Friday, March 21, 2008

Thank God It's Friday

...if you, God Almighty, won't stand up and act like God, well, then we'll have to get organized and do it for you. It'll teach 'em a lesson.
So when they attacked us we attacked them. Bomb Baghdad. That'll teach them. Evil for evil; it's all they understand. We'll teach them the joy of democracy, the preciousness of human life, the value of a free market, if we have to obliterate every grain of sand in their desert to do it. It'll teach 'em a lesson.
But then, when we had done our worst, you looked down from your bloody cross where we had nailed you and with your last breath worked your justice, saying, "Father forgive 'em. It'll teach them a lesson."
Your lessons are hard as nails.
William Willimon from
"Thank God It's Friday"

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Come mourn awhile with me

Maundy Thursday: a time for mourning
………….. a time for sober reflection and prayer

China is insisting on carrying the Olympic torch onto Tibet’s Mount Everest. Tibet responded with the largest anti-China protests in almost two decades, sparking riots in Lhasa, demonstrations in nearby ethnic Tibetan provinces, and daily pro-Tibet protests around the world.

The protests began on Monday, March 10 when five hundred monks from the Drepung monastery defied Chinese authorities to march into Tibet's capital, Lhasa. This marked the 49th anniversary of a quashed rebellion against communist rule. Monks from the Lhasa-area Sera and Gamden monasteries also protested. Thousands of Chinese security personnel responded by firing tear gas to try to disperse more than 600 monks from the Sera monastery.

Last Friday (March 14) About 300-400 residents and monks took to the streets in Lhasa. Violence saw shops and cars set on fire. The Chinese authorities sealed off Drepung, Sera and Gamden monasteries, and protests spread to ethnic Tibetan areas in Sichuan and Gansu provinces. Tibetans hurled petrol bombs and set a police station and market on fire in Sichuan's Aba region. In Gansu's Machu town a crowd of 300-400 carried pictures of the Dalai Lama, in defiance of authorities.

Since then the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao dismissed calls for a boycott of Beijing Olympics, and accused Dalai Lama of inciting unrest to sabotage the Olympics. China has turned foreigners back from areas close to Tibet and Olympic organisers vow the Olympic torch will travel to Tibet despite the riots.

Mourn with me the loss of life.
Mourn with me China’s brutal oppression of Tibet.
And pray for justice – so that there might be peace.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Five years ago the United States of America invaded Iraq.
This was not sanctioned by the United Nations, and was opposed by many, many nations in the world. But because the USA is the strongest nation on earth it can do as it likes - so George Bush ignored world opinion, and unleased untold misery on the Iraqi people: so far it is estimated that 80 000 civilians have died. The USA does not keep official figures, and this estimate is probably much higher. The USA does keep figures of the deaths of American soldiers, which are just under 4 000.

Even more troubling is the way one bad decision has unleashed so many more bad possibilities:
- The Times of London reportes that it is estimated that this war has cost $400 billion.... imagine how useful this could have been in healthcare, building houses or educating people.
- The abuse by the US troops at the Abu Ghraib prison has fuelled an equally vicious response towards prisoners captured by the militant insurgents.
- Muslim and Christin people have been severly polarised.

And the end is not yet in sight. No one pretends anymore that life will return to normal anytime soon. And the worst of it is that George Bush refuses to admit to making a mistake. Even more appalling is the fact that he suggests that God is somehow on the side of the USA.

God is weeping.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Irish Bishops move St. Patrick's Day

Today is declared St Patrick’s day.... by some religious people. The rest of the Irish world goes on as usual. Here is the press release:
“Ireland's bishops have shifted the feast day because St Patricks Day (March 17, 2008) falls on the second day of Holy Week. The liturgical norms would require the feast day to be moved to the earliest available date after Easter, which would be April 1. But church officials said the Vatican approved the March 15 date in order to minimize conflict with the scheduled civic events.
While religious celebrations honouring St. Patrick are affected, secular authorities stressed this would not change secular festivities. The St. Patrick's Festival Committee in Dublin confirmed that the St Patrick’s parade would be March 17 as usual. In addition, Monday, March 17, will remain an official day off of work in Ireland”.

And I found this illustrative of how society has appropriated religious festivals and used them for socio-economic purposes: Easter, Christmas, St Patrick... it is all one and the same. Why allow religious scruples to interfere with making money (or making merry)? Holy Week, a time for reflection and spiritual preparation, is just an inconvenience to the important business of making money off the back of St Patrick. In the same way more and more shops invite us to come on Easter Sunday to spend our money on their Easter specials.

