Thursday, April 26, 2012

My Last Blog Post

Dear Friends

For quite sometime now I have struggled with a decision as to whether I should continue with the blog, or not. I've now come to the point where I feel it's time for the last post - excuse the pun. Everything has a particular lifespan and a way of fulfilling it's purpose during that lifespan.

This blog has been going for longer than three years now and I've been touched by the extent of its growth in its followers and readership.  I've had the privilege of getting to know a large number of you so well that you' have become friends, even though I've never met you in the flesh, and that makes the decision so much harder. But I do feel that the time has come to let go of this blog and to venture on to something else.

Thank you for your support and for sharing so much with me. I'd like to express my gratitude to the many people who have engaged me through emails and those who have done the same through the comments section on the blog. Each of you have taught me so much more than you can ever imagine, far more than what I have shared on this blog. This, sadly, as I said, will be the last blog post.

I'm continuing to blog over on Wordpress, Candid Impressions, but not around the Chritian faith, or religion for that matter, but simple musings and insights concerning life in general.

If you would want to join me there I would love to have you, but I'm also aware that this is perhaps not what you would want as "Seeing More Clearly" specifically centered around the Christian faith.

Again, thank you for all you have meant to this blog and me and for making it in to something which I think has been worthwhile. May Divine blessing flow from within and lead you all on in to adventures of  faith not yet dreamt  of.

Peace be with you all.
Don Scrooby.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Gospel Lectionary Reading - Reflection on Luke 24:36-48 - Of This World

If ever there's a passage of scripture that roots Christian spirituality in the physicality and earthiness of this world, it's this one.

I find it fascinating, but also understandable,  how when Jesus comes and stands in the midst of the disciples they relate to him as if they're seeing a ghost, in other words, as something dead and other-worldly. You see, that's precisely what ghosts are to us.  We need only watch those programs on parapsychology and the methods used to assess whether some kind of presence or presences are present. It's all so unrelated, nebulous and obtuse, and yet people love it; perhaps because for one brief moment it takes them out of this world in to something other and mysterious and intoxicating.

But Jesus won't have it. He goes to great lengths to point out  his physicality and his profound relatedness to this world, especially after his resurrection experience. He points to his wounds. He tells them to touch him. He talks about flesh and bones, announces his hunger by asking for something to eat. And then eats some fish right in their presence. What more can do you do to show that you're not some kind of detached spiritual being caught up in a parallel universe unable to feel and experience the life of this world.

For too long we've split the crucifixion from the resurrection and vice versa. The crucifixion has been seen to be part and parcel of the sufferings and pain of this world, while the resurrection has been seen to be a supernatural experience detached from everything else in this world. So concepts like heaven, resurrection, and spirit etc. have always had this supernatural other-wordly flavour and taste about them.

Jesus does a wonderful thing here in his meeting with the disciples. He unites resurrection to crucifixion. He makes them one. There's no dualistic split here, which means resurrection is a very earthy thing, just like crucifixion. If resurrection is embedded in crucifixion, then it is something which is here present with us, and is happening now within all the pain and anguish of life and this world. No wonder Paul can say:

"We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons and daughters, the redemption of our bodies."  (Notice the redemption of our "BODIES.")

I'm convinced that Christian spirituality has to let go of its long obsession with the supernatural and become far more earthy and natural in its expression if it's going to have any credibility in the world we're living in now. This encounter with Jesus certainly brings that fact home.    

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Gospel Lectionary Reading - Reflection on John 20:19-31 - When Heart Touches Heart

Have you ever had the experience of going through some kind of deep emotional pain and have someone come along and apply a purely  rational solution to it? Do this; do that, and that, and it'll all be fine. Not only is such an approach extremely annoying, but also deeply insensitive. It just doesn't have the capacity to touch the heart of things because it's perspective  rests in the intellect and head only.

Do we then say there's no place for rational thought in sorting out the difficulties we face and go through in life. Of course not!  Rationality is able to cut through the clouds of emotion and often needs to, but on its own it can be extremely cold, distant and indifferent. Relationships where only the head rules tend to be stony and unfulfilling.

It's fascinating to watch how Jesus deals with Thomas. Being rational was immensely important to Thomas. One can just hear it in his words: "Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my finger on those scars and my hand in his side, I will not believe." He would have made a good scientist. For him things had to be completely concrete, logical and cerebral, or else they just didn't make any sense. He was what we would call today, an empiricist. People like this are real gifts to us, but there's also often a degree of indifference and remoteness about them.

