Sacred Things

Grace and peace to you and through you

I was at Theewaterskloof Dam the other day. The stretched out sand surrounded the water like an army surrounding a city waiting for it to surrender. If this drought is drastic in winter we can be sure it will be deadly in summer.

As it was with the power / electricity “load-shedding” a few years ago we will probably only learn the true value of water and our dependence on water when the taps defy our touch and turn. Perhaps only then will we realise how much water we waste and never think of “catching”. In the future every rooftop will have to harvest rainwater for sure.

A life-giving world-view or spirituality humbly moves us to a truly reverent relationship with all of creation. To this end we would do well to learn from the faith traditions of those whom Christendom over the centuries have dismissively named ‘pagans’. I invite you to reflect on the following “confession of faith” from a fantasy novel called “The Fifth Sacred Thing”:

The earth is a living, conscious being. In company with cultures of many different times and places, we name these things as sacred: air, fire, water and earth.

Whether we see them as the breath, energy, blood, and body of the Mother, or as the blessed gifts of a Creator, or as symbols of the interconnected systems that sustain life, we know that nothing can live without them.

To call these things sacred is to say that they have a value beyond their usefulness for human ends, that they themselves become the standards by which our acts, our economics, our laws, and our purposes must be judged. No one has the right to appropriate them or profit from them at the expense of others. Any government that fails to protect them forfeits its legitimacy.

All people, all living things, are part of the earth life, and so are sacred. Not one of us stands higher or lower than any other.

Only justice can assure balance: only ecological balance can sustain freedom. Only in freedom can that fifth sacred thing we call spirit flourish in its full diversity.

To honour the sacred is to create conditions in which nourishment, sustenance, habitat, knowledge, freedom, and beauty can thrive. To honour the sacred is to make love possible.

To this we dedicate our curiosity, our will, our courage, our silences, and our voices. To this we dedicate our lives.

I am sure Jesus would say amen to this, aren’t you?


“We hope for a harvest, we pray for rain, but nothing is certain? We say that the harvest will only be abundant if the crops are shared, that the rains will not come unless water is conserved and shared and respected. We believe we can continue to live and thrive only if we care for one another… …But at last we have come to understand that we are part of the earth, part of the air, the fire, and the water, as we are part of one another.”

The Fifth Sacred Thing, Stawhawk



The reach for life…

Grace and Peace to you in the name of Jesus,

So often, we learn from physicians the practices in our lives that are death producing. Smoking can damage our airways causing lung disease, eating too much sugar enlarges our waste line which can lead to heart problems, eating too much salt can increase our blood pressure which if gone unchecked can lead to a stroke. Dr. Gary Gunderson, over the course of his career became frustrated with so much of his conversations with his patients relating to death that he set out to research the leading causes not of death, but of life.

In his book, The Leading Causes of Life, he reveals that: connection, coherence, agency, generativity, and hope are some of the common factors that lead to life. Connection, he names is a sense of knowing others and being known in return. Coherence, he explains as a deep gut level feeling that things somehow make sense. We might find sense of the world through our faith tradition, art, or even poetry. Agency, is our ability to make choices that move us forward in our lives. Generativity, is our awareness of being a part of something greater than ourselves, a concern for that which extends to the generations that will carry on in years to come. Hope, he names as the “easiest and best documented cause…It is the future and possibilities you see clearly enough that you can take risks to make it happen.”

Researchers are finding that loneliness is more harmful to health than smoking even. According to University of Chicago social neuroscientist John Cacioppo, the effects of social isolation or rejection are as real as thirst, hunger, or pain. “For a social species, to be on the edge of the social perimeter is to be in a dangerous position,” says Cacioppo. In the Christian faith, there is no longer an edge of the social perimeter, there is no hierarchy of human value. To think that circling people into community, something as simple as that, is a thing that gives connection–life even. This is something for us to consider in our one on one relationships and on a larger scale.

