Face truth!

Friends,

Last week we reflected on the harrowing story of Hagar. We included a picture of George Segal’s sculpture of Abraham’s embrace of Ishmael as he and his mother Hagar were about to begin their journey of banishment.

Here is a photo of another sculpture by the same artist. I alluded to this sculpture during our CMM Chat last Sunday. Here is a little history about this sculpture:

“George Segal, who taught sculpture at Princeton from 1968 to 1969, was commissioned in 1978 by Kent State University to create a memorial to the four students killed by members of the National Guard during an antiwar demonstration on their campus. Segal found a metaphor for the tragedy in the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac. In Segal’s version, Abraham, dressed in contemporary clothing, looms over a college-aged Isaac, who is stripped of his shirt and bound with rope. Kent State University officials refused it, interpreting it as a politically volatile depiction of murder. According to Segal, however, this group misunderstood the memorial: the theme, in Segal’s words, was “the eternal conflict between adherence to an abstract set of principles versus the love of your own child.” Segal selected Princeton’s site for the sculpture, near the University Chapel, to reinforce the work’s biblical associations.” 

This sets the scene for our discussion on Sunday regarding Abraham’s decision to sacrifice and then not to sacrifice his son Isaac as recorded in Genesis 22:1-14. As we engage the ancient text we are asked to reflect on our understanding of the passage in the light of Jesus and his teachings. The primary question we always ask is: Would Jesus say ‘amen’ to our interpretation or not? Then as we move to our present context we ask how children continue to be sacrificed in the name of “god” or “abstract sets of principles”.

In our reflections I invite you to read the short story entitled: The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin. This story is disturbing. As disturbing as Abraham considering to sacrifice Isaac. This story was written in the early 1970s but is even more true today. Let us ask ourselves: How is this story true today? I include links to the story and a brief commentary.

This may be all too much for us to hold, but we dare not turn our face away from the truth of things. Our liberation and healing rests in facing the truth. To help us stand in the presence of the traumatising truths of our living I invite you to lean into Psalm 13 – the set psalm for this week. The psalm is one of lament. Lament is risky speech. Lament is speaking the unspeakable. It is to voice the terrifying truth. It is in no way doubtful speech. Rather it is determined and demanding. The Deliverer must now deliver! The psalmist demands that grief stops leading the dance of life.

The psalm is a mere six verses. The first four verses (the majority of verses) voice the isolation, pain of the soul, sorrow of the heart, diminishment of being and overall deathliness of life. Followed by two verses of praise. Is this a sign that the psalmist has turned the corner? Does it mean the Deliverer has in fact delivered? If so, how long did it take the psalmist to move from verse 4 to verse 5? Or are the last two verses of the psalm the psalmist’s act of defiance and resistance? Perhaps there has been no change and no deliverance. In this case the psalmist is hanging on to the side of a cliff with just two fingers (verses). Hanging on for dear life. Somehow holding onto praise with bare fingertips…? Like the ones who walk away from Omelas.

If you would like the link for the 11h11 CMM Chat on Sunday – please email welcome@cmm.org.za

Grace,
Alan

The Story of Hagar

This Sunday at 11:11 we will reflect together on the story of Hagar. For this reason I’ve added Genesis 16 to be read first and in conjunction with Genesis 21:1-21 for the fuller story.

I invite you to read Hagar’s story as for the first time. Try and set aside all previous interpretations. Be aware of your feelings as well as the questions that arise for you. One question to ask is: what would Jesus feel and say about Hagar’s story? And furthermore, where is Jesus in the story?  How does this story relate to the horror of gender-based violence today?

The scripture readings for this Sunday are:

Genesis 16; Genesis 21:1-21; Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39

Email welcome@cmm.org.za for the Zoom link.

Grace, Alan

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

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 Gift of Religious Diversity

Grace and peace to you and through you

One of the most beautiful things about Cape Town is the healthy religious diversity that flourishes among us. For some of us this religious diversity is planted within our own households. This is to be celebrated and cherished. To discover and learn from others what for them is sacred is a crucial part in honouring their humanity and loving them as our neighbour. This is especially so as we have just entered the month of Ramadan – a sacred time to Muslims of fasting for inner spiritual attunement.

At our Synod two weeks ago we were addressed by Mr Ebrahim Rhoda from the Strand Muslim community who shared with us a brief historical overview of the Strand Muslim community from between 1822 – 1966. In his talk he brought to our attention the relationship that early Methodists had with the early Muslim community. Some of the statements from the Methodist and other Christian clergy make you want to hide in shame. One missionary declared: “It has been my endeavour, within my humble sphere, to check this growing evil, but generally without success.” Another says, “With few exceptions they follow either a base, sinful course of life, or are ensnared by the awfully prevalent delusion of Mohammedanism.” From this we are reminded that we are often tempted to speak of another’s religion in the least charitable terms while taking a most generous view of our own. This is fueled by blind passion, hidden insecurity or both.