What is so striking about Jesus' action with Thomas, is that he did precisely what Thomas asked for. He took Thomas' hand and put it in his side. Thomas' finger was placed in the wound. He touches and feels the wound, and when he does, he cries from his heart (notice how his heart is awakened by the touching and feeling of the wound), "My Lord, and my God."

When we truly open ourselves to touching and feeling human pain, we realize very quickly that it cannot be felt, eased, or healed by the neat and ordered constructions of the intellect; the heart has to be brought in to it. Human pain and struggle has to be felt and connected with for compassion to flow and for resurrection to happen. There is a world of difference between,  "Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands and put my finger on those scars and my hand in his side, I will not believe" and "My Lord, and my God."

Life, and here we mean all of life including the natural world, is interpersonal, interdependent  and knitted together in intimacy. Deep down we all know that a life that offered everything except intimacy would offer nothing worth living for. Intimacy has everything to do with the heart and that's why resurrection in to true life will always begin with the heart, and not with the head. Heart has to touch heart. That was Thomas' experience, and it also needs to be ours.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Gospel Lectionary Reading - Reflection on Luke 23:26-43 - A Good Friday Meditation

"Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing?"

In the movie, "Crimson Tide" the Nuclear submarine, Alabama, gets a new second in command, Hunter (Denzel Washington). While sitting around the supper table with all the officers of the sub, Captain Ramsey (Gene Hackman), poses a challenging question to Hunter about the need for war. Hunter's answer both surprises and disturbs him - "In my humble opinion, in the nuclear world the true enemy is war itself."

I've always remembered those words; they are so profoundly true. The enemy is war itself because war feeds on war. It's interesting to note what has actually caused certain wars. When these causes are highlighted they always pale in to insignificance when compared to the inevitable cost and consequences of those wars. Virtually every war is like that. A good little exercise is to explore some of these causes.You'll be struck by the absurdities and how easily war could've been avoided.

What does all this have to do with a man crying from a cross, "Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing?" Everything, of course! This was Jesus' finest moment and his words and attitude here have never failed to boggle and humble human hearts and minds.

This utterance and the spirit behind it, was not expressed on the spur of the moment in one magnanimous detached act of sudden gallantry, rather it came out of a life that had learnt through an intense closeness to the Divine how to, moment by moment, respond compassionately, sanely, wisely and lovingly to every hurt, slight and injustice that came its way. Herein lies the secret of that magnificent spirit uttering those sublime words from the trauma of the cross. There was a history of conscious growth and deep commitment behind it, and therefore, when it faced the ultimate test, it was not found wanting.

What in fact was happening here? I suppose much can be said about that, but I see it as Jesus saying this - deception, falsehood, vengeance and violence and the lust for war has put me here, but with me it stops. I refuse to be the conveyor of the same. I will not fight fire with fire. I will not allow the same attitudes which have put me here to gain a foothold in my own life and spirit. Instead, my response to it, in my pain, will be consistent with the Divine love, wisdom and compassion that I've come to know and love and understand in all my living. I will live this out even in my most extreme moment.

It all gives depth to those words in 1Peter 2:23: "When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered , he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly." In other words he never responded in the way his accusers did, but entrusted himself to God and judged and responded to the situation in accordance with the Divine mind.

Would following Jesus not mean to do the same in whatever context, whether that be in family, community, workplace, or in our national life and politics? Would it not also mean us not allowing those very attitudes that lead to war, in whatever form this may come, to gain a foothold in our lives and spirit? Are we not all called to act with compassion, wisdom and forgiveness, especially in those dangerous and irrational moments of heightened conflict and pain?

What would happen if we too were all to say, "With me it stops, right here and now."

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Gospel Lectionary Reading - Reflection on Mark 11:1-11 - Further Thoughts on Shaping Identity

NB:  During this Lenten season I did a post on the Shaping of Identity. Palm Sunday with it's reading from Mark provides an opportunity to continue this theme and again show the immense importance of knowing who we are and what we stand for. I've taken a meditation of mine from 2009, reworked it a little, and presented it here as my contribution to our experience of Palm Sunday. Once again one can expand and develop the thoughts.

