Surprised by joy

Surprised by joy

Dec 13, 2015  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Surprised by joy

Grace and peace to you

I spent time the other day with an old friend. She was telling me how at the beginning of 2014 she felt the need for a guru. Which I guess means that she was looking for a teacher. An “enlightened” teacher who could bring light to her living.

She wrote to a friend who she thought had guru connections. But no guru was found.

In December 2014 she received the devastating news that she had cancer.

Chemotherapy was prescribed – followed by cutting surgery. Time off. Time in bed. Time staring at the ocean. Time talking to the dog and time with the cat on her lap. Her hair has grown back – grey replacing the blonde. That was not the only thing that grew back a different colour. Her relationships with those closest to her have also grown back richer in colour.

Cancer was her guru. Sure, it was not the guru she was looking for. It was not the guru she wanted. And it certainly wasn’t the guru God sent her. But it was the guru that she could be enlightened by if she were open. And she was open.

Any guru worth their guru-salt basically does just one thing with their disciples. A guru en-courages disciples to become present to their life – their living – knowing that their life is good as it was proclaimed good in the beginning. If the disciple becomes truly present to their life – they may be surprised by the joy of knowing that they are enough. In fact, that they are more than enough and have more than enough and may even feel their heart strangely warmed. The great “guru gift” is courage. Without courage we will continue to avoid the truth of our living. In fear we will run. We will hide. We will close our eyes. We will go to sleep. We will do anything but face who we are in the very present moment of now. We will prefer to pitch our life in the past or project it into the future, but in so doing the disquiet within us deepens. The courage needed is courage to face the truth that life is as vulnerable as it is valuable. That life is beyond our control and therefore to live authentically in this life is to live vulnerably giving up the illusion of control. To accept this disquiet of reality is to cause the disquiet of our illusions to evaporate.

No surprise then that Guru Jesus instructs us repeatedly: “Do not fear… Do not be afraid… I have not come to condemn… I have come to save…” Guru Jesus hopes that we will wake up and become fully present to the beauty and goodness and vulnerability of our life.

In courage, Alan


Prepare

Strange how one word will so hollow you out.

But this word has been in the wilderness for months,
years.

This word has been what remained
after everything else was worn away
by sand and stone.

It is what withstood the glaring of sun by day,
the weeping  loneliness of the moon at night.

Now it comes to you racing out of the wild,
eyes blazing and waving its arms,
voice ragged with desert but piercing and loud
as it speaks itself again and again:

Prepare,  prepare…

It may feel like the word is levelling you,
Emptying you as it asks you to give up
what you have known.

It is impolite and hardly tame,
but when it falls upon your lips
you will wonder at the sweetness,
like honey that finds its way
into the hunger you had not known was there.

By Jan Richardson in Circles of Grace

Step towards the light

Step towards the light

Dec 6, 2015  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Step towards the light

Grace and peace to you

On this page you will see two Calvin and Hobbes cartoons. I came across both of them this past week. It doesn’t take long to realise that they are at odds with each other. The top cartoon is delightful – as Calvin and his imaginary tiger friend rejoice in the treasure of life. Everything – even rocks, roots and grubs are treasures. Indeed there is treasure everywhere. Life itself is a treasure. Life is the miracle. All of life!

As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, considered by many to be one of the most significant Jewish theologians of the 20th century said: “Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.” Rabbi Heschel spoke of “wonder or radical amazement as refusing to take anything for granted”. Within this worldview we pray less for miracles and more for our eyes to be opened to the miracles all around us. The spiritual discipline we most need to cultivate in order to honour this worldview is attentiveness and gratitude. So let’s pray: “Fill us Lord with radical amazement for the treasure of life.”

The second cartoon is actually quite devastating and we can only hope it was before Calvin discovered that all of life is a treasure, but I fear it is more likely that Calvin moves between the two worldviews – back and forth like most of us do. The world of wonder and praise and the world of money and possession. There are times we are given insight into the priceless gift of life, but then we tend to forget and we fearfully clutch onto money while childishly thinking that our wellbeing rests in owning and possessing stuff. That the god of money rather than the God of mercy is the answer to our prayers. We mistakenly think having anything we want is more important than having what we need most. And what we need most is to surrender to the truth that our humanity fully flourishes in providing rather than possessing, in sharing rather than owning. So let’s pray: “Free us to accept that we own nothing. That all is a gift from you for us to share.”

