Taxes and Death

2020 10 18  Alan Storey : Taxes and Death
[Psalm 99; Matthew 22:15-22]

 

Friends,

This Sunday we will reflect on Jesus being questioned about paying taxes to the emperor. It is a topical issue at the moment. In South Africa we are faced with daily revelations of state / private corruption that detail the squandering of State collected taxes. Taxes meant to be spent for the public good have instead been criminally syphoned off for private gain. Further afield we learn of a president who routinely boasts of how wealthy he is and yet shamelessly withholds paying taxes. Sunday’s reflection: Taxes and Death.

Please read Psalm 99 and Matthew 22:15-22 in preparation for Sunday.

Sunday’s service will take place via zoom at 10am.

Email: welcome@cmm.org.za for the zoom link.

 

American Authoritarianism

Now for a few thoughts regarding more broadly what I see taking place in the States at this time. I share this with the hope that we will be reminded of some crucial lessons from our own history as well as to draw attention to the disturbing up-swing of authoritarian regimes and populous demagogues around the world.

Using Scripture as the lens to focus our thoughts, in this case, specifically Exodus 1:8-22 and Isaiah 59: 1-16a. Rather than use scripture in a “proof text” or “literal / fact based” kind-of-way, I will try to unearth and be guided by the archetypal truth embedded within the given narrative. In this way the ancient text enlightens our present context and our present context informs our understanding of the text. Meaning moves both ways.

The book of Exodus is the story of a slave people taking the gap … to freedom. It was so impossible that it was compared to sneaking through an ocean split dry. This great escape includes moments so unforeseen that the only word in human vocabulary to be able to describe it was a “miracle”. Even the secular press turned to this word for help when they ran out of all others to describe the event – which itself was another miracle.

We turn to the text to guide us:

“Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9He said to his people, ‘Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. 10Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.’ 11Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labour. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. 12But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. 13The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, 14and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labour. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them. [Exodus 1:8-14]

We read, “… a new king of Egypt who did not know Joseph”. How strange? How could that be possible that one be so forgetful? What terror-ble amnesia! This new king must have either been so narcissistic that there was no room within his heart to remember anyone but himself, or it was a profound act of wilful-forgetfulness. Forgetful of Joseph is a proxy for being forgetful of YHWH. When one is forgetful of the Ultimate One then one is inclined to exaggerate one’s own sense of self. This forgetful king thus had no reason to be humble. His forgetfulness made him accountable to none and to live in steadfast service of himself.

We read this forgetful king was also fearful. Now just as love casts out fear, so fear casts our love. A fear-full leader is therefore a love-less leader. A love-less leader is a terror. Not surprising then that he would soon be signing off executive decisions that dealt with people “shrewdly”, “ruthlessly” and murderously.

Forgetfulness of the Higher Power of Truth and Justice, together with fear of one’s neighbour, are always present at the birth of authoritarianism.

Notice how the forgetful and fearful king changes a long held truth into a dangerous lie. The Israelites were no longer their neighbours of many years. They were now named soon-to-be traitors. What a re-framing! Fear mongering. Naming and blaming. Othering! Othering that instils fear and hate with the aim to divide and conquer. Next we witness the major trick performed by every successful authoritarian ruler. Just like a magician covers their hat with a handkerchief before they pull out a rabbit, so the authoritarian covers everything they say with the blanket of national security. This blanket is decorated with holy cows grazing in fields of evergreen nationalism that silences those with questions. When it is pulled back, we see that a remarkable thing has taken place: the victims have become the perpetrators and the perpetrators have become the victims. (Water into wine eat your heart out!). With this deceptive reversal in place the victims (read: real perpetrators) are justified to crackdown on the perpetrators (read: real victims). So children are separated from parents and locked in cages. Dare not call this cruel. It is not. The reason it is not is that it is a matter of national security. So the uniformed dare not question their orders. Instead they efficiently do what is evil enjoying the praise for doing good. (But one day they will have to answer. And the defence, “I was just following orders” will not be accepted as a valid reason for their evil. A millstone may be put around their neck for causing little ones to be so terror-ised.)