A while back I was watching three dogs at somebody’s house. The one had got hold of a rather big rag, and the other two had also latched on to it. And there the three of them were each pulling in different directions. Eventually the poor old rag lay tattered and in pieces on the grass. As I watched, it reminded me of a parable of life. When we become the victim of unrealistic expectations, we end up like that rag, tattered and torn, not knowing anymore who we are or what we should be doing.

Sunday is Palm Sunday, and apart from many other things, it speaks of expectations. Jerusalem was for Jesus the place of unrealistic and crippling expectations. That is what he rode in to. Numerous groups sought to impose their expectations on him. The Pharisees and the Jewish people at large wanted him to be the political messiah who would overthrow the Roman Government and establish again the throne of David. The Sadducees, who were in league with the Roman authorities because it was financially expedient, didn’t want the boat to be rocked and so they expected Jesus not to do anything that would kill the goose that layed the golden eggs. The zealots, and they’re always there in every situation, expected Jesus to be a revolutionary who through violence would change the order of things. And we can go on and on. All wanted to change him. All expected him to act in the way they deemed necessary. It was an absolute cauldron of expectations.

That is what Jesus rode in to on that day. And yet he resolutely went forward, knowing exactly who he was and what he was expected to do. How can we ever measure the strength of identity and destiny that welled up in him.  He was in no way divided within himself. To watch this and to feel it in the pages of the Gospel is sheer inspiration and beauty. Where did it all come from?

Well, firstly, he knew he was defined by something far greater than his own family, surroundings, culture and nation. He was defined by God of whom he was profoundly conscious. No one will ever know just how those moments of withdrawal and reflection which punctuated his life, shaped him and cemented his identity and purpose. Is this not where each of us find our true and undivided identity as well?

Secondly, because of the above, he was able to sift the wheat from the chaff. He was able to discern realistic expectations from unrealistic ones, not only in his inner life (the inner temptation in the garden to turn away from it all), but from the outer pressures to conform. It was the whole of his life that prepared him for that moment of entry and it was largely unmet expectations that ultimately sent him to the cross, but certainly not as a victim of those expectations. Listen to his words: “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have the authority to lay it down and the authority to take it up again. This command I recieved from my Father” John 10:18.

Are you at this moment in a Jerusalem filled with all sorts of expectations and demands? Do you feel that you are becoming a victim of them? Who are the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the zealots in your Jerusalem and what are they trying to impose on you? Draw aside and reflect on who you really are in the embrace of the Divine, and discern what is ultimately realistic and true and what is unrealistic and untrue? Once you’ve done that, walk boldly in to your Jerusalem.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Light of Dawn

In the last two Gospel lectionary reflections we looked at change, or transformation, or what we called a growing in consciousness. We also looked at how this change is not brought about by force or coercion, but rather by an inner movement of the Spirit. In traditional religious language all this is described as repentance,  which has much to do with the season of Lent.

I thought what I would do in this post is to simply offer an image which would assist and promote the two past Lectionary reflections. It is the image of dawn breaking.

Many of us have experienced at some time or other someone suddenly switching the light on to awaken us. The sharpness of that light has been terribly intrusive and we've immediately shielded our eyes from it. At times we've simply whipped the blanket over our heads and refused to budge. The sudden glare of sharp light is not conducive to change, or transformation. In fact it can be downright invasive and is far more likely to be rejected.

I love the words of Jesus when he said,  "I have much more to tell you, but now it would be too much for you to bear. When, however, the Spirit comes, who reveals the truth about God, he will lead you in to all truth." For me these words speak more of a dawning light of transformation than an intrusive one.

John O Donohue describes this light beautifully: "Light is incredibly generous, but also gentle. When you attend to the way the dawn comes, you learn how light can coax the dark. The first fingers of light appear on the horizon; ever so deftly and gradually, they pull the mantle of darkness away from the world.. Quietly, before you is the mystery of a new dawn, the new day." I think, more than often,  real change and transformation takes place like that.

I would hope that our experience of lent, at this moment, is more like this than those sudden intrusive flashes of light, that are not only hard to accept, but are also unable to sink their roots deep in to the soil of life.

