A God of few words

A God of few words

February 22, 2015  |  Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on A God of few words

Roy going up Chappies
12/12/1945 — 17/02/2015


Grace and Peace to you

As with last Sunday, today’s Gospel reading resounds with the voice of the Divine. Last week we heard it from on top of a mountain: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” [Mark 9:7] and today we hear it from the Jordan River bank: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” [Mark 1:11].

These are the only two moments in the Gospels that we get to ‘overhear’ Jesus hearing his Heavenly Parent’s voice. The first time is at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Baptism) and the second as Jesus turns his face towards Jerusalem (Cross).

Note the repetitive nature of what is being said. God is a God of few words. It is as if the Divine knows what Jesus needs to know more than anything else, namely, whose child he is and that he is loved.

The other day I asked the new group I am working with at the Carpenter’s Shop which two things they would want their children to remember from them more than anything else. The overwhelming majority of them said: “They must know where they come from/they must know that I am their father … and they must know that I love them … yes I will tell them again that I love them.”

So there we have it. Parents on earth and heaven agree! Knowing who we belong to and that we are beloved is not only vital but it gives our lives grounding validity and purposeful vitality. It is the foundation of faithfulness.

This Lent we are invited to contemplate on the grace-full truth of our belonging and belovedness by the Divine.

Grace, Alan


Prayerful Preparation

“Contemplation cannot construct a new world by itself. Contemplation does not feed the hungry; it does not clothe the naked … and it does not return the sinner to peace, truth, and union with God.

But without contemplation we cannot see what we do in the apostolate. Without contemplation we cannot understand the significance of the world in which we must act. Without contemplation we remain small, limited, divided, partial: we adhere to the insufficient, permanently united to our narrow group and its interests, losing sight of justice and charity, seized by the passions of the moments, and, finally, we betray Christ.

Without contemplation, without the intimate, silent, secret pursuit of truth through love, our action loses itself in the world and becomes dangerous.”

~ Thomas Merton

Believing the right way

Believing the right way

April 6, 2014  |  Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Believing the right way

It is difficult to respect and value and appreciate people with whom we profoundly disagree. Conversely it is easy to undermine and belittle them. It is easy to over-simplify their views and punctuate our reviews of their standpoint with false characterisations. It is easy to label them so we don’t have to take them seriously.

This is true in the Church as it is outside the Church. I have witnessed (and participated in) this in regard to debates around conscription, abortion and the death penalty over the years and more recently about same-sex relationships. In other words it can happen that we “stand up for Jesus” in un-Christ-like ways. We forget that there is no commandment to be right! But there are plenty of commandments to be loving.

In these debates the emphasis has largely been on Orthodoxy – the word ‘orthodoxy’ is derived from the Greek roots ortho meaning ‘correct’ and doxa meaning ‘belief’, and so has generally been understood as referring to the importance of right belief. This emphasis makes it difficult to allow space for the divergent convictions of others as difference is experienced as a violation of one’s own conviction and integrity. Yet such a concern betrays a distorted understanding of the integrity of the church as vesting solely in the orthodox beliefs that the church upholds.

The teaching of Jesus demonstrates that right belief is not enough to live a transformed life that bears faithful testimony to the love and goodness of God. The deeper truth of authentic orthodoxy is that it is less focused on the importance of right belief than it is on the importance of believing in the right way – which is, of course, the way of love as shown to us by Jesus.          

In other words, the way in which we hold our beliefs matters every bit as much as the actual beliefs themselves. If our convictions are expressed in arrogant, judgmental and domineering ways, then regardless of what we believe, there will be nothing of Christ evident in us. But if our convictions are expressed with humility, selflessness and compassion, whatever inadequacies there may be in the content of our theological understanding, the spirit of Christ will be evident in whatever we do.

This is the deeper meaning of the orthodoxy to which the church is called. It also offers great hope to us in the midst of the same-sex debate. For it is possible to faithfully hold fast to our gospel convictions as our conscience dictates, but in a Christ-like way that affords others the space to do likewise. Far from compromising the integrity of the church, such a way of believing deepens our credibility as those who claim to be the followers of Christ.

If the Methodist Church of Southern Africa is serious about allowing the expression of diverse convictions on the issue of same-sex relationships, it needs to accept that such a move will not be without considerable difficulty and pain, even while holding the promise of rich and joyful discoveries of what it means to be the church.

The ongoing process of us engaging this issue with honesty and integrity will require much humility, compassion and prayer. Mistakes will certainly be made and injuries inflicted. There will be those on both sides of the debate that will accuse the church of compromising the values of the Kingdom. In the midst of it all will be real women and men whose sense of place and belonging within the church will rest crucially on the sorts of decisions that are made.

Challenging though this task before us may be, the opportunity that it presents is truly immense. In a world increasingly characterised by sectarian intolerance, we can offer a life-giving witness as to the true nature of Christian unity – a unity that is not devoid of disagreement or divergence, but rather seeks to make space for the ‘disturbing other’.

Such a radical hospitality of the spirit will surely open us to the sacred in our midst, and will enable the common life we share together as the body of Christ to point more faithfully to the exquisite beauty of an infinite God in whose image we have all been made.

