Grace to you
The Prophet Isaiah was right when he declared: “and a little child shall lead them”. [Isa. 11:6] Greta Thunberg the 16 year old from Sweden is leading the world at the moment. We either listen to her and live, or we don’t listen to her and we die. Her talks are short and simple a bit like Jesus – stating the obvious that most are too afraid to mention – especially those in power. Here is part of her latest speech to the European Union. She brilliantly flips the accusation of who really are the naïve, the irresponsible and who needs to do their homework:
“Tens of thousands of children are school striking for the climate on the streets of Brussels. Hundreds of thousands are doing the same all over the world. We are school-striking because we have done our homework. People always tell us that they are so hopeful – they are hopeful that the young people are going to save the world, but we are not. There is simply not enough time to wait for us to grow up and become the ones in charge because by the year 2020 we need to have bended the emissions curve steep downwards – that is next year.
We know that most politicians don’t want to talk to us – good – we don’t want to talk to them either. We want them to talk to the scientists instead. Listen to them, because we are just repeating what they are saying and have been saying for decades. We want you to follow the Paris agreement and the IPCC report. We don’t have any other manifesto or demands – unite behind the science – that is our demand.
When many politicians talk of the school strike for the climate – they talk about almost anything except the climate crisis. Many people are trying to make the school strikes a question of whether we are promoting truancy or whether we should go back to school or not. They make up all sorts of conspiracies and call us puppets who cannot think for ourselves. They are desperate to try and remove the focus from climate crisis and change the subject. They don’t want to talk about it because they know that they cannot win this fight, because they know they haven’t done their homework, but we have.
Once you have done your homework you realise that we need new politics. We need new economics where everything is based on a rapidly declining and extremely limited remaining carbon budget. But that is not enough. We need a whole new way of thinking. The political system that you have created is all about competition. You cheat when you can because all that matters is to win, to get power. That must come to an end. We must stop competing with each other. We need to co-operate together and to share the resources of the planet in a fair way. We need to start living within the planetary boundaries and focus on equity and take a few steps back for the sake of all living species. We need to protect the biosphere, air, the oceans, soil, and the forests.
This may sound very naïve, but if you have done your homework then you know that we don’t have any other choice. We need to focus every inch of our being on climate change because if we fail to do so all our achievements and progress have been for nothing, and all that will remain of our political leaders’ legacy will be the greatest failure of human history and they will be remembered as the greatest villains of all time because they have chosen not to listen and not to act.
This does not have to be. There is still time. According to the IPCC report we are about 11 years away from where we set off an irreversible chain reaction beyond human control. To avoid that, unprecedented changes in all aspects of society need to have taken place within this coming decade, including a reduction of our CO2 emissions by at least 50% by the year 2030, and please note that those numbers do not include the aspect of equity which is absolutely necessary for the Paris Agreement to work on a global scale. Nor do they include tipping points or feedback loops like extremely powerful methane gas released from the thawing arctic permafrost. They do however, include negative emissions techniques of a huge planetary scale that is yet to be invented and many scientists fear will never be ready in time and will anyway be impossible to deliver at the scale assumed.
We have been told that the EU intends to improve its emissions reduction target. In the new target the EU is proposing to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 45% below 1990’s level by 2030. Some people say that is good or that is ambitious but this new target is still not enough to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. This target is not sufficient to protect the future for children growing up today. If the EU is going to make its fair contribution to stay within the carbon budget for the 2 degree limit then it needs a minimum of 80% reduction by 2030 and that includes aviation and shipping, so around twice as ambitious as the current proposal.
The actions required are beyond manifestos or any party politics. Once again they sweep their mess under the carpet for our generation to clean up and solve. Some people say we are fighting for our future, but that is not true, we are not fighting for our future – we are fighting for everyone’s future. And if you think that we should be in school instead then we suggest that you take our place in the streets striking from your work or better yet, join us so we can speed up the process.
And I am sorry but saying that everything will be alright and continue doing nothing at all is just not hopeful to us, in fact it is the opposite of hope and yet this is exactly what you keep doing. You can’t just sit around and wait for hope to come, then you are acting like spoiled irresponsible children. You don’t understand that hope is something you have to earn and if you still say we are wasting valuable lesson time then let me remind you that our political leaders have wasted decades through denial and inaction. And since our time is running out we have decided to take action. We have started to clean up your mess and we will not stop until we are done.”
Grace to you
Today we are going to reflect on Psalm 1. It is therefore as good a time as any to make a commitment to read the whole Psalter – starting today with one psalm a day for the next 150 days.
