The Blessing of Anger

Grace and peace to you

We end each Sunday service with what we call the “Benediction of Disturbance”:

May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers,
half-truths and superficial relationships, so that we
may live from deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression
and exploitation of people, so that we may work for
justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless us with tears to shed for those who
suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war,
so that we may reach out our hand to comfort them
and turn their pain to joy.

And may God bless us with enough foolishness to
believe that we can make a difference in this world,
so that we can do what others claim cannot be done.
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and
the poor.

In God’s grace we say – Amen – so be it.

This benediction does not beat about the bush. There is nothing superficial about it. It cuts deep. The words hauntingly echo long after they have been spoken. The blessings jar any spiritual serenity we may seek.

Take for example the second blessing: “May God bless us with anger…” I mean who prays to be blessed with anger? We are more likely to confess our anger and pray for God to remove it. Anger is not something we associate with a blessing – let alone a blessing from God. Many of us believe that anger is somehow un-Christian or un-holy, but anger is a feeling and feelings need to be felt to be honoured. If we do not honour our feelings they will demand our attention by other means – often by increasingly destructive means. One thing that is clear is that they will not go “quietly into the night”.

We remember the verse in Scripture that says: “Even if you are angry, do not sin because of it. Never let the sun set on your anger or you will give the devil a foothold.” [Eph. 4:26] We may hear this verse saying that we should not be angry, yet it doesn’t say that. It says we must be careful what we do with our anger and wisely warns us about how long we hold onto it because if we hold onto our anger too long it eventually holds us prisoner.

Yet there is a time and place for anger. I am not talking here about hurtful and destructive expressions of anger. For this we need anger management therapy to get to the root – which is often hurt, fear and shame. I am referring to anger that aims at preventing hurt and destruction. This was the root of Jesus’ anger. He got angry because people were being excluded from the temple and exploited while there. Jesus tossed over some tables to make his point clear.

I think some of us need anger management of a different sort. We need therapy to give ourselves permission to actually be angry. We need help to get over the fear of being angry.

As Richard Rohr writes: Anger is good and very necessary to protect the appropriate boundaries of self and othersI would much sooner live with a person who is free to get fully angry, and also free to move beyond that same anger, than with a negative person who is hard-wired with resentments and preexisting judgements. Their anger is so well hidden and denied—even from themselves—that it never comes up for the fresh air of love, conversation, and needed forgiveness.” 

Grace,
Alan

 

 

More expensive to be poor

Occupying Woodstock Hospital

Picture: Ashraf Hendricks/GroundUp (Creative Commons License CC BY-ND 4.0) 


Grace and peace to you and through you

Over the past few weeks Reclaim the City has occupied the vacant Helen Bowden building and Woodstock Hospital as an act of peaceful civil disobedience. The purpose of Reclaim the City is to challenge and change the Apartheid spatial planning that continues to shape our lives through the development of affordable housing within the city of Cape Town.

Affordable housing in well-located areas are a necessity if we are ever going to seriously address the legacy of Apartheid politics and economics. This is true especially in Cape Town, which remains more segregated than other cities in South Africa.

For those working in low wage jobs to be living miles away in places like Blikkiesdorp and Wolwerivier, is to stretch their minimum wages beyond breaking point. They are not only far from their place of work but also good schools and reliable medical care.

This points to the double whammy of being poor: it is more expensive to be poor than to be rich. Those with the least amount of money live furthest away from work, which means that they spend more money on getting to work. The far distances affect the prices of just about everything they need to purchase to live. A loaf of bread in Blikkiesdorp is more expensive than in the city. Therefore the poor have less to save and as a result it is less likely for their situation to ever change. While the opposite is true for the wealthy! This stretches the inequalities of yesterday into the future.

In this situation it is difficult not to become hopeless. Hopelessness is the absence of any reason why tomorrow will be any better than today. And hopelessness ignored will end in rage! And then…

And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away.

And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need.

And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.

