Isaiah 59:1-16a


Here are a few words from Isaiah. I do not know how accurately Isaiah’s words describe the context of his day, but I do know that his words are very accurate for our day…

Grace, Alan


Isaiah 59:1-16a

See, the Lord’s hand is not too short to save,
    nor his ear too dull to hear.
2Rather, your iniquities have been barriers
    between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you
    so that he does not hear.
3For your hands are defiled with blood,
    and your fingers with iniquity;
your lips have spoken lies,
    your tongue mutters wickedness.
4No one brings suit justly,
    no one goes to law honestly;
they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies,
    conceiving mischief and begetting iniquity.
5They hatch adders’ eggs,
    and weave the spider’s web;
whoever eats their eggs dies,
    and the crushed egg hatches out a viper.
6Their webs cannot serve as clothing;
    they cannot cover themselves with what they
    make. Their works are works of iniquity,
    and deeds of violence are in their hands.
7Their feet run to evil,
    and they rush to shed innocent blood;
    their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity,
    desolation and destruction are in their highways.
8The way of peace they do not know,
    and there is no justice in their paths.
Their roads they have made crooked;
    no one who walks in them knows peace.

9Therefore justice is far from us,
    and righteousness does not reach us;
we wait for light, and lo! there is darkness;
    and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.
10We grope like the blind along a wall,
    groping like those who have no eyes;
we stumble at noon as in the twilight,
    among the vigorous as though we were dead.
11We all growl like bears;
    like doves we moan mournfully.
We wait for justice, but there is none;
    for salvation, but it is far from us.
12For our transgressions before you are many,
    and our sins testify against us.
Our transgressions indeed are with us,
    and we know our iniquities:
13transgressing, and denying the Lord,
    and turning away from following our God,
talking oppression and revolt,
    conceiving lying words and uttering them from the
14Justice is turned back,
    and righteousness stands at a distance;
for truth stumbles in the public square,
    and uprightness cannot enter.
15Truth is lacking,
    and whoever turns from evil is despoiled.

The Lord saw it, and it displeased him
    that there was no justice.
16aHe saw that there was no one,
    and was appalled that there was no one to intervene.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Pruned free of fear



Alexei Navalny is a political prisoner in Russia, facing potentially 20 years in jail. We know about political prisoners from our own history. Here he speaks before a closed court, consisting of 18 people, seven of which are wearing masks. I include it today because his words need to be heard by the world. Not only because he speaks truth about one particular violently corrupt and oppressive regime, Russia, but because he addresses the universal human question on how to act. How to live. What are we going to choose to spend our one God-given life on?  His clarity is rooted in courage pruned free of fear. Like Mandela’s Rivonia Trial statement. Like St. Paul’s prison letters. It is political. It is philosophy. It is poetry. It is real. ChatGPT could not write it. No need to get lost in the specifics. Focus on the principled truth. Make it your own.

Read the English transcript (go to Google translate and select English tab) from his latest trial.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Psalm 139



It is impossible to reflect on Psalm 139 too deeply. To reflect on its meaning too carefully. Regardless of how many times we read Psalm 139 we will always be defeated by its beauty.

For this reason we return again to read and be lead by Psalm 139.

In grace,

Psalm 139

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is so high that I cannot attain it.

7Where can I go from your spirit?
    Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
    if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
    and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11 If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light around me become night’,
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is as bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
    Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
    all the days that were formed for me,
    when none of them as yet existed.
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
    I come to the end—I am still with you.

O that you would kill the wicked, O God,
    and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—
20 those who speak of you maliciously,
    and lift themselves up against you for evil!
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
    And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with perfect hatred;
    I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my thoughts.
24 See if there is any wicked way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Becoming what we hate


The great psychotherapist, Carl Jung wrote: “You always become the thing you fight the most”. And Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister reputedly said, “Even if we lose, we shall win, for our ideals will have penetrated the hearts of our enemies”. Yes, it is true, we can become what we hate. Two grim examples this past week prove this to be so…

1] The thuggish attack by the Deputy President’s security unit on the side of a highway is reminiscent of our Apartheid past. A past that was “never, never, and never again” to be repeated. Brazen bullies in broad daylight kicking and stomping people on the ground. As if they were the ground. Gratuitous violence caught on camera making us wonder how much happens that is never filmed. It was a sickening disregard for the humanity of another. This extreme misuse of position and power was followed by bland and generic condemnations. The Deputy President’s office spoke of the “unfortunate incident”. Bringing to mind Rev William Barber’s words, “Too many people in power were too comfortable with other people’s deaths”. It is not a random case. We witnessed this kind of thuggery when the military and cops were deployed during the COVID-19 lock down. Violence without restraint. Violence without fear of accountability. A law unto themselves. A police force with no sense of service. All this reminds us how deeply broken and brutalised we are as a South African people.

