The greatest love story

Grace to you

The Bible is a love story. A love story about the Great Lover of the Universe who is in love with every particle of life. A love story about those who carry the potential to love just as the Great Lover of the Universe loves, yet who sadly settle for substitutes that promise nourishment but leave us more hungry. A love story about the radical interconnection of all that is alive, reminding us that if one part suffers, then all parts will eventually suffer. Sadly this love story has been interpreted by some throughout the ages in ways that lead to the diminishment, destruction and death of Life, rather than the Great Lover’s hope of this story guiding us all to an abundance of Life in all its fullness.

Instead of affirming the sacredness of all of life, the Bible has been interpreted by some to proclaim the superiority of some aspects of life over others. Think of how some have turned to the scriptures to support the supremacy of “their group” over another: White people superior to black people. Men superior to women. Colonial nations superior to invaded nations. Straight people superior to LGBTI people. Healthy people are superior to people who are ill. Christians superior to people of other religions or no religion. The list could go on! In each case scripture is used to validate discrimination and bless the lie that some are superior and others are inferior, normally for the sake of securing unjust privilege and power.

In each of these cases the struggle for justice and equality (which is how love is incarnated in a society) is made all the more difficult to attain because the perpetrators or beneficiaries of the discrimination believe they are being obedient to God and therefore acting righteously rather than sinfully. History has shown that eventually the Christian Church is called to humble itself in confession and declare: “we were wrong when we thought we were right”.

Another such interpretation of Scripture that may well be the most sinful (read: deathly) of all interpretations is that humanity is superior to all other creatures and life forms. This interpretation has served to validate humanities exploitation of all life on the planet. Calling what is selfish greed a divine blessing. It has promoted the lie that we are independent from the rest of life on the planet. This interpretation has also blinded humanity from the gruesome truth that we are the most destructive animal that has ever existed on the planet and that if we ceased to exist tomorrow, all of life would flourish as a result thereafter.

In this light I refer you to an article that hopefully will humble our opinion of ourselves as a species:

“The bees have been declared the most important living beings on this planet, the Earthwatch Institute concluded in the last meeting of the Royal Geographical Society of London. However, according to wildlife experts and scientists, the bees have joined the endangered species long list.

The recent studies show a dramatic decline of the bees’ number as almost 90 percent of the bee population has disappeared in the last few years. The uncontrolled use of pesticides, deforestation or lack of flowers are the main reasons for their extinction.

However, why would such a little being be named the most important creature on Earth? Well, the answer is actually more simple than you ever thought. Seventy percent of the world’s agriculture depends exclusively on bees. Needless to mention the pollination is the bees’ job, although the plants would not be able to reproduce, therefore the fauna would have been gone in a very short time. More than that, a study … concluded that the bees are the only living being who does not carry any type of pathogen.

After all, Albert Einstein’s say about bees has never been truer. “If the bees disappear, humans would have 4 years to live,” the famous physicist said.

Since the bees’ importance is crucial in our planet’s ecosystems and they’ve also been declared an endangered species, we really need to be as careful as possible on the matter. And we need to act quickly as we still have some solutions.”
The Science Times July 2019, by Chardynne Joy H. Concio

Grace,
Alan

 

Power, Permission and Non-Violence

As a human race, in our unaware state driven by a fear of being separate from Love, we organise ourselves around power. This plays out on a societal level with the combination of power and bias creating the violent oppression of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, xenophobia and so on. The effects of living with this oppression are far reaching, many of which cannot even be discerned because the dynamic is so familiar, it seems real and true. The extent to which people question that reality and choose to live a different one, is generally the extent to which they are isolated, rejected, resisted, shunned, blamed, maimed or killed.

Other systems of oppression we live in today are perhaps quite subtle, feeling like the norm of our day and age—materialism, consumerism, capitalism… where the currency used to stay in the in group is performance, drivenness, social media presence, greed, attention and a pursuit of more, bigger, better, faster and newer. 

Most of us are seduced in one way or another daily, and are not even aware of it. Red push notifications from the apps on a phone, designed to grab your attention and keep you coming back for more; marketing and advertising convincing you of a need you didn’t know you had, and the resultant answer to that need which is something you didn’t know existed; Netflix series episodes rolling from one into the next before you’ve had time to press stop.

