Psalm 32

Psalm 32

Blessed is each one whose wrongdoings
have been forgiven,
whose shame has been forgotten.
Blessed is each one in whom Love Divine
finds a home,
and whose spirit radiates truth.

When I acknowledged not my shortcomings,
I became ill through all my defences.
And day and night, guilt weighed heavy in my heart;
My spirit became dry as desert bones.

I admitted my faults to the Most High,
and I made known my regret;
I cried out, “Forgive me, O Comforter,
for those times I have sinned in
my thoughts, my words, and my deeds;”
And the Beloved created a clean heart within me.

Therefore, let everyone who is sincere
give thanks to the Beloved;
For whenever we feel overwhelmed by fear,
we shall be embraced by Love.
Dwelling in the heart of the Beloved;
we are free from distress,
free to live more creatively.

O my Beloved, you are my guide and my teacher;
Be watchful of me, give me your counsel.
I pray for the gifts of inner peace and wisdom,
For the gift of reverence for life.

Many are the heartaches of those
separated from Love;
Steadfast love abides with those
who surrender their lives into
the hands of the Beloved.
Be glad and rejoice, all you
who walk along the path of truth!
And shout for joy, all you upright of heart!

~ Nan C. Merrill, Psalms for Praying

‘You are us.’

Prime Minister of New Zealand:

Jacinda Ardern

 

Photograph: Kirk Hargreaves, Christchurch City Council


Grace and peace to you

As we reflected last Sunday, after calling Herod a fox, Jesus cried: “Jerusalem Jerusalem … how often I have desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…” (Luke 13)

Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern has lived this text into being this past week. In so doing she has shown the world what healthy, wise and strong leadership looks like. Ardern is not reading from a prepared script. She is simply honouring her heart and head – a heart that feels deeply and a head that is deeply thoughtful. Her own grief has set the tone for her nation’s grief. She articulates both her anger at the cause of grief and expresses her gentleness for the grieving. She rightly chooses to keep the spotlight on the loved ones of the deceased rather than the killer.

Ardern’s repeated words to the grieving: “You are us.”, are the most healing words she could possibly say. Spoken with the authority of a surgeon, she sews together with her words the truth that the killer attempted to shatter with his bullets. We are all one. These words at the same time expose the killer’s blindness and the blindness of Islamaphobia as well as all other forms of discrimination.

Without hesitation she has named the instrument (actually it’s an idol) – the gun – that when mixed with fear and hate, causes death on a massive scale. Simply put: she cares more about saving lives than a tiny group of people’s desire to own a firearm.

Prime Minister Ardern is a challenging sign of hope to us all.

Grace,
Alan


A story by Steve Mellon: “A woman approached the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh mostly unnoticed and carefully placed a bouquet of yellow flowers among the branches of a bush near the center’s concrete steps. She then crossed Bigelow Boulevard and sat on a stone retaining wall and wept.

She said she’d lost a family member when a man of hate entered the Tree of Life synagogue in October and gunned down people of faith. Now bullets had shattered lives at two New Zealand mosques.

The flowers and her quiet, anony- mous presence were gestures of solidarity with the Muslim community, she said. When a man at the mosque learned of the woman’s presence, he briefly held his hand to his heart, then crossed the street to chat with her.

Moments later, he guided her back across Bigelow Boulevard, up the concrete steps, and into the center’s lobby. The man offered the woman a chair and introduced her to others then gathering for traditional Friday prayers.

In the sunlit room, people of different faiths gathered in a small circle and shared stories of pain and sadness and strength and hope.”

@Stevemellon412

The Honesty of Scripture

Grace and peace to you

True or false: “All people are etched equally with the glorious image of God.”

This really is the most foundational of all faith questions and precisely the reason why the Bible editors answer the question on the first page in the affirmative: “True! It’s true!” Up until that biblical time the answer was always: “No! It’s false!”

To declare “it is true” is to make many declarations all at the same time: All people are equal in worth. The worth of a human person is not to be attached to anything (anything means anything) other than the mere fact of them being alive. God is equally shared, present and connected to all. God values all equally. This is what makes the story of humanity told through the scriptures so radical. The scriptures declare up front no one is less than or more than any other. Therefore students of scripture should know better than anyone else that they are no better than anyone else.

However, the Bible is not just a book of statements answering faith questions, it is a travel log of a people’s journey to live into their statements of faith, ever seeking deeper understanding and integrity. So the story is a long one because it doesn’t skip out the numerous times when the people forget their first foundational principles. The story doesn’t leave out the many times the people declare in word and deed and prayer that others, because of their nationality or beliefs, should be smote to smithereens. Vengeance and violence stain the pages, all in God’s name, with all breaking the foundational principle. This is Divine defamation.

The scriptures also tell of the bizarre hypocrisy of a people believing they are better and more deserving than others, precisely because they believe in a God who is the loving Creator of all. Let that sink in! In three-year-old speak: “Our God is love which makes our God better than your God and our God will beat yours up to prove it.”

Thankfully there was always a remnant on the journey – in both Hebrew and Christian testaments – who bravely held true to the foundational principle and living out the truth of God’s image etched in all, despite the noise and threats directed at them. Jesus stands in this tradition and invites us to do the same.

