Begin again and again

Begin again and again

Dec 30, 2018  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Begin again and again

Grace to you

Time does what time does. Time ticks. Time ticks at the same rate all the time and yet because we have agreed to categorise time in the way we do – certain of its ticks carry deeper significance; though essentially time is doing what it always does: tick. Our story of time allows for time to start over in various categories: a new second (free from and different to the last second), a new minute, a new hour, a new day, a new week, a new month, and new year (free from and different to the last year). Each ‘start-over’ is a gift reminding us that we too can start over. Even if we are not “into” new year resolutions it is difficult not to silently desire the newness of ‘starting over’ at this time.

During the 10 day Vipassana I participated in a few weeks ago I was struck by how often Goenka (one of the founding teachers) would repeat: “Start again” … “Start again” … “Start again”. They are words of invitation. They are words of hope that this time can be different from the last time. They are words of liberation reminding us that our past does not have to determine our future. They are words of faith – faith in our potential to start over.

Sadly the ‘Christian’ word for ‘start again’ is stained by fear and threat. The word I am referring to is: ‘Repent’. Repent is often used and often heard as a ‘turn or burn’ threat, but it is actually a very beautiful and hopeful and encouraging word. Repent is an invitation for us to turn – to turn around and face a new direction – the direction that leads to fullness of living. Repent believes we can change even when we think we are stuck forever in our ways. Repent is an encouraging whisper, inviting us to: ‘begin … begin again … just begin … just take one step … you can start again … you can start again”.

Today or tomorrow I hope we will carve out some calm from the chaos and seek out silence from the noise to reflect on what it is we are being invited to start again … to repent.

Goenka would also repeat two other phrases over and over again: The first: ‘Practice persistently and patiently’. All things that are meaningful in life take persistent and patient practice. The deep things of life demand dedication, diligence and devotion. In the calm and silence we are invited to reflect on what we are called to practice more persistently and patiently.

The other phrase he would repeat is: ‘Take rest’… ‘Take rest’. There is a time for work and there is a time to take rest. To know when to take rest is as important as knowing when to work. In the calm and silence we are invited to reflect on, that from which we are called to take rest.

Start again …
Practice persistently and patiently …
Take rest …

Be truthful and kind with yourself,
Alan


A House Called Tomorrow

You are not fifteen, or twelve, or seventeen—
You are a hundred wild centuries

And fifteen, bringing with you
In every breath and in every step

Everyone who has come before you,
All the yous that you have been,

The mothers of your mother,
The fathers of your father.

If someone in your family tree was trouble,
A hundred were not:

The bad do not win—not finally,
No matter how loud they are.

We simply would not be here
If that were so.

You are made, fundamentally, from the good.
With this knowledge, you never march alone.

You are the breaking news of the century.
You are the good who has come forward

Through it all, even if so many days
Feel otherwise. But think:

When you as a child learned to speak,
It’s not that you didn’t know words—

It’s that, from the centuries, you knew so many,
And it’s hard to choose the words that will be your own.

From those centuries we human beings bring with us
The simple solutions and songs,

The river bridges and star charts and song harmonies
All in service to a simple idea:

That we can make a house called tomorrow.
What we bring, finally, into the new day, every day,

Is ourselves. And that’s all we need
To start. That’s everything we require to keep going. 

Look back only for as long as you must,
Then go forward into the history you will make.

Be good, then better. Write books. Cure disease.
Make us proud. Make yourself proud.

And those who came before you? When you hear thunder,
Hear it as their applause.

~ Alberto Ríos, 1952

 

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We are utterly loved

We are utterly loved

Dec 25, 2018  |  Christmas Day  |  Comments Off on We are utterly loved

Grace and peace to you

Christmas is about Jesus. And Jesus is about the Utterly-Loving-Creator-God’s determined desire for all of creation to know that we are utterly loved.

Like Edwin Markham’s poem: Outwitted
He drew a circle that shut me out –

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout,
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.

Christmas is God’s outwitting move – drawing the largest of circles that take us in. I hope that each and every one of us will know God’s loving encirclement today.

In this loving encirclement healing resides.

Knowing we live and move and have our being in God’s circle of love liberates us from the fear to love and be loved. And when all is said and done – to love and be loved is what each of us is born for.

We love because we have first been loved. We literally have to be loved into loving. This is the mission of Jesus: to love us into loving.

