June 11, 2017  |  Sunday Letter, Trinity Sunday  |  Comments Off on

Grace and peace to you and through you

In the face of so much that is going on at the moment, the question is often asked: What difference can one person make? We ask ourselves this question when trying to gage whether anything we do will make a difference for good in the world. Sometimes just asking the question becomes the basis for us to not do a thing – because after all, why do something that we are not sure is going to make any difference?

Yet, have you noticed that we are less inclined to question the difference one person can make when that person is acting against the common good. We see it here and abroad, one person in one position wreaking havoc. I am sure a couple of leaders come to mind.

I realise that one of the explanations for this may be because it is easier to break something down than it is to build something up; which makes the “breakers” arguably more effective than the “builders”, or at least so it seems. It is also obvious that things take longer to build than they do to destroy. It can take a few minutes to chop down a tree of many years. The breakers are camera-grabbing sprinters who can fit their destruction into a tweet, while the builders are ultra-marathon plodders needing a full-length documentary to tell their story. The “breakers” also tend to use extremely blunt, yet very effective motivating tools like fear and selective favour.

Nevertheless it’s interesting that we are more inclined to question the difference a person can make when they set out to do good than we are for one bent on doing harm. As Rebecca Solnit says in her fantastic book, Hope in the Dark: “People have always been good at imagining the end of the world, which is much easier to picture than the strange sidelong paths of change in a world without end.”

But there may be other reasons that we need to take more responsibility for. Fearing the burden of responsibility upon us, we sometimes convince ourselves to the point of certainty that nothing good can be achieved. We make statements like: “But that will never happen.” “They will never change …” “They will always …” In this we become certain of our own futility by a made-up story that is filled with insurmountable stumbling blocks making the hope for change impossible. As Solnit says: “Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes–you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others. Hope is … the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand. We may not, in fact, know them afterward either, but they matter all the same, and history is full of people whose influence was most powerful after they were gone.”

Sometimes the “builders” are more like sustainers who don’t do anything other than preserve what is and therefore the results of their work are not easily seen or valued until what is, is no longer. A bit like a riverbank that for the longest time faithfully channels the waters responsibly, only to be noticed when broken. Because nobody is tweeting about a riverbank doing its job today, let us honour the unnoticed and under-appreciated river-bankers who humbly channel life among us.

Grace, Alan

 

A Pentecostal Community

A Pentecostal Community

May 22, 2016  |  Sunday Letter, Trinity Sunday  |  Comments Off on A Pentecostal Community
The Road to Namaqualand

Grace and Peace to you …

Last week we heard that unemployment rose to 26.7%. This figure however, does not tell the whole story because it does not include those who have not looked for work within the last month. So the real unemployment figure is more like 37%. This is a national average figure, meaning that some communities have a much higher unemployment rate. The stress and strain for mere survival for millions of people in our land is frightening and making social stability impossible.

Not surprising many people under these conditions turn to micro-lenders for salvation. I remember a few months ago when I was in Paarl seeing a long line of people queuing up outside a micro-lending office every morning. Here the poor and low-income earners pay more for money than the wealthy. So instead of being a means of salvation it becomes a quick route to damning debt.

According to one micro-lender’s website, I can borrow R1 000 for 30 days and repay the loan with R1 288.56 at the end of the month. But if my life ran into a speed bump and I was unable to pay the R288.56 interest at the end of the first month, within four months my interest bill would be up at R1 000, to be paid within 30 days. Imagine buying something and within four months the interest on whatever we bought was equal to what we paid for it!

With the pensioners from the Eastern Cape living in the Sanctuary we have been reminded first hand how some people are treated as invisible, like they do not matter. Marginalised and excluded without fair means to live. I hope this situation among us has prodded our consciences to work for the day when all people have enough to eat and live and flourish.

Last Sunday was Pentecost. Pentecost takes place 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus. 50 is the biblical symbol for Jubilee. Jubilee is the biblical concept of economic justice that includes the redistribution of wealth making sure that those who have much do not have too much and those who have little do not have too little. A community that seeks economic fairness is a Pentecostal community. This is what we are called to be.