15The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16‘When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.’ 17But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. 18So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, ‘Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?’ 19The midwives said to Pharaoh, ‘Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.’20So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. 21And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. 22Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, ‘Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.’”

Authoritarians take the institutions that are designed to promote and protect life and begin to employ them to bring death or in the very least begin to prevent them from fulfilling their life enabling function. Pharaoh calls the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah. Birth enablers are employed as facilitators of death. Sometimes this is communicated bluntly and sometimes subtly. Sometimes the forgetful, fearful king simply ignores and encourage others to ignore the instructions of well-meaning institutions, that if followed, would save life. In so doing they fail to do anything to prevent the death of 222 891 people (as of 16/10/20). Fascists are perversely turned on by death, especially the death of the weak. So Pharaoh does not mourn. There is no apology. Only lying denials. Read Isaiah 59 to see how authoritarians lie and lie. They spin a deadly web of lies that cause the “truth to stumble in the public square and justice to be turned back”.

“YHWH is appalled.” (Isaiah 59:16a) that so few intervene and so many remain silent. Especially the silence of the community called church.

But there are some who do intervene. Many of whom are ordinary people or even so-called “little people”. Wise as serpents and gentle as doves (non-violently) they courageously resist genocidal fascists with creative acts of sabotage. The midwives were so in-spirit-ed by the wonder of life that they had no space within themselves to fear this forgetful and fearful Pharaoh. They made up a story about how “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women” and Pharaoh bought it because it confirmed his existing prejudice. Proving how prejudice makes one so stupid.

Eventually Pharaoh openly sanctions genocide: drown them!

Patriarchy goes hand in hand with authoritarianism. Pharaoh undermined girls/women. He believed only boys/men could possibly be a threat to him. He admitted that he would just grab a girl/woman when and how he wanted. And yet history will show it was girls/women who were the founding members of the anti-Pharaoh Struggle. Besides the midwives, there was a mother and sister who with the wisdom of serpents placed their baby boy on the river instead of in the river. So it is with resistance struggles throughout history. Liberation is won, changing one letter at a time. Pharaoh’s own daughter worked behind enemy lines – eventually getting one of the enemy not only into Pharaoh’s house, but adopted into his family! Viva Caroline Giuliani viva!

As we have said repeatedly over the last couple of weeks: the exploitation of people goes hand in hand with the exploitation of creation. The one leads to the other. People will eventually revolt and creation will eventually rebel. Creation rebels by confronting us with the consequences of our exploitative ways. Insecticides contaminate the soil. The run-off poisons the water. The fish die, as do those that feed on the fish. We become chronically ill. When illness catches up to Pharaoh himself there is the hope that a lesson will be learnt and that a humbling change will take place … but alas, this is not always the case.

Pharaoh was given many opportunities to do the loving / liberating thing, yet he repeatedly decided not to. In the process his heart was hardened, until one day it was fixed in its hardness. All that remains then is self-destruction on a massive scale. The deathly consequences of this self-destruction are impossible to over play, for during the very time we should be doing everything we can to prevent the oceans from rising, we have to concern ourselves with a Pharaoh in denial who is leading a people into the ocean to drown. All because of his desperate attempt to fill the gaping void within his own life.

Fascism relies on the public believing that their nation is so exceptional that “it will never happen here”. Exceptionalism is idolatry. It is a lie, for just as all people have fallen short of the glory of God, so have all nations fallen short. It is a slippery slope from exceptionalism to fascism. A slippery slope constantly greased by Christian fundamentalists, Constitutional originalists and white supremacist militia.

In closing, let us read the text again while being attentive to who we identify with in the text. Let’s check our natural inclinations to quickly self-identify with the persecuted, re-denying any existence of the persecutor within us. Even if we struggle to see ourselves as a Pharaoh-type, can we wrestle with the possibility that there may be others who view us as Pharaoh? Who are they? How would they like us to change? Oh that we may take out the log from within our own eye…

Grace,
Alan

 

Golden Calf Truth

Friends,

Reflection on Exodus 32:1-14

Truth is larger than fact. There are times when the facts simply can’t adequately hold the truth. For example, there is no fact that could sufficiently account for a parent’s love for their child. Or for the liberation of a long-oppressed people. When the facts fail the truth, we turn to metaphor and myth, satire and story, parable and poetry. To say that someone is the most beautiful person in all the world is not meant to be evaluated on a factual basis, but rather to be appreciated for the truth that the statement makes about their love or attraction toward the person.

