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

Resurrection Moments

Resurrection Moments

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

Grace to you

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

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

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

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

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

Grace,
Alan

 

Each breath a precious gift

Each breath a precious gift

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

Grace and Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

A faint tracing,
Alan

#MeToo Confession

#MeToo Confession

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

This grace to you

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

 

An Al Chet for the #MeToo Era

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

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

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

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

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

 

An Ashamnu for #MeToo

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

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

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

The colour blue

The colour blue

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

Grace and peace to you

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

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

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

This blue is the light that got lost.

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

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

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

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

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

I invite you to read that a few times over …

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

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

Dare we trust …

With light that got lost,
Alan