The Unexpected Wait

The Unexpected Wait

December 10, 2017  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on The Unexpected Wait

There is a coffee shop in Kuilsrivier, Suzies Coffee Shop. It is quite a journey to get there from the City Centre. Depending on traffic, it can take almost an hour. Journeys like this one, can seem too far, not worth the effort, but sometimes ways that require extra effort, and a long wait are worth the struggle in the end. This coffee shop serves more than coffee to the community, it is also in a way, an incubator of hope. The proprietor, Uncle Willy, has a heart for his community. He and his wife opened the coffee shop in 2012. It began as a small venture and over time, they have built on new sections.

There are several quaint areas to enjoy a cup of coffee or a bite to eat, but there is also a large community room that is space that Uncle Willy shared he hoped people in the community would make their home. Community conversations and gatherings happen in this space quite regularly and different empowerment groups meet in the coffee shop throughout the week. Uncle Willy worked for many years in the disability sector and is the designer and producer of the world’s first successful Braille Ballot Template, which enabled visually impaired and blind persons to vote independently. His attention to those with disabilities is evident throughout, in that the bathrooms and entryways are fitted to receive those with special needs. There are even two rooms that are handicap accessible B&B units.

There is an old door that hangs in a hallway with historical pictures in it. Uncle Willy shared the stories of Steve Biko and a good friend of his, Peter Jones, who was arrested at the same time as Biko. He shared stories about the realities of the people in his community and his belief that they don’t need anything fancy, but they do need a space like this where they can come together and find themselves a part of their greater community. Most of the tables and furniture throughout the shop were made by either Uncle Willy or his brother from reclaimed wood. They aren’t fancy, but they are full of beautiful character.

There is a tree outside that provides shade for those who find their way to this special place and it was under this tree that Uncle Willy shared his journey of serving those with physical disabilities. He shared about his background in construction, and how the vision for the coffee shop came into being. People like Uncle Willy who are able to see possibility in the midst of great challenges, remind us of what hope looks like and they stretch our imaginations, reminding us that there are so many different ways to bless the world with the gifts we are given.

We are in the season of Advent. Advent in the Latin translates to, “coming” which means what we wait for is not here yet. Advent is the time when we wait with expectant hope, for the promise of something more. This journey to Kuilsrivier was long for a cup of coffee, but the wait brought with it an unexpected surprise. What a beautiful vision of people in a community coming together and honoring the love of God alive in them, by honoring each other and the community around them so well. May our Advent journeys give birth to unexpected blessings we realize in the wait!

With you on the journey,
Michelle

Gentle us open

Gentle us open

December 3, 2017  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Gentle us open

An Advent prayer by Ted Loader

Lord of Life and Light, help us not to fall in love with the darkness that separates us from you and from each other, but to watch large-eyed, wide-hearted, open-handed, eager-minded for you, to dream and hunger and squint and pray for the light of you and life for each other.

Lord, amidst our white-knuckled, furrow-faced busy-ness in this season, we realise deep within us that your gifts of mercy and light, peace and joy, grace upon grace can be received only if we are unclenched open. 

So this is our prayer, Lord: Open us!

Gentle us open, pry, shock, tickle, beguile, knock, amaze, squeeze, any wily way you can us open.

Open us to see your glory in the coming again of the light of each day, the light in babies’ eyes and lovers’ smiles, the light in the glaze of weariness that causes us to pause, the light of truth whenever spoken and done.

Open us to songs of angels in the thumping of traffic, in the rustle of shoppers, the canopy of pre-dawn silence, in the hum of hope, the wail of longing within us, in the cries of our brothers and sisters for justice and peace and in our own souls’ throb toward goodness.

Open us, then, to share the gifts you have given us and to the deep yearning to share them gladly and boldly, to sweat for justice, to pay the cost of attention, to initiate the exchange of forgiveness, to risk a new beginning free of past grievances, to engage with each other in the potluck of joy and to find the gifts of a larger love and deeper peace.

Open us, Lord of miracles of the ordinary, to the breath-giving, heart-pounding wonder of birth, a mother’s fierce love, a father’s tender fidelities, a baby’s barricade-dissolving burble and squeak, that we may be born anew ourselves into the “don’t be afraid” fullness of your image, the fullness of a just and joyful human community, the fullness of your kingdom, in the fullness of your time; through the eternal grace of your son, our brother Jesus. Amen.

Gentle us open!


O God be new to us once more,
that we become new for ourselves,
and for each other
and together try something new
for you in your world;
for Jesus sake,
and ours. 

Amen.

