What gardening has taught me…

My gardening and spiritual journeys are closely intertwined.

Starting out as a student of Horticulture at the then Natal Technikon, my training and approach to a garden was very traditional and Eurocentric. You made compost in a certain way, you propagated plants in a certain way and the approach to laying out a garden was seasonal, in that flower beds were planted out with annual colour in Spring and Autumn.

My approach to Church was similar in many ways. I made an effort to attend Church most Sundays and felt guilty if I did not. The reading of my Bible was done just before I went to bed and early Morning Prayer ensured that I faced the day armed with the knowledge that God was on my side.

My gardening and my spiritual lives were rule-based and rigid. I ignored and hid my own truths and instincts.

During my military training in the late 80’s, I read a book by the conservationist Ian Player. His writing opened my eyes to the beauty and importance of our indigenous plant material as well as the value of Zulu culture. Up and until that point the garden was a place within a boundary wall that was mine to own, to control and to show off, while the bush or veld was on the outside of that boundary fence.

I then became evangelical about our indigenous plant material, to the point that everything local was good and that all exotic plant material needed to be removed and replaced with indigenous trees and shrubs. At the same time I stopped going to Church as I started to struggle with my own personal truths. On a spiritual level I felt as if I was moving away from God, who in my head remained very much part of the physical church structure. 

It was a period of starting to come to terms with my truths, both as a gardener on the Southern tip of Africa, as well as who I was as a man. I also learned that once you start embracing your truths, new doors open and new challenges are sent your way.

I then discovered the joy of food gardening, and that the organic approach of not using any synthetically produced chemicals or fertilisers, was the right way to garden.

When you start to grow food, you start to share it. You share seeds and young plants and learn about different and alternate ways of doing things. Working with other gardeners from different faiths, cultures and parts of the world, helped me to start seeing that they were no different from me. This also meant that I visited Mosques, Shuls and Hindu shrines (who have the best gardens); and I recognised the incredible simplicity and beauty of the gatherings of the Zion Church worshippers, on a beach in Durban or in the open veld around Johannesburg.

It taught me the importance and divinity of diversity, both in the garden and in my spiritual life.

Gardening for me now is less about the outcome or show, but rather about the act of actually gardening and sometimes just observing the simple truths that Mother Nature presents to me. The wildness has leapt over the boundary fence and invaded my garden and the way I garden.

So too with my spiritual life and my journey with God. I am more at ease with my own individuality and the individuality of others and the truths that they represent.

Gardening taught me that.

Sincerely,
Athol

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Mend what you can, where you can

Grace to you

The pain of this past week is beyond words to describe … yet words are all we have … and with them we must resist the temptation to be silenced when fear grips us by the throat.

We live with war-zone-levels of violence in this country on a daily basis. Violence, or in the very least, news of violence assaults us daily – yet this past week felt like a ferocious flood that just kept on rising and rising – pushing past our usual defenses leaving us afraid that we will all drown. Drown in blood and grief and anger. Every time we thought the tide of blood couldn’t rise any higher … it did.

  • The deadly violence of men against women
  • The deadly violence of men against children
  • The deadly violence of South African citizens’ against people of other countries (mostly but not exclusively from the rest of the African continent).

And these violences (plural) themselves are the consequence of deep systemic-source-violences. The violences of patriarchy and racism. The violences of dispossession and oppression and exclusion and the further violences that flow from these violences, like poverty and hunger and unemployment. And tragically the people who suffer the most from the systemic-source-violences are the very people most likely to suffer the violence that we witnessed this week.

All these violences make us a deeply traumatised society. I am convinced that almost all of us live with PTSD. PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – yet in our context I think it should also stand for PRESENT Traumatic Stress Disorder because the reasons for our trauma are constant – as one reason passes, another instantly takes its place. To live with Present TSD is abnormal. To live in a society that inscribes Present TSD is abnormal. So if we find ourselves acting in ways that might otherwise be deemed abnormal, this is in fact normal. 