Similarly, the validity of the Exodus narrative (and much of Scripture) does not rest on whether it factually took place once upon a time or not, but rather on the truth that it announces for all time. (It is most likely that the Exodus narrative was the accumulative wisdom gleaned from many cycles of oppression and liberation all sewn together into a single archetypal liberation narrative.) The narrative’s purpose is to speak timeless truth:

  • The truth about God (ultimate reality) who is always on the side of truth and justice (the universe’s bending moral arc) and therefore forever listening to the cries of the oppressed and liberating the oppressed from bondage.
  • The truth that little people (midwives) who remain faithful to the Life-Giver bring down genocidal fascists.
  • The truth about how power hardens human hearts (Pharaoh had heart problems.)
  • The truth about the anxious, stubborn, devious and paranoid ways of Empire (Time and time again the Pharaoh regime promised to let the people go but reneged each time. Power is very seldom given up willingly. Codesa 1 and Codesa 2.)
  • The truth that when those who have access to the perks and privileges of palace power (Pharaoh’s daughter and Moses) choose rather to join in solidarity with the enslaved and exploited, a united front begins rolling mass action that not even all of Pharaoh’s chariots will be able to stop.
  • The truth that exploitation of people goes hand in hand with the exploitation of the environment, with the environment ultimately rebelling via plagues. (Contaminated topsoil poisons the water.)
  • The truth that liberation always looks impossible (like walking through an ocean) until it isn’t (ocean split in two) and then it looks inevitable.
  • The truth that a liberated people move quickly from gratitude to complaint. From dancing praise of their courageous leaders to accusing them of selling out. (Moses have you brought us out here to die? HIV does not cause Aids.)
  • The truth that a liberated people often forget their pain-filled past (we ate meat in Egypt) and soon begin to imitate the ways of their past oppressors. (Another name for State Capture is Greed.)
  • The truth that populous ‘leaders’ (read: fascists) will always be ready to exploit the frustrations and fears of the people, promising everything they want but securing just the opposite (We see you Aaron. We see you CIC in red overalls. We see you with the MAGA cap.)
  • The truth that it takes a long time for a new constitution to be carved into our hearts of stone and therefore in the interim it remains very tempting to return to the golden calf of oppression that falsely promises us a quick fix. (During the writing of our New Constitution our new leaders were negotiating the arms deal. A deal that was corrupt in essence and in process. A deal more in tune with the ways of Egypt than of liberation.)

 

This brings us to this Sunday’s reading: “When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come make gods for us, who shall go before us … Aaron took the gold from them and formed it in a mould, and cast an image of a calf…”

It is important to note that the golden calf may be seen as a replacement of the liberating YHWH or a representation of YHWH. The latter is a far more subtle form of idolatry and therefore potentially more dangerous. An idolatrous representation of YHWH would include attributing non-liberative characteristics to YHWH (see last week’s reference to “make no wrongful use of the name of God”.) An example today is the prosperity teaching (read: heresy / cult) calling on Jesus’ name in order to prosper financially by TV evangelists who believe owning a private jet is crucial for them to spread the word about the humble sandalled Jesus. (The same Jesus who happened to warn that it was pretty impossible to fly a jet through the eye of a needle.)

An even subtler form of idolatry includes that which is not necessarily religious at all and as a result are seldom named as gods / idols, yet they solicit our unquestionable belief in their professed saving power. Like believing that the death penalty will save us from crime. Or the gun will keep me safe. Or low taxes on the rich will be good news for the poor. Or that the quality of health care or education must correlate to how much money one has. These come to us through laws and systems rather than doctrines and creeds. We learn proverbs like “time is money” off by heart until we believe that everything is a product to be traded and that the value of anything or worth of anyone is ultimately determined in monetary terms.

