Jesus is human and divine

Jesus is human and divine

December 21, 2014  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Jesus is human and divine

Art as Resistance: By Molly Crabapple


Grace and Peace to you

If the incarnation teaches us anything, it is that we will see Jesus’ divinity through his humanity or not at all. Only as we take the human hand of Jesus will we discover by grace that we have been holding the hand of the Divine. To approach Jesus as the Divine without first engaging his humanity will cause us to miss both his humanity and divinity.

Similarly, I am convinced that we would understand the Gospels more fully (or at least differently) if we read scripture as if it were not scripture. I say this because the minute we relate to it as “Holy Scripture” we read with a certain “spiritual” lens. This more often than not tames the passage by uprooting it from its original context. Often it catapults it into a “heavenly” future leaving the earth untouched and untransformed, which is quite the opposite of how the original audience would have received it.

Take for example the psalm equivalent for this Sunday — what is known as The Magnificat from Luke’s Gospel. If we were to come across this in say the Mail and Guardian, surely the words would sound different to reading them in Luke 1:46-55. In the Mail and Guardian the words sound like the radical freedom song it is intended to be.

‘And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant [South Africa], in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

This passage engages with issues which include: the awesome dignity of women; the corrupting quality of wealth and power; the hoped-for liberation of the oppressed and marginalised. These were the themes of Jesus’ childhood instruction from his mom.

Grace, Alan


Advent Prayer of Preparation

We lighted the first candle of Advent,
To signal our watch for the coming of Christ, who will expel the spirit of discontent and bring healing for the nations.

We lighted the second candle of Advent,
To signal our hope for the renewal of creation, which will reveal the image of God and restore harmony with nature.

We lighted the third candle of Advent,
To signal our faith in the triumph of justice, which will expose the folly of pride and magnify purity of heart.

Today we have lighted the last candle of Advent,
To signal our trust in the promise of God, who will establish the reign of love on earth and uphold it with justice and mercy for evermore.

So be it.

What gives you hope?

What gives you hope?

December 14, 2014  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on What gives you hope?

Grace and Peace to you

One of the questions that I am often asked — especially after I have given my assessment on the state of our nation and world — is “Alan what gives you hope?” My answer: “The young social activists of our country.”

On Wednesday I had the privilege of attending a function hosted by the Open Society Foundation (OSF). The OSF is, among other things, a funder organisation of many different civil society movements. They brought together a number of the organisations that they fund for a round table discussion, facilitated by Justice Malala.

Organisations involved in: gender justice, HIV Aids, sanitation, safety, service delivery at local government level, environmental justice, access to information, education, health and corruption were represented.

I was inspired by their courage and creativity. I was given hope by their own hope for change. Something Justice Malala picked up on from the panel discussion (picture alongside) was that everyone spoke of the crucial importance of holding those in power to account. Accountability was the key word. As one of the older anti-Apartheid activists said: “In the last 20 years since democracy we have been let down by human conduct.” Well as sad as that is, it should not surprise us. We read in the Scriptures of a people who needed to be constantly set free — sometimes from outside enemies but most of the time from themselves. And this is where my hope ultimately returns — the great grace of God who offers Divine pardon over and over, empowering us to begin over to reconstruct society for the common good.

Grace, Alan


Advent Prayer of Preparation

Drain us now of distractions, O God, and free us from all that diverts out attentions, so that all our senses can focus on the Christ child’s coming.

Show us again, in the most notable, yet most humble of births, the mingling of divine and human we call incarnation.

In the coming birth of your child and ours, teach us the dimensions of holy mystery, deliver us from preoccupation with trivial things, and focus our hearts, with reverent diligence, on things eternal.

Journey to healing

Journey to healing

December 7, 2014  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Journey to healing

Today is the second Sunday of Advent which is the beginning of the Christian Calendar. We begin a new year by preparing our lives and world for the coming of Christ among us. For the next three Sundays we will light an Advent candle reminding us of the coming of Christ, the light of the world, and inviting us to be the light.

To be light in the world is not to be reduced to “believing the right beliefs” in our head. Rather it is about doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God.  It is about camping out for social justice.  #Umbrella-movement Hong K.


