The Murdered Monks of Tibhirine

The Murdered Monks of Tibhirine
1996

 

Friends,

When it comes to Resurrection, words fail. Resurrection is simply too impossible and unimaginable for words to describe. When used to convince others of Resurrection, words sound like an “idle tale” (Luke 24:11). The only Resurrection currency that holds its value over time is a changed life. An empty tomb with leftover grave clothes is merely proof of an empty tomb with left over grave clothes. It is not proof of Resurrection. A changed life is the closest thing to “proof” of the Resurrection that there is.

For this reason, I shared the story of the monks at Tibhirine on Easter Sunday. A story I believe to hold Resurrection currency. I read to you the letter written by Trappist Father Christian-Marie de Cherge, one of seven monks slain in Algeria in 1996.  He wrote the letter sometime between December 1, 1993 and January 1, 1994 — between which dates members of the Armed Islamic Group first visited the monastery. It was marked to be opened at his death. The monk’s family sent the letter to France’s daily Catholic newspaper, La Croix, which published the text in full on May 28, 1996.

The deaths of the monks were blamed on Islamic jihadists, but suspicions linger that the Algerian government and possibly the French government too may have been involved. A Time magazine story in 2009 reported that testimony of a retired French general indicates the deaths may have been the result of an Algerian military operation gone awry. The bodies of the monks were never found.

Here is the letter:

“If it should happen one day—and it could be today—that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to encompass all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country.

I ask them to accept that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure.

I ask them to pray for me: for how could I be found worthy of such an offering?

I ask them to be able to associate such a death with the many other deaths that were just as violent, but forgotten through indifference and anonymity.

My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less value. In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood.

I have lived long enough to know that I share in the evil which seems, alas, to prevail in the world, even in that which would strike me blindly.

I should like, when the time comes, to have a clear space which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God and of all my fellow human beings, and at the same time to forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.

I could not desire such a death. It seems to me important to state this.

I do not see, in fact, how I could rejoice if this people I love were to be accused indiscriminately of my murder. It would be to pay too dearly for what will, perhaps, be called “the grace of martyrdom,” to owe it to an Algerian, whoever he may be, especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam.

I know the scorn with which Algerians as a whole can be regarded. I know also the caricature of Islam which a certain kind of Islamism encourages.

It is too easy to give oneself a good conscience by identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideologies of the extremists.

For me, Algeria and Islam are something different; they are a body and a soul.

I have proclaimed this often enough, I believe, in the sure knowledge of what I have received in Algeria, in the respect of believing Muslims—finding there so often that true strand of the Gospel I learned at my mother’s knee, my very first Church.

My death, clearly, will appear to justify those who hastily judged me naïve or idealistic: “Let him tell us now what he thinks of it!”

But these people must realize that my most avid curiosity will then be satisfied.

This is what I shall be able to do, if God wills—immerse my gaze in that of the Father, to contemplate with him his children of Islam just as he sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ, the fruit of his Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit, whose secret joy will always be to establish communion and to refashion the likeness, delighting in the differences.

For this life given up, totally mine and totally theirs, I thank God who seems to have wished it entirely for the sake of that joy in everything and in spite of everything.

In this “thank you,” which is said for everything in my life from now on, I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today, and you my friends of this place, along with my mother and father, my brothers and sisters and their families—the hundredfold granted as was promised!

And you also, the friend of my final moment, who would not be aware of what you were doing. Yes, for you also I wish this “thank you”—and this adieu—to commend you to the God whose face I see in yours.

And may we find each other, happy “good thieves,” in Paradise, if it pleases God, the Father of us both. Amen”.

Easter is serious

 

If we kill the truth-tellers

their truth will be resurrected ten-fold

in the  generations to come. 

Long live the Truth, long live.

 

Friends,

“Easter is serious. Easter is a demand as well as
a promise. Easter demands not sympathy for the crucified Lord but loyalty to the risen one; it
demands an end to all our complicity in crucifixion.”

– William Sloane Coffin

 

Easter is serious because to trust in its truth is to affirm that the way of Jesus really is the way of Life. It is to affirm Jesus’ teaching and lived example which pretty much goes against almost all the accepted wisdom of the world.