With the above-mentioned examples, it should be clear that there is no such thing as a “non-believer”. We all believe in something. We all worship something. And whatever we worship is our god – like it or not. If the word worship does not connect with you then ask yourself what is the object of your ultimate concern? (See: Paul Tillich.) The answer to this question is our god. Simply put, whatever we give our heart to is our god, religious or not. For this reason, we are called to do the urgent and crucial work of “know yourself” to discover who / what we believe in. Warning: We may be surprised to discover that we don’t always believe in what we would like to think we believe in or what we profess to believe in. (Not everyone who calls me Lord, Lord will enter the reign of God – says Jesus.) This is why the scriptures care less about atheism than they do about idolatry, because we could be worshiping the very ways that crucified Jesus while singing his praises on our lips.

How do we know the difference between God and an idol? Or God and false gods? In short: Idols or false gods always demand sacrifice. Idols take life while promising new life. Think of the military or of the idol of nationalism or tribalism that worship little lines in the ground called borders. Drawn and defended with blood. The true God on the other hand does not demand sacrifices. Rather the true God demands justice, mercy, humility, truth, gentleness. In other words, the true God demands that which will promote and protect life – all of Life in all its fullness.

This is the only scale that really matters: does our living bring life or death?

So just because we may never have carved out an image of a calf doesn’t mean we do not worship any idols. Furthermore, just because we have Jesus’ name repeatedly on our lips does not necessarily mean Jesus is our God. And for those of you reading this who think you are exempt from idolatry because you don’t believe in any God or god or idol – well once you have found the words that work for you – I invite you to check what your ultimate concern is and whether honouring your ultimate concern brings life or death – for all of life.

Know thyself sister. Know thyself brother.

Grace upon grace,
Alan

 

Life-saving Pause

Friends,

“I feel so overwhelmed by the desperate state of the world.” I have heard this from a number of you in response to what is happening in the world and especially in relation to our conversations on Climate Breakdown over the past few weeks. I feel it too. Some of us have moved from denial directly to despair, without passing GO. From, “there is no problem” to “the problem is too big”. From, “no need to change” to “no change will make any difference”. We are left stuck, staring at the oncoming headlights shining on our imminent destruction.

Our work is to pause. To pause between denial – – and – – despair. In the stillness we may realise that change is possible while knowing that it is not easy and that it comes with no guarantees. In the pause we may realise that perhaps the main reason we struggle to change is because: We are dependent on our sin for our survival. In other words: We are dependent on a way of life that is killing us, for our survival. Spot the problem? To survive off what is killing us, means our survival will not survive. Death alone will win this race.

One of the first things to die is the human imagination, and with it our ability to envision living life in any other way. Soon thereafter we find ourselves reciting the cynic’s creed: “The way things are, is the way things will always remain”.

‘Dependent’ may be too soft a word. ‘Addicted’ is more accurate. We are addicted to a deathly way of life for our survival. When we try to kick our addiction, it feels like we are dying, so we stop trying and return to our deathly ways that falsely promise life. No wonder Jesus says, if we want to be his disciples (i.e. people living life in life-giving ways) we must be willing to die, for we first have to die to our deathly way of living before we can walk in a life-giving way. To change is to die so we can live. This takes great grace and enormous courage. The type of grace and courage that accompanies the alcoholic to AA and through the 12-step programme. This journey to sanity (not simply sobriety) to unsuicide ourselves begins with confession of our powerlessness to kick our deathly way of living.

Once we are able to confess our addiction and our state of powerlessness then we are ready.

On Sunday at 11h11 we will explore this a little more. We will do so in relation to the Gospel reading (Matthew 21:23-32) for this Sunday. If you would like to be part of the conversation, please email welcome@cmm.org.za for the zoom link.

Below you will find a number of resources that may strengthen us to pause between denial – – and – – despair.

Last week we focused briefly on the grieving soil that YHWH invites us to listen to. Here is a new documentary on Netflix about the saving power of soil.