Further still are the daily oppressive beliefs we have of what makes us worthy of love and belonging, whether that be our looks, our ability to succeed or produce, the number of people who like us or praise us, our need to be perfect or to stand out… Not only do we face oppressive systems on the outside with their deathly effects, we hand our personal power over to some violent value judgment that leaves us in a place of anxiety, shame, anger, despair or depression.

At the same time, there is another Way in this world, a way that comes from a different place, from Love, a belief of Oneness. It is a voice of permission. Permission to Be. Be exactly who you are. In the words of one who is speaking Truth to systems of oppression in our day, Brenè Brown, “Imperfect and enough”.

What does permission look like for each of us today? Permission to question a system, protocol or expectation of us from outside ourselves, or become curious about the voice of the critic within that leaves us with a sense of unworthiness. Permission to feel all our feelings, to be different, to not conform, to have boundaries, to pull aside into stillness, silence, solitude. Permission to connect with a different Way, to connect with non-violent teachers such as nature, children, animals, art, dance, music. Permission to take a break from the intensity of social media and news, or hurtful, burdening or unhelpful conversations. Permission to acknowledge our needs, get to know them, express them, and put time, effort, and resources into meeting them. Give permission to the different parts of ourselves that are looking for expression, acceptance and love to be witnessed.

When we know the freedom, joy and life that that permission produces in us, we will be compelled, enCOURAGEd to work for it for those around us who are struggling to see or access a reality outside of the system. Because we are One, my freedom and well-being is inextricably linked to the freedom and well-being of all.

May we grow more and more confident in the Power of Love.
Catherine

 

 

Reclaim the city

A letter from the co-ordinating committee of Reclaim the City and all residents at Cissie Gool House to the Mayor of Cape Town:

“Dear Mayor Dan Plato,

On Tuesday 6 August 2019 at 2pm you will meet with the rest of the City of Cape Town Mayoral Committee to discuss the future of occupied Cissie Gool House in Woodstock and make a decision whether you will evict us. We want to explain why that would be a terrible decision.

You will remember that we first occupied public buildings in early 2017 when former Premier Helen Zille refused to stop the sale of the Tafelberg site, one of the last parcels of state land in Sea Point. You were in her cabinet at the time.

Since then many promises have been made to redistribute well-located state land for affordable housing. Most have been broken or delayed. It’s still true to say that no new affordable public housing has been built in the inner city and surrounds or any well-located area since the end of apartheid.

As a result, we are now hundreds living at Cissie Gool House and thousands in our occupations across the inner city and surrounds.

We are ordinary families forced to take extraordinary steps to avoid being evicted and displaced by a property system and economic model that does not work for us. We are those who can no longer pay exorbitant rents and rates. We are those who have witnessed our streets and heritage slowly ruptured by racially segregated and exclusive housing projects for the wealthy. We are those who are tired of living in shacks with temporary poor quality services and no land security. We are those who can no longer make the dangerous and delayed journeys by public transport to find work or keep our jobs.

An attempted eviction of residents at Cissie Gool House will be the biggest in the inner city since the destruction of District Six. So let us be clear. Like the generation who came before us we will be forced to resist. We have nowhere else to go.

We know the law well because we defend our members from eviction every day. The courts are aware that you have failed in your mandate to deliver affordable housing in well-located areas. Now you have cancelled the few commitments you did make. The courts know you do not have any alternative accommodation available for even one evictee let alone all of us who would be made homeless. The courts know you have resorted to offering four pieces of zinc and some wooden poles to erect a shack in a backyard because your unjust relocation camps are full. We will never go there.

The law requires meaningful engagement before a decision to evict is made. We want to engage with you because we want to realise something much greater than just a roof over our heads: We have a vision of an inclusive, just and equal city for all poor and working-class people. We have a vision for what dignified affordable housing could be and we have started to build that right here and now.

