24 June, 2012

A "Worship or Wipeout" moment

Thanks to Johan van der Merwe for comment on my previous blog post (Is Three a Crowd?)

His sharing of the 15th century Russian artist Andrei Rublev's famous icon painting, Abraham’s Visitors  - also known as the Old Testament Trinity -  has, as John puts it so well  “the strong accent on the One-ness of God's being which is understood as divine relationship in love.”  Johan also comments on the 'open-ness' of this work of art, which invitesd our participation.

In contrast, I am deeply challenged by Eugene Peterson's words on the 'new' Holy Trinity of Me, Myself and I. He says: "The sovereign self expresses itself in Holy Needs, Holy Wants, and Holy Feelings. The time and intelligence that our ancestors spent on understanding the sovereignty revealed in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are directed by our contemporaries in affirming and validating the sovereignty of our needs, wants, and feelings."  (Eat this Book, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids; 2006)

In his comment, my friend Johan also quotes Mena Stamper (Working Preacher) - "When we become too sure of what we know... that is when we can perhaps expect to be undone like Nicodemus. (John 3. 1 – 8)”
I was recently blessed to share in a combined Zulu/English worship service in the Anglican Church. My text was Isaiah 6. In a moment of deep crisis Isaiah realizes both Communion with God and Commissioning by God. His heart and mind are overwhelmed in the Presence of God and he cries out “Woe is me, for I am undone.” As Charles Haddon Spurgeon says; “I am undone is not a bad place to be for God will never do anything with us till he has first of all undone us.”

When life 'undoes' us, when the stormy waves threaten to overwhelm us, perhaps it is time for a new and deeper experience of God. A letting go of some of our old certainties, and old griefs and fears, in a humility that reconnects with what Paul Tillich calls Ground of our Being (humus - soil).

We often face these critical 'worship or wipeout' moments. When the focus becomes the 'trinity' of "Me, Myself and I" - in the Afrikaans phrase "Arme ou ek"  (Poor old me!) - it is time for me to re-enter the open-ness of  "divine relationship of love.” To re-orient myself towards God, towards people, towards our Earth itself. To move from "Woe" to Worship and Witness and the all the Works of mercy.

It cannot be simpler than this perhaps naive, but very telling story:
A 5-year-old girl was busy drawing a picture. She was concentrating awfully hard and her mom got very curious. She came over and asked her daughter, “What are you drawing?” The girl replied, “I’m drawing a picture of God.”
“Don’t be silly”, said her mom, “No-one knows what God looks like”.
“They will when I finish my picture.”

For another delightful story reflecting the G-d who responds when called please look for Zeide here.

In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

11 May, 2012

Is Three a Crowd?
I recently replied to a comment from a Facebook friend on the relative merits, or otherwise, of Abrahamic monotheism, atheism, traditional indigenous animism, and polytheistic Paganism.
My reply was very long, probably not in good FB form, and perhaps not read through to the end. However, I felt very deeply and thought very hard about my response, so I’d like to share it in a less summary form with a wider community.

For me the affirmation that God is Three-in-One (Triune), is an appropriate symbolic representation of how I "live, move and have my being" in the Absolute Mystery.I experience and understand this Triune God as Community-in-Oneness, Unity-in-Diversity, and Ubuntu (here stretching the South African idea of being human as person-in-community).

The ancient 'formula' is not, and cannot be, rooted in objective, logical-positivist and analytical language. The understanding of the concept and doctrine of the Holy Trinity (arising from the shared experience and reflection of the early Christian community) is derived from the experience and language of life as we live it... within and between the ecologically related community of chemical compounds, organisms, persons, societies, and that Beingness which is Behind/Beyond and which holds it All-Together. Thanks to John MacQuarrie for this insight.
An ‘explanation’ of the concept and doctrine of the Holy Trinity  of the Triune G-d has been attempted by analogy to the chemical compound H20 – experienced as water, steam and ice. This is limited because the Triune G-d is firstly not a ‘thing’ and secondly is at one and the same (“time and place” for want of a better expression) Present in relationship as G-d as “Parent, Son and Holy Spirit”. Somewhat better is the analogy to the encounter between myself and a rose – my experiencing the sight, smell and sensation as different ‘aspects’, (ways of being, expressions), of one and the same ‘essential/substantial’ rose.

Do we experience a rose merely as a pleasing variety of light waves, chemical bondings, mathematical ratios? Or as a shocking R75 a dozen, and a painful-to-prune-plant! We may, and do, partially explain it in this way but more delightful for me is to relate to its exuberant fullness and beauty as a gift from God - animatedly expressive through ‘Mother Nature’ for the sharing with another. This is a far more Personal - here I do not mean individualist or private - richer, and fuller experience.