The great owners ignored the three cries of history. The land fell into fewer hands, the number of the dispossessed increased, and every effort of the great owners was directed at repression. The money was spent for arms, for gas to protect the great holdings, and spies were sent to catch the murmuring of revolt so that it might be stamped out. The changing economy was ignored; and only means to destroy revolt were considered, while the causes of revolt went on.

The tractors which throw men out of work, the belt lines which carry loads, the machines which produce, all were increased; and more and more families scampered on the highways, looking for crumbs from the great holdings, lusting after the land beside the roads. The great owners formed associations for protection and they met to discuss ways to intimidate, to kill, to gas.

And always they were in fear of a principal–three hundred thousand–if they ever move under a leader–the end. Three hundred thousand, hungry and miserable; if they ever know themselves, the land will be theirs and all the gas, all the rifles in the world won’t stop them.

And the great owners, who had become through their holdings both more and less than men, ran to their destruction, and used every means that in the long run would destroy them. Every little means, every violence, every raid on a Hooverville, every deputy swaggering through a ragged camp put off the day a little and cemented the inevitability of the day.

~ John Steinbeck: Grapes of Wrath

Praying that our conscience be resurrected lest our crucifixion be inevitable.

Grace,
Alan

The Faith We Sing

Right now, in this point in history, there are people naming that the movements organizing for change are different than they were during the Civil Rights years or in the height of the Anti-Apartheid Struggle. The Black Lives Matters Movement describes themselves to be a “leader—full” movement and the students organizing through Fees Must Fall are organized in a similar fashion. There is something about this type of organization that speaks to a hope for decentralized power, for more voices at the table, for a multiplication of message. If these movements sustain themselves in this fashion, we will be witnessing the birth of something very new in the world.

There is always the need sometimes for one—one voice—one message—one call—that leads a people towards “the good” even if it is a nestled voice in the midst of many.

This one that I speak of must have space to rise in the midst of the many to be heard. Tracing through human history, the voices that rose to be heard were the voices of the marginalized. From the depths of the crucibles of their lives wisdom rose and was known in the world. The great struggle songs were born in the trials of life where people were formed and shaped in communities that knew what it was like to share life together, no matter the challenges before them, and they knew what it was like to have a song alive inside of them.

“We Shall Overcome” was a slave song. They would sing it in the fields as they worked. The first use in a political nature is traced to 1945 in Charleston, South Carolina in a strike against the American Tobacco Company. The workers were fighting for higher wages. They were being paid only 45 cents an hour. Some of the leaders from Charleston went to meet with leaders in Tennessee at a center called Highlander. The philosophy of Highlander was that “the people who have the problems are the ones who have the answers.” They organized groups to listen across lines of division and they would always sing together. It was at Highlander that “We Shall Overcome” was birthed into a Movement Song.

One of the young people at the Justice Conference sang an amended version of a South African Hymn that some of the students are using when they organize. They have changed it to make it their own. This young woman was hesitant to sing the song when asked by the group, but when she stood and lifted her voice, the pain she was relaying, the struggle for air, for space, for freedom was evident. Movement songs have this quality about them, in that they are born in the journey of life and wrestled into being.

We gather in worship on Palm Sunday morning to sing “Hosanna.” Do we know what it means when we sing praises to the one who leads us in the crucible way? Do we know what we say when we name we will follow? There are songs that bind us together in the Christian Faith, but let us always remember that God is always giving rise to new songs. May our ears always be listening for the new God is giving birth to in the world and our spirits be open for the change it will require in us.

With you on the journey,
Michelle

We are Rhodes

Grace and Peace to you …

We are better at dealing with consequences than with causes. The cause throbs in the disguise of legal acceptability while the consequences rage as unruly mobs. This makes it easier to condemn the consequences than the cause. We are better at addressing the symptoms than the source. There is internal bleeding at the source while the symptoms gush through open gashes. This makes it easier to see the symptoms than the source.

And perhaps the most powerful motivating factor for us to deal with the consequences rather than the causes is that it is easier for us to approach the consequences from a place of innocence, after all everyone can see that I am not chasing people out of SA with a panga in my hand. Yet when we dare to address the causes, we expose ourselves to our own complicities with the crime.