So if you are feeling constantly overwhelmed – it is normal. If you are feeling anxious and edgy – it is normal. If you are feeling exhausted with constant fatigue – it is normal. If you can’t sleep – it is normal. If all you want to do is sleep – it is normal. If you can’t focus or concentrate – it is normal. If you have outbursts of strong emotions – it is normal. If you feel numb – it is normal. If you feel you can’t be around large crowds of people or around men – it is normal. All this is normal for a traumatised person to experience. What is important is that we feel what we feel without judgement, guilt and self-condemnation. Feelings are not good or bad – they just are and they long for full acknowledgement.

My hope is that if any of this resonates with you that you will find at least one other person to connect with to speak about what you are feeling. (And if someone decides to speak to any of us – that we will commit to listen without judgement or the need to give advice, and hold what is shared with love.)

In these days I have found myself returning to Clarissa Pinkola Estés, “Letter to a Young Activist during Troubled Times.” Especially these words:

…Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely.

…One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. … The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires … causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these, to be fierce and to show mercy toward others – both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do. (Please go to http://mavenproductions.com for the full letter.)

Grace,
Alan

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When does God get angry?

Grace to you

One may be inclined to think that criticism of religious practice would be at its most cutting from the lips of those who are “unbelievers”. Yet, according to the prophets of old, the harshest criticism of the religious comes from the mouth of God. Listen:

“I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams…I do not delight in the blood of bulls…who asked this from you? Bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me…I cannot endure solemn assemblies …your appointed festivals my soul hates…they have become a burden to me…even though you make many prayers I will not listen…”[Isaiah 1]

According to the prophets, God gets angry with religious people, whenever we begin to believe that it is our religious practice (Sunday worship, Holy Communion, Baptism, prayer, tithing, etc.) that impresses God as an end in itself. Here religion is idolatrous. From here it is a slippery slope to worshiping the way we worship and our religion becoming our God. This is one of the unique temptations that face religious people – and according to the prophets we keep falling for it.

God desires just and merciful relationships and our religious practice is meant to remind us of this. When our religious practice doesn’t remind us of this, the prophets say God will have none of it. James understood this: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” [James 1:27]

Prophets specialise in connecting cause and consequence and according to biblical prophets there is a direct relationship between the health of the most vulnerable of society (repeatedly symbolised in the “vulnerable trinity” of orphans, widows and foreigners) and the health of society at large. To neglect the vulnerable is to cause societal collapse. Conversely when the vulnerable are valued and prioritised the land and all the people will flourish. In other words, the best measure of society’s health is not the Rand/Dollar exchange or Stocks index or GDP figures but rather whether the marginalised are the centre of society’s compassion or not.

There are few things that must anger God more than the stealing of money, resources and services meant to liberate the poor and heal the desperate. This is especially true when stolen by people in the name of caring and liberating the poor. It is this travesty in our recent history that the Zondo Commission gives testimony to and when added to our long history of injustice it is not surprising that our land hovers close to the edge of collapse.

The prophets of old would declare the imminent collapse of society as God’s wrath. Yet, God’s wrath is not punishment per se. God’s wrath is the refusal to allow the principles of God to be mocked without consequence. In other words the principle of society’s health matching the health of the “vulnerable trinity” will ultimately be applied. To flout the care of the “vulnerable trinity” of society without societal collapse as a consequence is like expecting the law of gravity not to apply to oneself when stepping off a building. Gravity doesn’t punish us, it just is. Similarly, God doesn’t punish us. God’s principles just are: prioritise the vulnerable and flourish or ignore the case of the widow and perish. The flourishing or perishing of every society throughout human history hinges on this principle.

May we have ears to hear, hearts to feel and hands to act.
Alan

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Ok is not okay

Grace and peace to you

Last Sunday a funeral was held for the first glacier killed by human-caused climate breakdown. According to news reports the glacier was even issued a death certificate. Articles I’ve read state the following:

In 1901, a geological map of Iceland’s Central Highlands depicted the Okjökull glacier as a large swathe of ice spanning 38 square kilometers. By 1945 it had shrunk to just 5 square kilometers. Not long after 2005, it was all but gone. In 2014, Okjökull lost its glacier status; now, it’s just a shield volcano with no glacial cover at all.”

