Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam

Jesus, don’t want me for a sunbeam
Sunbeams are never made like me
– The Vaselines

I’ve always wondered why the Jesus narrative is so compelling. Why is Jesus the focus of so much cultural reference. Why, for instance, is the name Jesus Christ considered an expletive whereas Buddha is not? I guess in Christianised societies it may have to do with a rejection of the past. People consciously going against the “not allowed”. But is there more to it than that?

The song by The Vaselines, covered by Nirvana, Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam always hits me when I hear it. It is somehow a tragic song. The simple lyrics seem to hang heavy with pain. And perhaps that’s the reason why so many people relate to the song. Because they feel the pain of not being perfect. Or not being perfect enough, after having been told their whole lives that they needed to be a “sunbeam for Jesus”.

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Tragic figures seem to be drawn to the suffering of Jesus. Jesus is a tragic figure himself and I think subconsciously, a lot of people see themselves in Jesus as he hangs alone on the cross. But there is also something repulsive about the murder of an innocent, the injustice of Christ’s death, which I think affects people deeply.

Why did Kurt Cobain cover this song? Obviously I can only speculate but to me this song is a prayer. A truly honest prayer. It’s something like the tax collector at the back of the temple.

But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

Luke 18:9-14

There is an element of fatalism in both this song and the tax collector’s prayer. The tax collector’s job was considered “sinful” by many Jews at that time as he would have collected tax for the Roman oppressor. There is no indication he plans on changing his job and it would probably have been quite difficult to do so, but he acknowledges honestly, in front of God, that he is imperfect, and lives in an imperfect world, in an imperfect situation.

The song does something similar. “Jesus, don’t want me for a sunbeam, sunbeams are never made like me”.   Playing off the children’s hymn, I’ll Be Your Sunbeam, it seems to be saying, “I’m not perfect, and I can’t be”. However, the song’s most tragic element is its ultimate rejection of Jesus – “don’t ever ask your love of me”. Despite the catchy tune and tempo, that is an emphatically angry line! And I suspect that, although the addressee of the song is Jesus, it is actually addressed to the Church.

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

This anger at the idea that we are born sinful, that we enter the world already damned and need to be fixed is an understandable anger. And to question that idea is a sound theological question which brings you to the table with the likes of St. Paul, Augustine, Origen, and Justin Martyr, just for starters! It can be a damaging idea – which I am not putting forward my own views on here (maybe in a future post) – but it is an idea which seeks to explain suffering in the world. An attempt to answer the question: Why is there evil?

The reason I call it a tragic song is because although this sort of rejection of Christianity is usually equated with liberation from the “shackles of religion”, this song doesn’t hold that feeling – It feels like a goodbye song; a break up song. There is a real sense of loss and disappointment. Or maybe I’m just projecting.

If I could take away a message from this song, and from the prevalence of Jesus in modern culture despite its seeming rejection of religion, it would be that people know they are broken, hurt and wounded. People see the pain and suffering in the world and they direct their anger at the one institution which was supposed to take it all away but, ultimately, ended up adding to it. It is anger against hypocrisy.

I feel that this anger, while justified, is short sighted because the Church did not create Jesus, Jesus created the Church… and we are the Church – and so we need to ask what does Jesus really want me for? Jesus doesn’t want me for a sunbeam, that is completely right – He wants me to, first of all, love and forgive myself, and second, to do the same for others. Forgiveness implies a conscious decision to love a person who you know is imperfect and you know will possibly hurt you again – and this applies to yourself too.

“Don’t ever ask your love of me”. Is the singer telling Jesus he won’t ever love him, or that he can’t accept Jesus’ love for himself? It is difficult to love ourselves and we often forget that the golden rule, “Love your neighbour” also includes “as you love yourself”. A rewording of this rule for our time might hold more weight: Accept your neighbour as you accept yourself.

Do I accept myself?

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments…”

“Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”

And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him,

“You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

10:17-31

The Oblivion of Being

This piece originally appeared in The Voice, KU Leuven student magazine. 

Thoughts on climbing an abandoned tower

pigeon

Do you hear that? That’s the world around you. Right now, as you read this, life is.

There are moments, perhaps you can relate, when looking up at the spring sky and noticing the warmth of the sun gently falling in the chill of the air, that I feel okay. Things are okay. Amidst the confusion and pain, the love lost, the quiet forgetfulness of friendships, despite all of it, I am me, here, now.

