Goodness and Mercy

On Wednesday my day was hemmed in behind and before with goodness and mercy.

My day began by visiting a TrashBack delivery station in Canterbury Street by the Service Dining Hall. It was awesome to witness the interaction between the TrashBack staff member and one of the participants in the programme who had brought his bag of white-paper to be weighed and recycled.

It was lovely to see how excited the staff member was to announce how much money the collector was to be paid for his bundle of paper, as he said to this modern day gleaner: “Wow — well done — you have earned R56 today. I hope you have another good day collecting. I look forward to seeing you tomorrow.” It was so cool to witness the genuineness of delight by this paymaster and to witness the joy of one in desperate need receiving affirmation and payment for work done.

TrashBack is therefore not just a recycling business but it is also an employment business for those who would otherwise most certainly be unemployed. TrashBack does not always deal in cash. It has developed a system of responsible rewards, where earnings can be spent on beneficial items such as food and clothing with local vendors. Cash vouchers allows for leveraging off existing retailers, resulting in a flexible rewards programme that contributes towards greater economic empowerment. Furthermore the broader community reaps the rewards of a cleaner environment and the associated health and safety benefits.

I left inspired…

My Wednesday concluded with Connections in the evening. It began with 30 minutes of silence.

Silence, is a magnifying glass through which our lives are brought into enlarged focus. Silence makes us more sensitive to the Spirit of Love that runs through all of life. Silence primes us to hear God’s still small voice. Silence is to our soul what food is to our body.

After the silence a handful of us discussed the Covenant Prayer from last Sunday’s worship service. That great prayer and promise of abandonment to Christ that is both terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. The prayer that leaves us vulnerable and scared as well as providing us with a goal and deep sense of belonging. The prayer that invites us to worry less about our circumstances, good, bad or ugly, and more about honouring Christ in all circumstances.

It was encouraging to hear from others just what praying the Covenant Prayer meant to them. Without pretense people shared and in doing so we were nourished by one another’s continued commitment to faith and life.

I left inspired.

These mid-week Connections are like a welcome watering table in the middle of what often feels like a marathon week. The Alpha and Omega of my Wednesday was truly filled with goodness and mercy.

Another opportunity to be watered and fed during the week starts this Thursday when we begin DISCIPLE III. This is a great study course on the Old Testament Prophets (first half of the year) and Paul’s Letters (second half of the year). Today is the last day to sign up for it. If you in two minds — let me help you — just do it!

 Grace, Alan

Covenant Faith

One of my favourite quotes from John Wesley is  about preaching:

“Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come for miles to watch you burn.” 

As I write this I am stuck at JFK Airport in New York after a week of teaching in Yakima, Washington State. Apparently the aircraft is not fit to go so they’re putting us up in a hotel for the night. This unexpected day of doing nothing has given me an opportunity to chill a little in the relaxing sense which is a whole lot better than chilling in the snow — which I have also done on this trip. And no matter how often I travel I am never able to pack suitably for the cold when it is hot at home. It is difficult to dress for another climate. As it is difficult to live in the world and not of the world. As it is to live the Covenant Prayer we will pray today in a world of fearful selfishness.

On this day of “doing nothing” I have been reading a beautiful book of poetry by Mary Oliver called Thirst, and through her poems I am reminded again of what it means to live out our covenantal faith. She writes in

The Messenger:
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird — equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect?
Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished…
Which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes, a mouth with which to give shouts of joy to the moth
and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam, telling them all,
over and over, how it is that we live forever.

Another called, Musical Notation 1:
The physicality of the religious poets should not be taken idly. He or she, who loves God, will look most deeply into His works. Clouds are not only vapour, but shape, mobility, silky sacks of nourishing rain. The pear orchard is not only profit, but a paradise of light. The luna moth, who lives but a few days, sometimes only a few hours, has a pale green wing whose rim is like a musical notation. Have you noticed?

