Masters of War by Bob Dylan
(click link for music and full lyrics)
Back in the biblical day it was custom for Rabbis to summarise their teaching in a prayer. Therefore what we call The Lord’s Prayer, is more than likely Jesus’ teaching summary. A summary that Jesus’ followers are invited to meditate on and act on. The core of Jesus’ teaching summary focuses on the need for daily bread and the forgiveness of debts. In other words, justice and mercy are central to the Jesus-way of Life-Giving-Living.
Story after story in the Gospels invite us to grow in justice and mercy and to do so not only with our neighbours but also with our enemies. In short, with everyone.
This seems impossibly difficult, yet many of us are both recipient and practitioner of this Jesus-way of Life-Giving-Living on a micro scale maybe without even realising it. In every loving family Life-Giving-Living is practiced through the sharing of daily bread and the forgiveness of debts. Without fair sharing and repeated forgiveness a family would not last.
Returning to Jesus’ teaching summary, we are reminded that it begins with the words: “Our Parent…” Jesus’ teaching begins by informing us that we belong to one human family. To call God “Our Parent…” is to recognise that we are each other’s siblings. Jesus’ teaching summary invites us to claim this as the real reality of every relationship we are in. Jesus knows that unless we are able to recognise each other as family we will not be able to practice the justice and mercy necessary for Life-Giving-Living. The saving of the world will be determined by those who trust and live out the truth of this three letter word OUR.
From Jesus’ perspective of universal family, the language of “love of one’s own” or “these are my people” or “God is on our side” is made obsolete. This language often defines “one’s own” or “my people” or “our side” by nationality, language, culture, skin colour, religion, etc. It leads to the feeling, “When I walk the streets of the Johannesburg CBD, I become a foreigner in my own country”. And this leads to the slogan, “Put South Africans First”. And this leads to the formation of Operation Dudula. It is the language of nationalism, sectarianism, xenophobia and war. It is the language of Vladimir Putin. It is also the language of many of us.
For this reason Jesus kept opening the eyes of the blind. The blind being those of us who fail to recognise a sister and brother in the person next to us and across the way from us. On this Transfiguration Sunday let us pray for our eyes to be opened that our seeing of each other may be gloriously transfigured. This was the amazing gift given to Thomas Merton in Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut … may it happen to us.
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream…
“This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud…. It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God Himself (sic) gloried in becoming a member of the human race. A member of the human race! To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake…
“There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun… There are no strangers! … If only we could see each other [as we really are] all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed… I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other…
“At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak His name written in us, as our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our sonship (sic). It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely.
“I have no program for this seeing. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.”
The Squid Game is a Netflix series that came out in September 2021. It’s been viewed in at least 94 countries by more than 142 million member households. Crazily, it totalled over 165 billion viewing hours in its first 4 weeks.
Each episode has contestants play a variation of a well-known children’s game. The first game is like red light / green light, with contestants allowed to move while a mechanical doll faces the tree, but the moment the doll turns to face the contestants, everyone must freeze. Failure to keep dead still results in death. The contestants are eliminated by being shot. Similarly, one gets a bullet to the head for losing at marbles. A variation of tug-of-war involves the weaker team being pulled over the edge of a high platform resulting in the entire team falling to their death. The anonymous red-suited authorities apply the rules without question, while faithfully honouring their triangle, square and circle hierarchy. The 456 contestants are soon whittled down to a handful with ultimately just one left standing to collect the billions in prize money. All this is entertainment to a tiny group of VIPs.
The concept is horrifying. The violence is terrifying. The brutality is sickening.
What desperation would cause anyone to risk their life to play a series of deadly children’s games? Debt! Each contestant was deep in dept and therefore desperate enough to risk their life for the slightest chance of getting out of it.
Before we are tempted to write off Hwang Dong-hyuk, the creator of The Squid Game, as some kind of sadist, he explains: “I wanted to write a story that was an allegory or fable about modern capitalist society – something that depicts an extreme competition somewhat like the extreme competition of life.” Dong-hyuk wrote the Squid Game in 2009 but every film company turned it down saying it was “too grotesque and unrealistic”. It’s deeply troubling to note that by 2019 the same Squid Game came across as more “intriguing and realistic.” Realistic? Yes realistic. A reality exposed and deepened by Covid-19: A recent South African survey reveals that 47% of all respondents have been unable to pay debt and that 45% lost most of their income in the past six months. Globally, on the other extreme a billionaire was created every 26 hours during the Covid pandemic with the wealth of the world’s 10 richest men doubling, rising at a rate of $15,000 (R225k) per second.
What are we to call a system that allows and enables such grotesque inequality? A system that has gone rogue beyond the self-corrective reach of Adam Smith’s naive invisible hand. To follow the brutal consequences of such a system into the flesh and blood of humanity and into the soil and water of creation is to be horrified, terrified and sickened. Surely, evil is not too strong a word?
The purpose of allegory, fable or parable is to open the eyes of an otherwise blind society. To draw us out of our denial. To wake us up from our greedy and violently competitive ways. To urgently change a system lubricated by competition with one centred on compassion. A system that majors in the forgiveness of debts of our neighbours and of nations. In South Africa we do not need horrifying allegory, fable or parable. All we have to do is look outside.
The Winter Olympics are taking place at the moment. This would have passed me by were it not for a flurry of news articles about Eileen Feng Gu. I had never heard of her before, which is not surprising since snow is not really our specialty here at the tip of Africa. (I believe Beijing was also a bit snow-challenged for these Olympics, but that is another story.) Gu (18) won gold in the freestyle big air category. Her winning involved some crazy acrobatic stuff that included 4.5 revolutions in the air. Remarkable! She seems to stay in the air forever with every eye in the world watching.
