“Musing takes place in a kind of meadowlands of the imagination, a part of the imagination that has not yet been ploughed, developed, or put to any immediately practical use … time spent is not work time yet without that time the mind becomes sterile, dull, domesticated. The fight for free space – for wilderness and public space – must be accompanied by a fight for free time to spend wandering in that space.”
Rebecca Solnit in Wanderlust: A History of Walking
This LENT let’s spend time wandering in the meadowlands of the imagination.
Lenten Prayer of Preparation
Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something more than interesting or entertaining or thoughtful.
Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something awesome, something real. Speak to my condition, Lord and change me somewhere inside where it matters, a change that will burn and tremble and heal and explode me into tears or laughter or love that throbs or screams or keeps a terrible, cleansing silence and dares the dangerous deeds. Let something happen which is my real self, Oh God. Amen. [Ted Loder]
On Thursday I presented a class to a group of Master’s students at UCT. I am guessing most of the students in the class were around 25 years old. I really enjoyed being in their energetic company and stimulating environment! Education really is a precious gift.
Then I asked them if I wanted them to come and work for me after they graduate what would they be willing to work for. “Anyone willing to work for R10 000 p.m.?” There was no one willing to work for that sum. There was one person willing to work for R15 000 and only a handful willing to work for R20 000, but most were still hoping for more.
The trap was laid. (I felt like a certain advocate …)
Then I informed them that only about 10% of South Africans earn more than R10 000 p.m. So earning anything above R10 000 p.m. immediately places one in the top 10%. And there is nothing “middle class” about the top 10%.
I also grew up believing I was middle class – yet I too am well into the top 10%. In fact with my education, housing, secure job, car etc. I am probably knocking on the door of the top 1%. Just like the UCT students I struggle to confess the truth of my financial life: “Hi my name is Alan, and I am RICH.” But only when I confess the truth of who I am can I begin to have a more honest relationship with my money and a more generous relationship with those around me.
Secondly, only when I realise that I am on the top and not in the middle can I perhaps re-channel my energy from trying to reach the top (because I am there already) to making the system more just and compassionate for all.
Thirdly, only then may I be convicted and convinced that I can live with less myself – because after all so many others live with less than I do. When I am liberated to live with less I may be healed of my anxiety that comes with thinking I always need more.
May this be our experience this LENT.
If you buy coffee in HEAVEN you get to decide the price.
It has been great to see people’s response
to this new method of payment.
Disbelief, followed by laughter,
followed by generously paying more :)!
This letter is a continuation from last week’s letter on money – see post below.
Nowhere are we told in Scripture that money is inherently evil or that the possession of money as such is a sin, but if we are going to live life with Jesus at the centre we should note that the overwhelming number of times that he spoke about money he did so with a warning tag attached.
In what we know as the “Lord’s Prayer”, Jesus quotes from the book of Proverbs which steers through the dangers that having either too much or too little money can cause:
“Two things I ask of you, O Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal and so dishonour the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30:7-9).
How many of us pray not to be rich?
Money can be a wonderful gift when it is seen as a means and not an end in itself and when it is used to glorify God by serving those in need and caring for the wellbeing of all of creation (as we see in the story of the Good Samaritan – Luke 10:35 and the way some well-to-do women supported Jesus and his disciples – Luke 8:3). But according to Jesus it is potentially a very dangerous gift that needs to be handled with care. In fact according to Scripture even the desire to be rich traps one in ruin and destruction (1 Timothy 6:9), while the love of money “is the root of all kinds of evil”, (1 Timothy 6:10). “[Paul] does not mean in a literal sense that money produces all evils. He means that there is no kind of evil the person who loves money will not do to get it and hold onto it. All restraint is moved; the lover of money will do anything for it. And that is precisely its seductive character …” (Foster 1985, 1987:30). In fact James blamed killings and wars on the love of wealth (James 4:2). All this differs greatly from the prevalent cultural assumptions that say that money makes you free.
