Refuse to sit down

Refuse to sit down

Jul 29, 2018  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Refuse to sit down

Grace to you

Question: How do you stop a jumbo jet from taking off?
Answer: You stand up. You refuse to sit down. You keep standing. (Eph. 6:13-14)

You may have seen the viral video clip by now of Swedish activist Elin Ersson (21) live-streaming her protest to pre-vent an asylum seeker from being deported back to Afghanistan. Ersson refused to sit down and fasten her safety belt. She delayed the flight until eventually the person to be deported was taken off the plane.

Facing frustrated and angry passengers she stood her Elin- Ersson-ground: “I’m not going to sit down until this person (asylum seeker) is off the plane. I’m just asking: What is more important, a life or your time?” Her protest was motivated by simple logic: “Afghanistan is a land at war, but European countries continue to deport people to a place where they can’t be sure if they will live for another day … It’s my firm belief that no one should be deported to a land at war.” This is long-hand for “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

The commentary about her actions have focused on the power of what “one individual” can do. This is crucial to remember when we are tempted to rationalise doing nothing because “I am only me … just a drop in the ocean”. Every week we end our service with the following words of benediction: “And may God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done.” Ersson was surely blessed in this sense.

But on another level it is not true that Ersson was “just one individual”. This is crucial for us to remember. She was part of an organisation working to safeguard the lives and dignity of asylum seekers. She was well informed about the law. She knew her rights. She was following a well thought-out strategy. She was aware of the “pressure point” of the context: that the pilot could make the decision about the passenger being deported or not, and that the plane couldn’t take off while she was standing. She also strategically used livestreaming. In other words it is organisations employing creative actions that enable individuals to make a life-saving difference in the world.

Some have scoffed at her actions pointing out that she did not stop the deportation, but merely delayed it and what is more she may be charged for disobeying the pilot and receive jail time herself. This is true but it misses the point of her action. The power of doing what is right or just (as in choosing life when life and death are before us) does not rest on its so-called success, as in achieving one’s immediate and permanent goal without suffering any personal cost. The power of doing right (serving life) is immeasureably powerfiul in and of itself.

Like the tiny seeds distributed by a bursting flower hidden to the naked eye, doing justice spreads new life far and wide – only to be noticed in a season or two’s time. I foresee a beautiful field of Errson-flowers in the future.

Stand,
Alan

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Ode to the Sunlight

Ode to the Sunlight

Jul 22, 2018  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Ode to the Sunlight

Grace to you

Nieu-Bethesda is a small village in the Eastern Cape beneath the southern foothills of the exquisite Sneeuberge about 50 km from Graaff-Reinet. I went there to visit the home – now museum – of the remarkable artist Helen Martins – known as The Owl House. During the last 30 years of her life she transformed her home into a kaleidoscope of glittering colour and with the help of Koos Malgas transformed her yard into a landscape crowded with over 300 pieces of sculpture known as the Camel Yard. The misunderstood and often shunned Martins died in 1976 at age 78 and yet now the once outsider is the one who calls people from all round the world to visit.

As the sun (Martins’ faithful friend and co-performing-artist) triangled in through the windows, the walls of her reclusive rooms shimmered. The red painted walls burst into flame as the sunlight polished the finely crushed glass that Martins had mixed into the paint. The green ceilings were like dew dazzling meadows – as if Martins had turned the world upside down – boldly declaring: “look up and see the grass”. Her home is called The Owl House because of the many owl sculptures perched here there and everywhere, ever-watching through their round-wine-bottled-eyes. However, I would have called the house The Cantata of Colour or Ode to the Sunlight.

The Camel Yard is equally under-named and I am sure the many sculptured camels would agree. For the camels together with the other sculptures of animals and persons do not exist for themselves. Though they draw our attention they do not seek our attention. They refuse to be the focus. Rather, our focus is to follow their focus. John-the-Baptist-like they point beyond themselves to another. Their procession of praise is pointed to a nativity scene and then beyond – yes we are not to stop with a baby Jesus. Happy to mix her religions as she did her paints, the procession of praise is directed to Mecca with a smiling Buddha also enjoying the journey.