Heidegger writes about Dasein, a “being-there”. For him, to be is not some esoteric concept but is the flesh and blood reality of being in this world, this life, right now; Part of a whole.

fisheye

Interestingly, it is often when we are alone that we encounter these sorts of moments. Our solitude reminds us of our finitude and, in turn, of our Dasein. In some sense, to flourish is to acknowledge our smallness, to look into oblivion and be okay with it, because whether you appreciate it or not, the fact that you are, in the immensity of all things, is, in itself, remarkable.

Recently I explored an abandoned building in the Vaartkom, which is in the north of Leuven. I think it was an old Stella factory. I climbed in through a broken window, over a rusted handrail and into the eerie, dusty silence of a place long forgotten. Cautiously, at first, I clambered my way up creaky staircases, through corridors with leering holes in the floor. I climbed over machinery that had long since lost its purpose and up rickety ladders, under the curious gaze of roosting pigeons who cooed gently as I disturbed their rest. It doesn’t take long for our own constructions to turn against us, for shelters to become inhospitable and alien. Bushes had found cracks to grow in, moss had engulfed walls and ceilings, and slowly, nature had reclaimed its right to be there. It was precisely the abandoned emptiness of this old building that had enabled life to flourish once more.

I emerged from a small hatch in the roof, after forcing myself to climb a wrought iron ladder which, had its fastenings failed, would have sent me plummeting to my death. I had reached the top and, around me Leuven lived. A strange surprise greeted me here: my name, spray painted onto the side of the wall. It was as if I had encountered myself in that broken and wasted place, as if I had been waiting for me. It was a surreal moment. But it was also a moment that gives me hope; for life, for the world. In our daily battles, life is there, we are there but we forget this. We enter into the constructs and concepts that surround us but if we were to abandon them, even if just for a moment, we would find that we are larger than the systems that we follow and the roles we assume. We’ll find we were there all along, waiting for ourselves to brave the climb, to face our own smallness in the immensity of everything that is and be.

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To Be Remembered

And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Ozymandias – Percy Bysshe Shelley

Taizé, France - Sebastian TemlettIt’s saddening and humbling that all things are transitory. All our human endeavours: Architectural masterpieces, great works of art, cultures, beliefs – all of these things pass away.

Being in Europe this year has in some ways emphasised this reality to me. The beauty of medieval castles, an ancient monument or Roman ruins – They inspire a sense of awe at what has been.
But they will be gone one day. As will everything else. We see it in our modern cities now: things needing a lick of paint, cracks in the side walk, once grand office buildings of the 80’s now derelict and run down, rusty hand rails and sign posts; All things decay.

Is this something to lament? It strikes me that nature also decays but it does it in a way that replenishes itself. How is it that human beings, although a part of nature, cannot do this effectively?
In the building of monuments and amazing structures, ancient civilizations were trying to establish their primacy at the time but also, I suppose, they wanted to leave a legacy – to be remembered. And as I find inspiration in those amazing structures and breath taking pieces of art, perhaps that is the replenishment I’m talking about.

Notre Dame, Paris - Sebastian Temlett

This desire to be immortalised, is it good or bad? If we detached ourselves from it, we’d be able to be present to the now and enjoy the time we have. But in some sense, in doing that we would lose much of what drives us to create. To create is, to a certain extent, to put a piece of your soul into the world and leave it there for others to see. The desire is for people to be affected by your work, and for that to happen you want to be good at what you do in order to be recognised. And “recognition” comes from the Latin root recognoscere ‘know again, recall to mind’ – To be remembered. You gain a small sliver of immortality.

We want to be remembered, to feel as though our life was worth something; the implication being that if it was worth something, we’d have had an effect on many people in a positive way. But perhaps “to be remembered” is not what we should strive for but rather to be a force for good. It would be better, in my mind, for no one to ever know who you were but to have made a positive change in the world. In a way that is true heroism, true selflessness.

All of these thoughts spawned from a rusted handrail and cracked staircase baking in the midday sun. That decay was compost for my creativity. So perhaps it is good that all things fade; It means there is always call for something new, for creativity to continue, growing from the sediment of old ideas.

And one thing is certain, although all things fade, our very presence on earth has in some way altered the outcome of the future. Every person you encounter, even for a moment, has been changed in some way, however small that change may be, it is irreversible!
Which is a little scary… and a little awesome.

