We are living in times when every day is another story of violence and political unrest, not just in South Africa, but all over the world. People are sharing that it is hard to read the morning paper and live with hope. The leaders who used to be–the Nelson Mandela’s, the Martin Luther King Jr’s, the Gandhi’s are sorely missed in the world today. Yet, if we want a better tomorrow, we can’t complain it into being. We must join in the work of building it. In the building of a better tomorrow, relationships matter.
Relationships across boundaries of division can be like the bell in Central Methodist Mission that rang years ago. It no longer rings today, because if it did it would shake the foundation underneath the buildings all around Greenmarket Square. Relationships across lines of division shake the foundations of the constructs in our minds. They allow for the texture of difference to be realized in ways that have potential to grow us in our ability to recognize our need of one another. An unnamed author penned these words “the best feeling in the world is that you actually mean something to someone.” “Yes!” We need to be engaging in relationships where we are saying with our commitment to be with, to work with, that “Yes!” you mean something to me and to the world and I am with you! I am with you in ear, in heart, in voice, and feet!
There is a story of a beautiful working relationship that was born in Durham, North Carolina, the city Alan Storey just happens to be teaching in right now, between a PhD level theologian the Rev. Canon Dr. Samuel Wells and a community activist Marcia Owens. Marcia represents an organization called the Religious Coalition for a non-violent Durham. She organizes vigils for homicide victims that die by gunshot wounds. Together they worked with one another to write a book called, living without enemies—Being present in the midst of violence. Their work is a beautiful gift to the world in that it illustrates commitment even beyond the penned word. They have stood together in the midst of the violence of the world—a symbol of light and hope to those who feel alone in their struggle for justice and forgotten in their pain and loss.
In their book, Sam Wells shares different ways of engaging with people across lines of division and in particular with those we perceive to be in need. One way is working for. This would be doing something on behalf of another like taking them to an appointment or serving them a meal. Another way would be to work with them. An example might be planning and implementing a community event alongside members of the community, this would be working with. The third way he mentions is simply being with members of your community you might not normally come across. The purpose would not be to serve, but to simply build relationships, to be with fellow pilgrims in the journey of life. The fourth way Sam lifts up is being for. We can learn through organizations like Marcia’s or Gun Free South Africa how to advocate for victims of violence. In our advocacy we use our voice in solidarity with movements that bring change.
Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., and Gandhi all were individuals who gave themselves to a particular way of living that they believed would bring change towards a good they might not ever see realized in their lifetime. Their vision of what they were living for must have been so real in their minds eye that the taste of it was the sustenance that sustained them on their journey. They gave their lives to the understanding that relationships matter. The nostalgia of longing for leadership does not give rise to leadership and so it is upon us all to live with greater discipline each day in the ways in which we follow Jesus and the way He marks out for us that leads to life. Jesus was a multiplier of leadership. Jesus invested in twos and threes and then twelve. Jesus teaches us what it means to be with—to work with. Jesus named for those who followed him that the greatest calling upon them was to live with love for God and love for others. Jesus lived, died, and breathes new every day the truth that relationships matter.
With you on the journey,
Lao Tzu is quoted as saying, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” One step forward is a commitment in direction. We might know something about what lies ahead in that direction, but more often than not, faithfulness in our steps will lead to twists and turns, change, surprise, and often great risk. We are moved on the inside by steps we take on the outside. Life becomes for us a pilgrimage of one step at a time with the light of God we trust to guide our way. The hope is that our steps remind us that there is a love that we don’t just find, but a love that we learn to live. Lived love is the goal, but it grows from a journey in life, that at every turn begins with a single new step.
Many have described a labyrinth to emulate the pilgrimage of life. To take the first step into a labyrinth is a commitment to walking it through to the end. Sure, you can turn around and come back, but once inside, most want to see their walk through. Labyrinths are used today as a tool for personal transformation and in the Christian tradition, those who walk labyrinths hope for a deep spiritual transformation. There is a labyrinth at the Urban Park in Cape Town. As one steps into what looks like a maze, there can be peace for knowing that there is only one way in and one way out. The very path that guides you into the center of the labyrinth, is the very same path that will take you out.
A couple weeks ago, I visited the labyrinth in the urban park. I walked around it looking at it first before I entered in. Once inside, I found myself walking the way my grandfather taught me when I was a little girl. My grandfather was a Cree Indian. He used to tell me to walk softly, letting my feet slowly roll onto the ground, so that I would avoid striking my heels at Mother Earth damaging her spirit. I walked very slowly and intentionally and once I found the center I sat “Indian style” in the middle very quietly for a long, long time. The experience was holy for me for so many reasons. I felt like I was in the center of everything that is good in the world, for I found a deep resting peace in that place.
