be woven into being. It was a time where the mind was breathing, weaving, creating because it had found rest. Rest is something we are not oriented towards. It might be for some that it is the uncomfortableness of stillness. For others, it might be the fear of what people will say if we pry ourselves away from the wheel of busy-ness ever whirling before us in the world of work. Finding ourselves at rest in the in between times is important in that it is where wisdom for being is born.  Wisdom is heard in the quiet moments, it is where deep is able to call out to deep. It is about how we sleep, but it is also about how we find our rest.

There is a rhythm of life in the Christian faith that honors quiet, stillness, centered moments of finding our very being at rest in the mighty hands of God. Richard Rohr, in an interview with Krista Tippet for her “On Being” podcast shares that being a contemplative is about “learning how to live in Deep Time—learning how to rest there and not be wrapped up in chronological time. What we learn,” he names “is that it all passes away.” Rohr talks about the importance of finding ourselves living in “Kairos time” instead of chronological time, the importance of understanding that moments of significance happen when we find ourselves living deeply now. This is so counter-intuitive to the way the world is oriented in these days. Busy-ness to the point of no time for rest, is affirmed.

The researcher who determined the likelihood of four-teen hours of sleep before artificial light, Clark Strand, claimed that the state in between, the space of rest, was like a “fossil of human consciousness.”2 Rather than trying to return to fourteen hours of sleep though, he shares that those who want to experience a move towards the consciousness of the restful state, should spend time where “darkness and sleep are set free from artificial light.” He is essentially, suggesting the importance of finding ways to unplug, in order to find true rest. Allowing our minds to rest, allows for the possibility of the fullness of time, the Kairos time, or what Richard Rohr named “Deep Time” to be what we experience in the now. More sleep is good, but it is more about how we find our time of daily rest in the in between. Busy-ness, artificial light, and distractions of every sort, can keep us from the quiet that used to be woven into the night. It can keep us from experiencing the awakening of true light.

O weaver of life, of sleepfulness and wakefulness, may our minds quiet and our spirits find deep peace in the place where we are able to find our rest in you. Awaken us for the living of these days, with your true light. Amen.

With you on the journey,
Michelle

____________________________________________

1Strong reliance on Barbara Brown Taylor, Learning to Walk in the Dark
2Clark Strand, “Turn out the Lights”

 

More expensive to be poor

More expensive to be poor

April 23, 2017  |  Easter, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on More expensive to be poor

Occupying Woodstock Hospital

Picture: Ashraf Hendricks/GroundUp (Creative Commons License CC BY-ND 4.0) 


Grace and peace to you and through you

Over the past few weeks Reclaim the City has occupied the vacant Helen Bowden building and Woodstock Hospital as an act of peaceful civil disobedience. The purpose of Reclaim the City is to challenge and change the Apartheid spatial planning that continues to shape our lives through the development of affordable housing within the city of Cape Town.

Affordable housing in well-located areas are a necessity if we are ever going to seriously address the legacy of Apartheid politics and economics. This is true especially in Cape Town, which remains more segregated than other cities in South Africa.

For those working in low wage jobs to be living miles away in places like Blikkiesdorp and Wolwerivier, is to stretch their minimum wages beyond breaking point. They are not only far from their place of work but also good schools and reliable medical care.

This points to the double whammy of being poor: it is more expensive to be poor than to be rich. Those with the least amount of money live furthest away from work, which means that they spend more money on getting to work. The far distances affect the prices of just about everything they need to purchase to live. A loaf of bread in Blikkiesdorp is more expensive than in the city. Therefore the poor have less to save and as a result it is less likely for their situation to ever change. While the opposite is true for the wealthy! This stretches the inequalities of yesterday into the future.

In this situation it is difficult not to become hopeless. Hopelessness is the absence of any reason why tomorrow will be any better than today. And hopelessness ignored will end in rage! And then…

And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away.

And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need.

And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.

The great owners ignored the three cries of history. The land fell into fewer hands, the number of the dispossessed increased, and every effort of the great owners was directed at repression. The money was spent for arms, for gas to protect the great holdings, and spies were sent to catch the murmuring of revolt so that it might be stamped out. The changing economy was ignored; and only means to destroy revolt were considered, while the causes of revolt went on.

The tractors which throw men out of work, the belt lines which carry loads, the machines which produce, all were increased; and more and more families scampered on the highways, looking for crumbs from the great holdings, lusting after the land beside the roads. The great owners formed associations for protection and they met to discuss ways to intimidate, to kill, to gas.