A team of researchers and documentary makers have now highlighted this loss – as well as the losses to come – by creating a memorial for the lost Okjökull glacier (these days referred to simply as Ok, having lost the -jökull or “glacier” part of its name).

Andri Snaer Magnason, the author of the memorial, titles the plaque “A letter to the future”:

“Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier.
In the next 200 years all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path.
This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done.
Only you know if we did it.”

Along with this passage, the memorial also includes the number 415ppm CO2: the record level of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere reached in May this year, the first time this has happened in human history.

“This will be the first monument to a glacier lost to climate change anywhere in the world,” says anthropologist Cymene Howe from Rice University. “By marking Ok’s passing, we hope to draw attention to what is being lost as Earth’s glaciers expire. These bodies of ice are the largest freshwater reserves on the planet and frozen within them are histories of the atmosphere.”

“Many glaciers, in Iceland and elsewhere on the planet, are losing a huge amount of ice to a warming climate. With Asia’s mountain glaciers rapidly melting and depleting the region’s people of precious water resources, and with Antarctica alone losing 252 billion tons of ice annually, the onus is on us to do something. One of our Icelandic colleagues put it very wisely when he said, ‘Memorials are not for the dead; they are for the living.'” Howe said.

“With this memorial, we want to underscore that it is up to us, the living, to collectively respond to the rapid loss of glaciers and the ongoing impacts of climate change. For Ok glacier it is already too late; it is now what scientists call ‘dead ice.'” [JACINTA BOWLER in Science Alert 20 AUG 2019]

This memorial service (even more pertinent in the light of the Amazon fires) reminds us of our interconnectedness to the whole web of life. It reminds us that the way we live our brief span matters in the whole big scheme of things. It says to us that the consequences of our living may only be truly known long after we are gone. As the ice melts we are invited to hear the “creation groaning”, not in labour pains as Paul wrote in Romans 8:22, but rather in death throws.

This memorial service leaves us with Yhwh’s pleading: “There is life and death before you… choose life.” [Deuteronomy 30:15-19]

Grace,
Alan


“I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.” Donald Trump. President of the United States.

Disloyal Jew

I am a disloyal Jew.
I am not loyal to a political party.
Nor will I be loyal to dictators and mad kings.
I am not loyal to walls or cages.
I am not loyal to taunts or tweets.
I am not loyal to hatred, to Jew-baiting, to the gloating connivings of white supremacy.

I am a disloyal Jew.
I am not loyal to any foreign power.
Nor to abuse of power at home.
I am not loyal to a legacy of conquest, erasure and exploitation.
I am not loyal to stories that tell me whom I should hate.

I am a loyal Jew.
I am loyal to the inconveniences of kindness.
I am loyal to the dream of justice.
I am loyal to this suffering Earth.
And to all life.

I am not loyal to any founding fathers.
But I am loyal to the children who will come.
And to the quality of world we leave them.
I am not loyal to what America has become.

But to what America could be.
I am loyal to Emma Lazarus. To huddled masses.
To freedom and welcome,
Holiness, hope and love.

By Reb Irwin Keller

Reb lives in Sonoma County California and is a student member of Ohalah, the Association of Rabbis for Jewish Renewal.


The New Colossus (Statue of Liberty)

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

by Emma Lazarus

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Reclaim the city

A letter from the co-ordinating committee of Reclaim the City and all residents at Cissie Gool House to the Mayor of Cape Town:

“Dear Mayor Dan Plato,

On Tuesday 6 August 2019 at 2pm you will meet with the rest of the City of Cape Town Mayoral Committee to discuss the future of occupied Cissie Gool House in Woodstock and make a decision whether you will evict us. We want to explain why that would be a terrible decision.

You will remember that we first occupied public buildings in early 2017 when former Premier Helen Zille refused to stop the sale of the Tafelberg site, one of the last parcels of state land in Sea Point. You were in her cabinet at the time.

Since then many promises have been made to redistribute well-located state land for affordable housing. Most have been broken or delayed. It’s still true to say that no new affordable public housing has been built in the inner city and surrounds or any well-located area since the end of apartheid.