I remind you again of Al Zolynas’ poem that ends with the words: “All I know is that place/where the light appears and disappears/that’s the place where we live.” Yes we live between these two cartoons – in the first the light appears and in the second the light disappears. May we step towards the light.

Grace, Alan

Prepare for Jesus

Prepare for Jesus

Nov 29, 2015  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Prepare for Jesus

In 1991, the Center for Women’s Global Leadership convened the first
Women’s Global Leadership Institute (WGLI).
The 23 participants came from different countries.

They established the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign as
one strategy to build awareness about gender-based violence and facilitate networking among women leaders working in this area, choosing to symbolically link
November 25th (International Day Against Violence Against Women) and
December 10th (International Human Rights Day).


Grace and Peace to you …

Today is the first Sunday of Advent – the season of patient, prayerful and persistent preparation for the coming of Jesus. We prepare for Jesus by living life in the way Jesus lived life: gently and generously; truthfully and justly; mercifully and joyfully.

To help us live life the Jesus way we need to pray. And so to prayerfully prepare I invite you to journey with Paul’s prayer for the people of Thessalonica which is one of the set readings for us today:

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith. 11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. 12 And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. 13 And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Grace, Alan


Read – Reflect – Renew

 

Under Ideal Conditions
say in the flattest part of North Dakota
on a starless moonless night
no breath of wind

a man could light a candle
then walk away
every now and then
he could turn and see
the candle burning

seventeen miles later
provided conditions remained ideal
he could still see the flame

somewhere between the seventeenth and eighteenth mile
he would lose the light

if he were walking backwards
he would know the exact moment
when he lost the flame

he could step forward and find it again
back and forth
dark to light light to dark

what’s the place where the light disappears?
where the light reappears?
don’t tell me about photons
and eyeballs
reflection and refraction
don’t tell me about one hundred and eighty-six thousand
miles per second and the theory of relativity

all I know is that place
where the light appears and disappears
that’s the place where we live

~ Al Zolynas

 

What gives you hope?

What gives you hope?

Dec 14, 2014  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on What gives you hope?

Grace and Peace to you

One of the questions that I am often asked — especially after I have given my assessment on the state of our nation and world — is “Alan what gives you hope?” My answer: “The young social activists of our country.”

On Wednesday I had the privilege of attending a function hosted by the Open Society Foundation (OSF). The OSF is, among other things, a funder organisation of many different civil society movements. They brought together a number of the organisations that they fund for a round table discussion, facilitated by Justice Malala.

Organisations involved in: gender justice, HIV Aids, sanitation, safety, service delivery at local government level, environmental justice, access to information, education, health and corruption were represented.

I was inspired by their courage and creativity. I was given hope by their own hope for change. Something Justice Malala picked up on from the panel discussion (picture alongside) was that everyone spoke of the crucial importance of holding those in power to account. Accountability was the key word. As one of the older anti-Apartheid activists said: “In the last 20 years since democracy we have been let down by human conduct.” Well as sad as that is, it should not surprise us. We read in the Scriptures of a people who needed to be constantly set free — sometimes from outside enemies but most of the time from themselves. And this is where my hope ultimately returns — the great grace of God who offers Divine pardon over and over, empowering us to begin over to reconstruct society for the common good.

Grace, Alan


Advent Prayer of Preparation

Drain us now of distractions, O God, and free us from all that diverts out attentions, so that all our senses can focus on the Christ child’s coming.

Show us again, in the most notable, yet most humble of births, the mingling of divine and human we call incarnation.

In the coming birth of your child and ours, teach us the dimensions of holy mystery, deliver us from preoccupation with trivial things, and focus our hearts, with reverent diligence, on things eternal.

Journey to healing

Journey to healing

Dec 7, 2014  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Journey to healing

Today is the second Sunday of Advent which is the beginning of the Christian Calendar. We begin a new year by preparing our lives and world for the coming of Christ among us. For the next three Sundays we will light an Advent candle reminding us of the coming of Christ, the light of the world, and inviting us to be the light.

To be light in the world is not to be reduced to “believing the right beliefs” in our head. Rather it is about doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God.  It is about camping out for social justice.  #Umbrella-movement Hong K.