Helplessy Hoping

Wordlessly watching he waits by the window and wonders
At the empty place inside – Crosby, Stills & Nash
Taize

The last few weeks have been quite a special and important time for me.
But if I could underline one main feeling that has threaded its way through this time it would be empty longing.
Faith is a bit like this for me. I’m walking through a desert and every now and then I find a small pool of crystal clear water. Pure and cool, it soothes my parched tongue. But I have to move on and I stagger onward through the shimmering heat.
But always I long for the next pool, the next place of revival. They are always unexpected. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever reach another one and sometimes I doubt if I did in fact actually find one.
Often I feel foolish for entering this desert, frustrated and angry. Sometimes I want to stop, or maybe turn back but somehow I know that I must keep walking and somehow I do.

This longing for that cool water, this desire to be filled, to be content to me speaks of a deep human desire for God. I believe everyone can relate to the feeling of not ever really being completely satisfied. We’ll never have travelled enough, seen enough, done enough, made enough or received enough likes on Facebook.
But why do we have this desire in the first place? How can we desire a perfect contentment if we have never experienced it? How can I crave the water if I have never seen or tasted it? I was created to drink water. I need it to survive. So, I can conclude that I was created for perfect contentment too.

Water in Taizé

If we distract ourselves enough we can fool ourselves into thinking that desire is not there but in the loneliness of a dark night, we know.

Coming back to my empty longing, this can sound quite bleak at first but this empty longing is paradoxically a feeling of closeness to God. In the very fact that I desire God to be with me and within me and the frustration at the feeling that He hasn’t satiated that desire is a closeness and peace.

I spent a week in The Taizé Community in France at the start of December. In the people I met, in the chants we sung, in the quiet presence of the brothers I was drawn into a stillness and calm. There was no lightning bolt moment or emotional outburst but just a contentment with my discontent.
Perhaps this is what joy is. An underlying “okayness” despite exterior circumstances or feelings.

This empty longing has underscored my experience of Advent this year. It wasn’t conscious. Advent is traditionally a time of waiting, waiting for the birth of a saviour, but also for the ultimate fulfilment of our longing for God. But I didn’t try very hard to enter into this waiting, the waiting came to me.
This Advent has placed Christmas in its proper place, the pinnacle of this waiting. The point I can stop and realise that although I am walking through a desert, God is walking next to me.

Happy Christmas!

The Art of Living

I am in London.

So you know all those posts on Facebook like this:

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Yeah, they suck.

The reason is they tell a half truth and they do it in a kitch, cheesy, sentamentalised way.

I think a lot of people see these sorts of messages as motivational or inspiring because, well, life can be boring sometimes and so this must mean I am wasting my life away. The conclusion, take life by the horns and quit my job! Sail off to a foreign country and backpack through Peru!

Great!

No!

The reason I feel strongly about this is because I fall into this way of thinking often.
But I learn over and over that there is nothing on Earth that can make me happy.

Nothing makes me happy.

Yes, nothing. If I stop expecting, stop desiring, stop coveting and just be, then I start to touch freedom.

This is a message preached by many religions including Christianity but it is an extremely difficult attitude to adopt, especially in today’s world.

Just be. If what made us content was just being, imagine that peace? Sitting in the office, in traffic, on a long journey, content with who I am and what I am and everything that is around me.

Now I don’t believe that we can’t enjoy material things, they just mustn’t be the end goal.

A year ago I was in London and this city nearly killed me. A lot of the factors were out of my control, but one of my biggest stresses was that I felt like I wasn’t maximizing my time here. This put a weight on my shoulders. Where was the adventure? I was just me living somewhere else.
There was no epiphany or magical moment. There was growth, yes, but that happens when we are open to change, and change doesn’t always need to be continents apart.

And here I am, a year later, back in London. This time, with a much healthier attitude. I am planning to travel a bit and then return to Cape Town but I am consciously making the effort to drop any expectations I may have and let things be what they are. I cannot “craft” the life I want. Life is not a fine art, it is more of a Pollock painting.

"Plain Number One of 1948"

“Plain Number One of 1948”

The more you think about it, the worse you make things.

Perhaps this is what is meant by “the Art of Living” – to stop trying so hard, and to just be.

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. – Jesus of Nazareth, Circa 30AD, 1st Century.

I Think You Believe in God

I think a lot of people today believe in God.

Embankment Station, London at nightAnd maybe for a lot of people they don’t say “God” but rather, the universe or, great energy… or the force.
But somehow it seems there is a comparatively small number of people who will actually say, “I don’t believe there is a God.”