It is also in stark contrast to the widespread belief today that wealth is the sign of divine blessing. It must be asked: If Jesus considered money and wealth to be so dangerous why would he then go and give a great deal of it to people as a blessing? It seems as strange as a parent giving their child whom they love a box of matches to play with. This prosperity teaching is one of the most prevalent and damaging heresies of our time. Would-be believers are promised material blessings if only they give their life to Jesus. Poverty is therefore considered a sign of God’s disapproval, even a curse, but that which conversion will speedily remove. Within this false understanding the wealthy are simultaneously set free from feeling guilty and responsible for the growing inequality.
In short, Jesus taught that the more money one has the more difficult it would be to follow him and remain faithful to God. Jesus put it this way: “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:23-24). Here Jesus turns upside-down the long held belief that wealth was the sure sign of God’s blessing for the present and insurance for the future. Jesus’ audience, both then and now, is left shocked by his words. No wonder we read in the next verse, “When the disciples heard this, they were astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” (Matthew 19:25).
It also turns upside-down the widely accepted definition of success in today’s world – that more is good and most is best. No wonder we struggle to hear it and try and rationalise that Jesus didn’t really mean what he said or say what he meant.
Jesus responded to his astounded disciples saying, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:25-26). We see the impossible becoming possible in the life of Zacchaeus who we read “was rich” (Luke 19:2) and who in the presence of Jesus was set free to give his money away (Luke 19:8). With Jesus, Zacchaeus was enabled to restore his money-damaged relationships, especially with the poor.
Put plainly, money is dangerous and when it comes to managing money human beings need all the help we can get from God. We need God’s help to be faithful in how we earn money, share money, save money, spend money and even think about money. We need God’s help to be able to keep saying ‘yes’ to Jesus’ call to follow him regardless of what the bank manager in our head is saying.
We read the Gospel as if we had no money,
and we spend our money as if we know nothing of the Gospel.
John Haughey – Virtue and Affluence: The Challenge of Wealth
Money is an emotionally-charged issue. Our feelings about money run deep. It is extremely difficult for many of us to speak openly and honestly about money. What we earn is often our best-kept secret (sometimes even from our spouse), assisted of course by the fact that many of us from a young age were taught that it is impolite to ever ask someone about their personal financial matters. Financial matters are deemed private. Yet, there are few other areas of our private lives that are as publicly influential.
This hesitancy to speak openly about money is equally prevalent among Christians as it is among any other group of people. This may not surprise us, but it should disturb us on at least two accounts.
First, it perpetuates the false belief that faith and finance have nothing to say to each other – as if they were meant to live in blissful independence of each other, seemingly replacing the old slogan: Politics and religion don’t mix.
Second, it differs remarkably from the testimony of Scripture and above all the example of Jesus, who it seems, couldn’t speak enough about money-matters. In fact, outside of Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God, he spoke more about money-matters than any other topic.
“In the Old Testament, the subject of the poor is the second most prominent theme. Idolatry is the first, and the two are often connected. In the New Testament, one out of every sixteen verses is about the poor! In the Gospels, the number is one out of every ten verses; in Luke’s Gospel one of every seven, and in the book of James one of every five” (Wallis 1994:149).
The fact that Scripture is saturated with references to money-matters and that Jesus speaks about issues of wealth and poverty constantly throughout his ministry makes money a central concern of Christian spirituality. By Christian spirituality, I simply mean “living with Jesus at the centre” (Nouwen 1988:5). To live with Jesus at the centre is more than a commitment to a particular kind of lifestyle, it is the acceptance of and trust in “another reality” (Willard 1988:67).
Another reality that “celebrates a divine reality that pervades every aspect of our existence, where the harmony intended for the universe can already begin to be experienced” (Wink 1998:13).