The days and nights have been cold and wet this past week. So many in this city live huddled under partial shelter on the streets. While one could argue they are not circled into community, sometimes those on the street have a better understanding of community among themselves. Yet, they are held as low on a scale of hierarchy in our greater understanding of community, walked by quickly, gazes not held, and words left hanging in the air. Contained within each huddled person we know is gift, for those on the street are a part of the human family.

Each of us during one time in our life or another have known what it has felt like to be ostracized. We can imagine then what it might feel like to live each day of our lives walking down the streets, but for all intents and purposes unseen. There is a woman who walks the streets who was given a jacket one day. She told me the jacket was too light, so she traded it for some alcohol to help her to stay warm. She helped me to think differently about the bartering that goes on, I wondered whether I would last one night huddled next to her on the street? There is a resiliency and strength one must actually have to survive on the streets.

Keep your eyes open in your relationships this week. Look for the moments when you might be intentionally or unintentionally casting someone out. Consider spending time on Sunday afternoons at the Service Dining Rooms here in the city as our community provides a meal for many who live on the street. Reflect with others about these leading causes of life: connection, cohesion, agency, generativity, and hope, what they might mean in your own life and in the life of the different spaces that are your community.

With you on the journey,

Right and wrong have traded places

Grace and peace to you and through you

This week marked the 5th year since the Marikana Massacre and still no one who made the murderous decisions on that day has been held to account. Over the last couple of months, we have witnessed the email evidence of State Capture yet to be investigated by the National Director of Public Prosecutions “for a lack of evidence”. In the last few weeks we have seen those who stand up for truth and integrity being intimidated and threatened with disciplinary action and even death, while those who mismanage and lie are protected or even promoted. In the last few days we have seen racist attacks outside a KFC and again after a rugby match with people using the K-word. A woman is beaten up by the Deputy Minister of Higher Education who continues to hold office despite it being on video. A young woman is beaten by the “First Lady” of Zimbabwe. Nazis march openly in the USA and President Trump struggles to out-rightly condemn them. The president of the Philippines says “it is good” in relation to the news that 60 people have been killed in 3 days of the government’s continued “war on drugs”. These stories and more can be found in a single edition of our daily newspaper. Right and wrong have traded places*(see Holy War by Alicia Keys below) and it’s not clear where the reset button is – at least that is what it feels like. Despair is always within easy reach and so is denial.

The question we all need to wrestle with was raised this week by Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer (32) who was killed while resisting the racist protests in Charlottesville last weekend. At Heather’s memorial service, Susan concluded: “If you are not outraged, you are not paying attention. Make a point to look at it. That’s how you make her death worthwhile. I’d rather have my child, but if I can’t have her, by golly we’re going to make it count. Say to yourself ‘What can I do to make a difference? And that’s how you gonna make my child’s death worthwhile.”

Grace, Alan

Holy War

by Alicia Keys

If war is holy and sex is obscene
We’ve got it twisted in this lucid dream
Baptized in boundaries, schooled in sin
Divided by difference, sexuality and skin

Oh so we can hate each other and fear each other
We can build these walls between each other
Baby, blow by blow and brick by brick0
Keep yourself locked in, yourself locked in
Yeah we can hate each other and fear each other
We can build these walls between each other
Baby, blow by blow and brick by brick
Keep yourself locked in, yourself locked

Oh maybe we should love somebody
Oh maybe we could care a little more
So maybe we should love somebody
Instead of polishing the bombs of holy war
What if sex was holy and war was obscene
And it wasn’t twisted, what a wonderful dream
Living for love, unafraid of the end
Forgiveness is the only real revenge

Oh so we can heal each other and feel each other
We can break these walls between each other
Baby, blow by blow and brick by brick
Keep yourself open, yourself open
Yeah we can heal each other and feel each other
We can break these walls between each other
Baby, blow by blow and brick by brick
Keep yourself open, you’re open

