SMMS rises …

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This was our contribution to the One Billion Rising Campaign held on the 14 February 2013.

Whilst our chaplain read out the scriptures, the women of SMMS interrupted …

We believe Jesus would want us to stand in solidarity with those who have been abused as a matter of priority. To do everything in our power to prevent it from happening in our families and in our communities. We lit a single candle to symbolise our commitment and then invited our brothers to light a candle too, to stand alongside us.

Watch it here …

For the duration of Lent we will be observing Thursdays in Black and sharing stories of what it means to abuse and be abused.

Join us!

Some lidl bit of heaven …

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HeartI visited a little school in Howick yesterday that admits mainly impoverished and underprivileged children. Whilst waiting to see the Principal, I overheard an elderly volunteer talking about her morning. She had spent it travelling between various clinics and doctors trying to get someone to assist a young child with a chronic ear infection. She had been ‘moved from pillar to post’ in order to get the situation sorted and whilst she was ‘beyond exhausted’ her young charge had received a ‘good rest’ lying comfortably on a bed under the watchful eye of her guardian angel.

She sighed a good natured sigh as she reported back and the Principal said to her ‘you will most definitely get into heaven for this …’

I smiled to myself – I’m not sure about your future destination Kingdom Worker, but I am sure that you created a little piece of heaven for this child.

Heaven – not just a future place but a here and now reality for a child who experienced love, care and Jesus through the selfless act of a volunteer.

It was a happy thought …

It’s not all love and light …

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Kumon-sad-face-480x413Nobody said seminary would be easy. But some days I feel like I am wading through mud.

This past week feels like an exercise in mind numbing torture.

In our news: Oscar Pistorius (accidentally) murders his girlfriend, South Africa reels and almost breaks under the dark truth of gender violence and cruelty, a new political player enters our stage under intense scrutiny and criticism, the head of the Catholic Church resigns, the first in 500 odd years …

And what do we talk about?

We talk about John Wesley, the father of Methodism. We talk about him ad nauseum. This, of course, is because that it is what our syllabus requires of us. This is what we have been told is relevant for future ministers. I could weep!

At no point have we attempted to connect our faith and our learning with the real world. I have tried on a few occasions and in different settings to raise some of these questions, but we seem to be too frightened/too diplomatic to broach them. This stuff is important – is it not? – not just because of its sensationalist nature but because this is what our country is talking about. How do we interrogate the new political party’s ideology in light of our current political landscape? How do we teach others to be analytical without the outright dismissal of a potentially important moment in our history, our future? How do we respond theologically?

How do we learn about the ugly side of human nature if we don’t discuss rape, gender violence and patriarchy? Holding meaningful ceremonies without rigorous teaching and conversation to underpin them is, well, meaning-less. I read a comment from an extremely well educated young man studying abroad this past week that said the following: “Men, wake up tomorrow and make your mother or wife a cup of tea. Compliment a stranger on her looks”. This guy speaks so much truth and yet this one statement on how to address gender issues shows how just far we still have to travel. We are not addressing these things here.

So I am demoralised. I am despondent … it feels like we are going around in circles rather than taking any meaningful steps forward.

God forgive me… I am trying to remain positive and to keep my head up – ‘running the race with endurance and courage’ but some days are just tough.

“Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage each other, especially now …” (Hebrews 10: 23 – 25)

I pray these words would take root in my heart…

Thursdays in Black…

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Say_NO_to_Violence_by_JukubuToday I am wearing black in the scorching heat of a South African summer in order to show solidarity with ‘Thursdays in Black – Towards a world without rape and violence’.

South Africans have risen up in outrage in the weeks since Anene Booysen was raped and murdered and I wonder whether her case would have been as widely reported (and reacted to) had it not been for the young woman in India who died as a result of her horrific injuries following her brutal rape in Dec 2012 – her case created a media fire-storm  Perhaps as a society we have just had enough. The rape statistics are staggering. A woman is more likely to be raped in SA than she is to receive an education. Say what?!!

Last week I read an outstanding article by Pierre De Vos (click here) on the ‘limitations of outrage‘ when it comes to rape and gender violence. I encourage you to read it and to share it. It challenged me to think about my role in society and in particular my community.

I realised that I do not need to assert my power. I am powerful because I choose to be powerful. I do not need to prove my worth to anyone nor do I need to prove a point. I can stand alongside men largely because I was brought up to believe I am no more, no less than any other human being. Of course I am well aware of my colour and my privilege and I am aware that this is not true of everyone. I have not been raped. I have not been assaulted. I know that I am lucky that my upbringing did not influence me into thinking I have to be subservient to anyone based purely on their gender. This does not mean that I don’t have a role to play in helping those who have not been as fortunate, nor does it mean I must flaunt my privilege.

The seminary has committed to wearing black on Thursdays for at least the period of Lent and I will wear black to remind me not only of my worth but the worth of all people. I will not belittle or demonise men. I will not make men in general feel guilty just by virtue of their sex. I will continue to affirm women and to work with men in understanding how our patriarchal societies contribute to gender violence, injustice and inequality. Adding to existing power struggles is not helpful, at least not in my community.

