Use the Law. Save a Life.

The media coverage around the
killing of Reeva Steenkamp by Oscar Pistorius
is about to begin again –
just days after the first anniversary of her death.

 

In South Africa the HOME is the most dangerous place for a woman.

 

The trial of Oscar Pistorius for the killing of Reeva Steenkamp is soon to take over the airwaves. The court will have to decide whether it was murder or an accident.

It is very important to note however that apart from being celebrities, Reeva and Oscar’s story is not unique. Of course we were shocked at the killing but we should not have been surprised. Sadly their story is all too common in this country: A man legally buys a gun to protect himself and those he loves from a stranger/intruder; instead he uses his licensed gun to kill the person he loves.

In 1999, 34% of women murdered by their intimate partner were killed with a gun; in 2009 this figure dropped to 17%. At the same time, the percentage of women killed in other ways (e.g. strangled, stabbed or beaten) remained the same. The researchers at the Medical Research Council assert that the single most important intervention that contributed to halving the number of women shot and killed by their intimate partner was the implementation of the Firearms Control Act (2000).

The Firearms Control Act (2000) protects women from being threatened, injured or killed by a gun owned by their intimate partner. The law limits who can own what gun for which purpose. It excludes anyone who is not ‘fit and proper’.

The Firearms Control Act also allows the police to remove a gun from a legal gun owner if he is not ‘fit and proper’, for example if he:

• Points his gun to threaten or intimidate someone.
• Misuses his gun, for example, by shooting it negligently.
• Handles or shoots his gun while drunk or on drugs.
• Fails to store his gun in a safe.

For the police to take action, someone (the person being threatened or a family member, friend or neighbour) must make a written complaint at their nearest police station, detailing why the gun owner is a risk or how he has abused his gun. By law, the police are required to take action after receiving such a complaint.

The two additional charges laid against Pistorius for the negligent use of a firearm (shooting through the sunroof of a moving car, and accidentally shooting a gun at a restaurant) indicate that he may have flouted the law, and if found guilty, that he was not ‘fit and proper’ to be granted the responsibility of gun ownership.

I urge all of us to use the law to make our country safe from gun violence: If you know anyone who owns a gun and shouldn’t, because he is a threat to the people he loves, I urge you to take action by reporting it to your closest police station.

Gun violence can be prevented. Know the Law. Use the Law. Save a Life.

Grace, Alan

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

Tock-Tick

Arise and shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. Isaiah 60

Jesus our joy, when we realise that you love us,
something in us is soothed and even transformed.
We ask you: “What do you want from me?”
And by the Holy Spirit you reply:
“Let nothing trouble you, I am praying in you,
dare to give your life.” ~ Taize

 

Time does what time does — tick along. Time’s job is the continued collection and addition of seconds, minutes, hours, days and years.

Yet, time is not without grace. For once a year it gives us permission to rule a line across the page of our life and start a new one. It gives us the freedom to divide our life up into ‘old’ and ‘new’ and ‘past’ and ‘future’. It further reminds us that each step we take away from the womb is a step closer to the tomb. And this reminder of death drawing closer makes our living more precious. A strange grace indeed.

As time offers us the strange grace of reflection and renewal of our patterns of living I am reminded of the forthright words of Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” With this in mind we would all do well to take time on a daily basis rather than on an annual basis, to examine our lives.

St. Ignatius certainly agreed with Socrates as he recommended a daily practise of examination through prayer. He invites us to take a moment each evening before we sleep to quietly review our day. “To look upon yourself without condemnation and without complacency and thus be open to growth.”

Here is one example of an Examen prayer:
Recalling the events of your day, explore the context of your actions. Review the day, hour by hour, searching for the internal events of your life. Look through the hours to see your interaction with what was before you. Ask what you were involved in and who you were with, and review your hopes and hesitations. Many situations will show that your heart was divided — wavering between helping and disregarding, scoffing and encouraging, listening and ignoring, rebuking and forgiving, speaking and silence, neglecting and thanking. See the opportunities for growth in faith, hope and love, and how you responded. What moved you to act the way you did?

Finally take a few minutes to ask yourself: What / who gave you life today? What / who took life from you today? Where were you free to be free today?

Strange Grace towards examined living, Alan

_________________________________________


A few [wise] words to contemplate:
Something we were withholding made us weak. Until we found out that it was ourselves we were withholding from our land of living, and forthwith found salvation in surrender. ~ Robert Frost

The coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave but one. ~ Shakespeare

Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will. ~ Bonhoeffer

A relationship that needs to be kept a secret is a relationship you don’t need. ~ Mogoeng Mogoeng

If the things we face are greater and more important that the things we refuse to face, then at least we have begun the re-evaluation of our world. At least we have begun to learn to see and live again. But if we refuse to face any of our awkward and deepest truths, then sooner or later, we are going to have to become deaf and blind. And then, eventually, we are going to have to silence our dreams, and the dreams of others. In other words, we die. We die to life. ~ Ben Okri

O begin! Fix some part of every day for private exercises… Whether you like it or not, read and pray daily. It is for your life; there is no other way; else you will be a trifler all your days … Do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow. Do not starve yourself any longer. ~ John Wesley

Day by day

In God’s love and in God’s pity, God redeemed them;
the Lord lifted them up and carried them
all the days of old. Isaiah 63

As another year passes I wonder if there is still enough time to become the person I was created to be but am not. The difference between the two is an aching gap and sometimes it is just a gap without the ache which is worse.

