Disarm and rethink

Disarm and rethink

December 1, 2013  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Disarm and rethink

“They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.”

 

Happy New Year on this first Sunday of Advent. Yes, Christian New Year begins with four weeks of preparation for the coming of Jesus. And in Jesus we welcome God’s life enabling vision for all of creation. In Jesus we witness true humanity and true divinity walking hand in hand. In Jesus we witness life lived as life was intended to be lived — in love, by love and for love.

The prophet Isaiah is going to be our guide through these Advent days. The One thing we will soon learn about the prophet Isaiah is that he was not short on imagination when it came to expressing God’s heavenly dream for earth.

For Isaiah the first step for us to prepare for the coming of the prince of peace is to convert our weapons of destruction into instruments of nourishment — ”swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks”.

Sadly his words are yet to be taken seriously. We are still addicted to the lunacy of war. As John Wesley so clearly wrote many years ago:

Here are forty thousand men gathered together on this plain. What they going to do? See, there are thirty or forty thousand more at a great distance. And these are going to shoot them through the head or body, to stab them, or split their skulls, and send most of their souls into everlasting fire, as fast as they possibly can. Why so? What harm have they done to them? O, none at all! They do not so much as know them.
But a man, who is king of France has a quarrel with another man, who is king of England. So these Frenchmen are to kill as many of these Englishmen as they can, to prove the king of France is in the right. Now, what an argument is this? What a method of proof? What an amazing way of deciding controversies!
What must mankind be, before such a thing as war could ever be known or thought of upon earth? How shocking, how inconceivable a want must there have been of common understanding, as well as common humanity, before any two governors, or any two nations in the universe could once think of such a method of decision! If then, all nations, Pagan, Mohammedan, and Christian, do, in fact, make this their last resort, what farther proof do we need of the utter degeneracy of all nations from the plainest principles of reason and virtue? Of the absolute want, both of common sense and common humanity, which runs through the whole race of mankind? 
From: Works (Jackson) 9:221 The Doctrine of Original Sin (part 1)

Our first Advent task is to disarm and to rethink the way we “decide controversies”. None of us are excluded from this task. It involves how we decide controversies within our most intimate relationships as well as the most expansive public policy.

Manenberg Interfaith Prayers for Peace

Grace, Alan

Jesus first

Jesus first

November 24, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Jesus first
Focus more time and energy on what we are for
than on what we are against.

Today is Christ the King Sunday — it is also the last Sunday of the Christian year. This is perfectly appropriate for it reminds us where all of time is headed as well as the purpose of our year-in and year-out living — putting Jesus first in all things. As the author of Colossians puts it: “Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers — all things have been created though him and for him … so that he may come to have first place in everything.” (Col 1:15-16 and 18).

I was listening to a preacher the other day that left me feeling very perturbed. The sermon was saturated with devil talk — even though the text made no mention of the devil (in fact very few do!). I was hearing more about the devil than I was about Jesus.

Aldous Huxley — of Brave New World fame wrote a book called, The Devils of Loudun. This 1952 non-fiction novel is a historical narrative of supposed demonic possession, religious fanaticism, sexual repression, and mass hysteria which occurred in 17th century France surrounding unexplained events that took place in the small town of Loudun.

This is what Huxley says:
The effects which follow too constant and intense a concentration upon evil are always disastrous. Those who crusade not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes even perceptively worse than it was, before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself, (p.192)…

No man can concentrate his attention upon evil, or even upon the idea of evil, and remain unaffected. To be more against the devil than for God is exceedingly dangerous. Every crusader is apt to go mad. He is haunted by the wickedness which he attributes to his enemies; it becomes in some sort a part of him. (p 260)

On this Christ the King Sunday we are reminded to put Jesus first in everything we think, say and do as our years focus. To focus more on what we are “for” than on what we are “against”. This will protect us from focusing too much on others and not enough on our own need for transformation. It may also prevent us from being perpetual faultfinders with nothing better to do than issue complaints. Even if our complaints have some validity it is tiring to be in the presence of one who only ever finds fault.

