Full Immersion

Grace and peace to you

We don’t learn how to swim by attending a lecture on swimming and similarly we don’t get fit by attending a lecture on fitness.

We get fit by going for a run or walk.

We learn how to swim by getting into the water – first in the shallow end where we can stand or with a flotation aid to hold and hopefully with someone we trust by our side. We learn to hold our breath underwater by practicing dipping our head under the water. This helps us to overcome our fear of being totally covered by the water. Ultimately if we want to learn how to swim we need to stop trying to keep as much of our body out of the water.

This is true for the deeper lessons of life. The things that really matter can only be learned by full immersion. Love can only be learnt at the risk of allowing ourselves to love and be loved. The values of compassion and justice and gentleness can only be learnt through a process of patient persistence which are values in themselves.

Wanting an immediate answer to something sometimes reveals that we have not understood the question because the answer is not the answer! The struggle with the question is the answer.

For factual questions like: “What is the legal speed limit?” the answer may simply be given. But for relational questions like: “How do I forgive my neighbour?” answers can’t be given. The “answer” to relational questions can only be discovered in the wrestling. As Mark Nepo so beautifully reveals in his poem, Behind the thunder.

Behind the thunder

I keep looking for one more teacher,
only to find that fish learn from water
and birds learn from sky.
If you want to learn about the sea,
it helps to be at sea.
If you want to learn about compassion,
it helps to be in love.
If you want to learn about healing,
it helps to know of suffering.
The strong live in the storm
without worshiping the storm.

Grace, Alan

Water Restrictions

The dams are low in the Cape,
we are told
not to fill the swimming pool,
not to water the garden,
not to wash the car,
not to take a bath.
We’ve never –
never had a swimming pool to fill,
never had a garden to water,
never had a car to wash,
never had the privilege of taking a bath
to soak away the aches and pains
that flood our cups and bowls,
otherwise empty.
Seems the dams have been low
for us, forever.

© Athol Williams

We have the power

Marching in solidarity with Marikana
Informal Settlement, Philippi East

where at least 23 people have been killed in one week.

Grace to you

There are so many problems in the world today and not least in this land where we live. It is easy to be overwhelmed with despair and tempting to withdraw into whatever pockets of security and comfort we can create for ourselves. It is also tempting to find someone to blame for the problems. Stringing up a scapegoat that we can pin our fear and anger on has provided a certain satisfaction for societies throughout the ages, but it fails to deliver the promised salvation.

Rather than addressing the problems, this despair, withdrawal and blame adds to the problems.

What is really very helpful however, is discovering that we ourselves are part of the problem. The realisation that the problems of the world live in us and we live in them is extremely good news. It is not comfortable news, but it is good news! Precisely because it is not comfortable news, we have a high tendency to avoid and deny it. In fact we have sophisticated defense mechanisms that sound an alarm the moment we get too close to finding it out. For fear of being robbed of our comfort (which is actually a false sense of comfort) we are robbed of the really good stuff – the good news that as part of the problem we can make a huge difference in addressing the problem.

Like the other day I texted someone to say that I would be late for the meeting because I was stuck in traffic.  They replied: “You are the traffic”.  My gut reaction was: “No I am not!!”  But on reflection I realised of course I was, but the illusion of innocence is very sweet to swallow.

Realising we are part of the problem is good news because it means that the potential for change is really at our own fingertips. Changing ourselves is one way to engage the problem. What we do and what we refuse to do actually makes a difference. This is very empowering to realise and very liberating to explore.

You see, when we blame others for the problems, we give our power away because if “they” are the cause of the problem then they alone hold the keys to unlock the problem but the moment we discover our role in preserving, protecting and promoting the problem we are placed in a very powerful position to address the problem and work for the necessary change. Jesus said it much more succinctly when he said: “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.” [Matt 7:5].

For example, the church would be far more faithful if we didn’t just speak out against rape while ignoring how our own teachings have been used for centuries to promote patriarchy and male dominance. To be abhorred by rape and speak against gender based violence without acknowledging how we ourselves are part of the problem, perpetuates the problem. It also ignores the area of the problem that we are closest to and most able to address raising the question: If not us, then who?

Blessed are those who know they are part of the problems of this world, for they have the power to do something about them.

Grace, Alan


Why we live

Grace to you

This week I came across the story of Farai Chinomwe. Farai is an athlete. He runs marathons and ultra-marathons like the Comrades, which in 2014 he did in an incredible time of 7 hours 6 minutes.