As a result, we are now hundreds living at Cissie Gool House and thousands in our occupations across the inner city and surrounds.

We are ordinary families forced to take extraordinary steps to avoid being evicted and displaced by a property system and economic model that does not work for us. We are those who can no longer pay exorbitant rents and rates. We are those who have witnessed our streets and heritage slowly ruptured by racially segregated and exclusive housing projects for the wealthy. We are those who are tired of living in shacks with temporary poor quality services and no land security. We are those who can no longer make the dangerous and delayed journeys by public transport to find work or keep our jobs.

An attempted eviction of residents at Cissie Gool House will be the biggest in the inner city since the destruction of District Six. So let us be clear. Like the generation who came before us we will be forced to resist. We have nowhere else to go.

We know the law well because we defend our members from eviction every day. The courts are aware that you have failed in your mandate to deliver affordable housing in well-located areas. Now you have cancelled the few commitments you did make. The courts know you do not have any alternative accommodation available for even one evictee let alone all of us who would be made homeless. The courts know you have resorted to offering four pieces of zinc and some wooden poles to erect a shack in a backyard because your unjust relocation camps are full. We will never go there.

The law requires meaningful engagement before a decision to evict is made. We want to engage with you because we want to realise something much greater than just a roof over our heads: We have a vision of an inclusive, just and equal city for all poor and working-class people. We have a vision for what dignified affordable housing could be and we have started to build that right here and now.

In this old broken hospital, we have built a community that we are proud of with the little resources we have. We are newborn babies, we are students, we are elderly and we are disabled people. We are a community that celebrates birthdays, marriages and deaths across race and religion. A community where we feed those who are hungry from our gardens.

We have written to you but you’ve refused to meet. Even the slum lords have the decency to look their tenants in the eye before they evict them.

So, we are asking you again to come and visit us at the occupation before you decide to evict. Come listen to why we are living here, learn about what we have achieved so far, and think about what might be possible if you work together with residents.

Do the right thing this time. Show your commitment to advancing spatial justice by saving Cissie Gool House.

Regards,
The co-ordinating committee of Reclaim the City and all residents at Cissie Gool House.”

PSALM 82

O Merciful and Just Watcher,
You take your place in the divine council;
in the realm of conscience, You make yourself known.

You give due warning to those in power: “How long will you rule with injustice
and oppress the poor?
Act with integrity toward the weak
and the unfortunate;
maintain the rights of the afflicted
and the destitute.
Assist the needy
and reverence all people’s freedom; deliver them from the hand of the oppressor.”

Arise! Awaken to the new dawn!
Come into the Light;
shed darkness like skin on the snake!
For the foundations of the cosmos are shaking with injustice.

I say, “Within you dwells the Beloved,
the Breath of your breath;
Open your heart in the Silence and
know the One in the many.”

Arise! Join in the new creation!
Let harmony reign among all the nations

Nan C. Merrill ~ Psalms for Praying

“To Love. To be loved.
To never forget your own insignificance.
To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you.
To seek joy in the saddest places.
To pursue beauty to its lair.
To never simplify what is complicated or complicate
what is simple.
To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch.
To try and understand.
To never look away. And never, never to forget.”

– Arundhati Roy, The End of Imagination

 

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Of Bees And Bulldozers, Spider Webs and Sledgehammers

These were separate concepts in musings that I was sharing with a friend. Only as I articulated them did I sense the visceral impact of their juxtaposition in alliteration. I resonate deeply perhaps because it is so brutally truthful of how I live my life. Furthermore, not just me, but also us as human beings – a reflection of how we live, sadly in too many cases, quite literally – flora and fauna around the world cut down, ripped up, trampled over, demolished, destroyed, devastated… by deathly living.

Both bees and spider webs embody interconnectedness, interdependency, vulnerability, obscurity and unassuming potency (as those will know who have ever been stung by a bee, especially if allergic, or walked through a spider web and have it passively “crawl” all over their body). Their work is exquisitely fine, detailed and fragile, the products of which could not be anticipated – fruits and flowers and flourishing forests; architectural masterpieces, oozing with golden goodness; a weave of jewels shimmering in the sunshine.

