‘You are us.’

Prime Minister of New Zealand:

Jacinda Ardern

 

Photograph: Kirk Hargreaves, Christchurch City Council


Grace and peace to you

As we reflected last Sunday, after calling Herod a fox, Jesus cried: “Jerusalem Jerusalem … how often I have desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…” (Luke 13)

Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern has lived this text into being this past week. In so doing she has shown the world what healthy, wise and strong leadership looks like. Ardern is not reading from a prepared script. She is simply honouring her heart and head – a heart that feels deeply and a head that is deeply thoughtful. Her own grief has set the tone for her nation’s grief. She articulates both her anger at the cause of grief and expresses her gentleness for the grieving. She rightly chooses to keep the spotlight on the loved ones of the deceased rather than the killer.

Ardern’s repeated words to the grieving: “You are us.”, are the most healing words she could possibly say. Spoken with the authority of a surgeon, she sews together with her words the truth that the killer attempted to shatter with his bullets. We are all one. These words at the same time expose the killer’s blindness and the blindness of Islamaphobia as well as all other forms of discrimination.

Without hesitation she has named the instrument (actually it’s an idol) – the gun – that when mixed with fear and hate, causes death on a massive scale. Simply put: she cares more about saving lives than a tiny group of people’s desire to own a firearm.

Prime Minister Ardern is a challenging sign of hope to us all.

Grace,
Alan


A story by Steve Mellon: “A woman approached the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh mostly unnoticed and carefully placed a bouquet of yellow flowers among the branches of a bush near the center’s concrete steps. She then crossed Bigelow Boulevard and sat on a stone retaining wall and wept.

She said she’d lost a family member when a man of hate entered the Tree of Life synagogue in October and gunned down people of faith. Now bullets had shattered lives at two New Zealand mosques.

The flowers and her quiet, anony- mous presence were gestures of solidarity with the Muslim community, she said. When a man at the mosque learned of the woman’s presence, he briefly held his hand to his heart, then crossed the street to chat with her.

Moments later, he guided her back across Bigelow Boulevard, up the concrete steps, and into the center’s lobby. The man offered the woman a chair and introduced her to others then gathering for traditional Friday prayers.

In the sunlit room, people of different faiths gathered in a small circle and shared stories of pain and sadness and strength and hope.”

@Stevemellon412

Plant gardens when others plant bombs

Grace to you

Two weeks back I recommended some Advent-time reading. During Advent-time our imaginations are stretched to include the possibilities of a world where the poor are prioritised and not persecuted and suggested that Tomatoes and Taxi Ranks will help us in this reorientation of our priorities. Advent-time is also most beautifully and powerfully honoured by those who dare to “prefigure” a hoped-for-future in the present. This is wonder-fully captured by a war photojournalist by the name of Lalage Snow in her book: War Gardens – A journey through conflict in search of calm.

Snow honours Advent-time by refusing to deny the horrors of war while at the same time exposing people’s stubbornness against despair as expressed through their daring and caring acts of garden planting.

While interviewing one restorer of gardens in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, Snow got the sense that they “were effectively tidying up after two decades of chaos, the conflict erupting around them and all the trappings which skip alongside war were merely an annoyance rather than an existential threat. The restoration almost belittles the war. It says, ‘OK, you guys carry on fighting, we’ve got more important things to sort out.’ If war is anxious, uncertain and terrifying, gardens are the antithesis. They are solid worlds of hope and life, and their gardeners work at a cognitive distance from violence.”

In another interview, Mohammed Kabir is introduced as a gardener for the Kabul municipality. His garden is mostly for subsistence living – beans, potatoes, okra. Snow writes: “’But what about the flowers?’ I point at the messy square of colour in the middle of the courtyard. ‘Well’, Kabir says, ‘I just decided to bring some seeds from my home and plant them in the courtyard. The soldiers helped me to dig and water. I am an old man,’ he reminds me. I ask him why he would make a garden in the ruins of a forgotten palace where only the military and the ghosts will see it. He looks at me as if I’ve asked him to count up to three. ‘Everyone needs a garden. This is our soil. When you work with it, things grow. It’s nature, life. I am a poor man, sometimes my family and I only eat once a day, but I can live without food; I couldn’t live without seeing green leaves and flowers. They come from heaven. Each one,’ he insists ‘is a symbol of paradise. I have a flower in my garden at home and have counted seventy colours in its petals; tell me that it doesn’t come from heaven!’ he exclaims… ‘Since starting this garden I feel I am getting younger. Every tree, every plant, every flower gives me energy.’