The still cement creations moved me by the way they themselves seemed to move. It can’t be explained, only felt. What could be “deader” than hardened cement – and yet once it has passed through the artist’s hands it is resurrected to live forevermore – alive with changing expressions throughout the day, as the sun clothes and undresses their sculptured bodies. Speaking of hands, they reach out to one from everywhere in the yard – cupped hands, open hands, outstretched hands, lifted-up hands, pointing hands, staff-holding hands, prayerful hands, questioning hands, ponder- ing hands, offering hands, asking hands … but all in the process and purpose of praise which is at one and the same time a protest against the dark confinements of her time.

Terry Tempest Williams writes:
“Awe is the moment when ego surrenders to wonder.”

This is exactly what I felt happen inside of me while caught up in the procession of praise. The ego surrenders and the cynic submits.

We gather here today to orientate our living to Praise. May it be so.

Grace,
Alan

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Preserve your own beauty

Preserve your own beauty

Jul 15, 2018  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Preserve your own beauty

Grace to you

Over the next couple of Wednesday evenings we are going to explore the Enneagram. The Enneagram is an ancient tool used to discern different character or personality types. When used as it was intended, we are taken much deeper than mere behaviour traits to the profound pulls and pushes of the deep patterns of our living.

The Enneagram has an ancient history of many origins, spanning different religions, spiritual practices and philosophies – in other words it is radically inclusive in design and use.

The reason for our Enneagram study is to deepen our self-knowledge and at the same time our understanding of our neighbour. As we grow in knowing we will be invited to grow in loving. We will learn of the gifts of our “type” and the liabilities that come with it. We will search for a truthful way of living life, accepting that for each of us the way will differ in slight or even vast ways. And we will also hopefully discern what specific exercises are necessary for each of us to more fully honour the deepest truths of our humanity.

Teresa of Avila, the great Christian mystic, writes in her masterpiece The Interior Castle:

“Not a little misery and confusion arise from the fact that through our own guilt we do not understand ourselves and do not know who we are. Would it not seem a terrible ignorance if one had no answer to give to the question, who one was, who (their) parents were, and from what country (they) came? If this were a sign of bestial incomprehension, an incomparably worse stupidity would prevail in us, if we did not take care to learn what we are, but contented ourselves with these bodies, and consequently know only superficially, from hearsay, because faith teaches us, that we had a soul. But what treasures this soul may harbour within it, who dwells in it, and what great value it has, these are things we seldom consider, and hence people are so little concerned with preserving their beauty with all care.”

What an incredible concluding sentence! “…and hence people are so little concerned with preserving their beauty with all care.” So herein lies our task: to preserve our beauty with all care. And surely not only our beauty but the beauty of all with all our care. In this act of careful preservation of human beauty we honour and praise the Original Artist of our collective beauty.

Grace,
Alan

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Sustainable Living

Sustainable Living

Jul 8, 2018  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Sustainable Living

Grace and Peace

I am spending this weekend at Bulungula Lodge which is on the Wild Coast overlooking the (hopefully warm) Indian Ocean. It is situated around 300 km north of East London. If you hit Coffee Bay you have gone too far by about 56 km. If you hit Durban phone a therapist.

I first heard of Bulungula Lodge when I was exploring building an “off-the-grid-house” a couple of years ago. As you know, the Eastern Cape is beset with traumatising poverty and unemployment. This environmentally sustainable lodge, which is embedded within the Nqileni community, hopes to overcome poverty with minimal impact on the environment.

The founders and co-owners, David Martin and Rejane Woodroffe “realised that the biggest problem in the world is the unsustainable economic system we were chasing”. When they first began in the area there was nearly 100% unemployment. Once the Bulungula Lodge opened in 2004 and began to grow in popularity, cash into the area increased slowly.

Social entrepreneurial community interventions, through the Bulungula Incubator (www.bulungulaincubator.org) includes numerous micro-enterprises as well as health and education services covering the full cycle of life – womb to tomb.

While access to quality formal education has always been challenging in the region, cattle farming and farming for staple foods and vegetables is a way of life. It is this traditional knowledge and lifestyle that is leveraged and built upon to improve livelihoods, nutrition and provide opportunities for income-generation and wealth-creation.

The first 18 people directly employed by the lodge were carefully selected by the community as those who needed it most. Many are disabled ex-mine workers or their widows. I would call this Gospel Governance.