To live with Jesus at the centre means that we accept and trust that the world really is the way Jesus described it to be. It means that we adopt Jesus’ operating assumptions about the nature of the universe. This means that vulnerable love, humble service, sacrificial generosity, bold gentleness, deep truth-telling, open and inclusive community, measureless mercy, justice for all, especially for the least are the truest expressions of God’s character, the construction of the universe and the core image of the human person. Christian spirituality calls us to live into and out of this reality. And this is the reality that we are called to honour in the relationship we have with our money.
Sadly the Church has a history of only speaking about money when it needs money itself. This has often been combined with the motivation (manipulation!) that “giving to the church is equal to giving to God”. Giving to God involves giving to the least — as Jesus said, “what you do to the least of these you do to me”. So to the extent that the Church (like any other group, organisation etc.) is being good news for the poor is to the extent that our giving may be equated to giving to God.
Just as the Gospel invites, commands, calls and reminds us to be more loving, truthful, gentle, fair etc. so the Gospel invites, calls, commands and reminds us to be more generous. Generous in creative and thoughtful ways that aim to partner God in sharing good news with the poor (all the vulnerable of the world) by healing this world of its injustice.
Live generously, Alan
You will further recall that at the Conference 2013 we focused on the theme: “TOGETHER a transforming discipleship movement,” and I am pleased with the reports of serious engagement of this theme around the connexion. This must be pleasing to the Lord. Resolution 2.36 on page 96 of the Yearbook 2014 further reads:
“Seeing that prayer is the heart of the life of discipleship, Conference resolves that Lent 2014 be set aside as a focused time of prayer for repentance which leads to discipleship and also about the social ills affecting our people at this time.”
My dear sisters and brothers, I urge you to take this request very seriously. I know that some local churches have already made some plans in this regard. This is not additional to your plans, but an integral part thereof. Please encourage all Methodist people to use this time for lament for ourselves; our communities and the whole of creation. Let us use the time to listen each other’s stories, asking God to open our hearts to each other’s pain, fears and hopes. May the God of Life help us all to be fully human – working TOGETHER against violence, hatred, abuse and lack of care for the vulnerable. We are a praying movement.
Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa: Ziphozihle D. Siwa
The media coverage around the
killing of Reeva Steenkamp by Oscar Pistorius
is about to begin again -
just days after the first anniversary of her death.
In South Africa the HOME is the most dangerous place for a woman.
The trial of Oscar Pistorius for the killing of Reeva Steenkamp is soon to take over the airwaves. The court will have to decide whether it was murder or an accident.
It is very important to note however that apart from being celebrities, Reeva and Oscar’s story is not unique. Of course we were shocked at the killing but we should not have been surprised. Sadly their story is all too common in this country: A man legally buys a gun to protect himself and those he loves from a stranger/intruder; instead he uses his licensed gun to kill the person he loves.
In 1999, 34% of women murdered by their intimate partner were killed with a gun; in 2009 this figure dropped to 17%. At the same time, the percentage of women killed in other ways (e.g. strangled, stabbed or beaten) remained the same. The researchers at the Medical Research Council assert that the single most important intervention that contributed to halving the number of women shot and killed by their intimate partner was the implementation of the Firearms Control Act (2000).
The Firearms Control Act (2000) protects women from being threatened, injured or killed by a gun owned by their intimate partner. The law limits who can own what gun for which purpose. It excludes anyone who is not ‘fit and proper’.
The Firearms Control Act also allows the police to remove a gun from a legal gun owner if he is not ‘fit and proper’, for example if he:
• Points his gun to threaten or intimidate someone.
• Misuses his gun, for example, by shooting it negligently.
• Handles or shoots his gun while drunk or on drugs.
• Fails to store his gun in a safe.
For the police to take action, someone (the person being threatened or a family member, friend or neighbour) must make a written complaint at their nearest police station, detailing why the gun owner is a risk or how he has abused his gun. By law, the police are required to take action after receiving such a complaint.
The two additional charges laid against Pistorius for the negligent use of a firearm (shooting through the sunroof of a moving car, and accidentally shooting a gun at a restaurant) indicate that he may have flouted the law, and if found guilty, that he was not ‘fit and proper’ to be granted the responsibility of gun ownership.
