Truth and grace lead to resurrection

Truth and grace lead to resurrection

May 12, 2019  |  Easter, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Truth and grace lead to resurrection

Grace to you

Two weeks ago 2x Olympic Champion Caster Semenya lost her appeal against the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). Accordingly if Semenya is to compete in distances from 400m to a mile she will be forced to reduce her natural levels of testosterone. History will show this to be a terrible act of discrimination. As some have said, this decision is the “Sara Baartman” moment of the 21st century. Thankfully organisations like the World Medical Association have come out against the judgment and warn that any doctor who complies with the (IAAF) regulations, in relation to any athlete, will be breaking their oath to “do no harm”. Hopefully it does not take long for sanity to prevail so that people like Semenya can be free to do what they love – run fast.

In these days of Easter I was struck by a resurrection story that is connected to Caster Semenya. A story not dissimilar to the resurrection of Saul that we reflected on last Sunday: Remember Saul’s breath? He had a murderous breath towards those who were different to him. He wanted to correct, change and control other people who were worshipping and praying in different ways to himself. For Saul, difference was to be “regulated” rather than “celebrated”. His Damascus road resurrection took a while because it not only involved hearing heavenly truth but also personally meeting the people he believed should be corrected, changed and controlled. Deeper truth and grace-full relationship finally unlocked Saul from his tomb of deathly prejudice.

The two ingredients of grace and truth continue to resurrect people. Take for example of the resurrection of Madeleine Pape from Australia who competed against Semenya at the 2009 World Athletics Championships in Berlin. Pape said: “I was sore about losing to Caster Semenya … her performance [was] unfair”. Four years later she was doing her PhD in Sociology and began to learn the “heavenly” truth about women with naturally high testosterone. This deeper truth brought her to question her previously held convictions. Then, “critically, during this time I also befriended some women with high testosterone. [The question arose for me] “Was I willing to recognise my friends as women outside of sport yet deny them the right to compete alongside me on the track?”, reasoned Pape. Now she declares what is unfair is not Semenya’s performance but the way she is being treated. Truth (PhD) and Grace-full relationship (Friends) have resurrected Pape from her deathly othering of Semenya.

Now as we work and pray for the resurrection of the (IAAF) what about the church? The (IAAF) is an organisation that prevents Semenya to do what she loves – namely run. The Church is an organisation that prevents Semenya to love who she loves – namely Violet Raseboya – Semenya’s wife. Surely the Church is in far greater need to be resurrected?

Grace,
Alan

Picture: OkMzanzi  |  EPA/John G. Mabanglo

What gardening has taught me

What gardening has taught me

May 5, 2019  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on What gardening has taught me

I recently attended a conference hosted by the Mediterranean Garden Society in Portugal.

I have lived and gardened in a Mediterranean type climate, that is the Cape Peninsula, for eight years now and it was an opportunity to listen and talk to people who garden in other Mediterranean type climates around the world.

So places like W. and S. Australia, Chile, S. California and of course the Mediterranean itself.

My gardening and spiritual journeys are closely intertwined ones. What gardening in Cape Town has taught me is to look truthfully at the unique vegetation that surrounds us and work with the natural rhythms that a Mediterranean type climate produces.

Most importantly this means accepting the fact that we live in a part of the world that experiences summer dormancy. This natural dormancy is brought on by heat, no rain and in the case of the Cape Peninsula, a consistent and strong S.E. wind that blows from October through March.

It makes perfect sense that the plants hibernate during this tough period and then emerge in autumn when the growing conditions improve.

As a gardener I battled to get my head around this simple truth and was determined to create a beautiful garden during summer, because that is when my clients and I spend most time in the garden. So I spent at least five years bashing my head against that wall.

Walking on Table Mountain helped shift this mind set; and now I look forward to the summer months as a time of doing other work and letting the garden rest and recuperate. I no longer see neat and green lawns as part of the Mediterranean style of gardening, but rather use chipped-up bark or gravel to carpet pathways and open spaces. I also now see how the endemic vegetation is perfectly adapted to these summer dormancy periods and hate getting watered during the summer months.

