Believing the right way

It is difficult to respect and value and appreciate people with whom we profoundly disagree. Conversely it is easy to undermine and belittle them. It is easy to over-simplify their views and punctuate our reviews of their standpoint with false characterisations. It is easy to label them so we don’t have to take them seriously.

This is true in the Church as it is outside the Church. I have witnessed (and participated in) this in regard to debates around conscription, abortion and the death penalty over the years and more recently about same-sex relationships. In other words it can happen that we “stand up for Jesus” in un-Christ-like ways. We forget that there is no commandment to be right! But there are plenty of commandments to be loving.

In these debates the emphasis has largely been on Orthodoxy – the word ‘orthodoxy’ is derived from the Greek roots ortho meaning ‘correct’ and doxa meaning ‘belief’, and so has generally been understood as referring to the importance of right belief. This emphasis makes it difficult to allow space for the divergent convictions of others as difference is experienced as a violation of one’s own conviction and integrity. Yet such a concern betrays a distorted understanding of the integrity of the church as vesting solely in the orthodox beliefs that the church upholds.

The teaching of Jesus demonstrates that right belief is not enough to live a transformed life that bears faithful testimony to the love and goodness of God. The deeper truth of authentic orthodoxy is that it is less focused on the importance of right belief than it is on the importance of believing in the right way – which is, of course, the way of love as shown to us by Jesus.          

In other words, the way in which we hold our beliefs matters every bit as much as the actual beliefs themselves. If our convictions are expressed in arrogant, judgmental and domineering ways, then regardless of what we believe, there will be nothing of Christ evident in us. But if our convictions are expressed with humility, selflessness and compassion, whatever inadequacies there may be in the content of our theological understanding, the spirit of Christ will be evident in whatever we do.

This is the deeper meaning of the orthodoxy to which the church is called. It also offers great hope to us in the midst of the same-sex debate. For it is possible to faithfully hold fast to our gospel convictions as our conscience dictates, but in a Christ-like way that affords others the space to do likewise. Far from compromising the integrity of the church, such a way of believing deepens our credibility as those who claim to be the followers of Christ.

If the Methodist Church of Southern Africa is serious about allowing the expression of diverse convictions on the issue of same-sex relationships, it needs to accept that such a move will not be without considerable difficulty and pain, even while holding the promise of rich and joyful discoveries of what it means to be the church.

The ongoing process of us engaging this issue with honesty and integrity will require much humility, compassion and prayer. Mistakes will certainly be made and injuries inflicted. There will be those on both sides of the debate that will accuse the church of compromising the values of the Kingdom. In the midst of it all will be real women and men whose sense of place and belonging within the church will rest crucially on the sorts of decisions that are made.

Challenging though this task before us may be, the opportunity that it presents is truly immense. In a world increasingly characterised by sectarian intolerance, we can offer a life-giving witness as to the true nature of Christian unity – a unity that is not devoid of disagreement or divergence, but rather seeks to make space for the ‘disturbing other’.

Such a radical hospitality of the spirit will surely open us to the sacred in our midst, and will enable the common life we share together as the body of Christ to point more faithfully to the exquisite beauty of an infinite God in whose image we have all been made.

Grace, Alan

This is an extract from DEWCOM [Doctrine Ethics Worship Committee]

Denials and Taboos

The Trinity of Water — Food — Energy is vital for our living.

Of the three, water is the most important because without it we would not have food or energy. Therefore our primary private and policy concern should be to preserve water.

Oh and Remember: We cannot grow water.

 

LENTEN PRAYER OF PREPARATION
Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something more than interesting or entertaining or thoughtful. Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something awesome, something real. Speak to my condition, Lord and change me somewhere inside where it matters, a change that will burn and tremble and heal and explode me into tears or laughter or love that throbs or screams or keeps a terrible, cleansing silence and dares the dangerous deeds. Let something happen which is my real self, Oh God. Amen. [Ted Loder]

_____________________________________

I don’t know about you but not a day goes by where I do not encounter some issue connected to the colour of my or someone else’s skin. It could be overhearing a conversation about “What if Oscar was black and he accidently fired a gun in a public restaurant?” Or it could be me walking through a “Musicians only” access point at the Jazz concert on Wednesday evening without so much as being questioned while others were stopped and sent round. Or when there is fighting outside my flat at night I know within myself that I feel far more entitled and confident to intervene when it is two black people fighting than when it is two white people fighting (in fact then I may decide to simply mind my own business). Sometimes it is simply a conversation I have with myself in my head.

This past week I was asked to participate in some research about white privilege. In doing so I was reminded of the great paper written by Peggy McIntosh in 1989 called, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack. Here is a brief extract:

“Through the work to bring materials from Women’s Studies into the rest of the curriculum, I have often noticed men’s unwillingness to grant that they are over-privileged, even though they may grant that women are disadvantaged. They may say they will work to improve women’s status, in the society, the university, or the curriculum, but they can’t or won’t support the idea of lessening men’s.