As our New Year begins next week — on the first Sunday of Advent may our default stance be for Jesus. What does it mean to be for Jesus? It means to be for what he was for. To be for: truth, gentleness, forgiveness, generosity, compassion for the vulnerable, to live lives of prayer, peace, joy and justice etc. This stance for Jesus is the most faithful way we can prepare for his birth among us.

An Alcohol-Free December

Why an alcohol-free December? Well why not?

Alcohol is very very expensive! I am not referring to the cost in Rand terms — although this is no small amount. I am referring to its cost in relationships and ruined lives. So many arguments, ugliness, child neglect and abuse, fights, killings, road accidents … you name it … are all exacerbated by alcohol.

For those of us who struggle with addiction December is one of the most difficult months and it would be great to know that others are FASTING in SOLIDARITY with us.

Peace, Alan

Mindfulness

Mindfulness

November 17, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Mindfulness

Thích Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist. He lives in the Plum Village Monastery in the Dordogne region in the South of France.

Below follows Thích Nhat Hanh’s Five Mindfulness Trainings which represent the Buddhist vision for a global spirituality and ethic. To practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings is to cultivate the insight of interbeing, or Right View, which can remove all discrimination, intolerance, anger, fear, and despair.

Remember the first key (Manna and Mercy) of Christian interpretation is to ask: “Would Jesus say amen to this?” I invite you to hold this question as you read through these Five Mindfulness Trainings…

The Five Mindfulness Trainings
1. Reverence For Life
Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.

2. True Happiness
Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.

3. True Love
Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness – which are the four basic elements of true love – for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.

4. Loving Speech and Deep Listening
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.

5. Nourishment and Healing
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.

By: Thích Nhat Hanh | www.plumvillage.org

Become love

Become love

November 10, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Become love
Sidewalk art!
Witty and theologically on the money!
This is a ‘bench’ next to a Gautrain bus stop.

One of the people I return to over and over again when my clarity of purpose fades, is Gordon Cosby — the founder and pastor/prophet of the Church of the Saviour in Washington DC. Listen:

Jesus makes it crystal clear. Our work is to become love, and from the state of being love, we are to love. He sums it up this way: “Love one another as I have loved you”. To fail to become love is to fail life. It is to fail to become human.

No matter how varied and rich our experiences, how honoured we’ve been, how great our achievements, we will have missed what life was all about if we do not become love. We will not at all be ready for the only milieu that matters, the one we will enter when we are poured out at death.

I think one of the great failures of ministers like myself is that we have exhorted people to love, and we have deplored the lack of love in the world, yet we have not become love. We have not known how to instruct our own souls in the art of loving.

Suppose I really hear Jesus say: Gordon, do you love me? How will I stop answering in generalities? What will be my specific practices that will bring inner change? Has love become my primary work, my central activity, my core being?

I think Jesus is saying, if you aspire to love one another as I have loved you, then see one another as I have seen you. I see you as sacred. You are precious beyond any measure of preciousness. Accept that I see you this way. See every person you meet as I see you. Learn to experience yourself and others with reverence.

There is more in each of us that is beyond what we can grasp. Will I dare to see it? In the person who is telling me off? In the one who is trying to get closer than is comfortable, in those who are pressuring me? Will I dare to enjoy the presence of the sacred even in those who annoy me?

To love is not to try to solve anything about a person, not to try and fix a person. It is not to do so much as to be. Just be open to God’s sacred creation. Just love what is.

With the desire to grow in love, Alan

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

People Make Places

I thought I’d bring to your attention the walking tour (2 hours) the Cape Town Partnership is conducting next week Tuesday 12 November. Andrew Putter and myself will facilitate a walk around the east city area: a chance for people of different backgrounds to have some constructive chats around some interesting places and worlds in the city that they walk past daily but may not have necessarily engage with. This includes vibrant afro-cosmopolitan stretches in the city, the daily routes used by trolley pushers, some of the experiences of informal traders, and the organisations such as the Service Dining Room that help marginalised groups on the street.

There is no set agenda or expectations. The purpose of the walk is to rather get some people together, chat and just come out from the experience stimulated in some way. Encountering something that can hopefully plant a small seed.

