Be Salt & Be Light

Be Salt & Be Light

March 26, 2017  |  Fourth Sunday in Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Be Salt & Be Light

Grace and peace to you and through you

I am sure you have been called many names in your life. Some you would probably prefer not to remember, while others you hang onto for dear life as they anchor your depths. Well, I want to remind you of an occasion when Jesus called you two names. Jesus said you are “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” {Matthew 5:13-20}. Pause a moment to absorb the amazing affirmation and responsibility of these names. First, you are the salt of the earth. Jesus calls and trusts you to bring flavour to the world – his flavour of gentleness and justice. As salt you don’t do everything but you make everything you mix with more tasty. Yes you are tiny, yet your power is not connected to your size, but rather how willing you are to lose yourself for the sake of the whole – for the sake of the common pot – the common good.

In a world where power loves to be “on show” your power is only released and experienced to the extent that it is hidden. You know not to stand out. You are called to humbly hide. You spoil the taste when you can be seen shining on the surface, but you exquisitely enrich the taste when no one can see you. You are called to make that which surrounds you flourish with flavour. There is no limit to what you can achieve for good if you are willing not to take credit for it.

Second, you are the light of the world. At first this may sound like it contradicts the non-attention seeking salt, but think about it: who ever turns on a light in order to stare at the light? To do so is pointless because to stare at the light makes one blind. We turn on the light not to see the light but to see what the light reveals. Light is not the creator of what is but rather the revealer of what is. You are the light of the world says Jesus and as light the focus is not on you but on what you enable others to see because of you. True light, unlike the limelight, deflects attention rather than seeks it. Some things can only grow in the light while other things cannot survive in the light. What grows and what dies in our presence is a question worth carrying.

Now just to spin things around for a moment, the psalmist reminds us that “the darkness is as light to you O God” {Ps 139} and the prophet Isaiah states ‘I will give you treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places that you may know that I am the Lord…” {Isa 43:3}. So as we wrestle with what it means to be called the salt of the earth and the light of the world we do so not on a crusade to extinguish all darkness but with an inquisitive spirit open to discover the treasures of darkness. To help us do this here is a poem by David Whyte:

Sweet Darkness

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone,
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your home tonight.

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

Grace, Alan

Suffering of the Ignored

Suffering of the Ignored

March 19, 2017  |  Sunday Letter, Third Sunday in Lent  |  Comments Off on Suffering of the Ignored
Masiphumelele protesters blocked roads at the weekend, cutting the Cape Town Cycle Tour short.
(Photo: Ryan Johardien, GroundUp)

Grace and peace to you and through you

Last Sunday would have been the 40th Cape Argus Cycle Tour – but at about 6:55 am we were notified that wind had stopped play. There have been enough video clips of cyclists being blown over by the foreshore wind – making us gasp and laugh. A good advert if there ever was one for #WindPower.

An earlier message that most people have forgotten about or may not even have known of, came at 5:39 am: “The cycle tour will be diverted over Glencairn Express Way due to protest action en route. Distance now 78km.” Because of the wind as well as the devastating fire in Imizamo Yethu, Hout Bay, the protest action from some of the residents of Masiphumelele has fallen off the social radar. The unavailability of land, as well as a terrible lack of basic services is the root cause of the rock throwing anger that blocked the cycle route. People are angry because they have not been listened to or taken seriously for years and years. Not only is there enormous suffering which is mostly ignored, but life seems to carry on in a jolly-old-fashioned-way around them … in fact some people – like me – are out riding their bicycles in their very neighbourhood. Surely any reasonable person would snap under such contradictory conditions. As Parker Palmer says: “Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering”.

Take this as a small taste of what life is going to be like in SA for the foreseeable future! The lives of the rich will be constantly disrupted because that is the only way the poor will secure a moment’s attention. And in this country there is no way to re-route every race or event to escape this … and nor should there be.