Grace,
Alan

P.S. If anyone has any contacts with the city to secure public toilets (at least some of them) to be open 24/7 please speak to me. The fact that homeless people have nowhere to go to toilet after 5 p.m. is criminal. This structural criminality turns the homeless into criminals when they are forced to go to the toilet in public.


“The radicals are really always saying the same thing. They do not change;
everybody else changes. They are accused of the most incompatible crimes, of egoism and mania for power, indifference to the fate of their own cause, fanaticism, triviality,
want of humour, buffoonery and irreverence. But they sound a certain note. Hence the great practical power of consistent radicals. To all appearances nobody follows them,
yet everyone believes them. They hold a tuning-fork and sound A, and everybody knows
it really is A, though the time-honoured pitch is G flat. The community cannot get
that A out of its head. Nothing can prevent an upward tendency in the popular tone
so long as the real A is kept sounding.”

~ John Jay Chapman (1862-1933)

 

What concerns Christ?

What concerns Christ?

May 31, 2015  |  Sunday Letter, Trinity Sunday  |  Comments Off on What concerns Christ?

Grace and Peace to you …

This past week I have been attending Synod in Stellenbosch. Let’s just say the idea of attending Synod does not set me on fire with enthusiasm, yet every year it never ceases to be a gift. Synod is a gift in that it reminds me that I belong to the Church universal – a very LARGE body, and not merely the local church. Synod is a gift in how it connects me to the experiences of joy and suffering of others who live the Gospel in contexts that I am ignorant of. Synod is a gift in that it reminds me of my calling and holds me accountable to the promises I have made.

Synod begins with a “witness” service. Here we listen to the faith stories of the ordinands as they prepare to take their final steps towards ordination. Thanks to load-shedding the service began in darkness. Then a child came forward and lit a candle with the words: “Jesus said to his disciples ‘I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’”. Nothing else needed to be said!

During the first ordinand’s testimony (while he was making a powerful point!) the lights came back on. Besides being humourous it was a beautiful reminder of what happens when we honour the way of Jesus. I was reminded that when we honour the way of Jesus the lights come on that enable us to see one another. As the lights came on, I found myself looking around seeing the people around me who up until that point I had not been able to see. Jesus’ presence helps us to see each other – to really recognise each other. Our eyes were opened.

The next morning we began by “answering the questions”. This is a solemn moment when we stand before each other to reaffirm our faith, calling and discipleship of Jesus. Some of the questions jump out at me: “Will you continue to be faithful in prayer, in the reading and study of the Holy Scriptures and with the hold of the Holy Spirit continually rekindle the gift of God that is in you?” We reply: “I will God being my helper”. “Will you commit yourself to God’s mission in the world, seeking in this context to bring healing and reconciliation, justice with peace and empowerment to the poor and marginalised. “I will God being my helper”. And then in closing, “Remember that you are called to serve rather than be served … and to look after the concerns of Christ above all.“ This last line really klapped me: My primary concern is to be concerned about Christ’s concerns!

Then we close with the following commitment: “We accept the responsibility of our call out of love for the Lord Jesus … we are resolved to unite ourselves more closely to Christ and to try to become more like him…”

These questions and these answers are not only for clergy, but they are for all followers of Jesus. Therefore your primary concern is to be concerned about Christ’s concerns too! So best we start asking: “What concerns Christ?”

Grace, Alan

Love heals

Love heals

June 15, 2014  |  Sunday Letter, Trinity Sunday  |  Comments Off on Love heals

Sam Nzima

Sam Nzima was born in the town of Lillydale. His father worked as a labourer. While still at school, Sam bought a camera and began taking pictures in the Kruger National Park. When the farmer pressed Nzima into farm labour, he ran away to Johannesburg after nine months of working on the farm. He found a job as a gardener in Henningham. In 1956 Nzima found work as a waiter at the Savoy Hotel. At the hotel a photographer named Patrick Rikotso taught him photography skills. Nzima took portraits of workers. When reading The Rand Daily Mail articles of Allister Sparks, Sam became very interested in photojournalism and, in 1968, he joined The World as a full-time photojournalist.  On 16 June 1976 the Soweto uprising began as police confronted protesting students. Nzima took the photograph of fatally-wounded Hector Pieterson (12) on the corner of Moema and Vilakazi Streets in Orlando West, Soweto, near Phefeni High School. This image depicts an emotional scene of Hector being carried by Mbuyisa Makhubo, with Hector’s sister Antoinette Pieterson (17) right beside them. After “The World” published the photo the next day, Nzima was forced into hiding because of the subsequent police harassment.