Grace and Peace to you

You remember the first two steps of the Alcoholics Anonymous [AA] 12 step programme? The first step: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable. The second step: We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

And so what AA teaches us is that a journey to healing — indeed a journey to sanity (clear lucid living and loving) — begins with two crucial ingredients or it doesn’t begin at all. The first is humility (admit there are aspects of our life that are unmanageable). The second is hope (trust that there is a greater Power that can take over management).

Both of these ingredients were found in last week’s readings that marked the first week of Advent which is nothing else than a journey to healing and sanity for the world.

We heard the humble cry from the Advent prophet Isaiah: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down….” [Isaiah 64]. We can feel the powerlessness of the prophet to overcome the unbridgeable distance that is felt to exist between himself and God. We hear his desire for visitation and his longing for company yet he is unable to secure it for himself. The prophet has run out of rope. He has no more tricks up his sleeve. If there is going to be a reunion with the Lord it is going to have to happen because the Lord has decided to act and act in no less a dramatic way than to rip the heavens apart.

We also heard the recurring refrain from the Advent Psalmist: “Restore us O God of hosts. Let your face shine that we may be saved.” [Ps 80]. There is hope! Yes, there is hope. Our inadequacy will not have the last word. By grace our inadequacy will lead us to the last word. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

At the risk of being ridiculously over simplistic (St. Paul would say ‘foolish’) I suggest that there are areas of our living that never find sanity for the simple reason that we refuse to admit our powerlessness and trust the Lord’s power. To hand over the captain’s armband of our life and to bring in new management.

Try it and see, Grace, Alan


Advent Prayer of Preparation

What is Hope?
It is a presentiment that imagination is more real
and reality less real than it looks.

It is a hunch
that the overwhelming brutality of facts
that oppress and repress is not the last word.

It is a suspicion
that reality is more complex
than realism wants us to believe
and that the frontiers of the possible
are not determined by the limits of the actual
and that in a miraculous and unexpected way
life is preparing the creative events
which will open the way to freedom and resurrection….

The two, suffering and hope, live from each other.
Suffering without hope
produces resentment and despair,
hope without suffering
creates illusions, naiveté, and drunkenness….

Let us plant dates
even though those who plant them will never eat them.
We must live by the love of what we will never see.
This is the secret discipline.
It is a refusal to let the creative act
be dissolved in immediate sense experience
and a stubborn commitment to the future of our grandchildren.

Such disciplined love
is what has given prophets, revolutionaries and saints
the courage to die for the future they envisaged.
They make their own bodies
the seed of their highest hope.

Rubem Alves – Brazilian Theologian

Taste the sacred

Taste the sacred

November 30, 2014  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Taste the sacred

Today is the first Sunday of Advent which is the beginning of the Christian Calendar. We begin a new year by preparing our lives and world for the coming of Christ among us. For the next four Sundays we will light an Advent candle reminding us of the coming of Christ the light of the world and inviting us to be the light.

To be light in the world is not to be reduced to “believing the right beliefs” in our head. Rather it is about doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God.


Grace and Peace to you

I love Wednesdays. Actually I love what I get to do on Wednesdays. Well actually I love who I get to meet when I get to do what I do on Wednesdays. I meet a group of young men who are enrolled in a 10 week woodwork and life-skills programme at the Carpenter’s Shop.

The group is diverse. Over the weeks we get to hear a little about each person’s life. Some have been sponsored by friends or employers or family members to attend, hoping that they can pick up a skill that may make them a little more employable. Some are part of the Ceasefire Gang Intervention programme from Hanover Park who are either recently ex-gang members or who are still connected. Others are from other parts of Africa hoping to get some South African qualification to boost their opportunities of getting “in” somewhere. All are trying to better their life. All battling multitudes of challenges.

I am proud of each participant who gets up every morning to make it to class. Just showing up is a huge achievement for most, and to see through a 10 week course is a record commitment for some. There are days when a couple of the guys will share how they are craving to start using again. I watch as they restlessly move this way and that on the wooden benches. I notice how their classmates sensitively support them — giving them both space and encouragement but also realising that they cannot rescue or “save” the guy who is craving. It is his journey and only he can walk that path — no one can walk it for him. There is no denial of the situation but most importantly there is no judgement either. I experience this “no denial and no judgement” space as very healing. In fact it tastes sacred.

