Many ways to learn

Grace and Peace to you …

This past week we witnessed more conflict on some of our campuses. This time students exchanged blows and police needed to separate white students from black students. The violent scenes were distressing.

My niece is in her first year at TUKS and she expressed her sense of anxiety and despair on our family WhatsApp group. My brother responded with what I thought was wise advice. This is what he wrote:

Tough and confusing times Jess. My advice for what it’s worth:

  1. Learn as much as you can about all sides before making your own mind up.
  2. Distinguish between principles and actions — believing in one doesn’t mean condoning the other.
  3. Know that you are living a segment of a problem which precedes you and will live on long after you leave TUKS.
  4. Be grateful that you are young enough to ride the change and old enough to learn from it.
  5. Front seats on history can be a terrifying privilege but that’s what it is. At your age your father and Uncle were given a gun and sent north. Your other Uncle faced 6 years in jail. Your Pops was nearly assassinated. Your Granny lived everyday with fear for her family and boss. South Africa forces you to grow up fast. Seems too fast but it’s also what makes us stronger.
  6. In between it all make new friends, embrace new experiences and see it all as important.

Notice that he did not dive in and give a “piece of his mind” about who was right and who was wrong. Instead he invited her to be fully present to the moment and to open herself to learn and grow from what was unfolding before her. Without denying the tough and troubling nature of the situation there is the comforting and hopeful belief that it is a privilege to be part of this moment.

I think these words are good advice for all of us at this time and not just my niece. But furthermore I believe that here we are given a healthy example of how we can assist people around us to grow by giving them a framework in which to process their own experience instead of simply telling them what to believe. This is education at its best and none of us are too young or old to  promote and participate in such methods of learning.

Grace, Alan


St. Peter and the Angel

Delivered out of raw continual pain,
smell of darkness, groans of those others
to whom he was chained –

unchained, and led
past the sleepers,
door after door silently opening – out!
And along a long street’s
Majestic emptiness under the moon:
one hand on the angel’s shoulder, one
feeling the air before him,
eyes open but fixed …

And not till he saw the angel had left him,
Alone and free to resume
the ecstatic, dangerous, wearisome roads of
what he had still to do,
not till then did he recognize
this was no dream. More frightening
than arrest, than being chained to his warders:
he could hear his own footsteps suddenly.
Had the angel’s feet

made any sound? He could not recall.
No one had missed him, no one was in pursuit.
He himself must be
the key, now, to the next door,
the next terrors of freedom and joy.

~ Denise Levertov

Be brave and trust in the word of God

Held in the Spirit …

A couple of years ago, I was speaking at a youth retreat. After I was done preaching, I shared I would be outside at the picnic tables should anyone want to talk. I will never forget a young woman coming up to me and sharing that she had a secret she needed to share. She was dressed in black from head to toe and seemed to be hiding within the hoodie she was wearing. Her secret she told me was that she was being physically abused. She didn’t know what to do and she had been cutting her wrists, not to die, but in order that she might feel alive. She had lost the ability to feel her life she said. At least ten other young people shared their stories of pain and the reasons why they too were cutting themselves in order that they might feel alive.

The journey I went on with the youth at that retreat and the youth pastors that served them was one I never could have prepared for. It was painful, laborious, and held so utterly in response to the work of the Spirit that I was left feeling overwhelmed with a sense of certainty that holiness was in the ground. Now years later, I see that same young woman wearing pink, flowers even, and it makes me smile. She shares her story with others and has asked me to share it as well. Yet, underneath the surface of the colors she has allowed back in her life will always be the story of her pain that runs deep. She has learned to make friends with it, but it will always be there.

Trevor Hudson has shared that “everyone has a pool of tears.” There is such truth in these words. We all carry a hidden pain, insecurity, or a truth we hope for others never to know. During our first Wednesday in Lent, Alan spoke about the importance of confession. It is important to share our stories with others, to release some of the pain we carry in order that our brokenness does not become the gift we give to others. Yet, I want to challenge us all during this Lenten season to reflect on the holiness of sharing life together. Life together is a precious gift.

In order to be a confessing community, we have to understand the holiness that exists when someone shares with us. Are we a people who can hold a story and not breathe it into the wind for all the others in our circle to hear? Are we a people who witness the pain in others and hold it gently recognizing the fragility of their reality and the fragility of trust? Are we willing to be available? I must confess that I have always loved young people, but in small numbers. Had I known twenty of them would come to me that night, there is a strong possibility I might not have availed myself. Yet, I was blessed in a way that changed me that night. I can still catch the holiness of it in my breath.

When I think of confession, listening, and being real, those young people were heroes. They were brave enough to trust in the word of God I spoke of that night and brave enough to share their particular pool of tears. They were brave enough to do the hard work it takes to begin the journey towards wholeness, healing, and life. Let us in our life together be people that help each other along on the journey by listening, confessing, and holding each other in the light and love of the Spirit of God.

