Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Prayer for the Nation

While not word-for-word accurate, this is a fair transcription of an actual prayer delivered before the Kansas House of Representatives by Central Christian Church Pastor Joe Wright on January 23, 1996. It has circulated continuously on the Internet ever since. At least one legislator walked out during the prayer, according to the Kansas City Star. Others made speeches criticizing what the House Minority Leader, a Democrat, called "the extreme, radical views" reflected in the prayer. It was aired nationally on the radio in February 1996 by Paul Harvey.

Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask Your forgiveness and to seek Your direction and guidance. We know Your Word says, "Woe to those who call evil good,," but that is exactly what we have done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values.
We confess:
We have ridiculed the absolute truth of Your Word and called it Pluralism.
We have worshipped other gods and called it multiculturalism.
We have endorsed perversion and called it alternative lifestyle.
We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery.
We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.
We have killed our unborn and called it choice.
We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable.
We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem.
We have abused power and called it politics.
We have coveted our neighbor's possessions and called it ambition.
We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.
We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.
Search us, Oh God, and know our hearts today; cleanse us from every sin and set us free.
Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent to direct us to the center of your will. I ask it in the Name of Your Son, the living Savior, Jesus Christ.

My Comment:
In reflecting on this I wondered what I would pray if asked to pray in our Parliament. I do not like this prayer, because it shuts out people of other religious beliefs. But instead of criticising it, I thought to respond to it. Using the structure of the above prayer, I offer the following as my suggestion:

"O God our Creator, we come before you today to ask your forgiveness and to seek your direction and guidance. We know that the prophets Amos and Hosea said, “Woe to those who call evil good”, but that is exactly what we have done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values.

We have exploited the poor, and called it the lottery.
We have rewarded laziness by practicing ‘closed door tendering’ for government projects
We have killed our unborn with our slowness in providing antiretroviral medication
We have not paid attention to our children, and called it building a career.
We have abused power, and called it politics.
We have coveted our neighbour's possessions, and called it ambition.
We have sexually abused our women, and called it culture.
We have destroyed our natural environment, and called it 'development'.
We have selfishly accumulated material possessions, and called this God's blessings.
We have closed our eyes to crime, and asked the victims to emigrate.
We have ridiculed the religious beliefs of our neighbour, and called it evangelism.

Search us, Oh, God, and know our hearts today; cleanse us from every sin and let us treasure our hard won freedom. Amen!"

Your comments?
And I hope that you will find a way to pray with me for our nation.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Piero Grasso

Here is one seriously brave man. He deserves all the support and encouragement that he can get. I saw his name in last night's Cape Argus. He has just arrested the new leadership of the Mafia (remember that the previous leaders were sent to gaol?). Well he has taken the mafia head-on. I wonder what the cost to his family, and personal freedom of movement? But if there are not people willing to stand up against bullies, then we will all live in fear.
Pray for him.

PS: he has such a cool name. It rhymes with...well almost anything. You can hear in it a sociable wine, a French mineral water, a paste for polishing brass, a man who thrives on the holy weed, and a man with a derriere. Ask me - I have heard them all!

Friday, June 16, 2006

June 16, 1976

Where were you today, 30 years ago?
I was sitting in a military camp in Pretoria, clutching a R1 rifle and 20 rounds of live ammunition.

It was a cold Wednesday evening and we were confined to camp. “Something” was happening in Soweto. And we were on standby, in case “something” happened in Atteridgeville, the black township outside Pretoria. And so we sat, speculating the night away. We heard snippets through the military grapevine – but nothing on the news. We heard that the ‘blacks has gone mal”; we heard that the “blacks were getting fucked up by the police”; and we heard that “if even one of them tried anything in Pretoria we were to shoot on sight”.