Basically, we need to save soil (at least stop destroying soil) so that soil can save us. Soil remember is 24/7 busy with the miraculous work of resurrection. And here is some great information on how we can “save” the soil to save us. 

Also following on from last week I invite you to watch this brief animated video about “talking trees”. 

Grace,
Alan

Violation provokes violence

SA Navy to spend R60 million on weapon barely used since World War 2

As reported in Sunday Times 15th October 2017

The SA Navy is set to buy new torpedoes for its submarines, despite it battling to keep its standard fleet operational. According to a report in the Sunday Times, Armscor has confirmed plans to buy a new torpedo system for Heroine-class submarines. The new torpedoes are said to cost up to R60 million each. Industry experts told the Sunday Times that South Africa does not need new torpedoes. Worldwide, there have been only three torpedo engagements since World War 2.

https://mybroadband.co.za/news/government/233261-sa-navy-to-spend-r60-million-on-weapon-barely-used-since-world-war-2.html

 


Grace to you

One of the great lies that the world is ever tempted to swallow (and swallow it does) is that violence can be good, righteous and sacred and therefore necessary. It is this lie that Jesus – the Truth – came to set us free from, yet we refuse to be released and thus remain willing prisoners ever-protective of our chains.

And if not Jesus, then one would think that the history of violence’s horror would have brought us to our senses, but alas we overwhelmingly continue to believe that our violence is morally good while the violence of those against us is morally evil. We rage about “their” violence but are blind to our violence. Our “good cause” is what blinds us. Ours is a righteous violence … but not for the family of those we kill … for them it’s the soil of suffering that justifies the planting of the seeds of revenge. This deathly logic plays itself out daily in a million different ways: gang violence; gender based violence; police brutality and war.

Last Saturday a huge truck bomb killed over 300 people in Mogadishu, Somalia. This was done in retaliation to one of the many raids by local troops and US special forces in which countless civilians have been killed over many years in a never-ending cycle of violence.

A recent United Nations study found that in “a majority of cases, state action appears to be the primary factor finally pushing individuals into violent extremism in Africa”. Of more than 500 former members of militant organisations interviewed for the report, 71% pointed to “government action”, including “killing of a family member or friend” or “arrest of a family member or friend” as the incident that prompted them to join a group.

Violation provokes violence which begets more violence.

And while we lament the violence, we forget that we have supported it from the beginning – by refusing to pass laws that prevent it, like banning guns, and by paying for the weapons responsible for it like the SA Navy buying deathly wasteful torpedoes for millions.

When it comes to the cycle of violence in the world the Christian Church has much blood on its hands, not just directly but indirectly in the way we have propagated the false narrative of “sacred violence”. For the idea of “sacred violence” is deeply rooted in interpreting the Crucifixion of Christ as a necessary sacrifice (act of violence) in order for God to save the world. This is a terror-ble lie. Rather the Cross of Christ reveals to us the grace-full truth that God would rather suffer violence than ever perpetrate it.

Devastatingly the greatest act of non-violent loving has consistently been interpreted as an act of Divine violence by the Christian faith itself, turning the greatest gift the Christian faith has to offer the world into its greatest stumbling block to world peace. The d-evil must dance with delight as we do its work.

Jesus reveals God as Love. Therefore for God to stop loving is for God to stop being. We are born in the image of Love and when we stop loving we die and cause death.

Grace,
Alan

 

 

The crucifixions of our time

Christ is crucified again and again … and again

On this Crucifying Friday we gather to remember Jesus’ Crucifixion that took place long ago … and as we do we gather to name and engage the crucifixions of our time. Christ is crucified again and again … and again! We know this because Jesus himself said: “What you do to the least of these you do to me.”

Jesus’ Crucifixion 2000 years ago is to be for us a lens that enables us to see clearly how crucifixion today. This is true all over the world: from the gassed children and bombed out buildings of Syria; to the fleeing families of Sudan; to the seedless farmers of India; to the grieving Coptics of Egypt; to the walled-in Palestinians of Gaza and to the humanity denying inequality of our own land.

If Jesus’ Crucifixion recorded in the gospels does not illuminate the crucifixions recorded in our newspapers each and every day then we are denying the Crucifixion of old by the way we remember it.