In this old broken hospital, we have built a community that we are proud of with the little resources we have. We are newborn babies, we are students, we are elderly and we are disabled people. We are a community that celebrates birthdays, marriages and deaths across race and religion. A community where we feed those who are hungry from our gardens.

We have written to you but you’ve refused to meet. Even the slum lords have the decency to look their tenants in the eye before they evict them.

So, we are asking you again to come and visit us at the occupation before you decide to evict. Come listen to why we are living here, learn about what we have achieved so far, and think about what might be possible if you work together with residents.

Do the right thing this time. Show your commitment to advancing spatial justice by saving Cissie Gool House.

Regards,
The co-ordinating committee of Reclaim the City and all residents at Cissie Gool House.”

PSALM 82

O Merciful and Just Watcher,
You take your place in the divine council;
in the realm of conscience, You make yourself known.

You give due warning to those in power: “How long will you rule with injustice
and oppress the poor?
Act with integrity toward the weak
and the unfortunate;
maintain the rights of the afflicted
and the destitute.
Assist the needy
and reverence all people’s freedom; deliver them from the hand of the oppressor.”

Arise! Awaken to the new dawn!
Come into the Light;
shed darkness like skin on the snake!
For the foundations of the cosmos are shaking with injustice.

I say, “Within you dwells the Beloved,
the Breath of your breath;
Open your heart in the Silence and
know the One in the many.”

Arise! Join in the new creation!
Let harmony reign among all the nations

Nan C. Merrill ~ Psalms for Praying

“To Love. To be loved.
To never forget your own insignificance.
To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you.
To seek joy in the saddest places.
To pursue beauty to its lair.
To never simplify what is complicated or complicate
what is simple.
To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch.
To try and understand.
To never look away. And never, never to forget.”

– Arundhati Roy, The End of Imagination

 

In love, by love, for love

Grace to you

The line in love, by love, for love, is Central Methodist Mission’s (CMM) key phrase. I am not sure that I fully understand what it means, but I think attending CMM has opened for me the possibility for a different type of engagement with God, my faith and love.

Seeking God in a church or faith community often comes with a desire for certainty. We want some rules, mantras, guidance and explanations of how to live our lives. We hope for some assurance that tragedy will not strike us if we are believers and that believing will explain to us tragedies we have experienced. Many people think belonging to a church makes them different or better human beings.

None of that holds true if one engages the phrase in love, by love and for love.

God’s love is most elegantly experienced in the chaos it occasions. It has transformative power if we embrace it with the willingness to experience uncertainty. Exploring the Bible, we find many examples where God’s love unsettles the norms, the establishment, the existing ‘way of doing things’. The stories we read are hardly ever about certainty or predictability but more often about surprise and wonder. The gospels where Jesus heals sick people and performs miracles are not only transforming the physical health of the healed person, but it transforms the understanding of love and acceptance of others. It questions a system that allowed it to dehumanise people because of their gender, health issues or societal status. Love is at the centre – God is love. So scriptures are not a moral compass telling us how to live our lives but offer us the experience of transformative love.

The most practical example where I experience this transformative, embracing and chaotic love is as a parent. My experience as a mother is that this little human being creeps into every inch of my physical and mental space. Having a child evokes all sorts of feelings from pain, deep introspection, doubt and anger to absolute joy and unimaginable wonder. The love for my child makes me do things I haven’t dreamt of and has turned my world upside down. In Matthew 18:2-4, Jesus says “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” I believe that this scripture is not only about the innocence of children as many interpret this section. I think it is about the ability to love and be loved in an absolute transformative yet uncertain way. Children have the ability to love us entirely as we are. They don’t have doubts or questions if and why they should love us and what to do to show their love. They just love.

A friend of mine elegantly summarised what I have learned at CMM: believing in God is about embracing the many possibilities occasioned by love – those might be traumatic, chaotic or joyous. Believing in God liberates one to engage with all those possibilities. It allows for the embrace of uncertainty. And only in the uncertainty can wonder emerge, possibility grow and love thrive.

Carolin

To love. To be loved.