Alexi lives in Donetsk in the Ukraine and declares: ‘Tonight I will sleep in the shelter in the ground like my plants.’ While Hamidullah in Parwan, Afghanistan explains: ‘I had a friend in the army, an officer. He was like a brother to me. He was killed, fighting, about a year and a half ago. I was so sad. I … I couldn’t sleep for grief. I tried to garden to forget him but in the end, I planted to remember him and when one grew, it was like I had a new friend.’

Advent-time is planting a garden when others are planting bombs.

Grace,
Alan

We praise you, God

Invitation to Prayer

God, whose word spoke life and creativity into a formless universe,
and order to a nation of escaped slaves,
whose strong and compassionate voice challenged injustice through frail prophets,
we praise you.

Jesus, whose touch smoothed the broken skin of lepers,
and brought a bleeding woman back to health and belonging,
whose hand raised dead girls, and refused to throw stones at prostitutes,
we praise you.

Spirit, whose breath restores souls and bodies, and whose presence comforts the grieving,
whose fire ignites compassion within us for the healing of the nations,
we praise you.

In the noise of voices calling for revenge, judgement and punishment,
we pray for the courage to speak out for restoration.

When pain, poverty and persecution leave people blind to grace and compassion,
we pray for the courage to carry the light of love and forgiveness.

Where the quest to even the score has left our world angry and wounded,
we pray for the courage to release our grievances and seek wholeness for all.

As you intercede for us, Jesus, we intercede for our world that all may know
the Good News of restoration in Christ.

God of wholeness, we celebrate the healing you bring
to us and our world, and we celebrate the promised
wholeness that awaits all of creation in your eternal reign.

God of restoration, in our blindness and ignorance,
you open our eyes and lead us to truth;

in our arrogance and defiance, you still our souls and teach us humility;
in our weakness and displacement, you protect us and lead us home;
While we deserve only judgement and the heavy burden of paying our debts,
you offer us grace, and the hope of life renewed.

And so we praise you
and thank you,
with all our hearts. Amen.

~ Nicole Terblanche

 

God, love us into loving

Grace and Peace

Utterly Loving God – lover of the world – lover of all of humanity. Please love us into loving.
Your love is without limit.
Your love is faithfully consistent.
Your love is flexible and firm and supple and strong like water – able to flow through or around the failings of those you love: saturating and surrounding our failure with your forgiveness.

Your love is free but it is not cheap. It costs you rather than us, the recipient. We love only because you have first loved us. In our loving your love is ever expanding and stretching and growing.

Your love has no favourites. Your love is for all – yet with special attention on those who need it most because we falsely believe we least deserve it. Like water, your love follows the gravity of our guilt – pooling itself in the lowest parts of our beings – the most desperate and deprived, depraved and debauched areas of our lives – and there your love slowly swirls and invites us to wash – to bathe – to be baptised – to be refreshed and renewed.

We confess we struggle to love. What we call love is often not very loving. Often it is nothing more than petty ego-centric acts of manipulation – brittle and easily offended – all the while being offensive and brutish.

You invite us to love our enemies – yet we even struggle to love our lovers – the people we share a name with … a home, a table, a bed, a past, present and future. We swing between smothering closeness and isolating distance … between caring and controlling. We betray promises – we lie – we break commitments – we slice each other with cold silence. We punish each other with our perfect recall of each other’s mistakes. We judge and we condemn and we hold to ransom. We speak in demands rather than requests. Gentleness forsakes our tone and sometimes our touch. We get bored with each other – stuck in confined corners void of curiosity for each other. Our imagination for something new becomes dull and dead – and the ability to start over seems beyond impossible so we either run away or we cynically settle into our discomfort.

Utterly loving God open us to be loved by you – that you will grow our trust in your love – so that we may be reminded again that we are indeed lovely and lovable. Unless we awaken to this truth of being born in love, by love and for love, you know that we will struggle to love those around us, as we will forever be casting them in our unlovable image.

Utterly loving God, please love us into loving today.
Amen.