Along a similar track, because it was also on Wednesday and gang related, I had the privilege of connecting with a community activist in Manenberg. She told me that her daughter was shot earlier in the year. She then went on to share with me how she went to the related gang’s “den”. In her words: “I told them that my daughter had been shot. I assured them that I would not press charges, but that I wanted to know who was responsible and why. A 17 year old owned up. I asked him to take me to his parents, which he then did and I offered to help the family …” Her story of truth and grace tasted sacred to me.

Oh to live that others taste the sacred!

Grace, Alan


 Advent Prayer of Preparation

O God, in times past we looked for you in heavenly eclipses. We listened for you in howling winds. We learned of you in quaking mountains. But now we know that you will be found among us.

And you will be seen not in the glitter of a mall but in a shelter for the homeless. You will be heard not in the pitch of a commercial but in the whimper of a child. You will come, not clothed in the comforts of the privileged but swaddled in the needs of the neglected. You will come, not in the decisions (more like denials) of a grand jury, but in the purifying fires of justice for innocent life taken by being shot down.

Open our eyes that we might witness the appearance of your messengers. Open our ears that we might hear the testimony of those on the margins. Open our hearts that we might ponder the secrets of those who birth Jesus. And open our mouths that we might shout the good news of your presence among us. Amen.

                                                [Adapted from Litanies and other Prayers]

Context gives meaning

Context gives meaning

November 23, 2014  |  Christ the King Sunday, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Context gives meaning

Grace and Peace to you

I have included the full article (including image) by columnist Tom Eaton from The Times 12 November 2014. The reason I include his column is to illustrate two very important points. The one about context and the other about co-option: Context gives meaning. To deny or forget the context is to disturb and falsify the meaning. When we read scripture our first task is to honour the original context and thereafter to make sure that our interpretation of the text honours that context or in the very least does not betray it. Last week’s sermon: “Viva the Whistle Blowers Viva” (available on the web at www.cmm.org.za or click on the link) is an example of how the context can radically alter the meaning of the text. Eaton also shows how a subversive message is often co-opted by the “powers-that-be” (commercial or political power). Recent sermons have shown how this has also happened to the Gospels.


The spectacles are enormous. Steel-rimmed and impervious to the summer wind, they lie on the grass of the Sea Point promenade as if left behind by a myopic titan after a picnic. But their placement is not arbitrary. The vast lenses, many inches thick, are fixed on Robben Island out in the bay.

A nearby plaque explains. The sculpture is entitled Perceiving Freedom, and encourages us to contemplate how Nelson Mandela saw the world. The artwork is, it says, a “testament to the power of the mind”.

I know very little about the power of the mind but the sculpture certainly seems to be a testament to the power of corporate sponsors: Ray-Ban, the famous brand of sunglasses, is prominently named on the plaque, causing one’s {expletive} detectors to start pinging. But only for a moment. If artists didn’t take the money of merchants there would be very little art in the world. Besides, they have some grand precedents, like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, an advertisement for the biggest corporation of the Renaissance, the Catholic Church.

And yet my unease remains and soon I realise why. It is not the sponsored spectacles that worry me. It is the picture on the plaque, a cropped portion of a famous photograph taken on April 25 1977.

On that day a group of South African journalists was given a guided tour of Robben Island by Major-General Jannie Roux, a psychiatrist and deputy commissioner of prisons. They were shown sporting facilities, tidied cells, neatly swept and weeded paths, all carefully curated to show the outside world a picture of a humane regime. And it was on this walkabout, according to the blurb on the plaque, that “the journalists encountered a tall, thin man dressed neatly in prison clothes and leaning on a spade. The man was Nelson Mandela, in his 13th year of incarceration on Robben Island.”

The words are factually correct but they have completely excised the human tensions of that moment. Handed a spade and told to look gardener-ish, Mandela was disgusted at being forced to be part of the charade, and, according to biographer Anthony Sampson, retreated behind a large bush as the journalists approached. Roux seems to have been slightly embarrassed.

