A time to reflect

A time to reflect

April 15, 2012  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on A time to reflect

For a number of years I have kept a little notebook full of quotes and poems, etc. that I find interesting/meaningful from the books and articles I read. Here are a few for you to reflect on:

it takes courage to grow up
and become who you really are.
e. e. cummings

To go into the dark with a light
is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark;
go without sight.
And find that the dark, too,
blooms and sings
and is travelled by dark feet and dark wings.
Wendell Berry

I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.
Dorothy Day

A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer — it sings because it has a song.
Maya Angelou

Creativity is the residue of time wasted.

Necessity urges us to pray for ourselves — Love compels us to pray for others.
John Chrysostom

The Church is called to be today what the world is called to be ultimately.
John-Howard Yoder

Although the world is full of suffering it is also full of overcoming it.

Be persuaded timid soul, that God has loved you too much ever to cease loving you.
Francois Fenelon

Peace, Alan

Leaving this home

Leaving this home

April 8, 2012  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Leaving this home

Two weeks ago I bought some new plants for my garden. In the hope of harvesting another crop of lettuce and tomatoes before winter, I decided that I would not plant from seed, but rather that I would buy seedlings from the nursery.

You know they come in those black plastic egg-box-like-containers. To get the seedlings out is not pretty. To press the plastic from underneath sometimes works but I find most often the plastic breaks and I end up having to stick my fingers into the 2 cm x 2 cm surrounding soil. I squeeze and squash the poor little thing out of its tiny home. Sometimes the soil breaks off exposing its naked roots.

As I was re-potting the seedlings into their new-larger-fertilised-homes I wondered if they thought I was hurting them or being kind to them. Realising that my act of kindness looked and perhaps even felt suspiciously destructive.

This then got me thinking about death and Resurrection and the leaving of this home we call earth.

The Resurrection invites us to trust that when we die, the One who has loved us from the beginning is re-potting us into a newly furnished home where we will be able to grow and flourish more fully.

Peace, Alan

Shocking but not surprising

Shocking but not surprising

April 6, 2012  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Shocking but not surprising

The death of Jesus was shocking but it was not surprising. Jesus himself told us it was coming. How did he know? No, he didn’t need a heavenly angel to tell him — it was just common sense. Put simply: everything he said and did challenged the status quo and threatened those with a vested interest in it.

Jesus is crucified in Mark 15 but as early as Mark 3 people have started plotting his death — all because he healed someone with a withered hand in the Synagogue and on the Sabbath. Why did they want to kill him? Because Jesus threatened the dominant religion that was based on “who is in and who is out”. A childish and dangerous distinction that Jesus kept turning on its head — basically saying that the only people who are “out” are those who think others are out. To live a life of radical inclusion in a world that is increasingly exclusive and divided is eventually going to draw fire.

Jesus also spoke out against the rich, comparing them to fat camels, and the rich have the greatest investment in the status quo. He ‘occupied’ the temple reclaiming it as a place for “all” cleansing it from exploitation. He also mocked the blue-light-rulers of his day arriving on his donkey and spoke persuasively about a tax system that honoured God’s image above Caesar’s.

Now you don’t do all these things and live to tell the tale — well he does — but not before he has been killed.

Jesus’ death was shocking but it was not surprising.

We honour his death by imitating his life and not by singing hymns about his death. We gather here this morning not so much to worship Jesus but to be reminded that we must worship him — and we do this best by imitating him in and through every aspect of our living. Now I know it is shocking but don’t be surprised when we too are rejected, pierced and crucified — for “disciples are above their master”.


God suffers too

God suffers too

April 1, 2012  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on God suffers too

This Holy Week we will be reflecting on various aspects of suffering, not least the suffering of God. Our reflections will take place from 7 p.m. each evening starting tonight, with the movie called Of God’s and Men.

On Thursday night we will listen to Mark’s account of Jesus’ Passion as we celebrate Holy Communion and participate in washing one another’s feet around the Tenebrae. Thursday evening will also include the beautiful singing of Taizé prayers.