Another Mary Oliver poem called, When the Roses Speak, I Pay Attention:
“As long as we are able to
be extravagant we will be
hugely and damply
extravagant.  Then we will drop
foil by foil to the ground.  This
is our unalterable task, joyfully.”
And they went on, “Listen,
the heart-shackles are not as you think,
death, illness, pain,
unrequited hope, not loneliness, but
lassitude, rue, vainglory, fear, anxiety,
selfishness.”
Their fragrance all the while rising
from their blind bodies, making me
spin with joy.

A Pretty Song:
From the complications of loving you
I think there is no end or return.
No answer, no coming out of it.
Which is the only way to love, isn’t it?
This isn’t a playground, this is
earth, our heaven, for a while.
Therefore I have given precedence
to all my sudden, sullen, dark moods
that hold you in the center of my world.
And I say to my body: grow thinner still.
And I say to my fingers, type me a pretty song.
And I say to my heart: rave on.

Prayer:
It doesn’t have to be the blue iris, it could be weeds in a vacant lot, or a few stones; just pay attention, then patch a few words together and don’t try to make them elaborate, this isn’t a contest but a doorway into thanks, and a silence in which another voice may speak.

___________________________________________

To live out our covenantal faith we need the poet’s gift of attentiveness. To pay attention to the miracle of life that is saturated with holiness. “Our [covenant] work is to love the world … it’s mostly standing still and learning to be astonished…”

With gratitude, Alan

Claim this Covenant

Next week we renew our Covenant as a community of faith. I have included the words of the Covenant below and invite you to prayerfully live with it this week as an act of preparation.

Introduction

Beloved in Christ, let us once again claim for ourselves this Covenant which God has made with God’s people, and take upon us the yoke of Christ.

To take Jesus’ yoke upon us means that we are content for him to appoint us our place and work; and himself to be our reward.

Christ has many services to be done: some are easy, others are difficult; some bring honour, others bring reproach; some are suitable to our natural inclinations and material interests, others are contrary to both; in some we may please Christ and please ourselves, in others we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves. Yet the power to do all these things is given to us in Christ, who strengthens us.

Therefore let us make this Covenant of God our own. Let us give ourselves to God, trusting in God’s promises and relying on God’s grace.

The Covenant

Lord God, Holy LORD, since you have called us through Christ to share in this gracious Covenant, we take upon ourselves with joy the yoke of obedience and, for the love of you, engage ourselves to seek and do your perfect will.

We are no longer our own but yours. I am no longer my own, but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing; I fully and freely yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, glorious and blessed God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, You are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the Covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

Justice is a journey

In the year 2000 $13 billion was spent on chocolate in the USA alone. The largest cocoa producing countries are in Western Africa: Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. In Côte d’Ivoire it is estimated that half of the country’s 14 million inhabitants participate directly or indirectly in the production of cocoa. In 2002 it was estimated that 284 000 children were working in the cocoa industry — at best this breaks international laws preventing child labour or worse it is forced or slave labour. Check out: www.foodispower.org/slavery-chocolate/

Last Sunday, together with Jesus, we heard the heavenly voice claim us as beloved children. The voice that powerfully called the cosmos into being now claims us as beloved — we have been chosen. To trust that we are beloved. This is where Jesus’ public ministry begins and it is where our relationship with the Divine becomes conscious — in “accepting that we are accepted”.

It is not easy to hear this voice because there are so many other voices disputing its truth. Voices that undermine our God-given worth and tempt us to fall into the trap of self-rejection. As Henri Nouwen says: “Of not feeling truly welcome in human existence.”

Nouwen also insightfully informs us that “to be chosen does not mean that others are rejected” and that this is difficult to grasp in a competitive and comparative world. “Our awareness of being chosen opens our eyes to the chosen-ness of others … it is impossible to compete for God’s love.”

To realise all have been chosen and that all are beloved of God must surely move us to love all whom God loves. A friend of God’s is a friend of ours. The purpose of the heavenly voice is to love us into loving. We can love those close at hand but to love those beyond our reach or beyond our shores or beyond our present times demands that we spread our love by seeking justice. As someone once said: “Justice is love distributed.”