I appreciate Hilaire Belloc in this regard:
Of three in One and One in three My narrow mind would doubting be
Till Beauty, Grace and Kindness met And all at once were Juliet

and for much of my life have grappled with the intensity of John Donne's religious fervour in the following...

Batter my heart, three-person'd God ; for you
As yet but knock ; breathe, shine, and seek to mend ;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new

I express my encounter and experience of the relational nature of the one ultimate Reality of Divine Love within/between Self/selves in the further ‘naming’ of God as Creator, Redeemer and Helper.I have found this is simply the best way of relating with the complex simplicity of my life, death and new life.

The symbolic expression of God as Triunity enables me to experience a fuller participation in the Mystery. More than either bleak monotheism (which tends towards a life-denying and fundamentally fascist understanding of “God out there”) or a literal polytheism (which leaves me with the question "What principle (of Being) holds the many 'god-beings' together?"). To be sure God is animate in All. So what is the real obstacle to seeing the “Many” as manifestation of One Divine Being-in-Community? And why do many people have faith in Nothing and No-One, rather than in Something and Some-One?

In any case, and here is the spanner... perhaps, as one modern Jewish scholar says "Three is not enough".  (Ethical Monotheism, Past and Present: Essays in Honor of Wendell S. Dietrich, ed. T. Vial and M. Hadley (Providence, RI, Brown Judaic Studies: 2001)

28 January, 2012

An Empty Cup that runneth over?

A long time has passed since I ventured into THIS playground....

I am recently being encouraged to muse on the similarities of Form and Emptiness as understood by people at different ends of the Elephant. I share first a quote, and then some thoughts...

“Form can be understood as ‘existence’ and emptiness as ‘non-existence’. Emptiness however, is not merely ‘nothing’. Emptiness is the arena in which everything occurs. It is the creative space in which form comes into being. Form can only exist because of emptiness...

We must enjoy emptiness if we are to enjoy form. A gracious relationship with form is impossible unless we relate courageously with emptiness – because emptiness and form are aspects of each other. This endless non-dual reflection is the limitless dance of Vajrayana Buddhism. Our spiritual practice consists simply of learning to dance with the emptiness and form of phenomena." (End of quote from Arobuddhism.org)
My thoughts... 

This endless non-dual reflection of form and emptiness is also, I believe The Song of the Universe which is the Openness of God. Illustrated through the kenosis (emptying of ego) of  Jesus of Nazareth, this undescribable “cloud of unknowing” is  echoed in  the dark night of the soul experienced by St John of the Cross, and the counsel of  Master Eckhart of self-detachment and even “letting go of God”.

It is the process relational understanding of John Cobb. It is what Beverly Lanzetta  - in her book Towards a Radical Theology of Openness - calls “the other side of nothingness.”

Thanks be to God.

15 April, 2011

A personal Easter message - memory and hope

April has been a very different month for me. I came up from Vryheid, KwaZulu Natal, to Stilfontein, North West (translated it means Peaceful, Quiet, or Still Fountain), to be with my Dad on 27th March. My oldest niece got married on 9th April, and my Mum was able to go over to the UK to celebrate the event. Great excitement for all as she is the first of my folks’ 9 grandchildren to ‘tie the knot’.

Although now in good health after a rather difficult year, Dad was not really strong enough to go with, so I came up to be with him while Mum visited first my youngest brother, now in Amsterdam, and then my sister, brother-in-law and their 3 children. The wedding went off very well indeed, and Mum returns tomorrow (Friday).

Dad and I have had a good time, with my ‘primary duties’ being assisting with housekeeping, cooking, gardening, climbing ladders and training and caring for the two collies they now have – one a puppy (!). Pretty much what I help with at home anyway - although we only have one collie. Also teaching my Dad some computer skills as well as the value of a judicious use of the Internet.

We have spent a lot of time covering theology, the Bible, general history and contemporary affairs – we both have a lot to say on those topics. But what has been most fun has been rummaging through family memories – some ancient, others mythological or mis-remembered, some delightful, and some more traumatic. This during our long dog-walks, and over long dinners, where we also discovered new things about each other and our personal life-stories we had never shared before.

On this sometimes joyful, sometimes jumbled journey of nostalgia we discovered, again, the importance of family and friends, and realized that through it all –the tumbles, the troubles, and the triumphs – we were tremendously blessed with wonderful people and wonderful places as we grew up: in Mazoe, Kariba, then Salisbury. Friends and fun at Marlborough Junior, Allan Wilson,  Cubs/Scouts, Harvest Youth, the Junior Orchestra. And then when, in the fullness of time, we followed our own paths and went our own way; with wives, husbands, children, careers, moving house/country and all the routine, rejoicing and rigours of our own family life. (For me national service in Matabeleland and Kariba - again - in ’79, Rhodes ’80-84, Harare ’86-92 (Hatfield Presby), and since then South Africa (Oudtshoorn Presby, George, J-Bay) in various roles and regions.)