I have asked myself the question – can we sit with the weight of the awareness of how many times we have employed the energy of the bulldozer or the sledgehammer in desperately trying to get something we want, or avoid something we don’t want, knowing that we will do it again… but perhaps with a growing sense of ownership in it, and therefore the freedom to choose differently, the grace to change, knowing that even here we are loved?

Can we slow down and be present to the intricacy, nuance and complexity of the human heart – our own, and of those with whom we relate. Can we be curious in each moment as it unfolds, open to an unexpected, extraordinary, life-filled outcome… a Life-sustaining outcome?

Can we relish (enjoy greatly; delight in; love; like; adore; be pleased by; take pleasure in; rejoice in; appreciate; savour; revel in; luxuriate in; glory in) the abundance, sweetness and beauty that is the Essence at the core of our Being… and of All Things.

Sober assessment of the Spider Webs and Blessings of the Bees.
Catherine

 

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Complexities

Grace to you

In recent weeks the fining of homeless people in Cape Town made headlines. It resulted in an uproar of civil society organisations and many others. Even the SA Human Rights Commission took immediate action listening to the plight of the homeless. The debate was polarised and emotive. I thought it was great that the discussion shed some light on the complexity of homelessness. Homeless people are not a homogenous group whose challenges can be fixed with simple solutions. They might have primarily in common that they live on the streets, but that is almost where it stops. There are many different reasons why people end up living on the street, how long they are in this position, and how desperate they are to move out of this situation. The experience of different genders living in these unsafe conditions varies completely. The abuse of substances is often a big part of the problem, but even that aspect is complicated. We might have a picture of loud and aggressive behaviour in mind when we think of homelessness. We forget that homelessness also has the face of silence, withdrawal, apathy and joy. Homelessness is ingrained in our systems and history. Even though homelessness is a global phenomenon, there is a particular historical context of spatial segregation and forced removals that contributes to this problem in South Africa.

The issue of homelessness is complicated, messy and challenging. And this holds for most of the problems we are facing as a society. Sending the army into the Cape Flats to fight gangs is another very recent example when debates got lost in polarised opinions. It is easy to condemn outright the use of force as a mechanism to combat gangs. If a stray bullet would have killed my child while sitting at the dinner table or I had to sleep on the floor every night to not be killed in my sleep, I am sure I would have been among the cheering people lining the streets when the army arrived. Global syndicates control gang activity in South Africa, worsened by large-scale corruption and global drug trade. Again, the issue of gangs is complex. Complexity is not unique to our times. Social justice issues have always been complex within their context. Jesus challenged the people of his time to think and not blindly follow the rules and laws. He often did that through story-telling or unexpected actions or miracles. Complexity never deterred Jesus from acting. Complexity was not an excuse for apathy, but urgency. He understood that addressing a problem meant tackling it from different angles and with different tactics.

I am quoting M. Scott Peck:

Abandon the urge to simplify everything, to look for formulas and easy answers, and to begin to think multi-dimensionally, to glory in the mystery and paradoxes of life, not to be dismayed by the multitude of causes and consequences that are inherent in each experience — to appreciate the fact that life is complex.

I believe the world of today with its massive challenges, locally and globally, invites us to think deeply, to think inside out and upside down. It challenges us to reject lazy thinking and allow for creativity, ideas and wonder to emerge to bring justice and love into the world and to the people who need it most.

Carolin

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Prioritise hope.

Grace to you

The picture above was the cover picture for the Optimists Edition of Time Magazine earlier this year. The Artist is our own Nelson Makano from Limpopo Province. His particular style, often using a young cousin as his model, is to draw and paint South African children with a new sense of brightness and depth.