In this crucifying light of Christ, please read the crucifying story of Nathaniel ‘Tenni’ Davids who died at 2:40pm on 24th March … another crucifying Friday.

Grace, Alan


Hanging boy was murdered, says Mom

Crime & Courts | 27 March 2017 | Genevieve Serra | Daily Voice

Cape Town — The mother of a 12-year-old boy who was found hanging from a fence at a Cape Flats train station believes he was brutally beaten and then murdered. Police who discovered the body of little Nathaniel “Tenni’” Davids said he had committed suicide. But his family says the child’s “hands and feet were tied up”, and he had a noose tied around his neck.

He was found dangling from a vibracete fence near Netreg Station on Friday just after 2:40pm by police who were on patrol. Cops have since opened an inquest docket into his death. But some Bonteheuwel residents believe the death may be gang-related. Ward councillor Angus McKenzie says messages circulating on the social chat group Outoilet, which claim Nathaniel had been murdered, have been handed over to the police. “It is all speculation at this stage that there is gang involvement, it is all based on messages which were received from residents,” he adds.

Nathaniel, who was in Grade 5 at Bramble Way Primary School in Bonteheuwel, was last seen on his way to a nearby shop to buy biscuits. His distraught mother, Louise Davids, 43, and aunt Diana Davids, 47, say the little boy did not attend school on Friday. “He was playing with his ball and his dog, Tessa, in the street the whole morning,” says Louise. “It was just before 2pm when I sent him to buy wafers.” “A man who had come from work stopped at our home and asked us what Nathaniel had been wearing.” “We said he had on a green sweater, Nike takkies and a tracksuit pants.” “He said a boy who was hanging at the station wore that kind of clothing.” The women rushed to the scene, but were not allowed to view the boy’s body, which police had covered with a white sheet.

Police spokesperson Captain FC van Wyk confirms an inquest docket has been opened for investigation and that a post-mortem will be conducted to determine the cause of death. While police don’t suspect foul play, Louise believes her son had been murdered. “I don’t care what the people are saying on the outside. I believe this is murder and God doesn’t sleep,” the heartbroken mother of four says. “My child’s hands and feet were tied with the string you find on a keyring (lanyard), and that was also around his neck. “You tell me how is it possible that he could hang himself when there was nothing underneath his feet and how could he do it if his feet and hands were tied?”

Diana admits Nathaniel was no angel, but says he was not a gangster: “No child in this house belongs to a gang, (but) he was stout (naughty), yes.”

Live life lovingly

All Saints Day

Signs of protest and hope:
All Saints candles set on the gravestones in a Polish Cemetery.


All Saints Day

God our com-fort-er,
you are our refuge and strength,
a helper close at hand in times of trouble.
Help us so to hear your word
that our fear may be dispelled,
our loneliness eased,
and our hope reawakened.
May your Holy Spirit lift us above our sorrow,
to the peace and light of your constant love;
through Jesus our Lord.
Amen.

For whose life do you give thanks today?

“Hear the good news: We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the living and the dead.

When we were baptised in Christ Jesus, we were baptised into his death. We were buried so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of God, so we too might walk in newness of life.”                                                                               Romans 14:7-9, 6:4


Grace and Peace to you

Lately I have been thinking quite a bit about death. In particular my own. And I realised that if I had to die now (or pretty soon) I would carry a deep sense of sadness. In fact sadness doesn’t really sum it up. I would feel great grief. Gigantic grief.

Grief that is rooted in knowing that I have not yet lived my life as I know I was created to live it. Grief for all the unfinished stuff. I am not referring to “things” I would still like to do or places I would still enjoy seeing – as in a type of bucket-list. Rather I am referring to those aspects of my living that I have yet to hand over to the Jesus Way. Why haven’t I surrendered more of my life? There is basically only one reason: fear. Yet, if I knew for certain that I was going to die in a year’s time I think I would make the changes without fearing any of the consequences.

I have found the thoughts of author Ron Rolheiser helpfully challenging in these matters:

How do we prepare to die? How do we live so that death does not catch us unaware? What do we do so that we don’t leave this world with too much unfinished business?