Denials which amount to taboos surround the subject of advantages which men gain from women’s disadvantages. These denials protect male privilege from being fully acknowledged, lessened or ended. Thinking through unacknowledged male privilege as a phenomenon, I realized that since hierarchies in our society are interlocking, there was most likely a phenomenon of white privilege which was similarly denied and protected.

As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something which puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage.

I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege. So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what it is like to have white privilege.

I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless backpack of special provisions, maps, passports, code books, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.

Describing white privilege makes one newly accountable. As we in Women’s Studies work to reveal male privilege and ask men to give up some of their power, so one who writes about having white privilege must ask, “Having described it, what will I do to lessen or end it?”

After I realized the extent to which men work from a base of unacknowledged privilege, I understood that much of their oppressiveness was unconscious. Then I remembered the frequent charges from women of colour that white women whom they encounter are oppressive. I began to understand why we are justly seen as oppressive, even when we don’t see ourselves that way. I began to count the ways in which I enjoy unearned skin privilege and have been conditioned into oblivion about its existence.

My schooling gave me no training in seeing myself as an oppressor, as an unfairly advantaged person, or as a participant in a damaged culture. I was taught to see myself as an individual whose moral state depended on her individual moral will.

My schooling followed the pattern my colleague Elizabeth Minnich has pointed out: whites are taught to think of their lives as a morally neutral, normative, and average, also ideal, so that when we work to benefit others, this is seen as work which will allow ‘them’ to be more like ‘us’.”

Where else is more suited than the Church to have conversations about these matters? Look out for the next Anti-Bias workshop.

Grace, Alan

The Silencing of Lady Justice

The Pain and Praise of our Birth…

“For it was you who formed my inward parts, you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know every well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.”
Psalm 139: 13-15

 

 No wonder there is a Jewish proverb that goes something like this:
“God could not be everywhere and therefore God made mothers.”

 
On Ascension Day I officiated at a wedding. The couple have been in love for a long time and finally decided to come out in the open and get married.

The ceremony took place at the World Economic Forum between Big Business and Government. To our surprise we walked right up to the entrance of the CTICC to where all the delegates were getting out of their cars. (Then again, others have recently managed to land a commercial aeroplane at a military base filled with wedding guests – so perhaps we should not be too surprised.) Then the cops moved us to the perimeter – after removing the “shower head” that was hovering over the beautiful bride’s (Government) head. Five SAPS vans, one Nyala and three Metro Police then followed us.

There were a number of corruption scandals who gathered to witness and celebrate the wedding.

Big Business and Government then exchanged vows: “I call on all the corruption scandals here present to witness that I Government do take thee Big Business to be my (un)lawful wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better and NOT for worse, for richer and NOT for poorer, in sickness (of others) and in health (of us) to love and to cherish, and forsaking all others (especially the poor) till death us do part (or until the money runs out).”

Lady Justice tried to voice her objection but was quickly silenced by the Secrecy Bill and the Key Point Legislation Act. All the scandals applauded when I gave the couple permission to kiss.

Ascension Day reminds us that God alone has ultimate power and calls us to hold the powers of this world to account and to mock their belief that they have absolute power. To call them out every time they ignore the vulnerable who they are called to serve. In 2012 R30 billion was stolen through corruption. We say “No to R1 – one vote”.

This is one marriage that should dissolve. Alan

We, the people

Do you remember that day? That day when we stood in the longest of queues as if we were entering the holy of holies, knowing that what we were about to do was of sacramental significance — consecrated by the courage, blood and prayers of too many people to name.

On that day of new beginnings it was as if God said again: “Let there be light — and there was light.” We were separated from the darkness and given light to recognise each other as the gifts of God that we all are. Now as this light flickers vulnerably in the encroaching breeze of secrecy, I invite you to return to the Light-shining words of our Constitution’s Preamble:

We, the people of South Africa:
Recognise the injustices of our past;
Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;
Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and
Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.
We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to ­
Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.

As with the liberation of the Hebrews of old, 27 April 1994 was a watershed day for our beloved country. We stood on dry land with the ocean of oppression behind us and the uncharted sea of promise before us. To the extent that we remember God’s deliverance in our past is to the extent that we will be set free to trust God’s promise of service delivery in our future.

May be never forget.

In hope, Alan.

Risk delight

Have mercy on us O God. We are a forgetful people. We forget what it was like when others hemmed us in — behind and before with a wall of violent oppression topped with the razor wire of bigotry. So we do to others as they have done to us. There used to be a Wall that ran through Berlin now another Wall runs through Bethlehem. Heal us of our amnesia and bring down the walls of division in our day. Amen.

 

This poem below by Jack Gilbert defends the right to delight in a world saturated with suffering and division. I share it with you because Christmas is God’s invitation for us to delight…

A Brief for the Defense

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

Forget all the pictures you have seen of Mary and Joseph with baby Jesus painted in serene holiness. This modern day picture from Palestine is probably much closer to the truth of their experience.