To accompany us on the journey I can’t recommend highly enough Nan C. Merrill’s book: Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness. She has translated all 150 psalms with poetic and theological brilliance. She helps us see the word through her feminist and non-violent lens. Here is the preface to her book:
“Who among us has not yearned TO KNOW the Unknowable? For most, these moments are fleeting glimpses that may last a lifetime; in some, a Fire is kindled and life becomes a quest to live in Holy Surrender; and though fewer in number, saints dwell among us who know the Beloved, who aspire simply to co-create in harmony with the One, who is Love and Light and Power. To cherish the Beloved as you are cherished is to live in a mutual bonding that calls for action.
The Psalms have ever been a response to these deep yearnings: cries of the soul … songs of surrender … paeans of praise. The Psalms of the Hebrew Scripture often reflect a patriarchal society based on fear and guilt that projects evil and sin onto outer enemies. Psalms for Praying reflects the reciprocity of Divine Love that opens the heart to forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing. Affirming the life-giving |fruits of love and acknowledging the isolation and loneliness of those separated from Love, may serve to awaken the heart to move toward wholeness and holiness.
Aspiring to live in a spirit of cooperation, co-creation, and companionship with the Beloved, rather than invoking a spirit of competition with God, other individuals and nations – so much a part of the Hebrew Scripture Psalms – seems clearly a more loving movement toward engendering peace, harmony, and healing in our wounded world.
Yet, let it be understood that Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness is in no way meant to replace the well-loved, still meaningful, and historically important Psalms of the Hebrew Scripture. May it stand as a companion, a dialogue, if you will, of one age speaking with a later age. May it serve as an invitation to listen to the Voice of Silence that speaks within your own soul.”
Blessed are those
who walk hand in hand
who stand beside virtue,
who sit in the seat of truth;
For their delight is in the Spirit of Love
,and in Love’s heart they dwell
day and night.
They are like trees planted by
streams of water,
that yield fruit in due season,
and their leaves flourish;
And in all that they do, they give life.
The unloving are not so;
they are like dandelions which
the wind blows away.
Turning from the Heart of Love
they will know suffering and pain.
They will be isolated from wisdom;
for Love knows the way of truth,
the way of ignorance will perish
as Love’s penetrating Light
breaks through hearts
filled with illusions:
forgiveness is the way.
Grace to you
Any religion, organisation, sacrament or ritual can become an instrument of death rather than a conduit of life. It does so as soon as it is used to rank people. When it creates a hierarchy of human worth it moves from life-giver to death-bringer. For this reason we must be clear on what we are doing when we celebrate the sacrament of Baptism today. Sadly, many believe that Baptism gives the holy edge over the unbaptised. A slight caricature of this goes as follows: “We are all born originally bad. But you can be baptised and receive full cover. Be not afraid, at death this comprehensive insurance pays out in full and comes complete with heavenly perks to be enjoyed forever… so hurry up and be baptised!” Put bluntly: God loves the baptised more than anyone else.
Yet this is exactly the kind of religious thinking that Jesus took issue with at every turn. He insisted God’s love rained equally on the just and the unjust and that there was no religious ritual that could twist God’s arm to anyone’s favour. In short: God has no favourites.
Baptism – especially Infant Baptism – declares so clearly that God’s love for us is without need of merit or persuasion or even understanding. The sacrament of Baptism announces: “All are in, all are welcome, all are chosen, all are beloved”. It is not: “be baptised then you are in”, but rather, “baptism tells us that all are already in – with or without baptism”.
Take another line in the Baptism liturgy: “We pray that these children, now to be baptised in this water, may die to sin and be raised to new life in Christ.” What do we mean by ‘die to sin and raised to new life in Christ?’. If, by sin we are referring to certain deeds like lying, fighting and stealing then why do baptised children lie, fight and steal as much as the unbaptised? Yet if, as Paul Tillich suggests: “Before sin is a deed it is a state”, then it makes deep and challenging sense. Sin understood as “a state of separation” – from our Creator, our neighbour, creation and ourselves. To “live in sin” means to live life in a state of separation that is fundamentally at odds with the essence of our oneness: oneness with our Creator, neighbour, creation and ourselves. Separation is therefore a false take on reality. It is not real so anything we build on it is doomed to destructively self-destruct. To pray for these children to “die to sin” is to pray that they will not live life on the false reality of separateness. To pray that they “be raised to new life in Christ” is to pray that they will live in accordance with the essential truth of being at one with all of life, as Jesus did. No wonder Jesus prayed: “May they be one as we are one”.
Baptism is then the radical declaration of the real, real world with the invitation for us to wash ourselves in this reality of oneness as Jesus did. When oneness becomes our reality – our lived experience connected with our essence – fear fades and love remains.