“To be human is to suffer, and God knows that. That is why God suffers too. Suffering is where God and human beings meet. It is the one place where all persons — kings, priests, paupers, and prostitutes — recognise themselves as frail and transient human beings, in need of God’s saving love. Suffering brings us closer to God, and God closer to us. Suffering, despite all its inhumanity and cruelty, paradoxically enables humans to long for humanity, find it, treasure it, and defend it with all their might.” ~ C. S. Song.

Peace, Alan

Choose to love

Choose to love

March 25, 2012  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Choose to love

As has been our custom over the past three years — we show a movie on the evening of Palm Sunday — next Sunday at 7 p.m.

This year we will be showing Of God’s and men. 

It is about eight French Christian monks who live in harmony with their Muslim friends in a monastery perched in the mountains of North Africa, in the 1990s. When a crew of foreign workers is massacred by a religious fundamentalist group, fear sweeps through the region.

The army offers them protection, but the monks refuse. Should they leave? Despite the growing menace in their midst, they slowly realise that they have no choice but to …

This film is loosely based on the life of the Cistercian monks of Tibhirine in Algeria, from 1993 — 1996.

It is slow moving — heavy and inspiring, dark and enlightening all at once. One reviewer, Philip Martin, wrote:

… a movie that made me sad and proud to be human, to belong to a species capable of such cruelty and such kindness, and possessed of the power to choose to love those who hate us, and to die with peace in our hearts as the world burns down.

 Another wrote: I can’t recall the last film that so wholly, honestly and movingly explained what it means to be a Christian.


Equal Education

Equal Education

March 18, 2012  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Equal Education

Equal Education is an NGO of great importance in our country. I would go so far as to say that the future well-being of our country rests on whether its agenda is accepted and implemented nationwide. Their recent campaign includes the development of “Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure”. In short our schools need fixing.

Of our 24 793 public schools, these are the current backlogs:

3 544 schools (14%) have no electricity supply, while 804 schools (3%) have an unreliable supply.

2 402 schools (10%) have no water supply, while a further 2 611 schools (11%) have an unreliable water supply.

22 304 schools (90%) do not have stocked Computer Centres.

11 450 Schools (46%) still use pit-latrine toilets while 913 schools (4%) have no toilet facilities at all.

22 938 schools (93%) do not have stocked and functioning libraries.

23 562 schools (95%) do not have stocked laboratories.

[Stats from the National Education Infrastructure Management System Report, Department of Basic Education 2011].

If you would like more information about ways in which you can help, contact Equal Education 021 387 0022 or at www.equaleducation.org.za


Listening leads to loving

March 11, 2012  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Listening leads to loving

In a small Eastern European town there was a local inhabitant who continually slandered the local rabbi.

One day, realising the wrongfulness of his behaviour, he asked the rabbi for forgiveness and offered to perform any penance required to make amends.

The rabbi told him to fetch a feather pillow from his home, cut it open, scatter the feathers to the wind, and then return. The man followed the rabbi’s instructions to the letter, then came back and asked, “Am I now forgiven?”

“You just have to do one more thing,” answered the rabbi, “Go and gather all the feathers.”

“But that’s impossible,” the man protested, “the wind has already scattered them.” “Exactly,” explained the rabbi, “And although you truly wish to correct the evil you have spoken, it is as impossible to repair the damage done by your words as it is to recover the feathers.”

Do you ever wish there were words that you had never spoken? Sometimes we speak words that we regret because we have not taken the time to really listen before we speak. As it says in Scripture: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak…” (James 1:19).

Oh wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were quick to listen and slow to speak!

I invite you to attend our “To Listen is to Love” Workshop next Sunday evening – 18 March from 5 p.m. – 8 p.m. in the Sanctuary.


Words, words, words

Words, words, words

March 4, 2012  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Words, words, words

Words and their meanings are important. Sometimes a word carries different meanings and associations for different people, which is one of the things that we were reminded of at “The Jesus School” this past week. Take for example the word ‘sin’. What comes to your mind? How would you define it?

