on bound wrists

November 16, 2013 at 10:17 pm (Poetry) (, , , , , , )

My wrist is bound by lines and strokes of an ancient language. The form of these letters call what is not into being. The words speak to the Word. In the beginning was the word; In the beginning….God. The earth, formless and empty, darkness over the surface of the deep. The Word with God. The Word: God.

God said.

God-Word. Words-Formed. Form-Created. Spoken forth; spoken form.

These words, wrapped ever-round my wrist, are my hoped for spoken-form spoken forth. My mantra. The sounds, the words capable of “creating transformation”. Not because of any power they possess in themselves but because the Word in me can breathe them into life. In my life. They are the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart.

שלום. This  shalom around my wrist, this peace, is not merely the absence of war or discord. It is not marked by what it is not. It is defined by what is present.  This shalom is wholeness, health, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony.  It is rich and deep. This shalom is life complete and perfect. Paid in full, life to the full. Creation as it was created to be when the Word spoke and there was light. Created restored to Creation. Creation restored to the Creator. The word speaks to the Word. He himself is our Shalom, who has made the two one, destroying the dividing wall of hostility. God reconciles us to himself through this Shalom. We are given the same vocation of reconciliation. This God-Word is given as our mantle, our mantra. It becomes the meditation of our heart, the words of our mouth, capable of creating transformation as the Word, Shalom, breathes us into life to the full, into shalom. These words, this shalom around my wrist, reminds me to seek life-to-the-full – the redemption and reconciliation – of, for and in the places I find myself, because in its shalom I find Shalom.

צדק. This tzedek around my wrist, this justice, is not merely the absence of corruption or oppression. It is not marked by what is not. It is defined by what is present. This tzedek is right standing,  righteousness, generosity, equity, concern, mercy,  reparation, restoration and redemption. It is rich and deep. This tzedek is a life of right relationships. Righteous, relationship to the full. Creation as it was created to be when the Word spoke. Created restored to Creation. Creation restored to the Creator. The word speaks to the Word. He himself is our Tzedek, our justice, our Righteousness rolling down like rivers, like an ever-flowing stream. God maintains our cause, acting justly and mercifully toward us. We are are given the same vocation of justice. This God-Word is given as our mantle, our mantra. It becomes the meditation of our heart, the words of our mouth, capable of creating transformation as the Word, Tzedek, breathes us into right relationships, into tzedek. These words, this tzedek around my wrist, reminds me to seek relationships enacted in fairness, generosity and equity. To pursue justice and love mercy. To pursue reparation and restoration of, for and in the relationships I find myself a part of.

My wrist is bound by lines and strokes of an ancient language. The form of these letters call what is not into being. The words speak to the Word. These words, wrapped ever-round my wrist, are my hoped for spoken-form spoken forth. My mantra. The sounds, the words capable of creating transformation. Not because of any power they possess in themselves but because the Word in me can breathe them into life. In my life. They are the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart.These words bound as symbols on my hand remind me not just to be peaceful and to be just but to do shalom and do tzedek. To seek to enact the wholeness, harmony, and fullness of life given through Christ and to pursue right standing, fairness, generosity and equity in all my relationships and spheres of life. 

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On Hunger Games and other rules we make up as we go along

March 24, 2012 at 9:21 pm (Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , , , , , , )

Recently, the justice circuit in Philadelphia has been active as churches, non profit groups, activists and anarchists and OccupyPhilly have all been wrestling with the new Board of Health regulations around sharing food  with homeless people in the city. This is not that story. But it is intricately linked to it.

This is not the story of me and my community making teeshirts and sandwiches and going down to the Municipal Buildings and having a “family picnic” in protest of these laws. This is not the story of The Simple Way’s public statement and the organization’s navigation of its history and its convictions in seeking justice in this particular area.  No, this is a different story; one that is altogether more sinister, shameful and hypocritical. This is the story that speaks to the “deceitfulness of the heart of man” (Jeremiah 17:9). This story begins with me making supper…

Two weeks ago I got an urge to cook. I was home alone, and the chicken was already defrosted and so I set to work, vaguely following a recipe but making a lot of it up as I went along. Experimenting with spices and marinade and yogurt and couscous and walnuts and spiced butternut. The end product was beautiful and so I took it out of the oven and placed it on the counter and took a photo to boast post on facebook. There was a witty and trite status update to go along with it – something about the irony of cooking sunday dinner on the one night noone was around to share it with me. As I was about to send, someone knocked on the door. I snuck quietly across the kitchen and inched open the curtains. Someone was looking through our trash, their back turned to me. I quickly turned around, grabbed the chicken off the counter and hid it in the oven. I then stood debating with myself whether to go and talk to the person and if so, what food I could give them. By the time I got to the door, they had left. And I was struck by deep shame at what I had just done – shocked at the deceitfulness of my own heart.