Rhoda also spoke of the great cooperation between Methodists and Muslims. One such story of collaboration resulted from a fishing disaster in which both Muslims and Methodists drowned. And from this we are reminded that shared suffering is often the knife that cuts through our shallow differences awakening us to our shared unity. Only when we know a person’s deepest hurt can we say that we know them.

There is a story of how Francis of Assisi (1181? – 1226) who rejected the call for war and instead during the Fifth Crusade went to meet Al-Kamil, a Kurdish ruler and Sultan of Egypt. His original intension was to convert the Sultan to Christianity but he left their time together with a profound sense that the Muslim Sultan was a person of God. Francis thereafter instructed his fellow monks to live at peace with Muslims with no need to convert them.

In these days where difference is often the basis for division may we learn to do difference differently. May difference be a lens through which we can learn and grow. And may we come to experience the mystery of how difference awakens us to our oneness at our depths.

In this may we hear Jesus say, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” and a minute later he says, “They who keep my commandments are those who love me.” [John 14: 15 & 21]

Grace, Alan

What concerns Christ?

Grace and Peace to you …

This past week I have been attending Synod in Stellenbosch. Let’s just say the idea of attending Synod does not set me on fire with enthusiasm, yet every year it never ceases to be a gift. Synod is a gift in that it reminds me that I belong to the Church universal – a very LARGE body, and not merely the local church. Synod is a gift in how it connects me to the experiences of joy and suffering of others who live the Gospel in contexts that I am ignorant of. Synod is a gift in that it reminds me of my calling and holds me accountable to the promises I have made.

Synod begins with a “witness” service. Here we listen to the faith stories of the ordinands as they prepare to take their final steps towards ordination. Thanks to load-shedding the service began in darkness. Then a child came forward and lit a candle with the words: “Jesus said to his disciples ‘I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’”. Nothing else needed to be said!

During the first ordinand’s testimony (while he was making a powerful point!) the lights came back on. Besides being humourous it was a beautiful reminder of what happens when we honour the way of Jesus. I was reminded that when we honour the way of Jesus the lights come on that enable us to see one another. As the lights came on, I found myself looking around seeing the people around me who up until that point I had not been able to see. Jesus’ presence helps us to see each other – to really recognise each other. Our eyes were opened.

The next morning we began by “answering the questions”. This is a solemn moment when we stand before each other to reaffirm our faith, calling and discipleship of Jesus. Some of the questions jump out at me: “Will you continue to be faithful in prayer, in the reading and study of the Holy Scriptures and with the hold of the Holy Spirit continually rekindle the gift of God that is in you?” We reply: “I will God being my helper”. “Will you commit yourself to God’s mission in the world, seeking in this context to bring healing and reconciliation, justice with peace and empowerment to the poor and marginalised. “I will God being my helper”. And then in closing, “Remember that you are called to serve rather than be served … and to look after the concerns of Christ above all.“ This last line really klapped me: My primary concern is to be concerned about Christ’s concerns!

Then we close with the following commitment: “We accept the responsibility of our call out of love for the Lord Jesus … we are resolved to unite ourselves more closely to Christ and to try to become more like him…”

These questions and these answers are not only for clergy, but they are for all followers of Jesus. Therefore your primary concern is to be concerned about Christ’s concerns too! So best we start asking: “What concerns Christ?”

Grace, Alan

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

Contemplation

André Brink died this week.