2] The past week we witnessed Apartheid-Israel’s violent occupation become full-scale warfare as they attacked Jenin in the north of the occupied West Bank. Cynically called Operation Home and Garden – which is just sick! The largest onslaught in 20 years. With drone strikes and up to 2 000 ground troops plus the dreaded demolishing bulldozers. Leaving an aftermath of death and destruction.

Apartheid-Israel has become what they hate. They have so internalised being victims that they are unable to see themselves as perpetrators. But perpetrators they are. They do to the Palestinians what others had done to them.

What silences many on this matter of oppression is the fear of being labelled an anti-Semite. We are right to be sensitive about this but not silenced. No nation gets a free pass on oppression. We stand in solidarity with Jews all over the world who say: “Not in my name”. We also stand in solidarity with people everywhere who say: “Not in God’s name”.

As God spoke directly to the people of Israel through the prophets of biblical times, God speaks again through those same prophets: Hear, O Apartheid-Israel, “Your works are works of iniquity, and deeds of violence are in your hands. Your feet run to evil, and you rush to shed innocent blood … the way of peace you do not know and there is no justice in your paths.” [Isaiah 59:7-8].

For persons, systems, and nations it is a recurring challenge to resist becoming what we hate. The world is desperate – literally groaning in pangs of childbirth – for these resisters to be revealed. Jesus, the great resister, not only shows us it is possible he invites us to practice his way. The first step of his way is to pray for those who persecute us. In other words, to pray for those who we are most likely to hate. What does prayer do? Prayer keeps our enemies’ humanity alive to us. All other steps will flow from this step. Only when the humanity of our enemy is alive to us, can we both regard and resist our enemy at the same time. Regard for our enemies’ humanity prevents us from dehumanising them. Resistance of our enemy refuses to allow them to dehumanise us.

In grappling with the same stuff, Paul will later remind his fellow resisters that their struggle is not against flesh and blood … making Ephesians 6:10-20 further reading for our practice.

In grace, Alan

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Half ‘n Half?


Is the glass half empty or half full? We all know that this is not really a question. It is a metaphor. It is an enquiry into a person’s perspective. Are they optimistic or pessimistic? This metaphor is applied to myriads of situations from the state of the world or country or economy or business to the state of our physical health and intimate relationships.

Yet there is something quite obvious about a half full or half empty glass of water that the metaphor seems to encourage us to miss. That is, if it is one, it is also the other. It is both. Pick one, any one and the other is there staring back at us. A glass half full is by definition also half empty and vice versa. I wonder if reminding ourselves of this may not deepen and complicate our perspective in mature and enriching ways. This is not to suggest that every situation is balanced equally by opposites. Far from it. Remember this is a metaphor and not real life. Nevertheless, this is a simple invitation for a more blended and less binary way of seeing things.

Most importantly I wonder if keeping this in mind may free us to honour all our feelings associated with any given situation. Freeing us to feel paradoxical feelings. Joy and sadness. Resentment and gratitude. Anger and calm. Faith and doubt. We can be devastated with shock and grief while also celebrating the beauty that is revealed in this new landscape of vulnerability. The one does not deny or undermine the other. They can both be. Because they both are.

I was reminded recently that “numbing is not an exact surgery”. Meaning, to ignore or block or numb a particular feeling causes other feelings to be cauterised in the process. Strangely, feelings very different to the intended numbed feeling are affected. Sometimes the very feeling we want to protect is the primary casualty. For example, to numb all feelings of sadness may end up robbing us of joy.

To honour all our feelings does not mean we must follow them or act on them. It simply means that we feel them. In fact, denying them may cause us to be more determined by them, yet unknowingly so. To respect our feelings we tune into them, as we do to the different members of an orchestra. In the very least acknowledging them, if not always appreciating their presence.

There is a “half-full type of Christianity” that insinuates that believers are meant to be “half-full kind of people”. That “true faith” blocks out doubt. That “joy in the Lord” removes all sadness. In short, the worship of happiness. Often this is encouraged by the overwhelming bias towards happy hymns that are sung on a Sunday compared to songs of protest and lament. Songs that demand justice. Songs with more questions than answers. Songs found in the hymnbook of scripture, like the set psalm for today: “How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?” (Psalm 13)

For this reason, we are reminded every Sunday in our “Benediction of Disturbance”: May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that we may live from deep within our hearts.

With grace, Alan



Print Friendly, PDF & Email