Grace and peace to you

On the 8th May 2019 we will be casting our vote in the 6th national general elections. We tend to think that this is the most important part of our democratic process, as if it begins and ends with this one day. As democracies mature however, there is a reduction in voter turnout. There are many reasons for this behaviour: apathy, disenfranchisement, discontent, maladministration, electoral fraud and the plethora of mind blowing choices of political parties that confront the voter on the election ballot. We will have a choice of 48 national parties on 8 May!

All these factors contribute to feelings of disconnection and disengagement. It reinforces continued racist behaviours and intensifies polarisation. Political differences are seen as negative and destructive and not affirmative and constructive. There is increasing anger about unrealistic election promises from politicians. We are confronted with populist electioneering. The current rhetoric largely focuses on blaming, blatant xenophobia, hate speech and othering those who we assume will be making different choices to ‘us’.

Let us draw upon the wisdom of Arundhati Roy who reminds us “To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you.” So, where is love during the elections? How do we make a place for love in the elections? How do we let love into the election season? How can we think about and be present to the welfare of our entire democracy and not let it be reduced to election day?

It is very difficult to choose between parties we don’t think consider the needs of all the people in this country or care about the most pressing concerns facing us: poverty alleviation, economic transformation, jobs, education, safety and security for all people, climate change, sanitation, water, electricity, healthcare, and land reform to name a few. We need to complexify our thinking about the election and not simplify it. When we simplify issues we make our ‘created’ borders even smaller, more rigid, more inflexible and this is at a great cost to the spirit of democracy. We should remain vigilant, nourish and protect all our institutions of democracy every day and not just on election day or during election season. Corruption and maladministration steal from our poorest and most vulnerable citizens. We need to continue to fight unjust laws and hold all politicians, state officials and ourselves to account. We need to work hard to understand how the legacies of coloniality and apartheid contribute and shape our deeply unequal society.

Love is connection, it requires deep engagement, and a willingness to sit with unease and uncertainty. We need to act in the spirit of compassion as people who have a deep desire to change South Africa and the world. We need to engage in activities that break down walls and allow justice to come. We should be engaging in opportunities to connect with passion, positivity, and with life affirming actions, on election day and the many days before and the many days after. We do this so that love, courageous, pain shifting, all-encompassing love, can be revealed in our journeys with each other…

With love, Rose-Anne and Brandan

 

 

‘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

Psalms that awaken the heart

Grace to you

Today we are going to reflect on Psalm 1. It is therefore as good a time as any to make a commitment to read the whole Psalter – starting today with one psalm a day for the next 150 days.

To accompany us on the journey I can’t recommend highly enough Nan C. Merrill’s book: Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness. She has translated all 150 psalms with poetic and theological brilliance. She helps us see the word through her feminist and non-violent lens. Here is the preface to her book:

“Who among us has not yearned TO KNOW the Unknowable? For most, these moments are fleeting glimpses that may last a lifetime; in some, a Fire is kindled and life becomes a quest to live in Holy Surrender; and though fewer in number, saints dwell among us who know the Beloved, who aspire simply to co-create in harmony with the One, who is Love and Light and Power. To cherish the Beloved as you are cherished is to live in a mutual bonding that calls for action.

The Psalms have ever been a response to these deep yearnings: cries of the soul … songs of surrender … paeans of praise. The Psalms of the Hebrew Scripture often reflect a patriarchal society based on fear and guilt that projects evil and sin onto outer enemies. Psalms for Praying reflects the reciprocity of Divine Love that opens the heart to forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing. Affirming the life-giving |fruits of love and acknowledging the isolation and loneliness of those separated from Love, may serve to awaken the heart to move toward wholeness and holiness.

Aspiring to live in a spirit of cooperation, co-creation, and companionship with the Beloved, rather than invoking a spirit of competition with God, other individuals and nations – so much a part of the Hebrew Scripture Psalms – seems clearly a more loving movement toward engendering peace, harmony, and healing in our wounded world.

Yet, let it be understood that Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness is in no way meant to replace the well-loved, still meaningful, and historically important Psalms of the Hebrew Scripture. May it stand as a companion, a dialogue, if you will, of one age speaking with a later age. May it serve as an invitation to listen to the Voice of Silence that speaks within your own soul.”