Both Martin and Woodroffe believe that despite its poverty, Nqileni is miles ahead of the First World in terms of achieving a form of sustainable living. Nobody owns a car in the village. The village is powered by solar energy and wind power. A solar pump draws water from a spring for the showers while rain water is the drinking source. The famous rocket showers are powered by paraffin that only heats the water that is used, so nothing is wasted. Grey water is recycled through the banana plantation. Compost toilets with a urine diversion system take care of sanitation.

Martin says: “For our community to become a model sustainable and happy society is considerably easier than for, say, Newlands or Sandton, which seem doomed for the next few decades to live fearfully behind high walls, unsustainably addicted to energy that’s running out.”

In gratitude for those who help us to live life in life-giving ways,
Alan

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We are one

We are one

Jul 1, 2018  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on We are one

Grace and peace to you

As a kid I was always amazed and puzzled and intrigued by the fact that the word ‘ONE’ was pronounced exactly the same way as the word ‘WON’. I mean how does that even work? Who agreed that this was possible? How does the letter ‘O’ take on the sound of the letter ‘W’ without changing shape? Is it playing a magical mystical game of twister with our tongues?

I went through primary school repeatedly embarrassed because I didn’t know which one/won to use, when someone won/one. As the years passed I have noticed that these two words continue to be mixed up. Not in a primary school grammatical sense, but rather in a relational and religious sense.

Marriage is sometimes described as two people becoming ‘ONE’ flesh. Sadly some couples become ‘WON’ instead. This occurs when the people involved obsess about keeping score. From counting how many times they have done the washing-up to counting who last paid for dinner. Keeping score is tiring. All the while forgetting that they are a team and that to score a goal against your partner is an own goal. In other words winning is losing.

The mixing up of ‘ONE’ and ‘WON’ also plays out in religion. Sadly much of religion is about how to secure the winning edge in life rather than how to embrace the all-embracing truth of our unity with all of creation. Prayer has been reduced to an insurance policy for safety and an investment policy for success, rather than a pool of loving assurance which we are invited to submerge ourselves in to be washed clean of all the stains of separateness that keep us from realising our oneness with all. As Jesus prayed: “…so that they may be one, as we are one … that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us…” John 17: 11, 21. And here is the good news that when we realise we are all ‘ONE’ it is impossible to ever lose, so one never has to ever pray to win.

Grace,
Alan

“Take a course in good water and air;
and in the eternal youth of Nature
you may renew your own.
Go quietly, alone; no harm will befall you.”

-John Muir-

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Human Be-ing

Human Be-ing

Jun 24, 2018  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Human Be-ing

Grace

Here is another poem from our Wednesday evening reflections. The poem invites us into the depths of what it means to be human as it draws us into the deep wonders of nature. As we fall in love with nature we find ourselves falling in love with humanity. The one can’t really happen without the other. Check out: http://www.climbingpoetree.com

Human Being

I wonder if the sun debates dawn
some mornings
not wanting to rise
out of bed
from under the down-feather horizon

if the sky grows tired
of being everywhere at once
adapting to the mood
swings of the weather

if clouds drift off
trying to hold themselves together
make deals with gravity
to loiter a little longer

I wonder if rain is scared
of falling
if it has trouble
letting go

if snow flakes get sick
of being perfect all the time
each one
trying to be one-of-a-kind

I wonder if stars wish
upon themselves before they die
if they need to teach their young
how to shine

I wonder if shadows long
to just-for-once feel the sun
if they get lost in the shuffle
not knowing where they’re from

I wonder if sunrise
and sunset
respect each other
even though they’ve never met

if volcanoes get stressed
if storms have regrets
if compost believes in life
after death

I wonder if breath ever thinks of suicide
if the wind just wants to sit
still sometimes
and watch the world pass by

if smoke was born
knowing how to rise
if rainbows get shy back stage
not sure if their colors match right

I wonder if lightning sets an alarm clock
to know when to crack
if rivers ever stop
and think of turning back

if streams meet the wrong sea
and their whole lives run off-track
I wonder if the snow
wants to be black

if the soil thinks she’s too dark
if butterflies want to cover up their marks
if rocks are self-conscious of their weight
if mountains are insecure of their strength