We are sad, ashamed and horrified at the violence that we have witnessed in our land this week but we are not as sad, ashamed or horrified at the systemic crime and violence which is the source and cause of so much of the violence we see today. Day in and day out millions of people are robbed of hope. Hope understood simply as the belief that tomorrow will be a little better than today. To be robbed of hope for tomorrow is be imprisoned in the despair of the present. This violent crime that is endemic in our land is mostly ignored by those of us who are outside of that prison.

Let us energetically address the symptoms and consequences that surround us – and to this end I trust that if needed CMM will be a sanctuary to protect the vulnerable but let us go deeper – asking the difficult questions that take us to the source and have the difficult conversations that expose us to our own crimes against humanity. Where we fail to protect and promote Holy Communion.

Grace, Alan


From the Lusaka Times…

Dear South Africa,

This is not Xenophobia, this is Afrophobia.

You bring down statues of hate and yet you build the biggest statue of all. To kill the very people who helped liberate you. You have made this soil a monument of hatred for your brother.

We trained Mandela, we funded and armed uMkhonto we Sizwe. Chief Albert Luthuli was born in what is now Zimbabwe.

The Greek lives safely in this country.

The Asian lives safely in this country.

The American lives safely in this country The English The Dutch The Jewish The Indian lives safely in this country.

Yet the brother who shares your story, the very sisters who share your bloodline. This is who you burn on the streets, axe and slaughter. You are divided against yourselves and that has always been the bedrock of failure. The brothers and sisters who bled by your side, the blood that helped liberate this great nation. You thank their seeds with fire and unforgiving blades.

RHODES HAS NOT FALLEN.

The greatest achievement of the colonial project was to divide and conquer. To create hatred where none existed. To draw false borders of division. That is how Rhodes grew the British empire in Africa. Through planting seeds of hate.

So you took his statue down, and three days later began to murder your own brothers. Who is the fool! For Rhodes lives in you. The seeds he planted are bearing fruit in your lives. Rhodes does not turn in his grave, he is smiling jubilantly, to see the seeds of hate he planted sprout.

Mzilikazi fled from Shaka, settled in Bulawayo and two hundred years later, the very same bloodline class him foreigner and says he must return home. Isizulu and Isindebele are the same language, isiXhosa is a very close relative. These are massive signs of a bond that unites.

Umfecane never ended.

Colonialism never died, it flows in our blood. When kings call for the killing of cousins, RHODES HAS NOT FALLEN.

WE ARE RHODES.

By Mighti Jamie

Kingdom of God living

This “Sprite” car was parked outside CMM the other day.
Back in the day Adam and Eve had to deal with a “talking snake”
while today we have “talking cars and talking sugar drinks” telling us who we should obey.


Grace and peace to you

The single biggest stumbling block preventing us from experiencing resurrection life is our reluctance to die. And not just to die, but to be crucified. And not just to be crucified, but to be crucified as a result of living lives of grace, truth, justice and mercy. And not just the result of living lives of grace, truth, justice and mercy, but living lives of grace, truth, justice and mercy for ALL, especially those on the margins of society. Jesus called this kind of living — Kingdom of God living. This type of living honours the real reality of God’s creation.

And here is the promise of the Gospel: When we live Kingdom of God lives. When we live according to the real reality of the world. When we live lives of grace, truth, justice and mercy (as revealed in the ways of Jesus) we will disrupt the false realities/kingdoms of this world that entrench privilege for the few and pain for the many.

This disruption will not be welcomed by the privileged and they will use everything in their power to first co-opt the disrupters and if that doesn’t work they will seek to destroy the disrupters — in other words crucifixion.

What will look like defeat and failure on the part of the disrupters will in actual fact be the seeds that must die before they can sprout forth new life — new life that breaks through the false realities of oppression and exclusion. This is resurrection life.

Resurrection life is miraculous not because it is continuous after death, but because it is transformative of the false realities that rely on death and perpetuate death to survive in the world.

While writing the above I couldn’t bring myself to identify with the privileged. I preferred to see myself as anything but… Yet I know at a level that I am not comfortable writing about that I am one of the privileged.