The first thing that needs to be said is that anything we do to prepare for death should not be morbid or be something that distances or separates us from life. The opposite is true. What prepares us for death, …is a deeper, more intimate, fuller entry into life. We get ready for death by beginning to live our lives as we should have been living them all along. How do we do that?

We prepare to die by pushing ourselves to love less narrowly. In that sense, readying ourselves for death is really an ever-widening entry into life. We prepare ourselves for death by loving deeply and by expressing love, appreciation, and gratitude to each other.

It’s easier to die when one has been, even for a moment, fully alive. What makes it difficult for us to die, beyond all the congenital instincts inside of us that want us to live, is not so much fear of the afterlife or even fear that their might not be an afterlife. What makes it hard to die is that we have so much life yet to finish and we finish it by loving more deeply and expressing our love more freely.

Grace to you in your living and in your dying, Alan


Dare to have your life re-storied by the Gospel

The stories we tell ourselves and each other are how we make sense of the world and our place in it. Some stories become so sticky, so pervasive that we internalize them to a point where we no longer see their storiness — they become not one of many lenses on reality, but reality itself. Stories we’ve heard and repeated so many times they’ve become the invisible underpinning of our entire lived experience”. ~ Maria Popova

Wisdom

Where love finds its perfect form … cross-shaped love

I thought of Jesus on the Cross when I read the following from Ben Okri’s amazing novel called Starbook.  He is writing about an elder among a secret tribe of artists.  He speaks of the wisdom this elder had received.  A wisdom so powerfully embodied in Jesus:

From the ancestors he received signs that things must decompose if they are to give birth to immortal fruits of time. From the hidden masters of the tribe he learnt that evil must triumph for a season if an even greater good that will change the world is to come into being; that good, in its gentleness, needs its true character and resolve tested, primed and strengthened by the suffering brought on by evil; only then will good have the moral force, and the great integrity, and the deep certainty, and the boundless power to step forth and overcome evil and transform the world into the reality of a higher vision.
From the oracles he learnt that only one who is not fit to be a suitor can possibly win the hand of his daughter, only one whom no one notices can truly rule, only one who is unofficial can be truly official, only the lowly can be on high. Also, from the oracles he learnt that an unlikely contest will decide all things; and that the future is a dark hole beyond which, in time, a great kingdom of unimaginable splendour will be found. Through sorrow and pain, all will be well. All things will be transfigured. All will be redeemed. A joy beyond description will crown all stories. These things the oracles told. The maiden’s father was comforted, and acted with perfect tranquillity. He ignored the rumours and set about a long-term plan; for he was a man who always regarded present problems as excuses for long-term vision and preparation.
He was thinking now of the future of the tribe, beyond the time of its disappearance. He began preparations for its rebirth out of the decomposition of its present state, a life after the death of a tribe.
… Only those who have accepted the death of their people can dream so clearly so miraculous a future. Only one who has accepted death can see so clearly that impossible things can be done beyond the limits that are there.”

May we trust “that good is primed and strengthened by the suffering brought on by evil” rather than the norm of retaliating in order to protect the good.

Grace, Alan

No more hurting people. Peace.

This is 8 year old Martin Richard.
Martin was killed in the Boston Marathon bombing.
His poster reads: No more hurting people. Peace.
At the time his second grade class was studying non-violent
resistance through the lives of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.
Bobby Constantino (who took the photo) came to speak to the class about his protest march modeled after James Meredith’s 1966
“March Against Fear”. Constantino invited the class to become ahimsakas — a Gandhian term for activists committed to
“doing no harm”.

Every six years Methodist ministers are given a three month sabbatical. A sabbatical is not so much to rest from work as it is to rest in order to work. Of course we all need to rest and that is what holidays are for. Yet a sabbatical is more than a holiday. It is really a wonderful gift that offers the opportunity for one to be renewed, re-charged and re-aligned. Re-aligned to one’s core calling.

