Suffering of the Ignored

Masiphumelele protesters blocked roads at the weekend, cutting the Cape Town Cycle Tour short.
(Photo: Ryan Johardien, GroundUp)

Grace and peace to you and through you

Last Sunday would have been the 40th Cape Argus Cycle Tour – but at about 6:55 am we were notified that wind had stopped play. There have been enough video clips of cyclists being blown over by the foreshore wind – making us gasp and laugh. A good advert if there ever was one for #WindPower.

An earlier message that most people have forgotten about or may not even have known of, came at 5:39 am: “The cycle tour will be diverted over Glencairn Express Way due to protest action en route. Distance now 78km.” Because of the wind as well as the devastating fire in Imizamo Yethu, Hout Bay, the protest action from some of the residents of Masiphumelele has fallen off the social radar. The unavailability of land, as well as a terrible lack of basic services is the root cause of the rock throwing anger that blocked the cycle route. People are angry because they have not been listened to or taken seriously for years and years. Not only is there enormous suffering which is mostly ignored, but life seems to carry on in a jolly-old-fashioned-way around them … in fact some people – like me – are out riding their bicycles in their very neighbourhood. Surely any reasonable person would snap under such contradictory conditions. As Parker Palmer says: “Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering”.

Take this as a small taste of what life is going to be like in SA for the foreseeable future! The lives of the rich will be constantly disrupted because that is the only way the poor will secure a moment’s attention. And in this country there is no way to re-route every race or event to escape this … and nor should there be.

Saul Alinsky makes a challenging point in his famous book Rules for Radicals:

Concern for our private, material well-being with disregard for the well-being of others is immoral according to the precepts of our Judaeo-Christian civilization, but worse, it is stupidity worthy of the lower animals. …We now live in a world where no man [sic] can have a loaf of bread while his neighbour has none. If he does not share his bread, he dare not sleep, for his neighbour will kill him. To eat and sleep in safety man must do the right thing, if for seemingly the wrong reasons, and be in practice his brother’s keeper. I believe that man is about to learn that the most practical life is the moral life and that the moral life is the only road to survival. He is beginning to learn that he will either share part of his material wealth or lose all of it…

Let’s be clear that the suffering of the people of Masiphumelele is far more demanding of our attention than wind-swept-cyclists.

Grace,
Alan

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/

Jesus is the way

Grace and Peace to you

We are fast approaching Holy Week. As usual we will begin this final week of Lent with the showing of a movie on Palm Sunday evening (29 March). Our Holy Week journey to the Cross and Empty Tomb will include evening reflections on The Jesus Way. The basis for our reflections will be Eugene Peterson’s book entitled: “The Jesus Way” — a conversation on the ways that Jesus is the way.

Peterson writes: “The world as such has no interest in following the crucified King. Not that there isn’t plenty of lip-service offered along the way across a spectrum ranging from presidents to pastors. But when it comes down to an actual way of life, most of the language turns out to be court protocol — nothing to do with the way we actually order our affairs. Those of us who understand ourselves as followers of Jesus seem to be particularly at risk of discarding Jesus’ ways and adopting the world’s ways when we are given a job to do or mission to accomplish, when we are supposed to get something done “in Jesus’ name”. Getting things done is something that the world is very good at doing. We hardly notice that these ways and means have been worked out by men and women whose ambitions and values and strategies for getting things done in this world routinely fail the “in Jesus’ name” test. Once we start paying attention to Jesus’ ways, it doesn’t take us long to realise that following Jesus is radically different from following anyone else.”


During the week of 29 March — 5 April we are invited to be attentive to the intensity of Jesus final days. To help us keep focused, I encourage us to fast during this week. Our fast can take various forms. We could change when we eat, what we eat and how much we eat. The purpose of fasting is not to self-justify ourselves but rather to tune ourselves into the remarkableness of Jesus’ journey.

Grace, Alan

Marked by Ashes

Marked by Ashes

Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the day . . .
This day — a gift from you.
This day — like none other you have ever given,
or we have ever received.
This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness
and possibility.
This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day,
for we are already halfway home
halfway back to committees and memos,
halfway back to calls and appointments,
halfway on to next Sunday,
halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant,
half turned toward you, half rather not.

This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,
but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes —
we begin this day with that taste of ash in our mouth:
of failed hope and broken promises,
of forgotten children and frightened women,
we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;
we can taste our mortality as we roll the ash around
on our tongues.