So maybe we should love somebody
Maybe we could care a little more
So maybe we should love somebody
Instead of polishing the bombs of holy war

What if love was holy and hate obscene
We should give life to this beautiful dream
Cause peace and love ain’t so far
If we nurse our wounds before they scar
Nurse our wounds before they scar



Discipleship Lessons

Grace and peace to you and through you

I recently visited Holden Village – a retreat center above Lake Chelan in Washington State, USA. While there, it is required of all teaching staff to do “Dish Team” in other words, “washing up”. There are over 400 people in the village so let me put it bluntly, there is a hang of a lot of washing up to do!

While on Dish Team the following 10 life lessons / activist lessons / discipleship lessons (take your pick) came to me … in relation to cleaning up the world we live in:

  1. Show up. Arrive. Say: “Here I am, use me.”
  2. Self-care. (I arrived for dish team wearing slip-slops and I was sent to put on “closed shoes”. This meant a walk uphill to my room! I did as I was told while thinking that it was really unnecessary because I have never dropped a plate or pot on my foot in my life. Later I was relieved for the closed shoes that kept my feet dry from the constant splashing off my plastic apron. Taking self-care seriously sustains one over the long-haul. It is not just the dropping of the “plate” that we need to watch out for, but the constant little drips that can ultimately drench and discourage us.)
  3. Take instructions: Listen and learn. There are always people around with more experience than oneself.
  4. It seems overwhelming … just start.
  5. It seems never-ending … just stop. Yes, knowing when to stop is as important as knowing when to start. (In this regard it is helpful to remember we are not the only ones responsible for the washing up. People have gone before us and people will come after us. Be thankful for both. The task will always be bigger than any individual.)
  6. There is no secret “quick and easy” cleaning method. Just scrape and scrub – especially when it comes to the peanut butter dish! It is as easy as hard work.
  7. Say sorry quickly. Especially when we end up splashing our colleagues. Receive forgiveness equally quickly.
  8. Cleaning agents themselves need cleaning. Water eventually gets dirty and must be replaced.
  9. Our own glove-covered hands may also need cleaning. Ask someone to help you before you stain everything you touch. (I foolishly scraped the butter dish with my gloved hand and thereafter smeared butter on everything I handled. I needed to clean my own hands before continuing. And for this, I needed someone to assist me.)
  10. When out of the kitchen, live in gratitude for those in the kitchen. The cleaning acts of countless anonymous people are what keep the village going. We are all literally dependent on people we may never know.

And next mealtime may we give thanks not only for the food on our plate but the plate itself that is clean, and the person who cleaned it, and the water that was used, etc., etc. Resulting in endless gratitude.

Grace, Alan


Monday 7 August at 3 p.m.

A large coalition of civil society organisations under the banner #UniteBehind—have appealed to Faith Communities to support the march to Parliament on 7 August at 3 p.m. The march takes place the day before the “vote of no confidence” in parliament and its aim is to add pressure to recall the President. The march is not aligned to any political party.

If you are neutral in situations of injustice,
you have chosen the side of the oppressor.
If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse
and you say that you are neutral,
the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.

~ Desmond Tutu

Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus

There is a psychological phenomenon known as the bystander effect, where it has been found to be less likely for an individual to offer help to another with others standing around. It is as if there is a pause in the moment and if no one steps in, everyone simply watches on. Desmond Tutu would describe this to be a state of neutrality. “If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse” he names, “and you say that you are neutral, the elephant will not appreciate your neutrality.”

God’s grace alive in the world and in our lives, should evoke within us a response. Randy Maddox calls this, “responsible grace”—grace that is so fully realized that all we know to do then is to respond to it with the way we live our lives. With the state of the world today, it is important for people of faith to pray about the response they will offer to the grace of God at work in their lives. It is about the orientation of our life and neutrality is not an orientation that brings movement or change.