“We have located him for you,” he told the group, “but he doesn’t want to see you, and we won’t drag him.” But the photographers kept coming, and so Prisoner 46664 stood his ground, making a point of not doing the work he was supposed to be doing, his rage and disdain barely hidden behind the dark glasses. The resulting photograph does not show Madiba the reconciler contemplating forgiveness. It shows a proud, intelligent man trapped, exploited and angry.

By removing this context, the photograph (and the artwork it speaks to) do us a disservice in that they subtly rewrite our collective history and therefore skew our collective present. Over the last three decades Mandela has been transformed from a man into a concept and finally into a kind of sentimental pulp, used to plaster over the widening cracks in our national psyche; but this doesn’t help us get any closer to his – and therefore our – humanity. We need to know that Mandela could be proud and angry, that his beautiful smile could become a tight, disapproving scowl. It is healthy for us to know these things.

In the last few weeks the white Right has eagerly been rewriting history. One very famous country singer even wrote an article explaining that whites have been reading “for millions of years”, a startling revelation given that vaguely whitish people have been around for only about 10000 years, and that Sumerians (not white people) invented reading only about 5000 years ago. In this climate of history being up for grabs, determined not by the brightest minds but by the loudest tweeter, it is important that we get our facts straight.

Even more important is to allow expressions of anger to remain unexpurgated in our history. Group hugs are lovely but if we airbrush over expressions of anger we deny the cause and legitimacy of that anger, and lose the opportunity to discuss it in any meaningful way. Once we begin to cherry-pick the warm, affirming bits, leaving out the complex, fractious, often ugly parts, we begin to convince ourselves that it is never acceptable to show anger, and that injustice must be suffered with a sigh and shrug.

We can begin to persuade ourselves that those who burn tyres and municipal buildings are just being thuggish; that they are concepts rather than furious human beings. And once that happens, we have lost forever any hope we ever had of seeing the world through the eyes of Nelson Mandela.

By: Tom Eaton in The Times

God's goodness is everywhere

God’s goodness is everywhere

November 16, 2014  |  Pentecost, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on God’s goodness is everywhere

Grace and Peace to you

This past week we earthlings managed to catch a ride on the back of a comet. Since blasting off in March 2004, Rosetta and its lander Philae have traveled more than 6 billion kilometres to catch up with the comet, which orbits the sun at speeds up to 135 000 km/h. Touchdown for the lander played out 510 million kilometres from Earth, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, on a comet hurtling through space at more than 18 km/s. At so vast a distance, even radio signals travelling at the speed of light take nearly half an hour to travel from Earth to the spacecraft, making real-time control of the landing impossible. Instead, the entire descent was pre-calculated, uploaded and run automatically.

The safe, if precarious, touchdown of the lander gives scientists a unique chance to ride on-board a comet and study from the surface what happens as its activity ramps up as it gets closer to the sun.

The £1 bn ($1.58 bn) Rosetta mission aims to unlock the mysteries of comets, made from ancient material that predates the birth of the solar system. In the data Rosetta and Philae collect, researchers hope to learn more of how the solar system formed and how comets carried water and complex organics to the planets, preparing the stage for life on Earth.

This sort of stuff just astounds me. I am filled with wonder and awe at the logistics and mathematics involved in such a mission. It is also profoundly humbling to be reminded how crazily huge the universe is, and how miniscule we are.

The stuff of creation is not only a gift from the Creator but a reflection of the Creator — like a painting is a reflection of the artist. Jesus tells us that God alone is good. And in Genesis God calls all of creation “good”. In creation then we are invited to see God’s goodness.

Rabbi Abraham Heschel warned us: “Forfeit your sense of awe and the universe becomes a market place for you.” This is why scientific exploration is so important, namely to expand our vision into the mystery of matter.

Did you know that rye plants have roots that are 11 000 km long and that they grow 5 km per day? Did you know that it would take one million earths to fill our single sun? Did you know that it took 15 billion years of birthing, dying and resurrecting the universe before we humans arrived? Yes, homo sapiens has only been around for a tiny fragment of time.

As Mathew Fox asks: “How aware are we of the wonders of our own bodies? Consider how, for example, every person has enough blood vessels in them to go around the earth two times (96 000 km worth when extended end-to-end). If we were to extend just one person’s DNA end-to-end it would travel from the earth to the moon and back 100,000 times! Our hearts do the daily work equivalent of lifting a ton five stories high and our bones are literally stronger than steel or reinforced concrete — yet when they break they grow back on their own.”