“I was born and brought up in a rural area near the Great Zimbabwe Ruins surrounded by insects and nature in a musical family – in our village, everyone had some instrument to play. In 2000, I moved to Johannesburg to study and ended up playing drum and Mbira in a band – we’d perform at restaurants and other events and when I wasn’t playing, I would do running and fitness training. One day I went to the shed to collect my instruments for a performance when I discovered that a swarm of bees had moved into my favourite djembe. Everyone told me I should burn the bees out but I decided to rather find a way to remove them safely. It was only after a year that I had developed sufficient means and confidence to provide a new home to the swarm. They had literally transformed the drum into a giant honeycomb – this was the point where I became a beekeeper.”

In 2015 Farai ran the Comrades Marathon in 11 hours 31 minutes – which was slow in comparison to his previous times but the reason for this was that he was running backwards!

It all started by accident.

“It was one o’clock in the morning and I was driving on a very dark Corlett Drive on the outskirts of Alexandra in my battered old Peugeot 404. I had collected a swarm of bees from a client and they were buzzing angrily in the boot. Suddenly, the car simply sputtered and stalled and there I was in the cold and dark without any prospect of help.

I realised I’d have to push the car, which was quite heavy, to the top of the hill where I could at least coast the few km back home. I started pushing the car the normal way and immediately realised that I wouldn’t be able to make it. I turned around with my back to the car boot and realised I could push it far easier. Eventually, after 2 hours of pushing and coasting and steering, I got back home, transferred the bees to their new home and finally got to sleep. Next morning on waking, I noticed that my quads felt like they got the most amazing workover and at that moment, I suddenly realised that the bees had helped me discover a really useful training technique.”

Farai is a dedicated beekeeper and because it was through the bees that he learned backward running, he’s decided to run some of his marathons backwards to raise awareness about the importance of bees in the environment and to encourage people to love and care for bees. Farai’s business is Blessed Bee Africa.

Running the Comrades forwards is a massive achievement. Running it backwards is beyond category. But as Nietzsche said: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how”.

May the “why we live” find us and focus us.


Save souls

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Albert Einstein

Grace to you

Language changes over time. A word that meant one thing at one time can mean something else at another time. Failing to understand this can have terrible consequences.

Take for example the phrase from the USA Declaration of Independence, concerning three examples of the “unalienable rights” which the Declaration says have been given to all human beings by their Creator, and which governments are created to protect: “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Life and freedom make sense to me but happiness? Really? Is this an unalienable right”? I confess that when I think of the word a smiley face comes to mind ?. Today the happiness is associated with feelings and a range of positive emotions that in popular culture is closely associated with the accumulation of wealth and status. Yet none of this is what was meant in the writing of the Declaration. The roots of Thomas Jefferson’s use of the word ‘happiness’ lie in the Greek word for happiness: eudaimonia which is linked to aretê, which is the Greek word for “virtue” or “excellence.” In other words, the pursuit of happiness is the pursuit of the civic virtues of justice, courage, moderation, and integrity. This “social happiness” is in fact the foundation of freedom and the good life.

Another example concerns the word “soul”. This time the popular definition of the word is shaped by Greek mythology rather than its Hebrew roots. The Greeks divided the human person up into “body, mind and soul”. This three-fold division of the human person is commonplace to this day even (or especially) within religious circles. So when people speak of “saving souls” its understood as the “saving” of some special part of a person – an immortal part – the immortal soul. This is Greek thinking and is totally at odds to the biblical usage and thinking. The Hebrew word Nephesh is the word we translate into English as “soul”. Nephesh means one’s entire being or living being. In other words, to save souls is to seek the well-being of the whole person. In including every aspect of what it means to be human, it resists all the false dichotomies of spirit and flesh. No wonder John Wesley said to his preachers: “You have nothing to do but to save souls.”

In these two examples the understandings ascribed to the words mentioned have shrunk the original meaning to something small, private and selfish from what was originally large, all encompassing and interconnected with the whole. Words and their meanings matter, so best we watch our language.


“I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”
Albert Einstein


“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
Albert Einstein

Grace that won’t let you go

Delayed and cancelled Cape Town trains
are a time bomb waiting to explode.

Grace to you

There are some verses of scripture that are literally bursting with Gospel meaning. They are squeezed full of faith, hope and love. They overflow with justice, mercy and humility. They act as single summaries of all sacred words ever written. They remain ever before us calling us into the depths of living and never to be ticked off the list of completed tasks.