So many people held us in their hearts, and so many people have a special place in my heart – even through the long years of no contact, or erratic correspondence and the occasional visit. Every one is a precious piece of the puzzle that portrays the picture of my life.

Why not take a moment to re-member the precious pieces of your own life puzzle, with joy and gratitude.

10 January, 2011

... of Darklings and Dawnings

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) welcomed the 20th century in with his poem “The Darkling Thrush”. A hundred and ten years later, I share this poem with you:

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-gray, 
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh 
Had sought  their household fires. 

The land's sharp features seemed to be
The Century's  corpse outleant, 
His crypt the cloudy canopy, 
The wind his death-lament. 
The ancient pulse of germ and birth 
Was shrunken hard and dry, 
And every spirit upon earth 
Seemed fervourless as I. 

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited; 
An aged  thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
of such ecstatic sound 
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around, 
That I could think there trembled through 
His happy good-night air 
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew 
And I was unaware. 

(Thomas Hardy: December 31 1899)
Is our continuous, if fitful, search, for love and world peace  – or any other penultimate meaning of life we may choose - a blessing or a curse.  Why are we burdened/gifted, plagued/pleased with the question: “What IS the point of it all?” 

Is this poem about the ongoing Cycle of Life, or - as the world entered the 20th century of the Common Era, know also as Anno Domini  (the Year of Our Lord)  - the breaking of that circle, and the shaking of the foundations as Hardy knows them. 

Does Hardy consider that there may indeed be Some blessed Hope”, whereof the thrush knew -  in and through the joyful Evensong soul-outflinging carol -  and of which Hardy was Unaware? 
Or, to quote another, semi-contemporary poet, is there no help, for all these things are so,and all the world is bitter as a tear.? Algernon Charles Swinburne (1873-1909) .

A final, densely-kernelled, word from Thomas Hardy himself, which I will soon explore:  

“Perhaps I can express more fully in verse ideas and emotions which run counter to the inert crystallized opinion – hard as rock… (and maintained by vested interests). If Galileo had said in verse that the earth moved, the Inquisition would have let him alone.”

03 January, 2011

Of Absurdity and Adoration

Last Sunday, the first day of the New Year, was a miserable afternoon , so we stayed in and  we watched a dvd of “Les Miserables”
In fact – it was the 2005 special double disc collector's edition DVD of the 10th Anniversary Concert production (1995) of Cameron Mackintosh’s immensely popular adaptation of Frenchman Alain Boublil’s 1982 musical based on Victor Hugo's 1862 novel of the same name.

What an incredible experience this was! A gut-wrenching, heart-stretching story, produced, staged and performed with awesomely creative excellence.

Enough of the adjectives! ~ If you are not one of the estimated 55 million people  of 21 different languages, in the 42 countries and 291 cities, who has experienced this Number 1 Must See performance in the world – I highly recommend it.

My own mind, and family opinion, was divided. Was it a story of hope, or a story of hoplessness? Of redemption - mercy triumphing over justice, or of miserable repetition - “things never change” ? Or, thanks for your insight Fred, of both?

The context is Paris, during the short-lived 1832 students’ insurrection against the slow pace of reform of King Louise Philippe’s constitutional monarchy and the continuing power and privilege of the aristocracy and the Roman Catholic clergy. The characters include a parole-jumping ex-con who can’t escape - but may redeem - his past, an over-zealous officer of the Law, a mother desperate to care for her daughter, of prostitutes and factory workers trapped in a cycle of poverty, idealistic student revolutionaries, and - as comic relief – a scurvy, lowdown  innkeeper and his and wife.

Early in the play the paroled Jean Valjean abuses the hospitality of a Roman Catholic cleric, steals silver vauables and runs away. On his capture he is taken back to the cleric, who, in an act of grace, tells the over zealous Inspector Javet that the silver was a gift to Valjean. There follows more human drama of despair and hope, of drudgery and devotion, of love and rejection, selfishness and self-sacrifice, of law and forgiveness, of the high idealism of youth colliding with the violent reality of a callous indifference to the peopl's suffering of the State and the Church.

The ambiguity with which Christian faith and the Church is portrayed possibly reflects author Victor Hugo’s (1802-1885) own conflicting background and his ambiguous opinions in religious and spiritual matters. His father  was an atheist republican and his mother was an extreme Catholic royalist.  By all accounts he was a deep believer, sometimes even a mystical one, but strongly anti-clerical. He was a passionate supporter of republicanism, and his poetry and novels touch on most of the political and social issues of his time, influencing
other socially conscious writers like Albert Camus, Charles Dickens, and Fyodor Dostoevsky.