All this should move us to wonder and praise for the Creator and reverence for the creation. Humility should be our default position towards the planet.

Sadly, “we tear down forests, despoil the soil and the fisheries… and other species — we are destroying ourselves. We are living in the greatest period of destruction of the last 60 million years and the truth must be told: anthropocentric religion contributes to this devastation” says Matthew Fox.

We have been taught not to “worship creation” as divine (pantheism) but in the process we have lost all reverence for God’s handiwork. The pendulum has swung to the opposite end. We unthinkingly cut, exploit, mine and chisel away for profit and apparent progress without counting the actual cost.

 I confess that I think God would be more pleased if we worshiped the tree (that cleans the air we breathe) than not. In fact, many of us practice something far worse than pantheism — let’s call it bricktheism — which is the worship of buildings. This is especially true of places of worship. Too often they become places to worship.

 May our eyes be opened to the mystery of matter and wonder of creation. Grace, Alan


Pastor Xolo Skosanna was elected as the chairperson of the Western Cape Religious Leaders’ Forum this past week.

Faithful struggle

Faithful struggle

November 9, 2014  |  Pentecost, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Faithful struggle

Senzo Meyiwa
1987 – 2014


Grace and Peace to you

One of the privileges of our pain-filled oppressive past is that we have experienced first-hand a very similar context to that of the Gospels and early church. An experience, or in the very least, an understanding of Apartheid oppression should give us insight into the Scriptures. Sadly too often we forget to read the scriptures through the privileged lens of our past (and present!).

For example, think of Steve Biko for a moment. There is nothing one can read of or from Biko that is not profoundly political and subversive towards the dominant racist regime. That is a given. Yet when we read the writings of St. Paul for example we may be inclined to forget that Paul was the Biko of his time — or if not the Biko — then at least the Beyers Naudè. There was nothing Paul could say or write that was not political and subversively threatening to the dominant powers. Yet when we forget this, we begin to interpret Paul’s mission as trying to get people “saved” into a “heavenly” realm with little relevance or consequence on earth.

Remember Paul’s “struggle credentials”? Imprisonment; floggings to near death — with both whips and rods and to top it off, stoning. Let’s be clear one is not subjected to these “tribulations” for leading spiritual retreats, but rather for being a threat to the status quo of oppressive power!

When Paul writes: “…if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9) he was doing so in a context where salvation was promised by confessing Caesar as Lord. In other words it was a political act of treason to confess Jesus. It was like claiming Mandela as president while P.W. Botha was still sitting in the Union Buildings.

Let us also not forget that almost every word — we have come to associate with “spiritual” matters was in fact a political term of the day. Words like: “Lord”, “Shepherd”, “Salvation” and “Redemption” were all social-political words which have since been privatised and individualised — in other words they have been tamed.

Further examples include the concepts of: “Eternal Life”; “Soul”; and “Heaven”.

  1. Eternal life is mostly understood today as life Jesus awards us when we die. This interpretation delays the promise of new life until after death. Its original meaning was the gift of new life NOW that death cannot take away. In other words it is the transformation of the present.
  2. Heaven is mostly understood today as a spatial place where we go when we die, yet for the Hebrews Heaven is the illustrative embodiment of the real, real world. Heaven is the clear picture of what we struggle to see on earth — namely that Jesus the Lamb actually is on the throne and not the Caesar-like-powers. Heaven is the truth that we are called to live into being. All we need to do is keep faithful to the end. Heaven is also the prototype of how we should be living on earth. “Your Kingdom come, your will be done ON EARTH as in heaven.”
  3. Soul is mostly understood today as that part of our being that is immortal. In other words the part of us that “goes to heaven” when our body dies and disintegrates. This segmented view of the human person is more Greek than Hebrew and it has subsequently encouraged a “saving souls” approach to evangelism which ignores the full context and condition of the human being. The Hebrew word we have translated into soul literally means one’s entire being. The person’s entire being is to be our concern.