I wonder if waves get discouraged
crawling up the sand
only to be pulled back again
to where they began

if land feels stepped upon
if sand feels insignificant
if trees need to question their lovers
to know where they stand

if branches waver at the crossroads
unsure of which way to grow
if the leaves understand they’re replaceable
and still dance when the wind blows

I wonder
where the moon goes
when she is in hiding
I want to find her there

and watch the ocean
spin from a distance
listen to her
stir in her sleep
effort give way to existence

~ by Naima from Climbing Poetree

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Love into soup

Love into soup

Jun 17, 2018  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Love into soup

Grace

Yesterday was Youth Day. Today is Father’s Day. Standing side by side they invite us to consider the sacred purpose of family, which is to be an incubator of love. Family is where we learn to love and be loved. The shape of family-love forms the shape of our loving far into the future for good or for ill. In Jeanette Winterson’s amazing novel, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal she writes about her first lesson in love:

“Auntie Nellie cannot have had much money. Twice a week she had all the neighbourhood children she could squeeze into her one room and she made onion soup or potato soup and all the children brought their own cup and she ladled it out off the stove… They all loved her and she loved them. She called her dark little house with its one window and black walls ‘Sunshine Corner’.

It was my first lesson in love.

I needed lessons in love. I still do because nothing could be simpler, nothing could be harder, than love.

Unconditional love is what a child should expect from a parent even though it rarely works out that way. I didn’t have that, and I was a very nervous watchful child. I was a little thug too because nobody was going to beat me up or see me cry…

When love is unreliable and you are a child, you assume that it is the nature of love – its quality – to be unreliable. Children do not find fault with their parents until later. In the beginning the love you get is the love that sets.

I did not know that love could have continuity. I did not know that human love could be depended upon…

Auntie Nellie made love into soup. She didn’t want thanks and she wasn’t ‘doing good’. She fed love on Tuesdays and Thursdays to all the children she could find, and even if the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse had … ridden into the stone-floored kitchen, they would have been given soup.

I went down to her tiny house sometimes but I never thought about what she was doing. Only later, much later, trying to relearn love, did I start to think about the simple continuity and what it meant. Maybe if I had had children I would have got there faster, but maybe I would have hurt my own kids the way I was hurt.

It is never too late to learn to love.

But it is frightening.”

Grace,
Alan


Stepping Stones Children’s Centre
Playground Spruced Up

A member of CMM generously donated synthetic grass
to spruce up the playground for the children of Stepping Stones.

 

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Practice Fasting From Plastic

Practice Fasting From Plastic

Jun 10, 2018  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Practice Fasting From Plastic

Grace to you

Last week I quoted at length from Clarissa Pinkola Estès’ letter to a young activist during troubled times written earlier this year. This week I want to share with you a letter written in 1966 by Thomas Merton to a desperate and despondent peace activist. There are great similarities between the letters as well as the worthy reminder that troubled times are not new and nor is feeling desperate and despondent. By grace, may the wisdom in these words hold us:

“Do not depend on the hope of results. … You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there too a great deal has to be gone through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, as you yourself mention in passing, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.

You are fed up with words, and I don’t blame you. I am also, to tell the truth, nauseated with ideals and with causes. This sounds like heresy, but I think you will understand what I mean. It is so easy to get engrossed with ideas and slogans and myths that in the end one is left holding the bag, empty, with no trace of meaning left in it. And then the temptation is to yell louder than ever in order to make the meaning be there again by magic.

As for the big results, these are not in your hands or mine, but they can suddenly happen, and we can share in them: but there is no point in building our lives on this personal satisfaction, which may be denied us and which after all is not that important.

So the next step in the process is for you to see that your own thinking about what you are doing is crucially important. You are probably striving to build yourself an identity in your work and your witness. You are using it so to speak to protect yourself against nothingness, annihilation. That is not the right use of your work. All the good that you will do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God’s love. Think of this more and gradually you will be free from the need to prove yourself, and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it.