It has been about accepting this truth and seeing that there is as much beauty in the dormant cycle of a garden as there is during the growing phase, which here in the Cape, is during our winter.

But what was the most enlightening aspect of the conference was to change my approach to how I prepare soil, ahead of planting.

My horticultural training at the Natal Technikon, was based on a traditional European system that has its methods deeply entrenched in the Royal Horticultural Society’s way of doing things. It formed an important foundation of my training and has stood me in good stead for over 30 years now.

An important tool when preparing soil is the garden fork. The action of forking over the soil is very effective, but it turns the soil away from you as you progress.

There is an element of detachment about it.

In the Mediterranean and in Africa, the dominant tool used when preparing soil is the hoe. The hoe is a tool that brings the soil towards you and therefore connects you visually with the earth that you are working with. You will therefore be able to pick up problems or see changes in the soil as you work.

The hoe is a much more intuitive and nurturing tool to work with, compared to a fork.

When I saw this simple truth, I realised that I have only ever used a fork and while this approach has worked, I decided it is time for me to put away the fork and pick up a hoe, a tool I have never used in my life.

Growing up in rural KwaZulu-Natal I was surrounded by women working the soil, intuitively, with their hoes and it made me aware of how I had never seen this very simple but obvious truth.

Jesus encourages us to follow our intuition and to constantly question and possibly reject our traditional training.

Grace, Athol

Resurrection

Resurrection

Apr 28, 2019  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Resurrection

Grace and peace to you

Resurrection can be terrifying. According to the Gospels, “terror” was the most common response to the news of Jesus’ resurrection. The first responders had to be told repeatedly: “Do not be afraid!” One would think that resurrection would provoke uncontrollable celebration but it was not so. Why terror? I do not know why, but I do know that it is a question worth living with. As Rilke says: “Do not strive to uncover answers: they cannot be given you because you have not been able to live them. And what matters is to live everything. Live the questions for now. Perhaps then you will gradually, without noticing it, live your way into the answer, one distant day in the future.”

I am however aware of other resurrections that I experience as terrifying. The first is the terrifying resurrection of stuff that we bury in ourselves. We all have childhood experiences of great significance – often of some trauma or other – buried in the inner recesses of our being. We bury not only the events / emotions but also our patterned coping mechanism in response to the events that we relied on to “save” ourselves. We can continue to turn to these protecting patterns to rescue ourselves each time we experience trauma or hints of trauma throughout our life. As we get older these “saving” patterns become less and less appropriate, for what is acceptable and understandable for a child may be quite the opposite for an adult. What used to protect us may now imprison us. What used to save now shames. These wounds and patterns finally resurrect. The stone of denial is rolled away. They glow refusing to be ignored. It is terrifying to see our own vulnerability and our attempts at hiding this vulnerability, as well as witness the hurt and damage this has caused others and ourselves in the process. This inner-body-resurrection is terrifying but ultimately it is for our healing and liberation.

The second resurrection we see every day bursts out from tombs of poverty and discrimination. The unaddressed legacy of oppression in South Africa rightly refuses to go quietly into the night. Instead it rages against the darkness of unacknowledged injustice and failed promises of deliverance. After 25 years the rage reminds us that the pain of the past is not past. This resurrection confronts our systemic death. Rage is terrifying to witness, yet it carries the hopeful expectation for new life.

Robert MacFarlane magnificently describes a third form of resurrection that is terrifying in his latest book entitled: Underland. Written with the purpose to “actively ‘unconceal’ the traces of our fast-altering world: its untimely surfacings, its entombments.” In a recent Guardian article MacFarlane explains: “We live in an age of untimely surfacings. Across the Arctic, ancient methane deposits are leaking through “windows” in the earth opened by thawing permafrost… [last year] water levels in the River Elbe dropped so far that “hunger stones” were revealed – carved boulders used since the 1400s to commemorate droughts and warn of their consequences. One of the stones bears the inscription “Wenn du mich siehst, dann weine” (If you see me, weep). In northern Greenland, an American cold war missile base – sealed under the ice 50 years ago with the presumption that snow accumulation would entomb it for ever, and containing huge volumes of toxic chemicals – has begun to move towards the light.”