Come home

Grace and peace

Gloria Anzaldúa describes 7 spaces or stages on the path of awareness and growth. They don’t necessarily follow in a neat order one after each other – but I find them helpful to locate my constantly changing self on this journey we call life. I especially love the paradoxical nature of the 7th stage. Here they are:

1st Space/Stage: “Rupture, fragmentation…an ending. It is a catalyst, a deeply emotional and spiritual moment of dissonance and disconnection from your established worldview and your established self-view.”

2nd Space/Stage: “Torn between ways … split between before and after … you’re two people … the space in between or in the middle … is the space of seeing multiple, frequently contradictory perspectives having been torn from a comfortable, single, stable story.”

3rd Space/Stage: “Overwhelmed by chaos caused by living between stories you break down descending into the third space – the depths of despair – self-loathing and hopelessness – with the temptation to turn away and deny possibilities and new realities.”

4th Space/Stage: “Here you begin to see the possibilities of rebirth. That nothing is fixed. The pulse of existence, the heart of the universe is fluid. Identity, like a river, is always changing. Like a river downstream, you’re not the same person you were upstream. You begin to define yourself in terms of who you are becoming, not who you have been. This space is the call to action which pulls you out of your depression.”

5th Space/Stage: “Intellectual, emotional and spiritual awareness come together as you critically examine and deconstruct all “shoulds” and imposed stories from the dominant culture. Here the development of a new story takes shape and the process of active transformation is discernable.”

6th Space/Stage: “You offer your ‘new’ story to the world, testing it. When you or the world fail to live up to your ideals you are cast into conflict with yourself and others. What takes a bashing is not so much you but the idea/picture of who you think you are, an illusion you’re hell-bent on protect-ng. This feels like a death-threat on your bodily integrity – a body perceived as a container separating the self from other people and other forms of knowledge. New insights threaten your sense of what’s “real” when it’s up against what’s “real” to the other. But it is precisely this threat that triggers transformation.”

7th Space/Stage: Home as bridge. You realise that ‘home’ is that bridge, the in-between place and of constant transition, the most unsafe of all spaces. Bridging is the work of opening the gate to the stranger, within and without. To step across the threshold is to be stripped of the illusion of safety because it moves us into unfamiliar territory and does not grant safe passage. To bridge is to attempt community, and for that we must risk being open to personal, political, and spiritual intimacy, to risk being wounded. Effective bridging comes from knowing when to close ranks to those outside our home, group, community, nation—and when to keep the gates open.”

Here is a link to a fuller article.

It is good to remember that the word for religion in Latin means link or bridge. Religion is meant to assist us in this bridging work – this home-coming work. It is meant to enable us to occupy unfamiliar spaces and to attempt community.
Grace,
Alan

Grace that won’t let you go

Delayed and cancelled Cape Town trains
are a time bomb waiting to explode.

Grace to you

There are some verses of scripture that are literally bursting with Gospel meaning. They are squeezed full of faith, hope and love. They overflow with justice, mercy and humility. They act as single summaries of all sacred words ever written. They remain ever before us calling us into the depths of living and never to be ticked off the list of completed tasks.

These verses of scripture are more demanding and more haunting than others. Not because they are difficult to comprehend. Rather, because they are so profoundly simple to understand. Their simplicity is what burdens us with the responsibility to act on them because we can’t pretend to not know what they mean. Therefore we have no excuse not to allow them to shape our living. An example of such a verse is when Jesus says: “What you do to the least of these you do to me.” [Matt 25:40].

This verse is easy to understand. It is clear what Jesus is saying: Our action for or against those whom society names or treats as the least is at one and the same time our action for or against Jesus. How we treat the vulnerable and marginalised of society is how we treat Jesus. If we love Jesus and long to honour Jesus we must love the scorned and honour the stigmatised. To ignore the despised is to ignore Jesus. This is true regardless of whether we pray daily with Jesus’ name on our lips.

In response to this we probably need to be reminded of what G.K. Chesterton said about our faith:

“Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

It is difficult! We will need grace upon grace for this journey. Grace that reminds us that we are loved regardless of our struggle to love. Grace forgives our failures inviting us to try and try again. But also the fierce grace that refuses to let us off the hook. As Father Joseph Wresinski writes about grace:

“Grace is God getting hold of you and making you love others to the point of wanting them to be greater than you, better, more intelligent than you. Grace is the love that sees others as equal and wants them to be happier than oneself; that wants others at any price to love fully, with all their heart. It is God who goads us into wanting others to be able to free the world from poverty, and therefore from injustice, war, and hatred. God leads us where we do not want to go. Grace is “more”, knowing that we are not just a distant reflection of God, but that the Lord is permanently present and living in us.”