In the Isaiah reading for last Sunday (42) we heard over and over again how God’s chosen servant is called to establish justice throughout the nations. To establish justice is God’s will and work for our lives. It is not the work of a few courageous people we sometimes call prophetic. It is the work of every follower of Jesus. No one is exempt! As we read in Micah: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” [6:8].

When we talk about justice in the biblical sense we are not referring to the popular use of the word as in “punishing criminals”. We are referring to the social conditions of fairness and equity.

Julie Clawson has written a great book to assist us to understand some of what it means to “do justice” called Everyday Justice.

Clawson’s book begins with the words: “Don’t panic!” but that is exactly what I did. I felt instantly overwhelmed at the extent of injustice in the world and how dependent I am on injustice for the “normal” running of my day to day living. I don’t know about you but I often feel like I am going to drown under it all and it is not long before I feel paralysed by a feeling of inadequacy.

It is important to remember that injustice was created by human beings and therefore it can be undone by human beings.

One of the first things we need to do is develop a critical awareness of the issues of injustice in the world — and within our local area.

We should always see how we ourselves are complicit in establishing or perpetuating the injustice. This will help us to “walk humbly with God”. It will prevent us dividing the world into an “us and them”. When we start with ourselves we will also realise just how difficult it is to change our habits and behaviour and this should help us to be merciful towards those we may seek to persuade and pressure or even protest.

Further it is important for us to realise that all our decisions from what we eat, drink and wear have far reaching consequences. As Clawson says: “Our circle of influence is actually much larger than we think … every decision has a price tag.” We should therefore always ask: “Who is paying for this?” Are we paying, or exploited labourers or the Government through taxes or is the environment paying — which means future generations will ultimately pay.

Achieving justice is not a static act. Justice is a journey. When resources are in short supply or when perceived to be in short supply then the anxiety of getting “my fair share” and making sure others don’t take “more than their fair share” precipitates the need for doing justice. Who decides who gets what? Who decides who decides, etc.? All these questions are the continuous work of Justice.

Furthermore because there are multi-levels of decision-making — local, national and international to name three — all using different justice principles. Think for a moment about the conflict surrounding the allocation of fishing licenses. Those who did not receive a license say their jobs have been stolen. The ministry says that are trying to protect SA’s environment and natural resources to prevent the collapse of line fish stocks. Both have a “just point”. Doing justice is difficult work. But it is ultimately God’s work through us and therein lies the hope that God will faithfully bring it about.

Grace, Alan

You are never alone

“A bruised reed he will not break …” Isaiah 42

If we are ever privileged enough to be taken out to dinner, one of the questions our host is bound to ask us is: “So, what do you feel like eating?” There are some days we just crave a particular meal.

This craving does not only apply to our physical need for nourishment. It applies to our spiritual need for nourishment too. One of the ways I discern the hunger of my spirit is to move slowly up and down the shelves of my library. I have all my books sorted into various categories and I find myself drawn to those categories that touch my hunger. Granted this may sound a little strange, yet it really seems to guide me to what my spirit longs for.

Lately I have felt more numb than alive. More distant than connected. More doubtful than sure. I carry far more questions than answers.

So I have stood in my library staring at the shelves of books. And the book I was drawn to was what Henri Nouwen calls his “secret diary” that he wrote during the most difficult period of his life, from December 1987 to June 1988.

I am not really surprised that I have chosen (or did it choose me?) to re-read The Inner Voice of Love — A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom by Henri Nouwen. I am not surprised because I have a greater longing for solidarity on this journey than I do for a solution. Before I want answers I want someone to share my questions. I need a companion in my doubt and not a champion of the faith.

Within the solidarity of disconnection and sharing the burden of impossibly heavy questions I find gentle comfort. I am not alone. There are others who have felt the same as I do. I am not the only one. Their doubting, questioning and anguished companionship becomes my umbilical cord to hope and life.

Psalm 13 and Psalm 88 as well as the final hours of Jesus upon the Cross carry the same umbilical-cord-like-connection to hoping against hope.

Great Grace to you at this time, Alan