What I am realizing, at this start of this a new year, is the continuing ambiguity of my own life’s experience. I am, and perhaps you too may be, caught between hope and memory, full of great expectations, yet haunted by past failures; confronted by mysteries and absurdities, yet convinced of some Higher Purpose made manifest; a stranger in a strange land, strong yet vulnerable in the intimacies that love brings.

One moment sadly agreeing with Shakespeare that “Life… is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. Another moment ecstatically convinced, along with Roman Catholic priest and palaeontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, of ”the diaphany (almost transparent epiphany) of the divine”,… “where the purple flush of matter fades imperceptibly into the golden glow of spirit, to be lost finally in the incandescence of a personal universe.”

Victor Hugo, the believer without a religion, in a particular time and place, once said: Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers. 

Yet, in trying to bring together his spiritual vision of the world and a realistic, yet positive understanding of the history of humanity, Victor Hugo also said : “Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake. 

I say that, somewhere between “God”, and  the “organized religion” Victor Hugo speaks of, Christ plays in Ten Thousand places, lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not His, to the Father through the features of (men’s) faces. (As Kingfishers catch fire)

May this year be a year we recognize the Truth, which is Grace, in all manner of misery and majesty, in all manner of absurdity and adoration we experience; in all manner of life situations, in all manner of people, and more and more in our own surrendered hearts and lives.

24 December, 2010

'Tis the See-son to be

The scenes of the Nativity Play, as written in Matthew 1 & 2, and Luke 2 certainly contain enough human drama for several episodes of the “Old and the Dutiful”, or “Daze of our Lies”, or whatever. The unexpected pregnancy, Joseph the jilted husband-to-be; political intrigue and expediency - to the point of mass murder; taxes and refugees.

In the Gospel of Matthew we have the visit of the Wise Men, or Magi-cians, and the three gifts. (Where are the “We three Kings of Orion Tar”?) This followed by the “Flight to Egypt” to escape Herod’s wrath and the “Murder of the Innocents”. And, years later, the Return to the Land of Israel - albeit to dusty Nazareth – from whence, obscurely, the child Emmanuel (God with us) gets the unique label of ‘Nazarene’.

The Gospel of Luke broadens the scope: the Story is prefaced by bringing in Zechariah and Elizabeth - Mary’s relative and the mother of John Baptist. Then come the Shepherd in the fields abiding - and I BET they DID wash their socks by night!

In what seems to me a chronological inconsistency with Matthew’s version, Luke records that “on the eighth day” (Luke 2.21) Jesus is circumcised and presented (dedicated/consecrated) to God at the Jerusalem Temple according to the ancient Levitical law. In good old African style where “it takes a whole village to raise a child” there is also Madala (Old Man) Simeon, and Gogo (Old Lady) Anna the prophetess.

Throughout all this “snot en trane” (the very graphic Afrikaans for  “nasal mucous and salty tears) this shocking human drama is thoroughly grounded in the Presence of the Holy Spirit - Whom John V Taylor has called The Go-Between God

I find it awesome that rather like the Genesis creation myth the Nativity Story, and its enduring patchwork of traditions, comes from two separate accounts, with two unique viewpoints and theological emphases, and at times contradictory, geography and chronology that are moulded around the myth with imaginative and profound poetic licence.

So what if December 24th is a date more consistence with the celebration of the northern Winter Solstice, and the looking forward in hope to new life and ‘more light’ (Please, God)? So what if the traditional evergreen ‘Christmas Tree’ is a symbol of Life that transcends the season hot/cold, dry/wet, reaping/sowing, living/dying nature of earthly life?

So what if Thomas Nast caricaturised 4th century Christian bishop Nicholas of Myra (famous for his generous gifts to the poor) into a jolly fat old portly white man in a red suit?

Sadly, the 1930’s Coca-Cola ® hijacking of Santa Claus (St Nicholas) has transmogrophied this story of grace and generosity into a miserable money grubbing marketing “jingle bells”? Such an example of self-giving has become a commercially-centred bandwagon that was leaped upon with such gusto that the story of self-giving grace has degenerated into all-consuming, sentimentalistic, moralistic, materialistic Father Christmas “who knows when you’ve been bad or good”? (Even within the Christian Church!)

The Good News of “God came down at Christmas” (of Absolute Being expressed/revealed in particular beings in time and space) has to “arrive’ some-where and some-when – even if that time and place have not been, and cannot be, discovered absolutely and inerrantly. We live amid ‘uncertaintly’, in a world of history and geography - never mind physics, astronomy and the earthly realities of economic power politics and privilege.