I was awake early yesterday morning and caught these three images of dawn with my camera.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Gospel Lectionary Reading - Reflection on John 12:20-33 - The Dying and the Fruitful Seed

"I tell you the truth, unless an ear of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds."  John 12:24

Having spent part of my childhood living on a gold mine,  I became very aware of the workshops housing the various trades which served and kept the gold mine going. I was absolutely fascinated by the blacksmiths' shop. The drama of the noise, the fire, the creativity in men with leather aprons pounding red hot iron in to shape, was always so captivating. I've never forgotten the scenes and smells of that dazzling and blazing place. Interestingly, the creativity and change that took place in that workshop always came through a process of hammering and pounding things in to shape. That was the nature of the work.

I've often thought that so much of what we've called Christian spirituality, and especially the way it has been taught and lived in the past, has resembled the work of the blacksmith. The emphasis, too often, has been on a pounding and a hammering of ourselves in to a predetermined kind of shape, which has had nothing to do with the healthy unfolding of true human identity and life. Rather this forceful shaping has had far more to do with spiritual exploitation and manipulation than anything else. Not only has it caused a tremendous amount of woundedness in people, but so much of the violence that permeates the history of Christianity has its roots entwined in it. When you do violence to yourself to bring change, you will do it to others as well.

It's striking to see how Jesus speaks of human life and identity as an ear, or seed of wheat. There's something deeply important here. I'd like to share just three brief observations which could be further developed and expanded.

First, if an ear or seed of wheat is used by Jesus as a metaphor for human life and identity, then,  it's certainly not something that we can force and hammer and pound in to a predetermined shape. There is an inner design or essence in that seed that needs to be nurtured. It knows what it is and what it is not. It knows what it must unfold in to and what it must let go of in order to achieve this. I read somewhere, not sure where, that the human spirit in its connnectedness with the Divine Spirit knows and understands, only too well, its own geography.

We have lost the art of listening to that inner geography or essence and the ability to nurture it in its urge to unfold. We have poured so much external force and will on it in trying to change it,  that we are no longer capable of hearing its voice and responding to it. Christianity has not done very well in helping us to do this kind of listening.

Second, "unless an ear of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed." A human life and identity which takes on the illusion that it is separate, superior and detached from the whole arena of life and its profound interconnectedness, "remains only a single seed"  in its selfishness and egotistical endeavour. It too dies, but sadly it dies to all that which nourishes and gives true identity and life. Community with all its trials, tribulations, joys and attainments becomes the soil  in which the seeds of true identity grow and learn to discern what to die to, and what to come alive to. Fruitfulness in life without the dimension  of community is purely self-indulgence and selfishness, and not fruitfulness at all. There's no such thing as the self-made life. It just doesn't exist. Life invests in us and we are called to invest in life.

Third, it's not surprising that Jesus says these words in the context of his coming struggle and passion. Nothing strips us more of our superflous baggage in life than adversity and struggle. It has a way of showing us what is of ultimate significance and what is not, what we need to hold on to, and what to let go of, where to focus our life's energy, and where not to, in other words the building of true self-hood embedded in and connected to the soil of all life.  

We're reminded that in every way the life of Jesus bears testimony to all this. His words become his life. He is the epitome of the seed that falls to the ground and dies, and in turn produces many seeds. It's the path he followed and the one he calls us to.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Gospel Lectionary Reading - Reflections on John 3:14-21 Moving in to Deeper Faith-consciousness

"But whoever lives by the truth comes in to the light , so that it may be seen plainly that what has been done has been done through God."  ( John 3:21)

Do you remember the moment when you discovered for the first time that Santa Claus, or Father Christmas, as he is called here, was actually your parents? I remember the moment well. My cousin who was a little older than me, and I, were arguing about this. He was telling me that Father  Christmas was really our parents and I could just not accept this. So we went to his mother who was in the bathroom washing her hair. The door was closed so he called out to her: "Mom, Father Christmas isn't true, hey? It's you and Dad that bring  the presents? Back came the answer from behind the closed door. "Yes, but don't tell Donovan (that's me) that!" And that's how I found out that Father Christmas was not true.

It was a terrible let down. All that I'd believed in crumbled and that night I angrily confronted my parents. They were gentle and affirming and slowly coaxed me out of my disappointment. The feeling of conflict between the need to hold on to what I'd believed, and the need to move on in to the adulthood perception, was intense. It was only completely resolved when later that year I was given the pleasure and the gift of playing Father Christmas for my other siblings.

Later, when I thought about the transition a little more, I realized that in spite of the disappointment I had felt, there was an underlying disturbance and suspicion about it all, even before the episode with my cousin and his mother, that it was my parents; I just didn't want to go down that road. The truth was too painful.