These verses of scripture are more demanding and more haunting than others. Not because they are difficult to comprehend. Rather, because they are so profoundly simple to understand. Their simplicity is what burdens us with the responsibility to act on them because we can’t pretend to not know what they mean. Therefore we have no excuse not to allow them to shape our living. An example of such a verse is when Jesus says: “What you do to the least of these you do to me.” [Matt 25:40].

This verse is easy to understand. It is clear what Jesus is saying: Our action for or against those whom society names or treats as the least is at one and the same time our action for or against Jesus. How we treat the vulnerable and marginalised of society is how we treat Jesus. If we love Jesus and long to honour Jesus we must love the scorned and honour the stigmatised. To ignore the despised is to ignore Jesus. This is true regardless of whether we pray daily with Jesus’ name on our lips.

In response to this we probably need to be reminded of what G.K. Chesterton said about our faith:

“Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

It is difficult! We will need grace upon grace for this journey. Grace that reminds us that we are loved regardless of our struggle to love. Grace forgives our failures inviting us to try and try again. But also the fierce grace that refuses to let us off the hook. As Father Joseph Wresinski writes about grace:

“Grace is God getting hold of you and making you love others to the point of wanting them to be greater than you, better, more intelligent than you. Grace is the love that sees others as equal and wants them to be happier than oneself; that wants others at any price to love fully, with all their heart. It is God who goads us into wanting others to be able to free the world from poverty, and therefore from injustice, war, and hatred. God leads us where we do not want to go. Grace is “more”, knowing that we are not just a distant reflection of God, but that the Lord is permanently present and living in us.”

May this grace get hold of us all,





Walking humbly

We live today in the midst of a great divorce. There is a divorce between the people and God, the people and each other, and the people and the Creation that we are called to care for. The divorce is evidenced through the thirst of the very land beneath our feet. The land carries the wounds of the divorce, just as each of us, when injured carry the wounds from the others who have wronged us. The story of the murder of Able by his brother Cain illustrates the connection of the land to the people, “What did you do?” God asks Cain. “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground that opened its mouth to take your brother’s blood from your hand” (Genesis 4:10-11). The cycles of life for the Earth are rhythmic. When we, the caretakers of creation, cease to understand our great connection to the earth, we miss an elemental truth. We are beings that were created for the very relationships we are divorcing ourselves from.

It is as if we have forgotten the nature of our origins. It is from dust we have come and from dust we shall return. The prophet Micah reminds us, “He has told you O mortal what is good: to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God” (6:8). The Latin origin of the word humble is humilus–lowly–to the ground. The ancients of the Earth, recognized the gift of interdependency with creation and the gift of walking close to the roots of our origins. Wendell Berry quotes a version of a Native American ancient proverb as he explains life as it should be, “I am speaking of the life of a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children; who has undertaken to cherish it and do it no damage, not because he is duty-bound, but because he loves the world and loves his children.”

Environmental activist, Kumi Naidoo argues with those who believe our work is to save the planet, he says, “the good news is, the planet is just fine, we don’t need to worry about the planet, but if we continue on the path that we are on (referring to burning of fossil fuels causing global warming) we will warm up the planet to the point where our water resources will be destroyed, our soil will be destroyed, and both of those things give the toxic reality of food being constrained. So, the end result is that we will be gone, but the planet will still be here. Once we become extinct as a species, the forests will recover and the oceans will replenish.” He argues that environmental activism should not be about saving the planet as much it should be about, “ensuring that humanity can passion a new way to coexist with nature in a mutually interdependent relationship for centuries and centuries to come. For differently, this struggle is fundamentally about our children and their future.”

Gus Speth, Professor of Environmental studies at Yale shares, “I used to think the top environmental problems facing the world were global warming, environmental degradation, and ecosystem collapse, and that we scientists could fix those problems with enough science, but I was wrong. The real problem is not those three items but greed, selfishness, and apathy. And for that we need spiritual and cultural transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that, we need your help.” 

Speth’s comments were directed towards a gathered group of religious leaders. This upcoming week, Methodist leaders from around the connection (South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Mozambique) will be gathering in Conference to discern the leadership of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa under the theme “Being together with God’s Creation.” Through our connection, one with each other, we have strength. Please be in prayer this week that this time of deliberation by our leaders will bring wisdom, discernment, and ways forward that lead to transformation for Africa and all the world.

With you on the journey,

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