MacFarlane continues: “These Anthropocene unburials, as I have come to think of them, are proliferating around the world. Forces, objects and substances thought safely confined to the underworld are declaring themselves above ground with powerful consequences. It is easy to aestheticise such events, curating them into a Wunderkammer of weirdness. But they are not curios – they are horror shows. Nor are they portents of what is to come – they are the uncanny signs of a crisis that is already here, accelerating around us and experienced most severely by the most vulnerable.”

Resurrection can be terrifying. It can be a horror show. Yet acknowledging what we have hidden buried is ultimately the first step to new Life. May we be set free from fear.

Grace,
Alan

Parental love

Apr 21, 2019  |  Easter, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Parental love

The parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) told beautifully in bronze by
Margaret Adams Parker on the campus of Duke Divinity School, North Carolina, USA.

Still

Apr 20, 2019  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Still

From Jan Richardson’s writings and artwork

“For you, for this Good Friday—this day that asks us to bear witness to what is breaking. May we not turn away.

STILL
A Blessing for Good Friday

This day
let all stand still
in silence,
in sorrow.

Sun and moon
be still.

Earth
be still.

Still
the waters.

Still
the wind.

Let the ground
gape in stunned
lamentation.

Let it weep
as it receives
what it thinks
it will not
give up.

Let it groan
as it gathers
the One
who was thought
forever stilled.

Time
be still.

Watch
and wait.

Still.”

—Jan Richardson
from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons

Image: “Still” © janrichardsonimages.com

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday

Apr 14, 2019  |  Palm Sunday, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Palm Sunday

Grace and peace to you

The tradition of palm branches on Palm Sunday originates with the Jewish festival of Sukkoth, also called the Festival of the Tabernacles or Booths, which was probably the most popular holiday among the Jews in the first century. In the observance of Sukkoth, worshippers processed through Jerusalem and in the Temple, waving in their right hands something called a lulab, which was a bunch of leafy branches made of willow, myrtle and palm. As they waved these branches in that procession, the worshippers recited words from Psalm 118, the psalm normally used at Sukkoth. Among these words were “Save us, we beseech you, O Lord.” Save us in Hebrew is hosianna or hosanna. This is typically followed by “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Ps 118:25–6)

Palm Sunday might be one of the moments of the year when that peculiar lingering bittersweetness of the Gospel is strongest. If you’re anything like me, Palm Sunday – or rather, Holy Week, brings up a weird feeling. It’s a time when I grapple about the death of Jesus and why he died. Lent is almost over. Only a few days remain until Good Friday. The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem signals a shift towards the end. As Christians we continue to journey with Jesus. This week we will focus on the death of Jesus and what that means for us today. Palm Sunday begins that reflection. I am also reminded that I, too, am like the maddening crowd. Will I shout hosannas with the disciples or will I be silent as the Pharisees ask?

As I reflect upon that this week, I am reminded of the simple lyrics of this beautiful song:

Beyond this lifetime
Beyond this darkness there’s light
Your cross is shining
So people open your eyes

These chains are breaking
Your love is shaking us free
A great awakening
This world will finally see
the cross stands above it all
Burning bright in this life
The cross towers over it all
One hope, One deliverer
Saviour reigning high above it all

Christ has overcome
It is finished, He has won
Christ has overcome
We’re standing strong

© Tim Hughes, Nick Herbert, Ben Cantelon, Matt Redman

Peace and love,
Nicole

To love. To be loved.

To love. To be loved.

Apr 7, 2019  |  Fifth Sunday in Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on To love. To be loved.

Grace and peace to you

On the 8th May 2019 we will be casting our vote in the 6th national general elections. We tend to think that this is the most important part of our democratic process, as if it begins and ends with this one day. As democracies mature however, there is a reduction in voter turnout. There are many reasons for this behaviour: apathy, disenfranchisement, discontent, maladministration, electoral fraud and the plethora of mind blowing choices of political parties that confront the voter on the election ballot. We will have a choice of 48 national parties on 8 May!