Nadia Bolz-Weber (a Lutheran pastor) has this to say about sin:

“I love to talk about sin, which makes little sense to people who want to label me as a liberal. I think perhaps that actual liberals equate admitting we are sinful with having low self-esteem. And then the conservatives equate sin with immorality (only sometimes do sin and immorality converge). So one end of the church tells us that sin is an antiquated notion that only makes us feel bad about ourselves so we should avoid mentioning it at all. While the other end of the church tells us that sin is the same as immorality and totally avoidable if you are just a good, squeaky clean Christian. But when sin is boiled down to low self-esteem and immorality then it becomes something we can control or limit in some way, rather than something we are in bondage to. The reality is that I cannot free myself from the bondage of self. I cannot keep from being turned in on self. I cannot by my own understanding or effort disentangle myself from my self-interest, and when I think that I can … I am trying to do what is only God’s to do.

To me, there is actually great hope in admitting my mortality and brokenness because then I finally lay aside my sin management program and allow God to be God for me. Which is all any of us really need when it comes down to it.”

There are other words within the Christian lexicon like salvation, repentance, eternal life, hell, heaven, justice, neighbour, life, death … that all invite our exploration.


Birth may feel like death

Birth may feel like death

February 26, 2012  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Birth may feel like death

Ash Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent — the period of 40 days that precedes Easter (excluding Sundays which remain forever days of resurrection celebration). 40 days is the great Biblical metaphor for new life — hinting towards the 40 weeks of a woman’s pregnancy reaching full-term. Lent is therefore an invitation for us to be open to conceive, labour and birth new life. In doing so, we fulfill our calling to imitate Jesus who came to bring new and abundant life.

This is why confession has always gone hand-in-hand with Lent. Confession is the courage to wrestle with the truth of our lives in the presence of another. Not so that they may forgive us — but that they may help us to accept the truth of our lives, as well as to accept the already-available forgiveness of God. You see, we can only fully confess (dare to touch the truth of our life) if we know that we are already fully forgiven. The grace of knowing that we are held is what sets us free to vulnerably let go. Only when I know that I am loved can I face the unlovable-ness of who I am.

Before we ask God to reveal to us our sin (our addictive self-centeredness) let us ask God to reveal to us God’s grace.

Defining sin as “addictive self-centeredness” reminds us that there are areas of our living that are uncontrollably dependent on that which is killing us (and others). And please let us not reduce addiction to alcohol and other drugs — some of us are addicted to blaming, exaggerating, working, interfering, controlling, gossiping and the like … all destructive in their own way. To give up any addiction feels like we are dying. So let us pray for God to remind us that birth may often feel like death. It is Lent — it is time to get pregnant.


Nourishing living

February 19, 2012  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Nourishing living

So I asked a friend of mine how to collect the seed from my present crop of tomatoes in order to have seeds to plant next season — this is what she told me to do:

“You need to identify the best plant (healthiest, strongest, prettiest, happiest) and on that plant identify the best tomato (same standards as above). Let it ripen on the vine, but not over-ripen.

Pick that tomato, set it on your kitchen counter for a day or two and smile upon it/smile as a result of it. Once it is perfectly ripe, cut it open and remove the seeds into a small bowl. Now eat the rest of it like it’s the gift from God we know it is. Let that small cup of seeds and juice sit on your kitchen counter for a day or two or three, until a layer of mould forms on top. Dispose of that layer of mould, and rinse the seeds clean. I usually get the tomato guts off them, then set to dry on a piece of foil or parchment, trying to spread them out so they don’t dry as a clump.

Once the seeds are dry, free them from the foil or parchment, put them in an envelope, and label (St. Pierre Slicer, and the date). They need to go through a period of being frozen, so here I just keep the envelope in an outbuilding for the winter (to replicate our season) but you can put them in your freezer for a month or two, which would work fine.

Obviously you can do this with more than one tomato, but even just one produces enough seeds to share.”

Oh my — so much to learn from a tomato! To live to nourish others — to die — to rise again (next season). And to think that God has chosen us and smiled lovingly upon all of us … enjoy the taste of that.