                                                                                                      

Ted Loder

 

Christ Reigns

Christ Reigns

November 26, 2017  |  Christ the King Sunday, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Christ Reigns

Grace and peace to you

Today is the “Reign of Christ” Sunday marking the end of the Christian year. Today liturgically / symbolically invites us to trust that after all is said and done Christ will reign on high. Put differently, it means that everything Jesus believed in and gave his life for will win in the end: love will face down fear, truth will win the race against the lies and justice will satisfy the hungry. Mercy will be without measure and the gentle will finally inherit the earth.

We have seen evidence of this in the past couple of days. Oppressors fall (and fall asleep!) while the God who neither sleeps nor slumbers fans the flames of freedom within the human hearts of the dispossessed. And the Spirit hovers over our imaginations with new visions of what justice and peace really look like. What was whispered is now declared from the rooftops. That which was feared is now laughed at. What was covered up is exposed. This is true in neighbouring Zimbabwe as it will be true once more in our own land. The final score will be in Jesus’ favour.

Knowing the end score before the end of the game en-courage-s us to be bold and faithful, especially when all the evidence suggests that a loss is inevitable. Knowing justice and truth and freedom will win encourages us to follow the light while it is still dark and speak-up while many still whisper in fear. The end in Jesus’ favour demands we stay in the game and not forsake the field where justice and mercy are being contested. None of us know when the final whistle will blow just as a few weeks ago no one on the planet could foresee the resignation of Robert Mugabe this past week… and besides it is not for us to know dates and times of end whistles.

We must not be naïve though. This game is not a friendly. The fight is fierce. The stakes are high. There have been casualties and sadly there will be more. Listen to how Prof. Njabulo Ndebele – an academic and chairperson of the Nelson Mandela Foundation – describes the desperate state of South Africa today:

“The government that was elected to act according to, support and promote law, order and constitutional rule, has abdicated that responsibility. It has itself become a thief that steals… Under this government, syndicated thieving has become the very purpose of government, because government has become an instrument that protects itself from the consequences of its own transgressions.”

It is against this tragic truth that we dare to proclaim Christ Reigns.

Grace,
Alan

Training our eyes not to avoid...

Training our eyes not to avoid…

November 19, 2017  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Training our eyes not to avoid…

The African proverb, “When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers most,” speaks of the reality of who ends up crushed in the midst of conflict and war. So often, it is the ones Jesus calls us to, the poor. With so much going on in our own context, it is easy to keep our eyes turned inward, but there are conflicts in the world from time to time that create an imperative for the eyes of all the world to turn.

Right now, there is a humanitarian crisis arising the likes of which the world has not witnessed in years.

Mark Lowcock, from the UN names that the famine in Yemen “will not be like the famine that we saw in South Sudan earlier in the year where tens of thousands of people were affected. It will not be like the famine which cost 250,000 people their lives in Somalia in 2011. It will be the largest famine the world has seen for many decades, with millions of victims.” The most tragic reality is that this famine will be man-made.

Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East and the people there rely on imported food items in order to survive. Because of the ongoing Civil War, air, land, and seaports have been closed. Humanitarian aid cannot reach the people who are in need of it desperately. They have already experienced the worst cholera epidemic in modern history, with 1 million people expected to be affected before the year ends. International donors are sending money in, but “humanitarian groups say any additional international aid is only a stopgap and have called for a political solution to end the war,” says Megan Palin.

Yemen is 6,354 kilometers away. It is too far for many to travel, but not too far to move to the center of our prayers, the center of the universe within our minds that we might be learning all we can about the realities for the people in Yemen, so that we can join the voices of the humanitarian agencies that are calling for the gates to be opened that aid might get in.

There is light enough in the love of God for more than one place in this world. We turn our eyes to the world in order that we might not lose compassion. Sharon Salzberg shares that, “compassion is the strength that rises out of seeing the true nature of suffering in the world. Compassion allows us to bear witness to that suffering, whether it is in ourselves or others without fear; it allows us to name injustice without hesitation, and to act strongly with all the skill at our disposal.”

To think that there are people 6,354 kilometers away on the brink of starvation, for being caught like the grass between elephants, only they are between other humans in conflict, humans who have allowed their hunger and thirst for power to desensitize them to the reality of others right in their midst. It is hard to keep our eyes trained on violence that leads to senseless death, but our common humanity requires it. May we be strengthened to hold in our hearts compassion enough for all the world, that leads us to action in the places where we are drawn to stand.

With you on the journey,
Michelle

Reading Scripture as Poetry

Reading Scripture as Poetry

November 12, 2017  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Reading Scripture as Poetry

Grace and peace to you

On Wednesday evenings a group of us gather in the hall for prayer practice. Our practice involves sitting together in silence for 30 minutes. Thereafter we practice stretching our imaginations by reflecting on a poem or two.