I urge all of us to use the law to make our country safe from gun violence: If you know anyone who owns a gun and shouldn’t, because he is a threat to the people he loves, I urge you to take action by reporting it to your closest police station.
Gun violence can be prevented. Know the Law. Use the Law. Save a Life.
On Wednesday my day was hemmed in behind and before with goodness and mercy.
My day began by visiting a TrashBack delivery station in Canterbury Street by the Service Dining Hall. It was awesome to witness the interaction between the TrashBack staff member and one of the participants in the programme who had brought his bag of white-paper to be weighed and recycled.
It was lovely to see how excited the staff member was to announce how much money the collector was to be paid for his bundle of paper, as he said to this modern day gleaner: “Wow — well done — you have earned R56 today. I hope you have another good day collecting. I look forward to seeing you tomorrow.” It was so cool to witness the genuineness of delight by this paymaster and to witness the joy of one in desperate need receiving affirmation and payment for work done.
TrashBack is therefore not just a recycling business but it is also an employment business for those who would otherwise most certainly be unemployed. TrashBack does not always deal in cash. It has developed a system of responsible rewards, where earnings can be spent on beneficial items such as food and clothing with local vendors. Cash vouchers allows for leveraging off existing retailers, resulting in a flexible rewards programme that contributes towards greater economic empowerment. Furthermore the broader community reaps the rewards of a cleaner environment and the associated health and safety benefits.
I left inspired…
My Wednesday concluded with Connections in the evening. It began with 30 minutes of silence.
Silence, is a magnifying glass through which our lives are brought into enlarged focus. Silence makes us more sensitive to the Spirit of Love that runs through all of life. Silence primes us to hear God’s still small voice. Silence is to our soul what food is to our body.
After the silence a handful of us discussed the Covenant Prayer from last Sunday’s worship service. That great prayer and promise of abandonment to Christ that is both terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. The prayer that leaves us vulnerable and scared as well as providing us with a goal and deep sense of belonging. The prayer that invites us to worry less about our circumstances, good, bad or ugly, and more about honouring Christ in all circumstances.
It was encouraging to hear from others just what praying the Covenant Prayer meant to them. Without pretense people shared and in doing so we were nourished by one another’s continued commitment to faith and life.
I left inspired.
These mid-week Connections are like a welcome watering table in the middle of what often feels like a marathon week. The Alpha and Omega of my Wednesday was truly filled with goodness and mercy.
Another opportunity to be watered and fed during the week starts this Thursday when we begin DISCIPLE III. This is a great study course on the Old Testament Prophets (first half of the year) and Paul’s Letters (second half of the year). Today is the last day to sign up for it. If you in two minds — let me help you — just do it!
Click on this link May the fall at your feet to watch a sermon Alan Storey preached during a visit to the Central Lutheran Church, Yakima, Washington State, USA in January 2014. It can also be found under the Sermons and Videos tab on the home page.
One of my favourite quotes from John Wesley is about preaching:
“Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come for miles to watch you burn.”
As I write this I am stuck at JFK Airport in New York after a week of teaching in Yakima, Washington State. Apparently the aircraft is not fit to go so they’re putting us up in a hotel for the night. This unexpected day of doing nothing has given me an opportunity to chill a little in the relaxing sense which is a whole lot better than chilling in the snow — which I have also done on this trip. And no matter how often I travel I am never able to pack suitably for the cold when it is hot at home. It is difficult to dress for another climate. As it is difficult to live in the world and not of the world. As it is to live the Covenant Prayer we will pray today in a world of fearful selfishness.
On this day of “doing nothing” I have been reading a beautiful book of poetry by Mary Oliver called Thirst, and through her poems I am reminded again of what it means to live out our covenantal faith. She writes in
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird — equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect?
Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished…
Which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes, a mouth with which to give shouts of joy to the moth
and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam, telling them all,
over and over, how it is that we live forever.