Now, I suppose this little shift in belief simply pales in to insignificance when it comes to those greater transitions in our lives and faith journeys,  but, the principle remains. Change is not easy, especially when a change in consciousness is called for.

Becoming more and more conscious is both a wonderful and painful process. It's a having to let go of that which has served it's purpose, and a taking hold of that which is new and uncertain. That's the story written in to our faith journeys. At least that's how they should be. Sadly, too many of us get stuck in concepts of faith that need to change, but we just can't let go of them. Even though the light of truth challenges and disturbes, the risk is far too great to take up that light and challenge.

The above words of scripture (John 3:21) are in the context of that marvellous encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus. We're told that Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. It's John's way of symbolically saying that Nicodemus is in a state of deep disturbance. Things are dark and not making sense anymore. He's going through what is described as "a dark night of the soul" which is a state of discontent brought on by the Spirit when it's time for us to move on in to a deeper consciousness of faith. Nicodemus was feeling that there was far more to his faith and that his present   way of belief was slowly becoming outworn.

Jesus opened up before him the path he needed to follow. Whether Nicodemus took it or not, we don't know. But those same kinds of challenges confront us on the way and we too are left with the decision as to how we'll respond.

A key aspect, then, of John 3:14-21 is about the necessary and constant change in our faith consciousness. It's about the disturbance the Spirit brings in to our faith journeys, the dark nights of the soul that come upon us, when what we believe in no longer holds true and we're gently compelled to move on in to new and deeper insight and meaning.

Whether we have the courage to do this, or not, is always before us and will continually impact our growth as people of faith.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Gospel Lectionary Reading - Reflection on John 2:13-22 - Part 3 - Women's Rights in Swaziland

Today is International Women's Day and the news coming out of our neighbour Swaziland is not good. Alex Crawford, award winning journalist, has just done an outstanding report on the tragic conditions under which women in this little Kingdom have to live.

Child abuse is rife with little girls being most vulnerable to sexual abuse and ending up with aids.  Schools are filled with heartbreaking stories of sexual abuse. Virtually half the adult population suffers from aids and there are still some who believe that sleeping with a virgin cures the disease.

Swaziland's constitution provides few rights for women and marital rape is not accepted by law. Violence in families is an accepted norm with men having multiple partners and the women being left to raise and care for the children conceived in these relationships. Average life expectancy in Swaziland , mainly because of aids, is a little beyond 35 years, and while almost three-quarters of the people live on less than ten Rand a day, the King, Mswati the third, an absolute monarch, has been accused of bankrupting the nation with his lavish lifestyle, including 13 wives who each have their own palace and entourage of vehicles and staff.

We've been talking about the cleansing of the Temple and Jesus' outrage and indignation at the abuse and exploitation that was going on there. I wonder how he would react and respond to the situation in Swaziland. I think, thankfully, we're beginning to see his spirit in the many activists from all walks of life in Swaziland as they express their anger and outrage. They need all the support and affirmation they can get in order to gather strength and resolution. As we said in in the previous post, we pray that their anger will be highly conscious and filled with "a settled purpose" as it constructively engages and challenges what for many has become a structure of sheer absolutism.

South Africa has now agreed a 2.4bn rand ($355m; £218m) loan to help Swaziland cope with a cash crisis. However, South Africa is insisting on both political and economic reforms.

Now, this is fine, but I wonder whether within these political and economic reforms there are also reforms that pertain to the rights of women. I hope there are those within our government, who are sufficiently outraged by the struggle of women in Swaziland, to demand such reforms. I say this because I for one cannot accept our taxpayers money going towards propping up a system which, apart from the many other things, is so neglectful and insensitive to the rights of women. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Gospel Lectionary Reading - Reflections on John 2:13-22 - Part 2 - Controlled Anger

Something in me always mistrusts any form of Christianity which is too sensorial of our emotions. You're not allowed to feel fear, or grief, or doubt, or sadness, or sensuality, even the sparkle of joy and celebration  has to be curtailed within the bounds of so called "decent Christian behaviour." And when it comes to something like anger, well, that's just a no go.

I love the illustration of the symphony orchestra when it comes to understanding the emotional dimension of our lives. The musical conductor stands in front of various groups of instrumentation each with its own sound and form of musical expression. All are necessary and under the baton of the conductor express themselves at the appropriate moment and in the appropriate way, depending on the musical piece they're ingaged in. There are times of silence, with no hint of expression, which is a form of expression itself,  then suddenly loud and strong assertions, and then soft and soothing intonations.  All are essential going up to make a harmonious and beautiful  symphony.