Saul Alinsky makes a challenging point in his famous book Rules for Radicals:

Concern for our private, material well-being with disregard for the well-being of others is immoral according to the precepts of our Judaeo-Christian civilization, but worse, it is stupidity worthy of the lower animals. …We now live in a world where no man [sic] can have a loaf of bread while his neighbour has none. If he does not share his bread, he dare not sleep, for his neighbour will kill him. To eat and sleep in safety man must do the right thing, if for seemingly the wrong reasons, and be in practice his brother’s keeper. I believe that man is about to learn that the most practical life is the moral life and that the moral life is the only road to survival. He is beginning to learn that he will either share part of his material wealth or lose all of it…

Let’s be clear that the suffering of the people of Masiphumelele is far more demanding of our attention than wind-swept-cyclists.

Grace,
Alan

Blessing the Way...

Blessing the Way…

March 12, 2017  |  Second Sunday in Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Blessing the Way…

Lent is a time where we lean into the work of sacrifice. It is a deepening time during our journey in the life of faith because we are committing ourselves in a more intentional way to journey with Jesus in quiet, in release, and in taking on a pattern of life that shapes us for the remainder of our days. It is something we participate in willingly, so the way that unfolds is a way we say, “yes” to even before knowing what lies ahead. Our yes is a “yes” that must be true no matter the turns, no matter the costs.

The image on the front cover, was painted by a woman named Jan Richardson. Jan illustrated Peter Storey’s book, Listening at Golgotha. She is such a beautiful human being. Her husband died in 2013. They were collaborators in so much of life, from the stories she shares. Jan writes about the gift of being able to walk back and forth in their home sharing the process of her painting with him. After his death, she took time for herself, but once she was ready, she began to turn her energy towards creating not just art, but blessings.

There is a holiness that lives in her blessings because they were born during a journey that we know was painful and the wrestle to the words must have been so alive in her, but they rose and found their way to the surface and she used them as a means of showering others with a sense of the divine that was alive in her even during a time of darkness for her in her space of loss. It is the same with her art. I find her art inspires me in an elemental way that opens movement within my spirit.

The blessing below came from her book, Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessing for the Seasons.

 

Blessing that meets you in the wilderness

After the desert stillness.
After the wrestling.

After the hours and days and weeks of
emptying. After the hungering and thirsting.

After the opening and seeing and knowing.

Let this blessing be the first sweetness
that touches your lips.

 The bread that falls into your arms.
The cup that welcoming hands press
into yours.

Let this blessing be the road that returns to you.
Let it be the strength to carry the wilderness home.

 

If Jan’s life through her grief was a wilderness, her blessings demonstrate the reality that she was held along the way until the blessing of healing began to shimmer gently through. That is the journey of the Christian faith, we cannot know the beauty, the pain, the road before us, but we can know we are held in such a way that strength will rise for us to meet every turn.

Journeying with Jesus is not an easy road. We fool ourselves if we believe it to be. We are living in days where it is important for us to be awake to the reality of what it means to walk in pain with others, to sit with someone who has questions we are not the answer for, and to be in the journey with Jesus—in it.

May you be strengthened for the journey throughout these 40 days and may the wilderness be a place you find yourself coming home to again and again.

With you on the journey,
Michelle

Sponsor a Cyclist

March 8, 2017  |  Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Sponsor a Cyclist

Please help raise funds for  Stepping Stones Children’s Centre by sponsoring Alan Storey for this year’s Argus cycle tour.

Sponsorship can be paid directly into CMM’s banking account:

Name of Bank: First National Bank
Account Name: MCSA Central Methodist Mission
Account Number: 62126493204
Branch Name: Long Street
Branch Code: 201 709
Swift Code: FIRNZAJJ

REFERENCE: ARGUS CYCLE

 

The World is Sacred

The World is Sacred

March 5, 2017  |  Lent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on The World is Sacred

Grace and peace to you and through you

Last week we were reminded of our human tendency to want to booth or box or contain mystery – as Peter suggested to Jesus on the mount of Transfiguration. Religion / faith is meant to awaken us to mystery – and to open us up to the “more-ness” of life and wonder and God. Yet sadly it has too often been used to contain and manage the mystery – as well as determining access to the mystery. The Divine voice will have none of this … and proceeds to interrupt Peter mid-suggestion!

The whole world is our sanctuary. There is no place more sacred than any other place. All burst with the presence of the Holy. The Holy Land is not a place to visit but ALL land to value. Let us focus on the miracle of LIFE and not simply miracles in life.