Another called, Musical Notation 1:
The physicality of the religious poets should not be taken idly. He or she, who loves God, will look most deeply into His works. Clouds are not only vapour, but shape, mobility, silky sacks of nourishing rain. The pear orchard is not only profit, but a paradise of light. The luna moth, who lives but a few days, sometimes only a few hours, has a pale green wing whose rim is like a musical notation. Have you noticed?
Another Mary Oliver poem called, When the Roses Speak, I Pay Attention:
“As long as we are able to
be extravagant we will be
hugely and damply
extravagant. Then we will drop
foil by foil to the ground. This
is our unalterable task, joyfully.”
And they went on, “Listen,
the heart-shackles are not as you think,
death, illness, pain,
unrequited hope, not loneliness, but
lassitude, rue, vainglory, fear, anxiety,
Their fragrance all the while rising
from their blind bodies, making me
spin with joy.
A Pretty Song:
From the complications of loving you
I think there is no end or return.
No answer, no coming out of it.
Which is the only way to love, isn’t it?
This isn’t a playground, this is
earth, our heaven, for a while.
Therefore I have given precedence
to all my sudden, sullen, dark moods
that hold you in the center of my world.
And I say to my body: grow thinner still.
And I say to my fingers, type me a pretty song.
And I say to my heart: rave on.
It doesn’t have to be the blue iris, it could be weeds in a vacant lot, or a few stones; just pay attention, then patch a few words together and don’t try to make them elaborate, this isn’t a contest but a doorway into thanks, and a silence in which another voice may speak.
To live out our covenantal faith we need the poet’s gift of attentiveness. To pay attention to the miracle of life that is saturated with holiness. “Our [covenant] work is to love the world … it’s mostly standing still and learning to be astonished…”
With gratitude, Alan
Next week we renew our Covenant as a community of faith. I have included the words of the Covenant below and invite you to prayerfully live with it this week as an act of preparation.
Beloved in Christ, let us once again claim for ourselves this Covenant which God has made with God’s people, and take upon us the yoke of Christ.
To take Jesus’ yoke upon us means that we are content for him to appoint us our place and work; and himself to be our reward.
Christ has many services to be done: some are easy, others are difficult; some bring honour, others bring reproach; some are suitable to our natural inclinations and material interests, others are contrary to both; in some we may please Christ and please ourselves, in others we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves. Yet the power to do all these things is given to us in Christ, who strengthens us.
Therefore let us make this Covenant of God our own. Let us give ourselves to God, trusting in God’s promises and relying on God’s grace.
Lord God, Holy LORD, since you have called us through Christ to share in this gracious Covenant, we take upon ourselves with joy the yoke of obedience and, for the love of you, engage ourselves to seek and do your perfect will.
We are no longer our own but yours. I am no longer my own, but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing; I fully and freely yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, You are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the Covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.
Last Sunday, together with Jesus, we heard the heavenly voice claim us as beloved children. The voice that powerfully called the cosmos into being now claims us as beloved — we have been chosen. To trust that we are beloved. This is where Jesus’ public ministry begins and it is where our relationship with the Divine becomes conscious — in “accepting that we are accepted”.
It is not easy to hear this voice because there are so many other voices disputing its truth. Voices that undermine our God-given worth and tempt us to fall into the trap of self-rejection. As Henri Nouwen says: “Of not feeling truly welcome in human existence.”
Nouwen also insightfully informs us that “to be chosen does not mean that others are rejected” and that this is difficult to grasp in a competitive and comparative world. “Our awareness of being chosen opens our eyes to the chosen-ness of others … it is impossible to compete for God’s love.”
To realise all have been chosen and that all are beloved of God must surely move us to love all whom God loves. A friend of God’s is a friend of ours. The purpose of the heavenly voice is to love us into loving. We can love those close at hand but to love those beyond our reach or beyond our shores or beyond our present times demands that we spread our love by seeking justice. As someone once said: “Justice is love distributed.”