Learning to read poetry helps us to read scripture because both fiercely engage our imagination. Poetic imagination and “prophetic imagination” are close cousins. The first helps us practice the second. What the poet does with language under poetic license the prophet does with society under divine calling. Both unpick the locks that hold our sense of the possible captive. Both invite us with all of creation to be born afresh. Poets like prophets know that “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them” – Albert Einstein.

Last week we reflected on the poetic blessing (above) by John O’Donohue. In each verse this Irish poet gives us a task and a gift. Or more like a task that is a gift and a gift that is a task. Here is another one of his poems to prayerfully ponder. [Note: we don’t have to “get it” all in one go. Nibble on the juicy bits first, trusting that once we get a taste of it the tougher bits may soften].

A Morning Offering

I bless the night that nourished my heart
To set the ghosts of longing free
Into the flow and figure of dream
That went to harvest from the dark
Bread for the hunger no one sees.

All that is eternal in me
Welcome the wonder of this day,
The field of brightness it creates
Offering time for each thing
To arise and illuminate.

I place on the altar of dawn:
The quiet loyalty of breath,
The tent of thought where I shelter,
Wave of desire I am shore to
And all beauty drawn to the eye.

May my mind come alive today
To the invisible geography
That invites me to new frontiers,
To break the dead shell of yesterdays,
To risk being disturbed and changed.

May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.

John O’Donohue
(From To Bless the Space Between Us)

Grace, Alan

 

 

Redemption Song

Redemption Song

November 5, 2017  |  All Saints Day, Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Redemption Song

Grace and Peace

One of the psalms set for today is Psalm 107. It is a “redemption song” that recounts the myriads of occasions of the Lord’s steadfast love delivering a despairing people. A people lost, wandering aimlessly in desert wastes. A people hungry and thirsty, about to faint with fatigue. A people sitting in darkness, unable to see and stand. A people locked in leg irons, prisoner to the past in the present. A people broken and bent by hard labour. A people sick and dying of disease. A people tossed about on stormy seas drenched in fear. But then, interspersed between the trauma and tragedy the psalmist sings: “They then cried to the Lord in their trouble, and the Lord saved them from their distress. Let them thank the Lord for the Lord’s steadfast love and wonderful works to humankind.”

This redemption song was sung to en-courage all the despairing to doggedly resist their despair. To ‘vasbyt’ and keep the faith, the hope and the love when doubt, despair and fear monopolised the evidence on hand. Singing of redemption past was more than a mere act of memory. It was a protest. It was to re-member it to the now. To sing of redemption past was to subversively plant redemption into the soil of the present that would break open a new future.

Redemption may sound like a religious word to our modern-day ears but long ago it meant being set free for the sake of the just-ordering of society where everyone had enough and none was superior or inferior to the other.

As we witness “things fall apart …” in our present days, one redemption song we must not tire to sing into the present is that of our Constitution. Yes, our Constitution is a redemption song. The preamble of which encapsulates so succinctly and contextually the gospel’s call for redemption: the just and merciful ordering of society. It was written in the wake of what many called a miracle. A miracle because many thought it was impossible. As it was written before the cement of what was possible and impossible could set, it calls us to imagine again what some have stopped believing is possible in SA today: a truly just land and healed people. God’s steadfast love has not given up on us. Our past tells us the impossible is possible…again…and again. We must keep singing our redemption song:

We, the people of South Africa,
Recognise the injustices of our past;
Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;
Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and
Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.

We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to

  • Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
  • Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
  • Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
  • Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations. May God protect
    our people.

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika. Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso.
God seën Suid-Afrika. God bless South Africa.
Mudzimu fhatutshedza Afurika.
Hosi katekisa Afrika.

Alan

Amazwi Wethu

Amazwi Wethu

October 29, 2017  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Amazwi Wethu

It’s distressing that a march has to be organized to put before us the importance of improving education for children. Will it take another Soweto uprise to create the pressure needed for deeper engagement in the struggle? Friday afternoon, concerned citizens of Cape Town marched to the Parliament building. The march was organized by Equal Education, an NGO that describes themselves as a movement of learners, parents, and teachers striving for quality and equality in South African education through analysis and activism. They are organizers for change, working so that every child might enjoy the right due to them, simply to learn.

“Amazwi Wethu,” means our voices in isiXhosa. Where are our voices? Where are our cries? That communities have to form walking school buses to keep children safe on their way to school, that school aged children are being recruited to deal drugs on the campuses, that the infrastructures of some are in incredible disrepair, that the resources of some are limited, that the teachers of some are not resourced for the work, that young girls stay home for lack of access to feminine products in the communities of some…it is time for our voices to be heard saying, “enough!”