I will try at all times to speak the truth in love. I will remember that my life and my attitude affects my world and I will, by all means possible, try to work for peace, reconciliation and healing. When I wear black I will remember that darkness cannot overcome darkness and I will stand with my sisters and my brothers and quietly and confidently affirm them both, just as I have been affirmed. Together we can work for change.

Together.

Drawing lines in the sand …

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the_line_in_the_sand-e1284565465608I have mastered the art of ‘arm’s length’ relationships. I mean I am seriously good at this. Drawing lines in the proverbial and letting people get only ‘so’ close.

I love people.

I need people.

I very rarely allow people ‘in’.

I am not just talking romance, I am talking friends, family, colleagues. Too close and you get hurt.

The problem is of course that there is a part of me that longs for deep connection with other human beings. We are hard-wired for connection with one another, even if it is just ONE other.

And so I struggle …  or God struggles …  to wrestle my barriers away from me – to blur the lines I draw around myself.

You can imagine my annoyance when last week I read words which spoke directly into this need for protection. Words which have played over and over and over in my mind, words which have challenged me and which I am trying to use to make me brave…

All relationships are painful. The more we love another person, the more vulnerable we become, and the more likely it is that they will hurt us. In our fear of being wounded, we often approach others cautiously, waiting for some guarantee that they will be safe for us before we commit to relationship. But, rather than guarantee our safety, this strategy simply guarantees that we will never find the community we long for. In order to find a safe place, we need to become a safe place for others first.  If we allow our fear to keep us from love, love will never find us. But, if we allow love to drive out our fear, we will be hurt – that much is inevitable – but love will “soothe what love has burnt.”

Love will soothe what love has burnt …

Enough said.

My thanks (I think) to John van de Laar whose words these are. I am reading his book ‘Learning to Belong’.

I am going to learn to ‘belong’, one tiny little hurt at a time.

What a difference a year makes …

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You know I’m not writing much these days … sometime during the last year I seemed to lose my voice. My writing voice anyhow. I have tried to work out why, it’s not like I don’t want to write, I do, writing helps me sort things out in my head. But something in me changed in 2012. It was so subtle, so gentle that I didn’t even feel it happen. I am still unable to put my finger on what exactly has changed, but I am profoundly different in one area particularly.

I am less sure of myself. I feel less confident about sharing my thoughts with the world, perhaps it’s middle child syndrome, ‘second year’ reality. Coming into the seminary last year I was confident, I felt validated, being sent here felt like affirmation and so I was sure and confident within myself, even though I was not as confident about my place in this community.

During the last year that changed and I am now less sure of myself but more sure of my place in this community. Last year was about unlearning, about letting go, about allowing myself to be emptied. This year I don’t know what will happen, but I am empty enough I think to allow myself to be taught by this community, by my peers. I trust them, and the process.

under constructionThis seminary is heaven for us teachers of the Word. It’s very real, extraordinarily diverse, messy, sensitive and delicate. We need to treat it with love and care and a huge dollop of respect. I am going to continue to write and to struggle and to share with you what happens here even though at present sharing my thoughts seems risky and scary. But I guess that’s not a bad thing. 2013 is about learning and learning means making mistakes. I am not great at letting people see my mistakes, knowing my frailties, but I am human and apparently that’s what humans do. They share and they allow themselves to be seen and heard even when it feels risky. So on this first day of a new term I commit myself to writing and sharing – even if it feels like I am speaking nonsense.

Bear with me … God is at work.

Lessons from a Praying Mantis…

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2013 has well and truly begun. Here at seminary we have hit the ground running. Orientation is one week in, one to go and it looks set to be a very busy and hopefully productive year for me personally as well as the community at large. One of my goals for this year is to be more active in community life and to take hold of as many opportunities for growth as possible. That looks to be coming true for a myriad of reasons and I am really excited about the year ahead.

praying mantisThat being said it’s very easy to become immersed in community life and say yes to all things. (One likes to be useful). But last night at bedtime, after a busy week and an equally busy weekend, this amazing little creature settled on my bedside lamp and cautiously watched and stalked the night life around her. Backwards and forwards she swayed, ‘ready, no not yet… ready, no not yet’ she seemed to be saying. She took her time, surveying her surroundings, waiting for the perfect moment to move, whilst watching me from every conceivable angle I might add (it was mutual that watching).

The praying mantis: the symbol of focus, stillness, concentration and prayer.

It was a reminder. It felt like a reminder.

Perhaps I am being encouraged to slow down a bit, to take my time each morning and each evening to Be Still. To remain focused on the tasks at hand, day by day. Contemplation, the art of being still, being mindful. Prayerful. Prayer-Phil.

She was beautiful, graceful, ever so patient and I am grateful that she stopped by.

Breathe … she seemed to whisper. Remember to breathe and to focus.

and we’re back …

back at seminary, engaging orientation – I have not written for so long that I am actually just attempting to check I can still write …

I’ll be honest, it feels like I am typing with two left feet … and thinking with half a brain. But I will write again now that the year has started afresh.