_________________________________________

RAMADAN

I encourage you to observe Ramadan this year — or if you are unable to observe the entire month — then choose a day or two per week. I encourage you to join your local Mosque for prayers and the joy of breaking fast together. In this way we affirm the faith tradition of others which is so important in today’s world where different religions are often a source of division and conflict in society.

To participate in another’s faith tradition on their terms, is to do to others as we would have them do to us. It is to affirm their tradition as a means of God’s grace. We must always remember that the Christian faith does not have a monopoly on God’s grace. I firmly believe that we have so much to learn about the discipline of prayer and fasting from our Muslim faith family that we will be the richer for this experience.

The Holy month of Ramadan begins on 29 June. The fast from water, food and sex begins from sunlight (Sehri 06:18) until sunset (Iftaar 17:50). These times will get earlier (Sehri) and later (Iftaar) as the month progresses. By the last day of Ramadan Sheri is at 06:10 and Iftaar is at 18:06.

My hope is that during our fast we will grow in compassion and mercy for those who are hungry on a daily basis — those who are forced to fast due to poverty. My hope is that during Ramadan we will have a heightened concern for the well-being of the community as we make more time for prayer and deeper devotions and courageous acts of compassion and justice.

Abstention for long hours can be very hard physically and spiritually. However, by the end of the long month you should feel cleansed and with a renewed spirit. Ramadan is an ideal time to break bad habits, to re?ect on one’s personality and character — just as we are encouraged to do during Lent. Those who fast but make no change to their lives except delaying a meal cannot really expect to become any different in their behaviour during or after Ramadan. In many ways, this is a wasted fast.

I invite you to journey through Ramadan with two passages of Scripture. May these scriptures be for us a window through which we can see and reflect on our experience. Every morning and evening let us read Isaiah 58 and Matthew 2:1-11.

Strength for the fast!

 _________________________________________

From Maria Popova : @Brainpicker

In the winter of 1969, shortly after a young woman he considered one of his brightest and most promising students committed suicide, Leo Buscaglia decided to deal with the flurry of confusion by starting an experimental class at the University of Southern California where he taught, exploring the most essential elements of existence — ”life, living, sex, growth, responsibility, death, hope, the future.” The obvious common tangent, “the only subject which encompassed, and was at the core of all these concerns,” was love. So he simply called his course “Love Course.” While some of his fellow faculty members dismissed the subject as “irrelevant” and mocked its premise, it later became one of the most popular classes at the university.

One of Buscaglia’s repeated points was how when we label people we cannot love them…

“How many kinds have not been educated just because someone pinned a label on them somewhere along the line? Stupid, dumb, emotionally disturbed. I have never known a stupid child. Never! I’ve only know children and never two alike. Labels are distancing phenomena. They push us away from each other. Black man. What’s a black man? I’ve never known two alike. Does he love? Does he care? What about his kids? Has he cried? Is he lonely? Is he beautiful? Is he happy? Is he giving something to someone? These are the important things. Not the fact that he is a black man or Jew or … Labels are distancing phenomena — stop using them! And when people use them around you, have the gumption and the guts to say, “What and who are you talking about because I don’t know any such thing.” … There is no word vast enough to begin to describe even the simplest of man. But only you can stop it. A loving person won’t stand for it. There are too many beautiful things about each human being to call him a name and put him aside.”

On this Father’s Day and about to be Youth Day let us ask to be cleansed of all the labels we pin on one another — not least the labels we pin onto members of our own families.

Grace, Alan