And always they were in fear of a principal–three hundred thousand–if they ever move under a leader–the end. Three hundred thousand, hungry and miserable; if they ever know themselves, the land will be theirs and all the gas, all the rifles in the world won’t stop them.

And the great owners, who had become through their holdings both more and less than men, ran to their destruction, and used every means that in the long run would destroy them. Every little means, every violence, every raid on a Hooverville, every deputy swaggering through a ragged camp put off the day a little and cemented the inevitability of the day.

~ John Steinbeck: Grapes of Wrath

Praying that our conscience be resurrected lest our crucifixion be inevitable.

Grace,
Alan

Beam me up Scotty

Beam me up Scotty

May 17, 2015  |  Easter, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Beam me up Scotty

Grace and peace to you

Thursday past was Ascension Day. The “beam me up Scotty” moment in the Christian Calendar. Well actually not really. Ascension Day has more to do with theology than geography. In other words Ascension addresses the question of ‘who is Jesus?’ rather than ‘where is Jesus?’. An Anglican priest, Keith Ward has said: “We now know that if Jesus began ascending 2 000 years ago he would not yet have left the Milky Way — unless he attained warp speed.” I find that hilarious to imagine!

You will know that it was only in 1543 that Copernicus corrected the false cosmology of his day by revealing that the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way round. And today we have the Hubble Telescope which some hail as the most productive scientific instrument ever invented revealing to us the wondrous ever-expanding cosmos as it is able to see 4 billion times further than the naked eye and enlightening for the first time to our 13.7 billion year old cosmic self.

So we should unlock Ascension from the false cosmology of ancient time. Ascension is not about Jesus defying gravity but rather defying and defeating the principalities and powers that weigh down on the shoulders of the marginalised poor and vulnerable of society with a force heavier than gravity.

Ascension Day is a radically (deep rooted) political day as the early disciples of Jesus reached the conviction to start singing that Jesus, and not Caesar, was Lord. It was a very disturbing day for the powers that be! And of course it was a very dangerous day for the followers of Jesus who were now deemed a great threat by the powers. But more than dangerous it was hope-full. Full of a hope that was able to disperse their fear and despair and en-courage them to face the danger. Their hope rested in trusting that Jesus reigns — that Jesus is the power above all other powers. That’s why we continue to have hope for our land and world because the powers that oppress have been checked by a greater power. The early disciples knowing they were on the winning side were released to imagine a new world and creatively live it out.

Grace, Alan

Repentance = Healing

Repentance = Healing

May 10, 2015  |  Easter, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Repentance = Healing

At an anti-FIFA protest on Mother’s Day, May 11 2014, a mother fights police trying to arrest her son. She cries: “We cannot accept that the working poor youth continue to be terrorized and murdered throughout the whole country by the military police. Nor can we accept that every time we decide to lift our voices against injustice, we decided to protest and speak out, the state calls ‘security forces’ to repress us. They treat us like criminals, accuse us of ‘conspiracy,’ ‘vandalism’ etc. No! We are not criminals! We do not accept the criminalization of social struggles! We demand the right to free expression! ”


Grace and peace to you …

Except for a week of sleepless jetlagged nights, it is good to be back home! On my trip to the U.S. I returned to Holden Village (www.holdenvillage.org) in Washington State. It remains such a beautiful place of inspiration and hope for me. Some of you will know that Holden Village is a Lutheran ministry situated high up in the North Cascade Mountain range close to the Canadian border where there is no cell phone coverage which is glorious. The Village welcomes people of all ages, ethnicities, faiths and backgrounds, offering modest yet comfortable amenities in a wilderness setting. Life in the village is punctuated with Bible Study and worship which is what I was involved with while there.

Holden Village used to be a copper mine until it closed down in the 1950s and over the past three years they have undergone a huge project of mine remediation. This is basically big business practicing repentance.

The Holden mine remediation project is a multi-million dollar effort to clean up contaminants (potential threats to human and environmental health) that were left from the Howe Sound Holden Mine era (1937-57). Rio Tinto, one of the world’s largest mining groups, is managing and paying for the cleanup under the supervision of the U.S. Forest Service.

Witnessing the remediation process is both hopeful and disturbing. It is disturbing to realise the extent of humanity’s wounding of the planet. Wounds that bleed many years after the last cut was made. Wounds that ultimately lead to the wounding (poisoning) of our own selves. Yet hopeful to see that we can begin to act justly towards the earth and do the costly work of restoring what we have destroyed.

Repentance is always going to be costly. The only thing more costly than repentance is not repenting.

Grace, Alan