“Accepting Jesus” means accepting that we are loved…and thus lovable. We are saved from ourselves. “Following Jesus” means loving others as we have been loved…and thus loving. We are saved for others…especially those the world considers unlovable.

In loving encirclement,
Alan


Helpless God – help us

Helpless God as child and crucified,
laid in a cradle and cradled on a cross:
help us discern in your submission
not weakness but the passionate work of love.

You tell us you are poor in every age:
naked, hungry, and without a home.

Help us in your poor cradle of today
to see what is of you and what is not:
that suffering does not often save,
or helplessness redeem our sorry lives.
And so forbid us sing when we should weep.

Yet come to us and all of ours,
O child of Mary and of God,
in all the poor who saw you first,
and laughed with you, and heard you well.
And now run back from nowhere with their news,
to plant their seeds of hope in our dry ground.

~ Michael H. Taylor

 

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Prepare the way for the Lord

Prepare the way for the Lord

Dec 23, 2018  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Prepare the way for the Lord

Grace to you

John the Baptiser heard the call to “prepare the way for the Lord”. His scriptural instructions were: to smooth the potholed path, to lower the mountainous path and to make straight the crooked path. Sounds like the construction business – road construction to be precise. This is difficult work – hot work – hard work – thankless work – anonymous work … and if you don’t believe me ask yourself when last you ever stopped to get to know and show appreciation for those who disturb the flow of traffic in order to reconstruct a highway or build a bridge?

On 5 December (the anniversary of Mandela’s death as well as Sobukwe’s birth) I spent the night on Robben Island. Pilgrimaging through the cells, I was struck by how many of the political prisoners I had never heard of. Some of them stayed on Robben Island even longer than Mandela! Truly the social con-struction business of preparing the way of the Lord – which is the way of justice, gentleness, generosity, truth, mercy, integrity, radical inclusion, etc. – is often a thankless and anonymous task that demands huge courage and deep humility.

All photographs are of political prisoners on Robben Island are photos of John the Baptiser with different names.

Grace,
Alan

 

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Plant gardens when others plant bombs

Plant gardens when others plant bombs

Dec 16, 2018  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Plant gardens when others plant bombs

Grace to you

Two weeks back I recommended some Advent-time reading. During Advent-time our imaginations are stretched to include the possibilities of a world where the poor are prioritised and not persecuted and suggested that Tomatoes and Taxi Ranks will help us in this reorientation of our priorities. Advent-time is also most beautifully and powerfully honoured by those who dare to “prefigure” a hoped-for-future in the present. This is wonder-fully captured by a war photojournalist by the name of Lalage Snow in her book: War Gardens – A journey through conflict in search of calm.

Snow honours Advent-time by refusing to deny the horrors of war while at the same time exposing people’s stubbornness against despair as expressed through their daring and caring acts of garden planting.

While interviewing one restorer of gardens in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, Snow got the sense that they “were effectively tidying up after two decades of chaos, the conflict erupting around them and all the trappings which skip alongside war were merely an annoyance rather than an existential threat. The restoration almost belittles the war. It says, ‘OK, you guys carry on fighting, we’ve got more important things to sort out.’ If war is anxious, uncertain and terrifying, gardens are the antithesis. They are solid worlds of hope and life, and their gardeners work at a cognitive distance from violence.”

In another interview, Mohammed Kabir is introduced as a gardener for the Kabul municipality. His garden is mostly for subsistence living – beans, potatoes, okra. Snow writes: “’But what about the flowers?’ I point at the messy square of colour in the middle of the courtyard. ‘Well’, Kabir says, ‘I just decided to bring some seeds from my home and plant them in the courtyard. The soldiers helped me to dig and water. I am an old man,’ he reminds me. I ask him why he would make a garden in the ruins of a forgotten palace where only the military and the ghosts will see it. He looks at me as if I’ve asked him to count up to three. ‘Everyone needs a garden. This is our soil. When you work with it, things grow. It’s nature, life. I am a poor man, sometimes my family and I only eat once a day, but I can live without food; I couldn’t live without seeing green leaves and flowers. They come from heaven. Each one,’ he insists ‘is a symbol of paradise. I have a flower in my garden at home and have counted seventy colours in its petals; tell me that it doesn’t come from heaven!’ he exclaims… ‘Since starting this garden I feel I am getting younger. Every tree, every plant, every flower gives me energy.’