Sadly the powerful world-changing words of the subversive Gospel story have had their meanings domesticated by being pushed to another time (eternal life), another place (Heaven) all the while reducing the human person (soul).

Back in Jesus’ and Paul’s day, salvation would have been celebrated if the previously segregated beaches and buses were open to all. Salvation was the victory ushered in by the winning combination of God’s grace and people’s faithful struggle.

Grace and struggle, Alan


Dare to have your life re-storied by the Gospel

The stories we tell ourselves and each other are how we make sense of the world and our place in it. Some stories become so sticky, so pervasive that we internalize them to a point where we no longer see their storiness — they become not one of many lenses on reality, but reality itself. Stories we’ve heard and repeated so many times they’ve become the invisible underpinning of our entire lived experience”. ~ Maria Popova

Live life lovingly

Live life lovingly

November 2, 2014  |  All Saints Day, Pentecost, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Live life lovingly

All Saints Day

Signs of protest and hope:
All Saints candles set on the gravestones in a Polish Cemetery.


All Saints Day

God our com-fort-er,
you are our refuge and strength,
a helper close at hand in times of trouble.
Help us so to hear your word
that our fear may be dispelled,
our loneliness eased,
and our hope reawakened.
May your Holy Spirit lift us above our sorrow,
to the peace and light of your constant love;
through Jesus our Lord.
Amen.

For whose life do you give thanks today?

“Hear the good news: We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the living and the dead.

When we were baptised in Christ Jesus, we were baptised into his death. We were buried so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of God, so we too might walk in newness of life.”                                                                               Romans 14:7-9, 6:4


Grace and Peace to you

Lately I have been thinking quite a bit about death. In particular my own. And I realised that if I had to die now (or pretty soon) I would carry a deep sense of sadness. In fact sadness doesn’t really sum it up. I would feel great grief. Gigantic grief.

Grief that is rooted in knowing that I have not yet lived my life as I know I was created to live it. Grief for all the unfinished stuff. I am not referring to “things” I would still like to do or places I would still enjoy seeing – as in a type of bucket-list. Rather I am referring to those aspects of my living that I have yet to hand over to the Jesus Way. Why haven’t I surrendered more of my life? There is basically only one reason: fear. Yet, if I knew for certain that I was going to die in a year’s time I think I would make the changes without fearing any of the consequences.

I have found the thoughts of author Ron Rolheiser helpfully challenging in these matters:

How do we prepare to die? How do we live so that death does not catch us unaware? What do we do so that we don’t leave this world with too much unfinished business?

The first thing that needs to be said is that anything we do to prepare for death should not be morbid or be something that distances or separates us from life. The opposite is true. What prepares us for death, …is a deeper, more intimate, fuller entry into life. We get ready for death by beginning to live our lives as we should have been living them all along. How do we do that?

We prepare to die by pushing ourselves to love less narrowly. In that sense, readying ourselves for death is really an ever-widening entry into life. We prepare ourselves for death by loving deeply and by expressing love, appreciation, and gratitude to each other.

It’s easier to die when one has been, even for a moment, fully alive. What makes it difficult for us to die, beyond all the congenital instincts inside of us that want us to live, is not so much fear of the afterlife or even fear that their might not be an afterlife. What makes it hard to die is that we have so much life yet to finish and we finish it by loving more deeply and expressing our love more freely.

Grace to you in your living and in your dying, Alan


Dare to have your life re-storied by the Gospel

The stories we tell ourselves and each other are how we make sense of the world and our place in it. Some stories become so sticky, so pervasive that we internalize them to a point where we no longer see their storiness — they become not one of many lenses on reality, but reality itself. Stories we’ve heard and repeated so many times they’ve become the invisible underpinning of our entire lived experience”. ~ Maria Popova

Storytime

Storytime

October 26, 2014  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Storytime

“Make up a story… For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul.”