All these factors contribute to feelings of disconnection and disengagement. It reinforces continued racist behaviours and intensifies polarisation. Political differences are seen as negative and destructive and not affirmative and constructive. There is increasing anger about unrealistic election promises from politicians. We are confronted with populist electioneering. The current rhetoric largely focuses on blaming, blatant xenophobia, hate speech and othering those who we assume will be making different choices to ‘us’.

Let us draw upon the wisdom of Arundhati Roy who reminds us “To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you.” So, where is love during the elections? How do we make a place for love in the elections? How do we let love into the election season? How can we think about and be present to the welfare of our entire democracy and not let it be reduced to election day?

It is very difficult to choose between parties we don’t think consider the needs of all the people in this country or care about the most pressing concerns facing us: poverty alleviation, economic transformation, jobs, education, safety and security for all people, climate change, sanitation, water, electricity, healthcare, and land reform to name a few. We need to complexify our thinking about the election and not simplify it. When we simplify issues we make our ‘created’ borders even smaller, more rigid, more inflexible and this is at a great cost to the spirit of democracy. We should remain vigilant, nourish and protect all our institutions of democracy every day and not just on election day or during election season. Corruption and maladministration steal from our poorest and most vulnerable citizens. We need to continue to fight unjust laws and hold all politicians, state officials and ourselves to account. We need to work hard to understand how the legacies of coloniality and apartheid contribute and shape our deeply unequal society.

Love is connection, it requires deep engagement, and a willingness to sit with unease and uncertainty. We need to act in the spirit of compassion as people who have a deep desire to change South Africa and the world. We need to engage in activities that break down walls and allow justice to come. We should be engaging in opportunities to connect with passion, positivity, and with life affirming actions, on election day and the many days before and the many days after. We do this so that love, courageous, pain shifting, all-encompassing love, can be revealed in our journeys with each other…

With love, Rose-Anne and Brandan

 

 

Psalm 32

Psalm 32

Mar 31, 2019  |  Fourth Sunday in Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Psalm 32

Psalm 32

Blessed is each one whose wrongdoings
have been forgiven,
whose shame has been forgotten.
Blessed is each one in whom Love Divine
finds a home,
and whose spirit radiates truth.

When I acknowledged not my shortcomings,
I became ill through all my defences.
And day and night, guilt weighed heavy in my heart;
My spirit became dry as desert bones.

I admitted my faults to the Most High,
and I made known my regret;
I cried out, “Forgive me, O Comforter,
for those times I have sinned in
my thoughts, my words, and my deeds;”
And the Beloved created a clean heart within me.

Therefore, let everyone who is sincere
give thanks to the Beloved;
For whenever we feel overwhelmed by fear,
we shall be embraced by Love.
Dwelling in the heart of the Beloved;
we are free from distress,
free to live more creatively.

O my Beloved, you are my guide and my teacher;
Be watchful of me, give me your counsel.
I pray for the gifts of inner peace and wisdom,
For the gift of reverence for life.

Many are the heartaches of those
separated from Love;
Steadfast love abides with those
who surrender their lives into
the hands of the Beloved.
Be glad and rejoice, all you
who walk along the path of truth!
And shout for joy, all you upright of heart!

~ Nan C. Merrill, Psalms for Praying

'You are us.'

‘You are us.’

Mar 24, 2019  |  Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on ‘You are us.’

Prime Minister of New Zealand:

Jacinda Ardern

 

Photograph: Kirk Hargreaves, Christchurch City Council


Grace and peace to you

As we reflected last Sunday, after calling Herod a fox, Jesus cried: “Jerusalem Jerusalem … how often I have desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…” (Luke 13)

Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern has lived this text into being this past week. In so doing she has shown the world what healthy, wise and strong leadership looks like. Ardern is not reading from a prepared script. She is simply honouring her heart and head – a heart that feels deeply and a head that is deeply thoughtful. Her own grief has set the tone for her nation’s grief. She articulates both her anger at the cause of grief and expresses her gentleness for the grieving. She rightly chooses to keep the spotlight on the loved ones of the deceased rather than the killer.