Alexi lives in Donetsk in the Ukraine and declares: ‘Tonight I will sleep in the shelter in the ground like my plants.’ While Hamidullah in Parwan, Afghanistan explains: ‘I had a friend in the army, an officer. He was like a brother to me. He was killed, fighting, about a year and a half ago. I was so sad. I … I couldn’t sleep for grief. I tried to garden to forget him but in the end, I planted to remember him and when one grew, it was like I had a new friend.’

Advent-time is planting a garden when others are planting bombs.

Grace,
Alan

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Time is money

Time is money

Dec 9, 2018  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Time is money

Grace to you

The unquestioned mantra of our times is: TIME IS MONEY. The dominant economic order turns everything into a commodity. In our time everything is capitalised. Time is something we “spend”, rather than share.

The Christian calendar – we were reminded last week – invites us to do time differently. To tell the time not according to hours, minutes and seconds and certainly not according to money, but rather according to the inevitable events that shape a life of faithfulness. Faithfulness defined as living life as it was originally intended to be lived: justly, gently, generously, truthfully, mercifully…

Advent-time is when we prepare for the arrival of a Higher Power – higher than any other power. At Christmas time this Higher Power – God – is grounded among us. When we zoom in using facial recognition software we notice this God’s appearance is one of dispossessed disfigurement. God has taken the form of the godforsaken among us. Thus Advent-time is preparing the world to prioritise rather than persecute the godforsaken among us. As Jesus would say when he is an adult: “What you do to the least of these you do to me.” Advent-time is when we reorientate our lives to prioritise the marginalised and dispossessed, the vulnerable and exploited, the frail and the abused.

Advent-time does not deny the ugly truth of the world’s pain but nor is it determined by it. Advent-time navigates the narrow gap between denial and despair by daring to do something different that neither denial can deter nor despair can determine.

Advent-time lasts 4 weeks on the secular calendar – but in actual fact it takes a lifetime for most of us to reorientate our lives to be good news for the poor, if at all. Each week takes a different theme. The first week of Advent-time aims to stretch our imaginations to include the possibility of a different world where the poor do actually hear good news. Without our imaginations stretched in this way we are unlikely to give our lives to realise such a world.

A recent book that goes a long way to help us to honour Advent-time is, Tomatoes and Taxis Ranks by the Consuming Urban Poverty research group based at UCT that astutely notes “we are surrounded by food, awash with hunger”. They do not deny the harrowing hunger that stalks so many but at the same time they dare to dream of African cities where there is enough for all, and of cities run in such a way that “fill the food gap”.

Today we occupy Church Street. Our occupation is in the form of a beautiful banquet prepared for those who are often hungry in this city that is saturated with food. With our many partners we boldly declare this to be, in the closing words of the Eucharist: “a foretaste of the heavenly banquet prepared for all the world”. May it be on earth as it is in heaven.

Grace,
Alan

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SACC finds the utterances by the EFF leader regrettable

SACC finds the utterances by the EFF leader regrettable

Dec 2, 2018  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on SACC finds the utterances by the EFF leader regrettable

Media Release | Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana | 22 November 2018

The South African Council of Churches (SACC) finds regret-table the unfortunate utterances by the EFF leader, Mr Julius Malema, where he referred to Minister Pravin Gordhan as “a dog”. We take nothing away from Mr Malema or any other person’s freedom of speech. But we find it unacceptable that an elected public official can call a person, whether government minister or not, a dog; especially given the connotation of such an expression in African culture. Moreover, such name-calling by a popular political leader could easily incite followers to violent acts. It engenders an attitude in society that says other people do not matter. That is not Ubuntu. This kind of talk, accompanied by sabre-rattling and talk of war and possible bloodshed, on the eve of electioneering, is deeply concerning.

We also take issue with Mr Malema’s trashing of the Zondo Commission of Inquiry as a Mickey Mouse show. This is a Commission that was the recommendation of the Public Protector in the 2016 ground-breaking State of Capture report; and the whole country welcomed it and eagerly awaited its creation. We do not understand how it now becomes a Mickey Mouse show and a waste of money. We urge all South Africans to support the Zondo Commission and not have witnesses attacked and intimidated, as that will have the effect of burying the serious wrongdoings that might have been revealed in order to have recommendations for solutions that help cleanse our governmental environment.