It takes courage for the marginalised to be a disrupter but it takes a miracle for the privileged to be a disrupter. In fact for the privileged it is impossible… but with God all things are possible.

Grace in disruption, Alan


I believe …

I believe in God, the source of all life, wholeness, and love.

I believe that God is revealed in Jesus Christ.

I believe that in his life, Jesus reveals God in grace, mercy, forgiveness, and justice.

I believe that in his death, Jesus reveals God’s determined presence in the world even in the face of hatred, violence, and pain.

I believe that in his resurrection, Jesus reveals God calling us to abundant life both now and forever; life beyond our fearful and fragile imaginations.

I believe that God lives among us, within us, and through us by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I believe that God moves us to be together in communities of faith, hope, and love.

I believe these things not out of certainty but out of faith; as one who trusts in the reality of God revealed in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. Amen.

~ Dan Sire


Thirst

Another morning and I wake with thirst for the goodness I do not have. I walk out to the pond and all the way God has given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord, I was never a quick scholar but sulked and hunched over my books past the hour and the bell; grant me, in your mercy, a little more time. Love for the earth and love for you are having such a long conversation in my heart. Who knows what will finally happen or where I will be sent, yet already I have given a great many things away, expecting to be told to pack nothing, except the prayers which, with this thirst, I am slowly learning.

~ Mary Oliver

Christ is risen

Grace and Peace to you


I Praise You for this Resurrection Madness 

Lord of such amazing surprises…

I praise you for this joy,
too great for words…

for this mercy
that blots out my betrayals
and bids me begin again,
to limp on,
to hop-skip-and-jump on,
to mend what is broken in and around me,
and to forgive the breakers;

for this YES
to life and laughter,
to love and lovers,
and to my unwinding self;
for this kingdom
unleashed in me and I in it forever,
and no dead ends to growing,
to choices,
to chances,
to calls to be just;

no dead ends to living,
to making peace,
to dreaming dreams,
to being glad of heart;

for this resurrection madness
which is wiser than I
and in which I see
how great you are,
how full of grace.
Alleluia!

Ted Loder


An Easter Prayer of Promise

I live each day to kill death;
I die each day to beget life,
and in this dying unto death,
I die a thousand times and am reborn another thousand through that love …
which nourishes hope!

Julia Esquivel, Guatemala 


Our prayer is to change, O God,
not out of despair of self
but for love of You,
and for the selves we long to become.

Ted Loder

Lament our land and our loss

This Crucifix hangs in the Chapel at Bishopscourt

Lament for our Land …

‘On Exhaustion Over a Lack of Understanding’

I am tired
God Almighty, I am tired
of being told that we need to move on,
that we need to forget,
that we need to put the past behind us,
that Apartheid is over.
They don’t understand.
We never will.
Our bodies are monuments of centuries of torture, trauma,
terror, these exist in us, we live it every day.
We built this country
slaves
whips at our backs –
The Man holding the whip did not build –
we built.
Apartheid is not over.
No magic TRC wand can bippity-boppity-boo! it away.
Our glass carriage is still a pumpkin,
rotting,
pulled by rats.
A polite revolution over tea and crumpets, good Sir,
‘twas the order of the day.
When could we mourn?
When could we cry?
When could we scream
for our loved ones lost
our chances trampled on?
Please Mastah Baas Meneer,
Asseblief,
Gee my ‘n kans om te huil
vir my ma en my pa en my susters en broers
gee my ‘n kans om te huil.
Let me stand up for myself
and for those who stood before me.
Let me march for myself
and for those who marched before me.
Let me call out AMANDLA
and raise my fist
and let me cry
after hundreds of years
let me cry.

Ameera Conrad
(Fourth Year B.A. Theatre and Performance at the University of Cape Town)


Lament for our Loss …

Did you know that nearly half of the Psalms in the Bible are songs of lament and poems of complaint. Jesus turned to one such Psalm while on the Cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? Oh my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.”  Psalm 22.

Here is a modern day Psalm of Lament by Ann Weems:

I don’t know where to look for you, O God!
I’ve called and I’ve called.
I’ve looked and I’ve looked.
I go back to my room and sit in the dark waiting for you.
Could you give me assign that you’ve heard?
Could you numb my emotions so I wouldn’t hurt so much?