May we all die to sin,
Grace to you
What would you say to someone who sets fire to their own house? Oh and by the way, this someone says that they love their house and still would like to live in it for many years to come. You also need to know that they don’t admit to setting their house on fire. In fact, they deny it is on fire or are at least oblivious to the fact that it is on fire. And the one last thing you need to know about them is that they think of themselves as smart – very smart! So, what do you say to them?
Now everything we have said to them is what we need to hear ourselves. Because they are us.
Homo sapiens (which I learnt this week, translates from Latin to, “wise or smart human”) are supposed to be the smartest creatures on the planet, yet we stand out as the only creature hell-bent on mass suicide. We have set fire to our own house. I mean who sets fire to their own house? We can agree that “smart” doesn’t feature in the answer!
The biggest threat we face is our own way of life and one would imagine that we would therefore decide to change our way of life as a matter of urgency. But here is the thing, we are dependent on what is killing us for our survival. Yes you read that correctly. Basically, we cut the branch we are sitting on. It is a very high branch and falling will result in serious injury, if not death. So why don’t we stop cutting the branch? We don’t stop because we are all employed in some way or other in the lumber business. Yes we make a living by cutting the branch we are sitting on. We think if we stop cutting the branch that we will die – so we keep cutting with hope that we never gonna cut through the whole branch that is holding us. But no branch can be cut forever without breaking. It is on this foundation of foolishness that the world’s market economy is based: Growth, growth and more growth. Which means more and more consumption. Which means endless cutting. The market is so demanding that we even cut tomorrow’s branches, today.
Basically since the industrial revolution, but more specifically over the last 70 years we have been setting fire to our home. The last 4 years have been the hottest on record. Of course climate change is not new. It has always gone through changes but the difference is the speed at which it is changing. Change used to be so slow that most species could evolve and adapt in time. But not anymore – humans have pushed the fast forward button. In fact, according to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on climate change, we have 12 years. We have 12 years to radically transform our economy, especially the amount of energy that we use and how we generate it, from coal, oil, and gas to solar and wind. As Ann-Levy Lyons puts it: We need to change “energy from hell to energy from heaven” if we are to prevent an irreversible spiral of destruction.
There is no cheap, easy and comfortable way out of the crisis we have caused but it can still be done. This must be our on-going task.
Grace and mercy to you
Look what arrived in my junk-email box on Thursday morning:
I am Mrs. Mercy John from United Kingdom, a 60 years old dying woman who was diagnosed for cancer about 4 years ago. I have decided to donate to you for charitable goals. Please get back to me if you are interested in carrying out this task, so that I can give you more details and arrange the release of the funds to you. Hoping to hearing from you soon.
Mrs. Mercy John”
Normally I would send such an email straight to trash, but the sender’s name paused my deleting finger mid-air – as mercy does. And I am glad it did because it gave me an opportunity to read the email in full. I can see why it ended up in my junk mail. It is obviously spam and it is obviously a scam of sorts, but on a fuller reading it does contain great grace. And isn’t it just like grace to attach itself to junk and thereby transforming it into a jewel? So here are The Seven Steps from Junk to Jewel:
- Although the email is sent to me it is safe to assume that it was sent to many others. The Phisher of people does not discriminate. In other words, the grace and truth, which it bears is for all and not simply for me. What I am saying is – this is your mail too, yes, Mercy knows your address!
- Mercy knows your name. Notice the mail addresses us by our correct name by using our original Baptismal name, spoken from the heavens. We are indeed Beloved. This is 100% accurate.
- Read again – slowly – the first five words of greeting: “I am Mrs. Mercy John”. As Moses can confirm God’s name is beautifully fixed in the present: “I AM”. “I AM who I AM”. Mrs. Mercy is probably the most accurate description of I AM. ‘God is Mercy’ is a three-word summary of everything Jesus came to teach us about I AM. John? Yes, we still don’t know who exactly John the letter writer is – but John did pen the most succinct character sketch of I AM ever written. Just read: 1 John 4:7-21.
- Mercy resides in the United Kingdom. Obviously. I mean where else? A Kingdom that is united where there is “no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised; slave or free; but Christ is all and in all.” Colossians 3:11. As Jesus prayed, “That they may be one as we are one”.
- Mercy has never been shy to ask for help. In fact, Mercy’s most frequent request is for partners to partner with her in healing this broken world.
- Mercy promises to bless us, to donate to us, to give to us. If this is not grace I don’t know what is, but please notice to what end: “for charitable goals”. Yes, not for our own private benefit but for the common good. Mercy invites us to be a conduit of love and justice.
