Abiding, Entangling Love

 

Friends,

In the introduction of his mesmerising book, Entangled Life: How Fungi make our worlds, change our minds, and shape our futures, Merlin Sheldrake writes:

I attended a conference in Panama on tropical microbes, and along with many other researchers spent three days becoming increasingly bewildered by the implications of our studies. Someone got up to talk about a group of plants that produce a certain group of chemicals in their leaves. Until then, the chemicals had been thought of as a defining characteristic of that group of plants. However, it transpired that the chemicals were actually made by fungi that lived in the leaves of the plant. Our idea of the plant had to be redrawn. Another researcher interjected, suggesting that it may not be the fungi living inside the leaf that produced these chemicals, but the bacteria living inside the fungus. Things continued along these lines. After two days, the notion of the individual had deepened and expanded beyond recognition. To talk about individuals made no sense any more. Biology – the study of living organisms – had transformed into ecology – the study of the relationships between living organisms. To compound matters, we understood very little. Graphs of microbial populations projected on a screen had large sections labelled ‘unknown’….

Many scientific concepts – from ‘time’ to ‘chemical bonds’ to ‘genes’ to ‘species’ – lack stable definitions but remain helpful categories to think with. From one perspective, ‘individual’ is no different: just another category to guide human thought and behaviour. Nonetheless, so much of daily life and experience – not to mention our philosophical, political and economic systems – depends on individuals that it can be hard to stand by and watch the concept dissolve. Where does this leave ‘us’? What about ‘them’? ‘Me’? ‘Mine’? ‘Everyone’? ‘Anyone’? …. It made my head spin to think of how many ideas had to be revisited, not least our culturally treasured notions of identity, autonomy and independence. It is in part this disconcerting feeling that makes the advances in the microbial sciences so exciting. Our microbial relationships are about as intimate as any can be. Learning more about these associations changes our experience of our own bodies and the places we inhabit. ‘We’ are ecosystems that span boundaries and transgress categories. Our selves emerge from a complex tangle of relationships only now becoming known.21

The study of relationships can be confusing. Almost all are ambiguous. Have leafcutter ants domesticated the fungus they depend on, or has the fungus domesticated the ants? Do plants farm the mycorrhizal fungi they live with, or do the fungi farm the plants? Which way does the arrow point? This uncertainty is healthy.

Reading these words made me think of our readings from the Gospel and Letter of John these past two weeks. They both refer to the wonder of indwelling the Divine and being indwelled by the Divine…“Abide in me as I abide in you…” [John 15]. “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” [1 John 4:16]. Talk about entangled life!

And then of course what if we take Jesus literally when his says: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” [Mark 12:31]. What if Jesus is not simply speaking about the extent of our loving but the extent of our actual selves? In other words, could Jesus be commanding us to expand our own sense of identity to include our neighbour? If so, then we are more than our skin can hold. If so, what happens to our neighbour happens to us for we all share entangled life. If so, then murder and war is suicide. If so, then an injustice to one is an injustice to all.

If so, what “concepts dissolve?” What “associations change?” “What culturally treasured notions do we need to revisit?”

A growing consciousness of our oneness with neighbour, the Divine, and the natural world lies at the foundation of the world’s salvation (healing and liberation). And obviously not simply a growing consciousness, but a way of life both personal and political, individual and systemic that abides in this consciousness and in which this consciousness abides.  I would call this consciousness of our oneness, Christ consciousness as Jesus prayed: “May they be one as we are one.” [John 17], but others may call it by other names. What we call it is less important than whether we live into and out of it.

If this makes our head spin – let us embrace our “disconcerting feelings” and rejoice that our many “unknowns” if nothing else, help us to walk our entangled life more humbly.

In grace,
Alan
Pronouns: he/him

Email welcome@cmm.org.za for the zoom link to the Sunday service.

A Prayer for Earth Week

Life-giving God, our hearts overflow with gratitude in response to your overflowing generosity. Over millions of years, you worked with loving patience to bring together in perfect proportion all the ingredients necessary for there to be life on this tiny planet we call earth. With perfect precision everything connects together for the good of the whole. In perfect balance every part gives of itself and receives for itself. With breath-like-rhythm, giving and receiving … receiving and giving … nourishing and being nourished…loving and being loved.

No part of your creation stands on its own, for you have not created anything that is self-sufficient in and of itself. Everything is humbly interdependent on everything else. Humble interdependence is the very fabric of creation. No wonder the web of life threatens to unravel, when this humble interdependence is rebelled against and broken.

Life-giving God we confess that we have rebelled against the humble interdependence of your creation and of our being. We have done so in ignorance and arrogance. We have done so unaware of the infinite knock-on effects of our actions. We have done so believing it is our privileged right as so-called “superior” beings to play by different rules. We have done so stubbornly refusing to listen to the mystics and prophets who called us to honour the perfect oneness of your creation. We think we are exempt from the perfect rhythm of giving and receiving … so we take more than we give. We take more than we need and more than what we can ever return and replace. Not content with living from the balance of the present, we consume from the future … and we rob the future of life.