For now: I am delighted to be back. I feel positive, energised and ready for the year… its kiff!

pray for us!

Loving you, loving me …

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The following post from author Jean Raffa popped into my in box today. With my last few posts in mind I thought it shed light on our ability/inability to love and to be kind to one another. I share Jean’s words with gratitude:

Why Can’t People Just Love Each Other?

Have you ever asked yourself, “Why can’t people just love each other?” Until I studied Jungian psychology, I certainly did. I knew lots of good people who acted loving. Yet when I got to know them I invariably discovered that they were just as challenged in the love department as I was. So why do even the most well-meaning people find it so difficult to love?

What I discovered after several years of inner work was that the primary obstacle to love is a psychologically ignorant ego which fears otherness, both without and within.  From personal experience I also learned that this one-sided ego-centricism has nine basic characteristics:

1.  No matter how loving we try to be, the primary motivation beneath our good intentions is self-interest.

2.  Our belief that we are a loving person is not based on authentic feeling, but on the persona (our social personality) we constructed in childhood to gain society’s and/or God’s approval.

3.  We (our egos) believe that our loving persona/mask is who we really are.

4.  We do not know we have an unconscious self which contains everything our ego disowned while constructing our persona. For example, if we chose to be loving, we repressed any hateful thoughts and emotions we noticed. Thus, our unconscious, non-egoic self contains the rejected opposites of everything our egos identified with.

5.  We do not know that our rejected and unknown opposites comprise our shadow, or that we even have a shadow, or that the more we repress it the more it influences our behavior in unloving ways despite our best efforts.

6.  We do not know that we project our most disliked shadow qualities onto others, nor that we do this because pointing fingers at them takes the heat off us and relieves our fear that we are unworthy.

7.  We do not know that the real problem is not that we are unworthy, but that we are incomplete.

8.  We do not know that accepting the otherness of our shadows will help complete us, embolden us to trust other people, and create more tolerance for their otherness.

9.  We do not know that willing ourselves to love can’t create the real thing. What can create love is suffering the awareness of our incompleteness, asking for help, accepting our shadows, forgiving ourselves for being human, and connecting with our true Self.

You can find Jean here: Matrignosis – A blog about inner wisdom

Look into my eyes …

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A few weeks ago SMMS hosted a ‘Family Life Conference’ looking at the changing patterns of family life and how as a church we are responding to those changes. Are we being inclusive in our treatment of those whose families look different to the Christian ideal or are we excluding those whose make up is different? Topics included same-sex marriage, polygamy, child and grandparent-headed households. We looked at cultural, traditional and biblical definitions of marriage and family life trying to understand what constitutes ‘Christian’.

The conference was part of an on-going conversation within the Methodist church about family life and I was encouraged not only by the range of topics but by the calm and respectful way in which speakers and participants alike engaged with each other. We didn’t agree on all aspects of course, but that’s ok, healthy dialogue is good.

However … whilst we ‘respectfully dialogue’ hurt and damage continues to flow from our churches and our communities. Even if we do not actively participate in violence against those who are different to us, our understanding of each others difference based on our ideologies and theologies can perpetuate hate crimes. People die both physically and spiritually because of shame, ignorance and fear based on their basic identity, their ability to ‘be’ family. The LGBTI community continues to be persecuted, forgotten children die from vulnerability, women are abused, men left reeling and confused by their role in a changing society.  How we see people and speak about people has a ripple effect and it is dangerous – very, very dangerous.

Henri Nouwen retells an old faith story in his book ‘The Wounded Healer’ (a little gem of a book that we should all read and reread) It is a powerful reminder for us at this time.

One day a young fugitive, trying to hide himself from the enemy, entered a small village. The people were kind to him and offered him a place to stay. But when the soldiers who sought the fugitive asked where he was hiding, everyone became very fearful. The soldiers threatened to burn the village and kill every man in it unless the young man were handed over to them before dawn. The people went to the minister and asked him what to do. The minister, torn between handing over the boy to the enemy or having his people killed, withdrew to his room and read his bible, hoping to find an answer before dawn. After many hours, in the early morning his eyes fell on these words: “It is better that one man dies than that the whole people be lost”.

Then the minister closed the bible, called the soldiers and told them where the boy was hidden. And after the soldiers led the fugitive away to be killed, there was a feast in the village because the minister had saved the lives of the people. But the minister did not celebrate. Overcome with a deep sadness, he remained in his room. That night an angel came to him and asked, ‘what have you done?’ He said: ‘I handed over the fugitive to the enemy.’ Then the angel said ‘but don’t you know, you handed over the messiah?’ ‘How could I know?’ the minister replied anxiously. Then the angel said, ‘if instead of reading your bible, you had visited this young man just once and looked into his eyes, you would have known’.

We are so scared nowadays to accept difference. Rather than welcome someone whom we ‘perceive’ as a threat to our society we leave them out, in the cold, to fend for themselves. Rather than welcome people into our midst, into our churches we continue to look the other way – either demonising or ignoring them. I wonder what it would it take for us to stop looking for answers in our doctrines and instead just look into the eyes of one another to see the human being within, the image of God, a person of immense worth and value?