Pray for the children like Jesus who see too much
too soon!

 

Mary courageously consented …

Consent

Denise Levertov

This was the minute no one speaks of,
when she could still refuse.
A breath unbreathed,
Spirit,
suspended,
waiting.

She did not cry, “I cannot, I am not worthy,”
nor, “I have not the strength.”
She did not submit with gritted teeth,
raging, coerced.
Bravest of all humans,
consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
and the iridescent wings.
Consent,
courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly.

Source: “Annunciation” in Breathing the Water

Occupy Church Street

Toronto’s Walk A Mile in Her Shoes March
to end violence against women

Today we “occupy” Church Street in the most Jesus-like way! We set out a banquet table with an abundance of food to share with the hungry and homeless of this city. Those who are forever told to “move along” will be invited, welcomed and served. It is probably as close as we will ever get to truly sharing Holy Communion. Lord help us to do so with reverence for each other.

And here is the thing — those of us preparing and serving are the really fortunate ones — far more so than those receiving the meal. We are fortunate for the incredible privilege to serve. If we think our service is a “sacrifice” we still have not understood what it means to live life centred around Jesus. Service is a privilege not a sacrifice because we are all born in the image of a Serving God and therefore to serve is to be who we are originally designed to be. To serve is to speak in our mother tongue — though sadly many of us have not learnt to speak it fluently.

It is a privilege not only because we have an opportunity to live out our Godly design, but also because we get to serve Jesus in our midst. Jesus who comes to us hidden in the swollen face and torn feet of the vulnerable. If the Gospels are to be believed we are more likely to meet Jesus out on Church Street than inside this church building.

It is a privilege to live out the teachings of Jesus who told us that when we throw a party we should invite the blind, crippled, deaf and lame. Jesus also instructed us to be sure to invite people who would never be able to return the favour.

Today is not a “once off” event. It is the culmination of a consistency of service shown throughout the year by a dedicated group of people who have provided a meal and an affirming grace for the vulnerable of the city every Sunday lunch time. Thank you for your witness. Alan

The Situation in Khayelitsha

Despite declines nationally in key crime indicators, Khayelitsha has seen an increase in the number of murders, attempted murders and sexual assaults over the past four years. Between April 2011 and March 2012 there were 360 murders in Khayelitsha. During the same period, there were 648 sexual offences. Complaints by organisations prompted the National Police Commissioner to commission a task team to investigate the efficiency of policing in Khayelitsha. The report revealed that the community police forums in Khayelitsha are not operating effectively. At Khayelitsha Police Station, only one vehicle and one officer are assigned to each sector for visible policing; suspects are often held for more than 48 hours without charge – a severe violation of people’s constitutional rights; and police officers also often fail to take witness statements, resulting in cases being thrown out of court.

Given the lack of trust in the police to provide safety and security, some Khayelitsha residents have taken the law into their own hands, resulting in an explosion of vigilante killings – according to the SAPS, 78 such killings were reported between April 2011 and June 2012 in Khayelitsha. Residents explain that because police and the courts are failing their communities, people are taking the law into their own hands to ensure that justice is done. More recently we have witnessed brutal warfare between rival gangs of schoolchildren, resulting in the deaths of a number of young learners and many children not going to school fearful of being caught in the violence.

GOING FORWARD On 13 December 2012, the first hearings will be held in the Cape Town High Court to determine if the SAPS interdict application will be successful. In the build-up to the hearing we will be actively campaigning to raise awareness of the Commission of Inquiry.

There will be a gathering outside the High Court at 10 a.m. on 13 December 2012.

Everybody matters

 This past week I have been in Wales sharing Manna and Mercy at the Pastor’s School of the United Reformed Church of Wales. It is the first time Manna and Mercy is being presented in Europe. On this trip I will not only be doing Manna and Mercy but training others, especially pastors, to use the material in their own ministries. See: www.urc-wales.org.uk

For those of you who do not know, Manna and Mercy is an artistic paraphrase of the whole Bible focusing on the main themes of Jesus’ ministry — namely “daily bread” and “mercy”. It is written by Daniel Erlander. See: www.danerlander.com

Today I am preaching at East Belfast Mission. A Methodist Church based on the Newtownards Road in Ballymacarret, an area of social and economic deprivation with high levels of unemployment, ill-health and paramilitary influences. Rated as the fifth most deprived ward of the 566 wards in Northern Ireland, the area has a particularly high incidence of unemployment with many individuals excluded from the labour market through unemployment, disability or ill health. They employ 70 people with over 100 active volunteers. See: www.ebm.org.uk and www.skainos.org

Their mission is nothing less than the transformation and renewal of East Belfast, by offering hope and a future to all those in need in the inner city, regardless of background or belief. They believe that everybody matters. It has been said of the East Belfast Mission congregation that ‘they’d let anyone in there’. I love it!!

Peace, Alan