May this grace get hold of us all,
Alan

 

 

 

 

Fault Lines

Grace and peace to you …

Seismologists are those who study the quakes that occur in the earth — earthquakes. There are many reasons for the occurrence of earthquakes, but one of them is movement along a fault line — or crack underneath the earth’s surface.

Seismologists work to predict earthquakes by tracing the activity of seismic waves or pings of energy that vibrate out as the plates begin to shift along a fault line or crack in the rocky ground beneath us. Throughout the course of human history, prophets have served in this same capacity for the people of God. The voices of the prophets name for us the places in our life together where there are cracks.

On August 9, 1956, 20,000 women marched in opposition to the pass laws in South Africa. They held in their hands over 100,000 signatures opposing this law that would give strength to the Apartheid System that was the fault line of the day — the crack that was killing true community. As the women protested, they sang a song and the words translated to, “Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock.” This phrase now represents the courage and strength of women in South Africa. Today and tomorrow, South Africans will honour all women as we celebrate National Women’s Day.

There are fault lines beneath us in our life together still today. What might the women of 1956 have to say to the reality that 1 in 3 women worldwide will suffer some sort of violence in their lifetime and that more than 57% of the women who are murdered are murdered by a loved one? The women of 1956 demonstrated with their march the need for us to gather around the places where there are cracks in our life together as children of God. Injustices need to be named and work must be done to make right the fault lines that shift beneath our feet.

Question for reflection: Take some time to name the fault lines or cracks that exist in the world around us where injustice exists. What might you do to stand and name these injustices like the women of 1956 and many others throughout the course of history have?

With you on the journey, Michelle

A God of few words

Roy going up Chappies
12/12/1945 — 17/02/2015


Grace and Peace to you

As with last Sunday, today’s Gospel reading resounds with the voice of the Divine. Last week we heard it from on top of a mountain: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” [Mark 9:7] and today we hear it from the Jordan River bank: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” [Mark 1:11].

These are the only two moments in the Gospels that we get to ‘overhear’ Jesus hearing his Heavenly Parent’s voice. The first time is at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Baptism) and the second as Jesus turns his face towards Jerusalem (Cross).

Note the repetitive nature of what is being said. God is a God of few words. It is as if the Divine knows what Jesus needs to know more than anything else, namely, whose child he is and that he is loved.

The other day I asked the new group I am working with at the Carpenter’s Shop which two things they would want their children to remember from them more than anything else. The overwhelming majority of them said: “They must know where they come from/they must know that I am their father … and they must know that I love them … yes I will tell them again that I love them.”

So there we have it. Parents on earth and heaven agree! Knowing who we belong to and that we are beloved is not only vital but it gives our lives grounding validity and purposeful vitality. It is the foundation of faithfulness.

This Lent we are invited to contemplate on the grace-full truth of our belonging and belovedness by the Divine.

Grace, Alan


Prayerful Preparation

“Contemplation cannot construct a new world by itself. Contemplation does not feed the hungry; it does not clothe the naked … and it does not return the sinner to peace, truth, and union with God.

But without contemplation we cannot see what we do in the apostolate. Without contemplation we cannot understand the significance of the world in which we must act. Without contemplation we remain small, limited, divided, partial: we adhere to the insufficient, permanently united to our narrow group and its interests, losing sight of justice and charity, seized by the passions of the moments, and, finally, we betray Christ.

Without contemplation, without the intimate, silent, secret pursuit of truth through love, our action loses itself in the world and becomes dangerous.”

~ Thomas Merton

Jesus is human and divine

Art as Resistance: By Molly Crabapple


Grace and Peace to you

If the incarnation teaches us anything, it is that we will see Jesus’ divinity through his humanity or not at all. Only as we take the human hand of Jesus will we discover by grace that we have been holding the hand of the Divine. To approach Jesus as the Divine without first engaging his humanity will cause us to miss both his humanity and divinity.

Similarly, I am convinced that we would understand the Gospels more fully (or at least differently) if we read scripture as if it were not scripture. I say this because the minute we relate to it as “Holy Scripture” we read with a certain “spiritual” lens. This more often than not tames the passage by uprooting it from its original context. Often it catapults it into a “heavenly” future leaving the earth untouched and untransformed, which is quite the opposite of how the original audience would have received it.