In the Isaiah reading for last Sunday (42) we heard over and over again how God’s chosen servant is called to establish justice throughout the nations. To establish justice is God’s will and work for our lives. It is not the work of a few courageous people we sometimes call prophetic. It is the work of every follower of Jesus. No one is exempt! As we read in Micah: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” [6:8].
When we talk about justice in the biblical sense we are not referring to the popular use of the word as in “punishing criminals”. We are referring to the social conditions of fairness and equity.
Julie Clawson has written a great book to assist us to understand some of what it means to “do justice” called Everyday Justice.
Clawson’s book begins with the words: “Don’t panic!” but that is exactly what I did. I felt instantly overwhelmed at the extent of injustice in the world and how dependent I am on injustice for the “normal” running of my day to day living. I don’t know about you but I often feel like I am going to drown under it all and it is not long before I feel paralysed by a feeling of inadequacy.
It is important to remember that injustice was created by human beings and therefore it can be undone by human beings.
One of the first things we need to do is develop a critical awareness of the issues of injustice in the world — and within our local area.
We should always see how we ourselves are complicit in establishing or perpetuating the injustice. This will help us to “walk humbly with God”. It will prevent us dividing the world into an “us and them”. When we start with ourselves we will also realise just how difficult it is to change our habits and behaviour and this should help us to be merciful towards those we may seek to persuade and pressure or even protest.
Further it is important for us to realise that all our decisions from what we eat, drink and wear have far reaching consequences. As Clawson says: “Our circle of influence is actually much larger than we think … every decision has a price tag.” We should therefore always ask: “Who is paying for this?” Are we paying, or exploited labourers or the Government through taxes or is the environment paying — which means future generations will ultimately pay.
Achieving justice is not a static act. Justice is a journey. When resources are in short supply or when perceived to be in short supply then the anxiety of getting “my fair share” and making sure others don’t take “more than their fair share” precipitates the need for doing justice. Who decides who gets what? Who decides who decides, etc.? All these questions are the continuous work of Justice.
Furthermore because there are multi-levels of decision-making — local, national and international to name three — all using different justice principles. Think for a moment about the conflict surrounding the allocation of fishing licenses. Those who did not receive a license say their jobs have been stolen. The ministry says that are trying to protect SA’s environment and natural resources to prevent the collapse of line fish stocks. Both have a “just point”. Doing justice is difficult work. But it is ultimately God’s work through us and therein lies the hope that God will faithfully bring it about.
“A bruised reed he will not break …” Isaiah 42
If we are ever privileged enough to be taken out to dinner, one of the questions our host is bound to ask us is: “So, what do you feel like eating?” There are some days we just crave a particular meal.
This craving does not only apply to our physical need for nourishment. It applies to our spiritual need for nourishment too. One of the ways I discern the hunger of my spirit is to move slowly up and down the shelves of my library. I have all my books sorted into various categories and I find myself drawn to those categories that touch my hunger. Granted this may sound a little strange, yet it really seems to guide me to what my spirit longs for.
Lately I have felt more numb than alive. More distant than connected. More doubtful than sure. I carry far more questions than answers.
So I have stood in my library staring at the shelves of books. And the book I was drawn to was what Henri Nouwen calls his “secret diary” that he wrote during the most difficult period of his life, from December 1987 to June 1988.
I am not really surprised that I have chosen (or did it choose me?) to re-read The Inner Voice of Love — A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom by Henri Nouwen. I am not surprised because I have a greater longing for solidarity on this journey than I do for a solution. Before I want answers I want someone to share my questions. I need a companion in my doubt and not a champion of the faith.
Within the solidarity of disconnection and sharing the burden of impossibly heavy questions I find gentle comfort. I am not alone. There are others who have felt the same as I do. I am not the only one. Their doubting, questioning and anguished companionship becomes my umbilical cord to hope and life.
Psalm 13 and Psalm 88 as well as the final hours of Jesus upon the Cross carry the same umbilical-cord-like-connection to hoping against hope.
Great Grace to you at this time, Alan