Manifest Christ in our living

Grace to you

In Bristol in the United Kingdom is the oldest Methodist chapel, built in 1739 by John Wesley. It is called the New Room. The Chapel is still in use but is now part of the Museum at the New Room depicting the development of Methodism and the story of the Wesleys. The displays highlight the spiritual work as well as the social issues.

In the museum is a list of “Principles for the 18th century” by John Wesley. The museum added the line: A Political Manifesto for Today? The Principles seem to be a hope-list for the many hope-less, covering a broad catchall of human misery and failure of so many others over centuries, before and after Wesley. It did not only focus on the immediate needs but includes a broader world view.

 It is as relevant today, nearly 300 years later, as then, but more urgently so. Our land and people still weep for lost generations, lost opportunity and lost hope. Education, employment, modern slavery, intolerance, abuse, violence, inequality still destroy life, liberty, living and love. More recently we have become more and more aware of our abuse of our planet and the effects of human induced climate interference. We have also not yet freed ourselves from abusing those made in the image of God, especially women and children. By what principles are we living, if we profess Christ, how do we seek to manifest Christ in our living? What will be said of us in 300 years, or 30?

Moral issues are also raising new frontiers of contention. Politicians, businessmen and other leaders, even in the religious sector, can be blatantly dishonest, lie and cheat and continue in their positions with wheels of intervention turning slowly or not at all. Civil protest and taking a stand continues to be necessary instruments for change. Often, with profound personal consequences.

Martin Prozesky, a local professor, researcher and writer, wrote an article in the City Press titled: The Innocent Until Proven Guilty Fallacy. He writes: “there is a dangerous error about people who are suspected on good grounds of wrongdoing, but who have never been charged or found guilty in a court of law. The error is to claim that one is in fact innocent until proven guilty so that a person can legitimately occupy public office just like anybody with an impeccable legal and moral record. That is not what the law says. Our constitution in section 35, (3) (h) of the Bill of Rights says that every accused person has the right “to be presumed innocent” until proven guilty by a court of law. That is absolutely not the same as actually being innocent … the person is for the time being neither innocent, nor guilty, but in a position between them as if innocent, until law or disciplinary procedures have taken their course. Such a person therefore is actually under a cloud ethically.”

As we view our principles, what are we justifying as a community, or as an individual in relation to our inaction, our prejudice, our bias, and our forgetfulness of Christ in our living and Christ in our lives?

As we consciously try to become more Christ-like in our world, John Wesley challenges us to:

Do all the good you can,
by all the means you can,
in all the ways you can,
in all the places you can,
at all the times you can,
as long as ever you can
.

Grace,
Gilbert

Womb-Justice

Grace to you

Imagine all of us here today were not quite born yet. Imagine we were still all hanging out in an extra large womb. Imagine we didn’t know who we would be once we were born. We could be any nationality, culture, religion, sexual orientation, gender, colour, age. We could be rich or desperately poor. We could be employed or jobless, with a home or homeless. We could be healthy or sickly. We could be blind or deaf or neither. Now imagine having an opportunity to write the laws for the society that we are about to be born into – but remember – we don’t know who we will be when we take our first breath. What values will you write into law for your future society?

The philosopher, John Rawls answered this question by suggesting that we would always want to secure the best possible situation for those who are in the worst possible position – just in case that person happens to be us. I agree with him. Every time I ask groups of people what they would do – the answer is unanimous: “We want equality. We want justice. We don’t want any super rich and desperately poor. No one must be homeless, etc.” I have yet to meet anyone willing to take the risk of being born into a society of great inequality. No one wants to play “birthing-roulette”. When there is the slightest possibility of us ourselves being at the bottom of society we become very clear on what a just and good society looks like. We become convicted that it is wrong to have a society of rich and poor and we write laws to prevent this.