Psalm 1

Blessed are those
who walk hand in hand
with goodness,
who stand beside virtue,
who sit in the seat of truth;
For their delight is in the Spirit of Love
,and in Love’s heart they dwell
day and night.
They are like trees planted by
streams of water,
that yield fruit in due season,
and their leaves flourish;
And in all that they do, they give life. 

The unloving are not so;
they are like dandelions which
the wind blows away.
Turning from the Heart of Love
they will know suffering and pain.
They will be isolated from wisdom;
for Love knows the way of truth,
the way of ignorance will perish
as Love’s penetrating Light
breaks through hearts
filled with illusions:
forgiveness is the way.

Our past is always present

Grace to you

Last week we were invited to start again. The gracious and hopeful invitation encapsulated in the word ‘repent’ – a word that if it weren’t so gracious would sue for deformation of character, seen as it is more often spoken as a threat than a gift.

To start again however, does not mean that we cut our past off completely. In fact our past is always present. This applies to many things – but today I simply refer to the wounds we carry with us – that no New Year’s Day has the power to say: “Thus far and no further!” We would be wise to remember that even resurrection does not wipe away the wounds of crucifixion. ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side – says Jesus to Thomas.’

Around this time of year we may have already experienced the stubborn lingering of grief or guilt or anxiety that no New Year’s Day could prevent from following us further into our future. If this is the case, it is a good time to be reminded of our Baptism – as we do each year this time. To recall the indelible watermark of our Heavenly spoken identity: ‘You are my beloved in whom I am well pleased.’ This too follows us into our future – faithfully and steadfastly declaring ‘you are lovable’.

I recommend a poem by Jeff Foster as a helpful companion if we find ourselves as the walking wounded. He speaks truthfully about trauma
and healing:

“You do not heal ‘from’ trauma.
You simply come to know yourself
as Life Itself.
And you turn towards the wounded place.
And you flush it with attention,
which is Love.
And maybe the wound will always be with you.
Maybe you will always walk with the hurt.
But now, you hold it. It doesn’t hold you.
You are the container, not the contained.
It doesn’t control you any longer, the wound.
Because it is drenched in awareness now.
Drenched in You.
Loved by You.
Even celebrated by You.

You do not heal ‘from’ trauma.
You find healing ‘in’ the trauma.
You find yourself at trauma’s sacred core.
The One who is always present.
The One who can bear
even the most intense feeling states.
And survive.

The Indestructible One.
The Infinite One.
The Powerful One.
You.”

Grace,
Alan

 

We are utterly loved

Grace and peace to you

Christmas is about Jesus. And Jesus is about the Utterly-Loving-Creator-God’s determined desire for all of creation to know that we are utterly loved.

Like Edwin Markham’s poem: Outwitted
He drew a circle that shut me out –

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout,
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.

Christmas is God’s outwitting move – drawing the largest of circles that take us in. I hope that each and every one of us will know God’s loving encirclement today.

In this loving encirclement healing resides.

Knowing we live and move and have our being in God’s circle of love liberates us from the fear to love and be loved. And when all is said and done – to love and be loved is what each of us is born for.

We love because we have first been loved. We literally have to be loved into loving. This is the mission of Jesus: to love us into loving.

“Accepting Jesus” means accepting that we are loved…and thus lovable. We are saved from ourselves. “Following Jesus” means loving others as we have been loved…and thus loving. We are saved for others…especially those the world considers unlovable.

In loving encirclement,
Alan


Helpless God – help us

Helpless God as child and crucified,
laid in a cradle and cradled on a cross:
help us discern in your submission
not weakness but the passionate work of love.

You tell us you are poor in every age:
naked, hungry, and without a home.

Help us in your poor cradle of today
to see what is of you and what is not:
that suffering does not often save,
or helplessness redeem our sorry lives.
And so forbid us sing when we should weep.

Yet come to us and all of ours,
O child of Mary and of God,
in all the poor who saw you first,
and laughed with you, and heard you well.
And now run back from nowhere with their news,
to plant their seeds of hope in our dry ground.

~ Michael H. Taylor

 

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.