~ Toni Morrison, The Nobel Lecture In Literature, 1993

 

Grace and peace to you

I recently read an interesting article entitled “Stuck in an old story”, written by Tania Katzschner, who is a socio-ecologist based at UCT. Addressing the issue of “invasive alien vegetation”, Katzshner challenged the old story that she believes we are stuck in by stating that “they are not a disease awaiting a cure, [but rather] they are a constitutive aspect of our social life…,”

Regardless of the field of study, it is brave to challenge the accepted and dominant story. This is because so much is connected to it. Tampering with the dominant story is like messing with the foundation of a building — it causes everything above to shake. Consequently we required to re-evaluate each floor and sometimes a complete demolition is necessary which can be costly and painful especially if we have lived there for a long time and happen to fancy the place.

This applies to every aspect of our lives. As Maria Popova, from @Brainpickings writes: “The stories we tell ourselves and each other are how we make sense of the world and our place in it. Some stories become so sticky, so pervasive that we internalize them to a point where we no longer see their storiness — they become not one of many lenses on reality, but reality itself. Stories we’ve heard and repeated so many times they’ve become the invisible underpinning of our entire lived experience”.

Or as the poet Muriel Rukeyser said, “The universe is made of stories, not atoms.” This is so true! We each have stories that invisibly underpin our entire lived experience. Stories we have internalised about ourselves, others, God and nature. To question them takes bravery. Today we will reflect on the story that Baptism proclaims. It is a counter-cultural story. It is a subversive story threatening the ruling stories of domination. Sadly it is also a story that has been co-opted and tamed over the years, entangled in law and dogma. It has become a dominant and an exclusive story that itself must be bravely questioned.

I agree with spiritual leader Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, who says at the root of our ecological and economic crises is a ‘story’ crisis: a dysfunctional worldview about the universe and our place in it. I believe that the untamed story of baptism is the exact counter story the world needs to hear to be healed and set free.

Here is an example of the transforming power of story from The Name of the Wind by the author of epic fantasy Patrick Rothfuss:

 “Chronicler shook his head and Bast gave a frustrated sigh: “How about plays? Have you seen The Ghost and the Goosegirl or The Ha’penny King?” Chronicler frowned. “Is that the one where the king sells his crown to an orphan boy?” Bast nodded. “And the boy becomes a better king than the original. The goosegirl dresses like a countess and everyone is stunned by her grace and charm.” He hesitated, struggling to find the words he wanted. “You see, there’s a fundamental connection between seeming and being. Every Fae child knows this, but you mortals never seem to see. We understand how dangerous a mask can be. We all become what we pretend to be.”

Chronicler relaxed a bit, sensing familiar ground. “That’s basic psychology. You dress a beggar in fine clothes, people treat him like a noble, and he lives up to their expectations.”

“That’s only the smallest piece of it,” Bast said. “The truth is deeper than that. It’s…” Bast floundered for a moment. “It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.”

Frowning, Chronicler opened his mouth, but Bast held up a hand to stop him. “No, listen. I’ve got it now. You meet a girl: shy, unassuming. If you tell her she’s beautiful, she’ll think you’re sweet, but she won’t believe you. She knows that beauty lies in your beholding.” Bast gave a grudging shrug. “And sometimes that’s enough.”

His eyes brightened. “But there’s a better way. You show her she is beautiful. You make mirrors of your eyes, prayers of your hands against her body. It is hard, very hard, but when she truly believes you…” Bast gestured excitedly. “Suddenly the story she tells herself in her own head changes. She transforms. She isn’t seen as beautiful. She is beautiful, seen.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Chronicler snapped. “You’re just spouting nonsense now.” “I’m spouting too much sense for you to understand,” Bast said testily. “But you’re close enough to see my point.”

Its “re-story” time.

Grace Alan

Ryan has been shot, again

October 19, 2014  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Ryan has been shot, again

Ryan’s story is written by Greg Andrews.

Please join with me in lament for the Ryan’s of Cape Town and in the world.

Ryan has been shot, again.

This is the story of Ryan, 19-year-old who lives in Factreton, Cape Town, South Africa; a neighbourhood overrun by gangsters. Ryan is the younger brother of Masooda who is the kitchen manager at The Service Dining Rooms and my colleague. I have followed Ryan’s story over the last year and am sharing this story to help people understand what it’s like to live on the Cape flats at the moment. Masooda and Ryan have agreed to let this story be shared.