How awesome then, that in all this muck and filth of human greed, fear and injustice, of collusion and corruption in both business and politics then and now, that the Light of the World (John 1:3 -7) – however dimly reflected and inconsistently portrayed in myth and mystery - still shines on, often unnamed and as yet unrealized, in the hearts and lives of so many ordinary people.

John MacQuarrie writes:  …the words of Jesus are the words of the Logos, not just of the individual human being, Jesus of Nazareth. Those of us who are Christians believe that we have heard (that Word or Logos) loud and clear in Jesus Christ and that we need not look beyond him. But we do not deny that the Word finds expression in other traditions, and, indeed, in the whole creation" (Jesus Christ in Modern Thought London: SCM, 1990 p. 422).

Truth comes to us all in Story form. Matthew and Luke portray the Nativity in the colourful, literary style of romantic novel. My paraphrase of John 1:14 below, is the simplest, if more stark, form for me to speak of the Christ who “plays in ten thousand places; lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his, to the Father, through the features of (men’s) faces.”

From the Beginning the Word (Logos/Principle) is. The Logos/Word is God. In the Logos/God is life and light.
Today I celebrate, in the Christmas Story, the Word/Logos become human in Jesus, and living among us. I have seen his glory, and grace and truth, in the self-giving love, that led him to the Cross.

May you have a truly grace-filled day of generous giving


18 December, 2010

Of Polar Bears, Prisons and Peace

One of the saddest sights I have ever seen was at the Johannesburg Zoo. The Polar bear had been relocated to a much larger enclosure, with a more varied environment, which of course is a Good Thing. However, the Polar bear was not aware of this wonderful new world he was living in. There he was, pacing round and round, in the same endless circle, the same limited circumference of his previous cage. He seemed to be attached to an invisible chain, staked to the ground, as some people chain dogs, monkeys, or heaven forbid, children. Following a path that got deeper and deeper; plodding along on the same mindless journey.

No matter how new and improved his external environment was, the bear’s internal context (or programming, if you will) was such that he was unable to escape the confining bonds of his previous existence. When I saw this, and after I had wiped away the tears, I saw the connection to the saying “You can take mankind out of the jungle, but you’ll never take the jungle out of mankind.”

Years later I was at a Global Leadership Summit  that featured ordinary men and women involved in particular programmes of transformation and justice-making. This was a multimedia programme communicated through satellite and dvd that enabled participation from people in local groups around the globe. Two of these really struck me for their simple audacity, and yet far reaching consequences:

A business skills training programme for pre-release prisoners, run by a young woman who had left behind her a life of great privilege and promise, was taking place within the Correctional Services system of the State of Texas (!). The 'return rate' (repeat convictions) for this group was less than 5% compared to an overall prisoner 'return rate' of 80%.  Another university graduate, whose life as an astoundingly successful stockbroker lay right in front of her, had initiated the other bold, visionary programme. She had managed to persuade, over the years, thousands of highly qualified university students, from every field of study under the sun, to give one year of their lives, to serving as teachers in the worst off inner city schools in the USA.

During the turbulent mid-1980’s(Understatement Alert!) my wife and I were university students in the Eastern Cape – known as the hot-bed of resistance to apartheid. We experienced first hand (well, second hand really, since we are white South Africans) the tear gas, the spotlights and sirens at night, and later, at the Pretoria Cathedral, experienced the intimidation of police in full battle gear and armed with automatic weapons. We saw ordinary people facing the stony-faced, robot-like, increasingly violent and indiscriminate response to repeated appeals to a simple shared humanity.

We shared with young white South African men, facing mandatory military service, in their painful struggle with the deep dilemma and the high cost of conscientious objection or participation. The pain and rage and confusion and despair were intense, and the possibility of reconciliation seemed laughable.

A few years later, after some time back in Zimbabwe, we returned to a South Africa where Nelson Mandela was a free man, and talks about negotiations on transitional democracy were taking place. As President FW de Klerk steered white South Africa toward multiracial a democracy during the dying months of constitutionalised, institutionalised Apartheid the violence escalated dramatically, only now the Masada-mentality of the extreme and militant rightwing Afrikaner group was a real threat.

My wife was working with the National Peace Committee, and, in the run up to the defining moment in South Africa’s history – our first democratic elections in April 1994 - I was privileged to work with the National Electoral Observer Network (NEON). As District Domestic Observer I visited voting stations throughout the Klein Karoo. I travelled far and wide, together with an Irish Roman Catholic priest as District Foreign Observer. He told me he considered it a miracle that he and this ‘Proddy’ (me) could travel in safety in such a “violence-engulfed country.”

Sixteen years on – racist stereotypes and threats like the one I mentioned in my previous post continue. South Africa may the murder capital of the world, other crime is high, employment low, corruption is rife, young black people are becoming disillusioned with the slow pace of transformation, white people moan about the cost of transformation, politics is still largely race-based, the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. We seem still to be prisoners of our history. 