Last week in reading from Brian Keenan’s passionate and moving book, An Evil Cradling, in which Keenan wrote about his experience of being held hostage in Beirut, often in solitary confinement. After an interminable time of sitting in the dark, Keenan is brought some small oranges:

“My eyes are almost burned by what I see. The fruit, the colours, mesmerize me in a quiet rapture that spins through my head … I lift an orange into the flat filthy palm of my hand and feel and smell and lick it. The colour orange, the colour, the colour, my God the colour orange. Before me is a feast of colour. I feel myself begin to dance, slowly, I am intoxicated by colour… Such wonder, such absolute wonder in such insignificant fruit. I cannot, I will not eat this fruit. I sit in quiet joy, so completely beyond the meaning of joy. My soul finds its own completeness in that bowl of colour … I want to bow before it, loving that blazing, roaring, orange colour … In there in that tiny bowl, the world recreated in that tiny bowl … I focus all of my attention on that bowl of fruit … I cannot hold the ecstasy of the moment and its passionate intensity … I am filled with a sense of love.” (pp. 231-2)

An orange is holy. An orange is a miracle to behold. An orange should bring us to our knees with reverence.

As we come to kneel before bread and wine today – let us do so knowing that all bread and wine is sacred and that all meals with our neighbour are holy. We come to the Lord’s Table to learn the significance of every table. As we ponder the mystery of this meal on our knees, we commit to reflect on the mystery of every meal that nourishes our bodies and gifts us with life. This Lenten time invites us to be attentive to the mystery and miracle of life…

Grace,
Alan

Take the third option

Take the third option

February 26, 2017  |  Sunday Letter, Transfiguration Sunday  |  Comments Off on Take the third option

Grace and peace to you and through you

“Fight or flight” are the two options we are easily socialised into believing are the only two options we have when it comes to engaging evil (deathliness) in the world. In myriads of ways we are taught that if we are “big and strong” we should stay and fight and if we are “small and weak” we should run away as fast as our little legs can carry us. As a result of these two options being presented as the only options we have to choose from, many people throughout the ages have attempted to validate either option by suggesting that one or the other is the option God or Jesus favours. Some have said Jesus teaches us to accept suffering without resistance (like a passive doormat) while others have said Jesus calls us to righteously destroy the wicked (like some Old Testament or Apocalyptic warrior).

But to say that Jesus favours either of these options demands a severe culling of the Gospels. The truth is closer to the bumper sticker that advises: “When faced with only two options. Take the third.” In a two-option world Jesus invites us to imagine and practice a third. This third option Jesus taught (in his sermon on the mount) and lived out (on mount Calvary).

Refusing to resist oppression denies our own sacred worth etched with God’s image, while destroying our oppressors denies their sacred worth etched with the same Godly image. Jesus invites us to resist but not to retaliate. In other words, we are to oppose evil without imitating evil. “Satan cannot drive out Satan” says Jesus. Equally, violence cannot drive out violence.

In this world that teaches us to “Do to others as they have done to us” Jesus teaches us to “do to others as we would have them do to us.” Our actions towards our enemies according to Jesus are meant to expose to them the evil (deathliness) of their ways with the hope that their eyes are opened and they change. But if they fail to see and change then our actions are meant to expose their deeds to the surrounding community who through collective action or non-cooperation, make it impossible for them to continue to practice their evil (death-creating deeds).

On the Wednesdays of Lent we will be reflecting on what this may mean for us at a practical level. This coming Wednesday is ASH Wednesday and we will be having a service at 7 pm in the Sanctuary. Each Wednesday thereafter we will be meeting in the Hall (cnr. Burg and Church Streets) for silent meditation at 6 pm and discussion and learning from 7 pm – 8:30 pm.

Grace,
Alan

 

Choose Life or Choose Death

Choose Life or Choose Death

February 19, 2017  |  Seventh Sunday after Epiphany, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Choose Life or Choose Death

Grace and peace to you and through you

“I have set before you life and death … choose life!” (Deut. 30:19). This is our primary choice: life or death. The roots of all other choices are planted within this primary choice. And the fruit of all other choices nourish one or the other.

