Category Archives: Community

Posts that remind us of our place and role in community

A celebration: and you’re invited


Ballet dancer strikes a pose outside her home in KhayelitshaThis is an unusual post.

I am reposting an article from my business blog for those who are not linked up there.

It is an appeal from a dear friend, Ana Houston, who is a medical doctor working in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. Please find the post here. If you would like to get in touch with Ana, please leave a comment below and I will ask her to get in touch with you.

Read the rest on Simply Communicate

 

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The Good Samaritan: finding Jesus on the street


Did you see the beggar on the street?
No, I was reading.
He had no shoes; his feet were bleeding.

Did you see the child on the corner over there?
No, I was praying.
His lips were cracked and dry; I couldn’t hear what he was saying. 

Did you see the mother with her child in her arms?
No, I was reading the Bible.
They were on a donkey; they came out of that stable. 

Did you see that man dragged along by police?
No I was preaching.
They hung him on a cross; because of his teaching. 

Did you see the sick woman, the hungry man, the prisoner?
No, I was looking for Jesus.
“Whatever you do or fail to do for the least of these….”*

*Matthew 25:37-40

(A meditation on the previous post, “Beggars on the street: to give or not to give“)

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Beggars on the street: to give or not to give


My friend over at Wondering Pilgrim wrote a post this morning called “Peace is a Pair of Shoes” (you can find it here).  He discusses the perennial problem of giving, and the questions raised when we give to the poor; or rather the questions we raise before we give to the poor, such as, Should I? Shouldn’t I?  Is this the right person?  Is this the best way to help?

They are good questions.  I don’t know about other parts of the world, but here at the bottom end of Africa traffic lights are overflowing with outstretched arms.  Some are empty; some hold a placard, “Plees help! No work! God bless!”  Other entrepreneurial souls offer sunglasses, plastic coat hangers, toys and Christmas hats.

Should I?  Shouldn’t I?  As always we would like definitive answers, wouldn’t we?  We need a formula so that whenever we are tapped on the shoulder or tapped on the heart, we can put the situation through the flow diagram and get the answer.  To give or not to give?

My rule is a simple one.  Don’t give to beggars on the street.  Yes, there are some who genuinely cannot find work, or whose disability precludes them from every form of income, and who are reduced to begging.  But there are too many others whose begging supports an addiction I am not willing to fund.  And the genuinely needy cases?  They are better helped through welfare groups and non profits, which are better equipped than I to identify the real needs of the community, and to make good use of my meagre offerings.

There, that was easy, wasn’t it?  The problem of the poor, sorted, and boxed and put away, nicely out of sight.  Except that Jesus didn’t treat the poor as a “problem”, did he?  He reached out to real people who were poor and broken, and lost and hungry.  He didn’t say to his followers, “Seek answers to the questions of life.”  He said, “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.” (Mark 12:31)

Jesus doesn’t give us or ask us to find answers, does he?  It’s the questions that are important.  There is never going to be an answer to the “problem of the poor”, or the lost, or the lonely, or the broken or the captive, just questions.  What does it mean to be a neighbour in this situation, for this person, on this day?  What does it mean for me to love, here and now?

Does that mean I must scrap my rule, and give to every beggar I meet?  That would be another “answer” rather than a question, wouldn’t it?  “Give” is just as simplistic as “Don’t give”.  We are still looking for an answer, a rule; and we are not going to get one.  

Jesus doesn’t appear to us in formulae and flow diagrams; he comes to us as a human being.
“Which one?” we would like to know.  “Will we recognise him?”
Not many did then, why should it be any different now?
“What does he look like?”
Well, he comes as a baby (illegitimate at that), a child, a workman, a wandering rabbi, a blasphemer and a criminal—a traitor against church and state, a man on a cross.  We certainly won’t recognise him if we resolutely avoid eye contact.  No, we are not required to give every beggar whatever he or she wants, any more than God gives his children everything they want, but we are called to notice, to be aware. 

The point about the Good Samaritan was that he didn’t ask, “Who is my neighbour?”  He looked for opportunities to be a neighbour.  Your opportunities will be different from mine, because we are different, and our circumstances are different.  But if we keep our heads up, and if we are willing to risk looking people in the eye and asking God to reveal himself to us, the opportunities will come.  And the love of God, not the answers about God, will begin to flow more freely though us and in us.

Are you afraid?  I am, but if that’s where God is at work, isn’t that where we want to be?

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Filed under Community, Grace and Law

Your prayers worked. Are you sure?


“Your prayers worked,” Jen said to me last week, the day after I had prayed for her to be free from pain.