We start from 6 Spin Street at 9:30 next Tuesday. If you would like to attend please tell Adrienne.

The Jesus Test

The Jesus Test

November 3, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on The Jesus Test

This picture was painted on a garage door…

Those of you who have attended Manna and Mercy will remember that the first key that we learnt to help us to live out the Scriptures in Christ-Like (life-giving) ways is to ask: “Would Jesus say amen to our interpretation?” or “Would Jesus be pleased if we were to imitate the Word as we understand it?” So for example, Samson may have killed 10 000 Philistines believing it was God who equipped him to do so, but would Jesus (who instructs us to love our enemies) say ‘Amen’ to that behaviour? Surely not, and therefore we should not be imitating Samson in our relationship with any Philistines.

This question: “Would Jesus say amen?” is a simple enough question to ask — but which Jesus are we referring to? You see the question presupposes that we know who Jesus is and what would either please him or trouble him. Our answers will largely be influenced by how we see Jesus’ overall purpose.

For example if we see Jesus’ primary purpose to secure our place in heaven — then it is likely that we are going to interpret his teachings and actions in that light. In this light the parable of the vineyard owner (Matthew 20) who kept employing labourers throughout the day and paid them all the same — would mean that no matter when we give our life to Christ (early or late) we all receive the same reward. In this heavenly light we are blinded to any relevance the parable may have with regard to the payment of a just wage on earth.

There are other “Jesus’”. Jesus the miracle worker who aims to prove the existence of God in whom we are to have faith. Jesus the ethical teacher calling us to live a morally upright life. Jesus the spiritual guru offering us inner peace. Jesus the motivational speaker promising rich rewards for doing things his way. Jesus the doomsday prophet coming to notify us of the end of the world and urgently pleading with us to repent or perish.

This can leave us confused asking: “Would the right Jesus please stand up?” To help us apply this “Jesus test” we need to remember the most important thing about Jesus’ life, namely his death. No doubt this is the reason why the Gospel writers all spend a disproportionate amount of text describing Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion. To help us have “the right Jesus to stand up” we must check whether our understanding of Jesus would give the Roman authorities and religious leaders any cause to have Jesus crucified. Why would the Romans be threatened by someone who promised to get you into heaven if you just believed in him and his heavenly father? Why would they kill him for performing miracles or teaching ethics or promising peace and prosperity. Even announcing the end of the world would not disturb them. In fact, all these “Jesus’” would probably have been welcomed by them because it would have distracted the peasant masses from their oppressive struggles and calmed their desire to revolt against the powers.

So even though there are aspects of truth in all of these pictures of Jesus, none of them even remotely account for his crucifixion and this should make us wary of holding onto any of them too tightly. If the Jesus we are praying to or preaching about was not enough of a threat to get nailed to a cross among criminals, then the odds are we are not speaking about Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus was crucified because he was a threat to the political power and economic privilege of the ruling classes. Therefore, whenever we interpret Jesus’ words and deeds we must ask how our interpretation threatens the rich and powerful — if it doesn’t, we need to look again and again…

Parables as Subversive Speech, by William R. Herzog II is a book I highly recommend to assist us in interpreting Jesus as a threat to the powers.

Grace in the disturbance, Alan

Important lessons

Important lessons

October 27, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Important lessons

A special thank you to all those who made last week’s camp
such a connecting time.
For the day visitors who made the trek  —  thank you.
It was great to be together.

Take note:
Next year’s Weekend Away will be on from 17 to 19 October.
I dare you to put the date in your diary!

 

What are the two most important lessons you have learnt in your life? Go ahead and take some time to think about it…

I asked this question to the group I meet with on Wednesday mornings at The Carpenter’s Shop. Here is what was shared:

Respect!” Respect as in being “considerate to the person in front of you” and “seeing a person’s dignity”. “Everyone must respect everyone — even old people must respect younger people”

Discipline of myself. Without discipline you are nothing. Self-discipline to get up at 5 a.m. — to wash myself and to iron my pants and eat before I catch the train to look for work…”

I have learnt that I must be “wise with my words”. “Unwise words make trouble.”