I think it's like that with our emotional lives. Under the baton of our inner conductor, guided by the Divine Spirit, the appropriate emotions are expressed in the appropriate way at the appropriate time with the appropriate tone, turning life in to a symphony of beauty and harmonious expression.

In Jesus' cleansing of the Temple we see such an appropriate moment of emotional expression.  It's a demonstration of immense anger and outrage aimed at the blatant  injustice and corruption going on in a place where it is least expected.

Without this evolving in to a study of Greek, which I'm sure none of us wants, let me just say that there are in Greek four different words for anger. Three of them refer more to egocentric anger, the kind of anger that tends to errupt in people when their egocentric attitudes and defences are challenged and exposed. Anger like this often seeks to destroy in all sorts of ways and has the capacity to become extremely dangerous and destructive.

It's interesting to note that when the New Testament describes Jesus' anger, a fourth word is used, "orge" which means literally, "the settled purpose of anger, or wrath." It means an anger with a high level of consciousnes behind it. It's controlled, constructive and purposeful in its engagement. It has the capacity to challenge and change situations with its positive energy. A lovely example of this word is found in Mark 3:5 where Jesus knows, that because it is the Sabbath, the people will accuse him if he heals the man with the withered hand - "He (Jesus) looked around at them in anger (orge) and deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand.' "

This kind of anger is a healthy response to an intolerable situation. It serves the Divine purpose because it flows, not out of inner egocentric structures, but out of the inner person transformed and nurtured in to greater consciousness, through love, by the Divine Spirit. It protects the innocent and weak and seeks to overwhelm that which is destructive and injust. This is the kind of anger we see Jesus expressing in the cleansing of the Temple, and in following him, we too will and should feel it and act upon it.

Perhaps now we are in a better position to understand what Paul meant in Ephesians 4:26 when he said: "In your anger, do not sin." Notice the word he used for anger, "orge." Be ready to express your anger, it will be needed, but be vigilant and always watch how you do it.

NB  A friend of mine, Peter Woods, has taken a different slant to this text of the cleansing of the temple in his post  Cleansing the Cardiac Temple. It's really worth reading

Monday, March 5, 2012

Gospel Lectionary Reading - Reflection on John 2:13-22 - The Cleansing of the Temple - Part 1 - Introduction

A community in England has been rocked by a trial where a couple have been found guilty of the barbaric murder of a 15-year-old boy who they believed was a witch. I quote from the newspaper report:

"Football coach Eric Bikubi and his partner Magalie Bamu, both 28, subjected her younger brother Kristy to four days of brutal torture. The boy had travelled with his two brothers and two sisters to London from Paris to spend the 2010 Christmas holidays with their eldest sister.

"During the visit, the couple turned on Kristy and became convinced he was possessed.They believed he had cast spells on another child in the family, the Old Bailey heard. Tests found Kristy, who was singled out after wetting his pants, had suffered 130 injuries and that he had drowned in the bath during a final ritual of deliverance.The boy was in such pain after days of being attacked with knives, sticks, metal bars, and a hammer and chisel that he "begged to die" before slipping under the water, it was claimed.The teenager had refused to admit to sorcery and witchcraft and his punishments in a "deliverance" ceremony became more horrendous.

"The driving force behind the killing was their belief in the phenomenon of "kindoki", which is an established part of spiritual life in areas of central and western Africa.The killers both hail from the Democratic Republic of Congo where belief in witchcraft is particularly strong."

While talking to someone about this case and the shock it instilled in  the community, the person said something rather disturbing:  "I don't know why they're all so shocked, this kind of thing happens in Africa all the time." Now, there are two things wrong here. First,  it's a generalization, and second, it's as if we've become morally immune to things that should invoke absolute outrage and indignation. It's this last one that  disturbs me most.

In South Africa today, we are fast losing our capacity to feel and express moral outrage and indignation at some of the things that go on around us. We are simply beginning to accept highly unacceptable behaviour and action as ordinary run of the mill stuff - just part of who we are. There's this little phrase we hear so often, "this is Africa, you know!" What nonsense! In the end we'll pay a terrible price for our moral indifference.