I am often surprised when my car goes in for a service to be told that the wheels need to be re-aligned. I am surprised because I didn’t notice they were out of alignment. That’s just it. Our living can be out of alignment with our core purpose or calling and yet we may not even notice it. Quite often we have learnt to compensate for the defect and therefore keep it hidden for longer. The tyres do not escape damage though — with some areas being worn dangerously smooth. The same applies to our lives that become dangerously thin in the very places that should provide us with tread to live. So from June through August I am booking my life in for a “service” – sabbatical.

Stephen Covey – the bestselling author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – reminds us of the necessity of “Sharpening the Saw”. Covey tells the story of how a woodcutter became increasingly less productive in his work. So the woodcutter extended his working hours and increased his effort – but his production continued to decline. Why? Because he never stopped to sharpen the saw. So as I plan to sharpen the saw during sabbatical I hope you too will be deliberate to stop and sharpen the saw within your own life.

Sabbatical is not only a gift for the minister but also for the congregation. During my sabbatical you will be given the opportunity to hear the hearts of other preachers. This is so important as it reminds us that we all have a story of God’s grace and truth to share and that no single person has the complete truth. It has been said that a preacher only really has one sermon in them that they find different ways to share over and over again, which means that during my sabbatical you will be gifted with multiple opportunities to engage with truly different sermons. I promise you that you will hear new things and I trust that the change will sharpen the saw of this community.

I have nothing really planned for sabbatical (which is awesome) except that I do hope to take a few days to cycle to Knysna along Route 62. May there be enough oxygen in my lungs and air in my tyres.

In hope of resurrection, Alan

Only those who feel can mourn

The following article was written by Rebecca Davis for the Daily Maverick [25/02/2013]. Be warned it is crucifyingly disturbing … which I believe is all the more reason we should read it. Today in our Lenten Learnings we reflected on “Blessed are those who mourn …” Only those who feel can actually mourn and only those who love can actually feel … may God help us love.

While the media (including the Daily Maverick) fed the public appetite for Pistorius-related news over the past two weeks, life continued as normal for many. In South Africa, “life as normal” involves daily violence against women.

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-02-25-lost-in-oscar-pistorius-frenzy-the-horrific-violence-against-women-and-children-continues/

The disturbing story of Mido Macia, the 27-year-old Mozambican who died in custody after being dragged through the streets by police, should not come as a surprise. The incident was horrendous and publicly shared on video. But it’s indicative of a police force that rapes and murders instead of serves and protects. By GREG NICOLSON.

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2013-03-01-south-africa-the-police-state-of-brutality-humiliation-impudence/

Police brutality comes as a surprise? Really? Opinions of Prof. Pierre de Vos, professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Cape Town:

http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2013-03-01-police-brutality-comes-as-a-surprise-really/

Suffocating sadness

Last week’s sermon entitled: Suicide — When Sadness Suffocates is up on our website: www.cmm.org.za. The sermon by no means covers all that could or should be said about such tragedy, but the hope is that it will nudge us towards a less judgmental and more compassionate place of understanding. Here is a brief summary:

  • Suicide is not the unforgiveable sin.
  • Suicide does not defeat God.
  • Suicide is most often the result of an illness called depression.
  • Suicide is often done as an act of love — thinking it will free others of the burden that one feels one has become.
  • Suicide causes immeasurable pain and grief (and guilt) for the living.
  • Suicide may end the physical pain, but I wonder when we meet Jesus face-to-face whether we will be invited by him to deal with all the unresolved areas of our lived life.
  • Suicide highlights the need for all of us to be sensitive and available to each other to listen.
  • Suicide highlights that we are (+) powerless to change/cause/control another person’s life.
  • Prayer, medication, counselling/therapy, diet, exercise, all can contribute to healing.

Suicide is not a desire to die so much as a fervent wish not to go on living.

In the light of this darkness I remind you of the promise-filled road to Emmaus that we walked three weeks ago: • Jesus meets us on the road paved with pain • Jesus comes to us even before we invite him • Jesus’ presence is not dependent on our ability to see him • Jesus has already defeated what has defeated us • Our eyes are open to Jesus among us when we do the Word.

I pray that these promises will pull us through the pain, Alan