See I have realized that there are stories that I tell that I “wear like badges” – stories about how hard my life is, or the challenges I’m facing, or how spiritual I am, or how compassionate, self-sacrificing and filled with loving-kindness I am. Well, this story isn’t one of those. This one tells the dark side: the turning away and hiding my food as a brother went through my trash, when just a second before I had been ruing the fact that I had this beautiful meal and no-one to share it with. Truth is, I had noone that I wanted to share it with. It’s easy to stand in a hall and denounce homeless feeding laws; but harder to acknowledge the hunger games we all play. The needs we choose to meet or not meet, the set of usually selfishly driven rules that govern when we  feed, clothe, visit, and take in “the least of these” – the rules based on a confluence of feelings, comfortability, energy, convenience and, often, face-work. I can feed a hundred people a day – prep the food, put aside the time, invest energy and resources – but I wonder if they truly are “the least of these”  if I think they are.

Maybe the “least of these” is the one that interrupts my time and intrudes on my space and comfort with his inconvenient and messy needs. The one I have not prepared a face to meet. The one I have not decided to respond to in advance. The one that catches me off guard. The one who interrupts my quiet Sunday night, my boastings and postings, my puffing up and my pinning of badges. The one who goes through my trash while I hide my chicken in the oven… and later, my head in shame.

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Reflections on the Live Below the Line Challenge, Part 2

May 12, 2011 at 8:16 pm (Things I'm thinking about) (, , , , , )

The continuation….

2. Because we had the privilege of our 120 rand upfront, in many ways the challenge was what Lisa refers to as “an extended budgeting challenge” – sitting working out a healthy balanced meal plan for the week was stressful.  The list I started out with was completely different to the list I ended up with – for starters there was less meat on the second, no fruit, no dairy, more lentils, and less “excitement”.  Lisa wrote a blog on the challenge, and was concerned that  “One of the regular themes in the blogs and tweets of the participants of the challenge is that they’re bored of eating low-cost food.” She goes on, “This is part of what worries me about this challenge. If it were truly challenging people to bolster their sense of compassion and humanity, boredom wouldn’t be a major theme.” I disagree. The purpose of the challenge was to raise awareness, to “get a clue”, to recognize our own abundance – and certainly one of the major themes of that must be that living below the line is no fun! The food is boring, and bland and it is a struggle to make healthy choices.

3. On 120 rand we were forced to buy small quantities of food items such as rice and noodles. This for me was perhaps the greatest thing I learnt as I reflected on the poverty line. Unfortunately, small quantity items almost always come at a higher cost. Buying a small bag of rice is generally more expensive per kg than buying a larger packet. Here’s a quick illustration: Pantene 2 in 1 200 ml has a per/liter cost of 164 rand. The 400ml bottle has a per/liter cost of 99 rand! I dare not work out the sachet per/liter cost! So if you only have the cash to buy a small amount, you end up paying exorbitantly more for the amount you use than rich people do. Rich people get more stuff for less money than poor people do. This is gross injustice!

4. We had a fridge. Thus we were able to keep the food we bought in ‘bulk’, meat, left-overs and bread fresh. How many people living below the poverty line have a fridge, let alone electricity. This further curbs their ability to eat economically – to buy in bulk, cook and store food, and, in the unlikely event of leftovers, to not waste that food.

5. We only did the challenge for a week. We went into it healthy. Remembering that the 12 rand average covers food, drink, health care, accomodation, electricity, education, transportation etc for those on or below the poverty line, the knock on effect from an unbalanced diet (yes, vegetarianism may be healthier on balance but nearly all vegetarians I know supplement their diet with vitamins or with expensive protein alternatives such as nuts and seeds and low gi food) means the poor are less healthy and have far less (can anybody say nothing?) to get well on.

6. Brett and I ate well. We had reasonable quantities. We ate lots of vegetables and we even had some rice and lentils left over. But there was something lacking from the  diet. During the week we were doing mental work (i.e. transcription) but an hour or two after meals I would get incredibly drowsy and low in energy. Yes, with these minor side effects, the meal sizes sustained us through this work. But I cannot imagine doing hard physical labour on the meals we were eating! I really doubt it would have sustained us through a working day. Food for thought when you look at construction workers, or road cleaners, or gardeners and judge them for being so “lazy”. Think about how many bad character traits may merely be hunger disguised.