I walk in circles.
I rock in my chair.
I pour a glass of water.
I look out the window.
I walk to the kitchen.
I open the refrigerator;
There’s nothing I want.
I close it again.
I turn on the TV.
The voices are too loud; the faces are too loud.
I mute the voices; I turn off the faces.
The silence is my friend; the silence is my enemy.
I go upstairs.
I lie on the bed.
I get up again.
I walk to the window.
No sign of you!
I’m dying, O God, without you.

O God of Wonder, you can change it all.
You can distract me from thoughts of death.
You can fill my days with purpose.
You can make the nights shorter.
You can let me find you.
Don’t hide from me any longer, O God.

O God you reveal yourself to those who call upon your name.
Blessed be my God who does not fail me!

Viva Palm Sunday

Grace and Peace to you

On Palm Sunday we witness Jesus perform some seriously prophetic (truth revealing) street theatre that hilariously screams for everyone to hear: “The Emperor is not wearing any clothes”. This prophetic tradition is continued by an amazingly imaginative Rabbi Arthur Waskow.

Last Sunday afternoon, about 150 people met – seriously and joyously – at the West End Synagogue in Manhattan for a religious service, followed by an hour of street theatre – both aimed in the spirit of Passover and Palm Sunday, at the Carbon Pharaohs of our generation, especially the Koch Brothers.

The street theatre took place near and on Lincoln Center, at the David Koch Theatre. It featured a dramatic collision between a figure costumed as Pharaoh, traveling with a Pyramid of Power and followed by a gaggle of people carrying oil cans, coal bags, etc.

VERSUS

the Prophet Miriam as Mother Earth, traveling with a large globe and followed by a band of people with windmills, solar panels, and earth-friendly banners.

Mother Earth won …
Viva Palm Sunday Protests Viva!

 

Picture of Cross of Nails: With gratitude and recognition to http://dogbreathsoup.deviantart.com/

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

Limitless, fathomless and all-embracing love

This past week we have been reflecting on the parable of the Prodigal Son or as other more accurately call it the parable of the Waiting Father. The parable is one of death and resurrection – as the Father later confirmed: “This son of mine was dead but is now alive again.”

None of the characters in the parable have names. Their identity comes through their relationships: father, son and brother. To break the relationship is to lose your identity. To lose your identity is to die. No one is an island. I am who I am because you are who you are. We exist in togetherness or not at all. We call it Ubuntu.

Death in the scriptures is not reduced to whether we have a pulse or not. The younger son was still breathing but he was dead because he was no longer living in relationship with his father and brother. He was tempted by the illusion of independence and the lie that you can live a separate selfish life and still live.

Both sons in different ways separate themselves from the Father – or as Miroslav Volf says they try and “un-son” themselves. The younger one travels to a distant land while the older son remains outside in anger. Both cause the Father grief. Grieving. For he has lost a loved one.

When the child returns to relationship he is resurrected. He is born again. We are born again when we live life lovingly again.

On Monday evening I read an extract from a beautiful book called: “Father Joe”. In it the author records a time when he came to Father Joe for confession after many, many years of being in a “distant land” and with “the pigs”. After he shared some of the gory details about his life, Father Joe says to him:

These are great imperfections, dear. But they’re not what you really want to say, are they?” He was right… there was something, but I couldn’t quite reach down far enough to find it. “Say what’s in your heart now, dear.”

“I seem incapable of love, Father Joe. Utterly incapable of feeling it, even thinking it. Even wanting it. No, that’s not true. I want to love, terribly. But it won’t come … I hate love. It feels the way a sin used to. Like when you got a present as a kid and for no reason at all you’d smash it into little pieces…”

“Tony dear, you will only be able to love when you understand how much you are loved. You are loved, dear, with a limitless… fathomless… all-embracing love.”

Today we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. That Jesus is alive and that Jesus is Lord. And we also celebrate that by allowing him to love us we too are resurrected to new life. To a loved life. To a life lived lovingly.

Peace, Alan