I walked the labyrinth several times, each time slower and slower, pausing at each marked turn. The last time through I realized that without my knowing it, a young boy had found his way there and was following me through. When I saw him I smiled, for he must have been watching me walk the way my grandfather taught me, for his feet were gently touching the ground and rolling down, rather than harshly hitting the earth. Maybe his grandfather taught him that, but something in me thinks he was watching me walk before he decided to enter in. As I reached the center the last time, I tried to think of something that would be an act I could do to help the boy receive the gift of peace as deeply as possible, so I wrapped my arms around myself in a hug, stood still, and bowed my head acknowledging God.
On the outside of the labyrinth at the Urban Park, there are finger labyrinths with wheel chair access. I sat down to look at one while the boy was completing his turns. As he drew to the center, he wrapped his arms around himself in a hug, stood still, and bowed. It is quite something to realize that the steps we take are on a pathway that others will follow behind on. Go lightly, thoughtfully, and intentionally this week thinking periodically about your steps and where they lead. Consider visiting a labyrinth, but most importantly … breathe.
With you on the journey,
Online resources from labyrinth society:
Finger labyrinth: https://zdi1.zd-cms.com/cms/res/files/382/ChartresLabyrinth.pdf
Children’s activities: https://labyrinthsociety.org/activities-for-kids
Grace and peace to you and through you
Over the last couple of Wednesdays a group of us have met for prayer practice. Sounds a bit odd I know, but if there is one thing we need to practice it is prayer, especially contemplative prayer. To practice contemplative prayer is to sit in silent trust that our lives are saturated with and surrounded by Divine Love. This cannot be “achieved” it can only be accepted or rejected. The realisation that Divine Love is the unifying essence of all that is, is the gift of contemplative prayer. To awaken to this truth is to be liberated and healed. Liberated from fear and healed to love.
Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, beautifully describes this awakening as he recalls what happened to him on a street corner in Louisville on 18th March 1958:
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud… I have the immense joy of being man (sic), a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
Contemplation is a word that Thomas Merton used again and again in his writings. It is a theme that he spent much of his life exploring. In “New Seeds of Contemplation”, he writes this: “Contemplation is the highest expression of man’s (sic) intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent, and infinitely abundant Source. Contemplation is above all, awareness of the reality of that Source. It knows the Source, obscurely, inexplicably, but with a certitude that goes beyond reason and beyond simple faith… It is a more profound depth of faith, a knowledge too deep to be grasped in images, in words, or even in clear concepts…”
Elsewhere in the book, he makes an even stronger statement about the need to go beyond simple answers: “Contemplation is no pain-killer… it is a terrible breaking and burning of idols, a purification of the sanctuary, so that no graven thing may occupy the place that God has commanded to be left empty: the center, the existential altar which simply ‘is.’”
In his first book, “The Seven Storey Mountain”, Merton writes that he entered the monastery so that he could become closer to God. As he matured, however, he came to realise that the quest for God can happen anywhere. All of us have access to this rich interior life, this unfolding of what is truly real. All of us can be contemplatives.
In Merton’s words: “Contemplation is also the response to a call: a call from Him Who has no voice, and yet Who speaks in everything that is, and Who, most of all, speaks in the depths of our own being: for we ourselves are words of His. But we are words that are meant to respond to Him, to answer to Him, to echo Him, and even in some way to contain Him and signify Him. Contemplation is this echo.”
Through contemplation we are reminded that all places are holy, including a busy street corner in the middle of a city.
Grace and peace to you and through you
Thursday the 1st September was the 20th anniversary of my ordination. Some would say ordained as Reverend or Minister or Priest. I prefer ordained as Gospel Story Teller.
On that day back in 1996, together with all other ordinands I was given a bible. Over the years my bible has needed replacing but what has remained is the prayer that my parents wrote to mark the day – I have cut it out and stuck it in the front of each replacement ever since.
I share the prayer with you today – praying that you make it your own…
To [your name] Beloved of God.
May the God who loves you,
Always do new things when you read,
Stirring in you again God’s dream
Of a new humanity and a mended universe.
May Jesus who called you
Hold you always with tender hands,
And even as you share his tears for the world,
May you find laughter and celebration in his company.
May the Spirit who lives in you always give you life,
Birthing in you words of healing, truth and power,
Deeds of mercy, hospitality and courage,
And the peace that none can take away.
May our great God, Creator, Son and Spirit,
Always do more for you than we can ask,
Heal more in you than we can pray,
And work more through you than any can dream.
With much love.