For many, that’s the end of their spiritual adventure. Because what does it matter?
Around us are archaic religions with outdated ideas who just end up killing each other over trivial things.

Most of these religions are run by old, celibate white men who really need to get with the times.
They repress sexuality, and indoctrinate children. They promote superstition and ultimately, they create a system of belief which is self-perpetuating, in that, you need to be part of “the club” in order to be okay with God. And if you act or think differently, you are doomed.

And God is just a comfort blanket for people who are afraid of the reality that when we die there is nothing.

I think I’ve outlined the main arguments against “God” and “organised religion”.

These arguments are right, and wrong. They are right in so far as, yes, those things and ideas have been perpetuated and practiced by some, but they are also wrong because they assume these ideas are ultimately what religion is about.

Religion is not man-made. Religion is a word. And the word is about Man and his relationship with God. And we start from there.

So maybe you believe in God, or maybe you don’t.
But I am sure you believe in respect, in morality and in old-fashioned good nature and manners.
I like respect. Let’s look at the idea of respect. What does it look like in practice?

War?

Hate?

Bigotry?

Rape?

Recklessness?

Lying and Cheating?

Self-medication?

My point, being fairly basic, is that respect is a human virtue. If someone wants the betterment of humanity, she believes in respecting her fellow human beings. Would that be fair to say?

Respecting their dignity. Respecting their opinions. Respecting their rights. Respecting their safety and security. Respecting their privacy. Respecting their health. Respecting their bodies. Respecting their sexuality. Respecting their achievements. Respecting their humanity.

Sounds like a good idea, huh? Wouldn’t that be a fantastic world to live in if everyone did that?

Well why don’t we?

If we are so sure that the answer is simple. That people just need to be good to each other, then why aren’t we living in an ideal world?

There is an ancient story. A man approaches his teacher and asks:
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”

The teacher replies:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”

The problem with the world is not religion, as many people try to imply. The problem with the world is mankind.

What people seem to think is that “religion” is a “no”; That belief in God is a “no”

I personally struggle to see how people can think this. Everything within Christianity is ordered toward loving better.

Meet hate with Love.
Meet violence with Love.
Meet pain with Love.
Meet suffering with Love.
Meet disaster with Love.
Meet people with Love.

And what is Love? Desiring the best for others.

How does this not sound like a good thing?

We live in a society of entitlement. We feel entitled to things; Entitled to a comfortable life. Entitled to peace. Entitled to sex. Entitled to money. Entitled to freedom.

Yet none of those things mean anything without love. A comfortable life without a desire to improve others lives is a lonely, self-centred existence. Peace without love I don’t think is possible, it is just “keeping the peace”. Sex without love is using. Money without love is capitalism. Freedom without love is not freedom.

I guess my point is that your desire to be “a good person” is a desire to love. And a desire to love is a desire to put others first. It is not a warm fuzzy feeling or “romantic love”, it is sacrifice and commitment. This is counter cultural. We are told if something “isn’t working for you” then ditch it. The whole idea of commitment has gone out the window.

For this idea of wanting the best for others to work, there has to be a belief that at everyone’s core, even if they don’t know it themselves, is the same desire to love; And an inherent dignity. If we are really loving them we need to love their potential.

These ideas are the fundamental ideas of Christianity. Which, by the way, is “a religion.”

So if someone doesn’t believe in God but thinks all these ideas are good ideas, then where do those ideas come from and why are they so difficult to put into practice? If it were instinct, or just a sociological development, then I believe we’d be a lot better at actually doing it. But let’s be honest, we suck.

Christianity is and has always been, a revolutionary religion. Jesus challenged the status quo. He challenged the idea of personal gain over communal gain. The idea of rituals over faith. The idea of law over love. The idea of justice of over mercy.

And that’s why I love Him. He is the only thing that makes sense to me in this world.

I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. From the book of Jeremiah, Chapter  31 Verse 33. Jeremiah was a prophet and is recognized as one by Jews, Christians and Muslims.

The Jump

Who Am I?

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM“; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'”

On My Way!Who Am I? Sometimes I think this question is at the root of our human experience. It is what drives us. It is a desire to know ourselves, to know where we fit in and what makes me “me”. What is my identity?

We are social beings, we thrive in community. I believe one of our greatest fears is that people will reject us. As a result we live by the book, following the script written by countless generations before us.