Grace and Peace to you

You remember the first two steps of the Alcoholics Anonymous [AA] 12 step programme? The first step: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable. The second step: We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

And so what AA teaches us is that a journey to healing — indeed a journey to sanity (clear lucid living and loving) — begins with two crucial ingredients or it doesn’t begin at all. The first is humility (admit there are aspects of our life that are unmanageable). The second is hope (trust that there is a greater Power that can take over management).

Both of these ingredients were found in last week’s readings that marked the first week of Advent which is nothing else than a journey to healing and sanity for the world.

We heard the humble cry from the Advent prophet Isaiah: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down….” [Isaiah 64]. We can feel the powerlessness of the prophet to overcome the unbridgeable distance that is felt to exist between himself and God. We hear his desire for visitation and his longing for company yet he is unable to secure it for himself. The prophet has run out of rope. He has no more tricks up his sleeve. If there is going to be a reunion with the Lord it is going to have to happen because the Lord has decided to act and act in no less a dramatic way than to rip the heavens apart.

We also heard the recurring refrain from the Advent Psalmist: “Restore us O God of hosts. Let your face shine that we may be saved.” [Ps 80]. There is hope! Yes, there is hope. Our inadequacy will not have the last word. By grace our inadequacy will lead us to the last word. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

At the risk of being ridiculously over simplistic (St. Paul would say ‘foolish’) I suggest that there are areas of our living that never find sanity for the simple reason that we refuse to admit our powerlessness and trust the Lord’s power. To hand over the captain’s armband of our life and to bring in new management.

Try it and see, Grace, Alan


Advent Prayer of Preparation

What is Hope?
It is a presentiment that imagination is more real
and reality less real than it looks.

It is a hunch
that the overwhelming brutality of facts
that oppress and repress is not the last word.

It is a suspicion
that reality is more complex
than realism wants us to believe
and that the frontiers of the possible
are not determined by the limits of the actual
and that in a miraculous and unexpected way
life is preparing the creative events
which will open the way to freedom and resurrection….

The two, suffering and hope, live from each other.
Suffering without hope
produces resentment and despair,
hope without suffering
creates illusions, naiveté, and drunkenness….

Let us plant dates
even though those who plant them will never eat them.
We must live by the love of what we will never see.
This is the secret discipline.
It is a refusal to let the creative act
be dissolved in immediate sense experience
and a stubborn commitment to the future of our grandchildren.

Such disciplined love
is what has given prophets, revolutionaries and saints
the courage to die for the future they envisaged.
They make their own bodies
the seed of their highest hope.

Rubem Alves – Brazilian Theologian

Taste the sacred

Taste the sacred

Nov 30, 2014  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Taste the sacred

Today is the first Sunday of Advent which is the beginning of the Christian Calendar. We begin a new year by preparing our lives and world for the coming of Christ among us. For the next four Sundays we will light an Advent candle reminding us of the coming of Christ the light of the world and inviting us to be the light.

To be light in the world is not to be reduced to “believing the right beliefs” in our head. Rather it is about doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God.


Grace and Peace to you

I love Wednesdays. Actually I love what I get to do on Wednesdays. Well actually I love who I get to meet when I get to do what I do on Wednesdays. I meet a group of young men who are enrolled in a 10 week woodwork and life-skills programme at the Carpenter’s Shop.

The group is diverse. Over the weeks we get to hear a little about each person’s life. Some have been sponsored by friends or employers or family members to attend, hoping that they can pick up a skill that may make them a little more employable. Some are part of the Ceasefire Gang Intervention programme from Hanover Park who are either recently ex-gang members or who are still connected. Others are from other parts of Africa hoping to get some South African qualification to boost their opportunities of getting “in” somewhere. All are trying to better their life. All battling multitudes of challenges.

I am proud of each participant who gets up every morning to make it to class. Just showing up is a huge achievement for most, and to see through a 10 week course is a record commitment for some. There are days when a couple of the guys will share how they are craving to start using again. I watch as they restlessly move this way and that on the wooden benches. I notice how their classmates sensitively support them — giving them both space and encouragement but also realising that they cannot rescue or “save” the guy who is craving. It is his journey and only he can walk that path — no one can walk it for him. There is no denial of the situation but most importantly there is no judgement either. I experience this “no denial and no judgement” space as very healing. In fact it tastes sacred.