Honesty is the lesson I have learnt. It is always better to be honest.” At this point the conversation became very interesting. Another person said, “but sometimes you have to be dishonest”. And he went on to explain that when he was in Pollsmoor Prison a member of the 28s was killed in his communal cell. When the prison wardens asked him who was responsible he said he didn’t know. “If I had been honest I would have been killed just like that gang member” he reasoned. “I have learnt in life that sometimes it is best to be dishonest, but to be dishonest is not the same as lying. Lying is bad. Dishonesty is not.” “Yes”, explained another, “like when you go for a job interview and they ask you if you can do this or that and whether you have experience, you say ’yes’ because you want to impress them even though you do not have the experience — this is not lying because you do want to impress them”. This was a new insight for me!

“Well, yesterday I went to fill in a form for a job’, said another, ‘and on the form they asked if I had ever been in prison. I thought to myself: ‘why don’t they find out that information themselves’. I then changed my mind and told them. They asked me the nature of my crime. I told them and they wanted to know how long I was inside for. I told them and then they said that I was not ‘inside long enough’ so I did not get the job. It would have been better if I were dishonest”. Others nodded in agreement with him. And I found myself agreeing too. How unfair it is that the very people who were born with so many obstacles in their future now are held to ransom by their past. Let us pray…

God of Grace — God of forgiving love for all and forever. We praise you for the treasured lessons you have gifted us with in our living. Thank you for the people who have respected us and by doing so taught us how to respect others. Heal the wounds that we carry as well as the wounds that we have inflicted due to a lack of respect.

For the examples of self-discipline that have challenged and inspired us we are grateful. Give us disciple-like-discipline to shape of days in your service.

Tame our tongues O God. They are too sharp for us to handle on our own. We have witnessed them cut and tear others apart. Help us to fast from unnecessary talk. Erase all words of unkind judgement from our vocabulary and make us generous with words that heal, comfort and liberate.

Lord your word invites us to trust that the truth will set us free and yet we have heard how it may get one killed. Some of us struggle to be truthful if it means we may disappoint another — so how difficult it must be if a job or our life were on the line. Set us free from fear to be truth-tellers we pray.

Amen.

Grace, Alan

 

 

Becoming human

Becoming human

October 20, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Becoming human

“I believe that loneliness is something essential to human nature;
it can only be covered over, it can never actually go away. Loneliness is part of being human, because there is nothing in existence that can completely fulfill the needs of the human heart.” ~ Jean Vanier [p7]

I have just finished re-reading Jean Vanier’s book entitled: Becoming Human. Here are some random quotes from the book that I invite you to read and reflect on …

To be human is to accept ourselves just as we are, with our own history, and to accept others as they are. To be human means to accept history as it is and to work, without fear, towards greater openness, greater understanding, and a greater love of others. To be human is not to be crushed by reality, or to be angry about it or to try to hammer it into what we think it is or should be, but to commit ourselves as individuals, and as a species, to an evolution that will be for the good of all. [p15]

The truth will set us free only if we let it penetrate our hearts and rend the veil that separates head from heart. [p16]

To a certain extent we lose control in our own lives when we are open to others. [p29]

About prayer: We need space to re-read the day, as it were. We need time to listen to the inner voice of hope calling us back to the essentials of love… [p32]

The need to win … can paralyse the development of the heart, prevent healthy cooperation among people, and promote rivalry and enmity. [p51]

One day in Paris, I was accosted by a rather dishevelled woman who shouted at me: “Give me some money!” we started to talk. I learned that she had just come out of a psychiatric hospital; I realised quite quickly that she had immense needs and I became frightened. I had an appointment and I didn’t want to be late, so I gave her a little money and went on my way, just like the Pharisee and the Levite in the gospel parable of the good Samaritan. I was frightened of being swallowed up by her pain and her need. [p70]

We feel so inadequate in the face of poverty. What can we do to change so many seemingly impossible situations? … I had this fear of being sucked into a vortex of poverty. To be open is an enormously risky enterprise; you risk status, power, money, even friendship, the recognition and sense of belonging that we so prize… [p79]

