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

Practice Resurrection

Grace to you

In the light of our Resurrection Reflections over the last few weeks here is a folktale to help us reach truth and a poem to help us practice resurrection:

“When the world was still young, Truth walked around as naked as she was the day she was born. Whenever she came close to a village, people closed their doors and shut their windows, for everyone was afraid to face the Naked Truth. Understandably Truth felt very alone and lonesome. One day she encountered Story who was surrounded by a flock of people of all ages who followed her wherever she went. Truth asked her, ‘‘Why is it that people love you, but shy away from me?’’ Story, who was dressed in beautiful robes, advised Truth: ‘‘People love colourful clothes. I will lend you some of my robes and you will see that people will love you too.’’ Truth followed her advice and dressed herself in the colourful robes of Story. It is said that from this day on, Truth and Story always walk together and that people love both of them.”

(Adapted from WEINREICH, B. (1997). Yiddish folktales. New York, NY: Schocken.)


Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbours and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

“Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” from 
The Country of Marriage, copyright © 1973 by Wendell Berry

Grace,
Alan

Resurrection Moments

Grace to you

For those with ears to hear, do you hear the stone being rolled away? For those with eyes to see, do you see the light stretch into the tomb? With those with noses to smell, do you smell the stench of corruption being aired? We are witnessing another resurrection moment in our land. The stone is not completely rolled away by any means – but it has shifted to let a little light to squeeze in while allowing some stale air from bloated and corrupt power to leak out.

This small resurrection moment (like all resurrection) is birthed out of crucifixion when crucifixion is the consequence of a life lived truthfully in the service of love and justice. A crucifixion, like that of Jesus, is the result of living life in life-giving ways that challenge the powers-that-be who are dependent on death for their survival. Resurrection follows the willingness of a courageous few who give themselves so fully to truth that they are willing to be nailed for it.

The brave I am referring to are the whistle blowers – some of whom are still in hiding. They are the remnant of journalists and newspaper editors who tirelessly investigated, fearlessly wrote and boldly printed the truth. They include others in key positions who refused to budge from principle and bend for profit. Some of them were fired as a result. Their commitment to truth and justice is what made the Nugent Commission of Inquiry into tax administration and governance at SARS as well as the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture possible. These inquiries are what I see as a resurrection moment for our land. Through them we see death lose its sting as lies begin to bow to truth.

Many countries never come back to life from the deadliness of corruption that we have been buried in over the past couple of years. If the Gospel writers were doing the reporting they would begin with the words: “The Kingdom of God is like…” You think I am over exaggerating? Last week a Judge appeared before the SARS inquiry and confessed that his very own judgement declaring a certain investigative unit as rogue was incorrect. That is repentance with a capital ‘R’ and must be almost unprecedented. We also heard of the daring story of how a certain hard-drive carrying over 300 000 emails known for the #Guptaleaks was secretly cared for and stealthily released. Those who were intimidating the truth tellers with legal threats have been forced to drop the charges. This is of water into wine magnitude.

Moments like this are both rare and hard won. They are also not guaranteed to succeed or last. And they will provoke opposition. We can be sure that those deployed to guard the tomb will make up all sorts of stories about the body being stolen rather than embrace the new life on offer. This resurrection moment needs to be followed up by a Pentecost-like moment if it is to be sustained and spread. For we need the Spirit of truth and love to blow over us while igniting resurrection conviction and courage within us. Then perhaps we too will join the remnant of the brave who dare to seek truth and love even if it means we lose our lives (or jobs). Trusting afresh that if we want to save our lives we must give them away.

Grace,
Alan

 

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