Like:
Welcome-in strangers. Hang-out with outcasts. Tell the truth regardless. Better to help someone lying in a ditch on a dangerous road than make it in time for church. Don’t hit back. You don’t own what you have. Give and give again without counting the cost. Worry not about tomorrow—not even today. Pray all night. Fall in love with the people who hate you. Fear no-one. Forgive people who are wrong—even if they are really, really wrong. Forgive again. Serve all people—especially the “least”. Make friends with the poor.

This is serious stuff. Easter is serious stuff.

Joyfully disturbed by resurrection,
Alan

On this day of Resurrection I invite you to slowly wander through this poem by the Brazilian liberation theologian, Rubem Alves.

What is hope?
It is a presentiment that imagination is more real
and reality less real
than it looks.

It is a hunch that the overwhelming brutality of facts
that oppress and repress
is not the last word.

It is a suspicion that reality is more complex
than realism wants us to believe
and that the frontiers of the possible are not determined

by the limits of the actual
and that in a miraculous and unexpected way
life is preparing the creative events
which will open the way to freedom and resurrection . . .

The two, suffering and hope, live from each other.
Suffering without hope produces resentment and despair,
hope without suffering creates illusions, naiveté,
and drunkenness . . .

Let us plant dates
even though those who plant them will never eat them.

We must live by the love of what we will never see.
This is the secret discipline.

It is a refusal to let the creative act be dissolved
in immediate sense experience
and a stubborn commitment to the future of our grandchildren.

Such disciplined love is what has given
prophets, revolutionaries and saints
the courage to die for the future they envisaged.

They make their own bodies the seed of their
highest hope.

– Rubem Alves, Brazil

 

Palm Sunday Performance Protest

Pussy Riot perform “Punk Prayer” in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour

February 2012

 

Friends,

Palm Sunday was an act of political performance art. The purpose of political performance art is to expose the powers. Exposing the powers to protest the powers. To hold up a mirror to them. To take the micky out of them. It is basically to declare: “The emperor has no clothes”.

Political performance art is all about symbolism and timing and place. Jesus was a whizz at this stuff. He knew how to put his finger on the political nerve of the Roman regime as we will find out again this Palm Sunday. The palm waving parade, complete with a Zechariah inspired donkey ride was political theatre at its best. This was immediately followed by Jesus’ dramatic performance shakedown of the religious powers in showing how to deep clean a state-captured-temple.

Jesus’ performance art would secure his execution for sure. Having peeved off both political and religious big wigs – it was a no brainer that they would come together to vote in favour of his killing. The state would supply the wood and nails and the religious establishment would guarantee divine approval.

It is a dangerous thing to dig up and expose the powerlines of any oppressive regime. Here are a few more recent examples of political performance art. Some explicit. Some more subtle. Some planned long in advance. Some spontaneous. 

 

See Pussy Riot perform “Punk Prayer” in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in February 2012. For an explanation of the lyrics, see this article.

 

See the beginnings of the #RhodesMustFall student movement,
with Chumani Maxwele who threw poo on the UCT Rhodes Statue.
He describes in detail all the symbolism that informed the
performance protest.

 

 

 

See Pope Francis spontaneously stop and pray at the Apartheid-Israel wall soon after

 

 

 

praying at the Jerusalem’s Western wall.

 

 

 

 

And then finally some protest theatre against State Capture way back on 12 May 2013 wonderfully coinciding with Ascension Day. I officiated at a wedding. The couple have been in love for a long time and finally decided to come out in the open and get married. 

See 2013 State Capture performance protest from civil society organisations in the city of Cape Town.

 

 

 

 

Economic War

 

Friends,

This week we heard that South Africa’s unemployment rate reached a new record high of 35.3% at the end of 2021. (Compare to other countries.) According to an expanded definition of unemployment that includes those discouraged from seeking work, 46.2% of the labour force was without work in the fourth quarter of 2021. While the youth unemployment rate is at an unbelievable 65.5%.