The editor of the Optimist Edition, Ava Du Vermay, explained that art can be used for optimism and hope. “Prioritizing hope, whenever possible, is a brave and bold thing to do.” She believes that art embraces all our feelings and imaginings and that despite our socio-political disjuncture, we need each other, and to engage in a shared, fearless way. She believes Art can do this in all its manifestations. Makano’s cover portrait was the fitting representation. He has drawn international recognition. He commented on his passion, saying, “Later in life we sometimes forget there is beauty in being human, but children are just discovering that. I look at someone, and the moment I’ve seen them can feel so beautiful. I want to capture that moment on canvas.”

Yes we do forget that there is so much beauty in being human. A child’s eyes and ears, absorbing everything sponge-like, seeks to process information with a liberating innocence. The artist is depicting the hope in a young child’s eyes, and reminding us of the joy that we should all feel for children, these gifted promises of God. Makano titled the picture, “Visions of a limitless future.”

The plight of vulnerable children is a barometer for society highlighting the failures of institutional and other responses to make a real difference for upholding the personhood and humanity of children. As people journeying in faith, do we have a message of hope for our children, for other vulnerable daughters and sons of God? Can we be bold in hope? Not just sharing the bright side, but more. Much more. Deeper. Can we dare to try to comprehend the grace of God in Jesus, bringing Hope to a broken world?

Jesus, (Luke 18:15ff), reprimands the disciples when they shoo the children away. Children brought by their parents for a blessing! The disciples saw the children as a nuisance. Eugene Peterson’s, The Message uses these words for the reprimand “let these children alone. Don’t get between them and me. These children are at the very centre of life in the kingdom.”  The children, the poor, the sick, the foreigner, the other. All these vulnerable humans are often shooed away figuratively and literally. Life, however, in all its daily complexity, confronts us also with loved ones who may be vulnerable in time and place. And we may actually engage in a disengaging way. We disengage with good intentions, with well-meaning platitudes, with impatience and disdain, with fear and anxiety with anger and rejection, with paternalism and self-righteousness, with pain and suffering. In those moments, pregnant with hope, do we come between Christ and the other?

And what of us when we are vulnerable?

Du Vermay also quotes Howard Thurman “Whatever may be the tensions and the stresses of a particular day, there is always lurking close at hand the trailing beauty of forgotten joy or unremembered peace.” Do we have a faith message of hope? A message, a presence, lived moments that are boldly professing hope in Christ. A way to engage, and a way to be engaged, to release the beauty in being human.

I share this contemplative insight from Nan Merrill’s book: Lumen Christi … Holy Wisdom:

Arise! Become a rebel for the Spirit!
Let not worldly wars and woes
paralyze your aspiration
to unite in the birth of a new dawn.

Discouragement and despair burden
the heart:
dark thoughts often lead to
deadly deeds.

Dive deeply into the Cosmic Ocean of Love!
Here harmony, beauty, peace, truth,
and inspiration reign:
needed for the healing and repair
of this wondrous world.

Become a beneficial rebel in the service
of Love and Light!
Look within the Silence:

Divine Hints will set you on the pathway
to new Life offering guidance,
comfort, and strength
for the journey.

Gilbert

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In love, by love, for love

Grace to you

The line in love, by love, for love, is Central Methodist Mission’s (CMM) key phrase. I am not sure that I fully understand what it means, but I think attending CMM has opened for me the possibility for a different type of engagement with God, my faith and love.

Seeking God in a church or faith community often comes with a desire for certainty. We want some rules, mantras, guidance and explanations of how to live our lives. We hope for some assurance that tragedy will not strike us if we are believers and that believing will explain to us tragedies we have experienced. Many people think belonging to a church makes them different or better human beings.

None of that holds true if one engages the phrase in love, by love and for love.

God’s love is most elegantly experienced in the chaos it occasions. It has transformative power if we embrace it with the willingness to experience uncertainty. Exploring the Bible, we find many examples where God’s love unsettles the norms, the establishment, the existing ‘way of doing things’. The stories we read are hardly ever about certainty or predictability but more often about surprise and wonder. The gospels where Jesus heals sick people and performs miracles are not only transforming the physical health of the healed person, but it transforms the understanding of love and acceptance of others. It questions a system that allowed it to dehumanise people because of their gender, health issues or societal status. Love is at the centre – God is love. So scriptures are not a moral compass telling us how to live our lives but offer us the experience of transformative love.