Phyllis Tickle has shared that every 500 years or so, the Church should have a rummage sale, assessing what needs to be kept and what needs to be thrown out. This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation of the Church, where leaders like Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and Methodists own John Wesley struggled with the way the Church was leading and began movements for change. If Phyllis Tickle was right, we are in the years of the great rummage sale, where much of our life together needs to be assessed and all of us need to ready ourselves for great change.

With so many issues to respond to, we can easily be swallowed up in too much movement and lose sight of the rhythmic quality of being that when we find our way in it highlights God’s grace alive in who we are.

The life of grace is a life of finding ourselves in step with the unfolding realities around us that are making way for change. Not all of us are called to lead in these unfolding realities, but we are to have eyes to see, ears to hear, and feet that help us to move. May we find ourselves inspired by the movement for change around us and surprised by the ways we can be utilized as instruments simply by the response of our lives. These are days for people of faith to becoming more and more fully alive.

With you on the journey,


A large coalition of civil society organisations under the banner #UniteBehind
have appealed to Faith Communities to support the march to
Parliament on 7 August at 3 p.m. The march takes place the day before
the “vote of no confidence” in parliament and its aim is to add pressure to
recall the President. The march is not aligned to any political party.


ANC MP Dr Makhosi Khoza
is a shining example of courageous leadership and integrity.

I have been trying to rest but now it is not the time for me to retreat.

I have been singled out as a troublemaker by those that would have me go quiet. I have been accused of extreme ill-discipline for standing for what I believe.

Whilst many of my comrades support me some have come after me, accused me of sedition as they have chosen to side with those that would hurt me, our movement and indeed murder of our nation.

I made a conscious decision when these death threats began that if indeed death was to be my reward then I was not going to die silently.

Many of our comrades have died silently – the memory of a young woman who dared to “cry rape” against a powerful man lingers in the atmosphere, even as she was banished to die a silent death.

Our comrades have dropped like flies in Richmond, Umzimkhulu and other areas – the deaths amount to over 80 in total; yet before even one person has been brought to justice for the merciless killing of our comrades, it is me that they would want to exact their sinister justice on. Yet, why should I die silently? Why should my body be added to those who have died innocently and keep quiet about it? Many of my comrades died while remaining silent, many of my comrades will die silently still, (especially as December approaches) yet those who accuse me have done nothing about it. They have let our dead comrades down, now they come for those of us who are alive. They can’t kill us all. Let them label me but I for one have made my mind up, I will not go quietly into the night. The death threats continue.

Makhosi Busisiwe Khoza
20 July 2017

 Grace and peace to you and through you

There is a modern day parable about a Monastery that had fallen on hard times…basically the old monks were dying without being replaced by the next generation. So the Abbot of the Monastery goes to visit a Rabbi who occasionally retreated at a hut deep in the forest. The Abbot asks for advice but the Rabbi says he has none to give…except a parting comment about “the messiah is among you” or as some versions say, “the messiah is one of you”. As the parable goes the monks begin to relate to each other in new and wonder-full ways…all due to the possibility that one of them may be the messiah. And slowly the monastery is revitalised with a new Spirit and this begins to attract the interest of visitors to the area.

As a parable there are beautiful meanings we can draw from it, not least we learn that often it is our parting or throw away comments that land and take greatest effect.

At other times when we go looking for guidance we find the Rabbi is absent and the destined forest hut unoccupied. Its emptiness enlarges our own sense of emptiness and its vacancy adds to our lost-ness.

With time and with grace we may be nourished in the emptiness or with more time and lots more grace, the emptiness itself may be transformed into nourishment. It is impossible to explain, a bit like water into wine.

For the passing comments that have given us new life – let us be grateful. And for the nourishment within emptiness and nourishment of emptiness – let us bow.