I thought long and hard about that.  Do prayers “work”?  And when there is no answer (or not the one we were hoping for), do we say, “Your prayers didn’t work”?

Does prayer “work” and “not work”?

Let us begin by recognising that we are not going to get to a definitive answer in this brief comment, at least not one that will satisfy everyone.  Prayer is too vast a subject for definitive answers at the best of times.  Our answers would also depend on what we meant by “prayer” and by “work”. 

When we define prayer narrowly in terms of specific prayer requests, we have to admit that prayer often doesn’t “work”.  The specific thing we ask for often does not happen the way we ask for it to happen.  Even Jesus experienced prayer like that.  Mark tells us that he could not perform any miracles in Nazareth, because the people lacked faith (Mark 6:5-6).  Matthew (13:58) prefers not be quite as absolute, and says that Jesus was not able to perform many miracles there.  Mind you, Mark does grudgingly admit that Jesus did manage to heal “a few sick people”. Either way, specific prayers were not answered.  Had the people concerned been asked, they would have said, “No, your prayers didn’t work.”

Of course, we tend to say that prayers are always answered, but that sometimes the answer is, “No,” or “Not now.”  And that is also true, although such a catch-all answer drives the sceptic mad.  And one can sympathise.  Such an answer relies on faith, and our trust in a loving and active God.  What the sceptic wants is definitive proof, or at least statistically acceptable proof: out of 100 prayers, so many were answered as desired, and so many weren’t, which will prove things one way or another.

God, however, isn’t interested in statistics; he is concerned only with relationships.  And to understand prayer we have to understand it in the context of our relationship with God (and with each other).  The story of the Bible from beginning to end, Old and New Testaments, is the story of God’s relationship with his creation, and his pursuit of that relationship.  God is not portrayed in scripture as a careless creator, throwing stars into space and sitting back to enjoy the show.  He is Creator, but he has a specific goal in mind, and that goal is relationship, however you want to define it. 

More than anything else prayer is about relationship.  What does it mean when we pray fervently for a friend’s healing?  First of all, we are acknowledging our relation-ship with God, and we are approaching him as Father.  Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father….”  He is not a shopkeeper we go to with a list in order to buy things we need; he is Father. He is our father, and our friend’s father, and it is in acknowledging both those relationships that we approach him in prayer. 

When we pray for our friend’s healing we are praying for something that God also holds dear, and in our praying we are drawing closer to our friend and closer to God.  We are taking time from our busy day and focusing for a moment or two on our friend and on the father of us both.  In perhaps a very small way, we are growing those relationships that are both God’s gift and God’s desire.  At that level, does prayer “work”?  Absolutely, even when the “answer” is not what we had hoped for or expected.

When we pray for healing and wholeness, for reconciliation, for peace, we are praying for those things that God himself wants for his creation.  And we can pray deeply, and fervently, and often, because as we pray we are drawing closer to our Father.  As we draw closer, we develop a greater understanding of what God wants to do, and (be warned) what he wants us to do.

See also:

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Adapt or Fly: people matter


Pieter-Dirk Uys brought his show, Adapt or Fly, to Pietermaritzburg last week.  We joined a group of friends and saw it on Friday evening. Uys took us on a roller-coaster ride through South Africa’s recent history, parading Prime Ministers and State Presidents, from Malan to Zuma, before us on stage.  Each one came alive in front of us through Uys’s extraordinary ability to adapt his voice and facial expressions while using a minimum of props.

But it wasn’t all laugh-a-minute.  Ordinary people joined us to tell their stories, along with the extraordinary ones like Nowell Fine and Evita Bezuidenhout, of course.  One of the more poignant was that of a Coloured family on the Cape Flats.  We joined the brother during the violence of the 80’s; his younger sister told her story many years later.  The brother told us about their black granny who lived in a beautiful house in Newlands with high ceilings and a veranda that went round three sides of the house.  She had a piano and a beautiful stinkwood dining-room table with six chairs.  She was moved under the Group Areas Act to a miserable little house on the Cape Flats.  It had an outside toilet with no door.  There was no room for the piano or the grand stinkwood table.  Granny died of a broken heart.  The grandson wondered where the table was, and who was living in the house with high ceilings and a sweeping veranda.  We joined the daughter years later.  She was eking out a living from the same little Cape Flats house.  It was the day when, miraculously, the stinkwood table was delivered to her back door.  But what did she want with such possessions that couldn’t fit into her tiny home or her impoverished world.