I sat in puzzled silence. Partly because I was an Englishman in an Afrikaans environment. Our world views did not mesh. I came from Cape Town and saw the world differently. I did not really know any black people, because they had generally been legislated out of the Cape. And I believed that I did not support Apartheid. But I had not believed enough to refuse conscription, or to refuse to bear arms. All I wanted to do was get the military thing over and get on with my life. A life where white people ruled the land. And there I was, holding a rifle. Would I shoot? I did not know.

I sat in puzzled silence. Partly because I had just met some students from Atteridgeville. The previous Friday evening I had attended a church youth evening in the Brooklyn Methodist Church (in Pretoria). And we had sung songs and listened to a speaker (now long forgotten), and exchanged names. I hoped that they were not anywhere near where the military wanted to send me. What would I do if I met them that night? Would I shoot? I did not know.

30 years later my whole world has changed.
Those students now rule the country. And I do not.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Delivering Justice

This is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. I am told that he perpetrated many evil deeds, including the beheading of innocent hostages, and the bombing of many helpless people trapped in the Iraqi conflict. There are claims that he participated in the beheading of Nick Berg and Ken Bigley. Well, this week he was killed by two 800kg bombs that were dropped on his home by F16 warplanes. The leaders of the United States and Great Britain applauded. George W Bush claimed that the United States had “delivered justice”. And the leaders of most other countries on earth are silent.

And I am confused. Because the laws of most countries believe that a man is innocent until proven guilty. And here we have a country who presumes to act as prosecutor, judge and executioner all in one bombing raid!

Not only am I confused, I am also fearful. I fear my reaction to his killing. Because I do feel a measure of satisfaction. I am glad that “they” have got their man. After what he did, he deserved what he got. “Live by the sword, die by the sword”, I mutter darkly. But this is not my worst fear. My greatest fear is that we will get used to this. Because once the military bombs individuals, we have passed a point of no return. Who will be the individual we want to condemn tomorrow? Or will I become the one who is targeted for removal?

I believe that Michael Berg is best qualified to comment on this. His son Nicholas was one of the hostages beheaded by al-Zarqawi. He noted that there is little difference between George W Bush and al-Zarqawi: he says that they are “two men who believe in revenge”. Restorative justice, such as being made to work in a hospital where maimed children were treated, could have made al-Zarqawi “a decent human being. Now he’s dead, that’s not a possibility. It doesn’t do any good. It just continues an endless cycle of one death after another.”

And I remember some very inconvenient words from the Bible:
Romans Chapter 12
19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.
20 On the contrary:
"If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."n
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

May the soul of Musab al-Zarqawi encounter God - and find peace.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Averting our eyes

They are student ministers who offer a weekly ministry to the poor. This time they were asked to spend the day on the road with street people (often less politely termed ‘vagrants’, ‘tramps’, and ‘bergies’). The idea was for each one to ask the permission of a street person to accompany her/him, and to learn from them how they make it through the day. There was an ulterior motive too: to uncover feelings and emotions that are carried inside of these aspirant pastors.

And at the end of the day the stories came tumbling out: of a morning carrying a whole bakkie-load of wood into the pizza oven, to see the R20 pay being pocketed by their street-person supervisor; of doing errands for the neighbourhood, and being rewarded by the steak house owner with a wine bottle filled with beer; of carrying furniture into a block of flats, and then seeing the R50 payment being used to buy a papsak, which was shared by all for lunch. And the understandings that came: that alcohol was a coping mechanism; that those street people walk far more than any of the students; that street people have road-skills that have been honed by many hard days.

But the greatest learning came from the moment they resorted to begging coins. They were hungry and wanted to buy rolls for lunch. They needed 75c each. They discovered that people were more willing to give coins to black people than to white people. And they discovered that many people refused to ‘see’ them. Their worst moment was when a colleague passed them. He is a Pastor of many years experience, and of high social standing. They confidently expected him to assist them. But he walked right past them. They were indignant: “he would not even look at us”!

But then the reluctant acknowledgement: we all are skilled at averting our eyes from people we do not want to see.