And yet…people continue to hope, and in hope they continue to act in love.  We are prisoners also of hope - the hope that “the battle-bow will be broken and peace proclaimed” (Zechariah 9:12).

Paul Ricoeur writes that: "Hope is both irrational, as being 'in spite of' death and 'beyond' despair, and rational, as asserting a new law, the law of superabundance of sense over non-sense. Hope opens up what knowledge claims to close." The theologian of hope Jurgen Moltmann insists that “Hope means our future as believers does not have to develop from what is presently possible, but from what is possible for God”. He does not advocate withdrawal from the world in the hope that a better world will somehow evolve, but active participation in the world in hope and anticipation of the coming of that better world. All the possibilities and potential and promise of particular beings-in-community in harmony with Absolute Being.

I agree with Moltmann that "despair is the premature, arbitrary anticipation of the non-fulfillment of what we hope for from God" (Theology of Hope). And I believe there is always the possibility of a movement from despair to hope – for people, for polar bears, for the life of the planet.

In a 1986 collection of essays in honour of Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Hammering Swords into Ploughshares), Dawid Bosch mentions the very real possibility of any particular efforts at reconciliation, and the obvious preceding requirements of transformation and justice, being merely “an exercise in futility.” I cannot think of anything more futile and meaningless than simply to continue stumbling through the war-zone of ignorance, fear and greed.  Of staggering blindly through the minefield of a life that is limited by walls and chains that, although very real, are creations of the human mind and ego.

** Post Script and Illustration Par Excellence: As I was writing this post a parcel arrived from Mississippi – a box full of knitted dolls – sent especially for the AIDS orphans that members of our community support. A gift of love. Thanks Kathryn and Linda and friends.

09 December, 2010

Checkered history, conflicted present

This is a hard post to write. It’s going to be hard to understand – especially for those “outside” the complex situation in South Africa. Its more of a report than a reflection… that comes next…

Last Thursday, December 2nd a Free State farmer, his wife and their 3-year old daughter were killed by a group of young men. On the same day on a farm in North West Province a 63-year-old women was killed and her husband badly beaten. Six suspects, including 3 farm workers appeared in Lindley Magistrates Court earlier this week in connection with the Free State farm killings. 

Leader of the Afrikaner nationalist Freedom Front, Pieter Mulder, who is Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries expressed his anger and frustration outside the court, saying “... it is difficult to explain this other than an act of racism.” Reportedly over 3000 white farmers in South Africa have been murdered since 1994 (http://www.farmitracker.com/).

Civil rights group AfriForum, which has specific emphasis on Afrikaans youth, called for the ANC and its youth league leader Julius Malema to take responsibility, because of the continued use of the legally prohibited "Shoot the Boer" slogan. SASCO, a black nationalist student organization responded by calling AfriForum a "group of racist children who are crazy".

Five days after the horrific incidents the ruling African National Congress (ANC) strongly condemned the killings. "Racially blurring issues of crime and justice can only serve to polarize our nation, instead of uniting it," the party spokesperson said. This while the ANC went to court just this week to appeal the banning order against the ‘struggle’ song "Kill the boer".

These latest deadly farm attacks prompted an anonymous, highly emotive and, in many internet Forums, generally ridiculed, call via internet and email for a ‘National day of Remembrance and mourning for the Genocide of Afrikaner farmers” (‘n nasionale dag van rou, en dus ‘n Nasionale Dag van Herinnering In protes teen die Volksmoord van Boere) on Monday 13th December. Businesses were urged to close, and those who declined to take part were labelled as traitors (volksverraaiers) and threatened with protest and boycott actions, and “other appropriate measures.”

The colours of the Rainbow Nation seem to be coming out in the wash.

And next week is South Africa’s national Day of Reconciliation!

The concept and practice of ‘Reconciliation’ presupposes a conflict and offers a way through the conflict. And South African society is no stranger either to conflict or to conflict resolution. More on this next time…

{As a brief but unavoidable aside… December 10th is International Human Rights Day. This day 62 years ago the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. South Africa commemorates Human Rights Day on 21st March.  On that day in 1960 the South African Police (many of them young,  nervous and hyped-up white conscripts) fired upon a peaceful protest in Sharpeville agains the apartheid “Pass Laws”. Sixty nine people were killed and as many as 300 injured. Sharpville Day was commemorated by anti-apartheid activists until it was declared a national holiday by the first  South African government after fully democratic elections in 1994.}.....

02 December, 2010

What a difference a Day makes

Anniversaries are significant times in the lives of individuals, families and communities. And December is a month that has far more than its fair share, for me, my family, South Africa and indeed the world.  