Edward Everett Hale is quoted as saying:

I am only one, but I am one.
I cannot do everything, but I can do something.
And I will not let what I cannot do interfere
with what I can do.

So often, when ideas are lifted up, an inordinate amount of time will be spent discussing all the reasons why a particular idea won’t work. This way of engagement is what I have come to call a symptom of the intellectualized faith of our day and age. We can become paralyzed in our action, by the thoughts that war within our minds. There is no better example of this, than the current water crisis in the Western Cape. One can spend hours debating all the things that won’t work and never leave people with the one thing they can do that will make a difference. In the end, we might allow our intellect to be on display, but what about the ground and its thirst? We cannot make a difference in every situation in the world, but each of us can do something. Can’t we work to do something for the children of this generation and the generations to come, that they might have an opportunity simply to learn in environments organized in the best possible way?

The movement being organized by Equal Education is a call for system change within the system that delivers education to children. The system is off line if it is not working for all, so it is time for engagement in the work of making it right. If we are not a system person, we sometimes want to leave system issues to system people. With no Mandela, Gandhi, or MLK Jr in our day and age, the changers of the system for the world’s children is each of us.

Oh, that every child might have such an advocate, the voice of all the people on their side! Oh, that we might witness the day when NGO’s like Equal Education are shut down not for lack of resources, but for lack of need. Where are our voices, Amazwi Whethu, for the children of this city, this country, this world? If we struggle with the leaders of this day, let us be about the business of rising up new leaders in the children of this world, that they might continue in the work of shining light upon the places where the residue of apartheid continues to divide.

To join Equal Education’s movement: https://equaleducation.org.za

With you on the journey,
Michelle

Violation provokes violence

Violation provokes violence

October 22, 2017  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Violation provokes violence

SA Navy to spend R60 million on weapon barely used since World War 2

As reported in Sunday Times 15th October 2017

The SA Navy is set to buy new torpedoes for its submarines, despite it battling to keep its standard fleet operational. According to a report in the Sunday Times, Armscor has confirmed plans to buy a new torpedo system for Heroine-class submarines. The new torpedoes are said to cost up to R60 million each. Industry experts told the Sunday Times that South Africa does not need new torpedoes. Worldwide, there have been only three torpedo engagements since World War 2.

https://mybroadband.co.za/news/government/233261-sa-navy-to-spend-r60-million-on-weapon-barely-used-since-world-war-2.html

 


Grace to you

One of the great lies that the world is ever tempted to swallow (and swallow it does) is that violence can be good, righteous and sacred and therefore necessary. It is this lie that Jesus – the Truth – came to set us free from, yet we refuse to be released and thus remain willing prisoners ever-protective of our chains.

And if not Jesus, then one would think that the history of violence’s horror would have brought us to our senses, but alas we overwhelmingly continue to believe that our violence is morally good while the violence of those against us is morally evil. We rage about “their” violence but are blind to our violence. Our “good cause” is what blinds us. Ours is a righteous violence … but not for the family of those we kill … for them it’s the soil of suffering that justifies the planting of the seeds of revenge. This deathly logic plays itself out daily in a million different ways: gang violence; gender based violence; police brutality and war.

Last Saturday a huge truck bomb killed over 300 people in Mogadishu, Somalia. This was done in retaliation to one of the many raids by local troops and US special forces in which countless civilians have been killed over many years in a never-ending cycle of violence.

A recent United Nations study found that in “a majority of cases, state action appears to be the primary factor finally pushing individuals into violent extremism in Africa”. Of more than 500 former members of militant organisations interviewed for the report, 71% pointed to “government action”, including “killing of a family member or friend” or “arrest of a family member or friend” as the incident that prompted them to join a group.

Violation provokes violence which begets more violence.

And while we lament the violence, we forget that we have supported it from the beginning – by refusing to pass laws that prevent it, like banning guns, and by paying for the weapons responsible for it like the SA Navy buying deathly wasteful torpedoes for millions.

When it comes to the cycle of violence in the world the Christian Church has much blood on its hands, not just directly but indirectly in the way we have propagated the false narrative of “sacred violence”. For the idea of “sacred violence” is deeply rooted in interpreting the Crucifixion of Christ as a necessary sacrifice (act of violence) in order for God to save the world. This is a terror-ble lie. Rather the Cross of Christ reveals to us the grace-full truth that God would rather suffer violence than ever perpetrate it.