The gift of the scriptures’ honest telling of a people’s long wayward journey is that we are able to see our own journey in theirs, and get honest about our walk. As in the scriptures, Church history is filled with first principles being quoted and then denied in action. We witnessed this two weeks ago when the United Methodist Church in the US voted to remain a body that denies the dignity of LGBQTI people. Effectively, like our own Methodist Church of Southern Africa’s baptising bigotry. The sin has never been two people of the same-sex loving and respecting and intimately caring for each other. Rather, the sin has always been the denial and exclusion and punishment of such love. Heterosexism is as sinful as racism and sexism.

Thankfully when the church is blind to this, God uses others – like the Constitutional Court – to expose our blindness and hopefully open our eyes as it did last week in relation to the Dutch Reformed Church.

Be assured that at CMM we will continue to stand in the Jesus tradition of non-discriminatory love.

Grace,
Alan

Donkeys

Grace and peace to you

In Methodist-speak, the Central Methodist Mission is not a Church, but rather a Society, a word that has an inclusive ring to it. A place where all are welcome to come and worship and where nobody is excluded.

Like all Societies, CMM relies on members of the congregation to assist with the running of the Society. These volunteers are known, uniquely at CMM, as Donkeys.

We hope the name becomes infectious.

People often ask why? Why use the name of an animal that is seen as a joke (jackass), is not considered beautiful (when compared to a horse or zebra) and stands last in the queue when it comes to needing attention?

A donkey is present at the birth of Christ; as it would have carried a heavily pregnant Mary to Bethlehem.

As we enter Lent we also know that on Palm Sunday it was on the back of a donkey that Jesus entered Jerusalem, ahead of his arrest, trial and murder.

I believe that the presence of the donkey in the story of both Christ’s birth and death is not coincidental, but rather a very calculated and understated lesson. It is always in the misunderstood, the abused, the neglected, the supposedly ugly, and the other that we find Jesus, his way and his teaching.

In the rural parts of South Africa, donkeys play an important role in assisting people to collect water and firewood as well as transporting families between the farms as they do seasonal agricultural work, such as sheep shearing and the harvesting of crops.

Like their owners, these donkeys are often treated badly and neglected.

I own two donkeys and they have taught me a great deal. That with basic care, donkeys are very willing and hardworking animals. They are highly intelligent, intuitive creatures and able to remain in good condition in a tough environment such as the Karoo.

A well cared for donkey will live up to the age of 50. They have a long gestation period and are excellent parents. Unlike horses, they cannot be made to perform, and prefer to quietly get on with their work.

So they are the perfect tool to help uplift poor communities.

Volunteers at CMM are proud to be called Donkeys.

So next time you see a donkey on your travels, I would encourage you to take some time out to stop, say hello and share an apple or a carrot. You may meet Jesus.

– A Member of the Donkey Team

 

Make Jesus smile

Grace and peace to you

Nathanael said to Phillip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” [John 1:46]

I was thinking of Nathanael’s question when I read last week about a tiny beach restaurant in Paternoster. And I thought: Can anything good come out of Paternoster? Well apparently so, because Wolfgat restaurant was named Restaurant of the Year as well as top Off-Map Destination at the recent inaugural World Restaurant Awards, held in Paris, France.

Now besides the fact that I am allergic to fish and would only be found dead in a fish restaurant, the truth is that fancy food is totally lost on me. And I mean totally – pass the peanut butter please. Therefore I wouldn’t have a clue whether Wolfgat restaurant was a worthy winner based on the taste and presentation of their food or not. But what I am sure of is how worthy they are of the prize for a whole host of other reasons. Reasons I find extremely nourishing and much needed in our world today.

I believe the inspirational owner and Chef, Kobus van der Merwe, must make Jesus smile. Besides the obvious reason that Jesus was known to hang out on beaches in tiny fishing villages, I think Jesus would smile as a result of the beautiful life-giving choices that knit together Wolfgat behind and before. Here are a few:

  1. Jesus was always big into small. Wolfgat is small. Deliberately small. 24 people max. (Two groups of 12 he! he!). Small is beautiful. Small is blessed. Small can change the world. As Margaret Mead remind us: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
  2. Jesus chose locals without any formal theological training to be his disciples – and to be the bearers of good news about a loving, caring, gentle, kind and just God. They knew about fish and Jesus said he would teach them about people. Similarly the six (half of 12 he! he!) female staff have no formal culinary training but yet in just a few years have shown expert abilities and skill. To see the potential in people that others were blind to is Christ-like.
  3. Jesus said to his disciples “I do not call you servants but friends”. At Wolfgat there are great attempts to flatten the hierarchy and to level the leadership. All do everything. Every person is gift. Every person is treasured.
  4. Jesus attentively foraged his natural surroundings for sermon illustrations on a daily basis: the beauty of the lilies, the weeds and wheat growing side by side, fig trees and mustard seeds. Similarly, at Wolfgat they forage every day for seaweed, mussels and sea vegetables on the wild Atlantic shore of the Western Cape. Radically local and purposefully incarnational.
  5. Jesus was not into banting (Sorry Tim.). He loved bread and he kept breaking and sharing bread with everyone. At Wolfgat they make their own bread and butter. Wolfgat is also the bread and butter for its team who live in a highly unequal community where poverty is rife despite the paradise-like surroundings. I am going to ask them one day if I can bring my peanut butter to try out their bread and I have reason to believe that it would make Jesus smile – so I am hopeful.

With gratitude for those who follow Jesus in tasteful ways and who live the Gospel without words,
Alan

Greta Thunberg

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, Alan

Psalms that awaken the heart

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.”

Psalm 1

Blessed are those
who walk hand in hand
with goodness,
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.

God has no favourites

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,
Alan

Our on-going task

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,
Alan