Along a similar track, because it was also on Wednesday and gang related, I had the privilege of connecting with a community activist in Manenberg. She told me that her daughter was shot earlier in the year. She then went on to share with me how she went to the related gang’s “den”. In her words: “I told them that my daughter had been shot. I assured them that I would not press charges, but that I wanted to know who was responsible and why. A 17 year old owned up. I asked him to take me to his parents, which he then did and I offered to help the family …” Her story of truth and grace tasted sacred to me.

Oh to live that others taste the sacred!

Grace, Alan


 Advent Prayer of Preparation

O God, in times past we looked for you in heavenly eclipses. We listened for you in howling winds. We learned of you in quaking mountains. But now we know that you will be found among us.

And you will be seen not in the glitter of a mall but in a shelter for the homeless. You will be heard not in the pitch of a commercial but in the whimper of a child. You will come, not clothed in the comforts of the privileged but swaddled in the needs of the neglected. You will come, not in the decisions (more like denials) of a grand jury, but in the purifying fires of justice for innocent life taken by being shot down.

Open our eyes that we might witness the appearance of your messengers. Open our ears that we might hear the testimony of those on the margins. Open our hearts that we might ponder the secrets of those who birth Jesus. And open our mouths that we might shout the good news of your presence among us. Amen.

                                                [Adapted from Litanies and other Prayers]

The gift of stories

The gift of stories

Dec 23, 2013  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on The gift of stories
Look the young woman is with child… Isaiah 7

Since Nelson Mandela’s death we have experienced the resurrection of his life in myriads of interviews, op-eds, personal testimonies. From every possible quarter stories are being told and re-told. From politicians, neighbours, family members, sports people, jailors, presidents, priests, lawyers, factory workers, domestic workers, the poor and the rich — all adding a word about the Madiba they met. From every age group and from every cultural orientation — all sharing stories of his greatness, humility, humour, surprise, grace, inspiring presence, firmness, warmth. Seeming contradictions added to the brightness of the truth. A fighter. A forgiver. A father of a new nation. And then the reams and reams of comments — the words about all the words — in response. Forming the richest tapestry of the one we were blessed to share time with on this earth.

I therefore believe that we have not only witnessed a great person and moment in history but we may also have witnessed an echo of the greatest moment in history. In these past days we may have witnessed how the Scriptures and especially the story of Jesus found its way into print.

Then as now, the people began to tell their stories and it wasn’t long before a rich tapestry of Jesus’ character and what he stood for and why he died and how he lives on began to circulate. Stories complemented stories making a marvelous tapestry of liberating truth that could only be described as miraculous. Editors did amazing work in collating and communicating his core. His fully human core “reflected God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” [Heb. 1:1-4].

The Gospel writers and editors of old all concluded with the same invitation — do as Jesus did. He has passed on to each of us his Cross (mantle) to carry. Imitate him. Follow him. Seek out his Spirit. Continue his long walk to liberation for all.

The age where faith communities alone mediated the meaning of memorials for the rest of society is past. Little “shrines” of memory were built in shopping centers, hospitals stadiums, entrance halls to businesses, the lobbies of hotels, etc.

Grace, Alan
Sunday 22 December 2013

Hamba Kahle Tata Madiba

Hamba Kahle Tata Madiba

Dec 15, 2013  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Hamba Kahle Tata Madiba

No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

 

During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

 

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

 

 

 

 

 

The time comes in the life of any nation when there remains only two choices – submit or fight. That time has now come to South Africa.
We shall not submit and we have no choice but to hit back by all means in our power in defence of our people, our future,
and our freedom.

 

 

Let there be justice
for all.
Let there be peace
for all.
Let there be work, bread, water and salt
for all.
Let each know that for each the body,
the mind and the soul have been freed
to fulfil themselves.
 

 

There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.

 

We have triumphed in the effort to implant hope in the breasts of the millions of our people. We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.

 

As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself…
Great peacemakers are all people
of integrity, of honesty,
but humility.

 

 

 

 

Scroll down for Words of Reflection on Mr Nelson Mandela by both Rev. Dr. Peter Storey and Alan Storey.

 

How is your Advent training going?

How is your Advent training going?

Dec 8, 2013  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on How is your Advent training going?
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. ~ Isaiah 11

Today we start the second week of our Advent training program to get ourselves into shape for Jesus’ birth. Last week Coach Isaiah told us in no uncertain terms just how unfit we were and how desperately we needed to start training. The Coach was also quietly confident that we could be transformed and even come out tops in the end.

So how has your Advent training been going?