Here is a poem that invites us to trust if we find the forest hut empty…

A wanderer comes at last
to the forest hut where it was promised
someone wise would receive him.
And there’s no one there; birds and small animals
flutter and vanish, then return to observe.
No human eyes meet his.
But in the hut there’s food,
set to keep warm beside glowing logs,
and fragrant garments to fit him, replacing
the rags of his journey,
and a bed of heather from the hills.
He stays there waiting. Each day the fire
is replenished, the pot refilled while he sleeps.
He draws up water from the well,
writes of his travels, listens for footsteps.
Little by little he finds
the absent sage is speaking to him,
is present.
This is the way
you have spoken to me, the way – startled –
I find I have heard you. When I need it,
a book or a slip of paper
appears in my hand, inscribed by yours: messages
until I would listen.

“The Spirits Appeased” by Denise Levertov




There is another way

Grace and peace to you and through you

Each time Jesus encounters a woman in scripture, he breaches social convention. For instance, Jesus crosses boundaries of race, class, religion, purity, and ethnicity when he meets the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-26), the bleeding woman (Mark 5:25–34), and the Syrophoenician woman (Matthew 15:21–28, Mark 7:24–30). Even the fact that women were among the followers of Jesus, and he seriously taught them, is a break with tradition unprecedented in [then] contemporary Judaism.

In Jesus’ time a woman’s identity was determined by her marital status and if she had produced male children. Although valued for this function, women were perceived as less capable and weaker than men. The philosophy of the day placed humanity on a spectrum, with women as less-complete versions of men. Jesus’ actions are radical because he treats women as being valuable in-and-of themselves, not in relation to men.

Some things have changed since Jesus’ time, but how we think about women continues to shape how we treat others. High rates of violence against women and children in SA indicate that women are still not valued as equal to males. According to the Saartjie Bartman Centre for Women and Children, as of 2015, a woman is either raped or battered every four minutes in South Africa. Violence against women transcends race and class but just because an individual isn’t physically abusive doesn’t mean they are not contributing to the violence. Violence is rooted in women’s lack of power relative to men in society: it is an outgrowth of the idea that women are less than men. Now, all of us have ideas in our head implanted by our culture. Most of these concepts just float around in our head without attracting much attention or getting in the way of who we want to be, but sometimes the ideas we’ve absorbed undermine the people we are trying to be, or run counter to the world we want to help build.

Jesus understood that the subjugation of women thwarts their dreams and aspirations, as they grow up being told that they are less valuable and able than their male counterparts. The domination of women instils feelings of entitlement to respect, sex, and control in men: control over households, businesses, political systems or even countries. It also burdens young boys with expectations to fulfil, including an ill-conceived and misdirected ‘machoness’ which results in men exercising power (sometimes physically), over both women and children. Jesus’ actions are just as radical today as they were 2000 years ago because they speak to an underlying belief about women that harms not only women and children, but men as well.

What Jesus’ actions, and our reading from today, show is that the way things have always been done, is not the way things have to be. Just because a particular way of being has become tradition, and embedded within a culture, does not mean it is part of the relational and mutually beneficial abundant life to which Jesus calls us. Instead, Jesus’ teaching indicates that Jesus forbids any hierarchy in Christian relationships (Mt 20:25–26a, Mk 10:42, Lk 22:25); and scripture invites us to live into a way of life beyond what we currently experience but which Jesus has already proclaimed: a world in which “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, [and we] are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)


If you or someone you know is the victim of gender based violence (physically, emotionally, sexually, financially) you can call the free Stop Gender Violence Helpline 24hrs/7days per week for more information and counselling: 0800-150-150.

Blowing in the wind

Grace and Peace to each of you in the life-giving name of Jesus,

It was fifty-five years ago today that Bob Dylan wrote the song, “Blowing in the wind.” This song in its history was a movement song. It was sung during a voter registration rally in Greenwood, Mississippi by Dylan himself. Peter, Paul, and Mary sang their version of it just before MLK Jr. gave his famous “I have a dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and streams of people sang it on the march from Selma to Montgomery.
It is as if Dylan imbibed the anguish of the psalmist who cries, “How Long O Lord?”