Imagine a scenario where a group of people come together for a book club. They were all supposed to have read a chapter of their current book before the meeting but none of them has.
They make small talk and divert the conversation for as long as they can, each one of them feeling embarrassed and scared of what the others might think. Some even lie about the chapter and make up opinions so as to appear to have done the reading.

Finally, one person confesses to having not done the reading and the tension is broken, everyone admits and the group laughs, feeling closer and more bonded than before.

This book club is a lot like life. We jostle for our place in society pretending to have it all together but we are all just lost on the inside. We’re afraid to admit it but if we do, we find that everyone is really in the same boat, and there is liberation in knowing this. It takes the pressure off.

I find it interesting how many people take those “tests” on Facebook:  “What Disney Character Are You?”, “What Is Your Celebrity Alter Ego?”, “What City Should You Really Live In?”.

I’ve taken plenty myself. Sure, they can be a laugh but I feel those tests are so popular because we desire identity, we are searching for meaning and for who we are. We like it when our ideas of who we are are affirmed, which is often why those tests are flawed because we will answer according to what we want the outcome to be.
Which describes you best: Shy, Adventurous, Bookish, Fun?
I secretly want to be an adventurer so I choose adventurous. The result tells me, “You are an explorer! Seeking adventure and thriving off change!” – Yes! No… I am actually insecure and afraid of so many things. I want to be an explorer because I believe that will fulfil me. But will it?

A year ago today, I boarded my plane and began my journey to London. This was my adventure. This was my initiation; I was going to find my place and my identity.
Well, this did happen, but not in the way I expected at all! So here I am, on the Feast of St.Dominic, back in Cape Town recovering from a traumatic, life changing, OCD episode but strangely, in so many ways, I’ve never been happier.

I’ve admitted that I didn’t do the reading.

Somehow, in that surrender, lies the key to feeling more at peace in my own skin. Realising that I am who I am, warts and all, and that is enough. I am not claiming to have reached “enlightenment”. I am still insecure and afraid of many things, I still fear rejection, I am still human. And that is fine and good. But just as shading gives a drawing definition, our flaws help shape our character.
My insecurities affect me, but they don’t define me.

St. Augustine’s most overused quotation is, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rests in you.”

The quote’s popularity is, in itself, telling. We relate to the phrase “our hearts are restless” so much because we are restless. We seek
and seek but we do not find because we seek in the world.

But we are not made for this world. At least, that’s my belief. We desire more, something greater which cannot be found in this life.

An image comes to mind of a barren wasteland in which I stand, seeking out some form of life, some sign of colour in a colourless world. I run and run, seeking in vain, trying so hard to feel and to see something which I haven’t felt or seen before but I know exists somehow. Eventually I trip and fall into the dust. At first, I want to give up, and so I weep, as all feels lost.
But then I open my eyes and notice that where my tears have fallen, a small flower has sprouted and it is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

It is in surrender that we find what we are seeking, we cannot find it on our own.

And what we are seeking is God. Nothing else. And He is waiting for us all.

No matter your creed, code, culture or religion, try and say a prayer
now. Reach into that place in yourself that is hurting, and then lift it up to the I AM, the Divine Being. Realise that He is here, right now, within you, around you and that you are in Him, and He IS Eternity.

Peace and Happy Feast of St. Dominic.

“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – Jesus Christ

Who Needs to Be Saved? Part 2: Sinner!

Sin.

Road in KwaZulu NatalWhat a word. In modern society it is laden with preconceptions of judgement and negative connotations.
Even Christians struggle to say the word in fear that someone might be offended.
It is a word which has lost its true meaning in many ways. If I told a random man on the street that he was a sinner, he’d likely be upset with me and think I was a fundamentalist nut. But if I told him that he was someone who made mistakes, and had hurt people in his life, would he disagree?
Sin means to err, or to make a mistake. To miss the mark or target. To not get it right.
Don’t we all do that?

In a Christian context we believe that when we “don’t get it right”, it has an affect upon our soul.
God hasn’t condemned us, or marked us, we’ve damaged ourselves.
That’s the concept. At least, that’s how I see it.

I am a sinner, you are a sinner, Pope Francis is a sinner. What does that mean?
You see, sometimes I think, why do we need salvation? I wonder when early humans decided that they had an intrinsic problem.
Was it an evolutionary process of discernment as they came to the realisation that killing one another was ultimately not such a great idea and more could be achieved in community?