It starts with my birthday – naturally, it starts for all of us with our birth day. 

I share a birthday with Woody Allen and Bette Midler and, I discovered, December 1st is also "Eat an Apple Day" and "Pie Day" in the USA. In solidarity, then, I thoroughly enjoyed the apple crumble my wife baked for my birthday. Thanks, love!

Besides that, December 1st is a day remarkable for the number of what I believe are significant events in history. Issues of human rights and health technology feature high on my list of chronologically ordered kairos moments. (If you missed them, feel free to scroll down to my posts below on Time as chronology and kairos.)

I selectively sourced from Wicki these December 1st ‘happenings’ because they are, in my mind, closely connected:

1834 - Slavery was abolished in the British Cape Colony (South Africa).

1864 - President Abraham Lincoln reaffirmed in his State of the Union Address his commitment to ending slavery as per the Emancipation Proclamation.

1919 - Lady Astor became the first woman Member of Parliament to be sworn in at the House of Commons of the United Kingdom.

1955 - Rosa Parks was arrested for violating the racial segregation laws of the city of Montgomery, Alabama because she refused to give up her bus seat to a white man. This incident which lead to the Montgomery Bus Boycott was pivitol to the American Civil Rights movement.

1969 - The escalating Vietnam war led to the first draft lottery in the United States since the Second World War

1981 The HIV virus was officially recognized. December 1st  is now commemorated as World AIDS Day.

1982 – At the University of Utah, Barney Clark was the first person to receive a permanent artificial heart.

1999 - An international consortium of geneticists “released into the public domain the genetic code of a portion of human chromosome 22”. (Related to DNA Mapping/The Human Genome Project)

However, one PARTICULAR December 1st really caught my eye due to what I believe is also its UNIVERSAL connection.

This year December 1st  was the start of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah (Dedication). This holyday commemorates the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem following the Maccabee/Hasmonean resistance against the edict by Emperor Antiochus (165 BCE) making observance of Judaism an offence punishable by death, and ordering the worship of Greek gods in the Temple.

Discrimination, conversion by force, mob violence, mass destruction, and even genocide has taken place “in the name of God” throughout human history. However, I believe this is frequently a fear-based tribalism/nationalism stage-managed by corporate greed, power politics and trigger happy militarists. Often this is deceitfully concealed under the cloak of religious faith and affiliation.

However, it’s not simply fanatical nationalism, care-less consumers, and techno-driven economies that feed the flames of conflict. Religious believers must confess that all too often religious leadership has ignored, condoned, approved or actively supported these godless activities.

I want to elaborate on this thought in later posts, but for now I only ask that we re-dedicate ourselves to a common humanity, to the shared experience and universal expressions of what we consider Wholeness, Goodness, Truth and Beauty.
May we all act in G-d’s eyes what we really are because, as the priest and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins reminds us  
Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces

Happy Holydays... 

25 November, 2010

It's about time...

Saturday was one of those days that did not go according to our plans, and we were not the only ones whose timetables were turned topsy-turvy. It started well enough, although a bit earlier than usual. We picked up two other people and headed off to Dundee (KwaZulu Natal, not the other one) for a Presbytery Empowerment Programme (PEP Talk? You bet!).

For those not destined yet to be part of the Hot Scots (or Frozen Chosen, depends on whether…) Presbytery is the leadership equivalent to a regional council, district meeting or diocese in other Church denominations. The Presbytery of Thukela covers a wide area of the KwaZulu Natal interior so it is quite a schlep for people to travel the long distances. Anyway, schlep they did, in numbers, to meet with the General Secretary of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa Rev Dr Jerry Pillay.

Leadership skills, issues and priorities were the order of the day, with time (overrun, of course) for the more mundane (really?) questions of denominational admin and expenditure – where does “our” money go anyway?!  What a pleasure the whole affair was. Open group discussions, some suggested answers, and many a few ‘hiccups’ cleared along the way.

So, back home we go, charged with enthusiasm, and ready for a quick dip in the pool and a bit of a Saturday afternoon nap. Phone rings at 6.30pm, as dusk is falling. Problem: carload of women returning from an Association meeting in Ulundi, broken down 15k’s outside Vryheid. Can we tow them in?

Rack brains, rummage through contact lists, phone around, haul a hardworking Church member from his hearth and home – literally – he had just lit the braai fire (Barbeque or Barby for the friends afield). Bit of to-ing and fro-ing to locate stranded vehicle and its more fortunate fellow-traveller. Tow vehicle back.

Bring back nine ladies, four of who were fortunate to have been in the working vehicle, so able to head off home straight away. Made coffee for the remaining marooned Mama’s, rifled around for some food, extra plates etc. Even found mattresses, pillows and blankets in case of need. (Do we have a lot of pillows!!)