Devastatingly the greatest act of non-violent loving has consistently been interpreted as an act of Divine violence by the Christian faith itself, turning the greatest gift the Christian faith has to offer the world into its greatest stumbling block to world peace. The d-evil must dance with delight as we do its work.

Jesus reveals God as Love. Therefore for God to stop loving is for God to stop being. We are born in the image of Love and when we stop loving we die and cause death.

Grace,
Alan

 

 

Full Immersion

Full Immersion

October 15, 2017  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Full Immersion

Grace and peace to you

We don’t learn how to swim by attending a lecture on swimming and similarly we don’t get fit by attending a lecture on fitness.

We get fit by going for a run or walk.

We learn how to swim by getting into the water – first in the shallow end where we can stand or with a flotation aid to hold and hopefully with someone we trust by our side. We learn to hold our breath underwater by practicing dipping our head under the water. This helps us to overcome our fear of being totally covered by the water. Ultimately if we want to learn how to swim we need to stop trying to keep as much of our body out of the water.

This is true for the deeper lessons of life. The things that really matter can only be learned by full immersion. Love can only be learnt at the risk of allowing ourselves to love and be loved. The values of compassion and justice and gentleness can only be learnt through a process of patient persistence which are values in themselves.

Wanting an immediate answer to something sometimes reveals that we have not understood the question because the answer is not the answer! The struggle with the question is the answer.

For factual questions like: “What is the legal speed limit?” the answer may simply be given. But for relational questions like: “How do I forgive my neighbour?” answers can’t be given. The “answer” to relational questions can only be discovered in the wrestling. As Mark Nepo so beautifully reveals in his poem, Behind the thunder.

Behind the thunder

I keep looking for one more teacher,
only to find that fish learn from water
and birds learn from sky.
If you want to learn about the sea,
it helps to be at sea.
If you want to learn about compassion,
it helps to be in love.
If you want to learn about healing,
it helps to know of suffering.
The strong live in the storm
without worshiping the storm.

Grace, Alan


Water Restrictions

The dams are low in the Cape,
we are told
not to fill the swimming pool,
not to water the garden,
not to wash the car,
not to take a bath.
We’ve never –
never had a swimming pool to fill,
never had a garden to water,
never had a car to wash,
never had the privilege of taking a bath
to soak away the aches and pains
that flood our cups and bowls,
otherwise empty.
Seems the dams have been low
for us, forever.

© Athol Williams

Why we live

Why we live

October 1, 2017  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Why we live

Grace to you

This week I came across the story of Farai Chinomwe. Farai is an athlete. He runs marathons and ultra-marathons like the Comrades, which in 2014 he did in an incredible time of 7 hours 6 minutes.

“I was born and brought up in a rural area near the Great Zimbabwe Ruins surrounded by insects and nature in a musical family – in our village, everyone had some instrument to play. In 2000, I moved to Johannesburg to study and ended up playing drum and Mbira in a band – we’d perform at restaurants and other events and when I wasn’t playing, I would do running and fitness training. One day I went to the shed to collect my instruments for a performance when I discovered that a swarm of bees had moved into my favourite djembe. Everyone told me I should burn the bees out but I decided to rather find a way to remove them safely. It was only after a year that I had developed sufficient means and confidence to provide a new home to the swarm. They had literally transformed the drum into a giant honeycomb – this was the point where I became a beekeeper.”

In 2015 Farai ran the Comrades Marathon in 11 hours 31 minutes – which was slow in comparison to his previous times but the reason for this was that he was running backwards!

It all started by accident.

“It was one o’clock in the morning and I was driving on a very dark Corlett Drive on the outskirts of Alexandra in my battered old Peugeot 404. I had collected a swarm of bees from a client and they were buzzing angrily in the boot. Suddenly, the car simply sputtered and stalled and there I was in the cold and dark without any prospect of help.

I realised I’d have to push the car, which was quite heavy, to the top of the hill where I could at least coast the few km back home. I started pushing the car the normal way and immediately realised that I wouldn’t be able to make it. I turned around with my back to the car boot and realised I could push it far easier. Eventually, after 2 hours of pushing and coasting and steering, I got back home, transferred the bees to their new home and finally got to sleep. Next morning on waking, I noticed that my quads felt like they got the most amazing workover and at that moment, I suddenly realised that the bees had helped me discover a really useful training technique.”

Farai is a dedicated beekeeper and because it was through the bees that he learned backward running, he’s decided to run some of his marathons backwards to raise awareness about the importance of bees in the environment and to encourage people to love and care for bees. Farai’s business is Blessed Bee Africa.

Running the Comrades forwards is a massive achievement. Running it backwards is beyond category. But as Nietzsche said: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how”.

May the “why we live” find us and focus us.
Alan