Such reminders of the face of pain and poverty are critical for our own humanity.  In South Africa we have become immune to stories and images of violence and suffering.  Communities erupt in violent clashes with authorities, strikes degenerate into excesses of violence, businesses and homes are trashed and ordinary people suffer. We read the headlines, and we say, “Not again,” as we move on to more comforting news about defaced paintings, corruption and the failure of our municipalities to fix streetlamps.

We need to be reminded that violence affects individuals; whether it’s one person against another, a mob taking the law into its own hands, or a nation at war, violence affects individuals.  Individual people perpetrate it; individuals suffer it. We must beware lest, when we turn away from stories about violence and suffering, we turn our backs on real people in pain who need our compassion and intervention.

Last Friday marked the 40th anniversary of an iconic photograph of the Vietnam War,  Nick Ut’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a nine-year-old Kim Phuc running away from a napalm-bomb attack on her village.  Her clothes had melted off her body, her left arm was burning, and she ran down the road, naked, crying, “Too hot; too hot.”  Richard Nixon’s cynical comment on the photo at the time was, “I’m wondering if that was fixed.” At another point, Nixon chided Henry Kissinger for being too concerned about civilian casualties.

If we fail to take account of civilian casualties, if we fail to notice the individuals affected by war, then war and violence have no real consequences; it’s all just unavoidable collateral damage.

In the controversy about The Spear there were those who said, “But it’s not just Jacob Zuma who is being humiliated; what about his wife (sorry, wives) and his children.” Exactly! Individuals matter.  But the individuals that matter in this case are not just the family of a State President who seems to act as if there should be no restraints on personal ambition, lust or self-gratification.  What of those who have died because we have not taken HIV/AIDS seriously, or because we have not taken violence and rape seriously; or because we continue to parade male dominance as a right, and marvel at men of power?

Thank you Pieter-Dirk Uys for reminding us of the plight of ordinary people who matter, who have little room to adapt, and no money to fly.

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Deb Moore: A Friend


We lost a dear friend last week.  We joined the family and other friends on Friday to share our tears and to celebrate her life.  Debs was a private person, and I can’t claim to have known her well, but she always made you feel special, as if your joys and concerns were all that mattered.  Her faithfulness in prayer, and her courage in the terrible suffering she endured, were a gift and an encouragement to all.

The tributes paid by her family and friends echoed the love and the loss of all our hearts.  Her daughter said she loved coming home—how many teenagers would admit to that?  And not many students, except for the laundry benefits.  She loved coming home because her mother was so positive.  “She believed in me.  She made me feel that everything was possible.”

That’s not easy for a parent to convey.  There are so many pitfalls, so much for us to worry about.  How many of us manage to set our children free, to give them the gift of believing in them instead of restricting them with the impossibilities of our own fears?  Of course they are legitimate fears, we fear for their safety, for their future, but they restrict nonetheless. 

As Deb’s daughter spoke we could nod in appreciation.   This was indeed the Debs we knew and loved.

Debs pointed her family to Romans 12:12: “Be joyful in hope; be patient in affliction and faithful in prayer.”  It is a verse that sums up how we experienced Debs.  Joy was a constant companion, and hope her driving force.  Her patience in the terrible suffering she endured was heroic (not that she would ever have considered herself a hero).  I often thought that Debs wanted to be free of it all, not for her sake but so that her family and friends would not have to endure it all.  And Debs was a prayer warrior.  She was one of those who left you feeling a little more secure, a little more confident, because Debs was praying.  But her prayers were not intellectual exercises; they led her to action.  Debs was one of those who would pray as if God was our only hope, and act as if God had left it all up to her.

One of her friends said that she (the friend) had only been a Christian for ten years, a spiritual youngster in the prayer group she belonged to with Debs.  But she always knew that, when she grew up, she wanted to be like Debs.

I echo that, but such love and faithfulness, such joy and peace, do not come overnight.  Paul rightly calls these fruit of the Spirit.  Fruit grows and develops through a long process of watering and nurturing; it isn’t stuck on at the last minute.  The fruit of the Spirit grows within us as we offer ourselves to God every day; it develops little by little through random acts of kindness; it ripens as we make small decisions to be positive, to put aside our critical inclinations, and to offer encouragement and hope to a daughter, a friend, a stranger.

It starts, perhaps, through being faithful in prayer as we ask God every day for opportunities to live out our prayers, and courage to take the opportunities presented to reach out to others.

Thank you Debs for the gifts you gave us.  Thank you for encouraging us to live as Jesus in the world, and for demonstrating that it is indeed possible to do so.

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