Behind these figures are suffering and hungry people. It was reported this week that seven children died of starvation in the Eastern Cape where an estimated 72% of the population live below the poverty line. What a horror to be unable to feed one’s family. Without any sign of things changing, people live in a perpetual state of present traumatic stress disorder. All this is only a stone’s throw away from places of extensive wealth, causing despair and desperation to easily couple with anger and rage.

When the Kremlin spokesperson recently said the West was waging “economic war” against Russia, I thought how true this is for the unemployed and destitute of South Africa. To be sanctioned or prevented from economic participation is to be attacked. For Russia it happened instantly and justifiably as a result of their unprovoked attack on Ukraine, but for 60% of South Africans who live below the poverty line it has been brought to the boil slowly and as such it is not recognised as war. Without recognition that 60% of SA are in a war there is little urgency to end the war. What war?

I am always astounded at the ingenuity that accompanies war. All sorts of industries are instantly converted to assist the “war effort” as ploughshares and pruning-hooks are miraculously turned into swords and spears. When the victims of the war are “only the poor”, however, the idea of turning swords and spears into nourishing utilities is impossibly unrealistic according to the untouched powers that be.

When the stones, that are only a stone’s throw away begin to fly, those who throw them will be called violent criminals and dealt with accordingly. Few will see them as a desperate people finally taking up stones in a war they have long suffered. Stones will be met with urgent State action – often violent – until “peace” is restored. For the 60% this “peace” is in reality the continuation of economic war against them. A war that is not recognised as a war. This self-defeating cycle will repeat itself again and again with growing intensity. And in the end protecting a false peace will be far more costly than the establishment of justice and fairness.

It is within this context that populist politics gain traction and authoritarianism takes root. In an economic war the ‘enemy’ is easily hidden, if not invisible, and this energises the search for visible scapegoats. It is therefore not surprising in these times that xenophobic and vigilante organisations rise in search of these scapegoats to blame and beat. Tragically, the scapegoats close at hand are people equally poor and desperate. In SA these often take the human form of vulnerable foreign nationals. As in Bredasdorp where more than 1000 people, mostly from Zimbabwe and Malawi, are now living in municipal halls and a mosque after they were targeted and chased out of their homes. The traumatised traumatising the traumatised.

With all of this in mind we gather today to share in the sacrament of Holy Communion. This is not a private ritual of forgiveness to secure a spot on a heavenly cloud. At this table, Jesus our host, reminds us of his economic dream of equality on earth where all are included and all receive as we have need. To share in Holy Communion is to commit ourselves to an economy of nourishment for all. To share in this sacrament is to commit to the forgiveness of debts that keep people in various forms of systemic slavery. It is to be reminded that it is not God’s will that some are rich and some are poor. Inequality is at odds with God and leads to self-destruction. God is the great lover of justice who longs for a fair balance where those who have much, do not have too much and those who have little, do not have too little.

A sacrament is a sign. Today we share in a sign of Holy Communion with the commitment to work for incarnation of this sign of Holy Communion in the world. The work of justice and equality is Holy Communion work. Wherever this justice work is done, Holy Communion is taking place. Whoever is doing this justice work is administering Holy Communion. Whenever this justice work is being experienced, Holy Communion is being celebrated.

With grace,
Alan

A few reminders …

 

Friends,

In last Sunday’s reading we heard that Herod wanted to kill Jesus [Luke 13:31-35]. This statement alone should end the denialism regarding the politics of Jesus. If Jesus’ life carried zero political significance, Herod (the head of politics) would have had no need to put out a State sanctioned hit on Jesus. Jesus threatened the systems that underpinned Herod’s power and as such Jesus was a direct threat to Herod. Jesus the Truth exposed the lies upon which Herod’s regime rested and Jesus the Life exposed the death that Herod’s regime reaped. Therefore, according to Herod Jesus had to be eliminated.

This compels us to check ‘our Jesus’. If our Jesus doesn’t grab the threatened attention of those in power by exposing lies and death then we are probably holding onto a fake Jesus. The priority of this fake Jesus is our comfort and convenience rather than the liberating and healing will of God. A benign and sanitised Jesus divorced from his crucifying context. A Christ without crucifixion at direct odds with Paul’s injunction, “… we preach Christ crucified” [1 Cor. 1:23] and in line with Paul’s accusation, “for many live as enemies of the Cross” [Phil 3:18]. And if this fake Jesus does come with a Cross, it is more than likely polished silver or gold, more ornament of decoration than instrument of death.