The Creator of Life – God – calls us to honour life as our primary priority. Meaning, we are to orientate our living to value, protect, heal, mend, treasure, share, give and affirm life in all we are and do. When we do this we honour the Creator of Life regardless of what religion or faith perspective we have or not. Note: God cares more about whether we honour life than what religion we subscribe to and probably only appreciates our religion to the extent it helps us to honour life.

We are commanded not only to treasure our own life, but all life. Jesus states clearly that if we only treasure our own life we will lose it … as well as cause death all around us. All life includes the lives of all people, all creatures and all of creation.

In this death-dealing world we need people to choose life. This means we need people who are humble enough to admit that we are part of the death-dealing in greater or lesser degrees and to take responsibility to do something to move from a greater to a lesser death-dealing degree. It also means that we need to fear our fears more than anything else – because in a state of fear we tend to make and justify decisions that destroy life.

The reason I want to learn to be a follower of Jesus is because of how he honoured life by choosing life in all he did – and in this way he honoured the Creator of Life.

The reason I want to learn to be a follower of Jesus is because Jesus refused to be part of the death-dealing systems of his day. In this he exposed the deathly systems that people actually thought of as life-giving. For example – he would question the purpose of the Sabbath that people religiously adhered to without thinking if it were bringing life or death. Jesus is not interested in religious practice per se but only whether our religious practice affirms and nourishes life – especially life of the marginalised and suffering. “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?” (Mark 3:4).

The reason I want to learn to be a follower of Jesus is because Jesus submitted his fear to the love he received from the Creator and the love he had for all life – all people. This love – received and shared – gave him the strength to rather give up his life for the sake of others than save his own life at the expense of others. Ultimately this is what choosing life rather than death boils down to.

During the Wednesdays of LENT – starting on ASH Wednesday (1st March) we will meet to reflect on the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus’ Manifesto for Life. From the Sermon on the Mount we will journey to Mount Calvary where Jesus lived out what he preached.

Grace
Alan

 

It really is not okay

It really is not okay

February 12, 2017  |  Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on It really is not okay

Grace and peace to you and through you

We live in a violent world.

There is state-sanctioned violence between nations. Anonymous drones drop death. There are wars within countries as people fight to hold onto power and resources. Adults acting like children and children turned into soldiers. There is conflict coded along ethnic and religious grounds. Gangs fight for turf in the streets. Bullies transform school corridors into tunnels of horror. Women live under unspoken curfews that determine where and when they can go. Marriages can alternate between kissed lip and bleeding lip … sometimes in the same night.

From the outside we may abhor this physical violence but those involved in it most often think it is necessary and justified. Just this past week on Wednesday there was an incident outside this Sanctuary. A young man mugged a couple in the market. He was chased and caught and brought back to the scene of the crime.
In seconds a large crowd surrounded him – some hitting him and others swearing at him. Some shouting: “F-him up. Beat him. Klap hom. Teach him a lesson.” I was told that “pastor we know how to deal with these people – leave us alone”.

In the same week President Zuma ordered the Army to provide “law and order” during the State of the Nation Address. The army should never ever be used for policing – it is a blood bath waiting to happen. But a fearful leader is a loveless leader.

At the same State of the Nation ceremony the traditional 21 gun salute is fired, again somehow endorsing the power of the gun and the power it protects.

Much closer to home – in fact, in some of our homes –  there is fear and there is terror. The fear and terror of domestic abuse. The cycle of physical and emotional violence followed by days of silence and walking on tip-toe or followed by apologies and remorse and flowers and promises … only to evaporate under fresh outbursts of madness.

In your most intimate relationships please, please know that you never ever “deserve” to be hit. Never ever! Please know that you did not “cause” your partner to hit you. Please know that you are not responsible for their anger management – they are! Please know that refusing to report domestic abuse “out of love” for you partner is not helping your partner. A person who beats their partner needs help. Professional help. Please know that “staying for the sake of the children” is seldom good for the children because of how they witness violence being normalised. This encourages abusive behaviour to be passed on from generation to generation.