We are able to ponder our ashness with some confidence,
only because our every Wednesday of ashes
anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.

On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you —
you Easter parade of newness.
Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.
Come here and Easter our Wednesday with
mercy and justice and peace and generosity.

We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.

~ Walter Brueggemann

 

We are grateful to Lee Slabber for the picture.

Wade into the Psalms

Grace and Peace to you

Last week we reflected on the Psalms. Psalm 25 to be specific. We noted that Psalms are better pondered than preached. They are best prayed or sung than read. There is a depth to Psalms that cannot be known, explained or explored by reading them as mere prose. They must be felt to be understood. We need open hearts and not simply alert minds.

They demand that we drill down into the words and not merely brush their letters on the surface. The Psalmist cries “Deep cries to deep”. And that is how it is. We are most often drawn to the Psalms when we find ourselves in the depths. And I can say with confidence that the Psalms will always be able to go the deep distance with us. They will never forsake us to our darkness.

Strange that what brings us comfort through the Psalms (most of them anyway) is not the voice of God addressing us but the voice of the Psalmist addressing God. We find comfort in the rawness of the truth spoken. We find courage in knowing that we are not alone — that another has tread this path before us. The Psalms give us permission to speak what we would otherwise think is unthinkable or blasphemous. This was true for Jesus too who turned to Psalms in his distress from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” [Psalm 22:1].

This Lent we are invited to seek silence — to contemplate our faith and life. This is the cry of Lent to each of us. The Psalms are a wise companion in introducing us to our human condition.

Go on, wade into the Psalms and don’t come out until you are drenched.

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

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

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

Love heals

Sam Nzima

Sam Nzima was born in the town of Lillydale. His father worked as a labourer. While still at school, Sam bought a camera and began taking pictures in the Kruger National Park. When the farmer pressed Nzima into farm labour, he ran away to Johannesburg after nine months of working on the farm. He found a job as a gardener in Henningham. In 1956 Nzima found work as a waiter at the Savoy Hotel. At the hotel a photographer named Patrick Rikotso taught him photography skills. Nzima took portraits of workers. When reading The Rand Daily Mail articles of Allister Sparks, Sam became very interested in photojournalism and, in 1968, he joined The World as a full-time photojournalist.  On 16 June 1976 the Soweto uprising began as police confronted protesting students. Nzima took the photograph of fatally-wounded Hector Pieterson (12) on the corner of Moema and Vilakazi Streets in Orlando West, Soweto, near Phefeni High School. This image depicts an emotional scene of Hector being carried by Mbuyisa Makhubo, with Hector’s sister Antoinette Pieterson (17) right beside them. After “The World” published the photo the next day, Nzima was forced into hiding because of the subsequent police harassment.

_________________________________________

RAMADAN

I encourage you to observe Ramadan this year — or if you are unable to observe the entire month — then choose a day or two per week. I encourage you to join your local Mosque for prayers and the joy of breaking fast together. In this way we affirm the faith tradition of others which is so important in today’s world where different religions are often a source of division and conflict in society.

To participate in another’s faith tradition on their terms, is to do to others as we would have them do to us. It is to affirm their tradition as a means of God’s grace. We must always remember that the Christian faith does not have a monopoly on God’s grace. I firmly believe that we have so much to learn about the discipline of prayer and fasting from our Muslim faith family that we will be the richer for this experience.

The Holy month of Ramadan begins on 29 June. The fast from water, food and sex begins from sunlight (Sehri 06:18) until sunset (Iftaar 17:50). These times will get earlier (Sehri) and later (Iftaar) as the month progresses. By the last day of Ramadan Sheri is at 06:10 and Iftaar is at 18:06.

My hope is that during our fast we will grow in compassion and mercy for those who are hungry on a daily basis — those who are forced to fast due to poverty. My hope is that during Ramadan we will have a heightened concern for the well-being of the community as we make more time for prayer and deeper devotions and courageous acts of compassion and justice.

Abstention for long hours can be very hard physically and spiritually. However, by the end of the long month you should feel cleansed and with a renewed spirit. Ramadan is an ideal time to break bad habits, to re?ect on one’s personality and character — just as we are encouraged to do during Lent. Those who fast but make no change to their lives except delaying a meal cannot really expect to become any different in their behaviour during or after Ramadan. In many ways, this is a wasted fast.