And now the deathly consequences of our stubbornness are already being felt – the natural world dominos into deathly extinction – but many of us continue to live in denial. While others of us feel powerless to make the changes that are now urgently necessary: they feel too big, and we feel too small. And besides we have become dependent on the very things we need to change, for our survival. Some of us even campaign for change to happen, but we secretly hope that change will take place without us ourselves having to actually change.

We ignorantly thought it would be impossible to use up all the ingredients for life on earth – but our unlimited greed is fast revealing the limits of your creation when forced out of it replenishing rhythm. Your creation that promises there to be more than enough if only we do not take more than we need. We not only take more than we need but we envy those who have taken the most – we read their books and listen to their podcasts to learn their secrets of “success”. As of old, we choose Barabbas and crucify Jesus. We worship the killers of life and crucify the life saviours of the world. Life saviours who invite us to walk more gently, justly and humbly … or simply to walk more and drive less.

We confess, we are fools – we contaminate the soil in which our food grows – we poison the water we drink – we pollute the air we breathe. Thinking only of today we destroy tomorrow … which soon becomes today. Truly we have unpicked the fabric of humble interdependence and even done so with pride, believing falsely that so-called self-sufficiency is the highest virtue.

Life-giving God, it has only taken us a few hundred years for us to threaten and destroy what has existed for millions of years – making us the most destructive animal that has ever lived on earth. And yet you continue to follow us with goodness and mercy. Your grace is embodied in your creation, responding with mercy the instant we stop and turn from our abusive ways. Your creation imitates your own heart of forgiveness and resurrection power by restoring to life that which was dead … that which we have killed. We have seen this with our own eyes during the forced standstill brought about by Covid that revealed to us that the instant the natural world is left alone it returns with abundant beauty.

By your mercy help us to honour the humble interdependence you have created us for. Amen.

In grace,
Alan

To forgive is to resurrect

Friends,

This past Sunday we noted that forgiveness is nothing less than an act of resurrection. In short: To forgive is to resurrect. We noted how the story of the forgiven prodigal is framed as a resurrection story: “My child was lost and is found, was dead and is now alive”. To say that we believe in the resurrection while withholding forgiveness is equivalent to saying we love God while hating our sisters and brothers. This makes us liars. [1 John 4:20]

Forgiveness is not only a gift of new life to the forgiven, but also a gift of new life to the forgiver. To forgive another is to be resurrected from our own death that results from us not loving. As we read in 1 John 3:14 “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death.” Still further, to forgive someone is to resurrect them from the death of being “dead to us”. Our act of forgiveness brings them alive to us. Alive so we can be for them and no longer against them or indifferent towards them.

These were just two pieces of the forgiveness-jigsaw-puzzle that we mentioned last Sunday. We did not complete the puzzle, I am not sure one ever can, but our hope was to find and place enough pieces of the puzzle to give us a sense of what forgiveness is.

I ran out of time last Sunday to link the Acts 4:32-35 reading to the theme of Forgiveness and Resurrection. This link is crucial if forgiveness is going to be known at societal level. And what society is without sin? The recurring sin of society is the exploitative and exclusive debt economy that eventually makes slaves of the majority of people to sustain a small elite.

Forgiveness as resurrection is made real within society through the implementation of Jubilee. Jubilee is the “every-fifty-years-forgiveness-of-debt” policy. Financial debt. We would prefer forgiveness to leave our finances alone. No wonder we have changed the word “debt” in the Lord’s prayer, to the more general, “trespasses” or “sins”. “Forgive us our debt as we forgive those in our debt”.

Jubilee is a forgiveness-financial-policy of debt cancellation. To the extent that we practice Jubilee is to the extent that we will come alive as a society. If we don’t do so – we abide in death. And this death will eventually swallow us all up. Once again, the first letter of John asks the pointed question: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” [1 John 3:17]. This question is even sharper for us who live in the most unequal country in the world and therefore the country that has the greatest need for Jubilee economics.

The difference of course between forgiving others who have hurt us and practicing forgiveness as Jubilee in a society, is that when we practice Jubilee and cancel the debts of others we do so as those who need forgiveness. We need forgiveness because (even unwittingly) we have benefitted from systems that carry the favour of some at the deathly expense of the many. It matters not whether we like or dislike the systems that benefit us or not. The reading from 1 John 3:17 does not ask us if we designed the system or not. It does not care how hard we have worked for what we have. John simply says that if we have and withhold what we have, while others do not have, then we can’t say that the love of God is in us. As Rabbi Abraham Heschel says: “Some are guilty, but all are responsible”. Practicing Jubilee is “the all” taking responsibility.

A Universal Basic Income Grant is one way in which we can practice Jubilee. It is probably the very least of ways. We could call it “Jubilee lite”. I believe that South Africa’s resurrection depends on it.

There is a lot of information about a Universal Basic Income Grant on the net. Here is an introduction via The Daily Maverick podcast called: Don’t Shoot the Messenger, by Rebecca Davis.

In grace,
Alan

 

The Execution of Jesus

Good Friday Sermon
2021 04 02 Alan Storey

The Execution of Jesus

[Hebrews 10:16-24; Mark 12:1-12; Mark 15:6-15]

Prayer: Can we wait and watch with Jesus?