Many of you asked how it went. These are just a few thoughts. I may write more in the next few days. I do highly recommend that you take the challenge in your own time and hopefully catch a glimpse of the realities of the other side. I sincerely hope you don’t come out of that time and think you have done your bit. I also hope you don’t come out of it feeling guilty about all you have. But maybe a little conviction ain’t always a bad thing. And if you are a Christ-follower person then go and read this post because it talks about the true motivation for social justice and charity, and if that grabs you then definitely get Tim Keller’s “Generous Justice”.

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on the motivating force for justice

February 23, 2011 at 2:05 pm (Things I'm thinking about, What I'm reading) (, , , , , )

Tim Keller writes, “The Bible…provides not merely the bare ethical obligation for doing justice, but a revolutionary new inner power and dynamism to do so” (Generous Justice, p. 82).

I am struck by this. The dynamism Tim speaks of is echoed throughout scripture:

“We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:19-20)

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died…From now on we regard noone from a worldy point of view” (2 Corinthians 5:14-16)

“You are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:16-19)

Our compassion for the poor, our desire to see justice done, our drive to reconcile the world to Him, our feeding of the hungry, clothing of the poor, comforting of the sick, welcoming of the foreigner, and visiting of those in prison is a profound response to all that we have received from God. Even when they are dirty and broken, deserving of their state, seemingly to “blame”, unloveable, undeserving and ungrateful – because that is exactly how we were when God LAVISHED his love on us. Our response then is a right and fitting response to the grace we have received. Our lack of response is indicative of a lack of understanding of the grace we have received. A full understanding of God’s grace COMPELS us to respond in kind to those around us. Not doing so demonstrates that we have not fully grasped God’s grace towards us. This is what James speaks of: “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17)

“The logic is clear. If a person has grasped the meaning of God’s grace in his heart, he will do justice. If he doesn’t live justly, then he may say with his lips that he is grateful for God’s grace, but in his heart he is far from him. If he doesn’t care about the poor, it reveals that at best he doesn’t understand the grace he has experienced, and at worst he has not really encountered the saving mercy of God. Grace should make you just.” (Generous Justice, p. 94)

Tim goes on to write:

“”We tend to try to develop a social conscience in Christians the same way the world does-through guilt. We tell them that they have so much and don’t they see that they need to share with those who have so little. This doesn’t work, because we have built-in defense mechanisms against such appeals. Almost noone really feels all that wealthy. Even the well-off don’t feel rich compared to the others with whom they live and work” (p. 107).

So often we give to assuage guilt about our excess. Even more often we are burdened into giving out of guilt; we are manipulated into giving and extending justice. How rarely does this flow from a true understanding of what we ourselves have received. How often is our giving, our acts of justice, COMPELLED but Christ’s love rather than by guilt and condemnation?

“When justice for the poor is connected not to guilt but to grace and to the gospel, this ‘pushes the button’ down deep in believers’ souls, and they begin to wake up” (p. 107).

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On bearing one another’s burdens

February 22, 2011 at 3:27 pm (Things I'm thinking about, What I'm reading) (, , , , , , , )

So I have been reading Generous Justice (Tim Keller)  and really just been challenged by this one section on the Good Samaritan. I will copy it out here:

“Another objection [to the duty of sharing money and goods with the poor] comes from people who say they “have nothing to spare” and that they barely have enough for their own needs. But one of the main lessons of the Good Samaritan parable is that real love entails risk and sacrifice. Edwards responds that when you say, “I can’t help anyone” you usually mean “I can’t help anyone without burdening myself, cutting in to how I live my life.” But Edwards argues, that’s exactly what Bibilical love requires. He writes:

We in many cases may, by the rules of the gospel, be obliged to give to others, when we cannot do it without suffering ourselves . . .If our neighbor’s difficulties and necessities are much greater than ours and we see that they are not likely to be releived, we should be willing to suffer with them and to take part of their burden upon ourselves. Or else how is that rule of bearing one another’s burdens fulfilled? If we are never obliged to relieve others’ burdens, but only when we can do it without burdening ourselves, then how do we bear our neighbor’s burdens, when we bear no burdens at all?”(Tim Keller, Generous Justice, p. 70)

I feel quite convicted by this. Two other scriptures spring to mind:  “Bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) and “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality…” (2 Cor 8:13-14).

I know many many times I have said to beggars at street corners, Big Issue sellers, car guards, and street children, “I’m sorry but I don’t have anything.” or “I don’t have anything today.” Those are lies. Because I do have; but the truth is in those times I cannot give without taking a hit myself – without burdening myself and cutting in to how I live.

The really hard-hitting thing is that when there have been brothers and sisters, fellow Christians, even friends, who I KNOW are in a tough spot or are really struggling, I have used the exact same rationalisation. I have not helped because doing so would burden me and cut into my tight finances. I have given when I have had excess, but really, how often have I given when doing so would have meant me sharing their burdens?

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