The most practical example where I experience this transformative, embracing and chaotic love is as a parent. My experience as a mother is that this little human being creeps into every inch of my physical and mental space. Having a child evokes all sorts of feelings from pain, deep introspection, doubt and anger to absolute joy and unimaginable wonder. The love for my child makes me do things I haven’t dreamt of and has turned my world upside down. In Matthew 18:2-4, Jesus says “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” I believe that this scripture is not only about the innocence of children as many interpret this section. I think it is about the ability to love and be loved in an absolute transformative yet uncertain way. Children have the ability to love us entirely as we are. They don’t have doubts or questions if and why they should love us and what to do to show their love. They just love.

A friend of mine elegantly summarised what I have learned at CMM: believing in God is about embracing the many possibilities occasioned by love – those might be traumatic, chaotic or joyous. Believing in God liberates one to engage with all those possibilities. It allows for the embrace of uncertainty. And only in the uncertainty can wonder emerge, possibility grow and love thrive.

Carolin

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Skin Colour

Grace and peace to you

While reading the following poems, Skin by Pie Corbett and What’s your colour? by Julia Donaldson, I reflected on the pain of skin colour that continues to haunt us during our twenty-five years of democracy. The power of the colour of skin and its ability to discriminate and inflict pain and suffering on humanity, is intolerable.

The issue of skin keeps appearing in our media and in our conversations. Why are we still so intimidated by people of another colour; or sometimes, only certain people of a certain skin colour?

Thuli Madonsela suggests that it is about recognising enduring racially-skewed power relations as a legacy of the past artificial racial categories.

The way in which we perceive people and practice colourism, continues to impede the growth and development of a new humanity in our country. It is all about how we treat and value human life, when we allow skin colour to dictate and determine a person’s worth and place in our society. Our colour prejudices, our perceptions and our generalisations of “the others” need to change if we are going to make a difference in God’s world.

 Skin 

What is it about skin; That gets people so excited?
Skin is the body bag; That holds us together.
Skin is the smothering; That keeps out the weather.
Skin is the curtain – Drawn down at the start.
Skin is the wrapper – That contains the heart.
Skin is the spray – Round the ragbag of bone.
Skin is the sleeping bag – Into which we are sown.
Skin is thin – Even a rose thorn can rip skin.
And yet some people – Are afraid of it –
Even though we are all made of it.

(Pie Corbett)

This poem confronts us with the truth that God the loving creator has covered us all with skin. So then as followers of Jesus, how are we measuring up to Jesus’ words: “I have come that you might have life and life in all its fullness.”? Are we aligned to the plumb-line and example of Jesus’ life, ”the man for others”, of love, justice, compassion, forgiveness? Are we able to look beyond skin colour and are we able to relate to others who are different; especially those folk who choose not to be tolerant in the creation of a new humanity for all. This is our daily struggle to move from resentment and suspicion, to acceptance and growth and understanding that we all need each other or as Martin Luther King challenges us “to live together as brothers and sisters or perish together as fools”.

What’s your colour? 

‘What’s your colour, the colour of your skin.’
‘The colour of the envelope that you’re wrapped in.’

(Julia Donaldson)

The above two lines are the repetitive refrain from a poem that focuses on skin colour. Reflecting on the question that the poet asks, demonstrates the role of the skin as an envelope that contains the body and all that it is: body, mind and soul. The skin as an organ is referred to as an instrument which has the capacity to shape our identity and determine and define our being.

Maybe we should all stop and reflect now on the following questions: What kind of envelope is containing me, shaping me, defining me and by whom? What is restricting me or freeing me to be? What is my exterior about and how is it aligned to my inner being? Can I reflect on my skin as an organ which has the power to determine the manner in which I relate to others in our world? What are my choices of access to opportunities or access denied at the moment? Am I a victim because of the colour of my skin or am I wrestling with my being called “You are my beloved daughter, you are my beloved son.”?

We are all vulnerable and in need of healing and in need of each other as we together work at making a difference in God’s world, regardless of skin colour!

Jane

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