Blowing in the Wind

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand
Yes, ‘n’ how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they’re forever banned
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

Yes, ‘n’ how many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea
Yes, ‘n’ how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free
Yes, ‘n’ how many times can a man turn his head
And pretend that he just doesn’t see
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

Yes, ‘n’ how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky
Yes, ‘n’ how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry
Yes, ‘n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.
Bob Dylan

Over the years, people have asked Bob Dylan his meaning behind the line, “the answer is blowin’ in the wind.” He never seemed to provide a definitive interpretation. So, the interpretation is left to the listener.

“Wind,” for people of faith, holds an important role. The wind of the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters of creation and new life was breathed into being. The Holy Spirit like winds of flame settled over the disciples during the days of Pentecost inspiring within them the power they would need to walk in the ways that lead to life. One way of interpreting Bob Dylan’s song might be for us to be in search of the winds of change that are blowing in the world today and finding ways to allow ourselves to be caught up in them. I encourage you to listen to Bob Dylan’s,“Blowin’ in the Wind” this week and consider the message it has for us in this day.

With you on the journey,

The courage to be

The phrase “do not be afraid” occurs in the bible 365 times. It alerts us to the truth that life caught up in the ways of God leads to realities that have the capacity to evoke within us a sense of fear. Fear is an emotion that has a target. We are afraid of “the dark,” afraid of “heights,” afraid of “dogs,” afraid of “speaking in public,” afraid of “going to a place we perceive to be unsafe” or “doing a thing that God seems to be putting before us to do.” Paul Tillich in his book, The Courage to Be, talks about how anxiety, which he names as something different than fear, can hold us back from true “being.” Anxiety is for him, “the state in which a being is aware of its possible nonbeing.”

There are three types of anxieties that are named: the anxiety of fate and death, the anxiety of emptiness and meaninglessness, and the anxiety of guilt and condemnation. To learn more about each, you have to read the book, but the point is, there is a lot of anxiety in the world around us and much worry about the possibility of “nonbeing.” Tillich names that the “whole of the spiritual life is about learning to die.” Learning to let the anxiousness die and the courage to be to rise.

The world around us and events of our days locate so many in an anxious state. The questions are hard to answer: “How can my life make a difference with the world-wide water crisis?” “What are we to do about the gangs initiating children and giving them guns & drugs to deal?” “What will happen under this current political climate?” “How do I raise my children in the way they should go?” “Should I have children?” “How do I find my feet on the path that leads to wholeness, healing, and health in myself and the world around me?”

When one living with the courage to be hears the words Mary said, “Let it be with me according to your will,” they ask, “What is the will of God in my life?” When one living in the trap of anxiety hears the words, “Let it be with me according to your word,” they ask, “what is IT?” There are many reasons we find ourselves in anxious states. The reality is that within the landscape of each of our lives there is brokenness and pain to be walked through that is real and can cause a state of ongoing anxiety that we cannot manage on our own. For Tillich, it is of the utmost importance for us to recognize the spiritual aspect to states of anxiousness.

Peter was anxious when people asked him if he was one of Jesus’ followers. His life changed markedly once he received the power of the Holy Spirit. He was able to stand in the middle of a crowd in the power of the Holy Spirit and speak a truth that would have shaken the foundations around him. In the midst of these days when so many are living with a higher level of anxiety about the struggles of the world, let us remember that it is the job of the Holy Spirit of God to take the lead.

When we find within ourselves the “courage to be,” the hard questions don’t go away, but our means of navigating through them changes. Wendell Berry puts it beautifully when he says, “Then what I am afraid of comes. I live for a while in its sight. What I fear in it leaves it, and the fear of it leaves me. It sings and I hear its song.” May the Holy Spirit guide us in ways that our fears and anxieties of living in these present days become a distant song so that we are able to truly be.

With you on the journey,