The great thing after all is to live, not to pour out your life in the service of a myth: and we turn the best things into myths. If you can get free from the domination of causes and just serve Christ’s truth, you will be able to do more and will be less crushed by the inevitable disappointments. The real hope, then, is not in something we think we can do, but in God who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see. If we can do His will, we will be helping in this process. But we will not necessarily know all about it beforehand…”

Grace,
Alan

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“Letter to a young activist during troubled times”

“Letter to a young activist during troubled times”

Jun 3, 2018  |  Ordinary Days of the Spirit, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on “Letter to a young activist during troubled times”

Grace to you

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, author of the best selling “Women Who Run With Wolves”, more recently wrote a “Letter to a young activist during Troubled Times.” Estés is not only an author, she is a Jungian psychoanalyst (i.e. she knows people) a post-trauma recovery specialist (i.e. she knows suffering) and is 73 years old (i.e. she has been around). This makes her letter to a young activist (all of us) all the more important to read and more importantly to trust.

Here is a taste… (please go to http://mavenproductions.com for the full letter).

“I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world right now.

…You are right in your assessments. …Yet … I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is — we were made for these times.

…We have a history of being gutted, and yet remember this especially … we have also, of necessity, perfected the knack of resurrection. Over and over again we have been the living proof that that which has been exiled, lost, or foundered — can be restored to life again. This is as true and sturdy a prognosis for the destroyed worlds around us as it was for our own once mortally wounded selves.

…In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. Do not make yourself ill with overwhelm. There is a tendency too to fall into being weakened by perseverating on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there. That is spending the wind without raising the sails.

We are needed, that is all we can know. And though we meet resistance, we more so will meet great souls who will hail us, love us and guide us, and we will know them when they appear. Didn’t you say you were a believer? Didn’t you say you pledged to listen to a voice greater? Didn’t you ask for grace? Don’t you remember that to be in grace means to submit to the voice greater? You have all the resources you need to ride any wave, to surface from any trough.

…Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely.

…One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires… causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these, to be fierce and to show mercy toward others – both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.

…This comes with much love and prayer that you remember who you came from, and why you came to this beautiful, needful Earth.”

Grace,
Alan

 

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Surrender control

Surrender control

May 27, 2018  |  Sunday Letter, Trinity Sunday  |  Comments Off on Surrender control

Grace to you

The wind blows where it wills. We cannot make the wind blow. Not even a becalmed sailor can make the wind blow. At best, a sailor can hoist the sails so that when the wind does blow, their boat is moved to fresh destinations. We can do things to catch the wind but we cannot do anything to move the wind.

This is equally true and mysterious about the Holy Spirit which is nothing less than the Wind of God which is nothing less that the Wind of Love.

We cannot make the Holy Spirit come. We cannot make the Wind of Love show up. All we can do is prepare to receive her when she does. All we can do is hoist the sails of our lives so that when the Wind of Love blows, our lives will be resurrected and returned to us, and our living will be moved to fresh destinations.

We hoist the sails of our lives by surrendering control.

Surrendering control is at the heart of any and all authentic spiritual journeys. Surrendering control is the journey of Jesus: “If you want to follow me take up your cross…” It is ‘The Way’ that leads to New-Life-Now that cannot be taken away even though we may die.

It is completely counter-cultural to surrender control. In fact for many of us, control is what our whole life is either consciously or unconsciously directed towards.

Therefore to surrender control is painfully difficult, but deep down we long for it because deep down (beneath our defense mechanisms) we know that nothing we control can save us (our lives prove this). We also know that we need to be saved from control itself and therefore it stands to reason that it is impossible to control that which is to save us from control.

Salvation cannot be controlled because salvation is not a machine that can be programmed or a magic trick that can be performed or a commodity that can be purchased. Salvation is a gift and it can only be freely received as it is freely given. More specifically, salvation is the free gift of Love. Control suffocates love.

We surrender control by grace. The grace of spiritual practice – especially SILENCE (for those who keep control through words), SOLITUDE (for those who keep control through crowds / relationships) STILLNESS (for those who keep control through work and deeds).

If not through these intentional means of grace – then we will learn to surrender control through being humbled by our ageing and failing bodies (sickness) or through humiliation as a result of our hidden selves spilling out publicly.

Perhaps we will only surrender control through a mixture of silence, solitude, stillness, sickness and spilled selves…but all are precious if we are able to welcome and feel the Wind of Love.
Grace,
Alan

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