I remain convinced that religious people can mark their convictions by resisting the temptation to be consumers on our holy days. It is enough that we worship at the altar of mammon most days of the week. I invite us to mark a shift in our allegiance by not shopping on Holy Days.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Living Community

I work in Brenda Road - but many other people live on it.

Peter, Dave and Joe spend their days directing traffic on the corner of Brenda Rd and Cranmere Rd. They laugh and joke with the customers of Standard Bank, and make sure that no dodgy character hang about. For example, a few months ago a group of strangers tried to take over the corner, and I was called in to persuade them to move on. These men, marked with prison tattoos, tried arguing that it was their constitutional right to freedom of movement, but the bank did not take kindly to having them sitting across from their front door. And they were persuaded to move on.
For the last few weeks Peter and Dave have come to the Sunday early morning service. They want to reform their lives, and are asking me to pray for them.

Miela, Bennie, Charmaine and Prevan live on the intersection between Brenda Rd and Gabriel Rd. They spread the matrasses each nigh outside the Television repair shop and light a fire to cook their food. Miela and Bennie begin the day sober, and become progressively more drunk, and abusive as the day wears on. By the evening they shout for "Pastor Pete" to get them food, interspersed with "joumasepoes" and "fokoffbennie" and other endearments. They do not want to reform their lives - but I care for them anyway.
This morning was washing day.... thought that I would share the picture.

Monday, March 10, 2008


John 11:1 A man named Lazarus, who lived in Bethany, became sick. Bethany was the town where Mary and her sister Martha lived.... The sisters sent Jesus a message: "Lord, your dear friend is sick."... Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus... Yet when he received the news that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was for two more days...Then he said to the disciples, "Let us go back to Judea."

This one of the passages traditionally read in the weeks leading up to Easter. Amongst the many, many ideas this story has generated is this one gem that struck me as I prepared for my sermon yesterday: we need to discover the pleasure of doing nothing useful.

Lazarus gets sick. We know nothing about his illness: but is obviously serious enough for his worried sisters to ask Jesus to come to their aid. But by the time Jesus arrives Lazarus has died. So far so good. The bit that intrigues me, however, is verse 6: which tells us that Jesus “stayed where he was for two more days”. I find this curious, because at first glance it seem like the callous disregard of a stranger to the family.... “I’ll come when I’m good and ready”. But this completely out of keeping with Jesus’ character, which is consistently one of compassion for those who struggle in life. And so my question was “Why did Jesus not rush over to comfort the family – and maybe perform a healing miracle?”

The answer is not in the text. So we must draw an inference from the context. John 10 tells us that Jesus escaped certain death twice in the days leading up to this “Lazarus incident.” I have the impression of an exhausted rabbi, who not only has taught extensively, but has faced life threatening opposition. And now he is hit with another crisis – the life threatening illness of his friend Lazarus. And Jesus does what he has done on other occasions such as this: he takes time out to recover. This is seen for example after feeding 5000 people Jesus goes off by himself to recover (John6:15); and after hearing the news of John the Baptist’s death Jesus chooses to escape the crowds to be alone (Mark 6:31). So John tells us the Jesus takes two days off before going to Mary and Martha.

And here is the wisdom that struck me: we all need times of quietness in order to help us life effectively. It is a fool that thinks she is so indispensable that she cannot take a rest. If Jesus needed a two day break, then how much more do we not need to take time off from our busy-ness. The problem of course is our culture that persuades us that doing nothing is sinful: we are taught that sloth is one of the seven deadly sins, and “the devil finds work for idle hands”. So we keep busy, often to the detriment of being effective.

So my invitation to us – for the sake of our souls – is to discover the pleasure of doing nothing useful.

Monday, March 03, 2008


I am going into silence for three days. This is an opportunity to listen – rather than to talk. Because I am so skilled at talking it becomes my Achilles heel…. And I require the discipline of stillness to become aware of a life bigger than my own. I will be at the Springfield Convent Retreat Centre, accompanied by my colleague Dave Newton.

“A gentle, loving, inner peace and silence is here and now in this moment. It has always been this way. It is always here. It is right here within you and all around you, a stillness, an apparent void, a seeming nothingness out of which everything arises, exists, and eventually returns”.

Pray for me.