The challenge is for us to honour the just life we so clearly could see while in the womb. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant by calling us to be “born again” and again and again. Live out of the knowledge of the womb! Jesus also told us that he knows who he will by outside the womb. He tells us he will be the poorest of the poor when he says: “What you do to the least of these you do to me” so another motivating factor for his followers is to write laws that not only protect us if we happen to be at the bottom but to protect Jesus who is already at the bottom.

Scripture is full of laws for society to practice to honour this innate sense of Womb-Justice. Here are a few verses from Leviticus 19: 

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:

9 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest.

10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.

13 You shall not defraud your neighbour; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a labourer until morning.

14 You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling-block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.

15 You shall not render an unjust judgement; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbour.

16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbour: I am the Lord.

33 When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.

34 The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

35 You shall not cheat in measuring length, weight, or quantity.

36 You shall have honest balances, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.

37 You shall keep all my statutes and all my ordinances, and observe them: I am the Lord.

For Womb-Justice,
Alan

Keep on ringing the bells

Ring the Bell Campaign videos to watch:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHqy9TeZd4I.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbZi_hXGQi8

In the tower of Central Methodist Mission in Cape Town there is a massive bell weighing three-and-a-half tons. For safety reasons it has not pealed since the Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887. It was silenced because, when it rang, it shook the foundation stones of the Church and surrounding buildings and consequently threatened their structure. It is now known as the “Silent Bell”.

The Silent Bell is a parable of the church over the centuries. As the church, we are a massive bell that is able to sound across this nation and world, like no other. Truly, there is not a single organisation or institution in the world that exists as we do – everywhere. We have branches in the poorest informal settlements, the most remote rural areas, the biggest cities and wealthiest suburbs. Yet, over the last 2 000 years, we have been largely silent in promoting equality between women and men. Perhaps this is because we know that sounding such a massive bell would not only threaten the structures of society, but would also threaten the very foundations of the male-dominant structures of the church itself.

And, when we have not remained silent, we have all too often spoken in the tone of male patriarchy. The exclusive use of male pronouns when referring to God, mistakenly teaches us that God is male. If God is male then male is God, and if male is God then male is superior. This false sense of superiority is the canvas upon which much women abuse is painted. As men, some of the only Scriptures we know by heart are those that seem to validate this false sense of superiority over women: Eve is jokingly blamed for the fallen state of the world; women should keep quiet during worship; fathers are the head of the household; and wives should submit to their husbands. Some of these Scriptures don’t mean what they seem to mean on the surface and it is convenient not to contextualise them. Some Scriptures do mean exactly what they appear to mean, and yet we have not been brave enough to categorically detach ourselves from them, with God’s precious image.

Women have often been told from the pulpit to “go back and forgive your abusive partner” because the bible says you must forgive, even up to “70×7”. But nowhere in the bible is anyone told to tolerate abuse. To forgive abuse does not mean one should ever have to tolerate its occurrence, or the conditions that make it possible. Nor is forgiveness to be confused with reconciliation. Reconciliation will always require forgiveness, but forgiveness need not conclude reconciliation. Sometimes the journey of forgiveness includes moving on and not returning to how things were before the abuse.

There is a temptation to think that neither the victims of rape, nor the perpetrators of violence against women, are in our places of worship. Yet, they sometimes even sit side by side in our pews week after week. The shame of being abused by one who says “I love you” is enormous. This shame has the power to silence. It is therefore imperative for every religious institution to join the Ring the Bell campaign and, in doing so, to break their silence. Ring the Bell is a global initiative that calls for action from individuals, organisations, and institutions – such as the church. It calls for us to speak out, to sound the bell, when we see and hear violence against women. This means ringing our bells and shaking the foundation that supports the false narrative of superiority and subservience which lies at the heart of gender inequality. We could begin by confessing how our silence and patriarchal tone continues to contribute to the endemic violence by men against women. This confession is long overdue.

On International Women’s Day, 8 March, the Central Methodist Mission hoisted a massive yellow banner up our bell tower in solidarity with all women who have been violated by men. It reads: “Women and men are equal in God’s eyes. So… in whose name do men rape?” We hope people hear it ring.

Prayerfully, Alan