Thank you people of CMM for the privilege of engaging the gospel story with you,
We are not ordaining you to ministry; that happened at your baptism.
We are not ordaining you to be a caring person; you are already called to that.
We are not ordaining you to serve the Church in committees, activities, organisation;
that is already implied in your membership.
We are not ordaining you to become involved in social issues, ecology, race, politics, revolution, for that is laid upon every Christian.
We are ordaining you to something smaller and less spectacular: to read and interpret those sacred stories of our community, so that they speak a word to people today; to remember and practice those rituals and rites of meaning that in their poetry address human beings at the level where change operates; to foster in community through word and sacrament that encounter with truth which will set men and women free to minister as the body of Christ.
We are ordaining you to the ministry of the word and sacraments and pastoral care. God grant you grace not to betray but uphold it, not to deny but affirm it, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Ordination vows from Church in Singapore
Peace and grace to you and through you
Those of us who have access to the Internet have access to almost every contour of every country of every culture on the planet. Without moving out of our home and office we can visit the homes and offices of others regardless of where they are located on this Google globe. We can even explore outer space and witness close-ups of stars exploding. Never before has the rich diversity of the world and cosmos been within the reach of our fingertips to explore as it is today.
And yet research tells us that instead of using the Internet to expand our worldview we use it to shrink it. We do this by searching for and following and befriending people or projects that affirm our existing worldview. This is how birds of a feather flock together in today’s world. The Internet becomes little more than an echo chamber of our own viewpoints. This emboldens us to falsely believe that our way of seeing the world is the only right way – after all everyone agrees with us. The Internet becomes a self-affirming loop akin to what philosopher’s call “a circular argument” in that we assume in the beginning what we are trying to prove in the end. Oh! and woe to anyone who breaks into this circle of agreement with a different view … they will soon be shot down by the birds-of-a-feather-flock-together’s deadly sharp tweets.
In the Gospels we see Jesus crossing social boundaries all the time – moving from the margins to the center and back again. Hanging out with outcasts one minute and leaders the next. Eating with law-breakers today and policy makers tomorrow. The employed and the unemployed are known by Jesus, as are the hungry and the well fed. To be a follower of Jesus is to be a person who seeks out diversity. Jesus followers are people who use every means at our disposal to cross over to the other side to repeatedly learn that the other side is less “other” than we originally thought. May we be filled with the Holy Spirit of exploration.
When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.
Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.
The dark will be your womb
The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.
You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
~ David Whyte
Grace and peace to you and through you …
Imagine joyfully expecting a baby.
The dreaming, the planning, the preparing…
Filled with an excitement that overrides any pregnant discomfort. The screaming and gasping-for-air-baby is like music to your ears. Indescribable joy!
Then imagine your baby going missing from the hospital crib. Missing. Stolen! Gone without a trace. Indescribable terror and trauma.
Imagine living every day with the absence of your baby ever present. Imagine imagining your missing baby growing up … from toddler to teenager. Indescribable torture.
Then imagine years later your baby is found, now a young adult. Indescribable joy.
Imagine meeting the one who stole your baby-now-a-young-adult. Indescribable anger. A fair exchange for the indescribable hurt.
Imagine the desire to punish. To teach the thief a lesson. To send out a clear message to all that this crime is not without consequence.
Imagine now believing that you are going to be the family that you always dreamed of being. Indescribable hope.
Though you missed your baby every second of every day … your baby did not miss you.Your baby did not miss you because your baby did not know to miss you. Your baby is not to blame. It feels as if your baby were taken away from you again. Indescribable pain.
Imagine that the one you call baby-thief is the one your baby innocently calls mom. Indescribable wrong. Though your baby is not to blame.
Imagine knowing that there is no reset button. That today’s justice is powerless to restore the past. To lock away the thief of your baby does not return your baby to you. Indescribable irony.
Imagine in seeking justice, you end up doing to your baby the very thing that was done to you. You steal from your baby the one she loves. Indescribable predicament.
Oh please can’t you imagine another way?
Another way that does not deny the anger and hurt and wrong, and yet at the same time a way that is not determined by the anger and hurt and wrong. Another way that does not pass the pain on. A way that surpasses the limits of the law.
A way of indescribable grace.
PS: Read 1 Kings 3:16-28
This past week we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the women’s march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Sixty years ago, on August 9, 1956 20,000 women took to the streets with a petition signed by 100,000 people calling for the end to the pass laws. The march was led by Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Rahima Moosa and Sophia Williams. When the women arrived, they began to chant words that women still chant today, “Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo!” They translate to, Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock. The phrase has evolved to what we often hear today, “You strike a woman, you strike a rock” and it represents the courage and strength of women in South Africa.