But what I found even more remarkable than her beautiful acrobatics, is the way she answered questions at the press conference that followed. Although the press core seemed blind to the beauty of her answers. You see, Gu was born and raised in the USA but is competing for China, the country of her mother’s birth. The press wanted to know whether Gu was still a US citizen. After beautifully and acrobatically answering the question about her citizenship, another press person persisted: “Yes we understand you … but you were not clear if you still have your American citizenship … will you live in the US or China from now on?”
She repeated her beautiful acrobatics with the following: “I am just as American as I am Chinese. I am American when I am in America and I am Chinese when I am in China. I have expressed my gratitude to both the US and China for making me the person I am. Both have been super supportive. Sport does not have to be related to nationality. My mission is to use sport as a force for unity … to use it as a form to foster interconnection between countries and not use it as a divisive force.”
Isaiah said, “A child will lead”! Ok, in this instance Isaiah exaggerated a bit. But what a delight to see a teenager do summersaults around a press core. The press reminded me of the pharisees of old who would quiz Jesus on tax matters or acceptable Sabbath activity. They disappointedly did not receive the either/or answer their worldview demanded. By the way, the disciples also had to ask Jesus to “be more clear” on many occasions!
I know the book of Revelation says that: “He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him…” but I didn’t realise Jesus would make an appearance in the Olympics. Who knew he could ski? This is just it though. Jesus didn’t look very messiah-like back in the day either. In fact it is probably a safe bet to assume that if the messiah looks like the messiah then it’s probably not the messiah. This was a most unlikely mini-messiah-moment (as they all are) at a press conference from the Olympic village.
And so from the lips of a teenager, “an 18 year old just living her dream” we hear words of wonderous truth that have the power to heal our divided world. Blessed are those with ears to hear. If we incarnate Eileen Gu’s words within our flesh, the Apartheid of nations will come to a beautiful end. Can you hear Jesus say: “Amen”?
Annual General Meeting
CMM’s AGM will take place after the Sunday Service on 6 March.
We postposed it from the end of last year. Due to COVID disruptions, etc. we have some catching up to do. We need to have nominations/elections for Treasurer as well as Society Stewards.
If there is anyone you would like to nominate or if you yourself feel called to be part of the leadership of CMM (what we call the Donkey Team) please do chat with me.
Thank you, Alan
PS: This will be an in-person meeting.
I heard the term ‘wild Christianity’ this week. As much as I found it intriguing, I thought it was also sad. For to preface the word Christianity with ‘wild’ is to admit that there is a Christianity that isn’t wild. A bit like prefacing the word ‘theology’ with the word ‘liberation’. If theology isn’t liberating can we really call it theology? But I get it, not all that is called Christianity is wild and not all that is called theology is liberating, therefore the need for one or other adjective to highlight what is now missing.
Even though ‘tame Christianity’ is an oxymoron, the taming of what commonly passes as Christianity cannot be denied. The wild of Christianity is tamed when control replaces curiosity as the primary spiritual value of community and where order and efficiency show freedom and wonder-wandering the door. The wildness of Christianity is most often traded-in for acceptance at the table of the powerful and privileged. At this table holiness is defined by uniformity according to strict criteria of sameness. Here everyone proudly declares: “We are one because we are the same”. Throughout the ages Jesus has made it his business to rewild these tables. In fact he has been known to wildly overturn them. For those of us who covet sameness – we have been warned.
On Friday I was gifted with an opportunity to join in a tea* ceremony in one of the newly occupied shop spaces belonging to CMM. I have been asked what a tea ceremony is. Well, I am not sure, except to say …tea is made with love, poured with love, served with love and then sipped with love in the hope of tasting love. Anyway, for the tea ceremony Derek Gripper played his guitar … as always … in love, by love and for love.
Afterward he explained a little of the history of the tea ceremony. Its origins of simplicity only later to be tamed within a stiff fancy orderliness. He spoke too about how the guitar as an instrument had also been tamed over time. Originally it was an instrument for the bar and pub that would never have been allowed to (dis)grace a concert hall. Similar to the history of Methodist hymns that originated in pubs sung by less than sober beer drinkers and now tamed by Sunday choirs in suit and tie.
The once wild, now tame, needs rewilding. Of this environmentalists (https://www.rewildingmag.com) say Amen.
Today we join together as a community to renew our Covenant with the un-tame-able God. These Covenanting words truly are wild. I do fear that our familiarity with them however, may have tamed them. And so I pray that the Spirit that blows where it wills, comes and rewilds this Covenant in our hearts today.
*Hibiscus tea from Burkino Fasso in memory and celebration of Malidoma Some who wrote “Of water and the spirit.”
Beloved in Christ, let us once again claim for ourselves this Covenant which God has made with God’s people, and take upon us the yoke of Christ.
To take Jesus’ yoke upon us means that we are content for him to appoint us our place and work, and himself to be our reward.
Christ has many services to be done: some are easy, others are difficult; some bring honour, others bring reproach; some are suitable to our natural inclinations and material interests, others are contrary to both; in some we may please Christ and please ourselves, in others we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves. Yet the power to do all these things is given to us in Christ, who strengthens us.
Therefore let us make this Covenant of God our own. Let us give ourselves to God, trusting in God’s promises and relying on God’s grace.
Lord God, Holy Lord, since you have called us through Christ to share in this gracious Covenant, we take upon ourselves with joy the yoke of obedience and, for the love of you, engage ourselves to seek and do your perfect will.
We are no longer our own but yours. I am no longer my own, but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering*; let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing; I fully and freely yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the Covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
*Please note: The traditional words, “Put me to doing, put me to suffering,” do not mean that we ask God to make us suffer. Rather, they express our desire to do any faithful act regardless of whether there is suffering involved.