Ardern’s repeated words to the grieving: “You are us.”, are the most healing words she could possibly say. Spoken with the authority of a surgeon, she sews together with her words the truth that the killer attempted to shatter with his bullets. We are all one. These words at the same time expose the killer’s blindness and the blindness of Islamaphobia as well as all other forms of discrimination.

Without hesitation she has named the instrument (actually it’s an idol) – the gun – that when mixed with fear and hate, causes death on a massive scale. Simply put: she cares more about saving lives than a tiny group of people’s desire to own a firearm.

Prime Minister Ardern is a challenging sign of hope to us all.

Grace,
Alan


A story by Steve Mellon: “A woman approached the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh mostly unnoticed and carefully placed a bouquet of yellow flowers among the branches of a bush near the center’s concrete steps. She then crossed Bigelow Boulevard and sat on a stone retaining wall and wept.

She said she’d lost a family member when a man of hate entered the Tree of Life synagogue in October and gunned down people of faith. Now bullets had shattered lives at two New Zealand mosques.

The flowers and her quiet, anony- mous presence were gestures of solidarity with the Muslim community, she said. When a man at the mosque learned of the woman’s presence, he briefly held his hand to his heart, then crossed the street to chat with her.

Moments later, he guided her back across Bigelow Boulevard, up the concrete steps, and into the center’s lobby. The man offered the woman a chair and introduced her to others then gathering for traditional Friday prayers.

In the sunlit room, people of different faiths gathered in a small circle and shared stories of pain and sadness and strength and hope.”

@Stevemellon412

The Honesty of Scripture

The Honesty of Scripture

Mar 17, 2019  |  Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on The Honesty of Scripture

Grace and peace to you

True or false: “All people are etched equally with the glorious image of God.”

This really is the most foundational of all faith questions and precisely the reason why the Bible editors answer the question on the first page in the affirmative: “True! It’s true!” Up until that biblical time the answer was always: “No! It’s false!”

To declare “it is true” is to make many declarations all at the same time: All people are equal in worth. The worth of a human person is not to be attached to anything (anything means anything) other than the mere fact of them being alive. God is equally shared, present and connected to all. God values all equally. This is what makes the story of humanity told through the scriptures so radical. The scriptures declare up front no one is less than or more than any other. Therefore students of scripture should know better than anyone else that they are no better than anyone else.

However, the Bible is not just a book of statements answering faith questions, it is a travel log of a people’s journey to live into their statements of faith, ever seeking deeper understanding and integrity. So the story is a long one because it doesn’t skip out the numerous times when the people forget their first foundational principles. The story doesn’t leave out the many times the people declare in word and deed and prayer that others, because of their nationality or beliefs, should be smote to smithereens. Vengeance and violence stain the pages, all in God’s name, with all breaking the foundational principle. This is Divine defamation.

The scriptures also tell of the bizarre hypocrisy of a people believing they are better and more deserving than others, precisely because they believe in a God who is the loving Creator of all. Let that sink in! In three-year-old speak: “Our God is love which makes our God better than your God and our God will beat yours up to prove it.”

Thankfully there was always a remnant on the journey – in both Hebrew and Christian testaments – who bravely held true to the foundational principle and living out the truth of God’s image etched in all, despite the noise and threats directed at them. Jesus stands in this tradition and invites us to do the same.

The gift of the scriptures’ honest telling of a people’s long wayward journey is that we are able to see our own journey in theirs, and get honest about our walk. As in the scriptures, Church history is filled with first principles being quoted and then denied in action. We witnessed this two weeks ago when the United Methodist Church in the US voted to remain a body that denies the dignity of LGBQTI people. Effectively, like our own Methodist Church of Southern Africa’s baptising bigotry. The sin has never been two people of the same-sex loving and respecting and intimately caring for each other. Rather, the sin has always been the denial and exclusion and punishment of such love. Heterosexism is as sinful as racism and sexism.

Thankfully when the church is blind to this, God uses others – like the Constitutional Court – to expose our blindness and hopefully open our eyes as it did last week in relation to the Dutch Reformed Church.

Be assured that at CMM we will continue to stand in the Jesus tradition of non-discriminatory love.

Grace,
Alan