The women of 1956 also stood for thirty minutes in silence with their hands raised in a congress salute. Anyone who practices silence knows that thirty minutes is a period of time that one often works up to. It is not easy to achieve thirty minutes of silence right away. Yet, it is as if these women used the silence to speak for them. In the quiet of their stand together, their message was clear. It was as if in the quiet things could be heard, “We are here. We are serious. We have strength you know nothing about.” Their silence spoke volumes.
Simamkele Dlakavu, Tinyiko Shikwambane, Naledi Chirwa, and Amanda Mavuso are the names of four women who recently engaged in a silent protest during a press conference where Jacob Zuma was announcing the election results. They stood silently dressed all in black, holding signs that read: Remember Khwezi, Khanga, Ten years later, and I am 1 in 3. Their protest they named was against patriarchy and the culture of rape of women, where 1 in every 3 women in South Africa are likely statistically speaking to have been raped. They were remembering “Khwezi” the pseudonym given to the woman who accused Jacob Zuma of rape ten years ago.
One does not even have to support the cause of these four women to recognize the power of their witness. They used their creativity to give voice to their convictions and their message was broadcast worldwide. The South African Police share that a woman is raped every 36 seconds in this country, while many activist groups challenge that data naming it is closer to every 26 seconds. For four women to silently |protest such a culture in the midst of a political event, hats off to Simamkele, Tinyiko, Naledi, and Amanda.
The women of 1956 were persecuted for the ways in which they organized for change in the world. Lilian Ngoyi spent 70 days in solitary confinement and lived with bans placed on her for 11 years. Helen Joseph was arrested several times and had her last ban lifted when she was 80 years old. She was the first person to be placed under house arrest under the Sabotage Act and was a constant target with bullets smashing windows and a bomb even exploding at her front gate. During the Truth & Reconciliation Commission she was quoted as sharing, ““How a weary old girl, an ou tannie like me can be a threat to state security only they can say.” Yet, threat often comes from those who know how to organize for change.
Silence is a discipline that is held across many faith traditions. It is not a comfortable place to be, for in silence things bubble to the surface. In silence truths become clear, actions become visible, and words become sharpened. I encourage us all this week to sit in silence remembering the people who have inspired us in the ways they have worked for change. In our silence may we reflect on the world around us and the ways we might be called to be involved in the work of bringing much needed change. Silence roots us in the place of depth that brings strength, conviction, courage, and a peace we can’t explain. May our time of reflection root us for the work of change.
With you on the journey,
Grace and peace to you and through you …
Last week I wrote about the short and simple nature of “conversations with God” as portrayed in the Gospels. They go something like this: God says, “do not fear … you are favoured … now live my vision of a new society in which everyone can know that they are priceless”. In other words live life so everyone may know they are favoured and have nothing to fear. I concluded by saying that to honour this conversation with God will demand much contemplation and much action on our part: Contemplation, i.e. trustfully sitting in the knowledge of our fear-expelling-favour and action in our daily reshaping of the structures of society to value the pricelessness of all people. It will include silence and raising our voice. It will include stillness and marching. It will include a profoundly personal exploration of self and a serious analysis of society. It will be personal and political and discovering that they are inseparable. Which brings me to the elections.
Last week we had the privilege to vote. It is a privilege to participate in how society is shaped without having to kill the person who thinks differently to us. This is the great gift of the social experiment we call democracy. Shaping society without killing people who want to shape it a different way to us. Now voting doesn’t provide all the solutions, as Judith February says, “it merely provides the space to find them”. That is what we did last Wednesday. By voting we created the space to work out solutions without killing each other in a winner-take-all frenzy.
Now for us to work out the solutions on how we do life together we are going to need to return over and over again to conversations with God. Why? Because Democracy is risky. It doesn’t guarantee that we will find the solutions. Often the space created by Democracy can be hijacked to secure power and privilege for the few at the expense of the many, as our present experience teaches us. We need to be reminded that God longs for family fairness to be fixed into the fabric of society – our laws and policies – so that all will know they are priceless – that all are favoured and have nothing to fear. The work of fixing family fairness into the fabric of society is not easy. It is difficult and dirty even as it is too beautiful to describe. It is slow and exhausting even as it gives life. It is dangerous and despairing even as it is secure in faith, hope and love.
To sustain us in this work we need to rest in the truth that we are born in love, by love and for love … and so too are those who oppose us. To be protected against cynicism we need to trust that people do not have to change so much as they have to become who they really are. To be kept from self-righteousness we must be reminded that we are all one. To be spared from despair we need to accept that we are part of a much larger story – God’s story – the end of which we may not see but the end of which we can contribute to now in the way we follow Jesus.