Please know that you never ever have a right to hit your partner. If you have hit your partner you need help. And you can be helped. Let’s talk.

Grace,
Alan

Strange Fruit

Strange Fruit

February 5, 2017  |  Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Strange Fruit

In 1939, Billie Holiday recorded a song called, “Strange Fruit.” The lyrics came from a poem written two years before by Abel Meeropol. It was a protest song against racism in general, but it was naming the horror of the lynching trees. The words were written after the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abraham Smith on 7 August, 1930. One listener names that the song is, “the ugliest song, that it tears too much at the gut.” It is not a song you would have playing on repeat, but it is also not often that a song is found that can reach such a deep place in the gut. Here are the words:

Southern trees bear a strange fruit, blood on the leaves and blood at the root, black bodies swinging in the southern breeze, strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees. Pastoral scene of the gallant south, the bulging eyes and the twisted mouth, scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh, then the sudden smell of burning flesh. Here is fruit for the crows to pluck, for the rain to gather, for the wind to suck, for the sun to rot, for the trees to drop, here is a strange and bitter crop.

I heard this song for the first time in a cross-racial clergy group and our response was stunned silence and then prayers began to rise, the words of which were as raw as any prayer I had heard uttered before. There is strange fruit alive in the world today. The injustices that exist are like a stripping of a people, a slapping in the face of humanity, and a rape of the ways in which we are called to live as people working to sort out life the way Jesus embodied it. “One can have an awareness of a moral wrong on an intellectual level, without being wholly emotionally engaged” another shared, “Listening to strange fruit is literally like being kicked in the gut.” 

Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane was a prayer of the gut. He would have been in touch with the beauty and wonder of the world, but the horrors would have been before him as well. The word Gethsemane literally means—olive press. His prayers were a pressing of his spirit, like olives being pressed for their oil, only the fruit of Jesus’ prayer was a life of faithfulness even if the cost was his blood. “If it be possible for this cup to pass from me, He prayed, “but nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.” In the Garden of Gethsemane, there are no roses or lilies, the garden is a grove of olive trees. We are told Jesus went there often to pray, to a place known as the olive press. 

Billie Holiday’s, Strange Fruit, is a haunting song. When I listen to it, I see the lynching tree and I see images of children washed up on the shore, attempting to find refuge. I see people lit on fire a tire around their neck, I see schools falling apart–children struggling to learn, I see women in tears beaten and bruised, I see people oppressed for worshipping in a different way. I see a world thirsty for something more and struggling to find its way there.

I understand why Jesus would pray in a place called the olive press, for it is when we are pressed on every side and relying on God, that we find our way to new fruit, fruit that is undeniably of God in that it breaks open reminding the world of the power of love. God’s fruit is born in the world one seed at a time, one act of defiance against systems that kill at a time, one–self-sacrificing ‘not my will, but yours’ love–at a time. And Jesus bids to us on his knees in a grove of olive trees, “Come, stay awake in prayer with me. Take care that you don’t become tempted to sleep.”

With you on the journey,
Michelle

A living sacrifice

A living sacrifice

January 29, 2017  |  Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on A living sacrifice

Grace and peace to you and through you

Today we renew our covenant – our promise – with God. The promise we make is nothing short of offering ourselves to be a living sacrifice. The living away of our life – for God’s sake – for Love’s sake – for Life’s sake – for Light’s sake. The Scriptures are full of people offering sacrifices to God – yet the prophets tell us that God does not delight in sacrifices. God does not need or want blood to be shed – be it the blood of one’s first born, or goats, sheep and bulls or of one’s enemies. A humble and contrite heart that seeks to do justice and relate to all in mercy is what God delights in.

Our covenant promise to be a living sacrifice is focused on delighting God. It is not a down payment for God’s favour. It is not what we need to do to get God to be on our side, but to re-orientate our living to be on God’s side. It is us at God’s service rather than God at our service. It is about reminding us that we are not to be the center of our own universe.

It is also a reminder (as the traditional marriage vows are too) that our relationship with God and our determination to delight God is not to be dependent on our own well-being but rather to remain faithful regardless of our circumstances in other words, in health and in sickness, for riches and for poverty.

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 freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.

Grace, Alan