 A Dry White Season – André Brink

“I had never been so close to death before.
For a long time, as I lay there trying to clear my mind, I couldn’t think coherently at all, conscious only of a terrible, blind bitterness. Why had they singled me out? Didn’t they understand? Had everything I’d gone through on their behalf been utterly in vain? Did it really count for nothing? What had happened to logic, meaning and sense?
But I feel much calmer now. It helps to discipline oneself like this, writing it down to see it set out on paper, to try and weigh it and find some significance in it.
Prof Bruwer: There are only two kinds of madness one should guard against, Ben. One is the belief that we can do everything. The other is the belief that we can do nothing.
I wanted to help. Right. I meant it very sincerely. But I wanted to do it on my terms. And I am white, and they are black. I thought it was still possible to reach beyond our whiteness and blackness. I thought that to reach out and touch hands across the gulf would be sufficient in itself. But I grasped so little, really: as if good intentions from my side could solve it all. It was presumptuous of me. In an ordinary world, in a natural one, I might have succeeded. But not in this deranged, divided age. I can do all I can for Gordon or scores of others who have come to me; I can imagine myself in their shoes, I can project myself into their suffering. But I cannot, ever, live their lives for them. So what else could come of it but failure?
Whether I like it or not, whether I feel like cursing my own condition or not — and that would only serve to confirm my impotence — I am white. This is the small, final, terrifying truth of my broken world. I am white. And because I am white I am born into a state of privilege. Even if I fight the system that has reduced us to this I remain white, and favored by the very circumstances I abhor. Even if I’m hated, and ostracized, and persecuted, and in the end destroyed, nothing can make me black. And so those who are cannot but remain suspicious of me. In their eyes my very efforts to identify myself with Gordon, with all the Gordons, would be obscene. Every gesture I make, every act I commit in my efforts to help them makes it more difficult for them to define their real needs and discover for themselves their integrity and affirm their own dignity. How else could we hope to arrive beyond predator and prey, helper and helped, white and black, and find redemption?
On the other hand: what can I do but what I have done? I cannot choose not to intervene: that would be a denial and a mockery not only of everything I believe in, but of the hope that compassion may survive among men. By not acting as I did I would deny the very possibility of that gulf to be bridged.
If I act, I cannot but lose. But if I do not act, it is a different kind of defeat, equally decisive and maybe worse. Because then I will not even have a conscience left.
The end seems ineluctable: failure, defeat, loss. The only choice I have left is whether I am prepared to salvage a little honour, a little decency, a little humanity — or nothing. It seems as if a sacrifice is impossible to avoid, whatever way one looks at it. But at least one has the choice between a wholly futile sacrifice and one that might, in the long run, open up a possibility, however negligible or dubious, of something better, less sordid and more noble, for our children…”

____________________________

There are so many aspects of this piece from A Dry White Season that deserve our attention, but I would like us to pay attention to Brink’s ability at pay attention. His insight into himself and his relationships as well as the socio-political history and immediate context in which he lived is piercingly insightful. This does not come easily or quickly. It comes as a result of the longest of journeys — the journey within.

Socrates said: “The unexamined life is not worth living”. The journey of self-examination demands much contemplation (as Thomas Merton invites); as well as great courage to connect with others who see the world from a different angle to ourselves. And because they see from a different angle they will help us to see shadows where we only see light and help us to see light where we only see shadows.

The season of Lent more than any other invites us on this journey of self-examination. In other words, Lent calls us to deepen our contemplation and stretch our connections with others. This is not easy and nor can it be rushed but it is essential if we want to live life in ways that honour Jesus.

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

God’s foolishness

In protest over the commercialisation of Christmas Art, Conrad placed a Father Christmas on a 5m high cross in front of his home with the inscription: “Santa died for your Master Card”. That is quite a statement. But one thing we can be sure of is that Santa will never be enough of a threat to be crucified by the powers that be. The mascots of money are courted not crucified.


Grace and Peace to you

“Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? … For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” [1 Corinthians 1:20]

Yes I know Paul was speaking about the Cross when he penned these words but they are equally true about the “foolish” birth of Jesus. Paul continues: “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.” [1 Corinthians 1:27-28].

What a foolish God this is to choose to be born into poverty within a country under hostile occupation. Jesus needed saving before he could start his saving work. A refugee child on the run is how Jesus’ life began.

What a foolish God this is to choose to be born as a “nobody”. I mean, why not come as someone powerful or at least popular? Someone who could “get the message out” far and wide? One who had access to important people with money and who could influence the real decision-makers?

 What a foolish God indeed.

As it was in the beginning so it was with Jesus’ birth. God specialises in creating out of nothing. All through scripture we see God doing wonders with so-called nobodies. Now this is affirming news when we feel like nobodies and it is also a reminder that the Divine more often than not comes to us from the unwanted margins of society. Those ignored and maligned, downtrodden and forgotten are who God uses to turn this world right-way-up. Christmas invites us to take our lead from the despised and marginalised.

Grace, Alan


Prayer of Preparation

CHRIST THE HUMBLE CHILD AMONG US
Humble child of Bethlehem, whose parents found no room in the inn,
we pray for all who are homeless.

Humble child of Bethlehem, born in a stable,
we pray for all who live in poverty.

Humble child of Bethlehem, rejected stranger,
we pray for all who are lost, alone, all who cry for loved ones.

Humble child of Bethlehem, whom Herod sought to kill,
we pray for all who live with danger, all who are persecuted.

Humble child of Bethlehem, a refugee in Egypt,
we pray for all refugees throughout the world.

Humble child of Bethlehem, in you God was pleased to dwell,
help us, we pray, to see the divine image in people everywhere. Amen.

David Blanchflower 1987

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.