We jump to Jesus’ response to the news of Herod’s murderous intent…

Jesus responds sharply, “Go tell that fox…” referring to Herod. Jesus points out the cunning and cruel character of Herod. This shatters the false (yet all too prevalent) notion that to be a follower of Jesus in short means: ‘be nice’. And ‘nice’ means that thou shalt not offend. As we can see, Jesus does not buy into this. For Jesus, the truth is never to be sacrificed for the sake of being ‘nice’.

Often this false focus on being nice is reinforced by a misreading of the scripture, “Do not judge…” [Matt. 7:1]. Regularly this is used to silence righteous outrage by throwing a blanket of moral equivalency over every side of every issue. This is done under the noble guise of neutrality. Yet, Archbishop Tutu reminded us, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor”. We are never to judge ourselves better than others (even the Herods of this world) or to judge another’s state of relationship with their Maker but we most certainly are called to judge whether actions bring life or death. If this were not so we would have no need for the truth-tellers we call prophets and the bible would be half its size.

Jesus went further than calling Herod a fox. Jesus named Jerusalem as “the city that kills the prophets (truth-tellers) and stones those who are sent to it”. Jesus knew that Herod is not Herod alone. He is a part of a system much larger than himself. A system that enables him to make threats and carry them out. Get away with it and even be rewarded for it. Were Herod to be removed without the entire murderous system being transformed, it would make little difference. Another would take his place. Jesus therefore knew that the fight is not against flesh and blood but principalities and powers that are more than the sum of all the personal parts of a society/system. We have seen this to be true in South Africa multiple times.

Note, Jesus refuses to take orders from Herod. Yes, Jesus does not obey Romans 13 (as commonly quoted). Jesus is accountable to a higher power than Herod and reminds us that we are too. We are all accountable to the Giver of Life and therefore the excuse, “I was only following orders” does not dilute our moral responsibility to act justly and live mercifully.

A final reminder from last week is that Jesus did not call for Herod the fox to be hunted down. To do so is to imitate Herod and then we become Herod’s disciples even as we take his life. Jesus knew that to kill the killer is to resurrect the killer within ourselves. Jesus also knew that if Herod did not change Herod would dig his own grave.

If there is any truth in any of these thoughts may they disturb and direct our living.

With grace,
Alan

Family

Masters of War by Bob Dylan
(click link for music and full lyrics)

Friends,

Back in the biblical day it was custom for Rabbis to summarise their teaching in a prayer. Therefore what we call The Lord’s Prayer, is more than likely Jesus’ teaching summary. A summary that Jesus’ followers are invited to meditate on and act on. The core of Jesus’ teaching summary focuses on the need for daily bread and the forgiveness of debts. In other words, justice and mercy are central to the Jesus-way of Life-Giving-Living.

Story after story in the Gospels invite us to grow in justice and mercy and to do so not only with our neighbours but also with our enemies. In short, with everyone.

This seems impossibly difficult, yet many of us are both recipient and practitioner of this Jesus-way of Life-Giving-Living on a micro scale maybe without even realising it. In every loving family Life-Giving-Living is practiced through the sharing of daily bread and the forgiveness of debts. Without fair sharing and repeated forgiveness a family would not last.

Returning to Jesus’ teaching summary, we are reminded that it begins with the words: “Our Parent…” Jesus’ teaching begins by informing us that we belong to one human family. To call God “Our Parent…” is to recognise that we are each other’s siblings. Jesus’ teaching summary invites us to claim this as the real reality of every relationship we are in. Jesus knows that unless we are able to recognise each other as family we will not be able to practice the justice and mercy necessary for Life-Giving-Living. The saving of the world will be determined by those who trust and live out the truth of this three letter word OUR.