With you on the journey, Michelle

Mountains and Valleys

Grace and peace to you …

Following on from last week’s sermon about mountains and valleys being joined at the hip we noted that because they shared the same landscape that we couldn’t have one without the other. After last week’s service I had a number of people use the metaphor of mountains and valleys to let me know where they are in their life or at least in which direction they felt their life was moving.

I have been thinking about this mountain and valley stuff in the last few days. I wonder if the following statement holds any water for you: It may not be obvious to us that we are moving from the mountain into the valley or from the valley up the mountain. Why not?

Well you see, when we walk down a mountain our head is normally held high as we breathe in the breadth of the view stretching to the horizon. As we marvelling at the view we may not notice that we are actually walking down and down into the valley – until of course we have no more vision of a glorious view and only then do we suddenly realise we are off the mountain and in the valley. Equally, when we are walking out of the valley up the mountain our heads are often down and our view is of the soil and rock a meter in front of us. Nothing changes step after step, until all of a sudden a single step settles us on the summit or if not summit then at least some lookout area on which we can turn around and see how far we have come and how high we have climbed.

When I lived in Johannesburg I would leave early in the morning and drive to work along Oxford Road turning into Corlett Drive and the sun would pierce my morning eyes. As I drove down into the valley of Corlett Drive before turning onto the M1 highway the sun would have disappeared and I would sometimes have to put on my headlights because of how dark it was. This reminded me that just because I was in the dark, it didn’t mean that the sun had stopped shining. This really is the challenge during the mountain and valley experiences of our living: To remember the light in the darkness and to hold onto the vision in the valley.

This Lent we are invited to contemplate the Light that it may guide us even when we only see darkness.

Grace, Alan


These two quotes were referred to during Alan’s sermon on February 7, 2016:

“When we are young and hear longing and
sadness in love songs, we think that the sadness
and disappointment are a prelude to the
experience of love and not really the result of its
experience. Later, with a deeper experience,
we realise that the sadness, longing, and
disappointment ultimately originate not from the
fact that love has not taken place but that human
love is finite. This insight helps us realise that the
first task in any love, whether in a marriage or in
a deep friendship, is for the two persons to console
each other for the limits of their love, for the fact
that they cannot not disappoint each other.”
~ Ronald Rolheiser

“A relationship is like a long trip and there’s
bound to be some long dull stretches.
Don’t travel with someone who expects
you to be exciting all the time.”
~ Daniel Berrigan

Let us be still

Grace and Peace to you,

Along with fasting from wasting water this Lent we may consider fasting from wasting words. Yes, a water and word fast!

Barbara Brown Taylor in her book: When God is silent writes: “How shall I break the silence? What word is more eloquent than the silence itself? In the moments before a word is spoken, anything is possible. The empty air is a formless void waiting to be addressed.”

Such is the power of words. Anything is possible.

She continues, “…the most dangerous word God ever says is Adam. All by itself it is no more than a pile of dust – nothing to be concerned about, really – but by following it with the words for image and dominion, God sifts divinity into that dust, endowing it with things that belong to God alone. When God is through with it, this dust will bear the divine likeness. When God is through with it, this dust will exercise God’s own dominion – not by flexing its muscles but by using its tongue. Up to this point in the story, God has owned the monopoly on speech. Only God has had the power to make something out of nothing by saying it is so. Now, in this act of shocking generosity God’s stock goes public… human beings endowed by God with the power of the Word… This power of ours has no safety catch on it. We are as likely to make nothing out of something as the other way around…”

We all know how words can bring life or death because we have had such words spoken to us. This Lent let us watch our words. Let us not waste our words on trivialities and gossip. May we only speak words that bring life and fast from all words that bring death. If our words will not improve on the silence let us be still…

Grace, Alan


LENT 2016: Water Fast

In LENT we are invited to fast. To fast is to live with limits. The first fast was given as Divine instruction for daily living in the Garden of Eden: “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” To live without limits is to die. To fast is to live. To fast is to bring life.

This LENT, in the year of one of South Africa’s worst droughts, let us fast – live with limits – in relation to water. Perhaps our water fast will help us to hear Jesus’ crucifying cry: “I thirst” more acutely. This is the cry of an ever-increasing number of people.

This is how we generally use water on a daily basis: about a third is for toilet-flushing, a third for body hygiene and another third for laundering, washing the dishes, cooking and drinking. For cooking and drinking we need about 5 litres per day.

This LENT let’s limit ourselves to a maximum of 50 litres of water per day – remembering that there are many in our land who are forced to live on much less.

A Few Water Saving Tips

  1. Turn the tap off when you brush your teeth – this can save 6 litres of water per minute.
  2. Place a cistern displacement device in your toilet cistern to reduce the amount of water used in each flush (a one litre bottle filled with water works well).
  3. Take a shorter shower. Showering can use anything between 6 and 45 litres per minute.