On Wednesday evening at 7 pm we will gather to sit in silence … to contemplate our favour … and be released of fear … to live life revealing the pricelessness of all.
Grace and Peace to you and through you …
In the Gospels we notice that conversations with God follow a particular pattern. They are brief. They are simple. And they are ultimately about what God wants to do through them rather than to them. The conversations all start the same way: “Do not be afraid”. That is the very first thing God is determined to tell people. “Do not fear”. God knows fear makes us deaf to the Divine voice. Only until we get through our fear will our hearts be open to hearing anything else and will we be able to honour what we have heard. Fear is the great stumbling block to living faithfully, because fear casts out love.
The converse is equally true: Love casts out fear, therefore the second thing God is determined we realise is: “You are favoured”. In other words, we are graced, i.e. un-deservedly and un-reservedly loved. We live in a world however, where some people are valued more than others. This is the great lie. The Divine wants all to know that our lives are priceless. We are set free from our fear the moment we accept that we are favoured, priceless and held in Love. We are invited to trust that nothing can separate us from this Love, because we live and move and have our being in Love – Divine Love. Jesus teaches us that the ultimate authority in the universe (heaven) is a Loving Parent – a Loving Parent who we do not need to fear and a Loving Parent who we do not need to impress in order to love us.
Thirdly, what comes next is the “Jesus move”. In order to respond to the love of our Loving Parent, Jesus calls us to love our neighbour.
In other words the way we love God is by loving our neighbour. The “Jesus move” is returning our love to God by directing our love towards our neighbour. As Jesus said, God desires mercy not sacrifice. We can’t love God by perform-ing rituals – no matter how sacred we deem them. We can only love God by showing mercy to our neighbour and all of creation. When people like Mary heard that they were favoured and therefore had nothing to fear, they were given a vision of what life should look like according to our Loving Parent’s own heart – a life where all are valued including the lowly and poor. This involves correcting past injustices and restructuring of society through its laws and policies fixing fairness into the fabric of society.
So in the Gospels we see that conversations with God follow this flow: do not fear … you are favoured … now live my vision of a new society in which everyone can know that they are priceless. To honour this conversation will demand much contemplation and much action on our part: Contemplation, i.e. trustfully sitting in the knowledge of our fear-expelling-favour and action in our daily reshaping of the structures of society to value the priceless-ness of all people.
Grace and peace to you and through you …
This past week Charlize Theron spoke at the 21st International AIDS Conference in Durban. She spoke the truth not simply about HIV / AIDS but about the stubborn state of our world and humanity that enables HIV to continue to be a death-sentence when it needn’t be:
“I think it is time that we acknowledge that something is terribly wrong. I think it’s time we face the truth about the unjust world we live in. The truth is we have every tool we need to prevent HIV in the world … and yet in SA alone 180 000 people died of AIDS last year. …let’s ask ourselves why haven’t we beaten this epidemic?
The real reason we have not beaten this epidemic boils down to one simple fact: We value some lives more than others. We value men more than women. Straight life more than gay life. White skin more than black skin. The rich more than the poor. An adult more than adolescents. I know this, I know this because AIDS does not discriminate on its own. It has no biological preference for black bodies, for women’s bodies, for gay bodies, for youth or the poor. It doesn’t single out the vulnerable the oppressed or the abused. We single out the vulnerable the oppressed and the abused. We ignore them. We let them suffer. And then we let them die.”
She then called on the next generation of youth to end it. #GenEndIt
“I just want to be clear what the ‘it’ is. ‘It’ is not just AIDS. ‘It’ is the culture that condones rape and shames victims into silence. ‘It’ is the cycle of poverty and violence that traps girls into teen marriages and forces them to sell their bodies to provide for their families. ‘It’ is the racism that allows the white and the wealthy to exploit the black and the poor and then blame them for their own suffering. ‘It’ is the homophobia that shames and isolates LGBT youth and keeps them from life-saving healthcare and education.
HIV is not just transmitted by sex. It is transmitted by sexism, racism, poverty and homophobia. And if we are going to end AIDS we have to cure the disease within our own hearts and within our own minds first and I believe the young people can do it.”
In line with the biblical prophets Theron did three things: First, she correctly highlighted the core issue of our idolatrous faithlessness: that we value some lives more than others. Second, she drew attention to the vulnerable who suffer as a result of our idolatry – and the multi-layered nature of vulnerability that some endure. Third, she reminded us that the most public and political issues are at one and the same time the most intimate and personal. To transform the streets we must also transform our hearts.