We have seen Mr Malema and his party standing steadfastly against corruption, and demanding appropriate action. We cannot believe that he and his party no longer want to see corrupt practices exposed in a judicial inquiry such as the Zondo Commission. We believe that it is in the interests of the country and all citizens that all is exposed in order to begin the healing of our State institutions; and the Ubuntu ethos and values cultivated.

Archbishop Tutu said of Ubuntu: “It speaks of the very essence of being human… It is to say, my humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours… A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are.”

This is what we seek to cultivate as a South African character of life, inside politics, the State (Batho Pele) and in society as a whole. This is the nature of the South Africa we pray for as the South African churches. — End —

Issued by the office of the General Secretary of the SA Council of Churches,
Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana.

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Generosity & Gratitude

Generosity & Gratitude

Nov 25, 2018  |  Christ the King Sunday, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Generosity & Gratitude

Grace and Peace

At the end of the 10 day Vipassana Meditation the teacher spoke: “You will know that you are progressing on this path of meditation when you notice the following two signs …”

The teacher pauses…

In this moment of pause I begin to ponder what the teacher is going to say. What are the telltale signs of meditative progress I wonder? Are we to measure meditation progress according to how still we can sit – or how long we can sit – or how many times per day we can sit? Or will he speak of how our nomadic minds will finally stop wandering? Or about how ‘in-touch’ we will begin to feel with our breath and our body? Will he tell of one day attaining a blissful meditative state of good vibrations void of any backache? I wonder?

The teacher continues: “The first sign of progress on this path of meditation is … generosity. Yes, generosity is the first sign. A growing generosity. When you give without expectation of repayment in return you are progressing. When you can give without any need for recognition then you know you are progressing well.”

“The second sign of progress on this path of meditation is … gratitude. Yes, gratitude is the second sign. A growing gratitude. When you are grateful for all you have been given through your entire life. When you are grateful for the gifts that fill every single moment of your life then you know you are progressing well.”

Progress on the path is not measured by mastering a technique. Progress is measured by what happens to our heart. A generous and grateful heart is progress. Generosity and gratitude are the natural fruit of a tree that has its roots planted in the knowledge that we are all one. Inter-related and inter-dependent. When I awake to the truth that my life is dependent on all other life and all other life is impacted by my living – then generosity and gratitude are bound to blossom.

Paul agrees on how we should measure progress on the Jesus path: “If I speak in the tongues of angels, have prophetic powers or am able to move mountains, but do not love, I am a noisy gong … I gain nothing.” [1 Cor. 13]. Or again: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” [Gal. 5:22].

Grace,
Alan

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We praise you, God

We praise you, God

Nov 18, 2018  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on We praise you, God

Invitation to Prayer

God, whose word spoke life and creativity into a formless universe,
and order to a nation of escaped slaves,
whose strong and compassionate voice challenged injustice through frail prophets,
we praise you.

Jesus, whose touch smoothed the broken skin of lepers,
and brought a bleeding woman back to health and belonging,
whose hand raised dead girls, and refused to throw stones at prostitutes,
we praise you.

Spirit, whose breath restores souls and bodies, and whose presence comforts the grieving,
whose fire ignites compassion within us for the healing of the nations,
we praise you.

In the noise of voices calling for revenge, judgement and punishment,
we pray for the courage to speak out for restoration.

When pain, poverty and persecution leave people blind to grace and compassion,
we pray for the courage to carry the light of love and forgiveness.

Where the quest to even the score has left our world angry and wounded,
we pray for the courage to release our grievances and seek wholeness for all.

As you intercede for us, Jesus, we intercede for our world that all may know
the Good News of restoration in Christ.

God of wholeness, we celebrate the healing you bring
to us and our world, and we celebrate the promised
wholeness that awaits all of creation in your eternal reign.

God of restoration, in our blindness and ignorance,
you open our eyes and lead us to truth;

in our arrogance and defiance, you still our souls and teach us humility;
in our weakness and displacement, you protect us and lead us home;
While we deserve only judgement and the heavy burden of paying our debts,
you offer us grace, and the hope of life renewed.

And so we praise you
and thank you,
with all our hearts. Amen.