Next Sunday the Gospel Lectionary Reading centres around Jesus' cleansing of the Temple, an event seen to be so important, that it's recorded in all four of the Gospels. This prophetic, and for many, disturbing action of Jesus, speaks profoundly in to our context, and for this reason I'd like to do three meditations entitled "Recovering Our Moral Indignation and Anger" on this blog during  this week leading up to Sunday. I'd like to offer them as a resource for preparation to any who may be interested.  They'll appear on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday giving time for reflection before Sunday. Hope you'll join me and find them meaningful.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Gospel Lectionary Reading - Reflection on Mark 8:31-38 - The Cost of Following

An immensely challenging situation arises in the classic movie, "The Shoes of the Fisherman." The world is on the brink of nuclear war due to a Chinese-Soviet feud made worse by a famine caused by trade restrictions brought against China by the United States.

Pope Kiril realizes that if the troubles in China continue, the cost would be a war that could ultimately rip the world apart. Knowing this, he must seek to convince the West, and most of all, the Catholic Church, to open up its resources to aid. The Cardinals are horrified at what they perceive to be a "total threat" to the very existence of the Church, but Kiril is resolute and fiercely courageous in the face of this resistence and does what no Pope in the history of the Church did.

At his papal coronation, he removes his tiara (in a gesture of humility) and states his intent to lay before the poor and hungry of the world the vast wealth of the Catholic Church. He does this in defiance of the powerful traditions and authorities of the church, but he is also not sure how the crowds in St Peter's square will respond to this decision.

When he makes his announcement, much to his relief, the enormous crowd roars its affirmation and delight. It's a glorious moment of courage and strength. At last the Church commits herself to the path of the  One she serves, and truly begins to  follow him inspite of all the risks entailed.

"He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again...and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him."

Last week we saw Jesus in communion with the Divine Spirit forging his identity and vision. Here we see him becoming even more emphatic about both these dimensions in his life. Two things about his words stand out.

First, he knows that who he is and what he's living out, is rooted in God's reality which goes completely against the one he faces, the one created by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, so much so, and we need to really grasp this, that it will probably mean his suffering and death in his challenging of it.

Like Peter, we just don't understand this - we just don't get it. One needs only to listen to people in this season of Lent when they say things like, "I'm giving up sugar for Lent," or "I'm giving up beer," or "I'm giving up meat, or tea for Lent," and so on. We just don't get it. Words like these are no different from Peter's unconsciousness and naivety when he takes Jesus aside and rebukes him. Jesus is talking about a commitment to a Divine value system, a reality that will bring about suffering, even death when it is truly lived out, and we talk about giving up sugar, meat or beer. It's sheer nonsense and bears testimony to a state of our total unconsciouness to the real call of Jesus on our lives.

Let me share just one aspect. What would it mean to live out the values of honesty and truth in the working place in South Africa today - a context absolutely shot through with bribery, corruption, self-enrichment and falsehood. Whether we like it or not, it will mean suffering; we can't get away from that, in some cases even death. Is that being over-dramatic? Of course not, it's already happened to some who  have committed themselves to God's reality of truth and honesty (I personally know of two such people), and let me say it again, we talk about giving up sugar, beer and meat. No wonder the church is in the state that it's in. The denomination I belong to has hardly spoken a prophetic word against this state of affairs. It's so busy propping up those who in many cases are the source of the corruption, that these words of Jesus sound  foreign and peculiar. No wonder so many people today speak of a following of Jesus outside of the Church.

The second thing about these words of Jesus is that he knew this Divine reality, this path he would follow, worked out with the Spirit in the crucible of the desert, would in the end be triumphant.  "...and that he must be killed and after three days rise again." He knew that in the end truth and justice would always overcome. To be on the side of both was to be on the side of God and life. Jesus knew this, and lived it, and died living it. That's what he calls us to. I have to confess that it frightens the hell out of me and I'm only too aware that I'm nowhere near this, but I'm certainly not going to trivialize it with silly little "giving ups" for Lent.

Jesus, describes in these words his walking in to the jaws of a value system that clamours for comfort, power and prestige, a system that centres itself around the false and powerful assertions of the ego, and he pays the ultimate price for that; but in doing so carves out a way of liberation for us all and calls us to follow that way. Is that not what Lent is all about - a preparation for this?  God's reality doesn't come without cost in this world. Frighteningly, it can also cost us our lives. It was the risk Pope Kiril took.