And then we waited. And waited. Cell phones (mobiles) heavily in use, rescue plans made, cavalry called, husbands re-assured, and children gently scolded bedward, etc. All the stuff Mama’s do. Finally a working vehicle arrives. Mama’s pile in, and set off. For a two hour trip plus detour to some remote rural settlement. It’s nearly 11pm. We go to bed.

Sunday morning is as Sunday morning does. After service we get a call, the mechanic will arrive shortly, with Mama, husband, son, and friend.
It’s hot. I want to swim.  The fixit team arrives. I find our jumper leads, the vehicles go head to head, linked up and soon ready to leave. So I can swim. Or work in the garden, or have a cool juice, or play with dog. Whatever I want.

Nope. That doesn’t work!
“Do you please have some wire?”
“Do you please have a bolt this size?”
Vehicle starts. Sputters. Dies. It’s getting hotter.
Cold water is issued, and potato salad prepared.

Jump leads, ignition, voomah, and engine running. Happy smiles. Prayer of thanks (very grateful thanks!). They go, with potato salad in plastic marge containers. No, really. It’s not necessary to return them. We get on with our lives.

Why am I telling you this? It follows from my previous post on time. (Back up if you need to..) Chronological time – time in measurable quantity, moving on yet more or less predictable, and manageable. And Kairos time… totally unquantifiable, unplanned, unmanageable, and yet somehow MORE ALIVE!

Saturday was for me very definitely more than a calender day. It was also ‘the time of my life’. Because I chose it to be so.  Yes, I did pass through the rolling eyes heavenward and dark mutterings phase, and the “doing one’s duty” blurb, before finally jumping right into this Kairos moment: from calendar to kairos. And so, one more time, Jesus came calling 

LOVE bade me welcome… So I did sit and eat. (George Herbert)

21 November, 2010

What’s the Time, Mr Wolf…

What time is it? The answer is obvious, isn’t it? Check your watch, the clock, or the bottom right corner of your computer screen – or even your calendar. Time is marked for most of us, most of the time, by the measuring the units of minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, decades, epochs even. But is this answer enough?

Such a measurement of time, by itself, traps us in a narrow, shallow and monotonous existence. We divide, dis-integrate, time into a mere linear series of events. We treat time as a commodity. “Time is money”, we say. We spend time, waste time, and often simply run out of time! We even, perhaps, avoid time - we talk about “Looking forward”, or we find ourselves ‘living in the past’.

We do need this chronological, quantitative, linear understanding of the nature of time to function in the matrix of social and economic ‘engagements’. Memory and nostalgia, anticipating, planning and expecting ARE important aspects of being human.

And yet…

“What time is it?” is a question that has another answer. Or rather, the question needs to be framed in another way; “What kind of time is it?”

There is a huge difference of meaning between the use of the word “time” in the chronological, quantitative sense of “What is the time?” and the use of the word “time” in the qualitative sense of the reframed question “What kind of time is it?”
In the Greek language of the New Testament there are two words for “time” that in are covered by the one English word “time.” In a similar way the one English word “love” is an attempt to translate, without interpretation, the four Greek words for love. (C.S Lewis: The Four Loves). This has caused a great deal of confusion and heartache.

The “What kind of time is it?” question uses the word kairos. (Jesus before Christianity: Albert Nolan)

Kairos time is quality time. Kairos time is the eternal now.
Kairos time is the mutual moment when we recognize the revealing of the eternal Presence (God) breaking into (emerging/arising) and being made manifest in the chronology and place of our particular world in time/space.
The prophets of the Old Testament, John Baptist, Jesus of Nazareth, and John on the island of Patmos, to whom the Revelation of Jesus came, presented (presenced/made present) the then/now/future nature of the Rule of God.

Kairos is a crisis, a time to choose, it is the opportunity for a change of mind/heart (metanoia = Greek for “repent”), Kairos time ushers in the possibility of a transformation of the temporary here and now – that particular time and place we ‘find’ ourselves – where and when we become aware of/enlightened to the Reality that was, is and is to come.

According to Luke’s gospel nativity narrative, the shepherds in Bethlehem were in chronological time. I imagine them around a fire with someone – probably the youngest- keeping a watchful eye on the resting flock. The others relaxing, telling jokes, boasting, complaining, placing bets, possibly knocking back a few.  The angel appears before them, the glory of the Lord shone around, they were given “good news of great joy that will be for all the people”.

This is a kairos moment bursting into the mundane routine of “ordinary time”. The shepherds could have run away, but they chose to go to Bethlehem and them bear witness to the miracle of the divine-becoming-human made real among them.

We had a kairos moment or two this weekend. Did you?

“Behold, now is the time (kairos) of God’s favour, now is the day of our salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2).