Take for example the psalm equivalent for this Sunday — what is known as The Magnificat from Luke’s Gospel. If we were to come across this in say the Mail and Guardian, surely the words would sound different to reading them in Luke 1:46-55. In the Mail and Guardian the words sound like the radical freedom song it is intended to be.

‘And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant [South Africa], in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

This passage engages with issues which include: the awesome dignity of women; the corrupting quality of wealth and power; the hoped-for liberation of the oppressed and marginalised. These were the themes of Jesus’ childhood instruction from his mom.

Grace, Alan


Advent Prayer of Preparation

We lighted the first candle of Advent,
To signal our watch for the coming of Christ, who will expel the spirit of discontent and bring healing for the nations.

We lighted the second candle of Advent,
To signal our hope for the renewal of creation, which will reveal the image of God and restore harmony with nature.

We lighted the third candle of Advent,
To signal our faith in the triumph of justice, which will expose the folly of pride and magnify purity of heart.

Today we have lighted the last candle of Advent,
To signal our trust in the promise of God, who will establish the reign of love on earth and uphold it with justice and mercy for evermore.

So be it.

Holy Friendship

Grace and peace to you

If we are going to grow in faithfulness in the ways of Jesus – in other words in the ways of truth, gentleness, generosity, forgiveness, justice, purity of heart, humility, mercy and love, we will need help. We will need friends on the journey who will challenge and comfort and convict us at the appropriate times.

Below is an article written by Gregory Jones, the past Dean of Duke Divinity School, on this. He calls it, Holy Friendship. For the full article you can find it at www.faithandleadership.com by clicking on this link: Holy Friendship.

___________________________________________

“Holy friends challenge the sins we have come to love, affirm the gifts we are afraid to claim and help us dream dreams we otherwise would not dream.

It is nice to have friends and acquaintances who challenge sins we already hate; … but it doesn’t make a difference. What we really need are people around us who know us well enough to challenge the sins we have come to love. This is especially important because we often describe those sins we love in ways that make them sound understandable, even virtuous.

We need people who can help challenge the sins we have come to love, but if that is all they do, we most likely won’t enjoy having them around. Who needs a killjoy?

Holy friends also affirm the gifts we are afraid to claim. It is nice to have people affirm gifts we already recognize; such affirmation is flattering – but it is not news … Something transformative happens when someone helps us see potential in ourselves we cannot yet see …

This can be as unnerving as having sins we love pointed out to us. Who wants to lean into gifts we are afraid to claim? After all, isn’t there a reason we are afraid to claim them? Change is hard, but when others illumine hidden potential in our lives, and offer ongoing support as we lean into that potential, we discover hope, and are empowered to embody it.

These friends also help us dream dreams we otherwise would not dream. Sin and brokenness cause our lives and our imaginations to constrict. We don’t aim for much because we are haunted by the past or stuck in the comfortable mediocrity of the present.

Holy friends serve as vehicles of God’s reign to help us set our imaginations free for the future. Who knows what God might have in store for us – as individuals, for our communities, and for initiatives we may not yet have even conceived, much less embodied?

Holy friends help us envision and articulate the significance of Ephesians 3:20: “Now to [God] who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine …” How often do we believe that God’s power is at work within us, not only to accomplish all we can ask or imagine – which itself would be beyond what most of us dream of – but to accomplish “abundantly far more” than all we can ask or imagine?

Yet whether we are thinking of personal dreams – where youth in crisis discover that gangs and prison don’t have to define their lives, that they can become part of a flourishing community and have meaningful education, jobs and families – or institutional dreams – where networks of new institutions re-imagine life together for a city – holy friends help us dream dreams we otherwise would never dream.

In “Change or Die,” Alan Deutschman notes that people rarely change on the basis of the “three F’s”: facts, fear or force. He says it is the “three R’s” that enable people to change: relate, repeat and reframe.

Holy friends offer us ways to reframe our lives through challenging sins, affirming gifts and dreaming dreams. They help us repeat new activities as we lean into a new way of living our daily life, because it takes time to unlearn sin, to learn to claim gifts and to cultivate big dreams. And they offer paradigmatic new forms of relating that enable us to discover the hope to which we have been called.”

May each of us find a Holy Friend. May each of us be a Holy Friend.

Grace, Alan