The Jesuit priest, Karl Rahner, writes: “In bygone days, we wanted to become holy. Once we desired to wear ourselves out completely for God’s honour and for the kingdom of heaven, we wanted to burn our life in the ardent flame of love. And we did not become holy.”

He goes on to write: [But] “why should we think that the selfishness of our heart in its secret pride is so powerful that it could plug all the cracks against the pressure of God’s grace?”

He continues, “We want to shun the secret fancies (our ultimate pride) that our evil stubbornness could be victorious over God’s gloriously strong love, which, when it will, dissolves even the obstinate insolence of the heart. We also want to let God be greater in our life than our barren heart and admit that he can reap a harvest even out of the stony field of our soul, a harvest that praises the power of God’s grace. We have become holier.

“But we haven’t become holy. Not because we haven’t worked any miracles or converted any nations or directed the inexorable stream of universal history … but rather because we haven’t loved God as we really should, with the whole heart and with all our strength. We cannot yet forego this duty. We cannot be satisfied with ourselves yet. Our heart doesn’t love without measure and without bound as it could love and must love.

“It loves a little, yes; but a little in this matter is almost worse than nothing. For the heart that completely denies itself still hasn’t found its master. One thing is still left; the heart must surrender itself entirely and without division.

“But who will gather up this divided, disunited heart and make it sincere, so that it can surrender itself to God, all at once, without division? Alas! Our poor dilapidated heart! It is so strange: it yearns a little for stronger love, and conceals a wicked annoyance at the boundless demands of love; and bother of these together are covered over by a feeling of weakness and feebleness.

“The heart of a man (sic) who is growing old, and who did not become holy, feels like this. The heart is well disposed, but it feels too keenly its weakness. The real opportunities for unconditional, boundless love (can we want to love any other way?), the inevitable opportunities that are sent to us — not chosen by us — no longer present themselves. Did we really waste the best hours of our life, the precious opportunities for love God?”

Do you hear the regret in Rahner’s final question to us? Does it resonate within you? What of the gap between what we are and what we have not become?

As the date changes reminding us of the passing of time I invite you to pray the prayer of St Richard:

Thanks be to you, our Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits which you have given us, for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us. Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother, may we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day. Amen.

I cannot think of a more needed prayer to be prayed by anyone: May we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day.

If we make this our prayer then just maybe we will in fact “burn our life in the ardent flame of love.”

Grace, Alan

The gift of stories

Look the young woman is with child… Isaiah 7

Since Nelson Mandela’s death we have experienced the resurrection of his life in myriads of interviews, op-eds, personal testimonies. From every possible quarter stories are being told and re-told. From politicians, neighbours, family members, sports people, jailors, presidents, priests, lawyers, factory workers, domestic workers, the poor and the rich — all adding a word about the Madiba they met. From every age group and from every cultural orientation — all sharing stories of his greatness, humility, humour, surprise, grace, inspiring presence, firmness, warmth. Seeming contradictions added to the brightness of the truth. A fighter. A forgiver. A father of a new nation. And then the reams and reams of comments — the words about all the words — in response. Forming the richest tapestry of the one we were blessed to share time with on this earth.

I therefore believe that we have not only witnessed a great person and moment in history but we may also have witnessed an echo of the greatest moment in history. In these past days we may have witnessed how the Scriptures and especially the story of Jesus found its way into print.

Then as now, the people began to tell their stories and it wasn’t long before a rich tapestry of Jesus’ character and what he stood for and why he died and how he lives on began to circulate. Stories complemented stories making a marvelous tapestry of liberating truth that could only be described as miraculous. Editors did amazing work in collating and communicating his core. His fully human core “reflected God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” [Heb. 1:1-4].

The Gospel writers and editors of old all concluded with the same invitation — do as Jesus did. He has passed on to each of us his Cross (mantle) to carry. Imitate him. Follow him. Seek out his Spirit. Continue his long walk to liberation for all.

The age where faith communities alone mediated the meaning of memorials for the rest of society is past. Little “shrines” of memory were built in shopping centers, hospitals stadiums, entrance halls to businesses, the lobbies of hotels, etc.

Grace, Alan
Sunday 22 December 2013

Hamba Kahle Tata Madiba

No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

 

During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

 

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

 

 

 

 

 

The time comes in the life of any nation when there remains only two choices – submit or fight. That time has now come to South Africa.
We shall not submit and we have no choice but to hit back by all means in our power in defence of our people, our future,
and our freedom.

 

 

Let there be justice
for all.
Let there be peace
for all.
Let there be work, bread, water and salt
for all.
Let each know that for each the body,
the mind and the soul have been freed
to fulfil themselves.
 

 

There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.

 

We have triumphed in the effort to implant hope in the breasts of the millions of our people. We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.

 

As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself…
Great peacemakers are all people
of integrity, of honesty,
but humility.

 

 

 

 

Scroll down for Words of Reflection on Mr Nelson Mandela by both Rev. Dr. Peter Storey and Alan Storey.