Grace, Alan

This is an extract from DEWCOM [Doctrine Ethics Worship Committee]

Denials and Taboos

Denials and Taboos

March 30, 2014  |  Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Denials and Taboos

The Trinity of Water — Food — Energy is vital for our living.

Of the three, water is the most important because without it we would not have food or energy. Therefore our primary private and policy concern should be to preserve water.

Oh and Remember: We cannot grow water.

 

LENTEN PRAYER OF PREPARATION
Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something more than interesting or entertaining or thoughtful. Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something awesome, something real. Speak to my condition, Lord and change me somewhere inside where it matters, a change that will burn and tremble and heal and explode me into tears or laughter or love that throbs or screams or keeps a terrible, cleansing silence and dares the dangerous deeds. Let something happen which is my real self, Oh God. Amen. [Ted Loder]

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I don’t know about you but not a day goes by where I do not encounter some issue connected to the colour of my or someone else’s skin. It could be overhearing a conversation about “What if Oscar was black and he accidently fired a gun in a public restaurant?” Or it could be me walking through a “Musicians only” access point at the Jazz concert on Wednesday evening without so much as being questioned while others were stopped and sent round. Or when there is fighting outside my flat at night I know within myself that I feel far more entitled and confident to intervene when it is two black people fighting than when it is two white people fighting (in fact then I may decide to simply mind my own business). Sometimes it is simply a conversation I have with myself in my head.

This past week I was asked to participate in some research about white privilege. In doing so I was reminded of the great paper written by Peggy McIntosh in 1989 called, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack. Here is a brief extract:

“Through the work to bring materials from Women’s Studies into the rest of the curriculum, I have often noticed men’s unwillingness to grant that they are over-privileged, even though they may grant that women are disadvantaged. They may say they will work to improve women’s status, in the society, the university, or the curriculum, but they can’t or won’t support the idea of lessening men’s.

Denials which amount to taboos surround the subject of advantages which men gain from women’s disadvantages. These denials protect male privilege from being fully acknowledged, lessened or ended. Thinking through unacknowledged male privilege as a phenomenon, I realized that since hierarchies in our society are interlocking, there was most likely a phenomenon of white privilege which was similarly denied and protected.

As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something which puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage.

I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege. So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what it is like to have white privilege.

I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless backpack of special provisions, maps, passports, code books, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.

Describing white privilege makes one newly accountable. As we in Women’s Studies work to reveal male privilege and ask men to give up some of their power, so one who writes about having white privilege must ask, “Having described it, what will I do to lessen or end it?”

After I realized the extent to which men work from a base of unacknowledged privilege, I understood that much of their oppressiveness was unconscious. Then I remembered the frequent charges from women of colour that white women whom they encounter are oppressive. I began to understand why we are justly seen as oppressive, even when we don’t see ourselves that way. I began to count the ways in which I enjoy unearned skin privilege and have been conditioned into oblivion about its existence.

My schooling gave me no training in seeing myself as an oppressor, as an unfairly advantaged person, or as a participant in a damaged culture. I was taught to see myself as an individual whose moral state depended on her individual moral will.

My schooling followed the pattern my colleague Elizabeth Minnich has pointed out: whites are taught to think of their lives as a morally neutral, normative, and average, also ideal, so that when we work to benefit others, this is seen as work which will allow ‘them’ to be more like ‘us’.”

Where else is more suited than the Church to have conversations about these matters? Look out for the next Anti-Bias workshop.

Grace, Alan

Radical hospitality

Radical hospitality

March 23, 2014  |  Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Radical hospitality

Prime Circle ~ 28 March at 20:00 ~ CMM Sanctuary

Last Sunday evening we once again hosted Moonlightmass cyclists, and skateboarders. What I mean by host is that we welcome Moonlightmass participants, completing their ride from Green Point Stadium zigzagging through the city to Greenmarket Square, into the sanctuary for free cup cakes and if they wish they can purchase coffee too.

On Sunday evening we added the gift of live Jazz — performed by Louise Howlett and Albert Combrink (who by the way will soon be introducing Midweek Mix at CMM on Wednesday evenings, including a Jazz Mix of the likes of Gershwin, Porter, Arlen, Sondheim and a Classical Mix of the likes of Debussy, Faure, Bizet and Puccini).

This coming Friday 28th the band Prime Circle will be putting on an acoustic show in the likes of the Just Jinger show we hosted a couple of months back. So why are we doing this? Well as I read the Gospels I see that Jesus met people where they were at Jesus met people in the ordinariness of their life — some were fishing, others were drawing water from a well while others were attending a wedding. Jesus broke down the false divide that exists between the sacred and the secular and so should we.

Jesus invited people into his presence and into the synagogue and temple who were not normally part of the guest list and so should we.

Jesus invites us to love our neighbour and with that goes loving our neighbourhood. One way of loving our neighbourhood is to join in when our neighbourhood does stuff — especially the stuff that gets us out of our private individualistic lives and moves us to bump into each other.