- The next line jarred a bit. I was not expecting Mercy to say: “if you are interested in carrying out this task”. How did gift turn into a task between sentences? Yet on reflection, a truer word has not been spoken, for grace is gift that instantly turns into task the moment it is received… and task in turn releases and realises the grace. Like forgiveness: We are forgiven (gift) as we forgive (task).
So Mercy hopes to hear from us. Isn’t that the truth!?
Grace to you
This year began with a remarkable event. A miraculous event. A water-into-wine-event. An ocean-splitting-event in the same proportion as the one of long ago that enabled slaves to scamper into freedom on dry ground. I mean how else would you describe the gathering of 5 million women standing side-by-side covering a distance of 620 km? (Further than Johannesburg to Durban). According to one eyewitness: “There were so many women and there wasn’t even space for women to extend arms. If they had extended their arms, the length of the wall would have increased so much that women would be falling in the Arabian Sea.” This is what took place in India on the 2nd January as women stood in solidarity with two other women (Bindu Ammini and Kankadurga) who entered the Sabarimala Temple. They became the first two women to access the shrine after the country’s Supreme Court overturned a centuries-old ban on women aged 10 to 50 from entering the temple in September last year, ruling it to be discriminatory and arguing that women should be able to pray at the place of their choice.
A line of women stretching over 600 km must be the largest voluntary action in human history. Ironically it could only have happened spontaneously. Who would believe it possible to actually plan such an event? This is a good example of a miracle. A miracle by definition brings life – new life – open life – full life – abundant life. A miracle by definition is a surprise. Yet, even though miracles by nature surprise, they usually take a long time (a hidden amount of time) to be manufactured. Miracles need to be marinated over many nights. There are millions of micro-ingredients that go into the making of a miracle – most of which are unseen by the naked or untrained eye. These ingredients are held together within the plasma of grace. Ignorant of all the ingredients and their relationship with each other we are totally surprised at the result that stretches hundreds of km in front of us. A result we literally didn’t even know was in the making. A miracle we missed being made.
We missed the grace that sustained the dignity of women’s gender equality amidst thousands of years of patriarchy and how this grace was incarnated in the flesh of millions in myriads and myriads of ways. We missed the countless people who courageously, patiently and persistently worked to secure the ground-breaking constitutional court judgment in 2018. We missed the police who defended the constitution rather than their own prejudice. We missed the two who dared to live out their grace-nurtured and constitutionally-defined dignity by walking through the night to reach the 800-year-old mountain top temple in the face of angry mobs of men. We missed multitudes of these hidden and secretive moments of miraculous conception. But the result is impossible to miss.
The result simultaneously becomes an ingredient mixed into the plasma of grace to be used in another surprising show of new life we will call a miracle in the future – the time and place of which is a mystery to us. Remember it is not for us to worry about dates and times but rather to trust and obey in the meantime.
Keeping our eyes open to rejoice in the tiny ingredients we are able to see.
Grace to you
Last week we were invited to start again. The gracious and hopeful invitation encapsulated in the word ‘repent’ – a word that if it weren’t so gracious would sue for deformation of character, seen as it is more often spoken as a threat than a gift.
To start again however, does not mean that we cut our past off completely. In fact our past is always present. This applies to many things – but today I simply refer to the wounds we carry with us – that no New Year’s Day has the power to say: “Thus far and no further!” We would be wise to remember that even resurrection does not wipe away the wounds of crucifixion. ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side – says Jesus to Thomas.’
Around this time of year we may have already experienced the stubborn lingering of grief or guilt or anxiety that no New Year’s Day could prevent from following us further into our future. If this is the case, it is a good time to be reminded of our Baptism – as we do each year this time. To recall the indelible watermark of our Heavenly spoken identity: ‘You are my beloved in whom I am well pleased.’ This too follows us into our future – faithfully and steadfastly declaring ‘you are lovable’.
I recommend a poem by Jeff Foster as a helpful companion if we find ourselves as the walking wounded. He speaks truthfully about trauma
“You do not heal ‘from’ trauma.
You simply come to know yourself
as Life Itself.
And you turn towards the wounded place.
And you flush it with attention,
which is Love.
And maybe the wound will always be with you.
Maybe you will always walk with the hurt.
But now, you hold it. It doesn’t hold you.
You are the container, not the contained.
It doesn’t control you any longer, the wound.
Because it is drenched in awareness now.
Drenched in You.
Loved by You.
Even celebrated by You.
You do not heal ‘from’ trauma.
You find healing ‘in’ the trauma.