From Jesus’ perspective of universal family, the language of “love of one’s own” or “these are my people” or “God is on our side” is made obsolete. This language often defines “one’s own” or “my people” or “our side” by nationality, language, culture, skin colour, religion, etc. It leads to the feeling, “When I walk the streets of the Johannesburg CBD, I become a foreigner in my own country”. And this leads to the slogan, “Put South Africans First”. And this leads to the formation of Operation Dudula. It is the language of nationalism, sectarianism, xenophobia and war. It is the language of Vladimir Putin. It is also the language of many of us.

For this reason Jesus kept opening the eyes of the blind. The blind being those of us who fail to recognise a sister and brother in the person next to us and across the way from us. On this Transfiguration Sunday let us pray for our eyes to be opened that our seeing of each other may be gloriously transfigured. This was the amazing gift given to Thomas Merton in Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut … may it happen to us.

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream…

“This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud…. It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God Himself (sic) gloried in becoming a member of the human race. A member of the human race! To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake…

“There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun… There are no strangers! … If only we could see each other [as we really are] all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed… I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other…

“At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak His name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship (sic). It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely.

“I have no program for this seeing. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.”

With grace,
Alan

Competition to Compassion

Friends,

The Squid Game is a Netflix series that came out in September 2021. It’s been viewed in at least 94 countries by more than 142 million member households. Crazily, it totalled over 165 billion viewing hours in its first 4 weeks.

Each episode has contestants play a variation of a well-known children’s game. The first game is like red light / green light, with contestants allowed to move while a mechanical doll faces the tree, but the moment the doll turns to face the contestants, everyone must freeze. Failure to keep dead still results in death. The contestants are eliminated by being shot. Similarly, one gets a bullet to the head for losing at marbles. A variation of tug-of-war involves the weaker team being pulled over the edge of a high platform resulting in the entire team falling to their death. The anonymous red-suited authorities apply the rules without question, while faithfully honouring their triangle, square and circle hierarchy. The 456 contestants are soon whittled down to a handful with ultimately just one left standing to collect the billions in prize money. All this is entertainment to a tiny group of VIPs.

The concept is horrifying. The violence is terrifying. The brutality is sickening.

What desperation would cause anyone to risk their life to play a series of deadly children’s games? Debt! Each contestant was deep in dept and therefore desperate enough to risk their life for the slightest chance of getting out of it.

Before we are tempted to write off Hwang Dong-hyuk, the creator of The Squid Game, as some kind of sadist, he explains: “I wanted to write a story that was an allegory or fable about modern capitalist society – something that depicts an extreme competition somewhat like the extreme competition of life.” Dong-hyuk wrote the Squid Game in 2009 but every film company turned it down saying it was “too grotesque and unrealistic”. It’s deeply troubling to note that by 2019 the same Squid Game came across as more “intriguing and realistic.” Realistic? Yes realistic. A reality exposed and deepened by Covid-19: A recent South African survey reveals that 47% of all respondents have been unable to pay debt and that 45% lost most of their income in the past six months. Globally, on the other extreme a billionaire was created every 26 hours during the Covid pandemic with the wealth of the world’s 10 richest men doubling, rising at a rate of $15,000 (R225k) per second.

What are we to call a system that allows and enables such grotesque inequality? A system that has gone rogue beyond the self-corrective reach of Adam Smith’s naive invisible hand. To follow the brutal consequences of such a system into the flesh and blood of humanity and into the soil and water of creation is to be horrified, terrified and sickened. Surely, evil is not too strong a word?

The purpose of allegory, fable or parable is to open the eyes of an otherwise blind society. To draw us out of our denial. To wake us up from our greedy and violently competitive ways. To urgently change a system lubricated by competition with one centred on compassion. A system that majors in the forgiveness of debts of our neighbours and of nations. In South Africa we do not need horrifying allegory, fable or parable. All we have to do is look outside.

With grace,
Alan

Mini-Messiah-Moment

Friends

The Winter Olympics are taking place at the moment. This would have passed me by were it not for a flurry of news articles about Eileen Feng Gu. I had never heard of her before, which is not surprising since snow is not really our specialty here at the tip of Africa. (I believe Beijing was also a bit snow-challenged for these Olympics, but that is another story.) Gu (18) won gold in the freestyle big air category. Her winning involved some crazy acrobatic stuff that included 4.5 revolutions in the air. Remarkable! She seems to stay in the air forever with every eye in the world watching.