To give food to a beggar who knocks on the door can be quite an easy thing to do. But if he keeps coming back — with his friends — then what do we do? We can become totally lost and insecure. We are at sea with no horizon, in unknown territory without a map. We are frightened that the beggar is calling us to change our lifestyle. [p80]

Our hearts, however, are never totally pure. People can cry out to be loved, especially if as children they were not loved. There are “loving” relationships that are unhealthy because they are a flight from truth and from responsibility. There are friendships that are unhealthy because one is too frightened to challenge one’s friend. These are the signs of the immature heart. An immature heart can lead us to destructive relationships and then to depression and death. [p87]

Hatred is like gangrene: it eats a person up. All our refusals to communicate with others and to be open to them enclose us in a prison. But how do we move from accusation, no matter how legitimate it may be, to openness and acceptance, and even a desire to see our enemies liberated from their fears and selfishness? The process begins when we become aware of the walls within us that are built on fear and unconscious anger, and when we become aware of how our openness towards those we call friends can be a protection from anguish and loneliness. [p150]

Wisdom and insight be yours in your reflections. Grace, Alan

Two emotions, two options

Two emotions, two options

October 13, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Two emotions, two options

So on Thursday afternoon I was standing on my outside deck
and I heard a noise that sounded like a swarm of bees.
I looked up and saw a “drone” peering down at me.

Big Brother is watching … my garden grow.

 

It has been said that there are really only two emotions — fear and love. In other words whatever we do is rooted in one or the other. By asking ‘why am I doing what I am doing?’ we may discover this to be true. We may also discover that many of us are motivated more by fear than love. The fear of rejection. The fear of the future. The fear of death. The fear of being alone. The fear of not having enough. The fear of change. Even the fear of fear. Or the fear of …

When fear is our predominant motivation it becomes our “true north” that sets our direction. At this point fear has become our god (the most determining factor in our life). Even our prayers to God end up in the service of this god of fear. No wonder the most repeated command in Scripture is “Do not be afraid”.

The scriptures remind us that “perfect love casts out fear”. The opposite is also true: fear casts out love. And because God is love, fear then casts out God because it becomes our god.

Instead of being determined by our fear we may be tempted to deny our fear. The problem with denial is that instead of removing our fear all it does is mask it. Fear then becomes the hidden cause of much of our living, only now it is one step removed from being discerned and dealt with.

The two options of denial and determination are equally debilitating.

Scriptures injunction that “perfect love casts out fear” gives us insight into a third way to relate to our fear. Here we are invited to bring our fear into relationship with love. Remembering God is love, we are invited to bring our fear into relationship with God. In the very least, to love means to acknowledge and accept. This is our first task — to acknowledge and accept our fear. To do this it is sometimes helpful to personify our fear. In other words to give our fear a name, e.g. Wolf. And then to relate to the Wolf without judgement. To explore rather than to evaluate the Wolf. This loving (acknowledging, accepting, exploring without judgement) of Wolf — will over time transform Wolf. Slowly Wolf will determine our living (either consciously or unconsciously) less and less.

Grace, Alan

Windows and Mirrors

Windows and Mirrors

October 6, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Windows and Mirrors

Mirrors only lie if they have been lied to!
Look in the mirror — are you sure you are you?

Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won’t come in. ~ Alan Alda

It was luxuries like air conditioning that brought down the Roman Empire. With air conditioning their windows were shut, they couldn’t hear the barbarians coming. ~ Garrison Keillor

 

A window invites us to look through it. A mirror invites us to look into it. We need both windows and mirrors in our life. We need to look outwards and beyond and we need to look deeply within. We need to see the world at large in all its splendour and balance as well as its suffering and chaos. We need to see ourselves in all our beauty and purity as well as our compromising contradictions. What we see within and without calls for thankful praise and heartfelt lament. What we see will cause intrigue, doubt, confidence, questioning, liberation and resurrection.

Both windows and mirrors invite us to see new things and in new ways. This is one of the main reasons we gather here for worship each week: To see. To see all of creation, each other and ourselves through the window of Jesus’ healing vision of justice and equality for all and in the mirror of his accepting and engaging love of all. Authentic worship includes both windows and mirrors.