What inspires me to train more than just about anything else is to witness others training. One such inspiring moment happened for me on Tuesday morning last week. I was attending a meeting at Bishop’s Court. The meeting began at 7am and there were many pressing things to talk about by all those in attendance. At 2 minutes to eight, Archbishop Thabo said: “We need to draw this meeting to a close because I have another appointment at 8 o’clock.” There were still a number of people who had indicated their desire to speak — this meeting was not ready to conclude. “My 8 o’clock appointment is with God”, the Archbishop continued, “so let us close in prayer”. The Archbishop was sticking to his training program regardless! To witness this was inspiring.

And while we on the topic of Archbishops and training programs here is a reminder of another prophetic athlete’s training program that I hope you find inspiring. Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s training program included the following …

• 04:00 Personal prayers (on weekdays)
• 05:00 A fast 30 minute walk. 5:30 shower
• 06:00 Devotional reading and work at his study desk
• 07:30 In Chapel to recite morning prayer
• 08:00 Daily Eucharist
• 08:30 Breakfast
• 09:00 Back in his office for a series of 30 minute appointments
• 13:00 Personal prayer for 30 minutes
• 13:30 Lunch and a hour long nap
• 15:00 Afternoon tea followed by a series of appointments
• 18:00 Evening prayer in the chapel followed by personal prayer
• 19:00 Supper
• In bed by 21:00 or 22:00
• Asleep by 23:00 after saying Compline Prayers

Archbishop Tutu’s daily training program therefore included around about 4 hours of prayer. To those of us who struggle with prayer this sounds quite crazy. Yet when we hear of sports people or musicians who spend an equal amount of time training for their art it seems less crazy. Dancers, pianists, cyclists and gymnasts can spend over 6 hours a day training for gold. So I am sure Tutu would reason that 4 hours is not too much when training to be Godly.

And what we have learnt from Tutu’s life is that when one person takes his or her training to be Godly seriously an entire nation benefits in the process.So let me ask you again: How is your Advent training been going?

I hope you feel equally inspired to put in a couple of extra hours in the coming week.

Grace, Alan

Disarm and rethink

Disarm and rethink

Dec 1, 2013  |  Advent, Sunday Letter  |  Comments Off on Disarm and rethink

“They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.”

 

Happy New Year on this first Sunday of Advent. Yes, Christian New Year begins with four weeks of preparation for the coming of Jesus. And in Jesus we welcome God’s life enabling vision for all of creation. In Jesus we witness true humanity and true divinity walking hand in hand. In Jesus we witness life lived as life was intended to be lived — in love, by love and for love.

The prophet Isaiah is going to be our guide through these Advent days. The One thing we will soon learn about the prophet Isaiah is that he was not short on imagination when it came to expressing God’s heavenly dream for earth.

For Isaiah the first step for us to prepare for the coming of the prince of peace is to convert our weapons of destruction into instruments of nourishment — ”swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks”.

Sadly his words are yet to be taken seriously. We are still addicted to the lunacy of war. As John Wesley so clearly wrote many years ago:

Here are forty thousand men gathered together on this plain. What they going to do? See, there are thirty or forty thousand more at a great distance. And these are going to shoot them through the head or body, to stab them, or split their skulls, and send most of their souls into everlasting fire, as fast as they possibly can. Why so? What harm have they done to them? O, none at all! They do not so much as know them.
But a man, who is king of France has a quarrel with another man, who is king of England. So these Frenchmen are to kill as many of these Englishmen as they can, to prove the king of France is in the right. Now, what an argument is this? What a method of proof? What an amazing way of deciding controversies!
What must mankind be, before such a thing as war could ever be known or thought of upon earth? How shocking, how inconceivable a want must there have been of common understanding, as well as common humanity, before any two governors, or any two nations in the universe could once think of such a method of decision! If then, all nations, Pagan, Mohammedan, and Christian, do, in fact, make this their last resort, what farther proof do we need of the utter degeneracy of all nations from the plainest principles of reason and virtue? Of the absolute want, both of common sense and common humanity, which runs through the whole race of mankind? 
From: Works (Jackson) 9:221 The Doctrine of Original Sin (part 1)

Our first Advent task is to disarm and to rethink the way we “decide controversies”. None of us are excluded from this task. It involves how we decide controversies within our most intimate relationships as well as the most expansive public policy.

Manenberg Interfaith Prayers for Peace

Grace, Alan