In January 2014, Ryan and a few friends were travelling on a bus to Vygieskraal Stadium to participate in the annual Cape Minstrel Carnival. A group of youngsters from Ryan’s neighbourhood, known for their insipient criminal tendencies, picked on Ryan and his friends, insisting that they vacate their seats. In the ensuing argument, the local roughs knifed Ryan, and two friends, one of whom died later from his wounds. Ryan managed to escape the bus in the commotion.

Despite many witnesses, only Ryan and one other submitted statements to the police and agreed to testify.

In the months that followed, Ryan and his family were subjected to repeated threats. Ryan’s mother was even charged with a spurious assault charge which was thrown out of court but not before she had been arrested at home and spent a night in jail.

In March 2013 Ryan was shot on the stoep of his home after returning from the shops. A single shot penetrated his kidney. Ryan spent a week in Groote Schuur Hospital. In the week that he was discharged, one of Ryan’s friends, Shamiel, was shot dead. It is suspected that Shamiel was shot because he might have been a witness to the incident on the bus although he hadn’t given a statement to the police.

Later in 2013 Ryan and the other witness in the bus incident were charged with a different murder. It was clear (even to local police!) that the charge had been laid against Ryan and his friend to discourage them from testifying. Ryan spent a month in prison awaiting a bail hearing. Bail was set at R2000 and Masooda managed to get enough money together from supporters and family to pay the bail. The case is still pending…

In March 2014 Ryan was shot again as he was leaving home. A motorbike passed by and shot him in the pelvis. He spent another month in hospital. While he was recovering in hospital he was charged with attempted murder of a local youngster despite the fact that he was lying in hospital at the time of the attack. The state refused bail and Ryan spent another 2 months in Polsmoor awaiting trial. Later, on appeal, R1000 bail was granted. Both the murder case and attempted murder case are still awaiting a trial date.

Because of the continuing threat to Ryan, his family decided he should go live with relatives in Stellenbosch.

On Thursday, 9 October, Ryan appeared in court to give testimony in the case concerning the second shooting attack on himself. He had to stay with Masooda in Factreton that night. The family were unable to organise transport for Ryan to return to Stellenbosch the next day as they were waiting for some cash from Masooda’s wages to pay transport. Ryan was due to travel back to Stellenbosch on Saturday.

Ryan took the opportunity to visit friends on Friday night and when he returned home with his girlfriend, he was confronted by a young man who had been to school with Ryan. The young man pulled a gun on Ryan and chased him. Ryan fled to a neighbour’s house where he fell against the door of the house and his girlfriend fell on top of him trying to shield him. The assailant came up to the prone couple and pushed the gun around her so he could shoot Ryan. As each bullet hit him, Ryan murmured for his mother. His girlfriend was shouting that the assailant should shoot her too, because she had seen his face. After firing all 8 bullets in the magazine the young man ran off.

Ryan’s mom, who was asleep a few doors down, heard the shots and a little later the cries of a neighbour calling her to come to Ryan’s aid. Eventually Ryan was taken to Groote Schuur Hospital where he underwent a 9 hour operation to repair the damage done to his abdomen. Unfortunately he lost a kidney. He then underwent a further 3 hour operation to have pins implanted in his legs to repair the numerous breaks where bullets had shattered bones.

The shooter had been recruited by local gangsters and was not experienced. Despite firing 8 times, and all 8 bullets hitting Ryan, he was not fatally wounded. He remains in a critical condition at the hospital but doctors are optimistic about his recovery. Thankfully for Ryan, Cape Town has some of the most experienced gunshot surgeons in the world. That is itself says a great deal about the state of affairs in this city.

I know that as I share this story there will be many people who want to help. Right now, Ryan and his family need legal help. Legal Aid is a wonderful resource, but the lawyers are over-burdened and only have time to handle one case at a time. Ryan is being attacked on several fronts at once and he needs a strong advocate who can fight his case in court and ensure that his rights are not being infringed. If you would like to help, share this story. Eventually, we hope, someone will stand up and take Ryan’s case on.

Greg Andrews

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 Thank you to everyone who sponsored a young person to attend camp this weekend. It is our hope that providing such opportunities for young people — some of whom live in very vulnerable and broken communities — will lessen the amount of Ryan’s in our world. Thank you to Dr Gilbert Lawrence for preaching today.

Grace, Alan