Windows get dirty and mirrors mist up. Both need cleaning from time to time to keep clarity. But here in lies a danger. We may be tempted to spend more time looking at the window than through it and at the mirror rather than into it — driven by an obsession to keep it clean. When this happens, our vision that the window had hoped to extend and which the mirror had hoped to deepen becomes myopic. We become professional window cleaners — wiping and polishing but no longer seeing or at least not seeing what the window and mirror had hoped we see. With worship we become a window cleaner when we worship the way we worship. With Church we become a window cleaner when we love our community more than the truth. With Jesus this occurs when we confuse idolising him with following him.

Where else this analogy is true in your living.

Grace, Alan

A path out of poverty

A path out of poverty

September 29, 2013  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on A path out of poverty

An OLIVE branch that really does make peace.
Goedgedacht Olives and Olive Oil that create “A Path Out of Poverty” for the rural poor. Look for them at Pick ‘n Pay.

I was away last weekend facilitating Manna and Mercy. Manna and Mercy is a short picture book version of the bible — simple yet profound — just as Jesus taught. In fact I reckon it is Jesus’ favourite version of the Bible.

I asked the author Dan Erlander why he called it Manna and Mercy and not simply ‘The Bible’ and this is what he said: “In biblical times rabbis would summarise their teaching for their disciples in a prayer. John had apparently done this for his disciples and now Jesus’ did the same, beginning with ‘Our Father…’ Now listen to what is at the very centre of what we call the Lord’s Prayer but what is in fact Jesus’ very own summary of his teaching: ‘Give us our daily bread (Manna) and forgive us our debts’ (Mercy). So Manna and Mercy is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching.”

Reading the Gospels confirms that manna (which is really a symbol for justice) and mercy for all is what Jesus lived for and it is also what got him killed.

It was therefore special to be hosted at Goedgedacht Farm near Malmesbury not only because the beauty runneth over like each of the dams on the property, but because it embodies in deed what Manna and Mercy espouses in word.

The whole farm exists to give life in all its fullness to rural families — especially children. This is not an add-on like some Corporate Social Investment programme. Their business is to use their business to liberate rural people from the continuous cycles of poverty and joblessness that have entrapped farm worker families for many generations. Education and health weave through everything they do. Their Path out of Poverty (POP) programme touches the lives of 1268 individuals from 30 farms and in two rural villages of Riebeek West and Riebeek Kasteel. POP is a programme for children and youth run by the young people themselves.

They understand that no single project will get a child out of poverty. As they tenaciously declare: “The only thing that has a chance of working is a long-term intervention, a programme that should involve a child for up to 20 years … and then start again with the next generation.” Check out: www.goedgedacht.org

Inspired, Alan

________________________________________________

Corporal Punishment

This week I was called by a reporter from Die Burger to give my views on corporal punishment. I did not have too much time to get them to her — but here are my reasons why I do not support any form of corporal punishment:

To use a mere two verses of Scripture (Proverbs 13:24 and 23:13) as a validation for corporal punishment is a terribly narrow basis for parenting and educating children. And besides the ‘rod’ that scripture refers to in Proverbs 13:24 may well be referring to the rod-like-pointer that the rabbi used while reading the Torah. In other words to spare the rod would mean to neglect teaching children the Torah and not to give a child a hiding.

The Bible is clear that discipline is necessary, but discipline is not the same thing as punishment. Therefore to say that ‘smacking is good’ because children need discipline is to confuse the issue. Discipline when applied well relies on a host of other emotions that reveal not only why the behaviour was undesirable but also how and why the behaviour can be changed.

Corporal punishment is based on fear and relies on superior power. Discipline relies on respect and relies on the strength of a loving relationship that exists between a parent and a child. Punishment may be effective in the short term but only lasts as long as the fear. Fear casts out love.

Corporal punishment ultimately teaches the child that if you have a problem with another human being you can solve it by giving them a hiding. Discipline invites imaginative ways at conflict resolution which are vital social skills for all human beings to learn.

Corporal punishment is often more about the state of the impatient, over-tired parent than about the deed and need of the child. Healthy discipline takes far more time and effort and imagination for sure – but in the end the long way round is the quickest.