Lastly, many, many people outside the Church believe the church to be exclusive, judgemental and hypocritical. And we must confess that these judgements are not without substance. We have a long way to go to heal the damage of exclusive and judgemental religion. By inviting people on their own terms into the sanctuary they may discover a hint of Jesus’ radical hospitality among us. Well this is my hope and may it be our prayer.

Grace, Alan

The Uriah Challenge

The Uriah Challenge

March 16, 2014  |  Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on The Uriah Challenge

Lenten Prayer of Preparation
Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something more than interesting or entertaining or thoughtful.

Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something awesome, something real. Speak to my condition, Lord and change me somewhere inside where it matters, a change that will burn and tremble and heal and explode me into tears or laughter or love that throbs or screams or keeps a terrible, cleansing silence and dares the dangerous deeds. Let something happen which is my real self, Oh God. Amen.

 ~ Ted Loder

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Once again my Wednesday morning bible study with some of the interns at the Carpenter’s Shop was a mixture of disheartening despair and encourage-ing hope. Let me explain.

We read together the story of David and Bathsheba — you remember when David commits not only adultery but rape of Bathsheba — resulting in her pregnancy. David then tries to cover it all up by inviting her husband Uriah back from the battlefield with the hope that Uriah will “lie with her” so no one would know who the real father of her child was. Uriah refuses to indulge in any pleasure and choosing rather to remain in solidarity with his battle weary troops he sleeps outside. David then instructs Joab — a military general — to place Uriah at the front of the fiercest fighting and then withdraw leaving him exposed to the enemy. Joab follows David’s orders and Uriah is killed.

There are four characters in this story — David the king who abuses his power. Bathsheba the victim of abuse. Uriah the noble one and Joab who just followed orders without a question.

I then asked the group to think of times when they could identify with each of these characters. This started a lively discussion with a small group of the young men answering almost in unison:

“Ya when I have a gun and when I have money then I am like David, and I take what I want — even someone’s life.”

“When the guys arrive outside my place in a car and tell me to get in because they want to go and rob a place or kill someone and I don’t want to get in but I have no choice … then I am like Bathsheba.”

“When someone says lets smoke a lolly and I say no because I want to stay off drugs — then I am like Uriah.”

“When they say to me I must take the gun and kill that one to prove myself to them or when they tell me I must take the blame for a crime because I have less on my record … then I am like Joab.”

When I hear these responses I can’t believe how painfully different some people’s life-reality is to mine. I am reminded what a sheltered and privileged life I live.

I also stand in awe at their courage to be more like Uriah knowing even that it may cost their life.

Grace, Alan

Let something essential happen

Let something essential happen

March 9, 2014  |  Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Let something essential happen

 “Musing takes place in a kind of meadowlands of the imagination, a part of the imagination that has not yet been ploughed, developed, or put to any immediately practical use … time spent is not work time yet without that time the mind becomes sterile, dull, domesticated. The fight for free space – for wilderness and public space – must be accompanied by a fight for free time to spend wandering in that space.”

Rebecca Solnit in Wanderlust: A History of Walking

This LENT let’s spend time wandering in the meadowlands of the imagination.

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Lenten Prayer of Preparation

Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something more than interesting or entertaining or thoughtful.

Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something awesome, something real. Speak to my condition, Lord and change me somewhere inside where it matters, a change that will burn and tremble and heal and explode me into tears or laughter or love that throbs or screams or keeps a terrible, cleansing silence and dares the dangerous deeds. Let something happen which is my real self, Oh God. Amen. [Ted Loder]

______________________________________________

On Thursday I presented a class to a group of Master’s students at UCT. I am guessing most of the students in the class were around 25 years old. I really enjoyed being in their energetic company and stimulating environment! Education really is a precious gift.

So I asked them where they saw themselves on the socio-economic class – upper class, middle class or lower class. Everyone said they fitted into the middle class.

Then I asked them if I wanted them to come and work for me after they graduate what would they be willing to work for. “Anyone willing to work for R10 000 p.m.?” There was no one willing to work for that sum. There was one person willing to work for R15 000 and only a handful willing to work for R20 000, but most were still hoping for more.

The trap was laid. (I felt like a certain advocate …)

Then I informed them that only about 10% of South Africans earn more than R10 000 p.m. So earning anything above R10 000 p.m. immediately places one in the top 10%. And there is nothing “middle class” about the top 10%.

I also grew up believing I was middle class – yet I too am well into the top 10%. In fact with my education, housing, secure job, car etc. I am probably knocking on the door of the top 1%. Just like the UCT students I struggle to confess the truth of my financial life: “Hi my name is Alan, and I am RICH.” But only when I confess the truth of who I am can I begin to have a more honest relationship with my money and a more generous relationship with those around me.

Secondly, only when I realise that I am on the top and not in the middle can I perhaps re-channel my energy from trying to reach the top (because I am there already) to making the system more just and compassionate for all.

Thirdly, only then may I be convicted and convinced that I can live with less myself – because after all so many others live with less than I do. When I am liberated to live with less I may be healed of my anxiety that comes with thinking I always need more.

May this be our experience this LENT.

Grace, Alan