I invite you to journey through Ramadan with two passages of Scripture. May these scriptures be for us a window through which we can see and reflect on our experience. Every morning and evening let us read Isaiah 58 and Matthew 2:1-11.

Strength for the fast!

 _________________________________________

From Maria Popova : @Brainpicker

In the winter of 1969, shortly after a young woman he considered one of his brightest and most promising students committed suicide, Leo Buscaglia decided to deal with the flurry of confusion by starting an experimental class at the University of Southern California where he taught, exploring the most essential elements of existence — ”life, living, sex, growth, responsibility, death, hope, the future.” The obvious common tangent, “the only subject which encompassed, and was at the core of all these concerns,” was love. So he simply called his course “Love Course.” While some of his fellow faculty members dismissed the subject as “irrelevant” and mocked its premise, it later became one of the most popular classes at the university.

One of Buscaglia’s repeated points was how when we label people we cannot love them…

“How many kinds have not been educated just because someone pinned a label on them somewhere along the line? Stupid, dumb, emotionally disturbed. I have never known a stupid child. Never! I’ve only know children and never two alike. Labels are distancing phenomena. They push us away from each other. Black man. What’s a black man? I’ve never known two alike. Does he love? Does he care? What about his kids? Has he cried? Is he lonely? Is he beautiful? Is he happy? Is he giving something to someone? These are the important things. Not the fact that he is a black man or Jew or … Labels are distancing phenomena — stop using them! And when people use them around you, have the gumption and the guts to say, “What and who are you talking about because I don’t know any such thing.” … There is no word vast enough to begin to describe even the simplest of man. But only you can stop it. A loving person won’t stand for it. There are too many beautiful things about each human being to call him a name and put him aside.”

On this Father’s Day and about to be Youth Day let us ask to be cleansed of all the labels we pin on one another — not least the labels we pin onto members of our own families.

Grace, Alan

It is time to confess

No more excuses!

“Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”

Hebrews 12:2

 

On Wednesday I received the following note from a friend of mine: “Not entirely sure what the appropriate wish for Ash Wednesday is … but I hope that time of reflection will bring insight, inspiration and passion.”

It is true, we are not entirely sure what the appropriate wish for Ash Wednesday is. “Happy Ash Wednesday”, just doesn’t sound right. Especially after one has just been marked with ash and told: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return – turn from your sin and be faithful to Christ.” Not even Cardies has figured out how to commercialise Ash Wednesday. I guess they figured there isn’t a market for cards that remind you that you are a piece of dirt.

And yet it is only when we are able to recognise our “nothingness” that we will be able to grasp the greatness of God’s grace. Until then we may be under the illusion that we deserve it or have somehow achieved it.

We acknowledge our nothingness, not with despair but in secure trust as we remember that in the beginning God created the cosmos “out of nothing”. So together with the psalmist we boldly request, “create in me a clean heart O God” (Ps 51). As we admit we are dirt we remember with confidence that “God formed humanity from the dust of the ground” (Gen 1:7). We may be dust – but in God’s hands even dust is filled with precious potential.

Ash Wednesday and Lent that follows, is not about beating up on oneself, but rather it invites us to be honest about who we truly are. After all who of us cannot join Paul in saying about ourselves: “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Rom 7:19)?

Were it not for God’s compassion, our acts of confession would have no value. It is precisely because of God’s mercy, evident nowhere so vividly as in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus, that we are able to summon the courage to acknowledge our fault and ask forgiveness. We ask for forgiveness knowing that we have already been forgiven in advance – it is called grace. In fact to know that forgiveness is a free available gift is what emboldens us to ask for forgiveness in the first place. To do so under any other conditions would be to take a foolish risk. The order of our prayers: “Lord make me to know your love, so that as I grow to know myself I will know that your love covers the full multitude of my knowing”.

This Lent I invite you to confess your sin. To confess is to explore the real reality of who we are in the trusted and loving presence of another. Our sin consists of every love-less, truth-less, gentle-less, generous-less, just-less area of our lives. Only when we dare to plumb our depths will we appreciate the depths of God’s love.

Grace, Alan

Forty

Our society attaches numbers to their numerical value. In a time gone by, numbers also had deep symbolic value. The number – or ‘symbol’ – 40 is of great importance in the bible. It’s the amount of days that make up lent, and it also happens to be the period in weeks that a mother goes through pregnancy. Surely this is not a coincidence. Or is it?