You find yourself at trauma’s sacred core.
The One who is always present.
The One who can bear
even the most intense feeling states.
The Indestructible One.
The Infinite One.
The Powerful One.
Grace to you
Time does what time does. Time ticks. Time ticks at the same rate all the time and yet because we have agreed to categorise time in the way we do – certain of its ticks carry deeper significance; though essentially time is doing what it always does: tick. Our story of time allows for time to start over in various categories: a new second (free from and different to the last second), a new minute, a new hour, a new day, a new week, a new month, and new year (free from and different to the last year). Each ‘start-over’ is a gift reminding us that we too can start over. Even if we are not “into” new year resolutions it is difficult not to silently desire the newness of ‘starting over’ at this time.
During the 10 day Vipassana I participated in a few weeks ago I was struck by how often Goenka (one of the founding teachers) would repeat: “Start again” … “Start again” … “Start again”. They are words of invitation. They are words of hope that this time can be different from the last time. They are words of liberation reminding us that our past does not have to determine our future. They are words of faith – faith in our potential to start over.
Sadly the ‘Christian’ word for ‘start again’ is stained by fear and threat. The word I am referring to is: ‘Repent’. Repent is often used and often heard as a ‘turn or burn’ threat, but it is actually a very beautiful and hopeful and encouraging word. Repent is an invitation for us to turn – to turn around and face a new direction – the direction that leads to fullness of living. Repent believes we can change even when we think we are stuck forever in our ways. Repent is an encouraging whisper, inviting us to: ‘begin … begin again … just begin … just take one step … you can start again … you can start again”.
Today or tomorrow I hope we will carve out some calm from the chaos and seek out silence from the noise to reflect on what it is we are being invited to start again … to repent.
Goenka would also repeat two other phrases over and over again: The first: ‘Practice persistently and patiently’. All things that are meaningful in life take persistent and patient practice. The deep things of life demand dedication, diligence and devotion. In the calm and silence we are invited to reflect on what we are called to practice more persistently and patiently.
The other phrase he would repeat is: ‘Take rest’… ‘Take rest’. There is a time for work and there is a time to take rest. To know when to take rest is as important as knowing when to work. In the calm and silence we are invited to reflect on, that from which we are called to take rest.
Start again …
Practice persistently and patiently …
Take rest …
Be truthful and kind with yourself,
A House Called Tomorrow
You are not fifteen, or twelve, or seventeen—
You are a hundred wild centuries
And fifteen, bringing with you
In every breath and in every step
Everyone who has come before you,
All the yous that you have been,
The mothers of your mother,
The fathers of your father.
If someone in your family tree was trouble,
A hundred were not:
The bad do not win—not finally,
No matter how loud they are.
We simply would not be here
If that were so.
You are made, fundamentally, from the good.
With this knowledge, you never march alone.
You are the breaking news of the century.
You are the good who has come forward
Through it all, even if so many days
Feel otherwise. But think:
When you as a child learned to speak,
It’s not that you didn’t know words—
It’s that, from the centuries, you knew so many,
And it’s hard to choose the words that will be your own.
From those centuries we human beings bring with us
The simple solutions and songs,
The river bridges and star charts and song harmonies
All in service to a simple idea:
That we can make a house called tomorrow.
What we bring, finally, into the new day, every day,
Is ourselves. And that’s all we need
To start. That’s everything we require to keep going.
Look back only for as long as you must,
Then go forward into the history you will make.
Be good, then better. Write books. Cure disease.
Make us proud. Make yourself proud.
And those who came before you? When you hear thunder,
Hear it as their applause.
~ Alberto Ríos, 1952
Grace to you
John the Baptiser heard the call to “prepare the way for the Lord”. His scriptural instructions were: to smooth the potholed path, to lower the mountainous path and to make straight the crooked path. Sounds like the construction business – road construction to be precise. This is difficult work – hot work – hard work – thankless work – anonymous work … and if you don’t believe me ask yourself when last you ever stopped to get to know and show appreciation for those who disturb the flow of traffic in order to reconstruct a highway or build a bridge?
On 5 December (the anniversary of Mandela’s death as well as Sobukwe’s birth) I spent the night on Robben Island. Pilgrimaging through the cells, I was struck by how many of the political prisoners I had never heard of. Some of them stayed on Robben Island even longer than Mandela! Truly the social con-struction business of preparing the way of the Lord – which is the way of justice, gentleness, generosity, truth, mercy, integrity, radical inclusion, etc. – is often a thankless and anonymous task that demands huge courage and deep humility.
All photographs are of political prisoners on Robben Island are photos of John the Baptiser with different names.