But what of the concept of failing in the eyes of the Creator?
This is an idea shared by other religions in some form or another. That being said, not all religions believe in a Supreme Deity but there is a general agreement that humans are in need of attaining a “higher state”.

And then of course, there is the indisputable fact that people still kill and maim and fight each other; We lie and steal and are cruel. We can be pretty messed up.
(And yes, I know people can also be good to one another too!)

Is the idea of sin a straw man? A man-made invention with a man-made cure? Or do we have a Divine Law written on our hearts that helps us know right from wrong?

I suppose these are questions I can never really know the answers to, but I believe that in asking them I open my heart up in tolerance and understanding.

China Town, Soho, London, Christians see sin, getting it wrong, hurting one another, bad things, whatever you want to call it, as something that separates us from God. If God is all good, and all good comes from Him, then bad cannot return to Him as the source of all good. You follow? So we need to find a way to repair ourselves in order to get back to God. This brings about the mother of all questions: How?
Perhaps by being good? Seems feasible but could you ever be good enough to reunite with the source of all goodness?
Sacrificing things? Would an all good Being really want us to slaughter animals (and each other) to appease Him?

So the crux of it is: If God is real and we know a little about His nature, as I discussed in Part 1, and if sin is a real thing that has an effect on our souls and separates us from God then we all need to be saved. Being saved just means being reunited with God. Different Christian denominations believe different things about just how that reunion with God is brought about but we all agree that it is only possible because of Jesus Christ.
And you might be jumping up from your seat saying, “Aha! Got you! Why would an all loving, all good God kill his own son!!!! That’s a pretty barbaric way of reuniting us to Him, Eh?”

And I say back to you, “Great point.”

But then, you see, Jesus is God. God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A unity of love.
So God became a man (Jesus) and was both Father and Son. Different persons yet the same God. Confused? Me too.

So because our “damaged” souls cannot return to an all good God (remember they are damaged because we do things that aren’t right, and we know it. Even something like saying something hurtful to a parent in a moment of anger is ultimately not a good thing.) God is all good (yo). That is why we say Jesus died for our sins. God died as a way for us to be repaired. For our damaged souls to be fixed.
Why? Because He loves us. And what about the whole dying thing? Why couldn’t He click his omnipresent fingers and save us like that? Well, because then it wouldn’t be our choice to be with Him. We had to see Him die (or at least read about it) in order to understand how much He loved us. He could have appeared and said, “Hey guys! I love you!” and we’d say, “Prove it!”

So He did. He took the bullet for us people. That’s the message in its simplest form!

(As a sidebar: If you like to think that you’ve lived a reasonably good life and that you feel that you definitely aren’t destined for (thunder-clap) eternal damnation and are wondering why our all good God can’t just make us clean when we die, well then you aren’t too far off from the Catholic concept of Purgatory!)

There are so many complex layers that just cannot be unpacked in one post but it has been an interesting process for me to write it and to realise those complexities. And so as usual I finish with more questions than answers but somehow I feel I need to say that I am comforted deeply by Christ and by the concept of a love so great that it is willing to sacrifice everything for me.

Who needs to be saved? I do.

Hanging in there

Image Credit: My sister

The Meaning of Life

Spinning

I’m in shock.

In the last 48 hours I have experienced some amazing “coincidences”. Too many to mention in one post. Keep in mind as you read this “bonus” post, that today’s Gospel reading is Matthew 5: 1 – 12 – The Beatitudes, one of my favourite passages in scripture.

I met a beautiful person on Saturday night. She was homeless.

I was at a farewell party and I noticed her standing outside on the street clutching a hot water bottle. I don’t know why but I felt compelled to go out and speak to her. So I did.

She immediately launched into conversation, excitedly. I could tell that she must have had some form of mental impairment. Whether that was caused by drug addiction or not, I can’t say, but she had both a depth and a simplicity about her which was captivating. Hair in dreadlocks, hippie pants and cigarette in hand, she spoke about her situation a little. What struck me was her innocence. Yes, perhaps she has made some bad choices but she cannot be blamed for those. At least I don’t believe she can.

She was a truly wonderful human being. At one point she said, “Yes, things are difficult, but you are given those things because you are the kind of person who can handle it.”
I heard her then and I felt as if her words were directed at me somehow. As she spoke, the Beatitudes jumped into my mind because it was as if in her they were embodied. For some reason I had been thinking about the Beatitudes quite a lot in the days leading up to this night.
I asked her if she knew what the Beatitudes were. She shook her head.
I rattled off a few, getting them a bit mixed up but the gist of it came across.