~ Nicole Terblanche

 

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God, love us into loving

God, love us into loving

Nov 11, 2018  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on God, love us into loving

Grace and Peace

Utterly Loving God – lover of the world – lover of all of humanity. Please love us into loving.
Your love is without limit.
Your love is faithfully consistent.
Your love is flexible and firm and supple and strong like water – able to flow through or around the failings of those you love: saturating and surrounding our failure with your forgiveness.

Your love is free but it is not cheap. It costs you rather than us, the recipient. We love only because you have first loved us. In our loving your love is ever expanding and stretching and growing.

Your love has no favourites. Your love is for all – yet with special attention on those who need it most because we falsely believe we least deserve it. Like water, your love follows the gravity of our guilt – pooling itself in the lowest parts of our beings – the most desperate and deprived, depraved and debauched areas of our lives – and there your love slowly swirls and invites us to wash – to bathe – to be baptised – to be refreshed and renewed.

We confess we struggle to love. What we call love is often not very loving. Often it is nothing more than petty ego-centric acts of manipulation – brittle and easily offended – all the while being offensive and brutish.

You invite us to love our enemies – yet we even struggle to love our lovers – the people we share a name with … a home, a table, a bed, a past, present and future. We swing between smothering closeness and isolating distance … between caring and controlling. We betray promises – we lie – we break commitments – we slice each other with cold silence. We punish each other with our perfect recall of each other’s mistakes. We judge and we condemn and we hold to ransom. We speak in demands rather than requests. Gentleness forsakes our tone and sometimes our touch. We get bored with each other – stuck in confined corners void of curiosity for each other. Our imagination for something new becomes dull and dead – and the ability to start over seems beyond impossible so we either run away or we cynically settle into our discomfort.

Utterly loving God open us to be loved by you – that you will grow our trust in your love – so that we may be reminded again that we are indeed lovely and lovable. Unless we awaken to this truth of being born in love, by love and for love, you know that we will struggle to love those around us, as we will forever be casting them in our unlovable image.

Utterly loving God, please love us into loving today.
Amen.

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Gift Economy

Gift Economy

Nov 4, 2018  |  All Saints Day, Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Gift Economy

Grace and peace

I have recently, and ever so briefly, been introduced to Robin Wall Kimmerer – author of Braiding Sweetgrass. Elizabeth Gilbert describes the book as: “A hymn of love to the world”. I say Amen to that!

Kimmerer describes herself as a “plant scientist, and … I am also a poet and the world speaks to me in metaphor”.

When asked, as a first year student, why she wanted to study botany, she answered: “Because goldenrod and asters are so beautiful together, and I want to know why. I want to know why these stand together. Why do they grow together and look so beautiful when they could grow apart?” Her advisor was dismayed: “That’s not science.” And he said, “You should go to art school if you want to study beauty.” Narrow single lens perspectives can be quite tyrannical! We see what we see according to the lenses through which we see. Today’s modern world privileges the scientific over the poetic, yet something special is bound to happen when the lenses of science and art love each other as neighbours. This is also true when studying the Scriptures.

Looking through the incredibly ancient yet beautifully fresh lens of indigenous wisdom, Kimmerer speaks of a “gift economy”. She writes, “Plants know how to make food from light and water, and then they give it away” and that what “my scientific community sometimes call ‘natural resources’ are what Native people call gifts”.

She continues: “And that language of thinking about them as gifts rather than natural resources is really, I think, very important because they … When we are given a gift, we know what to do about that, right? When we take natural resources, we take them without consequences when we call them natural resources. Well, they’re ours; they’re our property. We can do with them as we wish. But when we think about what the world gives us as gifts, not as stuff that we’re taking, but as gifts that are given, that engenders a whole different relationship to the living world, doesn’t it?

Suddenly, it invites gratitude, not expectation that I’ll get more and more and more, but gratitude for what I have been given. It generates a kind of self-restraint in return for that gift. When you know it’s a gift, it somehow makes you less greedy and more satisfied and appreciative of what you have.

The other way in which we know when we’re given a gift—yes, we want to be thankful; we want to be respectful to that gift. But when we’re given a gift, it also opens the door to reciprocity, to say, “In return for this gift, I want to give something back,” and that’s the gift-giving economy. It’s based not on an exchange of property, but an exchange based on reciprocity, so that in return for what’s given we want to give something back in return, which means we need to engage one another not anonymously, but as individual beings to consider what it is that we have to give to each other.”

The ‘Gift’ lens is another name for the Jesus lens. For those who have eyes to see…

Grace,
Alan

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