But what I found even more remarkable than her beautiful acrobatics, is the way she answered questions at the press conference that followed. Although the press core seemed blind to the beauty of her answers. You see, Gu was born and raised in the USA but is competing for China, the country of her mother’s birth. The press wanted to know whether Gu was still a US citizen. After beautifully and acrobatically answering the question about her citizenship, another press person persisted: “Yes we understand you … but you were not clear if you still have your American citizenship … will you live in the US or China from now on?”

She repeated her beautiful acrobatics with the following: “I am just as American as I am Chinese. I am American when I am in America and I am Chinese when I am in China. I have expressed my gratitude to both the US and China for making me the person I am. Both have been super supportive. Sport does not have to be related to nationality. My mission is to use sport as a force for unity … to use it as a form to foster interconnection between countries and not use it as a divisive force.”

Isaiah said, “A child will lead”! Ok, in this instance Isaiah exaggerated a bit. But what a delight to see a teenager do summersaults around a press core. The press reminded me of the pharisees of old who would quiz Jesus on tax matters or acceptable Sabbath activity. They disappointedly did not receive the either/or answer their worldview demanded. By the way, the disciples also had to ask Jesus to “be more clear” on many occasions!

I know the book of Revelation says that: “He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him…” but I didn’t realise Jesus would make an appearance in the Olympics. Who knew he could ski? This is just it though. Jesus didn’t look very messiah-like back in the day either. In fact it is probably a safe bet to assume that if the messiah looks like the messiah then it’s probably not the messiah. This was a most unlikely mini-messiah-moment (as they all are) at a press conference from the Olympic village.

And so from the lips of a teenager, “an 18 year old just living her dream” we hear words of wonderous truth that have the power to heal our divided world. Blessed are those with ears to hear. If we incarnate Eileen Gu’s words within our flesh, the Apartheid of nations will come to a beautiful end. Can you hear Jesus say: “Amen”?

With grace,
Alan

Annual General Meeting

CMM’s AGM will take place after the Sunday Service on 6 March.

We postposed it from the end of last year. Due to COVID disruptions, etc. we have some catching up to do. We need to have nominations/elections for Treasurer as well as Society Stewards.

If there is anyone you would like to nominate or if you yourself feel called to be part of the leadership of CMM (what we call the Donkey Team) please do chat with me.

Thank you, Alan

PS: This will be an in-person meeting.

 

Rewilding

 

Friends,

I heard the term ‘wild Christianity’ this week. As much as I found it intriguing, I thought it was also sad. For to preface the word Christianity with ‘wild’ is to admit that there is a Christianity that isn’t wild. A bit like prefacing the word ‘theology’ with the word ‘liberation’. If theology isn’t liberating can we really call it theology? But I get it, not all that is called Christianity is wild and not all that is called theology is liberating, therefore the need for one or other adjective to highlight what is now missing.

Even though ‘tame Christianity’ is an oxymoron, the taming of what commonly passes as Christianity cannot be denied. The wild of Christianity is tamed when control replaces curiosity as the primary spiritual value of community and where order and efficiency show freedom and wonder-wandering the door. The wildness of Christianity is most often traded-in for acceptance at the table of the powerful and privileged. At this table holiness is defined by uniformity according to strict criteria of sameness. Here everyone proudly declares: “We are one because we are the same”.  Throughout the ages Jesus has made it his business to rewild these tables. In fact he has been known to wildly overturn them. For those of us who covet sameness – we have been warned.

On Friday I was gifted with an opportunity to join in a tea* ceremony in one of the newly occupied shop spaces belonging to CMM. I have been asked what a tea ceremony is. Well, I am not sure, except to say …tea is made with love, poured with love, served with love and then sipped with love in the hope of tasting love. Anyway, for the tea ceremony Derek Gripper played his guitar … as always … in love, by love and for love.