As she listened , she lifted her hot water bottle to her cheek and smiled. Her face softened and she looked at peace in that moment.

Her spirit is burned into my memory, her laughter and her childlike excitement at the various topics we spoke about.
And finally, when I said goodbye, she smiled and touched my arm and said, “God bless.”

He had just done so.

The Beatitudes

He began to teach them, saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Happy Pentecost

Sunset in Botswana

Sunset – Botswana 2009

 

 

Finding Ourselves

Unfocused

Perfect love casts out fear

– Ancient Middle Eastern Spiritual Text

I used to be afraid.

Who am I kidding? I am still afraid.

I am afraid of death. Less so recently. But sometimes I get panic attacks thinking about the fact that I will be dead one day. And what if there is nothing?
I am afraid of turning 50 and looking back, realising I’ve wasted my life. That scares me a lot.

I am afraid of commitment. This idea that somehow committing to something will mean losing time… Time, why this obsession with time? The fear of not spending time in the right way, to the point that I resent it when I have to give it up for something I don’t enjoy.

Fear can be a driver, and a reckless one at that. I am running out of time… On repeat.

It makes me think of an Anne Dillard quotation:

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives

Because sometimes clichéd advice is a cliché for a reason. It’s true.

You can’t find happiness by chasing after it. Being so worried about losing time will in fact cause you to be miserable all of the time and lose it all.

Do you remember those songs? Those wannabe punk rock songs that talk about how we’re all forced to go to school, then go to university and get a real job and then have a family and grow old and die? Yeah, whoever wrote those songs was an idiot.

Recently I had to give up. You see, I’ve been running; For a long time I’ve been running from my fears. Running from responsibility. Running from growing up.

But in light of recent events, I had to stop running and let the wave catch me.

But something strange happened. When the waters engulfed me, I hung in space, still and quiet. And I could breathe.

Sunset in Kwa-Zulu Natal

I have always been terrified of working 9 to 5. I envisioned sitting behind a desk, miserable and longing for adventure. Motivational posters on Facebook scream at me this idea that if your life isn’t maniacally exciting, then you are missing out big time buddy!

“Follow your dreams!”
“The only thing standing in your way is you!”
“Don’t let anyone tell you, ‘You can’t do it’”

You know what Facebook motivational posters? Shut the front door.

I recently started a new job. My first real job actually. Before this I was a “freelancer” aka. Unemployed.

I wake up in the morning. I have breakfast. I go to the office. I sit in front of my computer, surfing Facebook and doing a bit of work in between. And you know what? I am loving it.

When I was “free”, doing as I pleased, waking up at 10am and living off takeaways despite not having the money for it, I hardly had time to do anything I enjoyed. Because every moment spent doing something I enjoyed like reading, or playing guitar or writing was accompanied by an underlying sense of guilt that I wasn’t trying to find work.

Now at 5pm I close my laptop, walk out the door and leave work at work. I get home, I kick back, play some guitar, write a blog and climb into bed and do it all again the next day.

I have more freedom since I have succumbed to what I envisioned as the worst, most restricting fate imaginable. Life, I see what you did there.

And perhaps this is premature but I feel the trickle of a fresh stream in my soul, bringing the coolness of peace.
There is still pain, and fear but I don’t want to run anymore. I can’t live if I run from life.
And trying to pursue a fantasy of what my life should be will only lead me to self-destruction.

The Thames, LondonLife is a river and sometimes you need to let it sweep you away. How could I have known when I landed at Heathrow Airport on the 8th of August 2013, believing I was living the dream, that I would be back in Cape Town 7 months later working a desk job? I would have laughed in your face if you told me that. But to be honest, right now, I feel I am where I am meant to be.

When the time is right my adventure will come, once I stop pursuing it. It’s not about putting up with my day to day life until I finally get that opportunity to travel or get my dream job, it’s about learning to savour where I am now.

And as for perfect love, perhaps it has something to do with trust. Relinquishing control. Because you can only love if you can trust. And God is the only Being who cannot let you down. But God will never force you to trust Him, or even to do what He wants you to do.

Sometimes you have to fall down so that He can pick you up again and put you where He wants you. True freedom comes through surrender and so perhaps we find ourselves where we thought we would be most lost.

You just have to stop running.

 

On My Way!

Image Credit: Alan Shelley