Afterward he explained a little of the history of the tea ceremony. Its origins of simplicity only later to be tamed within a stiff fancy orderliness. He spoke too about how the guitar as an instrument had also been tamed over time. Originally it was an instrument for the bar and pub that would never have been allowed to (dis)grace a concert hall. Similar to the history of Methodist hymns that originated in pubs sung by less than sober beer drinkers and now tamed by Sunday choirs in suit and tie.

The once wild, now tame, needs rewilding. Of this environmentalists (https://www.rewildingmag.com) say Amen.

Today we join together as a community to renew our Covenant with the un-tame-able God. These Covenanting words truly are wild. I do fear that our familiarity with them however, may have tamed them. And so I pray that the Spirit that blows where it wills, comes and rewilds this Covenant in our hearts today.

With grace,
Alan

*Hibiscus tea from Burkino Fasso in memory and celebration of Malidoma Some who wrote “Of water and the spirit.”

 

THE COVENANT

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.

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.

*Please note: The traditional words, “Put me to doing, put me to suffering,” do not mean that we ask God to make us suffer. Rather, they express our desire to do any faithful act regardless of whether there is suffering involved.

 

Being Peace

Friends,

Today I celebrate the life and teaching of the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh. A monk from age 16 until his death last week at age 95.

In 1989 my uncle gave me a book by Thich Nhat Hanh. The book: Being Peace. From each page a distilled wisdom flows. Poetic and parable-like. Each syllable soaked in years of silence. His simple words reach into the depths of human longing and the earth’s groaning.

He writes, “Life is both dreadful and wonderful. To practice meditation is to be in touch with both aspects.” Nhat Hanh draws our attention to a child’s smile as “the most basic kind of peace” and then a moment later on the same page he names the horror of 40 000 children dying of hunger each day and superpowers who have enough nuclear warheads to destroy our planet many times – making “humankind the most dangerous species on earth”.

Nhat Hanh’s Buddhist practice is one of engagement and not escape. He acknowledged that there were so many things that made him want to withdraw, but “my practice helps me remain in society, because I am aware that if I leave society, I will not be able to help change it.” He continues, “I hope that those who are practicing Buddhism succeed in keeping their feet on earth, staying in society. That is our hope for peace.” We could describe Nhat Hanh’s “engaged Buddhism” as being “in the world, but not of the world”.

This spirituality of engagedness is in convicting contrast to much of what passes as Buddhist practice in the West today. Similar to how today’s dominant individualistic consumer culture has co-opted much of Christianity, the Buddhist practice of mindfulness, who some critics now insightfully call “McMindfulness” has sadly also been co-opted.

Nhat Hanh’s way of justice, mercy and humility is rooted in the reality life’s interconnectedness. A reality he refers to as “interbeing”. Speaking with deepened “Ubuntu” tone, he explains: “In one sheet of paper, we see everything else, the cloud, the forest, the logger. I am, therefore you are. You are, therefore I am.” In other words, not only is it true that what we do to our neighbour we do to ourselves, but what we do to the tree or mountain or river or sky, we do to ourselves and each other. Therefore it is not surprising that reverence for Life – all Life – is at the heart of his mindfulness training.

Included in this amazing book is Thich Nhat Hanh’s incredible poem: Please Call Me By My True Names. A poem that invites us to wake up to the truth of who we are. From the reality of “interbeing” we are all victim and perpetrator. The urgency to do justice, love mercifully and walk humbly will grow to the extent that we wake up to this reality.

After I finished reading Being Peace, I was convinced that Jesus would say, Amen – so be it. I believe Jesus would encourage his followers to drink deeply from the living waters of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching.

Here are a few other books you may want to explore.

Thich Nhat Hanh beautifully invites us to be present to the most ordinary aspects of our living. Sitting, walking and eating. See his series on How to

Another amazing book is the conversation Nhat Hanh has with Jesuit monk Daniel Berrigan, the justice and peace activist who challenges a tamed and co-opted Christianity to return to the radical steps of Jesus. (Bell Hooks, another voice of justice and life who died in December 2021 writes the forward.)

And finally I include a devastatingly beautiful novel written by Thich Nhat Hahn, called The Novice.

With grace,
Alan